Bangkok’s suburbs are peppered with odd and obscure temples and relics which I have explored previously on the blog here, here and here.
But even I had never heard of Wat Samphran, languishing in utter obscurity and virtually forgotten by the rest of the city. This might be understandable if it were just another run-of-the-mill local temple, but for a vermillion tower wrapped by a seventeen storey dragon? Not so much.
The temple is located about an hour and a half from the backpacker district of Khao San Road. I just hopped on the 123 bus – with its dusty wooden floorboards and overhead fans – heading westwards across the river, getting out at the town of Om Noi. From here it was a short taxi hop to the temple although none of the local drivers had even heard of the temple and they had difficulty finding it even though I had brought the temple name written in Thai, a picture of its distinctive facade and its location on google maps.
But when I finally got to my destination, it was clear that it had been worth the journey. The temple and its dragon appeared over the suburban rooftops and soon we pulled up to its entrance, in a grove of bamboo trees. I had half-expected to find the wat in ruinous solitude, so I was surprised to see throngs of people all around. They were visiting locals, a few monks who lived in the tower and nuns, dressed all in white. There were, of course, no other foreigners.
The tower itself is restricted to monks only, who live in its 108 rooms, and the passageway through the dragon is closed, a friendly nun told me, except for Thai Fathers and Mothers days, Buddha’s Birthday and Chinese New Year.
But even for the Western new year, the temple was busy. Worshippers made offerings in front of a statue of a mysterious dark skinned giant, or rubbed the dragon’s lucky claws. Suddenly, a procession started, with white clad pilgrims circling the building’s grounds led my a group of monks in prayer, presumably praying for a favourable year to come. Suddenly they were all around me.
The grounds yielded more surprises – fantastical giant elephants and peacocks emerging out of the overgrown jungle of the temple gardens.
Hidden in a corner was a gigantic concrete turtle which worshippers could enter into a cave-like tunnel, containing a strange underground Buddha shrine.
In another part of the garden lay this unusual statue of a bed-ridden man with a cone-like protrusion from his mouth. I was intrigued and wished I could read the Thai-language sign. What did it mean? Was it a cautionary tale? A tribute to healers? A Thai folktale?
I left the shrine with lots of questions, but very glad that I had made the effort.