One of the perks of being a teacher in Thailand is the ability to take advantage of the 52 public holidays each year. Today, March 7th, was the full moon of the 3rd lunar month which was such a holiday. Known as Makha Bucha Day, today commemorates when 1,250 monks spontaneously came to pay homage to the Buddha. Ceremonies held throughout the city are meant to show appreciation to the order of monks founded by the Buddha as well as The Jewels of Buddhism: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.
Not being a Buddhist, I was able to enjoy the public holiday in a same-same but different sort of way. The itinerary for the day was a motorcycle ride, with friend and fellow teacher Annile, out of Bangkok up north along the Chao Phraya River. The route was a roughly 25km trek through city streets, main thorough fares, over a bridge and down a dirt road leading to a jewel nestled along the banks of the Chao Phraya River, Wat Chalerm Phrakiat.
When looking at the Google map directions over breakfast arriving here seemed pretty straight forward, however, it proved easier said than done on this ride. The average temperature was 35 degree Celsius (mid 90’s F); so saying the ride was “cool” might be a bit misleading. Frequent pit stops at 7-11 for water in between navigating the roads and errant rights and lefts was a must. When to take a right turn at a fork in the road versus when to keep going over a flyover, which has a “no motorcycles allowed” sign, is something only learned through experience for a non-native driver. Adding to the excitement of the heat and navigation were the price negotiations with 3 Police Officers regarding dual 500 Baht tickets both Annile and I received for an illegal U-Turn after a 7-11 water break.
Bangkok thankfully posts large green street signs which display a large yellow arrow pointing in a given direction along with some Thai writing. Not sure the meaning of this arrow, or the Thai writing, a best guess is that they are direction signs of some sort. After I zigged right when I should have headed straight and got us a bit off our Google map course, Annile pointed out one of these direction signs. We followed the large yellow arrow and it spit us out right back by our old Police Officer friends; we shared a wave and a smile as we rode by and got back on our way. We eventually arrived at our destination and were able to enjoy the temple and its surroundings. The ride home felt much shorter, that is until the second run-in with the Law. A quick discussion about not my not driving in the far left lane was nothing 200 Baht couldn’t fix….and we were shortly back on the road. Good weather, a good ride and a good public holiday!
Located just over the Rama V bridge in Nonthaburi is the impressive Wat Chalerm Phrakiat and its adjacent park. The temple bears quite some history. In 1847, at the order of King Rama III, the temple was constructed with the bricks of a 17th century fortress built by King Narai of Ayutthaya. It is said that King Rama III assembled this temple to commemorate his mother who once called the area home. With a similar architectural design to other temples, Wat Chalerm Phrakiat consists of a large ordination hall flanked by two smaller prayer halls. The temple has a brightly decorated roof and white porcelain columns surrounding it. Adorning the walls of the ordination hall are pictures of the royal family during their many visits to the temple. The centerpiece of the hall is an impressive Buddha shrine. Directly behind the ordination hall is a bright white chedi which was constructed by King Rama IV in the mid 19th century.
Outside the main temple building are the monk’s living quarters. Their homes are unique in that they live in elevated Thai style teak buildings, a throwback to the past. This complex could have been the inspiration behind the ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’ song by The Eagles as this sums up the atmosphere extremely well. You can feel their value of life as they have many plants and are caring for different types of animals which roam the area; including peacocks, chickens and rabbits.
No motorcycle, no problem. If you would like to visit this temple from Bangkok you can easily hop on the Chao Phraya River Express Boat. This boat service runs directly to the Nonthaburi Pier and from there it’s easy to hire a long-tailed boat to make the short trip over to the temple.