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Affectionately known as the Crocodile Temple, Wat Chakrawat is best known for the three live crocodiles that preside over the crowded grounds. You’ll also find some exceptional 19th-century temple architecture along with a few other quirks and quiet spots for taking a break from the bustle of Chinatown.
Presented as a royal temple in 1835, Wat Chakrawat houses one of the largest communities of monks and novices in Bangkok. The monastic residences are squeezed around a large concrete lot that gets stuffed with cars each day, as it’s one of the only places to park in Chinatown. The temple’s name apparently means “storm” in Hindi; perhaps the nearby Indian community at Pahurat had something to do with that.
The older part of the temple ushers in a peaceful atmosphere after navigating through the car park. A shrine featuring a gold-leaf-covered Buddha image seated with feet on the floor in the “forest retreat” posture tops a large flower-lined mondop. Shake out one of the fortune sticks and head over to the nearby desk to find out that “It’s not the time for you and your lover to get married” or “It’s so clear that a fish will turn back to be a dragon”.
Right, and, moving on, head back down the stairs to see what gives Wat Chakrawat its nickname: three live crocodiles kept in a pair of small ponds. We arrived to find a few brave young monks cleaning out the largest croc’s pit. At three metres long, the reptile does not fail to impress.
A stuffed crocodile also lies in a dusty display case, looking down over its still-living friends. Supposedly the four animals were found lurking in the Chao Phraya River; why they were brought here rather than Dusit Zoo or the Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm is anyone’s guess.
Watching the monks gingerly spray down the croc pit was quite entertaining, but we also appreciated Wat Chakrawat’s finer features. Adjacent to the pond is a nearly two-century old wihaan with intricate gold lai Thai patterns on faded black walls. Reminiscent of the interiors of historic Northern Thai temples, it’s rare to see a design like this on the exterior walls of a temple building.
The neighbouring ordination hall sports an attractive seated Buddha image ringed by blinking green-and-red lights. Richly done murals depict scenes of the Buddha’s enlightenment, his teachings and some heavenly realms for good measure. Sparkling gold circular patterns grace the burgundy ceiling, while pouty-looking guardians adorn the doors. The halls are often locked but we found the ordination hall open during a Sunday visit.
Wat Chakrawat also features several Khmer-style prangs, a small reclining Buddha and a black shape on a wall that’s referred to as the “Buddha’s shadow” and collects gold-leaf offerings from the faithful. There’s also a photo of a particularly chunky former resident monk — supposedly he fattened himself up on purpose after ladies kept trying to woo him from the monkhood.
How to get there
Located in Chinatown’s western reaches, Wat Chakrawat covers a large area between Chakrawat Rd and Maha Chak Rd, with entrances on either side. To get here from Ratchawong Pier, head straight north on Ratchawong Rd and hang a quick left (west) on Anuwong Rd, perhaps making a stop-off at Boonsamakan Vegetarian Hall before taking a right (north) on Maha Chak Rd. After a couple of hundred metres, look for a small lane with a temple gate on the left.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 9th May, 2016.