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Wat Leng Noei Yi stands as the largest and most significant Chinese Mahayana Buddhist temple in Bangkok. A visit will wrap you up in incense smoke, dragons, pagodas and a world of iconography in glittering gold and crimson.
The Temple of the Dragon Lotus, to use the English translation, was established as a centre of the Chinese brand of Mahayana Buddhism in 1871 after the founding monk scraped together enough donations. King Rama V officially changed the name to Wat Mangkon Kamalawat, but the original name stuck.
Often used for traditional Chinese funerals, Wat Leng Noei Yi is a ceremonial centre for Chinese festivals in Bangkok. Prominent Thai government and police officials join the monks here to ring in the Chinese New Year. Though it contains many stunning features, the complex is usually free of the tourist crowds that flock to nearby Wat Traimit.
Striking dragon-and-lotus murals cover the gateway set beside Charoen Krung Road‘s bustling footpath, where incense is sold alongside paper offerings, fresh fruit and lotus-shaped steamed buns. Built in 1973, the nine-storey building that fronts the complex blends traditional Chinese roofs into modern concrete walls, making it easy to spot the temple despite the lack of an English sign.
All visitors must gain passage through the hall of the four heavenly guardian kings, each standing around four metres tall and representing one of the four cardinal directions. Splendid craftsmanship in the armour, instruments and facial features can be viewed through the protective glass.
You’ll then come to a central courtyard with a furnace used for burning paper cutouts of houses, cars, refrigerators and other symbols of financial success, including iPhones nowadays. These ensure that the deceased will bring their creature comforts with them into the afterlife — or so it’s believed. The faithful also come to make merit, pray for health or wealth, shake out fortune sticks and join in communal vegetarian meals.
Monastics donning loose orange pants and shirts, as opposed to the robes worn by Theravada Buddhist monks, can usually be seen tending to the grounds or chanting. A strict vegetarian diet is one way that their Mayahana Buddhist practices differ from the Theravada Buddhism that predominates in Thailand.
Punctuated by colourful dragons and a sloped Chinese-style pagoda roof, the main hall features a trio of beautiful Chinese-style Buddha images. Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, sits in the centre, flanked by Amithaba, the Buddha of the Pure Land, and Yaoshifa, the medicine Buddha grasping a mini pagoda to Shakyamuni’s left.
Red lanterns, thick incense smoke and chanting fills the hall. Golden depictions of Chinese monks and bodhisattvas dot a glass case on either side, while separate shrine rooms house images of Chinese warrior spirits along with Kuan Yin and the temple’s founder, Ajahn Chin Wang Samathiwat. Exquisite lacquer designs adorn some of the doorways.
Check out the totally out-of-place picture of a wintry Wisconsin countryside if you need to use the restrooms. After exploring the complex, head next door to Charoen Chai, a compelling old community specialising in crafting paper offerings. While here you might fill up on a hearty bowl of coolie noodles.
How to get there
Wat Leng Noei Yi is located on the north side of Charoen Krung Rd, just east of Mangkon Rd and west of Charoen Krung Soi 23. It's a five-minute walk north of Yaowarat Rd and a 15-minute walk west of Hualamphong MRT station.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 9th May, 2016.