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There’s little doubt that you’ll be impressed by the famed Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho and the shimmering detail at Wat Arun, but some of Bangkok’s best temples are overlooked by the tourist hordes. One gorgeous example, conveniently located in the historic district, is Wat Ratchabophit.
Built during the reign of Rama V in the mid-19th century, Wat Ratchabophit has an unusual design that features a 43-metre-high gilded chedi enclosed in a circular cloister. Adorned with unabashedly colourful segments of Chinese porcelain that combine to form elaborate lai Thai diamond patterns, walking slowly along the cloister is one of the more soothing things you can do in Bangkok.
The colours — blues, reds and yellows all of a slightly faded quality — mingle with black lacquer windows designs and dark blue and saffron roof tiles to form a whole that’s not the least bit kitsch. Ornate mother of pearl inlaid doors add to the splendour. The overall effect yields one of Bangkok’s prettiest temples — if not the prettiest.
The ashes of several of Rama V’s family members are enshrined in smaller chedis on one part of the grounds, which may partly explain the temple’s perpetually peaceful atmosphere. There never seems to be more than a few locals strolling the grounds or taking a break on the many benches spread beneath the trees. Some rather modern guardians ensure that any noise-makers keep out.
The ordination hall is often closed to the public, which is a shame since it too is unusual as far as Thai temples go. The partially gilded ceiling slopes at the roof, “held up” by Romanesque looking pillars and interspersed with light grey panels. Apart from the Buddha image, it looks almost like the entire of a Roman Catholic church and is a good example of Rama V’s preference for a European look.
Once you’ve checked out the highlights, bend through one of the low-hanging oval entrance-ways and stroll around the monk’s living quarters (unless you’re not properly dressed, of course). Here you’ll find several attractive Colonial-era buildings that are typical of the Rama V era, along with the odd bonsai tree and napping cat.
Wat Ratchabophit is located between Atsadang and Feung Nakorn roads, just east of Saranrom Royal Gardens. After checking out both of these quiet spots you might have a poke through nearby Phraeng Phuthon Square.
How to get there
Between Atsadang and Feung Nakorn roads, a ten-minute walk east of the Grand Palace.