The friendship temple
Published: 30th August, 2017
The enormous ocher-roofed ordination hall at Wat Kalayanamit grabs the eyes of virtually anyone who cruises past on the Chao Phraya River, even if nearby Wat Arun ends up getting most of the attention.
The temple was built in the early 19th century on land donated by a nobleman with ties to King Rama III. His family name was Kalayanamit, meaning “good friend”, and his ashes were enshrined in a large white chedi on the south side of the grounds. A community with Chinese heritage still surrounds the temple, and their ancestors added a Chinese-style gate along with several pagodas and depictions of guardians on beautifully lacquered doors.
The ordination hall is one of the tallest in Thailand—and every bit of its bulky stature is necessary. Inside sits a 15-metre-tall Buddha image depicted in the subduing Mara posture with its right hand reaching down from a 12-metre-wide lap. Made of limestone with an outer layer of gold leaf, the image is known as Luang Por Toh, though descendants of the local Chinese call it Sam Po. It resembles Ayutthaya’s Phra Mongkhon Bophit and is one of the largest Buddha images in Bangkok.
Wat Kalayanamit has become one of Thailand’s most controversial temples thanks to an abbot who repeatedly defied the Thai Fine Arts Department by altering or destroying heritage architecture. Among the torn down structures was a 150-year-old belfry and a chedi enshrining the ashes of 19th century donors. The grounds looked and sounded like a construction site when we last passed through.
Separately, the abbot forced several families who lived in old houses on land rented from the temple to relocate. He claimed this was due to drug and alcohol use, but the Bangkok Post reported that residents “say it’s their efforts to protect the temple’s heritage that have put them in direct confrontation with the abbot”. Though not unheard of in modern Bangkok, it’s sad to see a temple alienate itself from a community that has supported it for generations.
Nevertheless you may want to stop in to check out the big Buddha and ponder the potentially destructive forces of Buddhism gone awry. The site is relatively easy to reach by cross-river ferry or while hitting other attractions in the area; Wat Arun and Santa Cruz Church are both less than a kilometre away and accessible on foot.
A ferry departs from Yodpiman Pier near the Pak Khlong Talad flower market and runs across the river to a pier in front of Wat Kalayanamit. Otherwise you could head here by strolling north along the riverfront lane from Santa Cruz Church, which itself is just north of Memorial Bridge, or by walking south along Arun Ammarin Rd from the backside of Wat Arun and looking for signs pointing left to the temple, which is called Wat Kalaya for short.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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