Meditation venue for foreigners
Worth a special trip if you seek meditation instruction in English, Wat Mahathat also makes for a welcome respite from the tourist overflow found at the more popular attractions in Bangkok's historic district.
First established during the Ayutthaya period under the name Wat Salak, the site caught the eye of King Rama I when he moved the royal palace to a nearby plot of land on the east bank of the Chao Phraya River in 1782. The king installed relics thought to have come from the Buddha and renamed the site Wat Mahathat, a name used previously for highly revered sites in Ayutthaya, Sukhothai and Nakhon Si Thammarat, among others. It joined Wat Pho, Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Suthat as one of the most important temples in the new royal city.
From an aesthetic standpoint, the wat is fairly unremarkable compared to the above temples and others in Bangkok, like Wat Arun and Wat Saket. The original section contains a typical lineup of Buddha images in a cloister surrounding various wihaans, Khmer-style prangs and a bulky ordination hall. We were the only visitors apart from a lone man who sat meditating in front of the principle gold-plated Buddha image.
The wat is perhaps best known for hosting Maha Chulalongkorn Buddhist University, a tightly packed set of buildings where Thai monks and the odd foreign scholar goes to study Theravada Buddhist scripture and the Pali language. Several hundred resident monastics make Wat Mahathat one of the most active temples in Bangkok.
In the associated meditation centre, located in Section 5 of the complex, English-speaking monks lead instruction sessions focusing on vipassana (insight) and the related Satipatthana Sutta, a meditation manual credited to the Buddha that encourages cultivating mindfulness of various aspects of mind, body and consciousness. Three-hour sessions begin daily at 07:00, 13:00 and 18:00, and Dharma talks are often given in English at 20:00. The sessions are free but donations are appreciated.
Directly across Maharat Road from the west side of the complex is Phra Chan Market, which specialises in Buddhist statuary and amulets and is also worth a look. Though not worth going out of your way for unless coming for the meditation, Wat Mahathat's location makes for an easy stop-off between the Grand Palace and National Museum.
The wat is on Mahathat Road about a five-minute walk from the entrance to the Grand Palace. The closest Chao Phraya River Express pier is Tha Chang (N9).
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.
Our top 10 other sights and activities in and around Bangkok