A walking tour
Published/Last edited or updated: 24th June, 2017
Three impressive temples—Wat Mahathat Worawihan, Wat Kampheng Laeng and Wat Yai Suwannaram—collectively display the range of religious artistry that helped shape Phetchaburi from the 12th to 18th centuries. The following three-kilometre walking or bicycling itinerary will also take you to lesser-known temples plus the riverfront, old teak houses and fresh markets.
Start on Damnoen Kasem Road at Wat Mahathat Worawihan, the most revered temple in Phetchaburi. It’s also the most recognisable wat thanks to a Khmer-style prang that stands 42 metres tall alongside four smaller prangs and a four-sided cloister lined with dozens of Buddha images. Built in the 12th century at a point that pretty much marked the southern limit of the Khmer empire, the prangs were made of laterite and later covered in the white plaster seen today. Locals claim that relics of the Buddha were enshrined inside.
Fronting the complex stand a series of halls with gabled roofs punctuated by impressive Ayutthaya-period stuccowork, a specialty of Phetchaburi. Nagas, bulls and thep phanom (“praying angels”) rise from the eaves as Garuda lifts Shiva and lions nuzzle up to a Bodhi tree. The detail is exquisite. Step inside the ordination hall to watch a monk blessing visitors in front of several revered Buddha images and some interesting murals—keep an eye out for the depictions of people mooning one another!
From Wat Mahathat Worawihan you might pop across the street for a coffee and Mon-style food at Baan Khao Chae before heading briefly east on Phra Song Road and cutting left (north) on narrow Khlong Krachaeng Road. Just past a house owned by the late Manat Chanyong, one of the most talented and popular Thai writers of the 20th century, you’ll spot another collection of fine stuccowork along with crumbling chedis and a riverfront statue of 19th-century Siamese poet, Sunthorn Phu, at Wat Phlap Phlachai.
Continue north, passing century-old teak houses and a shrine to the Ramayana epic’s monkey king, Hanuman, and then turn right and cross the bridge marked by images of three-headed elephant Erawan. On the other side, step down to your right and stroll north along the narrow lane closest to the river, stopping to peep the street art and perhaps grab a snack at Rim Nam Market.
At the northern end of this lane you’ll come to Phra Song Road—look west for a view of Wat Mahathat Worawihan’s prangs towering above old houses beyond the river, and then consider taking a kilometre detour south along the river to Wat Ko Kaew Sutharam. Though not as well known as other temples, its ordination hall features early 18th-century murals of the Jatakas (stories of the Buddha’s previous lives) and a depiction of a visiting French envoy that stopped in Phetchaburi during the reign of King Narai, all in pristine condition.
Back on Phra Song and continuing east, after a few hundred metres you’ll come to Wat Phai Lom, a ruined early Ayutthaya-period temple with ancient stuccowork emerging from the exposed bricks. Wander to the east side of this crumbling structure to check out a pair of white Buddha images with unusually grim expressions on the faces.
Keep east for another half-kilometre to hit Wat Kamphaeng Laeng, originally a Hindu sanctuary featuring four prang towers built of laterite by the Khmer some nine centuries ago. Bits of stucco Buddha images that were fastened to the exposed laterite blocks during the Ayutthaya period can still be seen, though most of the detail has vanished. The site is now part of a functioning Theravada temple.
Head north from Wat Kamphaeng Laeng on Pho Karong Road and then turn left (west) on Phongsuriya Road and, after less than a half-kilometre, ancient white gates will appear on your left. Arguably the most stunning temple in Phetchaburi, Wat Yai Suwannaram was built in the 17th century on a site that had likely been sacred to the Khmer and, centuries earlier, the Mon of Dvaravati.
Surrounded by cloisters with seated Buddha images, the ordination hall’s windowless design has helped to preserve the oldest known murals in Thailand, crafted with great skill some three centuries ago. They display celestial characters, starting with powerful creator deities and leading down to guardians, giants and kinnaree (half-man-half-birds) on the doorways. There’s also a Sukhothai-style bronze Buddha image sporting six toes, an unusual quirk.
But Wat Yai’s most impressive structure might just be the sala kan parian, a 17-century teak pavilion built as a study and teaching hall for a supreme patriarch of Ayutthaya who hailed from Phetchaburi. The floors creaked as we viewed peeling Chinese-style murals, gold lacquer designs on the pillars and intricate woodcarvings on door panels. In the back stands an ancient teaching throne displaying gilded and carved wood surfaces.
After checking out these two remarkable buildings, move on to the wooden ho trai (scripture hall) set on stilts above a pond at to the back of the complex, not far from a Khmer-style prang with grinning stucco hermit images. If you’ve worked up an appetite, pop across the street for savoury pork noodle soup at Pen Prik Pet. From there it’s a 10-minute walk back west to the market area and across the river to where you started.
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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