The town of Nakhon Pathom is about 60 kilometres or 36 miles west of Bangkok and believed to be Thailand's oldest city. Majestically rising over the surrounding countryside is the Phra Pathom Chedi for which the town is mostly famous for.
At 125 metres or 410 feet in height, the Stupa is the tallest Buddhist monument in the world and only a few feet taller than the one found at Rangoon in Burma.
The Phra Pathom Chedi is situated right in the centre of the city and has been an important Buddhist centre since the early 6th century. The current building was created by King Mongkut in 1860. The royal crown which you see at the very top of the Chedi is symbolic of the king's dedication in reconstructing the pagoda.
The structure, set in an enormous square park, rests upon a circular terrace and is covered with golden orange tiles imported from China. If you walk up the main staircase of the north Viharn, you will come across a standing Sukhothai Style Buddha.
The stone head, hands and feet of the Buddha were discovered in 1900 but the bronze body was cast in 1915. The Buddha is greatly revered by the Thai people.
Standing on the south side in the inner courtyard of the stupa is a giant golden Buddha. Great to admire but often packed with worshipers. Unfortunately, the Stupa itself cannot be entered but is believed to contain a relic of the Buddha. Nevertheless, spend some time circumnavigating the stupa where you will find a great many smaller temple halls housing various Buddha images.
To make your time even more entertaining and interesting, have your palm read by one of the fortune tellers who occupy the temple grounds. Though most of them only speak Thai, you will find at least one who can speak enough English to keep you amused if nothing else. And the price won't burn a hole in your pocket either.
Thereafter go and enjoy a delicious iced coffee or cool drink at one of the small stalls gathered around the outside of the Chedi. The drinks are mostly served in a plastic bag accompanied by a straw. A rather novel idea that works really well. A little further afield near the entrance to the Chedi are stalls selling all the usual Thai souvenirs, handicrafts and a startling selection of sexy magazines.
Several transport options are available, including public buses, trains and minibus taxis or alternatively you may choose to hire a car and then drive yourself there.
Public buses leave from the Southern Bus Terminal in Bangkok every 10 minutes from 4:00 am until 9:30 pm. A first class ticket will cost approximately 40 Baht. Trains leave from the Thonburi Train Station in Bangkok. You need to look out for trains heading towards Kanchanaburi as this is on route to your destination.
Minibus taxis leave from Victory Monument and go to the Big C Superstore on Nakhon Pathom's main road. On arrival take a taxi to any place you wish to visit. But first, take the Sky Train to the Victory Monument and once there, look out for the departure point located under the expressway about 50 metres north of the roundabout on Phahon Yothin Road. A one-way minibus trip will cost you 60 Baht. May have gone up a tad by the time of writing.
If you prefer travelling by car, then either exit Bangkok on the new route via Pinklao Road on Highway 338 or the old route via Petchakasem Road on Highway 4. A one-way road trip will take approximately an hour depending on the traffic.
Two kilometres off Petchakasem Road from the Phra Pathom Chedi is the early 20th century Sanam Chandra Palace. It was previously the summer residence of King Rama VI. While the grounds are open daily, parts of the palace are only open to the public on a Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Nevertheless, on any day, Sanam Chandra Palace is a great place to view the unusual mix of architectural design styles.
One of the buildings on the ground is an unusual Thai architectural interpretation of an English Tudor Home now used appropriately as a setting for Shakespearean drama. There is also a fine sala and a pavilion used for government meetings. Attached to the grounds is the beautiful Silpakorn University campus.
In front of the palace is a statue of Yah Leh, the pet dog of King Vajiravudh who had originally commissioned the palace. Looking at the statue you get the feeling that this dog was insufferable yet because of his fierce nature, he was so unpopular with the court and subsequently poisoned by the king's attendants.
No matter how hard you may try, you just cannot escape the relentless markets of Thailand and if you thought you might just pull it off here, think again. Every Wednesday there is a student market selling T-shirts. Seen it all and then some. Please buy one if you absolutely must. There is, however, a nice cafeteria near the lake providing superb local Thai food at excellent prices every day.
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