I love everything about living in Bangkok: the hustle and bustle, the strange sights, even the strong smells. However, there are times when city life becomes overwhelming and I need to find somewhere to retreat for a while to soothe my senses. Whenever I feel this way, my thoughts turn first to Wat Saket, known as the Golden Mount; a large temple with a towering gilded chedi atop a hill situated just a ten-minute walk from Khao San Road.
It is nearly dusk and I find myself climbing the 318 steps that wrap themselves around the smooth white sides of Wat Saket. I find the staircase rather steep and I have to pause occasionally to get my breath back, trying to look as though I am simply enjoying the view. The Golden Mount was once the highest point in Bangkok. After being used to the flatness of Bangkok, the 80-meter climb can be rather challenging and I am glad to be tackling it during the cooler part of the day.
At three points, the stairs are broken by a short platform, and I pause on one of these to ring the large prayer bells. Striking the bells produces a deep, majestic tone, which resonates and carries out into the distance.
At the top of the stairs, I pause to take off my shoes and catch my breath, then enter the circular structure of the temple. Before climbing to the very top, I make my way into the center, where four niches mark the points of the compass and each hold a statue of Lord Buddha.
The center of the Golden Mount is lit by candles and smells strongly of wax and incense. The combined effect of the soft lighting and the heady scent makes me feel reverent and I pause to pay respect to each statue before continuing. This part of the temple contains some of the Buddha relics that were discovered in 1897 under the ruins of Pipraawaa near the frontier of Nepal.
Once I have slowly circled the centre of the temple I put my coin in the collection box and climb the short wooden ladder to the top. As I pass through a doorway, I am outside once more, the cool, fresh wind serving as my reward for having made the climb. The view from the top is spectacular – I can see right across Bangkok to the imposing structure of Biyoke Tower. Nearby the Chao Phraya river sparkles, spanned by the magnificent structure of the Rama IV Bridge.
At the base of Wat Saket, I can see the center of the temple compound, where a giant golden Buddha statue is housed in a bot – an open house-like structure – that has been extensively restored. The Buddha statue is situated in the samaadhi (contemplation) attitude with a disciple seated either side.
Situated in an enclosure at the front of the bot is a cutting of the sacred Bodhi tree, which was brought from Anuraadhapura in Northern Sri Lanka in 1818. This cutting is believed to be a grafting of the original Bodhi tree from Gaya in India where Lord Buddha achieved enlightenment. It is an honour to study and meditate at Wat Saket and the grounds contain accommodation for over 300 monks.
Wat Saket has a rich and interesting history. The temple’s full name is Wat Saket Ratcha Wora Maha Wihan, and it was commissioned in the late 18th century by King Rama I, making it one of the oldest temples in Bangkok.
The golden chedi was commissioned in 1800 by King Rama III. He wanted to build a replica of the large golden pagoda in the former capital of Ayudhaya, but the ground was too soft and the temple collapsed. The structure was left until the reign of King Rama ordered the restructuring of the temple and 1,000 teak logs to shore the temple and prevent it from sinking once more. During World War II, the Golden Mount was graced with concrete walls to prevent it from collapsing and extensive maintenance is carried out to keep the structure looking
pristine. The sun is starting to set as I descend from the Golden Mount. Before I leave, I pause and sit for awhile in the wooden gazebo placed halfway down the mount.Wat Saket is located near Democracy Monument on the Boriphat and Lan Luand Road Intersection.
The wat is open daily 8 am- 5 pm and although entrance is free admission to the chedi costs 10B, have a coin ready.The best time to visit is early morning or near closing, when the time to the top is cooler. During late October to Mid November Wat Saket comes alive the celebrate Bangkok’s temple fair. The festival lasts for nine days and features theatrical performances, circus shows, foods and souvenir stalls.
You can easily walk to the Golden Mount from Khao San Road. Simply walk to the Gulliver’s end and follow the road round to the right. You will now be on Ratchadamnoen Klang, a busy main road, with Democracy Monument in the center. Walk straight down the road and as you pass McDonald’s on your right you will see the Golden Mount up ahead.
About the author:
Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!