Chachoengsao – golden temples and flying foxes
By Danny Speight
Following on from last month’s trip to Chachoengsao here is the report of our return visit. Again I would stress that there is so much to see and do in this province that one day is not enough, and even two will only get you to the highlights. This trip was mainly to visit three rather spectacular temples, a silver one, a gold one and one full of giant bats, although it also took in yet another giant statue of Ganesh, the Hindu god with the elephant head, and an old fort with ancient cannon.
Thai dancers performing at Wat Sothon
Before you reach the town you will see signposts for Wat Sothon which is our first stop. A right turn off the main road at traffic lights takes you parallel to the Bang Pakong River. After two kilometers Wat Sothon is between the road and the river. For GPS users its position is 13.6742°N, 101.0661°E. If you visit this temple on a weekend or a holiday expect large crowds as it is an important religious site, both locally and nationally.
The main temple hall is in silver grey with highlights in gold and will delight any photographer. In the more modest shed-like building next door are important Buddha statues in the back while at the front there is stage for traditional Thai dancers who perform for those making merit. Watching the dancers can take you back to how beautiful dance must have been in those ancient Khmer and Thai royal courts, a beauty sometimes, although rarely, glimpsed in some of Pattaya’s less salubrious haunts. Behind the main temple buildings is a Chinese style temple well worth looking inside.
Ancient fort with preserved cannons
Leaving Wat Sothon continue along the road staying close to the river by taking the right at the traffic circle and then following the sharp left the road, now called Maruphong Road, takes a little further on. If you are ready to eat look out for the floating restaurant entrances on your right-hand side. These seafood restaurants are on moored barges along the riverside and serve a tasty meal. One and a half kilometers from the temple is Chachoengsao Fort on the left of the road with a riverside promenade on the right.
The fort dates to the reign of the third king of the present dynasty. Later it became a base for a Thai force fighting Chinese Haw bandits who caused much damage in Laos and Thailand during the reign of King Rama V. A few of the ancient cannons are still mounted on the fort’s walls.
Giant standing bronze Ganesh statue
From the fort we stayed on Maruphong Road going under the main highway. Crossing the river it changes name to Suphakit Road and gets a number, route 3200. At just less than 5 kilometers from the fort take the right turn signposted to Bang Kaeo which runs alongside a canal. 8½ kilometres up this road take another right which is signposted to the palm tree and bird park.
Between 3 and 4 kilometers along this road look for signs to the giant standing bronze Ganesh statue on the right. Yes it’s that elephant headed god again that Chachoengsao seems to be so fond of. This is a Hindu shrine which is still being built, but is mostly finished. For GPS users the giant Ganesh is at 13.7353°N, 101.1744°E.
After visiting this shrine go back to the road and continue 4 kilometers to the east, first crossing the river. There you will find another photographers delight, a temple entirely covered in gold paint. Again for GPS users put in 13.7429°N, 101.2092°E as a way-point. This is Wat Pak Nam. Having looked at this temple inside and out you can walk down to the river and see just up the river. On a point is a stupa memorial to King Taksin. Following the road on from Wat Pak Nam will take you there for a closer viewing.
Giant bats at the temple Wat Pho Bang Khla
Staying with the road alongside the river, which now turns towards the south, will in a couple of kilometers bring you to the town of Bang Khla. In the centre of town on your right hand side is a very well built modern floating market with many eating places but I suspect it’s only open on weekends and holidays as it was certainly closed when we were there mid-week. Continue just under a kilometer from the town center staying with the river on your right will bring you to my favourite temple of this trip, Wat Pho Bang Khla. For GPS users this is at 13.7210°N, 101.2021°E.
Now Wat Pho Bang Khla doesn’t have any silver or gold buildings. It does have a promenade where you can view the wide river back up to the town. It also has some rather splendid old trees which keep the large temple grounds and buildings in a cool shade, but what’s important to me is what is hanging in the trees. There are flying foxes, hundreds of them.
Flying foxes are giant fruit eating bats with a very fox-like red face. They seem to be content to hang quietly upside down on the temple trees but noticeably don’t hang around on trees outside of the holy site. I suspect there are a few orchard owners that may not be that fond of them, and they look big enough to make chicken sized dinner.
So that brings our second trip to Chachoengsao to an end. From Wat Pho Bang Khla you can either go back the way you came or head south along the east bank of the Bang Pakong River.