Hindu Gods and Parrots
by Danny Speight
Driving from Pattaya to Bangkok, the first province you enter after leaving Chonburi is Chachoengsao. You will probably notice crossing the Bang Pakong River, whether on the motorway or the Bangna-Trat Road. A worthwhile diversion is a visit to the town of Chachoengsao, even if only for lunch on one of the tethered floating seafood restaurants upstream of the famous white temple, Wat Sothon. From the intersection of the motorway, Route 7, and highway 314, the town is just over 17 kilometres to the north.
I had forgotten just how much there is to see in this province and our latest trip just touched the northern edges of what's available. No matter, as we will cover more of the province in a future article. At this point, I have to admit that I will leave some questions unanswered in the article and one of these is why does this province have a love affair with the Hindu god Ganesh? He's the one with an elephant's head and four arms and has always struck me as being a rather jolly-looking god. Now Chachoengsao is a fairly religious place, having some important temples, but why there is a proliferation of statues of Ganesh, I don't know.
Wat Prong Akat
Our first stop this time was Wat Prong Akat. This is about 14 kilometres north of Chachoengsao on road 3200. The entrance is on the right and for those with GPS, the position is 13.7945°N, 101.0527°E. The temple is visible across the rice fields for a considerable distance as the gigantic golden chedi built on the second floor of the temple stands out along with an equally massive sitting Ganesh statue
The temple is a work in progress, with a new building in place of the old temple. We have stopped by this temple for a few years to see how the work is progressing and, when it's finished, it will be outstanding, not least for its massive size. On the upper level are eight statues of temple giants (yaks) guarding the large golden chedi, with marble paving around that. The covered ground floor has statues and areas for praying. Of course, being in Chachoengsao, apart from the separate giant Ganesh statue outside there is another, smaller and in gold colour, on the ground floor guarded by rat statues. Rats are connected with Ganesh in Hindu mythology. About all that's left of the old temple now is the large original bell awaiting a new tower to hold it. We never found out why or who is building such a large modern temple in the middle of a very agricultural area.
Palm and Parrot Resort
Our next stop was the Suanpalm Farmnok, or the Palm and Parrot Resort. You get there by following road 3200 back towards town for just over nine kilometres and then taking a left turn on the road signposted to Bang Kaeo, which runs alongside a canal. Take a right turn after about eight and a half kilometres onto a smaller soi signposted to Suan Palm. The resort's entrance is just over a kilometre on the right. For GPS users, this is at 13.7460° N, 101.1578° E.
Again we were visiting a work in progress, but still well worth the visit. As its name suggests, the large park is full of parrots with a significant breeding program underway and many palm trees of different types. Other birds are well represented, including both black and white swans. Around a large lake, rather pleasant cabins and a restaurant are available for those wishing to stay at the resort. There are various facilities, such as a rock-climbing wall, bicycling and a petting zoo with deer and sheep. They were building some Thai-style wooden houses and what I think is going to be a floating market. Even now, it would be a good place to take young kids for the weekend. Having said all this, the stars have to be the colourful Amazonian macaw parrots and the Australian cockatoos with which you can get up close and personal.
Bang Pakong Dyke and Wat Saman Rattanaram
Our next two stops are fairly close together and not that far from the parrots. Start by going back the way you came by turning left out of the resort and left again a kilometre up onto the road by the side of the canal. After just over three kilometres, take another left turn, which should be signposted to the Bang Pakong Dyke and Wat Saman Rattanaram. You will find the bridge over one part of the river at just less than four kilometres down this road and get a marvellous view of the water gates which are there to protect upriver agriculture from saltwater incursion. For GPS users, this is at 13.7079° N, 101.1353°E.
Using the bridge puts you on an island made by the channel you have just crossed cutting off a meander in the river. Following the road would take you to another bridge built over three more water gates and the eastern side of the Bang Pakong River, but don't do that yet as just past the first bridge on the left is the entrance to Wat Saman Rattanaram. This is the chance to see just how lively and commercial a Thai temple can be. If you are ready for lunch, you will find plenty of places to eat in this busy temple complex and even coffee drinkers are catered for by a well-known franchised café.
It's hard to know where to begin with this large temple. It's very much on the Thai tourist roster, both from those living in Chachoengsao, its neighbouring provinces and from Bangkok. Both Chinese and Indian deities are well represented along with more traditional Buddhist practice. Of course, being Chachoengsao, there is a gigantic pink Ganesh statue, this time in the sleeping position. It seems to me that many people come here to undergo rituals to bring luck or fulfil wishes. One party we saw were chanting while walking in a circle under a life-size statue of an elephant. I think that has something to do with getting pregnant.
To be honest, and with no cynicism implied, you could easily spend a whole day at Wat Saman Rattanaram. There is just so much there. Giving just a few parts a mention; it has a Chinese temple with again giant statues of Chinese gods and a row of life-size wax figures of venerable dead monks. At the market area you will find local products and it's worth loading up with palm sugar if you believe in its benefits against normal sugar.