Wat Saket, or the Temple of the Golden Mountain
344 Chakkraphat Diphong Rd., Khlong Maha Nak, Pom Prap Sattru Phai
Working hours: from 8.00 to 17.00
Although Wat Saket, more widely known as the Temple of Golden Mountain, in not generally classed as one of Bangkok’s more significant cult buildings, it is nevertheless one of the most popular tourist places in the capital. This is thanks to its observation area, located on top of the 80-meter-high hill, which reveals a bird’s eye view of Bangkok’s most spectacular panoramas.
The history of the temple complex Wat Saket began in the Ayutthayan era. This was kingdom’s ancient capital that was destroyed by Burmese in the 18th century, back when it was called Wat Sakae. After Bangkok became Thailand’s capital, King Rama I ordered the renewal of the temple and gave it its current name. During those times, it was used as a public crematorium, where the bodies of mainly poor people were laid to rest. Later, Wat Saket was repeatedly enlarged and reconstructed, with support of the Thai rulers, until it acquired its more modern look.
In the first half of the 19th century, King Rama III decided to build a huge chedi (a special kind of stupa that is typical of Thai architecture) in the grounds of the temple complex. However, due to the local soil’s fragility, the structure collapsed during the construction works. As a result of the disaster, a mass of brick and cement was formed, eventually taking the form of a natural hill, which was later thoroughly overgrown with grass and bushes. The construction of a smaller gilded stupa began on its top in during the reign of Rama V. After it was built, the hill was named the Golden Mountain and it remained the highest point of the city until the first skyscrapers appeared in Bangkok.
The stairs, with their 318 steps, lead to the top of the mound. They wind around the hill in a spiral and are lit by numerous lanterns and candles at night. It is said to bring luck if you ring the bells hanging along it. In addition to the temple with its golden chedi, an observation point is located on the top and it is possible to see the contrasts of Bangkok’s wonderful sceneries from there at any time of day.
Sculptures of the various incarnations of Buddha stand in the Wat Saket’s halls. Each statue is different, intended to protect those born on each day of the week. It houses not only Thai statues, but also ones carved with Chinese patterns, which can also be seen there. Buddha’s ashes, which were presented to the temple by India’s viceroy, are kept in a special vault in the golden stupa.
During the day, acrobats, fire eaters, snake charmers and other artists perform there and fairs are organized at the foot of the stairs leading to the temple. The most grandiose temple fair is held annually in the first week of November. You can see national Thai dances and colorful processions within its framework. At this time, the temple is illuminated with colored lanterns, meaning that the Gold Mountain turns into a bright and loud holiday hotspot.
Visiting the temple is officially free of charge, however there is a metal box for donations at the entrance. The donation amount can be defined by the giver, but it is appropriate to leave at least 20 THB.
Getting there. The easiest way to reach Wat Saket is to follow the city’s most popular street, Khaosan Road. This will take no more than five minutes. It is also possible to access the temple via water transport, which runs along the river canal.