Temple in the Middle of the River

I like collecting old souvenirs of Thailand. In particular I like to look out for old guidebooks. Today I was really happy to come across an old 1 baht bank note dating back to the early years of King Rama IX when he was a young man. What got my attention was the image of Phra Samut Chedi. This is a temple in Samut Prakan that has fascinated me for a long time. It’s Thai name is “pagoda in the middle of the river”. However, it is firmly on the West bank of the Chao Phraya River. The temple was first planned by King Rama II who wanted to show foreigners entering Siam by ship that this was a Buddhist nation. All contemporary books that I have read dating back to the 19th Century talked about this beautiful white temple on a small island.

When people go to temples for festivals they usually walk around the main building three times in a clockwise direction. As you can see in the picture above of Phra Samut Chedi, this wasn’t easy if there were lots of people. There wasn’t much room. So, what they did was go around the temple three times in a boat! You can imagine what it would have been like during the anual temple fair in October. There must have been hundreds of boats.

During the 19th Century, the ships couldn’t enter the river as the water wasn’t deep enough. So, they had to offload at Paknam and everything was transferred onto barges. These were then taken upriver to the port at Bangkok. However, in the mid 20th Century, the government decided to dredge the Chao Phraya River in order to allow the big ships access to the port. Seemed like a good idea at the time. However, the invasion of salt water changed the livelihood of local farmers. Trees in many of the orchards died. Nothing would be the same again. What was worse was that the river changed direction. The gap between the small island and the West bank started to silt up until finally the island became a part of the mainland. You can now no longer “wien tien” three times around the temple in a boat.

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