Phra Pathom Chedi, meaning the 'First Stupa', is not only the tallest stupa in the world but also an incredible construction with an intriguing story. An impressive 127 metres tall from base to tip, this fantastic edifice stands on the site where Buddhism was first introduced into Thailand two thousand years ago.
Nakhon Pathon is a medium-sized town located 50 km west of Bangkok. Despite its historical importance, it is often overlooked by tourists and even expats. The town is a surprising gold mine of points of interest to explore and is a perfect daytrip for travelers who have already seen most of Bangkok and want to experience a more realistic angle of what Thai life can be outside the capital.
The Origins of the Chedi
The original structure was first mentioned in Buddhist scriptures in the year 675, but archaeological discoveries found traces of it all the way back to the 4th century. During the 11th century a khmer style 'Prang' was built on top of it, Prang being similar in style to the famous Angkor Wat near the city of Siem Reap in Cambodia.
The temple was later abandoned and jungle took possession of it. Much later in the 19th century, King Mongkut visited the remains of the temple and ordered the construction of a gigantic chedi which was completed in 1870, 17 years after work began. In 1898 the population of the nearby Nakhon Chaisi was ordered to move to the new town called Nakhon Pathom.
The Temple Grounds
Covered by shiny brown ceramic tiles, the chedi stands proudly in the middle of a very large central square, frequently used for fairs and markets during religious periods. Approaching the site from the North Gate leads to marble stairs which lead to a massive, standing golden Buddha in Pang Ham Yati posture. Set inside small alcoves around the base of the entire chedi is a white circular gallery displaying hundreds of representations of Lord Buddha each standing or sitting in the 7 or 8 postures representing each day of the week. In the back of the stupa, don't miss the huge golden Buddha reclining inside a large room.
You might also spot two small caves in the enclosure wall; inside each cave a narrow staircase leads to small chambers, each sheltering several Buddha statues and altars where people come and pay respect. It's not really impressive on its own but it is interesting to explore every unusual feature of the Phra Pathom Chedi.
Temple Fairs and Buddhist Days at Phra Pathom Chedi
If you have the chance to visit the chedi during one of the many Buddhist days, you will have the chance to witness religious ceremonies and get a chance to try a lot of local specialty food at a huge temple fair surrounding the temple grounds for the occasion. Just be aware that parking and traffic can become a challenge.
On the twelfth lunar month, usually in November, Phra Pathom Chedi hosts their main Annual Fair. On this very special day, thousands of residents come and pay homage to the temple and walk around the base of the chedi. Don't forget to make a small donation to the temple; it is a nice gesture Thai people love to do and it is always a nice way to pay respect, believe or not.
An even greater way to make a donation is to buy a bronze bell, hook it to a rope that connects to the top of the chedi, and pull your bell all the way to the top chamber where someone collects it and hangs it from the ceiling with the many others. This way every time you drive by this highly revered temple you will be able to get a glimpse of your shiny bell at anytime of the year
The History of the World's Tallest Chedi
In the year 870, the fortune teller of King Phraya Kong of Ratchaburi predicted that if the first child of the king was to be a boy, his son would grow so strong and so powerful, he would eventually kill his own father. The birth day came and of course, the baby was a boy and the king ordered the child to be killed.
Instead, the queen secretly asked a servant to bring the newly born baby boy to 'Yai Hom' an old woman living in the woods. The boy, later named Phraya Pan was adopted by the king of the neighbouring province of Kanchanaburi. Many years later, Phraya Kong king of Ratchaburi (the father of the boy) failed to pay the due taxes to the king of Kanchanaburi who declared war in return. An army was sent to Ratchaburi led by none other than Phraya Pan, the son of king Phraya Kong. Phraya Pan had of course no knowledge of his real origins.
As predicted, the now strong and powerful Phraya Pan killed his own father and took possession of the town. In his ignorance and as the tradition granted him, he was about to take his mother as a concubine. She soon told him the entire true story of his birth and Phraya Pan in his anger killed the old lady who raised him for not telling him the truth. After she died he realised his terrible crime and tried to redeem himself by building the highest chedi ever built, said to be 'high as doves can fly'.
Nakhom Pathom is located 50 km west of Bangkok and despite its incredible history and the amount of things to see and do it is too often overlooked by both tourists and residents. Things of interest include the Sanam Chandra Royal Place, the Rose Garden, the Jesada Car Museum, the Thai Human Imagery Museum, the dragon wrapped around an eleven storey building, the nearby floating markets and even an incredible bat temple. A trip to Nakhorn Pathom is a great way to spend an entire day not so far from Bangkok and if you rent a car for the day it is straightforward and easy to reach.