At first glance, the man sitting on the stool in front of me doesn’t look like someone doing something mind-blowing. Dressed in a red football shirt, shorts and flip flops, he could be any one of a million men in Bangkok, but then I look more closely at what he’s doing to the wall in front of him. He gets a small piece of what looks like clay, squashes it onto the wall and then cuts it, using a scalpel blade, into a petal, a stem, a tiny curl. Suddenly, I realise that every single detail of carvings that line the walls, doors and ceilings of the two incredibly ornate temples I’ve been staring at open-mouthed for about half an hour was created by hand… that small bang was my head exploring.
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Those carvings are what have brought me to this decidedly untouristy part of South Bangkok early on a Saturday morning – and they are also the reason that Wat Pariwat has been given the title of Bangkok’s most unusual temple.
Erm, does that mouse have boobs?
Now, I admit, ornate temples in Bangkok per se aren’t a rarity – there’s carved gods, inlaid gold leaf and intricate detail on pretty much every must-see Bangkok temple – but Wat Pariwat, has all of that – and more.
Look closer and things start to look both familiar – but slightly out of place.
In and among the gods, deities, flowers and spangly tiles, you’ll spot a Picachu, Pinnochio, the odd superhero, a somewhat familiar mouse (with added boobs – or are they pecs? Whatever it’s scary!), some guys with Mohicans, a lot of skeletons and other ghouls – and a combo that may or may not be Dobby the House Elf next to Fawkes the Phoenix.
This is not your normal temple carving situation.
Now, of course, the next question is why – and, while I’m not totally sure how all this started, it’s quite possible it can all be linked back to one man – footballer David Beckham.
It seems that one of the monks at the temple was a big fan of Goldenballs and, about 20 years ago, added a carving of him to the altar in the temple’s original building. (which is why the temple is also often known as David Beckham temple!).
Whether the interest in this statue sparked the arrival of the other creations, or, they were always part of the grand plan, I’m not sure, but more and more creations were added. And now the monks see it as a way of showing people who visit the temple in the future what life was like today – kind of like the hieroglyphics in the Pyramids – which is actually pretty cool if you think about it.
The result is probably Bangkok’s most interesting temple. It’s certainly the one that’s the most fun (and this is a city that also has a temple shaped like a boat and one with a dragon climbing out of it!). Even if you’re templed out after a few weeks in Thailand or elsewhere in Southeast Asia this place will revive you.
I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to spot all the cool details within the carvings on your first visit to Wat Pariwat – you just get overwhelmed as there’s so much to look at. I haven’t even touched the surface with these pictures – there’s a Stuart Little playing golf, a Superman, a Winnie the Pooh and reportedly Barack Obama, but I haven’t spotted him yet.
Even now as I add pictures to the post I’m spotting things – like that dog above resting its head on the lap of what looks like a relatively normal religious figure (give or take the head)!
There’s two of the highly ornate temples on the site – one finished, one still being carved and covered with scaffolding – and I don’t even want to estimate how many individual carvings there are. Definitely hundreds of thousands, possibly more than a million. And I go back to my little scene that I started this post with – every single piece was cut and stuck by hand!
All I can say is, walk slowly, look up, look down and then look again as you’re going to have missed something. I was there solo but I can imagine this is way more fun with two of you as you can see who can spot the weirdest element.
I think the punk fellas below were some of my favourites.
Why No Pic of David Beckham?
Weirdly, the figure that brought the temple the most publicity isn’t that easy to see.
The carving of Beckham is on the altar in the original building which isn’t always open to the public. Ask nicely though and apparently, they do let people in.
I’m not enough of a football fan for that one – if he was accompanied by a fresco of Posh and the rest of the Spice Girls we might be talking!
What Else is at the Temple
Wat Pariwat is located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River and has a small fish feeding area, various prayer halls and a traditional chedi – but the carvings are the real draw.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering it does have bathrooms and there’s a small shop where you can buy drinks or a snack if you get too hot.
How To Get to Wat Pariwat
I admit, I nearly didn’t get there because it looks like a faff. Thankfully, I have worked out you don’t need superpowers (see what I did there).
I was staying at the end of Soi 11 near in Nana and so, the easiest way to get there, or so it looked, was Grab (kind of like Uber, but bigger in Asia). A Grab, it seemed, would take me 15 minutes – public transport took 90 minutes – and involved a bus. That sounded stressful so, I stuck with Grab.
At least one cab cancelled because they were stuck in the horrendous Bangkok traffic, so my trip kept getting postponed – and then, suddenly, it was the last day of my trip and I still hadn’t got there. But it was nagging me.
At this point, it was also Saturday morning and the traffic had lightened up from standstill to moderately fast crawl – a 20-minute wait for a cab later and I was whizzing down toward Wat Pariwat. I was so glad I’d made the effort – it was one of the best things I saw this trip.
I got public transport on the way back though – and, if I ever go to Wat Pariwat again, that’s how I’d get there – it’s very easy.
Basically, you need to make your way on the BTS skytrain to Chong Nonsi station near Silom (and the closest station to the 78-storey King Power building and the Unicorn Cafe if you want to double up with your sightseeing).
From here follow the signs to the Sathorn BRT station. It’s pretty much a straight line under a covered walkway.
BRT stands for Bus Rapid Transit. What this means is the buses have a dedicated lane on the road so, no traffic queues.
It also means there’s only one bus, going in a nice clearly marked direction from the stop – you don’t have to try and work out what bus number you need and if it’s going the right way.
Nor do you have to pay the driver – there are automated ticket machines at the entrance here and at the other end – it also works with the Rabbit Card (if this is your first trip to Bangkok and you’re not sure what that is, check out this first-timers guide to Bangkok for advice).
Once you go down the stairs, the stop/platform is the one going in the direction of Rachpruek – the bus starts here so, in theory, you should get a seat. You’re getting off at Wat Pariwas (which is another name for Wat Pariwat) and the bus does tell you what stop you’re at.
Oh, if you do have to buy a ticket on the way back, note you don’t buy it to Chong Nonsi – I got a bit confused, remember the stop is called Sathorn.
Once you arrive at the station, cross the footbridge left (if you’re facing the way the bus was going) over the main road toward what looks like a building site. It’s not. Ahead of you, you’ll see an ornate gate – go through it, follow the road along and you will find the temple.
Of course all of this would be much easier if you had a Thai SIM card in your phone – then the magic of google maps is yours for the taking. I buy mine from Klook and pick them up at airports. Check it out here.
Oh, and please do remember that even with the fun and unusual element Wat Pariwat is a working temple so do abide by rules like taking off your shoes to go inside. Don’t wear anything too skimpy and respect those who are there to worship not just find cool carvings. Otherwise, this guy might get even more angry – which will upset his tiny seal friend!
If you do go, let me know what your favourite carving was in the comments – especially if it’s something I haven’t mentioned. I’m putting money on them working on a Baby Yoda as I type.
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