Wat Phanan Choeng is one of the many temples and places of Buddhist interest that you can visit in Ayutthaya, Thailand’s former capital. What makes Wat Phanan Choeng special is that it has a 19 meter tall gilded Buddha image and a very tragic yet romantic story behind it.
The temple is located on the banks of the Pa Sak river opposite the South East tip of the historical island. You can take a car from Bangkok and drive out for approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes, traffic in Bangkok pending. The main attraction of the temple is the 19 meter tall seated Buddha. Back in the day, it was just a brick and mortar statue that did not have a structure around it yet. Thai people call the statue Luang Pho To or Great Reverend Father, Chinese or Thais of Chinese origin call it Sam Po Kong. It is one of the largest, oldest, beautiful and revered Buddha images of Thailand.
Although Wat Phanan Choeng has been built even before the establishment of Ayutthaya as the capital city, there is no clear record about its founder. According to the Northern Chronicles, Phra Chao Sai Nam Phung, the ruler of Ayutthaya, had it built at the royal cremation site of Phra Nang Soi Dok Mak and named the temple “Wat Phra Chao Nang Choeng” (or Wat Phra Nang Choeng)
Who is Soi Dok Mak though? And why is there a Chinese temple on the compound? According to legend Phra Chao Sai Nam Phung, a King who ruled before the founding of Ayutthaya, wanted to marry the daughter of a Chinese emperor named Soi Dok Mak.
When the Princess arrived by boat the King was not there to welcome her as he was off fighting a battle. Fearing the worst (King was dead) and thinking the worst (The King doesn’t really like her) she killed herself by holding her breath. When the King finally returned he was stricken with grief that he lost his love that he had built the Wat Phanan Choeng on the spot where she was cremated.
It is because of this Chinese connection that the temple of Guanyin is also within the compound, honoring the roots of Princess Soi Dok Mak. That and there is a rather large Chinese community near the temple.
Oh, and you can feed a horde of catfish. I’m not even kidding with that one. You can buy some bread at the edge of the river and feed the hundreds of catfish in the river, who seem to be very comfortable with this set up. The catfish are protected and are not allowed to be caught and eaten while you are on temple grounds. On the other side of the river however, is a different story. I managed to feed them and even pet a couple (like wet shiny puppies, they are!)
Wat Phanan Choeng opens daily from 8 am until 5 pm. Entrance fee is 20 Baht.