Wat Chakrawat is a two-century-old temple tucked away in crowded grounds next to a big parking lot near Chinatown. From the outside, it looks like another temple in Bangkok. Wat Chakrawat has an unusual nickname, however. It’s called ‘The Crocodile Temple’ due to its unique permanent resident.
For the lucky visitors, they will visit on the days the monks clean the crocodile pit. That would make for some dynamic pictures indeed. Alas, as my luck would have it, I happened to be there on a really, really, really, excruciatingly quiet day. I mean, even the crocs looked bored.
How the temple earned its name
Founded in the year 1350, Ayutthaya was established as the capital city of Siam. People in those days living off the land. Their wellbeing and livelihood depend upon what the river provides. And when people and nature live quite closely together, there are bound to be legends and stories of that one infamous animal that caused trouble.
One such story was the infamous crocodile. This man-eating beast was dubbed ‘Ai-bod’ (meaning one-eyed in Thai).
Ai-bod was known for terrorizing the people living along the river. It was known to hunt as far as Saphan Put and killed numerous people in its wake.
Finally, the communities have had enough of this crocodile’s bloodlust. Men gathered and went on the hunt for this naughty crocodile. They chased the beast into Wat Chakrawat (known as Wat Sam Pluem at the time). The animal was found hiding under one of the monk’s houses (Kuti). But when they were about to strike the killing blow, the monk appeared and asked for the crocodile’s life as alms.
The people were happy to oblige the monk’s wish as long as he promised to fence the beast in and make sure it never hurt the people again.
Today, visitors can still visit the infamous Ai-bod at Wat Chakrawat. The crocodile has long since passed on to a croc heaven but his body is stuffed and placed on a stand overlooking his living pond mates with that permanent smile.
I just hope that you would be luckier when you visit than I was and get to see the (possibly the unlucky) monks clean the crocodile pit.
About the temple
Wat Chakrawat was built and presented as a royal temple to the King Rama III in the year 1835 by Chao Phraya Bodindecha or Sing Singhaseni.
Today, it houses one of the largest communities of monks and novices in Bangkok to date.
Upon entering the temple’s ground, on the left-hand side, there’s a stairway leading to a platform housing a mondop topped with Khmer-style prang. This mondop houses a Buddha footprint shrine.
The central building or the main wihaan is over two-century-old. It stands in the middle of the temple’s ground. The exterior walls are decorated with intricate gold Thai patterns (Kranok patterns) on old and faded black background.
Parts of the building are under renovation where bricks and steel rods are exposed. Surrounding the temple ground are numerous Khmer-style prangs and one small Chinese-style house on the far corner.
A new section of the temple is being built to replicate either the inside of a mysterious cave or a giant termite mound with the black buddha shape on one wall. This is referred to as the Buddha’s shadow, and half of it is covered with gold leaf offerings. Next to this image was a gold Katyayana Buddha statue.
How to get there
Wat Chakrawat is on the western side of Chinatown. The temple is located between Chakrawat Road and Maha Chak Road. The easiest way to reach the temple is actually by boat. Take the BTS Skytrain to Saphan Taksin station, exit 2. From Sathorn Pier, take a boat to Rajchawongse Pier. Then, take Rajchawongse Road and turn left on Anuwong Road. Keep walking straight until you reached Maha Chak Road. You’ll be able to see the southern entrance of the temple. Follow the small alley that makes a sharp turn to the right, walk past the temple’s school buildings and monk’s living quarters to reach the main temple compound.