If you’re looking for an easy day trip from Thailand’s capital of Bangkok, the Phra Pathom Chedi in the province of Nakhon Pathom is ideal. Just 50 kilometres (31 miles) from Bangkok, Nakhon Pathom is often blissfully overlooked by many tourists, making it a lovely place to experience a traditional side of Thai life, as well as enjoy history and culture away from the crowds.
If you’ve already day-tripped to some of the more well-known destinations such as Ayutthaya, Lopburi, Kanchanaburi, and Damnoen Saduak and are looking for where to go next, Nakhon Pathom, with its awe-inspiring Phra Pathom Chedi, is well-worth a visit.
Interested? Keep reading to find out more!
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An attraction of superlatives
A stupa is a rounded religious structure that contains sacred relics. Often used as a place of worship and meditation, a stupa’s shape symbolises the Lord Buddha sitting on a throne and meditating. In Thailand, a stupa may also be referred to as a chedi.
The towering Phra Pathom Chedi stands at 127 metres (417 feet) tall, making it the tallest stupa in the world! Seen from far and wide, the design may be fairly simple, but the grand stature still makes it an impressive sight.
Additionally, Phra Pathom Chedi is on the site of the oldest stupa / chedi in all of Thailand, believed to date back to around 193 BC. It is also thought to be amongst the oldest stupas in Suvarnabhumi, an ancient legendary land. Indeed, the stupa’s name means "The First Holy Stupa".
If you love seeing things that are the biggest and the oldest, you’ll enjoy visiting Phra Pathom Chedi.
Entry of Buddhism to Thailand
Long before the lands of modern-day Thailand were known as Thailand, Buddhism first entered the area in Nakhon Pathom. Having originated in the northern part of India, an Indian Emperor called Ashoka sent monks across Asia in order to spread Buddhism. Nakhon Pathom was on the coast then, and this was where the Indian Buddhist monks told people about, and converted people to, Buddhism. The religion then spread further across the region.
Phra Pathom Chedi was designed like the now-UNESCO-protected Great Stupa of Sanchi in India. Relics from India were brought to Nakhon Pathom and housed within the chedi. The stupa’s heritage means that it is one of the most revered places in the country for Thai Buddhists.
Phra Pathom Chedi today
Although the chedi that now stands at the heart of Nakhon Pathom is not the original, having been reconstructed in the 1800s. Standing on the site of the original sacred structure, it took 17 years to complete the existing chedi, with work having finished in 1870.
Standing at the heart of a large square, the chedi’s orange-brown tiles shine in the sunlight. At the base you’ll see many small Buddha images in a variety of postures, nestled in small alcoves. To get to the base of the chedi, you must climb a gleaming marble staircase. At the top of the stairs there is a large gilded Buddha statue, and a room towards the rear of the chedi houses a large reclining Buddha image. It is common to see people praying and making merit in front of these statues, as well as leaving offerings of flowers and incense.
Other attractions throughout the grounds
The grounds have a number of smaller stupas and Buddha statues, as well as sweet-smelling flowers and a couple of cave shrines. Step into these caves and you’ll find even more religious statues and items that have been left as offerings to show respect and make merit. You may even spot some Buddhist monks roaming around the area, clad in saffron-coloured robes. Whilst the complex is not unlike most other temples and religious sites around Thailand, what makes it different is the enormous chedi at its core. The onsite Wat Phra Pathom Chedi Museum is well-worth a visit, containing old items that were found when the area was excavated.
Useful information for visiting Phra Pathom Chedi
Located in the middle of the main provincial city of Nakhon Pathom, Phra Pathom Chedi is easy to access from both the local bus and train stations, each of which has regular services to and from Bangkok. You could also negotiate a price with a taxi driver to take you around for the day, or if you drive yourself you’ll find plenty of parking around the town, including a large car park right next to the stupa.
Phra Pathom Chedi is open every day between 9 am and 5 pm, although the museum’s opening hours are from 9 am to 4.30 pm (closed on Mondays and Tuesdays). Admission to the museum is 40 THB (approximately 1.15 USD) per person.
As a sacred site, visitors are reminded to dress respectfully. Females should have their shoulders and knees covered, and men should refrain from wearing tank tops, beach wear, and short shorts.
Other attractions in the locale include Sanam Chan Palace, a former royal summer home, Wat Srisathong, a temple devoted to the God of Darkness, the large and bustling night market next to Phra Pathom Chedi, Wat Song Thammakanlayan, the only Bhikkhuni (fully ordained Buddhist nuns / female monastics) temple in the country, Jesada Technik Museum, which is home to a large collection of vehicles old and new from all around the world, and the Monument to Ya-Lei, the favourite dog of King Rama VI.
Whilst it is easy to visit Nakhon Pathom on a day trip from Bangkok, why not consider staying a bit longer and fully exploring the province? Hidden Holiday House is a recommended place to stay in the province. For sure though, no matter how long your visit will be, Phra Pathom Chedi is a top provincial attraction that you really don’t want to miss!