It’s ironic that Samut Prakan, one of Thailand’s lesser known tourist spots is also the one visited by nearly every visitor to the kingdom – for the province, adjacent to Bangkok, is home to Suvarnabhumi Airport.
But Samut Prakarn is more than Thailand’s gateway. Only 40 minutes from Bangkok, the area offers visitors a slower slice of Thai life and fascinating attractions. So I went to explore and found some very Thai delights.
The temple of Wat Bang Phli Yai Nai, off the Bangna-Trat Highway is a good place to start your visit and the waterside environs are a reminder of how life in this region of Thailand used to centre around canals rather than roads.
Wat Bang Phli Yai Nai is home to a famous Buddha image known as Luang Pho To, which is cast in the Sukhothai style and highly revered by the locals. In October, to mark the end of Buddhist Lent, a lotus throwing festival is held and a replica of the Luang Pho image is floated down the canals. People line the banks and toss sacred lotus flowers into the boat, which soon becomes a floating mountain of flora, burying the statue.
The temple was built to commemorate King Naresuan the Great’s victory over the Burmese during the Ayutthaya era. Whether you need to or not, do visit the posh temple toilets, which are reputed to have cost over five million Baht to construct and are very fancy indeed.
Adjacent to the temple sits the charming Bang Phli Market, which has been serving the community for over 150 years and bustles with shoppers every day. The little wooden shop houses used to sell household products but now there are cute souvenirs and craftwork to attract tourists. Being on the canal, some vendors sell their goods from boats like a traditional floating market. It’s nice to walk around and listen to the sellers’ banter.
After the market, I headed to Wat Bang Phli Yai Klang to see the huge 53-metre reclining Buddha image which is longer than the famous Bangkok one and known as Somdej Phra Sakayamuni Si Sumet Bophit. You can actually enter the Buddha statue, which is home to meditation cells, images of 500 disciples, and murals depicting heaven and hell. On the 4th floor is a much revered Buddhist relic that was brought to the temple from Sri Lanka in 1987.
Samut Prakan is also home to one of Thailand’s more delightful tourist attractions – Ancient Siam. If you like the idea of seeing the nation’s greatest cultural sites but simply don’t have the time to travel, this is the place to come. It’s a sort of cultural theme park, which replicates the kingdom’s treasures. But don’t think of it as a tacky Thai Disneyland, Ancient Siam (previously the Ancient City) is the outdoor museum, and its founder’s aims were to preserve forever some of Thailand’s precious heritage as well as the skills that went into making them.
The 800-rai park is laid out in the shape of Thailand, and structures and buildings corresponding to different parts of the nation can be found there. It’s a great place for new tourists to learn about the things they’ll see on their travels, and convenient for people leaving, as they can catch up on the sights they missed. You can take in the best of Thailand in a day.
There are over 100 structures and monuments to see in the park and the painstakingly reproduced replicas include the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Sukhothai as well as traditional houses from around the nation and a floating market. I was most impressed with the interior of the Phra Sri Sanphet Throne Hall, a replica of the palace of Thailand’s ancient capital of Ayutthaya.
The park-museum is very spread out so I hired a bike, but there are trams too. Ancient Siam is well worth seeing, and relatively unknown by many tourists.
If you’re just in Samut Prakan to see some greenery, do spend some time at Bangpu Recreation Centre, a seaside attraction where you can explore the mangrove forests of the Chao Phraya Estuary and the cooling breezes that come off the Gulf of Thailand. It’s a charming place to have an evening meal and watch the sunset, a perfect end to a day in this unexploited area of Thailand.
So remember next time you’re flying into, or out of Suvarnabhumi take a visit to Samut Prakan and make a mental note to see it at ground level.
It’s Bangkok’s back garden and well worth exploring. I know that I’ll be back soon.
The best way to get around is by car or taxi. Half-day tours to Ancient Siam are offered by many tour operators and are recommended for any new visitors to Thailand.
For information about Ancient Siam, Tel. +66 (0) 2323 4094-9