Wat Saket: the temple of the golden mountain

Bangkok 1000 temples. Wat Saket. Golden mountain
Main Buddha image in Wat Saket. By ASaber91 [CC BY]

Wat Saket Ratcha Wora Maha Wihan ( วัดสระเกศราชวรมหาวิหาร), normally abbreviated to Wat Saket ( วัดสระเกศ), is also known as the golden mountain or Phu Khao Thong ( ภูเขาทอง) is the temple where you can visit the unmistakable shiny golden Chedi that dates back to the Ayutthaya era when it was called Wat Sakae ( วัดสะแก).

Bangkok 1000 temples. Wat Saket. Golden Mountain
Front view of Wat Saket, the golden mountain. Photo by กสิณธร ราชโอรส [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This second class royal temple sits atop an 80-meter high artificial hill in the old town of Bangkok and is one of the oldest in the city. It is situated on the northeast rim of Rattanakosin Island ( เกาะรัตนโกสินทร์), but outside of its boundaries. Subtle chants of monks and the faint ringing of bells accompany us on our way up to this sacred mount temple.

Bangkok 1000 temples. Wat Saket. Golden mountain
Bells at the golden mountain. By BrokenSphere [CC BY]

King Rama I ( รัชกาลที่ 1) rebuilt and renamed the temple to its present name in the late 1700s. His grandson, King Rama III ( รัชกาลที่ 3) tried to build a huge Chedi inside the temple. But due to soft ground below, the construction collapsed and was left unattended for a few decades. The abandoned debris took the shape of a hill.

Bangkok 1000 temples. Wat Saket. Golden mountain
Cemetery at Wat Saket. By Photo Dharma from Sadao, Thailand – 012 Cemetery, CC BY 2.0, Link

King Rama V ( รัชกาลที่ 1) completed the construction on a later time. The temple was once also utilized as a crematorium in the late 18th century. We can still see an unusual cemetery close to where the steps begin. The modern temple was rebuilt out of Carrara marble in the early 20th century. The golden mountain was once the highest spot in all of Bangkok.

Bangkok 1000 temples. Wat Saket. Golden mountain
Detail of mural at Wat Saket. By Adam Jones [CC BY-SA]

This temple has some excellent murals and a peaceful atmosphere. The main attraction, though, is the view of the Old City from the golden mountain, an 80-meter high man-made hill inside the temple.

Bangkok 1000 temples. Wat Saket. Golden mountain
Ubosot at Wat Saket. By กสิณธร ราชโอรส [CC BY-SA]

The temple architecture consists of typical Buddhist structures like ordination hall, prayer hall, and library. The Chedi houses old relics of Buddha which were bought from India and Sri Lanka. Around 300 steps will take us up to the temple. There are many resting spots and viewpoints on the way up for visitors.

Bangkok 1000 temples. Wat Saket. Golden mountain
Entrance to the golden mountain. 300 steps to reach the temple. By Deror Avi [CC BY-SA]

You’ll also discover many cute and cheerful statues on the way. There are large prayer bells lined up on your way up on one of the platforms. The temple ground houses many vines and full-grown trees. You get a panoramic view of Bangkok’s Old Town once you reach the top of Wat Saket.

Bangkok 1000 temples. Wat Saket. Golden mountain
Gold leafed Buddha at the golden mountain. By Adam Jones [CC BY-SA]

An annual festival is celebrated at the temple every November featuring a candlelight procession to the Chedi which is wrapped in a long red robe on that day. The procession marks the beginning of a week-long festivity. Devotees write names of their loved ones on the robe and pray for them. This festival dates back to King Rama V’s reign. Temple grounds are packed with visitors up till midnight.

During the same month another yearly festival, the Loi Krathong ( ลอยกระทง), is also observed on a full moon evening. On this particular occasion, decorated baskets are floated on a river. The golden mountain temple attracts maximum visitors during the annual fair in November. Wat Saket comes to life with bright lanterns, decorative flags, food vendors and games.

A metered taxi is the best way to get there. Tuk-tuk can be a better idea if you are in close vicinity. With the recent extension of the MRT Blue Line, the Sam Yot Subway station ( สถานีรถไฟฟ้าใต้ดินสามยอด), located on the southeast margin of Rattanakosin Island is another alternative using public transport. From this subway station, you can then get a taxi or tuk-tuk.

Bangkok 1000 temples. Wat Saket. Golden Mountain
Front view of Wat Saket, the golden mountain at night. Photo by Tris T7 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Admission into the temple is free. The Chedi entrance does require a small fee. The temple opens daily from 8 am to 5 pm. Early morning can be a good time to visit as the climb to the top will be cooler. If you plan to stay late, you might get a nice view during the sunset. The golden mountain has become a symbol of the city and is a popular tourist attraction.