With its distinctive architecture, impressive views and proximity to some of Bangkok’s major tourist attractions, you’d expect to find more visitors at Loha Prasat and Wat Ratchanatdaram. But this unique site sees relatively few tourists despite being within walking distance of the Golden Mount in one direction and the Grand Palace in the other. If you subscribe to the view that once you’ve seen one temple you’ve seen them all, Wat Ratchanatdaram and Loha Prasat may make you reconsider. Although it is pleasant enough, there is nothing remarkable about the main bot at Wat Ratchanatdaram. It is the adjacent ‘metal castle’ known as Loha Prasat that is unique and one worth seeking out when you visit Bangkok.
The pyramid-style structure stands at 36 metres tall and the top of Loha Prasat is adorned with 37 glittering spires. The number of spires represents the 37 articles in Buddhist teaching that must be attained before achieving enlightenment. The design is based on an ancient Sri Lankan temple, but Loha Prasat is now said to be the only remaining religious structure of this type style still standing today.
Visitors are able to climb the spiral wooden staircase that leads to the top. On each level are cloisters which monks used to practice meditation. The higher up the level, then the higher the status of the monks who meditated here. At the open sided top level, visitors can walk all around for 360 degree views of Bangkok with the Golden Mount, Rattanakosin Exhibition Hall, Democracy Monument and Ratchadamnoen Avenue all visible. A small flight of stairs leads to the very top of Loha Prasat where a small shrine houses a relic of the Buddha.
History of Loha Prasat and Wat Ratchanatdaram
In 1846, King Nangklao (Rama III) ordered construction of the temple. There is conflicting information about the reason for the construction. Some online resources suggest it was to honour the king’s favourite grand-daughter and others say it was for his niece. The English language information on display at Loha Prasat says it was for his grand-daughter, but it could easily be a mistranslation. The king himself was said to have been involved in designing the plans for the temple which imitates two ancient Buddhist structures that previously existed in India and Sri Lanka. In the 1840s, Siamese craftsmen travelled to Sri Lanka to learn how the Loha Prasat there had been constructed.
For various reasons there were delays to the construction of the temple during the reign of King Rama III. In the decades that followed there were bouts of on and off work on Loha Prasat.
In the late 1940s, the construction of a movie theatre on Ratchadamnoen Avenue blocked the view of Loha Prasat. The cinema was demolished in the late 1980s and the area around the temple was made into an attractive landscaped plaza. A Royal Reception Pavilion was constructed together with a bronze statue of King Rama III.
A small shrine at the top of Loha Prasat contains a relic of the Buddha which was enshrined at a ceremony presided over by HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej (King Rama IX) in 1995. In 2005, Loha Prasat was submitted to UNESCO for consideration as a World Heritage Site. The Fine Arts Department of Thailand carried out more work in 2007, but the scaffolding was up again in 2016 with changes made to the imposing black metal spires at the top of Loha Prasat. A shimmering golden-coloured covering has now been added to the spires.
Advice for visiting Loha Prasat and Wat Ratchanatdaram
Loha Prasat and the viewing platform is open daily from 9am-5pm. There is an entrance/donation fee of 20 Baht for non-Thais and 10 baht for Thais (free for children under 15). This is for maintenance costs with visitors trusted to pay the money into the donation box at the entrance.
An informative display on the ground floor of Loha Prasat explains in Thai and English the history of the building. As with all religious premises in Thailand, please dress respectfully.
How to get there
Loha Prasat and Wat Ratchanatdaram are located opposite the Golden Mount on the corner of Ratchadamnoen Klang and Maha Chai Road. There are no Skytrain or Metro stops nearby so the most comfortable option is to take a metered taxi. When I visit, I usually take a ride on the Khlong Saen Saep canal boat taxis from Pratunam or Saphan Hua Chang. The fare is 9 Baht and if you get off at the last stop, Phanfa, it’s only a 3-minute walk west to Loha Prasat. It’s a similar distance south over the Crying Bridge to the Golden Mount. If you are visiting other attractions in the historic Rattanakosin area and enjoy walking, you could take the Chao Phraya Express boat to Tha Chang (pier N9). From Tha Chang, it’s approximately a 25-minute walk to Loha Prasat and Wat Ratchanatdaram.
Nearby attractions all within comfortable walking distance include:
Ban Baat Monks Bowl Community
Bangkok City Pillar
Giant Swing & Wat Suthat
Golden Mount & Wat Saket
King Prajadhipok Museum
Rattanakosin Exhibition Hall
Saranrom Royal Garden
Thip Samai restaurant (open in the evenings and famous for Phad Thai)
Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)