Two destinations for the price of one! While the former is best seen from a distance (and not explored by the average tourist), the latter is eminently enjoyable. Neither requires much time, so consider these the ‘when you have time to kill’ type of destinations.
The Sathorn Unique might as well be a punch line. Started during the booming economies and optimistic times of the 1990’s, construction of the 49-story tower eventually came to a halt during the 1997 Asian financial crisis. The land (presumably) is still worth a pretty penny, though demolishing the building is likely the only way to move forward. It’s considered haunted by the locals, and is supposedly for sale for about $60 million USD. Buying it, however, means inheriting the ghosts that still live there and the troubles that plagued the building before.
It should be noted that while access is fairly easy (an unlocked gate is across the street from the temple), actually entering the building is not recommended. I’m as curious as you are about the upper floors, but climbing 49 floors worth of stairs and uncertain terrain means it’s more dangerous than I’d like to dare. Enjoy this from the outside, or perhaps meander around the other side for the parking garage (not pictured). If your curiosity gets the best of you, check out the post by a fellow blogger over at justonewayticket.com. It seems there are some locks part of the way up, and that it’s still possible to reach the top, it’s no longer as simple as climbing 49 flights of stairs (as if that were easy to begin with!)
I’ll therefore call your attention to the wat across the street, Wat Yan Nawa (AKA Wat Yannawa) or วัดยานนาวา in Thai. The wiharn (a building that houses Buddhist images, and where laity come to pray) was made in the shape of a Chinese junk. Yes, I know, so many jokes about junk, so little time.
Seriously, now. Originally constructed during the Ayutthaya period (1350–1767 AD), it was during the reign of King Rama III that trade with China bloomed — and naturally, Chinese junks were bringing those in. As the old junks were slowly being replaced by steam ships, he wanted folks to remember the boats that served the kingdom well before the advance in technology. This ‘boat’ would never float, of course, partially because it’s made with concrete, and partially because there are two chedi (pagodas) instead of masts.
Donated by Won Kwang-Sik, the bell commemorates His Majesty the King’s 80th birthday celebration in 2007.
A look inside the ‘ship’. Watch your head if you’re taller than the average Thai. If this weren’t a holy, sacred part of a temple, it could be kind of interesting to play paintball in…
The ubosot, or ordination hall, has seen better days. It’s still quite pretty, but the cover over the top is likely needed for a reason.
While the temple still has a community of Chinese around, there’s one element of the temple we didn’t get to see. Credit to Tour Bangkok Legacies for the story since there’s nothing about it on-site:
The Wanglee family in Bangkok is an old Chinese family that dates back to the reign of King Rama V (1868–1910). In 1926, the family built a row of houses based on the designs of a French architect. These old two story shop houses are located in Soi Charoen Krung 52 or Soi Wanglee near the Chao Phraya River, just south of the Taksin Bridge station.
Just beyond the old houses used to be the river pier where early Chinese immigrants disembarked and took their first steps on firm ground after a long and hazardous sea journey in the mid 19th century.
Later, the owners donated the land in Soi Wanglee to Wat Yannawa, a temple nearby. The temple then became the landlord and leased the buildings to the occupants. The descendants of some of the original tenants are still living there.
The people in the area were known as the Wanglee community, after the family who built the buildings.
This cosy arrangement ended in 2004, when Wat Yannawa filed a lawsuit to evict the residents. The temple wanted the land to be redeveloped into a commercial complex. Most of the residents accepted the compensation and left.
But a few die hards resisted eviction and enlisted the help of a host of agencies to plead their case to preserve the buildings as a historical site.
I visited Wat Yannawa on 3 March 2008 and passed Soi Wanglee. The old buildings have been completely leveled. The area is fenced off and used as a temporary parking lot for “song taeow” (red passenger pickups running regular routes) and “tuk tuk”. Time has run out for the Wanglee community.
Overall, it’s worth the visit because of the junk. The rest of the temple is pretty, but small. Go ahead and stop by while you’re in the area, or if you have some time to kill. The rest of the neighborhood is worth exploring afterwards.
Name: Wat Yannawa, Wat Yan Nawa (วัดยานนาวา)
Address: 40 Jaroenkrung Rd., Yannawa, Sathorn, Bangkok 10120 (GPS: 13.717095,100.51431)
Directions: Start from the Saphan Taksin BTS station. Walk away from the river, then take the first right down Charoen Krung, a major road (about a 50 meter walk)
Hours: I didn’t see any signs, but you can safely assume it’s open during daytime hours.
Website: no official one, but the Tour Bangkok Legacies is a good unofficial start.