Nakhon Pathom is a surprise. We really recommend you explore it.
Phra Pathommachedi is ancient and monumental… but if you’re looking for records, its probably not QUITE there. Its name means the ‘first holy stupa’. That’s because it was, probably, the first buddhist stupa in Thailand, built somewhere in around 200 to 300 BC – we don’t know exactly. But, Shwedagon Pagoda, only about 500km to the Northeast in Myanmar, is thought to be a wee bit older, and there are many older in the Subcontinent where Buddhism comes from. But its very old indeed.
It was originally built with a more modestly sized dome aligned more with the subcontinental style at the time. It was the Emperor Ashoka that wanted it built as part of his efforts to spread the word of Buddha eastward. However, it was deserted and left to the jungle for hundreds of years before being restored under the orders of King Rama the 4th in the 19th Century. Rama the 4th made a few modifications – he saw it shaped into its pointed shape and megalithic scale, extending the height by around 40 metres, and it now CLAIMS to be the TALLEST stupa on earth… However, the way I see it, at 120.45m its a body’s length shorter than the 122m Jetavanaramaya stupa in Sri Lanka, which is also much more rotund and massive.
So… yeah. Phra Pathommachedi – no doubt ONE OF the world’s great pagodas.
Nakhon Pathom is often considered to be the oldest city in Thailand, dated roughly by the original building of the Phra Pathom Chedi – claimed to be the tallest stupa in the world at 120.45m. When the Indian Emperor Ashoka wanted to spread the word of Buddha east, it is thought that the Phra Pathom Chedi was one of the first Buddhist Wats to be built in the whole of Southeast Asia around 200 to 300BC, but we don’t know exactly. To get a better idea of how ancient Nakhon Pathom is, it is worth noting that it was founded as a coastal city – at the mouth of the Tha Chin river, and a trading port between China and India. But the Tha Chin and Chao Praya rivers deposited 50km worth of sediments over the centuries and changed their courses to leave the city without water entirely. Its early population deserted it and the jungle reclaimed it. In the 19th Century, King Rama the 4th ordered the pagoda to be fully restored, a summer palace built, and the area resettled. He built the canal that you have seen alongside the railway to bring back fresh water, agriculture, and to allow his royal barge to get there. Under Rama the 4th’s patronage, Nakhon Pathom has grown into a spiritually, architecturally, and gastronomically rich and diverse city. During the years of Japanese influence, a sprawling fine arts university, Silpakorn university, was built around the King’s palace, founded by the famed Florentine sculptor, Corrado Feroci. The city is also well known for its variety and quality of fruits, and particularly its pomello. If you see someone selling some at the station, its worth the risk.
SANAM CHANDRA PALACE
You can’t quite see from the train, but the Sanam Chandra Palace lies off over yonder. It was a place for the Royal Family to stay when they came to Nakhon Pathom to pay homage to the Phra Pathom Chedi. Built in the 1st decade of the 1900s, it is a bit odd for a few reasons: Its architecture has strong European motifs. This is not uncommon in the palaces of Thai Royalty at the time – King Rama the 6th was an Anglophile and British architectural motifs from various eras can be seen in its facade. Its structure also eludes to defensive intentions. With Thailand being an Absolute Monarchy at the time when that was going out of fashion – the Qing Dynasty had just been overthrown in China, for example – Rama the 6th saw Nakhon Pathom as a strategically located city – a good retreat from Bangkok should there ever be a national crisis. So his palace is a stronghold: Built on high ground on an island surrounded by a moat of canals.
In 1911, Rama the 6th also formed the Wild Tiger Corps – a 4,000 strong personal paramilitary guard, which trained on these palace grounds. The Wild Tiger Corps quickly came to rival the Regular Thai Army, and its esteem with the King caused dissent in the Thai Army’s ranks. It took a coup d’etat and an attempt on the King’s life by a small group in the Thai Army officers in 1912 to convince the King that this was all a bad idea. The Wild Tiger Corps was disbanded soon after.
Another strange sight at the Palace is the statue of a dog that sits in front of it. This is Ya-Le, Rama the 6th’s dog. He was a street dog, but a great dog by all accounts. The King found him while inspecting a prison in Nakhon Pathom. The story goes that the King was so enamoured by the pooch as to cause one person to shoot the poor dog out of sheer envy. The King placed Ya-Le’s life-size bronze likeness in its current honoured position guarding the palace, and penned a poem about him which is inscribed on the statue’s mount.