Even though Thailand follows the Buddhist solar calendar used through much of South East Asia, Thais still celebrate the gregorian New Year. Their way of celebrating, however, does not usually include a countdown, fireworks, and list of things to change in the new year, but rather a trip to the temple. On January 1 you will find all the temples in Thailand packed with Buddhists who want to start the year out giving merit and racking up their good karma. This year I spent the new year with a couple of Thai friends. Little did I know this would mean spending the entirety of two days facing the crowds and temple hopping. But witnessing the passion and devotion of everyone added to the whole experience. Here are a few that we went to:
Mahamariamman temple is the oldest and most important Hindu temple in Thailand. The building is in the south Indian architectural style, built in 1879. It is also referred to by Thais as “Wat Khaek,” literally translating to “Indian Temple.” It is on the corner of Pan and Silom road. Though it is a Hindu temple many Buddhists go to pay respects and worship as they have similar roots and Thai Buddhism is infused with many Hindu tranditions.
Wat Phanan Choeng was built in 1324. It is part of Ayuthaya, the old capital of Thailand, about an hour outside of Bangkok. The main building in the complex houses a 62 foot high Buddha statue dating back to 1334, called the Luang Pho Tho. The statue was restored in 1854 after the devastating destruction of Ayuthaya by the Burmese in 1767. Everyday many Thais come to see this Buddha and the ceremony that takes place where they offer orange cloth to dress the statue.
Wat Na Phra Meru is a temple on the north side of Ayuthaya, positioned opposite to the Royal Palace. It was built in the later part of the Ayuthaya period. This temple contains a couple of unique Buddha statues, atypical of traditional ones from the Ayuthaya period.
Wat Chai Watthanaram is on the west bank of the Chai Phraya River. This is one of the best known and most visited temples in the Ayuthaya UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built in 1630 in the prang Kmer style, with 4 small prangs around the main one, a rectangular platform around it, with 8 chedi and 120 seated Buddhas around the walls. After the Burmese destroyed the city it wasn’t until 1987 that the Thai department of Fine Arts restored this temple.