The Temple in the Sky
Wat Saket, the temple of the Golden Mount looms high in the early morning light. Barely eight am and the heat has not quite taken hold. Arriving early is more about climbing the 344 steps in the relative cool of the morning than beating the crowds – this is one of the lesser visited of Bangkok’s many wonders possibly because it is only accessible by taxi.
With so many temples and palaces within short River Boat rides from each other, a journey on the busy roads to the Golden Mount may not seem worth the effort. But if you seek a little peace - an intangible something that is so often lost in the tourist jostle - this is the place.
Wide, red-painted shallow steps wind around the Mount. Plants and creepers twist above or cling to the rock in green profusion and shadow the start of the journey. A plethora of friendly statues, some half-hidden among the plant-life others placed on the low rock wall beside the steps to amuse. Here the three wise monkeys, there a turtle, now a pair of cranes. Made from mottled bronze or stone they have a neglected, garden-ornament air about them - all the better to set off those of Lord Buddha in shimmering gold.
When the way flattens and opens into the daylight, there is a view of the city and beside the sloping wall of the Mount, bells hang. Their different sizes give each a distinct sound when the faithful ring them as they pass.
Past the ancient bells the red steps begin again and curve ever upward. Already the day is getting hot and the climb is being felt by all but the young and fit. For good reason this is often called the Temple in the Sky. The city is shrinking below and every stop to ring bells or sound gongs is as welcome as the occasional wisp of breeze.
The top is reached after a slow, twenty minute climb. Here a large room with (glassless) windows that tinkle with small bells. Buddha and other religious artefacts sit on a plinth – before them on a carpet people kneel and quietly pray. Past this, within an alcove is another Buddha. This one shimmers with gold-leaf and is directly beneath the stupa above.
A narrow staircase leads onto the roof where the golden stupa shines in the sun. Enshrined within are Buddha relics from India. In front is a table where people are placing offerings. Food, flowers, money and neatly folded bolts of material – these to robe the monks here.
Look out across the flat cityscape and it is easy to appreciate why King Rama 111 wanted to create a huge hill on which to put a stupa. His attempt failed because of the soft ground – King Rama 1V began rebuilding and this was completed in the early reign of his son King Rama V ( C1870 ). Once this was the highest building in Bangkok but even in the modern city it still has impact.
The rooftop provides an uninterrupted panorama of Bangkok. Directly below the red rooves of the temple complex and the old city give way to the grey and modern.
Possibly because there are more locals than tourists, there is a feeling of true peace. Speakers bring the chanting of the monks from their temple. Small bells held by a large statue in front of the stupa tinkle lightly and the deep notes from the big bells clanged by other pilgrims as they make their climb toward the heavens fill the warm air.
Wat Saket as it is not near any public transport. Take a taxi. Make it very clear where you want to go and make sure the taxi has a meter on. If the taxi does not have a meter, wait for another.
As with all temples dress modestly. For men knee-length, smart shorts or cotton trousers and a short sleeved shirt. No flip flops.
Women; sleeved dress below the knee or cotton trousers and shirt. No flip flops.
To visit the temple and climb the mount is free but there is a cost of 10 Baht (26p) to go on the roof top where the stupa is. Buy the ticket before you climb the steps!