Wat Pathum Wanaram Ratcha Wora Viharn (to give it its full name!) was founded in 1857 by King Mongkut (Rama IV) as a place of worship near his Sa Pathum Palace, back when the area was occupied only by rice fields. How times have changed. The giant Siam Paragon and Central World shopping malls now tower over the temple, a brilliant contrast between the older spiritual side of Bangkok, and the decidedly capitalist 21st Century side. The temple itself is typically gorgeous, and arriving during afternoon prayer, the first 30 minutes of our visit was accompanied by the chanting of the monks, whose monastery can be seen just behind the complex. The wall murals and golden statues within the temple demanded our attention, as did the statues of the Naga King (a seven-headed snake from Thai Buddhist mythology) guarding the entrance. We spent our time relaxing and wandering around the grounds enjoying the relative peace and quiet and the calming aromas of incense whilst we watched the many temple cats and dogs from atop the stupa.
A brief walk along the Skybridge will take you to either Siam Paragon or Central World for food, culture, shopping and entertainment, but aside from these there are many interesting little places to eat, drink and shop in the area. Although I have not explored Siam Square extensively, a quick walking tour will take you to places offering alternatives to the shopping malls which are not to everyone’s tastes. In particular the Lido and Scala cinemas, being the oldest in Bangkok, offer a much more traditional viewing experience to the modern multiplexes found elsewhere in the city. Although my weekend did inevitably end with a trip to the cinema, I did think to myself smugly (while settling down to watch The Legend Of Tarzan with my 40 Baht popcorn and can of Est) that this weekend, I had actually achieved something.