Bangkok is home to one of the largest Chinese diaspora in the world. Since the founding of the city, Chinese immigrants boarded junk boats and landed in the capital of Siam, hoping to make new and better lives for themselves. The area that is now Bangkok’s Chinatown is around Yaowarat Road and filled with shophouses running businesses and restaurants. It might not be the capital’s economic powerhouse that it once was in the early 1900s but today, one can still see remnants of its past success. One temple in particular, Wat Samphanthawong Saram Worawihan, played a small but key role helping some Thai Chinese achieve that level of prosperity.
Wat Samphanthawong Saram Worawihan sits on the southern end of Yaowarat Road and is close to the Chao Phraya River bank. Its moniker, Wat Ko (translated to island temple), gives a clue that it used to be surrounded by canals that connected it to the river, thus technically forming an island. The temple was established during the 1700s and by the time it found itself absorbed into the new capital, it owned a pier, buildings, and land around it. Many immigrants entered Bangkok on its original pier and the temple kindly offered accommodations and business spaces for affordable rent to these newcomers. As such, many new Chinese arrivals found their footing in this temple. These immigrants would go on to establish successful family businesses and enterprises around Chinatown.
It was not only the Chinese immigrants who would get offered a place to stay by Wat Samphanthawong Saram Worawihan. Western expatriates and missionaries also passed through the temple. Dr. Dan Beach Bradley, a Protestant missionary who was destined to become one of Thailand’s most revered and famous figures, first stayed in the temple upon arrival. He would go on to bring the first Thai-script printing press to the capital, introduce much of Western medicine, and perform the first surgery in Thailand. Today, he is buried in Bangkok Protestant Cemetery down river from the temple.
Wat Samphanthawong Saram Worawihan is a beautiful fixture in Chinatown close to Wat Traimit and is worth a visit for its beauty and even more so for its historical significance to the area. Today, many Chinese families still make merit at this temple to remember their ancestors’ humble beginnings there.