Wat Phanan Choeng is situated off Ayutthaya’s city island, in the southeastern area, in the Suan Phlu Sub-district. The monastery is at the confluence of the Chao Phraya and the Pa Sak Rivers.

Phra Phanan Choeng (1) was built in 1324 CE, 26 years before King U-Thong founded Ayutthaya. At its origin, the Buddha image stood in the open.

“In 686 of the Lesser Era, a year of the rat, the image of Lord Buddha, Lord Phanaeng Choeng, was first installed.” [1]

There is no record of its construction, although there is a legend written down in the Phongsawadan Nua or the Northern Chronicles:

“At some time before the Ayutthaya period, there was a Thai king named Phra Chao Sai Namphung requesting the emperor of China’s daughter to be his wife. She travelled from China to this area by boat. When she arrived, the king was not there to greet her. She was heartbroken. She waited for a long time but the king did not come. Finally, she killed herself by holding her breath. The king was very sad, so he had this temple built at her cremation site to gain merit for her soul, and he named the temple “Wat Phanan Choeng.” [2]

The Buddha image - made of brick and mortar and covered with stucco - sits in the classic posture of Subduing Mara. It measures (approx.) 14 meters at the lap and 19 meters in height, including the ornament above the head. Thai people call it “Luang Pho To” or “Great Reverend Father,” Chinese or Thais of Chinese origin call it “Sam Po Kong (2).” It is one of the largest, oldest, most beautiful, and most revered Buddha images in Thailand.

Gijsbert Heeck, a Dutch doctor of the VOC, described in 1655 CE Phra Phanan Choeng in his Journal as follows:

“Outside the famous, well-known old royal capital Ayutthaya in the Siam River, not far from the Dutch lodge one sees a very old and exceptionally high temple with a double roof one above the other. Let in (by one of the talapoins, priests, or guardians) we saw a frightfully high, large, and heavy image, (we estimated) some twenty times larger than the largest image we had seen anywhere. It sat cross legged, but even so one looked up to him as at a tower. From one knee to the other measured a width of 42 of our feet, and his thumb thick in circumference, 19 inches wide, and as long as a common rattan. The fingers and nails were exceptionally long and broad relative to his hands and feet. His knees seemed like small mountains, and the back was so broad that it looked like the wall of a lofty church. His mouth, nose, eyes, and ears were all matching and so well proportioned that we could see little or no reason to judge it too thick or too thin, too long or too short, too broad or too narrow. This astonishingly large image was richly gilded from top to bottom, looking more a golden mountain than a human figure.” [3]

The story goes that the image had shed tears when the Burmese took Ayutthaya in 1767 CE.

Though an old temple, Wat Panan Choeng has never been deserted by its followers. Continuous development has been made through time, as evidenced by the existing landscape and Thai architectural structures decorated by art motifs from different periods.

The monastery has four principal buildings in its Sangkha area: an ordination hall, a vihara, a large vihara and a small Chinese building.

The ordination hall contains three Buddha images, all in the posture of subduing Mara. Two images are assumed to have been built during the Sukhothai period around 1357 CE. They were covered with stucco, lacquered and gilt, probably to hide their value from the Burmese invaders in 1767 CE. In 1963 CE, during a cleaning process, the stucco came off and the metal became visible. One image is in gold measuring a width of 145 cm and a height of 190 cm. The second one is made from an alloy of copper, silver and gold and measures at width 170 cm and height 228 cm. The third image in the middle of the pedestal is an Ayutthaya stucco image covered with gold (width 182 cm - height 256 cm). The ubosot has beautiful mural paintings although from recent times.

The vihara located parallel and to the north side of the ordination hall has a Buddha image in the subduing Mara posture and very nice Chinese mural paintings.

The large vihara behind the buildings above houses Luang Pho To. The large wooden entry doors are carved with beautiful floral designs, while the middle of the panels is decorated with deities and mythical animals, all in traditional Ayutthaya art. Inside the walls are hundreds of niches, each containing Buddha images and suggesting the principal image sitting in the middle of the Buddhist universe.

The large Buddha image has been repaired many times during Ayutthaya’s period of rule. King Mongkut (Rama IV) ordered a restoration in 1854 CE and named the statue Phra Buddha Trai Rattana Nayok. [4]

The temple and the Buddha image were damaged by fire on 21 December 1901 CE.

King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) ordered its restoration, which was finished the year after. The cheeks and the lower jaws of the image broke in pieces on 15 March 1928 CE. In 1929 CE, the Royal Institute had the necessary reparations made.

The Chinese shrine of Lady Soi Dok Mak

The last structure is the Chinese shrine of Lady Soi Dok Mak (Betel Nut Blossom), a local goddess. It is a traditional Chinese building, with a courtyard in the middle and the outer wall essentially joining the two separate buildings together. The shrine is in the two-storey building in the rear. The lower floor is dedicated to Mae Kuan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion, while on the upper floor, the image of Lady Mother Soi Dok Mak is enshrined. The window shutters and doors are highly decorated with dragons and phoenix birds. The shrine remains very popular with members of the Chinese community to this day.

Local tradition has it that Soi Dok Mak, a Chinese princess, came to marry King Sai Nam Phung of Ayothya. The king failed to give her proper honour on the arrival of her ship, and she committed suicide by holding her breath. The king then built the Buddha image ‘Phra Chao Nang Choeng’ as an act of merit-making for his suicidal Chinese bride at the site of her cremation. The image and monastery became a holy place of pilgrimage for the local Chinese.

The area where Phra Phanan Choeng was built has been home to a sizeable Chinese community, settled on both sides of the Chao Phraya immediately south of the city in an area presently known as Bang Kraja (Bang Kacha) since times before the establishment of the Ayutthaya in 1351 CE. In 1282 CE, two hundred Chinese Sung refugees settled in Ayothya. Charnvit Kasetsiri relates that Ayothya had grown considerably since it could afford to construct one of the largest Buddha statues of Siam. The presence of Chinese in the area at this early time does not appear unusual since the Chinese settled in various ports and markets of the Gulf of Siam well before the 13th century CE. Several Chinese were active in trade on the Malay Peninsula and in southern Siam between the 13th and 14th century CE. [5]

In olden times, there was a boat ferry between Wat Phanan Choeng and a landing at Hua Sarapha, east of Pom Phet near the arched gateway of Talat Rong Lek. In Ayutthaya times, twenty-two ferry routes were between the mainland and the city island. The southern area had six ferries the five other crossings were: Tha Hoi to Wat Pa Jak, Tha Phra Ratchawangsan to Wat Khun Phrom, Tha Dan Chi to Wat Surintharam, Tha Chakrai Noi to Wat Tha Rap and Tha Wang Chai to Wat Nak. [6]
Wat Phanan Choeng in the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya

Phanan Choeng monastery figures twice in the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya in 1575 and 1585 CE. After the first fall of Ayutthaya in 1569 CE, the kingdom was troubled. The King of Longvek (Lawaek), Barom Reachea I (reign 1566-76 CE) seizing the opportunity, attacked Ayutthaya in 1575 CE and led his naval army near Wat Phanan Choeng. He attempted an infiltration at Nai Kai, where upon the Nai Kai Fort opened fire and the Siamese naval fleet chased the Cambodians out to the sea, putting an end to the Cambodian offensive.

“The King ordered all the high-ranking officials to inspect and ready the troops to man the positions on the walls of the Royal Metropolis and then make preparations for fighting in defense of the Royal Metropolis. The King of Lawæk, leading his naval army up and in to hide by Phra Phanængchoeng Monastery, had only the approximately thirty swift boats which constituted the vanguard prepared to paddle on in to sack the stockade in the vicinity of Nai Kai. At that moment the King was in a room of his residence, opposite Kaeo Island, and all his high-ranking officials, generals, and chief ministers were assembled there. When the enemy boats had almost arrived, the great cannon in Nai Kai Fort fired and killed the enemy troops in great numbers. Then the King had troops take boats out towards the enemy and all of the enemy fled on down.” [7]

In 1585 CE, the Burmese attacked Ayutthaya again. The King of Longvek, Satha I, was informed of the nearing attack. As there was recently an alliance between the Cambodians and the Siamese, he decided to send military assistance via the way of Prachin Buri to Ayutthaya. King Maha Thammaracha (reign 1569-1590) ordered the Cambodian army to encamp near Wat Phra Phanan Choeng.

“All the high-ranking nobles, soldiers and chief ministers being in agreement, the King of Lawæk placed Prince Si Suphannamathirat, who was the King’s younger brother, in charge of ten thousand men, one hundred war elephants and three hundred [B: war] horses to be brought in as reinforcements by way of the Pracinburi border station. The officials there reported in to have the King informed. The King sent Luang Ratcha Sena Phakdi, Khun Phiphit Wathi and Mün Photcana Phicit, out to escort Prince Si Suphannamathirat in for an audience and then ordered the Khmer army to encamp in the vicinity of Phra Phanængchoeng Monastery.” [8]

The northern vihara of Wat Phanan Choeng


(1) The name Phanan Choeng could find its origin in the Mon, but also in the Khmer language. There can be little doubt that Mon was at least one language of Ayutthaya throughout its pre-modern history. [Reference: Vickery (2004) - Cambodia and its neighbours in the 15C.] Engelbert Kaempfer, a German physician, visited Ayutthaya as a member of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1690 CE he wrote: “In a Peguan Temple out of the City, call'd in the Peguan Language Tsianpnun Tsiun, there sits on an eminence such an Idol strongly gilt, the proportion of which is such, that it would be of 120 foot in length, if standing, ...”. The Peguan are an alternative name for the Mon, while ‘Tsianpnun Tsiun’ stands for Phanan Choeng. [Reference: Kaempfer, Engelbert (1727). The History of Japan (Together with a Description of the Kingdom of Siam). John Gaspar Scheuchzer.]
(2) Wat Phanan Choeng is said to be associated with Sam Po Kong, the name by which Zheng He (1371-1433 CE) is known in Thailand under the Chinese community. It is doubtful whether the community regard Zheng He and Sam Po Kong as the same person. The association is made with the much-revered Buddha statue at Wat Phanan Choeng, called Luang Pho Tho, also known as Sam Po Kong, of which the late American anthropologist and China scholar G. William Skinner concluded that the image bears the mark of Zheng He. The official title of Zheng He, also sometimes written as Cheng Ho, was Sanbao Taijian. Sanbao is literally in Chinese the Three Treasures of Buddhism, called the Rattana Trai (Three Jewels) in Thai the Buddha (the yellow jewel), the Dharma (the blue jewel), and the Sangha (the red jewel). Zheng He was a great maritime voyager of the Ming dynasty who led a vast maritime force on seven voyages to more than 30 distant lands in Asia and Africa between 1405 and 1433 CE (1). The various missions comprised between 50 and 250 ships, making them massive armadas by any scale, which stayed away from China for several years. The sources differ on the number of personnel accompanying these missions, but figures between 27,000 and 30,000 are cited for the largest missions. They were military missions with a strategic aim. The militaristic and intimidating nature of the maritime voyages was intended to achieve the recognition of Ming dominance of all the polities of the known maritime world. These missions were also intended, through this coercion, to obtain control of ports and shipping lanes. By controlling ports and trade routes, one controlled trade, an essential element for the missions’ treasure collecting tasks.
(3) In February 1276 CE, the Southern Sung capital Lin-an (modern Hang-chou) fell to the Mongols (Yuan dynasty), and the last Sung emperor, Chao Hsien (Kung-ti), was taken captive. With the aid of its loyal ministers, the remaining members of the royal house fled to the south. In June, the nine-year-old Chao Cheng was enthroned in Foochow as emperor (Tuan-tsung). However, with high officials in Fukien defecting one after the other to the Mongols, the royal house was forced before long to retreat by sea further south to Kwangtung. In March 1277 CE, the Sung stronghold at Canton also fell and the imperial family hastily fled to Mei-wei, in the vicinity of the present-day Kowloon peninsula of Hong Kong. In November, under the mounting pressure of the Mongols, they retreated southwest along the Kwangtung coast. Since Chao Hsien was never likely to resume control and there seemed to be some chance of taking refuge in the vassal kingdoms of Champa and An-nam (in present-day Vietnam), there followed a flurry of Chinese emigration. Some of these Chinese emigrants arrived in Ayothya. [Reference: Chan, H. (1966). Chinese Refugees in Annam and Champa at the end of the Sung Dynasty. Journal of Southeast Asian History, 7(2), 1-10. doi:10.1017/S0217781100001502]


[1] Cushman, Richard D. & Wyatt, David K. (2006). The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya. Bangkok: The Siam Society. p. 10.
[2] ilwc.aru.ac.th/Contents/FolktaleEng/FolktaleEng81.htm (10 Apr 2009).
[3] Terwiel, Barend Jan (2008). A Traveler in Siam in the Year 1655: Extracts from the Journal of Gijsbert Heeck. Silkworm Books. p. 65.
[4] Tourism Authority of Thailand (2000). Ayutthaya: A world heritage. Bangkok: Darnsutha Co. Ltd. pp. 96/7.
[5] Kasetsiri, Charnvit (1976). The Rise of Ayudhya. Oxford University Press. London. pp. 67/8, 81, 85.
[6] Rachathanin, Phraya Boran. Athibai Phaenthi Phra Nakhon Sri Ayutthaya kap khamwinitjai khong Phraya Boran Racha Thanin. Explanation of the map of the Capital of Ayutthaya with a ruling of Phraya Boran Rachathanin - Revised 2nd edition and Geography of the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Ton Chabab print office. Nonthaburi (2007). p. 91.
[7] Cushman, Richard D. & Wyatt, David K. (2006). The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya. Bangkok: The Siam Society. p. 79.
[8] Ibid. p. 103.

The southern vihara of Wat Phanan Choeng

Wat Phanan Choeng by Henry Alabaster

A detail of Alabaster's book 'The Wheel of the Law' describing his visit to Wat Phanan Choeng in 1868 CE on the way to the Phra Phuttha Bat in Sara Buri.

“The second great sight is Wat Cheuen, built, I am told, by a Princess Cheuen. We land at a small Chinese josshouse, with fantastic roof, and great red placards of unimpeachable morality on the outside, and within darkness, dirt, tinsel, and peacock's tail offerings, flaring tapers, sickly-smelling pastilles, and an old gray-bearded, long-nailed, filthy Chinaman in charge of it everything, in fact, as I have seen it in Hong-Kong. Behind it is a well-kept Buddhist monastery, with a large "wihan," or idol-house, and "bort," or most holy building, i.e., the building where take place the assemblies of the monks, consecrations, &c. The "bort," according to invariable custom, has not far from its walls eight "sema," or boundary stones, cut in a shape somewhat like the leaf of the ficus religiosa, or Po-tree, which mark it out as the most sacred part of the temple and in the same courtyard are also numerous small spires. In an adjoining court is the idol-house, and in close vicinity are the monks' residences and preaching-hall. Not far distant is the part of the ground set apart for cremations, the recent use of which is proved by two or three heaps of fresh ashes. The hall for idols I judge to be about one hundred and twenty feet in length, square, and about eighty in height perhaps this is an overestimate. Externally it is an ugly building - a Chinese pagoda spoilt - but internally it is very effective. The walls are pierced with a fretwork of pigeon-holes, in each of which is a gilt idol about a finger in length. All around, on hundreds of pedestals, are figures of Buddha and his disciples in various attitudes, from a few inches to six feet in height and in the centre, on a broad pedestal or throne, between six huge red pillars, whose capitals are lost in the darkness which hides the roof, is seated a colossal image of Buddha, in what Buddhists call the position of contemplation, the legs crossed, the right hand clasping the right knee, and the left lying palm upwards across the thighs. The head is indistinct, as there are no lights in the upper part of the building. The general expression is that of profound meditation, and the effect decidedly grand. The size we cannot judge with any accuracy, the only clue we have being that a priest, who has ascended as far as the hand to dust it, seems no larger than the thumb of the image. The idol is, I believe, made of brick and plaster, covered with lacquer, and then gilt. On the right and left of this great seated figure are two standing figures about twenty feet high, representing Sariputra and Moggalana, the disciples of the left hand and the right hand.” [1]

Henry Alabaster was born on 22 May 1836 CE in Hastings East Sussex, England. Aged 21 Henry Alabaster arrived in Bangkok as a deputy Consul, being one of the first British diplomats to Siam in 1857 CE. In 1871 CE, he published his widely known book, "The Wheel of the Law". Two years later in 1873 CE, he became personal adviser to King Chulalongkorn. David Garnier [1] gives a number of Alabaster's achievements: He designed and constructed the Gardens at Saranarom Palace as a place for the public to relax and study plants and animals he helped to start the Survey Office in 1875 CE, trained the first Thai surveyors and plotted together the route for a land telegraph cable from Bangkok to Battambang He mapped the Gulf of Thailand and administered the first Thai lighthouse. Alabaster started the first museum in Siam, inside the Grand Palace. He catalogued the royal library and instructed the Siamese how to classify books he started the Post and Telegraph Office, trained the staff, and arranged the first postal deliveries. Alabaster was given the rank of Phraya. He died on 9 August 1884 CE at the early age of 48. The King of Siam erected for him a funeral memorial at the Protestant Cemetery in Bangkok, which still can be viewed today. [2]


[1] Alabaster, Henry (1871). The Wheel of The Law. London: Trubner & Co. - pp 272-3.

[2] http://www.anglicanthai.org/alabaster.htm - data retrieved 3 February 2012.

Wat Phanan Choeng by P.A. Thompson

Detail of Thompson's book "Siam an account of the country and the people" describing his visit to Wat Phanan Choeng in September 1906 CE.

"That evening we walked along the embankment, and taking a sampan a mile lower down crossed over to Wat Chern. This temple is three hundred years old, but it is in perfect repair, and it is always thronged with Chinese worshippers. The most important building is the lofty wihan. It was already dusk when we got there, and as we stood in the porch we could at first see nothing but the blackness of the interior but slowly, as our eyes grew accustomed to the light, the huge dull gold image of the Buddha loomed out of the obscurity, and seemed to fill the whole building. Stepping inside we saw him sitting with majestic mien between great round pillars which upheld the roof. Most impressive was the lighting, which is so managed as to produce at this time of day a wonderful effect. In the lower part of the building the only light entered through the door, for in the deeply sunk windows the heavy shutters were all fast closed but high up in the lantern-like roof was a narrow opening through which the waning sunbeams fell like a glory about the Buddha's head, though they could not pierce the black recesses of the roof far above. This image is built of brick covered with plaster, and then lacquered and gilt. It is fully fifty feet in height, and only a narrow passage is left between the image and the walls of the building. Around the walls are many other images, standing and sitting, and some far larger than life size, but they are all dwarfed by the enormous figure in the middle. The walls themselves are honeycombed with innumerable small niches, each containing an image, and it is said that there are altogether twenty thousand images in the building.”

The writer, Peter Anthony Thomson, is a British painter whose works won him election to the Royal Academy—an honour highly esteemed by every artist — and he has achieved a reputation as an author hardly less enviable than that which he enjoys as a painter - Charles Welsh.


Thompson (1910). Siam an account of the country and the people. J. B. Millet. The Plimpton Press - Norwood - Mass - USA. pp. 233-4.