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The Metal Castle in the Middle of the World: Bangkok's Loha Prasat

April 4, 2012 at 1:21 PM | by | ()

Just in time for the Thai festival of Songkran, we're sharing a secret favorite Bangkok spot with you...

Imagine the world as a maze—one of those thickly bordered, medium-difficulty mazes from the pages of Highlights—and though the paths dead end at various destinations, there still has to be something in the very center. Whatever it is has been sitting there your whole life, waiting for your travels to eventually loop around enough so that, one day, you are there with the sense that all along, the world has been twiddling its thumbs in anticipation for this moment.

I've had pages and pages of such mazes in my travel history, but none so literal as the journey I made through Bangkok, Thailand to reach the Loha Prasat, or "metal castle."

The Loha Prasat usually doesn't get much of a mention (if one at all) in guidebooks. In fact, I only knew about it from a haunting description in a novel I read months before even setting off for Bangkok. The memory of the pencilled underline of the passage popped up on what was one of my final days in Bangkok, and I set out armed only with a screen shot of Google Maps on my iPhone.

I was lost, I was found, I was lost again and reoriented again, accidentally stumbling upon other popular landmarks like the Democracy Monument, Golden Mount and Giant Swing. The Loha Prasat, sitting quietly as it does within the larger Wat Ratchanadda Buddhist temple complex, isn't exactly easy to find, and by the time I finally spotted its dark iron spires pointing up towards the evening storm clouds, the interior had closed and everyone else—tourists, caretakers, Buddhist monks, locals—had cleared out. Some stray dogs and cats milled about, doubtless scheming for their next meal.

There wasn't anything to do except admire the structure at this point. Built in the early 1800s by King Rama III for his granddaughter, Princess Somanas Vadhanawadi, the Loha Prasat looks far more ancient than it actually is. The age isn't what's important here, but its architecture and the veiled meaning.

Only one of three metal temples in the world (the others are in Sri Lanka and India), the Loha Prasat and its maze of interior passages are a temple to enlightenment. In fact there are 37 metal spires, a nod to the 37 virtues toward attaining it. A spiral staircase inside allows visitors to head up top for a sweeping view—to attain enlightenment of sorts—after an arduous climb, but it wasn't to be for me. Instead I just had a sit at its base, and basked in the feeing of pride that comes from successfully navigating somewhere and the journey (plane to plane to bus to subway to Chao Phraya boat bus) I had undertaken to reach this spot even smaller than a pin dot on a map of the world.

The Loha Prasat sits at the center of the maze that is Wat Ratchanadda, which sits within the larger maze of Bangkok, in the even larger maze of Thailand and the world, which sweetly now fits into the maze of my travels. A zooming in/zooming out, if you will.

I can't guarantee you'll reach enlightenment, have a spiritual experience or, in my case, enjoy a calm moment of self-awareness at the Loha Prasat, but I can say that the metal castle is a very worthy site off the usual beaten tourist track, and isn't that just the best?

What to know: There's no easy way to reach the Loha Prasat unless you have a taxi take you to the Wat. I hopped the boat bus up the Chao Phraya and walked in from the pier, thinking I would spot the temple. Nope.

Tuk-tuks gave me blank looks when I requested either the Loha Prasat or Wat Ratchanadda, so be ready for that. Just arm yourself with a detailed map that includes the temple on it. Many do not. Entering requires a donation, but it's like the equivalent of $0.25.

[Photos: Cynthia Drescher for Jaunted]

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