Along Phra Sumen road a few blocks from the Banglampu river pier is the important but seldom visited temple of Wat Bowoniwet. The Chinese style of the temple's decorations suggest it was built, or at least rebuilt, around the time of Rama II in the early nineteenth century.
Royal residences next to the temple compound of Wat Bowoniwet
But the temple's current importance comes from the fact that King Rama IV (Mongkut) served as abbot here. Mongkut never expected to become king, and spent 27 years in the priesthood before succeeding his brother. He traveled widely in Thailand and came to believe that Buddhism in Thailand had descended into little more than popular superstition. While at Wat Bowoniwet Mongkut founded the Thammayutika sect of Buddhism and Thailand's second Buddhist university.
A shady lane through the school and housing area of Wat Bowoniwet
It is customary for all Thai men, including members of the royal family, to spend some time as a monk, although usually only for a few weeks. Since Mongkut's time, most members of the royal family, including the present king, have spent their time in the priesthood at Wat Bowoniwet. A small compound on the west side of the temple holds two charming residences built to house royalty while they are serving at the temple.
The temple itself consists of a large ubosot with a rather unusual transverse aisle. Directly behind the ubosot is a large chedi covered in small gold tiles and surrounded by four small golden prangs. Behind the chedi are two wihara. The larger one is 'Phra Wiharn Phra Sasada' while the smaller is 'Wiharn Keng.' Next to the wiharn is an odd fenced enclosure containing a Bodhi tree in its center.
Next to the main gate in front of the ubosot, which is often closed, is another small elevated building set into the wall. This is a royal changing room. This dates from the time when royalty would arrive at the temple on elephants. The changing rooms provided a place for the royals to get off the elephant and change out of the costumes used for riding and into robes for the temple.
Roughly across the street from the temple is a small section of the old city wall. A gateway in the wall serves as the entrance to a private residence.
Wat Bowoniwet is a short walk up from Kaosarn Road along Tanao Road. If coming from elsewhere, take the Chaophraya River Express to the Phra Arthit Pier. From the pier, turn left and walk up and past the Phra Sumen fort, and on along Phra Sumen road. Wat Bowoniwet will be on the right side of the road, about 10 minutes walk from the pier.