If you spend any time on the river as you explore Bangkok, you can hardly miss Wat Kalayanamit, with its massive wiharn close by the river on the Thonburi side. The temple isn't on the main tourist trail, but it is part of a pleasant walk through the old port district.
The temple was built by Rama III in the first half of the nineteenth century. This was a time when trade with China was at its peak. China was seen as a useful counterbalance to the growing influence of European powers in southeast Asia. Many things Chinese became popular, including statuary and architecture. While the huge wiharn maintains the traditions of Thai style, the two flanking buildings - one of which is the ubosot - as well as many other small pavilions in the compound, look very Chinese.
Inside the massive wiharn is an equally huge Buddha image which fills almost the entire interior of the prayer hall. The walls of the wiharn are painted with contemporary scenes from the time of the temple's construction. Next to the wiharn, a bell tower barely contains the largest bronze bell in Thailand.
The wiharn, ubosot and many other smaller buildings sit in an inner courtyard surrounded by statues, ceremonial gates and other decorative objects that were imported from China. These items were generally used as ballast to keep empty rice barges from overturning on the return trip from China.
Between the inner courtyard and the river is a fore court with several buildings in both Thai and Chinese styles, although the area was mostly converted to a parking lot as part of recent renovations. The most refined of the small Thai style pavilions is close to the wall of the courtyard, and was probably a royal changing room used by the King or members of the royal family to change out of travel clothes and into fine robes for attending the temples.
Out on the riverfront, you get a good view of the Wichai Prasit fort, which was originally built in the time of Ayutthaya to prevent ships from sailing up the river to the Siamese capital. This is about as close as you can get to the fort, which is now in the grounds of the Royal Navy headquarters. The headquarters itself is housed in the palace built by King Taksin when he established the capital in Thonburi, before his successor Rama I moved the capital across the river to Bangkok.
The best way to get to Wat Kalayanamit is by boat. Take the Chaophraya River Express to either Ratchinee or Memorial Bridge (Saphan Phut) piers. From Ratchinee pier, you can get a cross-river ferry to the pier right next to the temple. Use the Memorial Bridge pier if you want to follow our Thonburi walking tour, which includes Wat Kalayanamit.