Spend a Day in Heaven and Hell
Enjoy an unforgettable day trip to snack on a platter of grilled prawns, explore offbeat Suphanburi, a city older than Sukhothai, listen to the rice grow, and experience an unexpected and sometimes kitschy side of Thai spiritual beliefs. We think this is one of our most unusual daytime adventures from Bangkok.
Leave frenetic Bangkok behind and journey in into the the vast green rice belt of Suphanburi Province. If you like, we can stop at one of the shrimp farms along the way for a roadside snack of grilled prawns.
When people ask us about places "tourists have not discovered yet," offbeat Suphanburi is at the top of our list. This historic town in Thailand's heartland could not be more different than Bangkok. It is clean and pretty, and offers insights into some of the more unusual aspects of Thai culture and spiritualism.
As far as we know, no other tour company offers a day tour to Suphanburi. That's really unfortunate because many visitors never have a chance to experience the authenticity of a simple provincial capital, or see the rather unusual side of Thai spiritualism that is on display in the Temple of Heaven and Hell. We think this is one of the best day trips we offer. The grilled prawns make it even tastier.
Down the road is the city of Suphanburi, which is older than the ancient capital of Sukhothai and the site of an epic battle between the Burmese and Siamese. This rural farming center is clean, green and laid-back--quite a change from Bangkok. You stop to visit the City Pillar, which was once at the heart of the old city. (Most major cities of this age had one.)
Next door is a huge and wildly ornate Chinese temple and a towering Dragon Pioneered that, at first glance, appears to be vomiting. We will also also make a quick stop at Wat Pa Lelai, a very old monastery.
Lunch today is at a charming century-old market filled with ancient wooden shop-houses. While every Thai town once had a market like this, most have given way to shopping malls. There is plenty of great food to choose from, but this market is especially well known for its traditional Thai sweets. Take a few to nibble on in the afternoon.
Later, we drive deep into the countryside to listen to the rice grow and enjoy the fragrant air. You can still see plenty of old fashioned teak houses on stilts along the way. This seems like an odd place for the things you will see next, beginning with what local folk believe is one of the three largest reclining Buddhas in the Kingdom, and maybe the world.Although it dates to the Sukhothai period, periodic restoration makes it look much more like it was made in 1963.
Not far down the road is highlight of the day. Sprouting inexplicably from the center of endless rice paddies is a sprawling temple complex that is surely one of the most unusual places you will ever visit. In a vast field behind a ten story seated Buddha are hundreds (maybe thousands if you care to count them) Buddha statues of every description stretching to the horizon.
To the wealthy and eccentric man who created the complex, this was his vision of Heaven. Across the road and beyond a beautiful pavilion floating above a reflecting pool, is his vision of Hell. Here you will see hundreds of life-sized, luridly-painted statues set in gory tableaus that are meant to instruct Buddhists to remain on the path to nirvana. The statues are labeled with the sin or vice which brought each their own unique, eternal punishment. While this might seem like an existential theme park, be reminded that Thais take matters of the afterlife very, very seriously.
We allow plenty of time here before returning to Bangkok when the day fades.