Wat Samphran is a small temple located 40 km from Bangkok, in Nakhon Pathom province, whose main attraction is a massive dragon statue that looks like Shen Long from Dragon Ball, and is tangled like a vine around a 17-story tower. This temple is hardly visited by tourists, since you will not find it in any travel guide.
Once we arrived, a small group of friendly older women welcomed us. In Thai Buddhism nuns always dress in white and shave their heads. In this case, they wore white but kept their hair, so they weren’t really nuns, probably local Buddhist women who volunteer at the temple on weekends to help out. We went on a Sunday.
The dark story behind the Temple of the Dragon
The first thing that catches the visitor’s attention is the huge dragon that surrounds the building. The nuns first took us to see and touch the huge dragon’s claws. In front of them is a Buddhist prayer written in Thai, which visitors are expected to recite while touching the dragon’s nails. After that, we entered the building and found ourselves in front of a coffin, and next to it were some photos of a lying monk that seemed to be dead. But he was actually alive when the photos were taken. His name was Phra Jam Long (นาย จำลอง), and he was the former abbot of this temple, who began its construction and who, they say, managed to spend 38 days in this coffin without a pulse or breath, and then woke up still alive.
We wish this was the only dark and gloomy story about the former abbot of this temple. But there is more. After visiting the entire temple, one is surprised at how poorly maintained it is. In many areas it seems semi abandoned. And the reason is that the founder of the temple, which you can see in this video, was the protagonist of one of the biggest scandals in Thai Buddhism.
When the monk was at the peak of his fame, he was accused of abusing for years 6 girls from northern tribal ethnic groups, who had been taken to the temple for their education. He was sentenced to 160 years in jail. Also several nuns were also convicted for helping and covering-up the abbot’s abuses.
Some of the abbot’s followers didn’t lose faith in him, arguing that he had been the victim of a plot, and continued to defend his name and show support for him. There are images of some of them, praying outside the jail in which the monk was awaiting the trial’s sentence.
On May 2021 the infamous monk was released from jail at age 72. He went directly to the temple to pray and meditate although he could not wear the typical orange dress of Thai monks, since he, apparently, has been forbidden to teach Buddhism again. It is possible that now that monk is out of jail, the temple starts to develop again. We will see. We just hope they don’t allow children to get any near him.
The temple nowadays
As a result of that scandal, the temple changed its name. It was renamed from Wat Buddha Pawana to Wat Samphran, the current name. I don’t know if the nice nuns we met there support the former abbot or not. I’d rather think they don’t. The truth is that I found out about the story once I had already visited the temple.
If you decide to visit Wat Samphran, keep in mind that if you do not go on the weekend you may not be able to go upstairs, as the access door to the upper floors will be closed. On weekends the ‘nuns’ will unlock it for you. The monks, who do live permanently in the temple, are occupied with spiritual tasks instead of guiding the tourists. We saw a few monks sitting on the floor while waving a fan, and the truth is that they didn’t seem busy at all… but who knows, maybe they are doing such a hard inner work that their body temperature rises tremendously, so they need to cool off with their fans. Your guess is as good as mine.
Before going upstairs, a nun asked us to recite another mantra, and to deposit a donation in a kind of piggy bank that they kept next to a Buddha statue. After that, we went up a couple of floors and then we entered the huge dragon, and kept climbing the staircase up the dragon until we reached the upper floor.
In addition to the beautiful views from above, on the top level of the building there is a representation of the birth of Buddha. You can see a newborn Buddha who, according to legend, already knows how to walk, and wherever he steps a lotus flowers appears and blooms.
From there there are only a few more steps up to the terrace, where you finally reach the dragon’s head. Visitors are suggested to touch the dragon’s chin while making a wish.
In addition to the main building with the dragon, the temple surroundings have several interesting statues that are worth visiting. So if you go we recommend you to take a walk around the site, and you will discover some other surprises.
How to get to Wat Samphran
I went to Wat Samphran by car, the most comfortable option. The temple is located exactly here. About 50 minutes from Bangkok.
If you want to go by taxi, you can go first to Lak Song MRT STATION and take the taxi from there since it is the closest metro station in Bangkok. From there it is only 25 km to temple.
If you want to go by public transport, there are public vans that depart from Bangkok’s Pata Pinklao shopping center. To return, you must take the van again, which stops at the Royal Policy Cadet Academy next door.
🍜 Are you going on weekend in a private car? Then have lunch at Don Wai Floating Market
If you visit Wat Samphran on a Saturday or Sunday, I recommend that you stop at Don Wai Floating Market for lunch. It is 20 minutes from the temple. It is a local market next to a river (do not expect to see many boats here), where you can enjoy the atmosphere and eat well at a very good price. It is really huge!
Wat Samphran is on the list of our 20 most original temples in Thailand ¡Found out more here!