Wat Mangkon Kamalawat was initially founded as Wat Leng Nei Yi in 1871 or 1872 (sources differ) as a Mahayana Buddhist temple by Phra Archan Chin Wang Samathiwat (also known as Sok Heng). It was later given its present name Wat Mangkon Kamalawat, which means “Dragon Lotus Temple” by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V).
Wat Mangkon Kamalawat is Bangkok’s most significant Chinese Buddhist temple. Also called the Dragon Lotus Temple or Wat Leng Nei Yi in Chinese, it becomes extremely crowded during any holiday or occasion in the Chinese calendar. , especially the Chinese New Year. Founded in 1871, Wat Mangkon Kamalawat was the first to bring Mahayana Buddhism to Bangkok. This large dragon-lotus temple is beautifully decorated, and the golden-colored Buddha sits in its ordination hall. As you stroll through reverent sermon halls, you’ll come across collections of Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian shrines where visitors continually burn incense sticks.
Here the oil in the altar lamps is always kept full in hopes of keeping the ‘fire’ of the present life alive and moving on to the hereafter. Wat Mangkon Kamalawat is a must-see for anyone traveling to Chinatown. Extremely quiet and beautiful, it gives one peace away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The architecture of Wat Mangkon Kamalawat
Wat Mangkon Kamalawat was built as a Chinese temple and is decorated in this classical style with Chinese floral, animal and dragon motifs. The temple is a low, labyrinthine formation with the requisite beaded dragon play on the wide tiled roof. Upon entering, you find yourself in a maze of differently interconnected courtyards and corridors, each leading to shrines to the Buddha and Taoist deities. The labyrinth is filled with smoke from the ever-burning incense. At the end of a courtyard are boxes full of golden Buddha images.
Style and Layout
The temple is built in classical Chinese architecture, with typical tiled roofs decorated with animal and floral motifs, including the ubiquitous Chinese dragons. A fusion of Thai and Chinese styles, it is placed in front of an altar where religious rites are performed.
To get to Wat Mangkon Kamalawat, you must walk down a narrow side street off Charoen Krung Road, one of the main streets in Bangkok’s Chinatown. The temple is easily accessible from the newly opened Wat Mangkon MRT station and within walking distance from Bangkok’s central train station, Hua Lamphong. The narrow driveway to the temple leads to a large courtyard where vendors sell lotus-shaped incense, oranges and dumplings for worshipers to make offerings to the statues of various deities in the temples, as well as to their ancestors.
After passing through the main entrance of Wat Mangkon Kamalawat, you first come across the Hall of the Heavenly Kings. According to Chinese Buddhist belief, four gods protect each cardinal point. At Wat Mangkon Kamalawat, there are two giant statues of these gods on either side behind a glass wall, with a distinctive Chinese-style “laughing” Buddha in another glass case at the back of the Hall of Heavenly Kings opposite the entrance.
After passing through the Hall of the Heavenly Kings, you will come to a large room outside the temple’s central shrine. The main shrine features three Buddha statues. The prominent statue is of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, commonly known as Lord Buddha. In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, there are other Buddhas besides Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, and two statues represent Amitabha Buddha and Vairocana Buddha.
In the courtyard in front of the main temple buildings are other shrines, including a kiln for the ritual burning of paper money and other offerings to the ancestors of the believers.