WAT CHOENG THA (วัดเชิงท่า)
Wat Choeng Tha is located off the city island in the northern part of Ayutthaya. It is
situated beside
Khlong Mueang (the old Lopburi River), and boats can easily dock on
site. This area is known as Tambon Tha Wasukri.

Wat Choeng Tha was designed in a north/south axis so that it could face the Lopburi
River. It was situated in a prime location during the Ayutthaya period. The Royal Palace
was on the opposite side of the Lopburi River, and the monastery was built at the upper
mouth of
Khlong Chakrai Yai (Khlong Tho). This canal provided access to the Royal
Palace and led all the way to Wat Phutthai Sawan. In addition, de La Loubere’s 1691
map and Coronelli’s 1696 map show that this vicinity was used for the docking of the
Royal arsenal of boats. Wat Choeng Tha would have been situated directly beside the
boat yard.

Wat Choeng Tha is an active temple with many of its ancient structures still in situ. One
of its defining features is a large Khmer-style prang with niches in each of the cardinal
directions. There are remains of a few standing Buddha images in the niches (right palm
raised and pointing outward in a Halting of Evil pose). This pose resembles elements of
Buddha images found in northern Siam (Sukhothai and Lanna Kingdoms). The Khmer-
style prang is partially hollow on the inside, and there is a discreet hole next to the altar
where its inner halls can be entered. This corridor leads to a small tunnel and ultimately a
crypt that has been dug out by looters. The prang has been extended in several
directions, which includes side rooms for additional worshiping activities.

The ruin of a sermon hall is located in front of the prang. This has been renovated to the
basic foundation layer but includes several of its walls. More standing Buddha images are
found in arched niches at the back wall of the sermon hall, which is adjacent to the
Khmer prang. A more recent altar had been constructed towards the middle of the
viharn, and two Buddha images sit upon it in the Taming Mara pose. Many fragments of
Buddha images are found all around this sermon hall. These formed a gallery perhaps.

The temple’s ubosot is situated west of the prang. This building is seldom open to the
public, but monks still use it occasionally. On the western side of the ubosot, there are
some intricately carved Singh (lion) images. Most of the sema stones and their pedestals
have been preserved. In addition, there are dozens of small chedi scattered around this
site – implying that this monastery had once been held in great importance. These chedi
are designed in a variety of styles and time periods. The walls and some gateways of the
old monastery are still mostly in situ as well.

The active part of Wat Choeng Tha is situated slightly east of the more ancient
structures. The standard structures of an active monastery are all in place (monks’
quarters, bell tower, etc.). In addition, there is a small museum displaying old ceramics
pieces and local terracotta craftware. A Buddha footprint is also available for viewing.
Perhaps more significant, many elaborately painted murals can be found at an active
sermon hall close to Khlong Mueang. These murals were painted in various increments
during the Chakri Dynasty. They portray a number of Jakatas and offer many hints about
Thai culture during the Ayutthaya period. Some of the wooden shutters display Chinese
characters and motifs. Unfortunately, many of the murals are getting damaged with age
and paint has worn off in places. This sermon hall is designed with two floors in a style
that suggests it once served as a residence hall for someone who held a high-ranking
position. The inner part of this sermon hall is constructed from teakwood. There are also
some intricately carved woods structures for someone with Royalty to rest upon and a
number of Buddha images inside.

It is not clear when this temple was originally established or who built it. The presence of
the Khmer-style prang is suggestive of the early Ayutthaya period. There are a number
of monasteries along Khlong Chakrai Yai that showcase Khmer prangs from this era.
These temples include Wat Phutthai Sawan,
Wat Som, Wat Jao Phram, and Wat Wang
Rakhang. However, the foundation date of this particular temple is still subject of debate.

Wat Choeng Tha has been historically known under different names. According to local
legend, this monastery might have been originally named
Wat Koi Tha. As the story
goes, the daughter of a wealthy man feel in love and eloped against her father’s will. He
decided to build a bridal house in forgiveness after she returned. However, the daughter
never came back, so her father ordered a temple to be built on the spot and it was
named Wat Koi Tha. The temple had also been called Wat Yah at one point because it
was a good place to gather grass to feed the elephants and horses at the Royal Palace.  

According to a sign posted by the Fine Arts Department on the premises of Wat Choeng
Tha, this monastery was restored by Phraya Kosa Pan during the reign of King Narai
(1656-1688), which led to it being renamed as Wat Khlang (as in Phra Khlang, the
position that Kosa Pan held in the Siamese administration) and once again to Wat Kosa-
was. As an interesting side note, in 1690, a German physician named Engelbert
Kaempfer visited the city as part of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). While
Kaempfer was in Siam, a funeral ceremony was held with great pomp for Kosa Pan’s
mother (the wet nurse of King Narai). The place where she was cremated is described
as “
seated between two branches of the river on the opposite to the City, and
enclos’d with a square row of Banners, Flags, and other Ornaments … upon the
middle of the place was erected a stately tower of an extraordinary height,
curiously adorn’d and supported by fine pillars, columns, and cornishes
” (Kaempfer
22). However, in different accounts, the funeral actually happened at
Wat Samana
K
ottharam instead.

There is also evidence that King Borommakot made renovations to this monastery’s
structures. This King ruled during an extended period of peace, so he occupied his
Siamese armies and city residents with the renovation of temples that had fallen in
disrepair. In addition, this monastery is where Phraya Tak Sin served as a novice monk
before the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767.

In the final Burmese siege of the city, enemy troops brought in guns form their position at
Wat Phukhao Thong, and set them up at the Monastery of the Holy Funeral Monuments
(Wat Na Phra Meru) and the Monastery of the Elephant Landing (Wat Tha Chang). The
Burmese then fired them in volleys at the Holy Royal Palace enclosure and the Throne
Hall. They hit the spire of the palace and destroyed it (Cushman 482-483). Phraya Tak
Sin returned to Ayutthaya 6-7 months later to oust the Burmese from the city. His troops
defeated Burma’s proxy ruler at Pho Sam Ton. Phraya Tak Sin took up residence for
only one night at the Throne Hall (which was near the monastery where he served as a
novice monk). He decided that the city was no longer adequate for defense and set up
the new capital in Thonburi (Kasetsiri & Wright 219).

The monastery gradually fell into ruin and became known as
Wat Thin Tha because of
its location in a grassy area near the landing by the water. King Phra Putthayodfa (Rama
I) made repairs to this temple and supplied it with Buddhist clergy. However, it was King
Mongkut who gave this monastery its current name. He considered the previous moniker
as too unsuitable and impolite. In more modern times, Wat Choeng Tha doubled as a
highly esteemed temple-school before the State took over educational duties.
Text & photographs by Ken May - September 2009
Painted doors
Main prang
Visible stucco work
Main prang and satellites
Remaining stucco work
View from the north
Addendum

There was a boat ferry between the landing at northwestern corner of the Grand Place
called
Horse Bathing Landing to Wat Choeng Tha. This crossing became the official
ferry of the palace from the reign of King Petracha (r. 1688-1703) onwards. In
Ayutthayan times there were twenty-two ferry routes between the main land and the city
island. In the northern area, the six other crossings were: Tha Nuea to
Wat Khun Yuan,
Tha Khan to Sala Trawen, Tha Sip Bia to
Wat Pho, Wat Tha Sai to Wat Rong Khong,
Wat Song to Wat Pa Khonthi and Tha Khun Nang to Wat Mae Nang Plum. [1]
See "
The Boat & Ferry Landings of Ayutthaya".

Ken May writes that Wat Choeng Tha was called Wat Yah at one point. The text on an
old board at Wat Choeng Tha, called Wat Tin before, indicates that
Tin means Ya
(grass) and as thus
Wat Tin means Wat Ya; but there is no mentioning that the
monastery ever has been called Wat Ya. (With thanks to Chris Baker for the remark)

Wat Choeng Tha is located in Geo Coord: 14° 21' 42.95" N, 100° 33' 19.44" E.

References:

[1] อธิบายแผนที่พระนครศรีอยุธยากับคำวินิจฉัยของพระยาโบราฌราชาธานินท์
ฉบับชำระครั้งที่๒และภูมิสถนกรุงศรีอยุธยา (2007) - Explanation of the map of the
Capital of Ayutthaya with a ruling of Phraya Boran Rachathanin - Revised 2nd
edition and Geography of the Ayutthaya Kingdom - Ton Chabab print office -
Nonthaburi (2007) - page 92.
Addendum & maps by Tricky Vandenberg
Updated April 2016
(Main prang)
(Main prang and satellites)
(Visible stucco work)
(Painted doors)
(Remaining stucco work)
(View from the north)
View of the old ubosot
(View of the old ubosot)
Detail of a 19th century map
(Detail of a 19th century map - Courtesy Sam Chao
Phraya Museum)
Detail of Phraya Boran Rachathanin's map
(Detail of Phraya Boran Rachathanin's map - Anno
1926)
Detail of a 2007 Fine Arts Department GIS map
(Detail of a 2007 Fine Arts Department GIS map -
Courtesy of the Fine Arts Department - 3th Region)
Source: Phra Rachawang Lae Wat Boran Nai Changwat Phra Nakhon Ayutthaya (2511 BE)