Wat Si Chum, Sukhothai

Wat Si Chum
Wat Si Chum

Wat Si Chum, located north of the old city walls not far from Wat Phra Phai Luang, might well be the most enigmatic of Sukhothai's temples. The "temple of the bodhi tree" was built in the late 13th century, and while it doesn't seem to get that many visitors, it must be one of the most photographed.

Chapel of Wat Si Chum
The narrow slit allowing a peek at the Buddha image.
Phra Acana
The Phra Acana Buddha image at Wat Si Chum

The most striking feature of the temple is the large solid building (mondop) at the rear of what remains of the main prayer hall. A single narrow slit, almost the full height of the mondop, is all that pierces the structure. Through this narrow entrance, you glimpse the serene face of a single large seated Buddha image that almost completely fills the space enclosed by the building. The mondop once had a roof, but it is now gone, so the interior space is open to the sky. The walls of the mondop are much thicker than they need to be. This is because there is a narrow, cramped passageway between the outer and inner walls. The corridor was lined with depictions of the life of Buddha (the Jataka), and allowed devotees to climb up and around the image. Small openings in the inner wall allowed people to get a small glimpse of just one part of the image. The Ramkamhaeng National Museum is attempting to replicate this experience in the museum.

The Buddha image is itself quite striking, and not just for its setting. The image is known as Phra Acana, which means 'one who is not frightened' or 'unperturbed'. The fingers of his right hand, which is extended down to summon the Earth Goddess, are long and delicate. They have been, of course, covered in bits of gold leaf by contemporary Thais. According to legend, a Burmese army invading Sukhothai fled at the sight of this image.