Golden Treasures of the Old City ~ Pomprapsattuphai, Bangkok

Gold-painted black figurine of a Thai hermit, set in a waterfall

Hermit in a Waterfall ~ The Golden Mount

Bangkok is full of golden treasures.

Everywhere you look: every nook and cranny; every street and every market – there are unique and interesting artefacts to be discovered. This is particularly true in the old city, where each building and every object has historical, religious and/or artistic significance. Turn a corner and you make a new discovery.

Take for example, Wat Ratchanatdaram Worawiharn: a temple built by order of King Rama III (1824-1851) to honour a royal princess. Architecturally beautiful, the temple is known for it’s unique 37-tiered Loha Prasada (brazen palace) representing the 37 buddhist virtues. But, behind the temple buildings are the real treasures – Wat Ratchanada is also known for the the amulet market within its grounds.

Bordering the car park, an unprepossessing collection of stalls patched together from plywood and corrugated iron house metal shelves and plastic tubs, piled to overflowing with beads, amulets, and religious and sacred images.

Roof-lines:  Wat Ratchanatdaram

Red Green and Gold ~ Wat Ratchanatdaram Roofs

Portrait: Smiling Thai woman in front of shelves of colourful buddhas

Smiling Seller of Religious Images ~ Amulet Market, Wat Ratchanada

Small coloured-glass Thai Buddha figurines

Candy-Coloured Buddhas

Oval wooden good-luck talismans on yellow and orange strings

Good-luck Talismans

Small metal figurines, including King Taksin on horseback

A figurine of King Taksin (1734 – 1782) nestles amongst the other icons of religious significance.

Metal figurines of Thai religious symbols

A figurine of Phra Reusi, the hermit monk, flanked by another monk and Mae Nang Kwak

Protective talismans, religious symbols and good-luck charms come in a variety of forms. Buddhas of all shapes and sizes can be found in glass, precious stone, metal and garish plastics. Fat, smiling, Chinese Buddhas mix with Sukhothai-style renditions of Siddhārtha Gautama. Turtles, dragons and other Chinese horoscope animals are jumbled together beside figurines of Hindu gods like Ganesh and Vishnu. Thai-specific iconography includes past kings, variations on the animist rice goddess, and revered Buddhist abbots. Amulets designed to be worn, tucked into pockets, or hung from car and truck mirrors, come in all sizes and form to protect the wearer or user from harm. Vials filled with liquid and herbs are made to age-old folk-magic traditions to bring love, heal sickness and ensure long life and financial security.

To a Western eye, the most noticeable talismans are the myriads of penis amulets. Ornately decorated or plain; cast in metal or resin or carved from wood, horn or bone; small or large – these protective, good-luck talismans can be seen everywhere in Thailand. Clearly they are in demand: they hang bundled on strings in the amulet shops, like bunches of bananas, ready for picking.

A large display of plain wooden penis amulets

Penis amulets are a common sight in Thailand: worn by men or on display in homes and restaurants

Amulets, if old or if blessed by the right monk, can be priceless, and serious collectors can often be seen with a jeweller’s glass loupe examining them closely.

Wat Ratchanada is one of the busiest amulet markets in Bangkok. The morning I was there, however, it was quiet. I was with a walking group organised by ANZWG (the Australian New Zealand Women’s Group) and we had the market to ourselves as we wandered around the fluorescent-lit  stalls. Sellers pass the quiet hours cleaning and stocking the dusty shelves, chatting, eating, or putting intricate amulet jewellery together.

Close-up: female hands with pliers, fixing a clasp to an amulet.

Encasing Amulets

Portrait: Thai woman putting amulets together

Close work: Making amulets

A box of gold-coloured amulets in plastic containers.

Gold amulets, ready for sale.

Metal Tibetan Bells

Tibetan-Style Bells

Lidded bowls with Khmer writing

Metal Khmer Bowls

Portrait: Stern-faced elderly female amulet-seller in her crowded shop/office.

Office, lunchroom - all-in-one.

Portrait: Young male Thai with tattooed neck and arm smiling in front of bags of amulets.

Tattoo, Talismans and a Smile

It’s a short walk from the amulet markets to the small neighbourhood of Baan Bat, where more treasures can be found and bartered for. With a small development loan from the Community Organizations Development Institute (CODI) this community has revitalised its traditional craft of hand-making beautiful hammered-metal monk’s begging bowls.

Thai worker hammering an alms bowl into shape.

Alms bowls (begging bowls) are made from eight sheets of metal, representing the eight spokes of the dhamma wheel, fused together and then hammered into shape.

Thai gray-haired male holding two small alms bowls.

A local artisan shows us his wares. Alms bowls come in a range of sizes and finishes.

The Baan Bat community is at the foot of the Golden Mount (Phu Khao Thong ~ ภูเขาทอง), the artificial hill originally built by King Rama III (1787 – 1851) and topped by a chedhi finished by King Rama V (1853– 1910).

The golden spires of Wat Saket against a blue sky dotted with white clouds.

The golden spires of Wat Saket (Wat Srakes Rajavaramahavihara).

Yellow candle burning, in front of black-rock constructed water fall

Golden candles light the way to the top of the Golden Mount.

Pink lotus with a golden yellow centre

The enduring symbol of buddhism: the lotus, rising up from the mud to the heavens.

Buddhist bells line the stairs up to the Golden Mount chedhi

Ring the bells as you climb the stairs up the Golden Mount and your prayers will be heard.

Gold leaf on a reclining buddha, lotus offering

Golden reclining Buddha ~ lotus flower offering ~ The Golden Mount

Typical Thai Buddhist shrine: Multiple Buddhas of all sizes

Buddhas in all sizes and asanas (postures) greet the worshiper at the top of the Golden Mount.

Golden bell-shaped chimes on Golden Mount

Write a prayer ~ send your wishes on the wind...

Theravada Buddhist flag and Thai flag: view over the rooftops of Bangkok.

Buddhist flag and Thai flag on the wind over the city.

It was a golden summer morning – full of discoveries – with clear, untroubled skies over the City of Angels.

It is rainy season here now. Today, as I write this, Bangkok is under siege from the very waters that, the rest of the year, are its lifeline. The rivers and klongs that allow us to bypass the notorious traffic jams are about to overflow. Up-country, three hundred lives and countless properties haveText: Safe Travels! Ursulabeen lost as the country battles the worst flooding in over 50 years. The old city and and its treasures are under threat.

It may take more than amulets and lucky charms to keep us safe.


  • Kevin Dowie - October 21, 2011 - 10:25 am

    “Tattoo, Talismans and a Smile” ….and an AC DC tee shirt! chuckle. Somehow it seems to fit in. Nice essay Ursula.

    PS: hope you’re staying dry!ReplyCancel

  • Lisa Brockman - October 21, 2011 - 1:24 pm

    Lovely story and images Ursula. Good luck and stay safe as the waters rise.ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - October 21, 2011 - 1:53 pm

      Hi Kevin,
      Isn’t he perfect! But who doesn’t love the original ACDC? People in Bangkok are just BEGGING to be photographed. 🙂
      Hi Lisa,
      Thanks for visiting!

      We are on the 20th floor, so we are ok – the rest of the city, however, is likely to suffer much more than should have been necessary. 🙁ReplyCancel

  • Guava - October 22, 2011 - 12:03 am

    Great post with great text and photos 🙂

    Some extra info:

    The Penis talisman are called ปลัดขิก (Palad khik) and are thought to be a representation of the Siva amulets of India. They are normally worn on a string around the waist of young men as protection amulets, several can be worn at one time. I could provide more info, but I think its a bit weird that I should know so much about them! 555+ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - October 22, 2011 - 2:46 am

      Always great to have a visit from you, Guava! Thanks for the info – I did know more than I let on – I didn’t wan’t people wondering why I know so much about them. 😉ReplyCancel

    • gas84 - August 18, 2016 - 3:30 am

      Hi, do you know where can buy this Palad Khik in bigger sizes in Bangkok? I need to get it as offerings hence it has to be bigger in size instead of those key chain size. Hope you can shed some light.

      Thank youReplyCancel

  • gabe - October 23, 2011 - 1:56 am

    This is very enjoyable Photo’s are coolReplyCancel

  • Signe Westerberg - October 23, 2011 - 11:47 pm

    thanks as always Ursula… stay safe… thoughts are with the people in the low lying areas, surely not a good situation for all concerned.ReplyCancel

  • Tony Dobson - October 25, 2011 - 1:05 am

    Great photography, as always, Ursula!ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - October 25, 2011 - 1:52 am

      Greetings, Tony! Nice to have you join us in “our” part of the world. 🙂
      Signe, we are safe – the rest of the city is struggling. 🙁ReplyCancel

  • Patrick Gallagher - July 16, 2013 - 6:00 am

    Nicely done, Ursula. Thanks.ReplyCancel

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