Nakhon Pathom is a city about 50km to 60km west of Bangkok inmiddle of an aluvial plain. It lies in the surroundings of Nam Tha Chi (River). In the course of the huge urbanization rush since the 1980s, it's has practically grown together with the Thai capital. Nakhon Pathom is namegiving for the province of which it is the capital.
The place has a railway station on the line between Bangkok and the south, which runs farther along the whole Malay Peninsula, and which gave it certainly an economic push from the early 20th century on and raised it's importance.
Most remarkable is certainly the huge Buddhist pagoda of Phra Pathom Chedi, which has the recommendation of being one of the tallest Buddhist monuments in the world with a height of 120.5m. The chedi is very well to see from the railway station along the axis of a main inner road; its merely 100m away from it. It belongs now to Wat Phra Pathom Chedi Ratchaworaviharn (temple). The compound is built in a way to represent a Buddhist mandala, symbolizing the Buddhist cosmology. It's one of the first class royal Thai monasteries.
A huge and remarkable nice park, Phutthamaonthon Park, lies a bit more than a kilometer west of the chedi and railway station.
The surrounding agriculture is coined by sugar cane plantations.
The dating of Phra Pathom Chedi is unclear. It has certainly been a sanctuary of the Dvaravati Culture already, what is strongly supported by the findings of Dvaravati artefacts on the grounds around it.
Allegedly, the famous Indian king Ashoka (reign 269 to 232 BCE), sent a delegation of monks to Nakhon Pathom to introduce Theravada Buddhism into this region. According to a Thai historian, already as early as in 325 BCE a Buddhist temple had been established here, and a stupa has been added in 193 BCE. This chedi has been built after the model of the great stupa in Sanchi, north India. However, all these assumptions are uncertain. First mentioned was the chedi in a Buddhist script of the year 675 CE. Nevertheless, it may be much older, for archaeological artefacts found here were dated back to the 4th century. There is always to consider that archaeological datings also lack accuracy (see the datings and dating methods at Ban Chiang Archaeological Site).
As thin and speculative the early history of the place and particularly the remarkable chedi is, legends around it are plenty. I, however, spare here to tell them.
Nakhon Pathom is one of the oldest cities in Thailand. Although it's foundation date is unclear, it has been one of the centers of the Dvaravati Culture in central Thailand. Dvaravati dates back to at least the 6th century CE. The place was situated at an ancient trade route between India in the west and China and Vietnam in the east. At this time, the town lied directly at the shores of the Gulf of Thailand; nowadays, due to long-term silt sedimentation, the Gulf is about 30km away. The Dvaravati Culture here in central Thailand fell victim to the vast military apparatus of the empire of Angkor in the first half of the 12th century.
The medieval Khmer didn't destroy the place. Phra Pathom Chedi got a modification; a Khmer prang was added on top of the stupa. But the place suffered destruction in a conquest of an army from Pagan (Burma). The place has been abandoned after that disaster. According to inscription no. 2 of Sukothai, a Thai monk tried to restore Phra Pathom Chedi, but there is no historical evidence for that. A town was founded in the surroundings of the old place only in 1548 by Siamese from Ayutthaya. It was called then Nakhon Chai Si.
In the early 19th century the place was run-down with only about 300 inhabitants. The population grew, when Laotians, who where resettled from the east banks of the Mekong River, after the Laotion uprise under king Ayungvong failed. More people settled down here from Cambodia and Lanna. In the late 19th and early 20th century it came to a considerable immigration from China.
In 1831, the time of late king Mongkut's monkhood, Phra Pathom Chedi was rediscovered in the jungle. Mongkut himself was the driving force of the discovery. After Mongkut became king, he ordered the restauration of the Chedi in 1853. Due to the restoration, a number of old Dvaravati relics where found in the close surroundings of the chedi. A collection of them is now to visit in the new museum at the southern entrance to the side. The restoration lasted until 1870, what fell already into the reign of king Chulalongkorn. Chulalongkorn let add belfries to the old sanctuary and let cover the whole stupa with Chinese tiles. Only now was the city of Nakhon Pathom (re)created and newly populated.
In the early 20th century king Vajiravudh ordered the construction of a royal palace in Nakhon Pathom (Sanam Chandra Palace). The king let expand the place and the temple ground. His ashes rest in Phra Pathom Chedi.
Another restoration of the chedi has been undertaken from 1975 - 1981, for it showed cracks and became instable. A last restoration, to solve an interial moisture problem, has been done in the years from 2008 - 2012.
In a 1998 annual celebration it came here to a tragical accident. Three of the biggest incense sticks the world has ever seen had been put in the temple ground. A collapse of these huge sticks caused 5 deaths and 13 injuries among worshippers. Too big, no good, one is tempted to add.
In 2009, the Thai Department of Fine Arts considered a nomination of Phra Nakhon Chedi as a UNESCO World Heritage. The plan was dropped, for there was no support for it in the local population. The people of Nakhon Pathom were afraid that the UNESCO would move the big fresh market at the foot of the chedi for gaining space for the heritage compound.