To city folk, who prize it as place to buy fabric, garments and other goods at bargain prices, its name is now synonymous with what tourists call Chinatown, but Sampheng was once the bustling heart of this capital of ours, an important port and trading hub with a cosmopolitan tolerance for all faiths which, in addition to temples and shrines for Buddhists of different schools, also accommodated places of worship for Muslims.
Adorning the gable and the ubosot of Wat Chakrawat Rachawat (aka Wat Sampluem) is stuccowork reflecting a belief in five different incarnations of the Lord Buddha. Legend has it that a white crow once collected five eggs and incubated them until they hatched. From the eggs emerged five very different creatures: a turtle, a chick, a naga, a lion and an ox. The lion was identified as representing Gautama, the historical Buddha. Around the ubosot are sculptures of an elephant, horse, lion, ox and Mount Kailash (aka Mount Meru, or Phra Sumeru), regarded as the centre of the universe in Buddhist cosmology.
A French Catholic bishop resident in Bangkok wrote in his Description Du Royaume Thai Ou Siam, published in 1854, that foreign trade during the early Rattanakosin period relied on Chinese junks and large ships owned by bureaucrats and foreign traders with Chinese tycoons often owning five or six junks each. During the cool season, in the run up to the Chinese lunar new year, the bishop, Monsignor Jean-Baptiste Pallegoix, noted that as many as 60 Chinese junks would drop anchor in the Chao Phraya River next to Sampheng in order to offload and take on merchandise.