Tampa’s Thai Temple: The Wat Mongkolratanaram

A woman walks outside the Wat Mongkolratanaram, as photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams

With the coldest air of the season beating down on New York City, I thought sharing photos from one of Tampa’s most serene spaces was in order.  Welcome to the Wat Mongkolratanaram of Florida, a Buddhist temple located alongside the Palm River near Brandon.  The ‘wat,’ or monastery temple, was established in its present location in 1981 and the newly designed temple was dedicated in 2007.  English-language religious services are held every Sunday beginning at 1:00 p.m., and classes on Buddhism are offered during the week.

A woman walks outside the Wat Mongkolratanaram, as photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams

A golden buddha statue at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams

The temple is breathtakingly beautiful.  The altar is covered in ornate gold leaf designs, yet the rest of the interior is simple enough so that nothing looks gaudy.  When you’re there, make sure to look up to notice the intricate ceiling.

The Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams

An ornate lamppost at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams
An ornate lamppost outside the temple

The Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams

A dragon guards the exterior of the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams
A pair of twin dragons guard the back of the temple

The interior of the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams

The intricate ceiling of the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams
The intricate ceiling of the temple

The altar of the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams

Worship guides at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams
Worship guides are laid out on each mat inside the temple

Worship guides at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams
It is a sacred space, and there are several rules of etiquette that must be followed.  First and foremost, no shoes are allowed in the temple (my black and white chucks are parked outside with the rest).  Proper attire is expected, and this means no shorts, short skirts, or low cut blouses.   You can find a full list of the rules here on the wat’s website.

No shoes allowed in the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams
No shoes allowed!
No shoes allowed in the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams
I wish these pink shoes were mine

As far as the etiquette for taking photos, there were no rules posted.  I asked other visitors, and they assured me that you are allowed to use your camera.  I made sure to be respectful and not touch the altar or go behind any areas where the monks pray.  [Note that during my entire time at the temple I did not see a monk.]  Also, I did not use flash, and because I arrived at the temple early, I was able to take photos with no visitors present.  I think as long as you abide by these rules — and in particular, that you do not pose in front of the buddhas or the altar — you are allowed to use your camera.

The interior of the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams

The interior of the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams

The interior of the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams

The interior of the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams
Arriving early at the temple was essential for getting the best photos and the best parking spot.  I pulled in to the temple at 10:30 a.m., and a crowd was already way ahead of me in the lot.  Though a golden buddha statue greets everyone arriving, this moment of zen does nothing to make up for the zoo that is the parking lot.  The temple wisely has parking attendants directing traffic.  These attendants are immensely helpful, but the lot is small and the spaces are even smaller, so take caution when moving your car.

The parking lot of the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams
All of the people ahead of me in the parking lot were most likely there to sample the delicacies of the the Asian food market — by far the biggest draw to the temple.  The market begins at around 9:30 a.m., and all of the food is lovingly prepared by members of the congregation.  The market serves everything from pad thai and noodle soup to fried bananas and green papaya salad.  The food is delicious: I bought a minced pork salad, beef salad, and fried banana chips, and the pork salad was the best I have ever tasted.

The Asian food market of the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams

Today's menu items at the Asian food market of the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams
Today’s menu items
Fresh cut bananas at the Asian food market of the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly WilliamsFresh cut bananas at t
Freshly cut bananas being driven to the fryer
Frying bananas at the Asian food market of the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams
Banana fritters made fresh

You have been warned, however, that both the noodle soup and the pad thai are the most popular items for sale.  I got in line for food at 11:00 a.m. after taking photos in the temple.  By that time the line for noodle soup was akin to the long lines of Disney World, and the pad thai was sold out by around noon.

The noodle soup line at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams
The infamous noodle soup line

I live by the motto, ‘spicy food, spicy life,’ and the Asian food market provided everything I needed in terms of condiments.  Fish sauce, peppers, and jalapenos can be found on a table just past the fried bananas.

Condiments at the Asian food market of the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams

Picnic tables are provided alongside the river, and it is a wonderful space to share a meal with others and commune with the natural surroundings.  No bringing your own adult beverages, however, as there are several signs warning you that alcohol is strictly forbidden.

Picnic tables at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams
Chowing down on grilled delicacies

Picnic tables at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams
To the left of the picnic tables is an outside food and plant market where you can pick up a lovely orchid alongside anything you would need to recreate what you just ate.  The prices are fair, and the produce is fresh.

Rambutans for sale at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams
Rambutans are delicious, but furry. They taste like lychee fruit.

Lemongrass for sale at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams

Orchids for sale at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams

Orchids for sale at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams

Orchids for sale at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams
The visit to the Wat Mongkolratanaram has been a highlight of my trip to Tampa.  While I was born in Tampa, I’ve never really had the time to venture off the beaten path…until now.  I have several adventures planned before I go back home to New York, but this temple gem ranks in the top five of my central Florida discoveries.  I hope if you’re in the vicinity you’ll make a point to visit the Wat Mongkolratanaram.

An outside altar at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams
An outside altar

An outside altar at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams

An outside altar at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams

An outside altar at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams

An outside altar at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams

An outside altar at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams

An outside altar at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams

The view of the Palm River at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams
The views of the Palm River from the temple’s picnic area alone are worth the trip

The view of the Palm River at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams

The view of the Palm River at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams
A young boy excitedly watches a train pass across the Palm River
The grounds of the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams
The temple grounds are the perfect place to take a nap
A money tree for donations at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams
A ‘money tree’ where you can leave donations for the temple
A demonstration of fruit carving at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams
A member of the congregation demonstrates the art of carving fruit. Apparently the temple offers this class during the week.

A demonstration of fruit carving at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams

A temple mascot at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams
The temple mascot, enjoying some shade

A temple mascot at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams

A temple mascot at the Wat Mongkolratanaram, photographed by NYC photojournalist, Kelly Williams


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