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Wat Mongkolratanaram — Palm River Thai Temple

by Hilton Kean Jones on April 6, 2008

in Florida, Food

temple front

If you take the 50th Street exit off the crosstown expressway, go south across the Palm River, turn left at the first light, and then, soon after the railroad tracks, turn left into the big parking lot, you will be transported to a different mindset, a completely different approach to life and being: Wat Mongkolratanaram, Tampa’s Thai Buddhist temple (map).

garden Buddha

Westerners usually have misunderstandings about what Buddhism is and what’s going on in the ceremonies they may have glimpsed. A one-sentence definition of Buddhism: an approach to living that reduces suffering. No one claims that Buddha was a god and all the bowing is an expression of respect, not worship. Should you care to enter the temple itself, please remove your shoes, and maintain an attitude of quiet respect.

teaching Buddha

Thai Buddhism is based on the earliest Buddhist writing. As Buddhism spread from country to country from its origins in northern India near the Nepal border, more and more writings were added to the Buddhist canon. Theravada Buddhism, the Buddhism of Thailand and Sri Lanka, doesn’t accept those later scriptures. However, all branches of Buddhism accept the first writings upon which Theravada is based. Tampa has an extensive Buddhist community with Lao, Sri Lankan, Thai, and Vietnamese temples as well as Chinese, Tibetan, and Japanese Buddhist groups.

sticky rice steaming

Every Sunday, starting about 10:30 AM, the families of Wat Mongkolratanaram prepare an enormous feast of traditional Thai foods for anyone who comes, and all are truly welcome. The prices are miniscule. Your only difficulty will be in deciding what to eat.


There is a multitude of desserts—Thais seem to love sweet foods. There are also savory “desserts” such as chopped sweet potato, banana, and taro root (the stuff from which Polynesians make poi) deep-fried in an enormous wok and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Of course, there’s all the usual main dishes such as pad thai and various curries. Food are prepared without hot spices so each person can add hot peppers to their own taste (or not).

fish balls

My favorites are the soups. You have a choice of what you want in yours (fish balls?, onions?, peppers?, thick or thin noodles?) as well as a choice of the basic broth (chicken or beef). Another western mistaken belief is that all Buddhists are vegetarians. This isn’t true. Theravada Buddhists are not. In addition, some Tibetans are not. Even within vegetarian cultures, there are varying degrees; some are much stricter than even vegans are (who eat no eggs or cheese or milk), by eating no garlic, onions, or mushrooms (plants that die when harvested). So, don’t be surprised by all the meat on Wat Tampa’s menu!

pots of soup

There are also tables where one may buy plants and religious articles such as incense, Buddha statues, etc. But…the main even on Sundays is the food and sitting beside the restful Palm River, accompanied only by the sounds of wildlife and, usually, recordings of dharma talks by monks softly playing in the mellifluous Thai language.

spirit house and picnic tables beside river

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{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

jimmie milligan September 11, 2008 at 9:01 pm

please notify me for any up coming events my family and I just moved here from miami.
thank you


Kelly March 4, 2009 at 9:54 pm

Is this still a weekly event? I would love to check it out. Their website is a little difficult to understand, it’s in Thai!

:-) Thanks


Hilton Kean Jones March 4, 2009 at 11:57 pm

I haven’t been in about four months, but I’m fairly sure it’s still every Sunday. It’s one of their temple’s main fund raisers and it’s been going for a long, long time. It’s really wonderful.


Chris March 13, 2011 at 8:24 am

The food is there every sunday, but I would suggest you get there at 10:30AM due to lack of parking and food would pretty much be gone by Noon. My wife and I go every chance we get.


Ling March 18, 2009 at 10:14 am

I was told by a friend about the Thai Temple and my husband & I went last Sunday -3-8-09. It was a beautiful day on the river with all the people; and the various food to eat was wonderful, reasonably priced and just great over all feeling of peace- They are having the New Years-water festival on April 12, Sunday where they will be doing the ‘Dancing’, so go early about 10am. I am hoping to be there, if I can…Enjoy!


Ling March 18, 2009 at 10:27 am

Oh, I almost forgot, if you go to the Temple on Sunday, bring cash with you. We are all so used to using the plastic cards; they do not have an ATM. We had to leave the property (bummer) and go down the road a few blocks to an ATM and trying to find a spot to park when we returned was difficult, it is a busy place… so don’t make the mistake we did….bring cash and go early :-)
By the way their dishes range from $1.00 to $5.00 donations and are all authentic and good. I was craving the Papaya salad-extra hot and got it-mmmm I was in heaven. They also had the deep fried Taro root, banana and sweet potato, that too was good-especially with a bit of salt on it. They also had a vegetable stand at the end of the park grounds and sold fresh veggies and live plants- they were all so nice. Along the way, we met several people that was their first time visiting too-like us, they were very nice and friendly. I am so looking forward to returning soon! Thank you. Wat Mongkolratanaram for being there and sharing.


Hilton Kean Jones March 18, 2009 at 12:29 pm

So glad you went and enjoyed it. It is one of the treasures of the Tampa Bay area, I think. I definitely want to be there for the Water Festival.


Kelly March 18, 2009 at 9:54 pm

Thank you so much for the information, I have put the festival on my calendar!


Jenny April 3, 2009 at 1:48 pm

Does anyone know what time this usually runs? I saw a suggestion to get there at around 10am…but no end time…


Hilton Kean Jones April 3, 2009 at 2:06 pm

I believe it runs 10am to 1pm.


Stellabella April 10, 2009 at 7:28 pm

Does anyone know if dogs are allowed by the waterfront?


Lyman Duggan May 31, 2010 at 8:01 am

Yes on a leash, well behaved and carry a cleanup bag.


Lyman Duggan April 12, 2009 at 12:38 pm

Good to post the address for the Wat for us GPS people so we can find it. :)


Lyman Duggan April 12, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Wat Mongkolratanaram 5306 Palm River Rd. Tampa, Florida 33619
Phone : 813-621-1669 Fax : 813-626-8850


Jim April 12, 2009 at 3:05 pm

Dogs seem to be welcome on the Temple grounds. There were many attending with their masters/mistresses during the Songkran festivities today.


Lyman Duggan April 14, 2009 at 10:07 am

Songkran Tampa

I enjoyed this day at the Temple so much. I have never been in Thailand for Songkran so its a really big deal for me. Almost tears of happiness to see so many smiles and laughter and well behaved celibration. Truly people from the Land of Smiles. I have photos to share and hope that you enjoy them on Picasa. There are ways on Picasa to have prints made for pennies and you can also download all or many free as you wish. Sawadee krub~!

Pong you are almost handsome with powder on your face 5555


Lyman Duggan May 31, 2010 at 8:07 am
Hilton Kean Jones May 31, 2010 at 10:47 am

Thanks, Lyman! Beautiful pictures, great subject, too.


nancy April 24, 2009 at 2:48 pm

I miss Thailand! This is great.


Michelle July 13, 2009 at 10:17 am

Went for the first time this Sunday and the food was absolutely amazing. Can’t believe I missed this hidden gem in Tampa! We got there a little after 11:30 so the lines were pretty packed, but it was well worth the wait!


Dean Sanchez August 9, 2009 at 6:04 pm

Just got back home after spending almost the whole day pigging out at the Thai Temple. It was a great day today, they have some new vendors and some musical presentation. They had a traditional five piece thai band with traditional Thai instruments. There were a couple of traditional thai dance numbers as well. It was a splendid day with my family. The newly built temple looks so nice, and seeing it will definitely give you a great glimpse of Thailand.


Jim Slaughter August 10, 2009 at 7:56 am

We visited the Temple a couple of months ago with Lyman Duggan and his friend Pat from Thailand. We had a wonderful time! The beautiful temple, great food, friendly atmosphere and serene setting is irresistable! What a treasure this place is.


donnie August 30, 2009 at 10:06 am

i fish alot on the palm river and pass the temple all the time and see all the people having such a great time. I always wanted to check it out. is it ok dock my boat


Hilton Kean Jones August 30, 2009 at 12:14 pm

I don’t know if it’s OK to tie your boat up to the dock. You would need to ask one of the monks (the men in the saffron colored robes). They’re very nice, so don’t worry about approaching them.



Tom August 7, 2010 at 8:49 pm

Feel free to dock at the temple and check out our Sunday Market. We are open every Sunday from about 10:30 until 2:00. Best time to arrive is 11:00 – noon.


Gigi October 5, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Do they have a website where I can get more details?


Hilton Kean Jones October 5, 2009 at 12:33 pm
Jim February 1, 2010 at 5:10 pm

unfortunately their website requires an ID and password to log in. Is the site in English or Thai? If in Thai, is there an English website?


Hilton Kean Jones February 1, 2010 at 5:23 pm

I haven’t been to their website in a while; it didn’t used to require a login. Long ago, there was an English version, but it was taken down at one point and only the Thai version remained. However, it didn’t require a login. That must be new.


Loy April 2, 2010 at 7:41 am

The web site is also in english and does not require a log in.

Also, every Sunday the market is open, come before noon to get parking and selection.

Songkarn festival is coming April 11th….check the web site (english version)



Carlos February 23, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Still going strong was there last Sunday! Off the hook food! and cheap!


Carlos March 13, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Thai Temple rocks and getting bigger, love the food and prices! More & more people turning out each week!


Lyman Duggan April 2, 2010 at 11:28 am

Songkran is on the 11th. I will be there with 30 photographers trying to keep their cameras dry~! Look up Songkran on Youtube or Google. See you there Hilton. Nikon rocks~ made in Thailand.


Hilton Kean Jones April 2, 2010 at 6:56 pm

I got to go last year. It was a lot of fun and a blessedly damp event! :-)
I don’t think I’m going to be able to go again this time–perhaps, but I doubt it.
Have a great time and keep your Nikon dry.


Frank P. Graham May 29, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Check out the new English Website @
Tom has done a pretty good job mirroring the Thai site


Hilton Kean Jones May 31, 2010 at 2:32 am

Thanks you very much for this information. It’s lovely.


Chef Jim (Leeds) August 14, 2010 at 10:10 am

Wonderful! I adore eating and preparing Thai cuisine. Perhaps I’ll donate examples of my cooking for Sundays soon in the future. Love to be part of your fabulous layout!

Chef Jim


michele August 17, 2010 at 6:32 pm

I love going there on Sundays, its a great day out with friends and the food is awsome…..


Kelly August 30, 2010 at 8:31 am

I attended their meditation workshop Saturday and it was very nice! It’s great to finally be able to see their website in English and find out about the upcoming events!


Chef Jim (Leeds) October 9, 2010 at 5:37 pm


See you tomorrow morning – can’t wait to return to your sumptuous feast!

Chef Jim
Gulfport, Fl.


John L. Rogers November 18, 2010 at 1:18 pm

Nice pictures Susan.


Ginger December 20, 2010 at 3:09 pm

I would like to know about special events. Do you have a calendar or notification? We always enjoy the delicious food, wonderful plants and produce and spiritual atmosphere. Thank you so much.
Create Your Day!


Kelly December 20, 2010 at 6:42 pm

They now have a website in English that lists all of their events:



Hilton Kean Jones December 20, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Thanks, Kelly!


Jason September 7, 2011 at 10:22 am

I am coming from khmer temple in Mass. I live in clearwater Fl. This temple I would like to attend but I dont drive. Is there anybody out there that would be willing and may live in this location that would pick up a passenger? PLease call 813 789 9304. I am studying to be a monk.


Lyman Duggan March 31, 2012 at 6:30 pm

On Sunday, April 15, 2012 we celebrate the Songkarn Festival. You may know it by one of its “nicknames” – Thai New Year or the Water Festival.



Lyman Duggan March 31, 2012 at 6:47 pm

For some reason the Thai Page for the Wat is considered harmful by Windows as though there is some malicious code there. Maybe a Thai Linux person could check it out and see what the problem is. I am afraid to visit with my business machine. Here is the link (Thai Language)


Lyman Duggan April 16, 2012 at 12:37 pm
raj shah April 26, 2012 at 6:27 pm

Do you have someone in your community who teaches fruits carving? I am very interested in improving my fruit carving skills. I will be happy to go to Tampa with my wife to learn. Thank you. Tel.205 979 0641


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