On the banks of the Chao Phraya River lies Wat Pho. Also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, it is Bangkok’s oldest and largest wats. Today it is also known as Wat Phra Chetun or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.
A bit of history
When King Rama I established Bangkok around 1782, he ordered the construction of the Wat Pho. It was built on the site of an older, Ayutthaya era temple called Wat Photharam, or Podharam, right next to the Grand Palace. In fact, some of his ashes are enshrined within the temple.
The temple complex was further renovated and extended during the reign of King Rama III, taking more than 16 years to complete.
The architecture follows the Ayutthaya style. There were quite a few structures that were brought over from the abandoned temples of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai. These include most of the more than 1,000 Buddha images, which is more than any other wat in Thailand.
While it is technically not a pilgrimage center, it’s still a popular stopover for both tourists and locals. During the Thai New Year, called Songkran, in April, celebrations are held here, helping raise funds for the upkeep of Wat Pho.
The reclining Buddha
The main highlight when visiting the complex is of course the Reclining Buddha. It measures 46 meters long and 15 meters high and is covered in gold leaf. Built in 1848, it remains the largest Buddha anywhere in Thailand.
It shows the Buddha entering nirvana and the end of all his reincarnations. His posture is referred to as sihasaiyas, the posture of a sleeping or reclining lion. The soles of Buddha’s feet, measuring 3 meters high and nearly 5 meters long, are inlaid with 108 mother-of-pearls. They are meant to represent 108 auspicious character of the Buddha. Around the corridor, you will also spot 108 bronze bowls. Dropping coins in these bowls is meant to bring good fortune to you. More importantly it helps the monks who manage the wat to maintain it.
Other sights within the ground
However, the reclining Buddha shouldn’t be your only highlight. Take time to go around the ground and you will be rewarded with other treasures too.
In one section of the temple grounds is a long line of golden statues sitting in a lotus position. Collected from different parts of Thailand, they make for an impressive sight. There are also four smaller temples that have 394 gilded Buddha images on display. Walk around and you are sure to spot intricately detailed murals that cover the walkways around the complex. These include 95 chedis or stupas decorated in colourful tiles and ceramics. There are also a few comical looking Chinese statues, gazing at you intently in the courtyard and were once used as ballasts on ships. The temple is also home to a Bodhi tree – the very same one under which Buddha achieved enlightenment.
Get a traditional massage
Once you are done with all the sightseeing, why not give yourself a nice short break? Get yourself a traditional massage right there in the complex itself. Wat Pho is considered the leading school of massage in Thailand. It was also the first public universities in Thailand and locals came to study traditional medicine, besides Thai massage.
Depending on where you are staying, you can opt to hail a metered taxi. However, if you want a bit more adventure on your journey, then I suggest you try the sky train and a boat taxi. Besides being quick and economical, it’s also a nice way to experience a city from a different point of view.
As I was staying close to Nana, I opted to go by the sky train. You will have to catch two different lines to reach your first destination, which is close to the Chao Phraya river. Alight from the sky train and find your way to where the boat taxis make their stop. Once there, pay the necessary fees and wait for a boat taxi to come along and pick you up. These are basically hoppers that pick and drop off passengers on either side of the river. Expect a bumpy, but fun ride to the other side. Besides being quick, it gives you a fabulous view of a city that you won’t see otherwise. Once on the other side, make your way down the alley and you should reach the complex.
Information you can use
The complex is open daily from 8:00am till 5:00pm, though the massage center continues for a further hour. There is an entry fee of THB 100. As with most places of worship in Asia, and especially Thailand, dress appropriately. If they decide that your attire is not suitable, you may be asked to rent appropriate clothing from outside the complex.