Lying Down on the Job: The Reclining Buddha of Wat Pho
In a city full of glittering temples, Wat Pho glitters more than most. Both a sacred site and a huge tourist attraction, no visit to Thailand’s capital is complete without a trip to this religious giant.
Wat Pho is an icon of Thailand. Who hasn’t seen the photos of the gilded roofs of the outer temples or the golden gleam of the huge reclining Buddha smiling serenely out over the crowds? It’s a place of pilgrimage for both Buddhists and tourists alike and shouldn’t be missed on a trip to Bangkok.
While there are literally thousands of temples in Bangkok, Wat Pho is one of the best. There’s plenty to see and do so grab some water, put on some comfortable shoes and head out for a sightseeing treat.
The History of Wat Pho Temple
Wat Pho is old. Older than Bangkok! Founded by King Rama I, it has been at times a simple stupa, a monastery, a healing center, a dilapidated ruin and a beautifully restored temple. It is even counted as being Thailand’s first university! As the fortunes of Bangkok rose and fell through the years, the temple has seen some turbulent times. But a visit today will impress any soul with the grandeur of the architecture and the richness of the decorations.
The temple was originally named after the Bodhi tree in India where Buddha gained enlightenment. It’s also recognized as the home of Thai massage- look closely at the walls to find diagrams of acupressure points carved into the stonework.
How to Visit Wat Pho
Start early, there’s lots to see! Only the northern half of the compound is open to visitors so head for the gate on Chetuphon Road to enter the complex. Once inside, start with a visit to the grand Ubosot, or prayer hall. This is the most sacred room in the temple and features a huge gilded Buddha seated at the end of the hall, blessing the room. Next move on to the Phra Rabiang or cloisters for a stroll along corridors lined with golden Buddha statues, 400 of them to be exact, and all extremely photogenic.
After you’ve enjoyed the cloisters then head to the four Phra Maha Chedis or stupas in the courtyards. Colored green, white, yellow and blue they were built to serve as a grand monument in honor of the Thai kings of old.
The Reclining Buddha
Wat Pho is beautiful and worth a visit in its own right but let’s be honest, the Reclining Buddha is the main event! When you’ve had your fill of chedis and courtyards, head to the Viharn hall to enjoy this unique sight.
The Buddha is 46 metres long, 15 metres high and completely covered in gold. Take a moment to just stand back and stare- it’s an awe-inspiring sight. Wander slowly down the length of the statue, starting at the glass mosaic-covered pillows under his head and finishing at the feet. The soles of the feet are 3 metres high in their own right and inlaid with mother of pearl divided into panels. If you look closely at the patterns within the panels you’ll see auspicious symbols related to Buddha such as flowers, elephant and tigers.
How to Get to Wat Pho
Wat Pho is located next to the Grand Palace in the center of Bangkok. The closest BTS transport station is Hua Lamphong but that’s a long old walk- if you’re coming by BTS then consider taking a taxi from the station. If you fancy adding a river trip to your visit then take the ferry and get off at pier 8, Tha Thien, and then it’s just a short walk to the gate.
The complex is open from 8am to 5pm and entry costs 100 baht including a free bottle of water.
Location: 2 Sanamchai Road, Pranakorn District, Bangkok 10200
Early morning is the coolest time to visit, but the complex is quietest in the late afternoon. Unlicensed guides will try and sell you tours outside but make sure you wait until you’re through the main gates before you hire one- the real guys wait inside for you. Guides cost somewhere between 120-240 baht depending on group size. Remember that this is a place of worship. Women should make sure they cover their shoulders and knees to visit Wat Pho.