Whenever you think that you seen a lot of a “particular” something and another one of those similar things cannot be any different from what you already have, then its time for you to pack your bags and “travel”. During my trip to Cambodia,I saw numerous Buddha temples – of all kinds, designs, sizes, patterns, carvings etc etc and thought that what more will there be to see in another Buddha temple in Bangkok. Well, I was in for a major surprise with Wat Pho. This temple couldn’t have been more different from all the other temples that I had seen earlier or for that matter, till date.
Wat Pho is the largest and the oldest Wat i.e. temple in Bangkok with the longest Reclining Buddha, many smaller temples with numerous Buddha idols and images, 152 bas-reliefs, a university and a Thai school for massage and medicine – all within a single complex. The ticket price to enter the complex is 100 THB and you should budget to spend about half a day here, since there is so much to see, photograph and to relax (with a massage).
We reached Wat Pho bright and early but still found numerous touts around who kept on telling us that it is closed till 1pm and tried to put us in a tuk-tuk to see some other temples. We just turned a deaf ear to all of them and reached the temple to find it was open and allowing visitors. We bought the tickets and started exploring the beautiful temple of the Reclining Buddha. At the entrance to the temple we were given a bag in which we had to put in our shoes and carry it all around with us. The moment we entered the temple – the first thing we noticed were the beautiful carvings on the walls and doors, followed by the colorful paintings / murals on the walls. But after all this we saw the famous idol and forget everything else.
The gold leaf covered idol is 15 m high and 45 m long where the right arm supports the head on two box-shaped pillows encrusted with glass mosaics. The feet of the idol are inlaid with mother-of-pearl and divided into 108 arranged panels showing the auspicious symbols by which Buddha can be identified (like flowers, dancers, animals and altar accessories). This idol shows Buddha passing into nirvana and the gold leaf work gives it a serene glow thereby attracting you to it in a mysterious manner. There is something about this idol that kind of draws you to it and I ended up taking 50 pics of it from every nook and corner.
In the narrow corridor of the temple, there are 108 bronze bowls kept that indicate the 108 auspicious characters of Buddha. The tradition here is that you should drop coins in these bowls as it is believed to bring you good fortune, and to help the monks maintain the wat. In case you do not have change, they have counters outside that can provide it. Also when you drop coins in these bowls, I don’t know how, but the sound is not a cacophony of noises but very mesmeric and hypnotic music.
After a long stay in the temple we decided to explore the other parts of the temple complex. This complex consists of two walled compounds (divided by Soi Chetuphon running east–west) where one compound has the reclining Buddha and massage school and the other compound is a working Buddhist monastery with monks in residence and a school. The grounds contain 91 stupas or mounds, four halls and a central shrine. These stupas have a distinct shape that remind you of temple bells and porcelain / glass work on it – which I was told is the signature of the Ratanokosin style. The smaller stupas contain the ashes of the royal family, and the large ones contain the ashes of Buddha. The four halls are dedicated to the four Chakri kings. These are beautiful both in shapes, sizes and the color of work on it. If you like photography than you can spend hours taking pictures from different angles, to capture all kinds of looks. And believe me that no 2 pics will be alike.
The temple has sixteen gates around the complex guarded by Chinese giants carved out of rocks.The exterior walls have around 152 bas-releifs with depictions of the epic, Ramakien. In between these stupas there are small rock gardens with topiaries, all kinds of landscapes and sculptures. Some of these sculptures are pretty funny too.
Near the exit of the temple complex, there is a Thai massage school, and a massage here is a must. Please be warned that this massage is not a spa experience, it’s really very different. It is more like stretches during an aerobics and many times during the massage you feel that you have paid to be tortured. But after the massage you feel so amazing and refreshed, that its worth it.
How to reach Wat Pho – Take a BTS Skytrain to Saphan Taksin. Walk out of the station and you will see the Chao Phraya Boat station – Central Pier (Sathorn). From here take a ferry to Chang Pier and then walk straight onto Na Phra Lan Road to Wat Pho. If you are staying at Khao San road, then you can walk up to the Phra Athit (N13) Pier and take a ferry from there to Chang pier.
Tip for Trip –
- Reach bright and early to avoid the crowd and queues. Thereby tourist free photos too 🙂
- Beware of touts in this area as you will find one at every 5 steps. They will all tell you that the temple is closed but do not believe them and walk towards the temple.
- At the Central Pier, take a local ferry and not the tourist ferry. The local ferry is as good and nearly 1/5th the price of the tourist ferry.
- The ticket to the temple is only 100 THB and you do not need to pay for anything else except the massage.