If you asked anyone about Pattaya, they’d probably mention ladyboys, Walking Street and Tiffany’s Show. It has a certain reputation, one could say (and not one that I particularly enjoyed, but I’ll save that for another post). However, drive 2o minutes out of the city and you can find a spiritual sanctuary, quite literally, in the form of the Sanctuary of Truth.
Situated right on the south coast of Thailand, this spiritual building is constructed entirely from wood. You would be forgiven for thinking that it is a temple and thousands of years old, but construction only started in the early 1980s, and it’s really a sanctuary for religious visionary art. It features sculptures based on both Buddhist and Hindu patterns, and “was created not from hubris but from goodness drawn from religion, philosophy and art.”
The structure itself is quite stunning. Compared to the pristine temples that I’ve visited before, notably the bright white Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur and the wonderfully colourful Haedong Yonggungsa and Beomosa temples here in Korea, the Sanctuary of Truth is quite eerie with its dark, weathered wood. But its complexity and beauty are undeniable. The carvings that cover the entire outside of the building are incredibly intricate. I can only imagine the blisters on the hands of those poor carpenters!
It’s a little difficult to find much comprehensible information about the statues as the official website for the site is written in jumbled English (I’m sure it’s much better for anyone who can understand Thai), but from what I can gather, all the hand-carved statues pertain to a philosophy of humans only existing as dust within this universe and that we will all, eventually, become one with it. It professes that materialistic pleasure is superficial, and that true happiness is found in spiritual pleasure. Each hall presents different parts of this ideology: the 1st hall is about the origin of the universe and the earth; the 2nd hall shows the sun, moon and stars; the 3rd hall tells the story of parental love, with a statue of the Mother and the Father and the offspring; the 4th hall is dedicated to Buddha, and the central hall to Buddha’s four truths of life.
On the outside of the building are four spires below the principal, central spire. They depict a female celestial with a book (immortal philosophy and morality), a male celestial with a lotus flower (the establishment of religion), a celestial body with a child and elderly person (human life), and a female celestial with a pigeon (peace and balance on Earth).
As I am not Buddhist and, honestly, don’t know anything about the ideologies of the religion (something I’m planning to change – believe me, I don’t enjoy living in ignorance), the whole thing doesn’t mean a lot to me, but I can’t deny that the structure and detail in each individual element is breathtaking. It’s a fascinating place to visit if you’re in Pattaya.
***HOWEVER, and this is a BIG however, there was one feature at the site that I didn’t enjoy and do not support. While the Sanctuary itself is wonderful to visit, there is the opportunity to ride an elephant around the site. I was very unhappy when I saw this – I had no idea they had this facility there – and was even unhappier when I saw people riding them. Please, do not ride elephants in Thailand (or anywhere). They are abused and/or neglected for tourists’ gain and we cannot let it continue.***
You can get to the Sanctuary of Truth by taking a taxi from Pattaya, which will take 15-20 minutes. An adult ticket costs 450THB (£10.50). Women must have their legs and chest covered to be allowed access to the Sanctuary – there are sarongs to hire for a 200THB deposit – and everyone has to wear a helmet to tour the building as construction is still being done – these are offered free on entry.
Bangkok & Pattaya | Travel Series
Sanctuary of Truth | Prasat Sut Ja-Tum ปราสาทสัจธรรม
Wat Pho – Temple of the Reclining Buddha | วัดโพธิ์