For our first full day in Bangkok we had a jam-packed schedule of places to go and things to see. First on the list was what is one of the most famous temples in Thailand: Wat Pho. It was beautiful weather and we made sure to get up early(ish), and headed over to the site around 10am for our first real taste of a Thai Buddhist temple.
Wat Pho, also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is one of the six highest-graded first-class royal temples in the country. The religious site is strongly associated with King Rama I, the founding king of the current, Chakkri, dynasty in Thailand and who also moved the capital city to Bangkok; some of his ashes are even enshrined in the temple. As well as housing the largest collection of images of Buddha in the whole of the country including the famous reclining Buddha, Wat Pho is also considered the birthplace of the traditional Thai massage, and the first centre for public education in Thailand.
On entry it seemed like the place was pretty quiet, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. There are many different areas in Wat Pho, and we entered on the opposite side to the main attraction – the Buddha. But instead of rushing over there, we explored a few different sections on our way. The Wat Pho complex consists of two walled compounds, the northern of which is open to the public, which is itself divided into areas. We entered via the right-hand side gate and walked clockwise, following the wall, to the southern vihara (hall), where my boyfriend worshipped and also encouraged me to light incense, apply the gold leaf to the statues and worship for the first time.
We then walked into the centre of the complex to see the main viharn – Phra Ubosot – where there was a service taking place for the late king, and afterwards proceeded out of the centre and walked through the Phra Chedi Rai, a cloister of 71 chedis surrounding the central hall. This is where we found the Viharn Phranorn – the hall where the famous reclining Buddha is contained – and battled our way through the crowds (almost literally) to get inside.
It was very busy, but the 46 metre-long Buddha is a sight that will make you forget the crowds. After taking your shoes off and slipping them into a small bag to carry them with you through the hall, you enter at the head end of the statue and can walk the length of the Buddha and up the other side, with strategic viewing sections as you go. The statue itself is 46m long and 15m high, and the feet are 3m wide. The reclining Buddha “represents the entry of Buddha into Nirvana” and its posture is that of a sleeping lion. The head features tight curls, and on the feet are a plethora of symbols of Buddha, as well as circular energy points called chakra. The whole thing, bar the soles of the feet, is gilded, and also has mosaic detailing. It’s one of the largest images of Buddha in the whole of Thailand and it is, quite frankly, stunning.
The reclining Buddha is by far and above the main attraction of Wat Pho, but exit the hall and turn right and you’ll find the Phra Maha Chedi Si Rajakarn, a collection of four 42 metres-high chedis. The first (green) was built by King Rama I to house the burned remains of the great Buddha statue of Ayuthaya, the second (white) and third (yellow) by Rama III to enshrine his father’s and his own ashes, respectively, and the final chedi (blue) was constructed by Rama IV who also closed them all in.
Another significant feature of the Wat Pho complex is its collection of Buddha images. It’s the largest in Thailand, and across the site, but particularly in the Phra Rabiang, you can see a selection of the 1,200 images of Buddha that form the collection that was brought down from Northern Thailand by Rama I.
Wat Pho is situated a little ways from both the MRT and BTS lines, so the easiest way to get there is by taking a taxi or a tuktuk. Entry to the complex is 100THB (£2.33/$3.00) and it’s open daily from 8:00 until 17:00. You can read more information about Wat Pho here.
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