Wat Pho is a famous temple located immediately south of the Grand Palace precinct in Bangkok. The place is renowned for being headquarters for the teaching and preservation of traditional Thai medicine. The temple is largely visited to view the large reclining Buddha within, thus also known as 'Temple of the Reclining Buddha'.
Spread across a vast area of 8 hectares, Wat Pho or Wat Chetuphon is a Buddhist place of worship built by King Rama I. Wat Pho was a centre of healing when it was established centuries ago by King Rama III. Known to be Thailand's first "university", the temple is still considered to be a healing place. Today, tourists come here to admire the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, as it is known. The idol of Buddha is so vast that one can only see it in parts.
Standing tall at 45 m long and 15 m high, soles of the feet of the statue are inlaid with precious stones and adorned with 108 signs of true faith. The earlobes of the idol signify noble birth while the lotus-bud configuration of the hand symbolises purity and beauty. The temple also houses the country's most extensive collection of Buddha images. The place is a sight to behold if one is game to walk a little.
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Temple Complex at Wat Pho
1. Phra Ubosot
Phra Ubosot is the main chapel used for performing Buddhist rituals, which also happens to be the most sacred building of the complex. The principal Buddha statue is kept on a three-tiered pedestal underneath which the ashes of King Rama I are kept, and over the figure hangs an umbrella which represents the authority of Thailand. The stone panels surrounding the main hall depict the epic of Ramakien through 150 images, which show how transcendence could be achieved.
A double cloister called Phra Rabiang surrounds the Phra Ubosot, it was brought here by King Rama I. These cloisters contain 400 of the 1200 statues of Buddha belonging to different periods of Thai history. Rama, I renovated the figures by covering them with stucco and gold leaf to make them look similar.
2. Chedis Dedicated to the Four Kings
The Phra Maha Chedi si Rajakarn is a group of four richly ornate pagodas that are dedicated to the first four Chakri kings. The first Chedi, with the green mosaic, was constructed by Rama I to house the relics of the Great Buddha of Ayuthaya. However, these auspicious remnants were robbed by Burmese looters. All the four chedis are covered with decorative glazed tiles and are indeed an architectural marvel.
3. Phra Mondop
Phra Mondop is the scripture hall where the Buddhist scriptures are kept. Since these scriptures are inscribed on palm leaves, they are kept in a controlled environment and hence, the building is not generally open to the public. However, do notice the four giants guarding the gates of Phra Mondop, known as Yak Wat Pho.
4. Missakawan Park
Next to the Vihara of the Reclining Buddha is a small raised garden with a Chinese style pavilion. The main attraction of this park is a Bodhi tree which is believed to be a descendant of the Bodhi tree from Bodhgaya in India under which Buddha sat while awaiting enlightenment.
5. Vihara of the Reclining Buddha
Apart from the gigantic statue of reclining Buddha, Viharn Phranorn has beautiful Ayutthaya-style architecture and panels. The murals at Wat Pho adorn the inner columns and walls this is one of the most missed out highlights. Depicting epic scenes of the royal battles, court intrigues etc. based in Ceylon, and lives of Buddha's disciples, these 200-year-old murals rise to over 30 metres on the walls.
6. Thai Massage
Known as the first public university of Thailand, Wat Pho became a centre of knowledge and learning in various fields, including traditional medicine and massage. You will find many inscriptions and illustrations in multiple buildings serving as instructions for the massage therapists. There are two pavilions in the complex used as classrooms for practising the renowned skill, here you can receive massage treatment for a fee. Since Wat Pho is considered as the birthplace of Thai massage, it is only natural that you'd want to get a massage here, especially after a long day of walking around and exploring Bangkok.
Wat Pho Significance
Considered the first public University of Thailand, Wat Pho houses the remnants of the first four Chakri Kings. Two of the highlights at Wat Pho are a Bodhi tree that is believed to have grown from a part of the sacred tree in Bodhgaya, India, and Thailand's largest reclining Buddha. The 108 bronze bowls kept in the chapel represent 108 favourable characteristics of Buddha, and it is believed that dropping coins in these bowls bring good fortune and happiness. The significance of this place lies in the fact that it has preserved the legacy of the Chakri dynasty and is a repository of Thai art, culture and knowledge.
Temple of the Reclining Buddha
Also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, Wat Pho houses the world-famous statue of Buddha in a sleeping posture. This iconic Buddha posture represents the historical Shakyamuni Buddha in his last moments of illness, before nirvana. The enormous statue is 45 meters long and 15 meter high, covered in Gold leaf. The feet of the reclining Buddha holds great significance as they are inlaid with mother of pearl and divided into 108 panels referring to the 108 Lakshanas or auspicious characteristics of Buddha.
Much of the Wat Pho architecture is Ayutthayan in style. Although many of the present structures were brought from the remains of the temple town of Ayutthaya, there are other chedis (stupas/mounds) and buildings in the complex varied in architectural styles. The centrepiece of the temple is an enormous statue of reclining Buddha, with his feet inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and displaying auspicious symbols. Apart from the golden structures, marble interior and over 1000 Buddha images, several impressive Chinese stone statues around the premises. Some of these statues also depict the Europeans that guard the gates within the compound.
History of Wat Pho
Although the Wat Pho origins are mostly unknown, it is now believed the temple existed before 1782. It was then that King Rama I moved the capital of Siam (as Thailand was previously known) to Bangkok. In 1789, Rama I ordered a complete restoration of the dilapidated old temple site. Many Buddha images were removed from the abandoned temples in other parts of Thailand and installed at Wat Pho, originally called Wat Photaram.
Wat Pho underwent many changes in the subsequent years, especially during the reign of King Rama III who carried out a major restoration and expansion of the temple complex in 1832. The process took 16 years. Most of the present structures were built or rebuilt during this period. The temple also emerged as a centre of learning and art during the same era. In 2008, Wat Pho won a Memory of the World award from UNESCO and stands as one of the biggest attractions of Thailand today.
Wat Pho is a sacred place where religious rites and rituals are performed, so make sure you keep calm and speak politely once you enter the temple premises.
Respect the images of Buddha, refrain from touching or stepping on one. Only permitted workers are allowed to climb up a statue to clean or place offerings.
Follow the dress code. Avoid wearing clothes above your knees. A sarong could be purchased or rented outside the temple. Take off your shoes before entering religious buildings.
A water bottle and WiFi are included in the ticket price.
Carry a guide book/map to avoid getting fooled by the tuk-tuk drivers and men offering to help for their own benefit.
How To Reach Wat Pho Bangkok
The best way to reach Wat Pho is by Taxi as there are no nearby metro links around. You can also take a Chao Phraya river boat to Tha Tien Pier N8, which is a close walk from the temple. Download the Chao Praya Pier Guide to familiarise yourself with the different ferry lines, their routes, schedules and fares.