Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha), or Wat Phra Chetuphon, is located behind the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and a must-do for any first-time visitor in Bangkok. It’s one of the largest temple complexes in the city and famed for its giant reclining Buddha that measures 46 metres long and is covered in gold leaf. It’s an easy ten minute walk between here and the Grand Palace, and we recommend coming to Wat Pho second, because even though the golden Buddha here is just as popular many people don’t take the time to wander around the rest of the complex so the experience tends to be far more relaxing. This is also a great place to get a traditional Thai massage. Wat Pho is often considered the leading school of massage in Thailand, so you really are in good hands here. Since December 2012, entrance to the temple costs 100 baht and you can visit any time between 08:00 and 17:00.
The highlight for most people visiting Wat Pho is the Reclining Buddha. The figures here are impressive: 15 metres tall, 46 metres long, so large it feels like it has been squeezed into the building. The Buddha’s feet are 5 metres long and exquisitely decorated in mother-of-pearl illustrations of auspicious ‘laksanas’ (characteristics) of the Buddha. 108 is a significant number, referring to the 108 positive actions and symbols that helped lead Buddha to perfection. You’ll need to take your shoes off to enter, and if you would like a little good luck, we recommend purchasing a bowl of coins at the entrance of the hall which you can drop in the 108 bronze bowls which line the length of the walls. Dropping the small pennies in makes a nice ringing sound and even if your wishes don’t come true, the money goes towards helping the monks renovate and preserve Wat Pho. As this is a revered image, all visitors must wear appropriate clothing; this means no exposed shoulders or skin above the knee.
As we said before, it really is worth taking a look round the rest of the temple. Wat Pho also has good English speaking guides who will provide interesting information for around 200 – 400 baht, depending on how many people there are in your group and how good your negotiating skills are. If you prefer, you can wander alone. Recommend sites include four chapels that contain 394 gilded Buddha images, long lines of golden statues from different parts of Thailand sitting in the lotus position. Although the intricately detailed murals that cover the walkways around Wat Pho will require a book or guide to decipher, the exquisite murals are so detailed and intricate that even if you don’t understand all the imagery you can still appreciate the artwork. Finally in the courtyards at Wat Pho Temple are some comical looking Chinese statutes that were once uses as ballasts on ships and 91 chedis (or stupas) decorated in ceramic pottery flowers and colourful tiles.
Wat Pho was the first public university in Thailand, specialising in religion, science and literature. It is now more well-known as a centre for traditional massage and medicine. After a walk around the temple there is nothing quite like a relaxing foot or head and shoulder massage. If you’ve never tried a traditional Thai massage, Wat Pho is a good place to experience this popular leisure activity. It’s quite different to most other forms of therapeutic massage and tends to be invigorating rather than relaxing, incorporating yoga style postures to relieve stress and improve blood circulation. This is a very popular activity at Wat Pho temple, so we recommend you pop in before your treatment to book a spot, or you might end up with a long wait.
Wat Pho Opening Hours: Daily 08:00 – 17:00 (Massage available until 18:00)
Location: Maharat Road. Close to the river (about a half mile south of the Grand Palace), Old City (Rattanakosin)
Price Range: The entrance fee is 100 baht