wat pho reclining buddha

Wat Pho’s Reclining Buddha

Damen wanted a photo of himself in front of the Reclining Buddha and waited, waited, waited, waited, waited for his turn to do so;

Nick liked all the gold, and eyeballed the mass of shoes waiting outside the door, seriously considering trading up for a pair of name brand sneakers;

Dee thought a cute smile and a flash of her baby blues would do the trick as usual, but instead had to drape a scarf over her bare shoulders before she was allowed entry;

Dave thought the big Buddha was cool, but was more interested in where the nearest bar was;

For Ann, it was all about getting a massage;

And, Chris found a giant penis to pay homage to.

Wat Pho is my favorite spot to show off Bangkok to first time visitors to Thailand. Everyone has always enjoyed the visit, and each has found something about the wat that appeals specifically to them.

Inside the Reclining Buddha Temple

Inside the Reclining Buddha Temple

Wat Pho certainly isn’t a hidden secret; it – or at least the Reclining Buddha – is on almost every Top Things To Do in Thailand list. Unfortunately (for them) most touri drop in to see the big Buddha and then rush off to the Grand Palace next door in an attempt to squeeze both sites into one trip. Bad idea. It’s like going on one of those 14 countries in 7 day tours through Europe. Both sites are worthy of a full day’s visit on their own. Rather than trying to do both at once, you’re better off skipping one of them and enjoying the full experience at the other. And as sacrilegious as it may be, my advice would be to see pass on the Grand Palace and head for Wat Pho instead.

wat arun

Wat Arun: A bonus sight on your river trip to Wat Pho.

To get there, you can take a taxi, or if you feel a sacrifice must be made when visiting a religious site, a tuck tuk. The best mode of transportation, however, is the Chao Phraya River by boat. It is an inexpensive ride that offers a nice diorama of local life along the river and sets the mood for your visit to the wat. All of the various boats leaving Central Pier (which connects with the BTS system at the Saphan Taksin station) stop at the pier for Wat Pho: Tha Tien Pier (N8). When your boat arrives, enjoy watching the scramble of touri jumping off; you’ll want to wait for the next stop, Tha Chang Pier (N9), the stop for the Grand Palace. Most touri get off at the previous pier even if their destination is the Grand Palace.

Wat Pho Gong

Wat Pho Gong

Tha Chang Pier lets out onto the Tha Chang market, bustling with food vendors and filled with the tantalizing aroma of dozens of traditional Thai dishes. A right turn when you hit the street will take you along a shaded promenade usually filled with sidewalk vendors offering an array of non-touri items, an exotic little street market that will hold your interest during the short stroll to the wat. By the time you reach Wat Pho, all the touri who were on your boat will have entered and dispersed and you won’t experience your first glimpse of the wat buried in the middle of a crowd.

Wat Pho Guardian

Wat Pho Guardian

Once inside the main gate, a slight turn to your left will take you to the ticket booth, which is easy to ignore and walk past without paying if you want to damn your soul for eternity. But before the booth, there are several cool humongous guardian statutes to check out, a medium size gong to pound, a open air hall filled with small Buddha statues covered in golf leaf (and also usually filled with locals paying reverence to their gods), and the ‘locals only’ entrance to the Reclining Buddha. Around the beginning of the year (uh, the Western year, not the other two Thais celebrate) this entrance courtyard is packed with Thais making offerings while young monks intone blessings over a PA system while dousing the crowd with the Buddhist version of holy water.

Once you’ve paid the admission fee of 50 baht, immediately to your right is the building containing the Reclining Buddha, a massive 150 foot long 50 foot high gold plated Buddha, the largest in Thailand. As with all wats, you’ll need to leave your shoes outside, and if you are not dressed appropriately someone will stop you before you enter and provide you with a scarf to properly cover yourself (in most cases this is for women whose shoulders are bare or who are wearing shorts.) On the way out you can buy a cup full of satang coins to drop one in each of 108 bronze bowls, which is supposed to bring good luck. Luck or not, it’s fun to do and most touri enjoy the cheap hands-on interaction.

wat pho making merit

Nick makes merit, one coin at a time.

Outside the building housing the Reclining Buddha, is a small raised garden, with a bodhi tree in its center which was grown from a cutting of the original tree in India where Buddha sat while awaiting enlightenment. Beyond that are numerous buildings, temples, and courtyards that contain more than 1,000 Buddha images, more than any other temple in Bangkok. Few visitors take the time to amble through the entire wat and most of these areas are often deserted, with the exception of an occasional monk. The architecture is of interest in its own right, the long rows of Buddha statues a photographer’s wet dream.

Wat Pho fertility shrine

Chris Makes A Different Kind of Merit

At the back eastern portion of the compound is where you can get a massage (uh, no. Not that kind.) The massage school here, which is the country’s primary training centre for Thai traditional massage, is unique in the way that it has blended the ancient classical methods of massage that originated in India with traditional massage therapies indigenous to Thailand. The school takes up two adjacent air-conditioned pavilions; inside are about a dozen long, low wooden beds that have thick padding and are large enough for two masseuses and their victims at a time. Be forewarned, this is not the gentle kneading style of massage. If you do not love pain (and how good your body feels afterward) you may want to settle for a foot massage instead. A full body massage costs 260 baht for 30 minutes, and a foot massage is 420 baht for 50 minutes.

wat pho buddhas

Locals flock to Wat Pho to pray. And nap.

Wat Pho is open daily from 8 AM until 5 PM. If you really have to double up and include a visit to the Grand Palace, hit Wat Pho first, it opens earlier. That leaves you time to walk over to the Grand Palace, where a helpful tuk tuk driver will tell you the Grand Palace is closed and offer to escort you on a cheap tour of two other wats, a jewelry store, and a tailor’s shop.

Wat Pho Bangkok

Wat Pho Architecture