Wat Pho: Temple of the Reclining Buddha

Among the highlights of a visit to Thailand is the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Known as Wat Chetuphon or simply Wat Pho, it is one of the oldest and most important temples in the nation’s capital, Bangkok.

Wat Pho is best-known to the rest of the world as the home of a huge statue of the Buddha in a reclining position, the one he is believed to have assumed in his passage into nirvana. This awe-inspiring statue is 15 meters tall and 46 meters from head to feet. While the body is made from brick and plaster and finished with gold, the soles of the feet are laden with mother-of-pearl designs that show “auspicious signs” of Buddhahood. More than just a tourist attraction, it is a holy image for Buddhists who come to pay homage to their spiritual lord.

Aside from housing the Reclining Buddha, the temple is home to about a thousand other sacred images, chedis, stone giants and over 1,300 inscriptions of Thai medicine theory, the latter now part of the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme. In the rock garden are found statues depicting Thai yoga postures. One of Thailand’s great kings, Rama III, commissioned these writings and statues to preserve the remains of Thai medical knowledge after a costly war with Burma that destroyed much of Thailand’s cultural heritage.

As the oldest university in Thailand, the temple is the home of traditional Thai massage and yoga. There are massage services offered in the temple grounds. Outside the temple is the Wat Pho massage school where English-speaking teachers are ready to instruct foreigners who want to learn Thai massage or yoga for themselves. Because these are basically “crash courses,” even tourists on a short visit only can fit a class or two into their itinerary.

For the curious and open-minded, pay the fortune-tellers a visit. You will find astrologers and palm readers who can tell you a few things that might surprise you. Otherwise you can simply take a look at the souvenir shops.

Although relatively modest compared to such places as Wat Phra Kaew at the Grand Palace, Wat Pho is very much worth a visit. Set aside a few hours at least to explore it, and bring your camera.

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