Discovering Wat Pho – Thai Kingdom Come Part 4

Structures at Wat Pho

A significant site yet to be  covered was more inclined towards religion. Thailand is largely Buddhist and for a religion that originiated from India,I was rather curious to find out the history of Buddhism in the country.

So what comes to mind when you hear about Buddhism.. monks and perhaps Buddha images? I have encountered a number of monks in my stay in Bangkok,am yet to figure out what qualifies one to become a monk though;conspicuous in their orange color attires,often bare feet holding to either some literature or simple luggage bag. This definitely conjures the image of India’s freedom hero Mahatma Gandhi.

With such hindsight,I sprung bright and early to make my way to Wat(Temple)Pho described to be in the Phra Nakhon District. A friend of mine had recommended that I use a boat ride to the area,rather than hail a cab that would prove relatively expensive and time-wasting (traffic).

A sky train ride(BTS) connecting to the Saphan Taksin station conveniently leads you to the Central Pier to pick up a boat ride to the area. Though I had been advised that the ride would cost me only 50 baht,seems that tourists are cleverly coerced to taking a whole day ticket for 15o baht,that will include 6 other stations,the most popular after the Wat Pho being China town.

A 20 minute boat ride,and several photo shots after,we land at the Pier 8. The Wat Pho is just a 10 minute walk from the Pier,with caution thrown to all to be wary of pick pockets and unscrupulous locals who would wish to take advantage of tourists.

What you notice before entering the Wat Pho grounds are the long white walls one either side of the road. The temple is actually located ‘behind’ the Grand Palace,that dates back to the 1800s but now utilised as a tourist attraction. Entry fee as per my travel, stood at 100 Baht, with free bottle of water being offered.

It is a pity that you need to pay for a guide for such a landmark. No much information signs or story boards exist at the temple. I had however checked a few facts and figures,alluding to the temple being amongst the first Buddhist temples in Thailand. In fact,it is mentioned that the ‘first university where Thai Massage was born’ is the Wat Pho. The temple dates back to 1788,with renovations and upgrades having taken place over the years.

I could not  keep count of the Buddha images I came across..I later checked it up – approximately 1,000 images exist in the 80,000 square metre Wat Pho!!

The Reclining Buddha

The image of reclining Buddha

At over 40 metres length and 15 metres high, the image of the Reclining Buddha is the epicentre of the Wat Pho. This is truly a sight to behold,not just due to its sheer size but the architecture,the workmanship for a structure dating back pre – 20th. Century.

First things first,prepare yourself for long queues at this particular temple housing the Reclining Buddha (There are a number of temples within the larger Wat Pho). One is required to remove his/her shoes and is to be handed a light shoe bag. Leaving shoes and coming to pick them up later, would indeed create so much commotion considering the crowds that line up,thus the idea for one to carry his/her pair appears as an insightful one.

You will need a number of camera angles to try to capture a full length of this Buddha. From the head to the rear that includes the feet,one needs to invest in a good camera,a challenge I need to work on. Be cautioned that one is not allowed to touch the gold-plated image. Decency in dressing is reiterated by the temple staff,with short skirts / shots,tight jeans discouraged.

Again,you will need  your hired guide to fill you in on the symbolism of the reclining Buddha. I managed to listen-in on one,addressing the stage of Nirvana, a state of being free from pain and unity with a supreme being. This off course has stirred my curiosity to learn more about Buddhism,the principles and ideals,considering my ignorance on this subject. Check out http://www.buddha101.com/

The tour of this temple(Reclining Buddha) would take you possibly a maximum 15 minutes..well dependant whether you are visiting alone, or with friends,where by a number of  photo ‘take 1,take 2 sessions’ will suffice.  You will be interested in also contributing towards the upkeep of the temple,with an invitation of contributing 20 baht whilst participating in distributing small coins into 108 bronze bowls,that reflect various Buddhist mantras meant to present good fortune. Willingly,I took part!!

Fortune Teller?

Still struck with awe of the Reclining Buddha,I managed to visit another temple,which however not being as grandiose, also presented  a memorable experience.

Buddha Image at Wat Pho

I think i was getting bewildered by the number of images I was seeing around. How I would have wished for an informed description of what was seeing. I could notice the humility and respect accorded by a number of faithful and at times,had to keep away my camera,getting a grip that this actually is a worship centre and not just a tourist attraction.

Interestingly enough in this temple, I was invited to pick out a small can that contained a number of sticks,shake them and allow one of the sticks to drop. This one stick that denoted a number, subsequently  was matched to a small chit of paper from a drawer of the same number with some writing on it:

My future?

I sure will hold on to the small piece of paper..

So there goes my day at Wat Pho. I gave a pass to the massage parlours within the temple,I noticed 2 parlours with prices ranging between 250 – 700 baht. I will try out some more fancy looking versions I noticed in town.

The Grand Palace is just a throw away from the Wat Pho,so possibly worth considering combining the two while visiting this part of the city. The palace,remember to have decent clothing on,or else you will be turned away. Clothing (pants) mainly are available for ‘hire’ at the main gate though.

The recently re-elected president of the U.S.A, President Barack Obama, is actually slated to visit the Reclining Buddha as part of his itinerary while on his visit of Thailand and Myanmar.

Maybe this would render some weight to your visiting as well..?

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About Eric Raikanya

Linchpin in the making
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