A Golden Glimpse of Heaven at Bangkok's Reclining Buddha
Measuring a gargantuan 46 m long and 15 m high, the reclining Buddha of Wat Pho may not be the largest or longest Buddha in Thailand anymore (five reclining Buddha statues have surpassed it so far), but many believe that still nothing surpasses Wat Pho for its timeless beauty and the ancient ambience of its tranquil confines. It is a vital complement to the grounds of a formerly modest Bangkok temple, which existed from the time when Bangkok was still a small community. Time and tide transformed the Reclining Buddha's temple’s appearance and made it the centre of a vibrant capital city, and the sacred heart of a nation’s new era.
Built in 1772 when King Rama III ordered his son, Prince Bhumindra Bhakti, to begin construction of this holy site, the temple of the Reclining Buddha of Wat Pho evokes the ancient legend of the encounter between the Buddha and Rahu, the headless ogre, when the Buddha inflated his body to inspire reverence from the giant ogre. This event is often interpreted as the passing of Buddha into nirvana, and also represents the uncertainty of the material world, one of three fundamental Buddhist concepts.
As you take off your shoes and enter the “viharn” (temple assembly hall), you will be awestruck by the glorious reclining Buddha statue. Modelled out of plaster around a brick base, two hundred years of gold leaf application have turned it into a resplendent, glittering icon. Nacre marqueterie adorns the eyes and feet, and the feet display 108 different characteristics of the enlightenment of Buddha.
While the interior of the Reclining Buddha's temple glows with a gentle golden aura, the surrounding grounds of Wat Pho are an amazing display of colour and artistry. A particular feature of the temple is the 95 chedis (pronounced “Jay-Dee”), which are the towers in Buddhist temples that store religious relics (known as stupas in India), of various sizes that are scattered across the 20-acre complex. The highlights of these are four large memorial chedis to the first four Bangkok kings, which are arrayed beside thousands of colourful Chinese porcelain decorations. This area is a symbol of “Jambudvipa,” the terrestrial world of Buddhist cosmology.
As a quintessential landmark of the country that successfully defied colonization, accepting Western influences without succumbing to them, the religious significance of Wat Pho still remains strong. This is evident during Buddhist holidays, as well as on both Western and traditional New Year’s Days, when thousands of middleclass Thais from across the kingdom travel to Wat Pho to pay their respects: visiting a holy site and cultural icon, where tourists can truly see the living heart and soul of a nation.
When to Go to Reclining Buddha Of Wat Pho
Wat Pho is located immediately south of the Grand Palace, 20 minutes from Khao San Road, and 55 minutes from Phaya Thai and Siam Square on foot. Many Bangkok tours include a stop at the Reclining Buddha, but it is also easily tackled on your own. Traffic has improved in recent years, making it easier for travellers to get around. Buses, taxis and tuk-tuks (motorized three-wheel pedicabs) are plentiful. You can also take a ride on a monorail to Saphan Thaksin station, and then catch the Chao Phraya River express boat to Tha Tian pier, close to Wat Pho. Try to hit Wat Pho as early as possible to avoid the heat and tourist groups, and to catch the "magical" morning light. Wat Pho is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission fee is 50 Baht (CAN$1.60).
Odds n' Ends
If you’re interested in a more serious approach to massage, head to the new premises just outside the Reclining Buddha's temple main entrance, at 392/25-28 Soi Pen Phat 1, Maharat Road, where you can join a five-day, thirty-hour, English-language course to learn massage (8,500 Baht/CAN$278 CAD).
The Reclining Buddha's temple souvenir shop offers mostly generic and relatively pricey items with little bargaining being practised.
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