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"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Travel Report: Wat Pho, Bangkok.

Wat Pho Reclining Buddha.

Wat Pho Bangkok

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Apri 2015. I couldn’t put a firm figure on how many temples I saw during my two month adventure around Thailand. Let’s just say it was a lot and that by the end of my trip I was, to employ a well worn saying, all templed out.

My first Thai temple experience came in the capital, Bangkok. There are some gorgeous temples here, among the finest in Asia. But if you’ve only got time for one, there’s certainly a case to be made for Wat Pho.

Exploring Wat Pho.

Wat Pho, Bangkok.

Wat Pho is one of Thailand’s most ancient temples. So damn old in fact that historians can’t be sure exactly when it was built. What they do know is that King Rama I ordered a huge restoration and expansion project in 1788, constructing much of the compound we see today.

King Rama I Thailand.

King Rama I.

Back then he named the temple Wat Photoram, a reference to Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, India, where legend says the Buddha attained enlightenment. Due to its location, just down the road from The Grand Palace, he also gave his new temple an elevated status, unveiling it as a royal monastery.

Wat Pho, Bangkok.

Visit Wat Pho Temple Bangkok.

Wat Pho, Bangkok.

With this in mind, the king set about decorating his temple with ancient relics. He sent teams of archaeologists to the former Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya to retrieve buried statues of Buddha from the region’s abandoned temples.

Moreover, he commissioned Bangkok’s finest artists to create new sculptures, statues and paintings in honour of his new temple. I saw an array of these treasures in Phra Rabiang, a double cloister containing over four hundred Buddha images collected from across northern Thailand.

Wat Pho Temple of the Reclining Buddha

Wat Pho’s Temple of the Reclining Buddha, Bangkok.

Wat Pho’s visual delights grew and grew over the centuries as a succession of King Ramas added their own touches. Today it stands as Thailand’s largest collection of Buddha images. And you can find the most famous of these in the magnificent Temple of the Reclining Buddha.

Temple of the Reclining Buddha Bangkok

Wat Pho, Bangkok.

At forty six metres long and fifteen metres high, I remember catching my breath as I entered the hall. Known in Thai as Phra Buddha Saiyas, this is Bangkok’s biggest reclining Buddha and the third largest in the country. King Rama III had it built in 1832. Its creators used brick, which they then covered in plaster and painted in gold.

Temple of the Reclining Buddha.

Temple of Reclining Buddha Bangkok

The legs!

The image of the reclining Buddha holds much importance in Thai art. Symbolising the Buddha’s entry into Nirvana, it lies on its right side, the head resting on its hand, supported by arm and elbow.

Numerous miniature Buddha shrines line the walkway alongside the statue. Furthermore, the hall features no less than one hundred and eight bronze bowls. Drop a coin into one of them and, they say, you may find some good fortune coming your way.

Wat Pho Temple in Bangkok.

Wat Pho, Bangkok.

Speaking of good fortune, I was lucky to visit the temple complex during Songkran, Thailand’s annual new year festival. That afternoon, as I explored, I came across queues of locals keen to participate in the tradition of Buddha Bathing. First, you fill a small bowl with jasmine scented water.

Buddha bathing Wat Pho Bangkok

Wat Pho, Bangkok.

Next, find yourself a Buddha and slowly empty the bowl in three separate acts of pouring. Though I didn’t know what they were saying that day, I could hear people asking for blessings.

May I eliminate all evil thoughts.

Help me to cultivate good deeds.

May I help save all living beings. 

Buddha bathing ceremony Bangkok

Wat Pho, Bangkok.

Buddha bathing is a sign of respect towards the Buddha and acts as a purification of one’s soul. After the bathing, some Thais pour water on the hands of their elders and ask for their blessings too. It was a fascinating experience, so much so that I made sure to queue up and take part myself.

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Wat Pho is definitely more than just a place of worship. In the early nineteenth century it became Thailand’s first public university, with courses in religion, science and literature. It’s also home to a Thai Massage School, opened in 1955.

Wat Pho, Bangkok.

Monk blessings Wat Pho Temple.

Monk blessings.

Over forty monks reside in the temple complex. That afternoon I spied a few of them meeting visitors and giving out blessings. For a small donation you get a braided bracelet in addition to the monk’s utterances.

Young monks Wat Pho Bangkok.

Wat Pho, Bangkok.

I also saw a number of young student monks assisting their elders. Every year a small number of young men get the chance to live at Wat Pho and study Buddhism. A small percentage even get the opportunity to stay at the temple, one of the most prestigious postings in Thailand.

Wat Pho Bangkok.

Wat Pho, Bangkok.

It’s also cool to wander through the maze of chedis containing ancient relics and ashes. There are over a hundred in total, including four giant structures containing the ashes of various kings. 

Building sand pagodas Wat Pho Temple

Wat Pho, Bangkok.

It was by one of the larger towers that I saw a local woman building replica chedis made from sand. Another Songkran tradition, the idea is to replenish the sand that people take away on their shoes throughout the year. Traditional plants and flags are added for a bit of colour. And yes, it’s another way of showing one’s respect for the Buddhist faith.

Wat Pho, Bangkok.

Sand pagoda Temple of the Reclining Buddha Bangkok

Wat Pho, Bangkok.

Before leaving, I was surprised and delighted to discover a little restaurant within the temple grounds. For a matter of pennies, I enjoyed a piping hot bowl of Green Beef Curry. Served with noodles, eggplant, courgette and peppers, it was absolutely delicious!

Beef Green curry Bangkok.

Green curry!

Wat Pho is open daily from 08:00-18:30, although note that it sometimes closes for lunch between 12:00-13:00. Entrance costs 100 Baht ($3).

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Like this? Check out more of my adventures from Bangkok.

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20 Comments

  • thehungrytravellers.blog

    So many memories flooding back with each of your posts. Still a bit gutted that we weren’t able to complete our Asia trip but ever hopeful we can pick up where we left off…one day.

    April 4, 2021 - 10:16 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading guys!

      April 4, 2021 - 10:21 am Reply
  • manvmusic

    Bangkok is a must for me to go visit when this pandemic ceases to exist … maybe ONE DAY!

    April 4, 2021 - 12:28 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading, commenting and following! I have dozens of articles on Thailand coming out over the next months. Hope you can get there in the not too distant future.

      April 4, 2021 - 12:31 pm Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    I got a little ‘templed out’ too on my visit to Bangkok and agree that Wat Pho is the star of the show. Didn’t notice the restaurant in the grounds which looks good value so well done for spotting it. Sunny but cold here, we are going out for a walk soon before tucking into our chocolate eggs. Hope Easter Sunday is going well for you both too. M.

    April 4, 2021 - 12:32 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I have a feeling the restaurant may have been a temporary pop up connected to the festival. I’m very jealous of all the chocolate eggs, will have to see what I can find here in Belgrade.

      April 4, 2021 - 12:36 pm Reply
      • Little Miss Traveller

        Perhaps you’ll get some bargains now it’s already Easter, hope so. Take care, M.

        April 4, 2021 - 12:38 pm
  • Memo

    I can’t imagine being templed out and am certainly glad you visited this one. Love the Pho-to of you with all the Buddhas. Now if you just raise your right hand in a gesture of peace. . .

    April 4, 2021 - 5:17 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading Memo! Delighted to hear you guys got your first jab.

      April 4, 2021 - 5:22 pm Reply
  • Monkey's Tale

    I know the feeling of being templed out in Thailand, or all of SE Asia for that matter, but Wat Pho is a must see isn’t it. You were lucky to be there during a festival too!

    April 4, 2021 - 6:02 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Absolutely, it’d be a sin to miss this temple while in Bangkok. Thanks for commenting!

      April 4, 2021 - 6:11 pm Reply
  • salsaworldtraveler

    Buddhism is a complicated and confusing religion. At least it seems that way to me. Seeing a lot of temples is taxing.

    April 4, 2021 - 7:30 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      It took an awful lot of temples for me to feel like it was becoming a chore. But yeah Buddhism is confusing at the best of times, especially when it comes to explaining certain beliefs and their histories.

      April 4, 2021 - 7:32 pm Reply
  • Lookoom

    Thank you for taking the time to describe the traditions that go with the temples.

    April 4, 2021 - 11:22 pm Reply
  • Rebecca

    I recall visiting Japan almost five years ago and being “templed out…” I can’t imagine doing so if I were to check out SE Asia! All the same, Wat Pho in Thailand looks incredible, and I’d definitely enjoy my time there, especially with the lovely architecture and food…Thanks for sharing your time there, Leighton; it’s giving me inspiration to go!

    April 4, 2021 - 11:59 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I always try to be a spokesman for Bangkok because generally it seems to get very little love. Thailand’s temples are just amazing, especially in some of the more off the beaten track destinations. Hope you get there one day soon and see for yourself. Cheers Rebecca.

      April 5, 2021 - 12:04 am Reply
      • Rebecca

        Yes, I hear Bangkok gets a lot of flack for some reason, and that a lot of foreigners prefer Chiang Mai over Bangkok. As I’ve not been to Thailand before, I can’t say for sure, but should I visit the country someday, I’ll have to check it out to see for myself!

        April 5, 2021 - 12:08 am
      • Leighton

        I can definitely see why Chiang Mai is held in higher regard. It’s prettier, greener and with a much more laid back vibe.

        April 5, 2021 - 12:33 am
  • WanderingCanadians

    These are such elaborate temples. It’s incredible to think how much effort and craftsmanship went into building and decorating them. We visited Japan a couple of years ago and spent half our time visiting temples. Sometimes we would visit the temple during the day and then return at night when the grounds were covered in lights for a totally different perspective.

    April 5, 2021 - 1:32 pm Reply
  • 100 Country Trek

    The reclining Buddha was my favorite ..the Emerald Buddha was also an incredible site to see.

    April 6, 2021 - 3:14 am Reply

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