Golden Buddha at Wat Traimit: the world’s largest solid-gold statue

Bangkok 1000 temples. Wat Traimit. Golden Buddha
Wat Traimit, home of the Golden Buddha. Front view. Photo by Discovering Bangkok

Wat Traimit Witthayaram ( วัดไตรมิตรวิทยาราม), shortened as Wat Traimit ( วัดไตรมิตร), is commonly known as the temple of the Golden Buddha. Across the major entryway of Wat Traimit is the Odeon Circle as well as the passage to Chinatown Bangkok.

Odeon Circle or Wongwian Odeon ( วงเวียนโอเดียน) is a roundabout at the confluence of Yaowarat ( ถนนเยาวราช), Charoen Krung ( ถนนเจริญกรุง) and Mittaphap Thai-China ( ถนนมิตรภาพไทยจีน) roads. In the circle, there’s a red large Chinese construction gate that was built in 1999 by Thai Chinese descendants as a part of the celebrations of King Bhumibol’s 72nd anniversary and it’s recognized as a gateway to Chinatown which Yaowarat as the main artery. Odeon Circle was named the Dragon’s Head because it is the inception point of Yaowarat, which was called Dragon Road.

Wat Traimit. Golden Buddha. China Town Gate
Chinatown Gate that marks the entrance to Chinatown was erected in 1999 in honor of HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Photo by Discovering Bangkok

On the ground floor of the roundabout, there’s a brass plaque with a Chinese inscription de ( 地) that means “earth” or “soil” and on the top, there’s another Chinese inscription tiān ( 天) that means “heaven” or “sky”.

Around the circle, there are two lion statues made from white jade which was sent out from the government of China as a part of the celebrations of King Bhumibol‘s 80th anniversary in 2007. The male lion places his foot on the sphere, while the lioness puts her foot on the cub. Besides, there is a cottontail designed in white jade which was sent again from the government of China in 2011 as a part of the celebrations of King Bhumibol’s 84th anniversary, since he was born in the year of the Rabbit.

As you enter to the top of Wat Traimit and access the shimmering shrine room, let your eyes slowly rise up to meet the quiet gaze of the world’s largest golden Buddha, one of the country’s most prized holy relics in numeric value. The 18-karat gold in the statue is estimated to be worth 250 million USD because unlike many other Buddha statues which are gilded, this is made of solid gold.

Bangkok 1000 temples. Wat Traimit. Golden Buddha
The majestic 5.5 tons Golden Buddha statue

Golden Buddha, formally entitled Phra Phuttha Maha Suwana Patimakon ( พระพุทธมหาสุวรรณปฏิมากร), is a solid gold Buddha sculpture with a weight of 5.5 tons (5,500 kilograms), 3.98 meters high as well as 3.13 meters broad from knee to knee in Mara Vichai attitude ( ปางมารวิชัย). Mara Vichai or Maravijaya is a posture of Buddha in different representations of Thai art, in which the Buddha is seated, and also putting his right hand in the relax posture pointing to the ground, loosely holding his knee. The other hand is on his lap.

The Golden Buddha is approximately seven centuries old and also has endured 3 separated periods of Thai history. The tale of how it reached Wat Traimit is packed with legends and myths and the statue has a very unusual history.

The statue’s egg-shaped head lead us to situate its origin in the Sukhothai Kingdom, which would mean it was molded in the 13th or 14th century. Some researchers conclude that because many of the metal figures that were made in India during that period before being exported to other countries, parts of the Golden Buddha might have originated from India. Later the statue was moved to Ayutthaya. During war periods, in the prevention of being stolen by invaders, the statue was covered with a thick layer of stucco and the cloak worked so well that it remained untouched in the Ayutthaya ruins even after the fall of the kingdom.

When Bangkok when established as the new capital of the Kingdom, the Chakri Kings encouraged the rescue of Buddha statues forsaken in Ayutthaya as well as various other northern cities. These sculptures were conveyed to Bangkok across the Chao Phraya River.

In the reign of King Rama III ( พระรามที่ 3), during the second quarter od the 19th century, since nobody recognized the real value of the statue, the image was housed in relative anonymity at Wat Phrayakrai in Charoen Krung Road, near the Taksin Bridge and Asiatique Night Market. When that temple eventually fell into deterioration and was abandoned, the statue was proposed to numerous temples in Bangkok, but its size and unpretentious look determined others hesitate to take it.

Bangkok 1000 temples. Wat Traimit. Golden Buddha
Golden Buddha inside the temple. Photo by ErwinMeier [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Cropped.

With no one else requesting the image, the abbot at Wat Traimit chose to build a new building at the temple to accommodate the sculpture. When the Buddha statue was available to be moved, it was then, in 1955, that the forgotten mystery was finally disclosed.

By an odd twist of destiny, as the statue was raised up, during the transportation to the new building, it slipped from the straps and fell to the ground. The fear of the eyewitnesses converted into surprise whilst they inspected the statue. The plastic cover broke on collision unveiling a Buddha statue cast in solid gold. On closer examination, the abbot of Wat Traimit could see something scintillating beneath the stucco and also stripped it away to unveil the magnificent beauty of the Golden Buddha.

The Golden Buddha was unmounted to remove the plastic lacquer and reassembled. Since then, the Golden Buddha has been placed in Wat Traimit in the upper floor of a separate building in the temple. On 14 February 2010, the new building housing this sacred Buddha statue in Phra Maha Mondop built for that purpose and then was open to the public. 

Bangkok 1000 temples. Wat Traimit. Golden Buddha
The layout of the Golden Buddha at the museum. Photo by Iudexvivorum [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

On the 2nd level of this structure, there is a museum on the history of the Golden Buddha and the process of molding gold Buddha statues. The old sheave and ropes employed for elevating the Golden Buddha on that particular decisive day on 25 May 1955 are preserved in a container here and likewise the lacquer pieces that broke away when the statue dropped to the ground.

Another fascinating historical fact in this museum may be located in a replica of the Guinness Book of Records of the year 1991 which details that the Golden Buddha is the sacred object with the greatest innate worth of ₤21.1 million. This appraisal is based upon the gold cost in April 1990 at ₤227 per fine ounce.

The Wat Traimit Museum ( พิพิธภัณฑ์วัดไตรมิตร) or the Yaowarat Chinatown Heritage Centre ( ศูนย์ประวัติศาสตร์เยาวราช) is located on the first level. This museum preserves the history of Chinese immigrants in Bangkok and Thailand. The presentations in the museum use a variety of great audiovisual techniques to make this historic journey an engaging and instructive experience which gives a very genuine depiction of how difficult was the life of the first immigrants.

Bangkok 1000 temples. Wat Traimit. Golden Buddha
Shrine to Buddhas outside Wat Traimit. Photo by Discovering Bangkok

The easiest way to get to Wat Traimit by public transport is to take the MRT to Hua Lamphong station ( สถานีหัวลำโพง). Use Exit 1 and after a 5-minute walk along Rama IV Road and then Mitthaphap Thai-China Road, you’ll reach China Town Gate. Wat Traimit is just around the corner at Charoen Krung Road, parallel to Yaowarat Road.

The cost of the entry ticket is 40 Baht to see the Golden Buddha. The ticket for the exhibit and also the heritage center is an added 100 Baht. Wat Traimit is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm.