Wat Pho: The Temple of the Reclining Buddha and leading school of massage

Reclining Buddha
46-meter long gold covered statue of the reclining Buddha.

Wat Pho ( วัดโพธิ์) is one of the places in Bangkok that are very important from the historical point of view. Located on Rattanakosin Island ( เกาะรัตนโกสินทร์), just south of the Grand Palace, Wat Pho which its official name is Wat Phra Chetuphon Wimon Mangkhalaram Rajwaramahawihan ( วัดพระเชตุพนวิมลมังคลารามราชวรมหาวิหาร), Wat Phra Chetuphon ( วัดพระเชตุพน) for short, is more commonly known as solely Wat Pho, that is a contraction of its former name Wat Photaram ( วัดโพธาราม).

Wat Pho Bangkok
Entrance to the complex buildings at Wat Pho. Photo by Discovering Bangkok

Wat Pho is one of Bangkok’s most ancient temples. It already existed before King Rama I ( พระรามที่ 1) established Bangkok as the capital of Thailand. The temple originally was called Wat Photaram, in remembrance of the monastery where it is thought that Buddha had achieved enlightenment. Thereafter the temple was renovated consecutively until the reign of King Rama IV ( พระรามที่ 4) and since then there hadn’t been any significant changes to Wat Pho except for the continuous process of repairing work. In 1982, before the Bangkok bicentenary, the temple was restored again.

Wat Pho Bangkok
Buddha images in one of the chambers at the interior of Wat Pho. Photo by Discovering Bangkok

The temple is the first on Thailand’s list of the temples recognized as having the highest grade of the first-class royal temples. One of the reasons is because some of the ashes of King Rama I are enshrined in this temple. Here, you can find the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, being the reclining Buddha the main attraction point of this temple.

Although there are many other options to look for in the complex, the reclining Buddha is the most visited and most liked piece in the whole temple. The name reclining Buddha comes from the position of this statue in the temple, it is placed in such a way that it looks like the Buddha is leaning over.

Panoramic video of the Reclining Buddha Statue

The reclining Buddha is a 46-meter long statue which is covered in gold leaf which makes this statue so amusing to watch. The Buddha is 15 meters tall which makes this piece of art precede over all the others. The reclining Buddha has feet that have a size of 5 meters which makes it look like it has been forged into the building.

Feet of the Reclining Buddha made of mother of pearl
Feet of the Reclining Buddha made of mother of pearl

The 108 prosperous characters of Buddha are represented by 108 bronze bowls in the hallway, where visitors drop coins believing this will return them in good wealth and prosperity, but if that doesn’t work, these coins make a nice ringing voice when they drop.

What Pho Bangkok
Recipients where people drop coins to make their wishes come true at What Pho. Photo by Discovering Bangkok

People that come here are here mainly for the Reclining Buddha, although the Wat Pho complex has many spots that are important from a religious and historical point of view:

  • Phra Mondop ( พระมณฑป) is the Scripture Hall, which keeps a small library of the Teachings of the Buddha.
  • Phra Ubosot ( พระอุโบสถ) is the Ordination Hall, used for Buddhist rituals and the complex’s most sacred building.
  • Phra Rabiang ( พระระเบียง) is a double gallery containing nearby 400 Buddha’s images from northern Thailand selected among the 1,200 formerly brought by King Rama I.
  • Phra Chedi Rai ( พระเจดีย์ราย) is located outside of Phra Rabiang where there are 71 small chedis, every 5 meters in height and also four groups of 5 chedis, one on each corner outside the gallery. The 71 small chedis contain the ashes of the royal family, and the 20 moderately larger ones gathered in groups of five contain the relics of Buddha.
  • Phra Prang ( พระปรางค์) are the four towers at every edge of the court. The four Khmer statues of each of the towers are the guardian gods of the Four Cardinal Points.
  • Phra Maha Chedi Si Rajakarn ( พระมหาเจดีย์ศรีราชการ) is a group of four pagodas, each 42 meters high. The four chedis are devoted to the four first kings of the Chakri dynasty.
  • Viharn Phranorn ( วิหารพระพร)is the place, built in 1832 during the reign of King Rama III, following the Ayutthaya-style, that contains the reclining Buddha.
Wat Pho Bangkok
Phra Maha Chedi at Wat Pho complex. Photo by Discovering Bangkok

Wat Pho was also meant to provide a place of knowledge for the general public. A pictorial encyclopedia on granite plates has been inscribed, covering eight categories: medicine, history, health, customs, literature, proverbs, lexicography, and Buddhism. These inscriptions with texts and illustrations are displayed around the temple.

Wat Pho Bangkok
Wat Pho Bangkok. Gardens outside the Temple. Photo by Discovering Bangkok

Adjacent to the building is a small elevated garden (Missakawan Park) with a Chinese-style pavilion; The core of the garden is a bodhi tree that is supposed to initially come from an Indian tree where the Buddha was sitting waiting for enlightenment.

Other than Reclining Buddha there are also 394 of the gilded Buddha images which are sitting in a lotus position and they are also made of gold. The buildings of the chapels are also a piece of art in themselves.

Wat Pho Bangkok
Gilded Buddha images sitting in a lotus position

Wat Pho is considered the first Thailand University and Thai Massage Center. In the mid 19th century prior to the introduction of modern medicine, it served as a medical education center and today the temple continues being a center of traditional medicine where there is still a private Thai school established in 1957.

The Wat Pho Thai school of Thai traditional medicine and massage is the first Thai school authorized by the Thai Ministry of Education. Thai massage courses that take place in Wat Pho, may extend from a couple of weeks to 1 year. The classrooms for Thai traditional massage and herbal massage are held in two pavilions at the eastern side of the Wat Pho complex. Massage treatments are offered to tourists for a fee. Thai massage classes at Wat Pho has been undertaken by foreigners from 135 different countries.

Wat Pho Massage School
At the entrance of Wat Pho Massage School. Photo by Discovering Bangkok

After getting all the long walks of all the temple, if you are feeling exhausted or out of your tune, you might consider getting a Thai massage. You are in safe hands because they have been doing this for a long time now and it’s the best therapeutic massage that you will ever get.

This massage is one of their oldest creations. If you never got a chance of experiencing a Thai massage before, this place is an ideal point to get it. They use yoga and many other therapeutic components and this massage not only relieves stress but also makes you more energetic. That is the reason why this massage is a must-have if you are visiting this temple; it will make you forget the world.