Wat Pho is one of many superb examples of Thai architectural accomplishments in Bangkok and a top tourist attraction of note. Without being too presumptuous, it is in all probability, the first locality foreigners visit when in the city. It is by far the largest and oldest temple predating the Chakri Dynasty.
Building began on the temple during the 16th-century. It is officially known as Wat Phra Chetuphon, Thailand's foremost centre for public education and home to an enormous reclining Buddha.
The magnificent grandeur of this sprawling complex has a surprisingly relaxed, lively and lived-in presence to it. It could easily take you a good portion of the day to wander through its vast compound. But the most popular attraction and without a doubt, the most visited is the chapel housing the stunning image of an enormous Reclining Buddha. It virtually fills the entire building from head to toe.
The brick and plaster gold-plated Buddha is 46 metres or 150 feet long and 15 metres or 50 feet high. It depicts the dying Buddha on his side while awaiting his escape to nirvana. If you look closely at the soles of his feet, you will see that they are intricately inlaid with mother-of-pearl. All in all, there are 108 designs representing ancient symbols by which an enlightened one can be identified.
Should you decide to visit the temple on the same day after going to the nearby Grand Palace and prefer not to take one of those rather touristy tours, you can easily walk here. Simply exit Grand Palace and turn left on Thanon Maharat.
Walk south past a fresh market surrounded by early 20th-century shop-houses and onto Thanon Thai Wang which runs into the Tha Tien Pier river-taxi dock. But before that, turn left into Soi Chetuphon and head on to the entrance gate of Wat Pho. The temple is open daily from 8:30 am. until 6:00 pm. Worth a visit.
The courtyards are a labyrinth of walkways strewn with a great number of small, medium and large Chedi including the central Phra Si Sanphet Chedi where the remains of a sacred Buddha image is encased. At the compound's inner gates are some big, bold and bizarre stone statues believed to be caricatures of westerners sporting huge noses, beards and top hats. Others represent Chinese caricatures.
Within the complex are several stone statues masquerading naked in strange positions around miniature stone mountains. Known as Rishi or Hindu hermits, they were once used to illustrate various methods for treating illness and the healing through massage. There is also an herbal medicine school on the premises.
The temple has run one of the most respected massage schools in Bangkok ever since the 1960's. And it is a well-known fact that the traditional Thai massages practiced here are related to Chinese acupuncture and Indian yoga. These massages are known as nuat paen boran and supposedly, they date back from the time of the Buddha.
They also have some of the most highly trained masseurs at the Wat whose speciality lies in the pulling and stretching of the limbs and torso in order to relieve various ailments. They can range from a general tension all the way through to a virus.
Should you wish, you could try one of these treatments, but I have to warn you, though, they can be rather painful at times. They are not nearly as relaxing as an aromatherapy massage. If you have more time, you could take a 30-hour 10-day course which is regularly offered in English should your knowledge of the Thai language be limited. Unfortunately, I didn't stay long enough to find out the cost.
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