The highlight of the 17th century Wat Pho, the temple adjacent to the royal palace, that is also a school of traditional Thai massage, is the golden reclining Buddha or Phra Buddhasaiyas. This 46 meter long gilded statue is also the most visited tourist attraction in Bangkok, so braving throngs is de rigueur. We passed by twice waiting for the crowd to thin before taking the plunge.
The Buddhasaiyas was commissioned by King Rama III around 1830, and crafted in situ with stuccoed bricks overlaid with gold leaf. It is 15 meters at its highest near the face and 3 meters high at the feet. The soles of the feet are inlaid with mother-of-pearl in intricate patterns symbolising the 108 auspicious signs of the Buddha.
The shrine – called the Viharn Phranorn – was constructed around the finished Buddha, with giant columns obscuring a frontal view. Every inch of the wall surface is decorated with beautiful murals depicting the advent and propagation of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, and the lives of important disciples.
The silent – apart from the odd irreverent tourist – filing past, is accompanied by a curious, rhythmic clang of metal on metal, which turns out to be the sound of coins being dropped incessantly into the 108 metal containers along the front wall! (Yes, that’s R with his shoes in that plastic bag).
Wat Pho or Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm Rajwaramahaviharn, is a royal monastery built by king Rama I over an existing ancient temple, when he moved his capital here from Ayutthaya. It was restored extensively over a period of 17 years by King Rama III. Its principal shrine houses an exquisite seated Buddha – Phra Buddha Deva Patimakorn – on an ornate three tier pedestal that holds the ashes of the founder king.
The extensive grounds are well worth a wander with a museum and the school of massage where you can get your aching body parts pummeled into submission for a reasonable fee. (We passed :-)) Look out for the rock sculptures in the garden that were originally ballasts, salvaged from grounded Chinese merchant vessels.
PS: Despite the throngs, this is a working temple, and visitors are expected to dress and behave respectfully and cover their shoulders and knees. And turn off their mobile phones.