Destinations, Thailand

Avoiding Wat Weariness in Asia: Temple of the Reclining Buddha

December 2, 2012

Like symptoms of an overzealous Cathedral Craze in Europe, too many visits to too many Buddhist Temples in Southeast Asia soon cause Wat Weariness.

wat [wɑːt]

n(Non-Christian Religions / Buddhism) a Thai Buddhist monastery or temple

[Thai, from Sanskrit vāta enclosure]

Yes, the “seen one, seen ’em all” attitude runs the risk of missing beautiful spots, but the “must make a stop at each recommended site” leaning leads to lunacy.

Throughout Southeast Asia, we took the following approach: When feeling energetic and curious, we’d poke around places and give them our attention and appreciation. When we weren’t, we didn’t.

Hence, no visits this trip to Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Saket, Wat Benchamabophit, Wat Traimit, Wat Prayoon, Wat Suthat, Wat Mahathat, or Wat Arun (well, unless you count our balcony overlook across the river at sunset).

But…we did decide to explore the temple grounds at Wat Phrachetuphon Vimon Mangkararam Ratchaworamahawihan (let’s call it Wat Pho, for short), and absolutely enjoyed the calm, unhurried visit.

Just twelve years after our U.S. founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, Thai leaders on the other side of the world began restoration work on a temple dating back to the 16th century.

Remember King Rama IV (the ruler depicted in the decidedly Hollywoodized stories of “The King and I” and “Anna and the King”)? His predecessor, King Rama III (1824-51), continued restoration work on this same site and championed a seventeen year expansion project beginning in 1839, leading to construction of the Wat Pho temple complex known today.

Most famously, the site contains Thailand’s largest Buddha statue and is also known as the birthplace of Thai massage and original home of Thailand’s first public university.

We went in for a peek and came out with pictures and a sincere appreciation for the beauty and traditions of Thai architecture.

Laying 150 feet (46 meters) in length and resting at a respectable 49 feet (15 meters) high, Thailand’s largest Buddha statue is covered in gold leaf, and the enormous feet are decorated with mother-of-pearl inlays.

It was easy to find the enormous, golden Reclining Buddha, but truthfully, we had much more fun peeking into other corridors and courtyards and spotting beautiful variations on the theme.

Loved finding this lounging kitty under the rolly-polly-smiley-Buddha and seeing one particularly revered tree propped up by painted poles…

In the groove…

We came, we admired, and then…we carried on.

Wat Pho
(Or, say it with me now, Wat Phrachetuphon Vimon Mangkararam Ratchaworamahawihan)
2 Sanam Chai Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Open 8am-5pm
Admission: We paid 100 Baht ($3.23) per person…and got a free water bottle thrown in for good measure.

A bit of architectural history and a site plan of the temple grounds.

Conclusion: Our tricks for staving off Wat Weariness (or Cathedral Craze, for that matter):

  • Limit temple visits: quality over quantity.
  • Don’t let a rush to see “famous” sites cause you miss beautiful details tucked in quiet corners.
  • Stay hydrated. (Water really does work miracles!)
  • Make time to reflect on what you’ve actually seen…better to treasure a few memories than miss the meaning in the madness.

After leaving Wat Pho, we walked down the street in search of the Amorosa Bar and its quiet views of Wat Arun from across the Chao Phraya River, quite content to forgo crossing to the other side…

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  • Reply Anita December 3, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    Wat Pho was the highlight of our quick stopover in Bangkok a few years ago. Looking at your pics brings back lovely memories.

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians December 5, 2012 at 12:49 am

      Thanks so much, Anita. It will always hold a special place in my heart…

  • Reply Tim December 5, 2012 at 12:44 am

    I love Wat Pho and as you said the calmness of it. Did you know that there is a school massage shop across the street where the students get their hours for their training? I got THE BEST massage there. My body has never felt like that again. I recommend when you go back, because most people who go to Thailand return :) , that you check it out. My trip in January includes plans to visit Wat Pho and Wat Phra Kaew as I normally do. I converted to Buddhism and like to pay merit for my safe journey and also for my wife who is Thai who has been an ultra-positive influence in my life.. :-)
    Very nice photographs and essay. :-)

    Happy and safe travels


    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians December 5, 2012 at 11:52 am

      Tim, thank you so much for your comment. You know, I’d heard rumors of the massage school, but we didn’t make plans to find it. If – when? ; ) – we return to Bangkok, I’ll make it a priority, thanks to your recommendation. I’d certainly enjoy spending even more time at Wat Pho.

      Have a wonderful trip in January!

  • Reply Amanda December 6, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Beautiful photos! I haven’t been to Thailand yet, but it’s on my list! Thanks for the tips.

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians December 7, 2012 at 7:23 pm

      Thanks, Amanda! Hope you get the opportunity to visit someday soon. By the way, we ended up taking a really night Bangkok to Auckland direct flight on Thai Airways. A pretty sweet connection in case you want to “hop on down” to NZ when you’re done in Thailand ; )

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