I can still recall the sense of peace and wonder I felt wandering around Wat Pho, The Temple of the Reclining Buddha, early one Sunday morning with Monkey. We had just a few hours left in our 24 hour stint in Bangkok, and we sprang out of bed early to head over to the temple, the promise of the hotel’s famed buffet breakfast as a reward on our return.
The good news is that 8am on a Sunday is one of the few times in Bangkok that the traffic sleeps-in too. We hopped in a taxi from The Peninsula and were there in about 15 mins to be among the first handful of people to gain access that day.
From the moment you step inside the compound, it feels like you are in another world, away from the insanity and hustle of Bangkok. It’s a welcome relief. There is beauty all round. The buildings themselves are bejeweled and sparkle in the light. There is so much detail everywhere. I’m no expert, but according to Wikipedia, Wat Pho tops the list of six temples in Thailand classed as the highest grade of the first-class royal temples.
Our first stop, just inside the entrance to the temple, was an area to pay homage. Here there are many smaller Buddhas which you can replenish with gold leaf, light candles in front of, reflect on whatever you care to reflect on, and even purchase prayers and thoughtful writings. It’s quiet and there’s a deep air of respect.
To me, there is something about spiritual and religious artifacts, or ‘works of worship’, that transcends other works of art. Perhaps it’s the reverence with which these pieces are created—whether it’s the depiction of a scene of the Last Supper, painted in the 14th century—or a statue of the Buddha at a temple in Thailand. If you look for it. If you are still for a moment. If you can cut out all the distractions around you and be present. You notice that there is an aura around these creations that invites you to pause and go deep. If only for a moment.
After paying our respects, we wandered around the compound. There are Buddhas everywhere in various states of repose or grace. A particular favorite of mine, was this one in camel pose, a pose I like to do myself, but without such serenity and great form.
The bright, bright colors—from the monks robes, to the banners you find hanging from the rafters, the richness of the gold, the paint on the murals and the wooden buildings—all add to the sense of awe.
But all this pales into significance, when you encounter the amazing reclining Buddha, all 46 meters of him. The size is so hard to comprehend. Impossible to photograph and staggeringly breathtaking. Of course, he has his own mini temple and is surrounded by smaller Buddhas, murals of Buddhas and more. Again, I felt blessed that we were only two of about five people in his presence that morning.
One thing that puzzled me as we entered the hall, was a singing, chiming sound. Was it a recording? Was it musicians? What was it? As we rounded the corner, the mystery was solved. About 100 metal bowls are lined up again a wall for you to drop offerings – coins – into, and the sound creates its own music. You purchase a dish of coins to participate in this ritual.
After our visit to the reclining Buddha, we continued to wander, stumbling upon what I believe was an induction ceremony for new monks. Another opportunity to glimpse inside an unfamiliar world. As I understand it, the monks live completely on charity and the offerings of others, and around them were gifts, including a giant bottle of mouthwash. It would seem that even the holy need to keep their breath fresh.
All too soon, our visit was over, with the clock ticking and beckoning us back to the Peninsula’s brunch before making a speedy trip to the airport.
But on this quiet Sunday morning, there were no taxis to be found. Only tuk tuks and their belligerent drivers, commanding at least 3 times what a cab would cost. Despite my better judgment, but at Monkey’s pleading, we ended up back in a tuk tuk, with my heart in my mouth. Not the most serene end to to our spiritual morning.
The official web site is very hard to find, but you can find it here.
Entrance is 100 baht – less than $3 USD and includes a bottle of water.
Remember to dress appropriately, long sleeves, long skirts, long pants.