The Reclining Buddha and Massage School at Wat Pho
Topping every Bangkok must-see list is the Wat Pho reclining Buddha which is the largest in Thailand at 46 meters in length, but only the third largest in the entire world. Located very near the Grand Palace, there’s no excuse to not stop in and marvel at this wonder. We found it to be a relaxing attraction simply to walk the grounds of the Wat Pho temple complex, which also houses the School of Thai Medicine, the birthplace of Thai Massage.
Wat PhoWhere: Rattanakosin Island in Bangkok, just south of the Grand Palace
Hours: 8am–5pm, seven days a week
Entrance fee: 100 baht
Time: Expect to spend 1-2 hours
The reclining Buddha, which represents Buddha’s entry into Nirvana, was built by King Rama III in 1832. It has a brick core covered in plaster, then covered in gold leaf. The temple was built around the statue in the exact dimensions, so the tip of his crown touches the ceiling. Be sure to walk around both sides to see the incredible details on the bottoms of his feet and the back of his head.
Getting to the temple is easy as it’s located within walking distance of the Grand Palace. If you’re taking a water taxi, get off at the Chao Phraya Pier. Just be aware of this popular scam we encountered upon asking directions to the temple: they will tell you the temple is closed for a state function, but it will open after a certain time, and to let them drive you to another popular attraction. They’ll promise to bring you back right when the temple opens. Just say no thanks and kept walking, because the temple will in all likelihood be open for visitors!
The temple grounds are quite old, having been here long before the establishment of Bangkok as the capital. The buildings in the complex, though, date from varying remodels throughout history. The complex houses the largest collection of Buddhas in all of Thailand, a garden, a monastic center, and of course the massage pavilions.
The Wat Pho complex also houses one of the oldest schools in Thailand, the on-site School of Thai Medicine, which is still in use today. It is considered the birthplace of modern Thai massage, and the good news is you can GET a massage right there at the school. The attendants will give you loose fitting clothes to change into, and you lay on flat beds in a room full of about 60 beds with small dividers between each row. Be sure to tell them if you have any history of surgery or painful areas, because you will be twisted, popped and stretched—it’s not a typical back-rub! For only 420 baht (about $13USD) for an hour long massage, you can and absolutely should take part in this ancient medicinal practice. And what better place than the birthplace of Thai massage in a beautiful and ancient temple?
Having been overwhelmed by the maddening crowds at the Grand Palace, we found the large areas of Wat Pho to be a peaceful respite, especially after our hour long massage. The enormous reclining Buddha is absolutely not to be missed, so make sure this stop is on your Bangkok to-do list!
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