Located adjacent to the Grand Palace and Wat Phrakaeo, the official name of the Wat Pho temple is Wat Phrachetuphon Vimon Mangkararam Ratchaworamahawihan though it is referred to by its abridged name, Wat Pho. This is the largest temple in Bangkok and easily the most visited.
Originally built in the 1500’s, it was in the 1780’s that King Rama I enlarged the entire complex and rebuilt the temple. The now famous chapel of the Reclining Buddah was built in 1832 by King Rama III.
Considered to be among the most interesting temples in Thailand, this complex integrates history with modern science and is also a world renowned center for massage training and meditation. The most famous feature of the temple is the reclining Buddah. Encased in gold leaf it measures 46 meters long and the feet are meticulously inlaid with mother-of-pearl. While the Buddah has long been the main attraction at the temple, more and more people are recognizing the spa-like features of the temple and come from all over the world to both learn and benefit from the traditional Thai massages that are offered by students of the massage school.
A traditional Thai massage is not like many other types of therapeutic massages and the result is aimed at invigorating and refreshing the body rather than relaxing it. Often referred to as ‘lazy man’s yoga’, the Thai masseuse will position the body into yoga like postures in order to improve blood circulation and to relieve stress. The entire process begins with the massage recipient changing into the saffron colored robes similar to those a monk would wear, and then waiting one’s turn on a wooden bench. The low wooden massage tables are lined up together and the focus in on healing rather than on privacy. At the completion of your massage you’re presented with a complimentary lychee beverage.
The entire area is decidedly un-spa like despite their spa services. There are no fluffy white robes and gone are the muted lights and softly playing music. Instead, one is treated to the ambient sounds of traffic combined with birdsong, but it is easy enough to block out the cacophony as you submit to the masseuse. Adding to the appeal however, is the overlying sense of mysticism that comes with being in a temple so ancient and revered.
The Wat Pho Thai Massage School offers a variety of programs to teach students the art of traditional Thai massage, and people come from around the world to this esteemed place of learning in which to master the practice. And it is the customers who are their practice subjects; the price for an hour long massage is ridiculously low in comparison with Western standards.
The temple is open daily for visitors, and English speakers are rewarded with the availability of English speaking guides who can provide tours and interesting information for a small, negotiated fee. A donation to the temple will result in a blessing from a monk, and there are even a few palm readers and astrologers on hand to tell your fortune.
No matter you reason for visiting, be it to see the famous Buddah or to receive a massage, the Wat Pho Temple is not to be missed if you’re in Bangkok.