What is the wat?

As two friends of mine are soon meeting up in Bangkok to commence their envy-inducing peregrinations of Southeast Asia, I thought I’d take a moment (or a few posts) to reminisce about my time spent in Thailand on two separate occasions last year.

Menacing clouds roll over the Wat Pho temple complex. Intermittent downpours are to be expected during the summer monsoon season-- my mid-July jaunt was no exception.

Wat Pho was beyond a doubt my favorite of the traditional sights in Bangkok, which was fortunate since I spent nearly every day of my week in the city at the Wat Pho Thai Traditional Medicine School earning my certification in Thai massage.  I’ll delve more into my escapades in masseuse boot camp another time, but I’ll have you know that I can massage like a champ.  And Thai massage is not for sissies– done in full, the standard procedure takes about two hours to complete, which amounts to quite a workout for the masseuse as well as the recipient (some liken the benefits to completing a yoga class).  Wat Pho is the place to learn the art of Thai massage, and people come from far and wide to learn the Thai Traditional Massage treatment (yours truly included).

But back to the temple complex itself.  For those of you who might not be onto this already, wat means temple in Thai.  Another helpful hint for Thai is that in the Romanized spellings of Thai words, “ph” is pronounced like a hard “p,” not an “f” (Wat Po, not Wat Fo).  I also happen to think that written Thai is gorgeous.  Spoken Thai, not so much.  Wat Po is actually just a nickname given to Wat Phra Chetuphon, the largest and oldest Buddhist temple in Bangkok.  In English, it might also be referred to as “the temple of the reclining Buddha.”  From this, you might (correctly) assume that there is a reclining Buddha located somewhere within the temple– in fact, the temple houses one of the largest Buddhas in Thailand at 45 meters long.  Over one-thousand additional Buddhas lie on the premises, which is great if you are into BuddhaBuddhaBuddhaBuddhas rockin’ everywhere.

Oh hai. I'm a BFB. Big Fuckin' Buddha.

What makes Wat Pho so special in my mind are the intricacies found in every corner of the sprawling complex.  From the spectacular ceramic detailing covering every inch of the temple’s 95 chedis to the mother-of-pearl inlaid in the reclining Buddha’s feet to depict the 108 auspicious characteristics of the Buddha, you could return to Wat Pho every day and still discover new features that managed to elude you on previous visits.  As half of the duo that will be in Bangkok shortly has a background in graphic design and tends to document interesting patterns in her travel photographs, the elements of this temple complex are sure to please.

Within the hall of the reclining Buddha, you can exchange a nominal amount of money for a bowl of tiny coins, the idea being to drop one in each of the bowls lining the walk to the exit– no doubt to provoke some sort of cosmic blessing.  When I ran out of coins with several bowls to go, I wondered if I was sending a sort of nefarious smoke signal up to the heavens, however unintentional it may be.  Though I shrugged it off and walked on, I can’t stop thinking about how I managed to fall incredibly ill the following day, spending the majority of massage school in a fevered delirium.

While the cause of my sickness is up for debate, Wat Pho’s exceptional beauty is not.  Enjoy!

clockwise from top left: I miss the ever-present vibrant flowers of Thailand; graceful ceramic details of a chedi in the foreground, the glowing opulence of a temple building in the background; a rather large toe; temple belfry; the long legs of the BFB (big fuckin’ Buddha); corner of a building ornately decorated with glowing glass and mirrors; coins for good luck; a sage old man keeps watch over the wat

-Wat Pho is located in the old city, right by the Grand Palace.  If you are staying near Khao San Road (the main backpacker haven), it is easily reached by walking or taking a cheap cab (about 45 baht- make sure the cabbie runs the meter) or tuk-tuk.
-Entrance fee is 50 baht.
-A Thai massage will be more expensive at Wat Pho, but at about $11/hr vs. about $8 or so on the street (maybe less, maybe more- probably about $9 or so on Khao San), you might want to be able to say that you’ve gotten a massage at the ultimate traditional Thai massage mecca.
-Get there early– everything in Bangkok is better before the crowds and the stifling humidity!
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