A long list of superlatives for this one: the oldest and largest wat in Bangkok, it features the largest reclining Buddha and the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand and was the earliest centre for public education. As a temple site Wat Pho (Wat Phra Chetuphon) dates back to the 16th century, but its current history really begins in 1781 with the complete rebuilding of the original monastery.
The narrow Th Chetuphon divides the grounds in two, with each section surrounded by hug whitewashed walls. The most interesting part is the northern compound, which includes a very large bòt enclosed by a gallery of Buddha images and four wihãan, four large chedis commemorating the first three Chakri kings (Rama III has two chedis), 91 smaller chedis, an old tripitaka (Buddhist scriptures) library, a sermon hall, a large wihãan that houses the reclining Buddha and a school building for classes in Abhidhamma (Buddhist philosophy), plus several less important structures. The temple is currently undergoing a 53 million baht renovation.
Wat Pho is the national headquarters for the teaching and preservation of traditional Thai medicine, including Thai massage. A massage school convenes in the afternoons at the eastern end of the compound. You can also study massage here in seven to 10 day courses. Other courses include Thai herbal therapy and traditional Thai medicine. A full course of all three takes one to three years to complete; graduation is by exam.
The tremendous reclining Buddha, 46m long and 15m high, illustrates the passing of the Buddha into nirvana. The figure is modeled out of plaster around a brick core and finished in gold leaf. Mother-of-pearl inlay ornaments the eyes and feet; the feet displaying 108 different auspicious laksanas or characteristics of a Buddha. The images on display in the four wihãan surrounding the main bòt are interesting. Particularly beautiful are the Phra Jinnarat and Phra Jinachi Buddhas, in the west and south chapels, both from Sukhothai. The galleries extending between the four chapels feature no less than 394 gilded Buddha images. Rama I’s remains are interred in the base of the presiding Buddha image in the bòt.
The temple rubbings for sale at Wat Pho and elsewhere in Thailand come from the 152 Ramakian reliefs, carved in marble and obtained from the ruins of Ayuthaya, which line the base of the large bòt. The rubbings are no longer taken directly from the panels but are rubbed from cement casts of the panels made years ago.
You may hire English, French, German or Japanes-speaking guides. Also on the premises are a few astrologers and palmists.
The temple is open to the public from 8 am to 5 pm daily. The ticket booth is closed from noon to 1 pm. Air-con bus Nos 6, 8 and 12 stop near Wat Pho. The nearest Chao Phraya River Express pier is Tha Tien.