Wat Pho travel essay: Reclining Buddha, Thai massage, and scams

Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm Rajwaramahaviharn is Bangkok’s oldest and largest wat. Commonly referred to as Wat Pho, this Buddhist temple covers 80,000 square meters with mosaic spires, armed stone guardians, over 1,000 images of Buddha, a museum, and a massage school. Nearly every tourist in Bangkok comes to Wat Pho, which offers travelers the 46-meter-long Reclining Buddha, traditional Thai massage, and challenging encounters with scammers.

The first thing most visitors to Wat Pho seek out is the famous Reclining Buddha. The average tourist is probably about the same size as this Giant Buddha’s big toe. This means that even though the figure is lying down, tourists still crane their necks in order to see as much of the 15-meter-high face of the Reclining Buddha as they can. Despite the many tourists, the large hall, called The Vihara of the Reclining Buddha or Phra Buddhasaiyas, is oddly quiet. People from any religion seem to recognize that the huge image of Buddha surrounded by mural paintings and the smell of incense is a place for quiet reflection. By the time travelers slowly walk the length of the 46-meter-long Reclining Buddha they are ready to focus their eyes on something smaller. The inlaid mother-of-pearl depictions of 108 auspicious signs of the Buddha cater to those with an eye for detail. Seeing the huge Reclining Buddha as well as the intricate mother-of-pearl decorated feet and the mural paintings on the walls coupled with the smell of incense leads to a surprisingly quiet retreat at this popular tourist spot.

Traditional Thai massage is a real treat for most tourists in Thailand. In Wat Pho, the massage room holds about 20 people and the air is thick and hot without air conditioning. I chose the hot herbal massage where the masseuse begin the massage with hot packs tinted yellow from aromatic ginger, lemongrass, turmeric, and other herbs. Feeling the hot herb poultice on your skin relaxes you and leaves your skin yellow before the masseuse begins the surprisingly painful massage. Tourists rarely expect the masseuse to use her knees and elbows more than here hands and fingers. This leads to a fairly noisy experience; it’s not uncommon to hear people moaning or even gasping. However, the most memorable is sound is that of your own bones popping as the masseuse bends your body into some yoga-like poses not unlike getting a chiropractic adjustment in America. The hot air, the hot herbal poultice, the yellow-stained skin, the battered muscles, the gasps of pain, and the realigned bones make for a memorable experience.

Another memorable experience that’s almost as common as Thai massage is encountering Thai scam-artists. Since Wat Pho and the Grand Palace are literally next to each other all tourists need to do is exit Wat Pho, turn toward the palace, and walk. Just don’t expect much help if you’re not sure which way to turn. When I asked a Thai guard at one of the Wat Pho exits, he waved me away to a tuk-tuk driver, who told me that the Palace was closed due to a Buddhist holiday. He recommended I take a ride with him to some tourist area that he showed me on a map. I called the tuk-tuk driver on his lie since there was no Buddhist holiday and turned to the guard for help. No help came, and I left Wat Pho outraged that the guard would let scammers try to cheat people right in front of him. Part of becoming a worldly traveler is encountering these sorts of challenging situations and not letting them ruin your vacation.

In conclusion, while there is much to see and do in Wat Pho, tourists should be certain not to miss the Reclining Buddha and Thai massage. In addition, tourists may have no choice but to deal with a scam-artist and must remain wary. Wat Pho opens daily at 8:00 AM and closes at 5:00 PM. Admission is 50 baht. Thai massage is 250 baht / hour (regular or foot massage) while herbal massage is 350 baht / hour. Encountering a scammer is free as long as you avoid being scammed. You can reach Wat Pho on Air-conditioned bus 1, 6, 7, 8, 12, or 44. You can also take the Chao phraya Express boat and get off at Tha Chang pier, Tha Tien Pier or Pak Klong Talad Pier, then walk to the Thai Wang Road entrance.

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  1. Joan says:

    I was just at Wat Pho in February. Your description and of the reclining Budda, the Thai message and other experiences brought back great memories of a facinating culture. The U Tube clip was particularly good. Thanks.

  2. James Trotta says:

    My pleasure and I’m glad you enjoyed it! There’s a little more on Thai culture (dating and romance culture) here – http://www.dateculture.com/category/romance-by-country/thailand/

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