Every visit to Bangkok feels like I’m here for the first time.
-Andrew Zimmern, Bizarre Foods
Sometimes you encounter a sight — it may even be considered a tourist trap to some — that leaves you in awe. In some cases, you’re prepared for the beauty of a destination as you’ve perused the guidebooks and checked out photos online. Other times you’re simply struck by the sight because you didn’t know what to expect. And other times, the sight exceeds the expectations set by those who introduced it to you.
My stop at Wat Pho in Bangkok was the latter of those experiences. I had read a bit about it and heard from friends who had been there before me. But I wasn’t prepared for the sight of the largest reclining Buddha in Bangkok.
Wat Pho is one of the more important temples in Bangkok, and therefore in Thailand. It’s also a major tourist attraction, which means that it is surrounded by hawkers and scammers (“The temple is closed today because [insert excuse]”). Ignoring the people along the route to see the three major sights of Wat Pho, the Grand Palace, and Wat Arun, I stopped first at Wat Pho — coming from the area around Khao San Road makes this the easiest first stop.
While one of Bangkok’s oldest temples is a sight to behold for its grandeur — it is a royal temple after all — it’s the Buddha that attracts so many visitors. The reclining Buddha and the temple that surrounds it were built by Rama III in 1832, although the original parts of the temple complex were supposedly built during the reign of King Phetracha in 1688–1703.
There was nothing more inspiring than looking at the enormous feet of the reclining Buddha, inlaid with Buddha images in mother of pearl. It’s almost impossible to even take a photo of the entire Buddha (I wish I had had a panoramic camera at the time). Of all the temples I visited in Thailand, I took the fewest photos of Wat Pho. That doesn’t mean, however, that I found the temple less interesting than others — sometimes you have to step away from the lens to appreciate what you see. Much like the Giant Buddha of Leshan, it’s difficult to fully portray the experience of being there.
The reclining Buddha is 15 meters high and 46 meters long. The feet are 3 meters high and 4.5 meters long — not quite the size of the feet of the Giant Buddha of Leshan, but still impressive.