Wat Pho at Night

Sometimes you can go to the same place during the day and at night and get different perspectives or experience different atmospheres. Such was our visit to Wat Pho during our full day in Bangkok, Thailand. We visited Wat Pho in the morning when it was open for the public, and the temple complex was quite full with visitors and worshippers alike. The complex also hosts a school teaching traditional Thai massage, so you have students and guests for the school on the grounds as well. As mentioned in a previous post, we even met scammers who tried to get us diverted to take tours elsewhere.

That night we came back to Wat Pho as part of our night bike tour with the Grasshopper Adventures. This time around it felt like we’re visiting a different place. At night the temple was closed to public, the building where the large statue of the Reclining Buddha was also closed, and the only people around were night guards. The Grasshopper Adventures obtained special permission for our group to stop at the temple grounds and walk around inside for about half an hour or so with our guide. The buildings were illuminated, but otherwise everything was quite dark. We had to resort to our little LED headlights and followed Tami who also brought a flashlight with her. It was pretty cool to go around the grounds with the whole place for ourselves, and in some areas, with complete darkness and only Tami’s flashlight and our headlights lighting the path or portions of the wall, it felt like we were inside some ancient temple during an archaeological expedition. Totally different feeling compared to our visit earlier during the day, when most of the time we had to contend with the crowd in looking at some of the more popular features of the temple, and during the hot sunny day looked for shaded area to cool down.

The photo below was taken while we were checking out the large stupas inside the Wat Pho grounds. You can see our group at the bottom of the ornate stupa that was illuminated at night.

Wat Pho at Night

Wat Pho

Wat Pho is a Buddhist temple in central Bangkok, Thailand, near the Grand Palace. It is one of the oldest temples in Bangkok, and is a home of more than 1,000 Buddha images, including the large Reclining Buddha measuring 50 ft in height and 160 ft in length. The temple complex is more than 250 years old, and at one point it was the site of center of education for Thai traditional medicine. The temple complex also includes 91 chedis (mounds or stupas) that commemorate members of the Royal Thai family. There are four large chedis in the middle that commemorate the first four Thai Kings.

We visited Wat Pho as the first stop on our full day in Bangkok during the Southeast Asia trip in 2010. Kristi had been there before, so she just waited outside while I went in to check out the large Reclining Buddha. To go in, you first need to purchase a ticket, then you go in line to walk in. You have to take your footwear off and put them in one of the open slots on the long shoe rack outside the temple, as you have to go barefooted inside the temple (it’s pretty much a Thai cultural practice to take footwear off before entering a temple or even a house — to keep the interior floor clean). You can then walk inside and spend as much time as you like going around the large Buddha statue. Most people would go in to take a photo of it (it’s allowed), and then leave. On one side of the temple, there are 108 bronze bowls that represents 108 characters of Buddha. It is said that dropping coins into every single one of the bowls would bring in good luck (the proceeds would help the monks maintain the temple).

After that, we spent some time in the temple complex admiring the colorful buildings and chedis. There are also some writings and pictures on stone wall that illustrates instructions for traditional Thai medicine — helpful for those who back then could not read.

One activity you could also do at Wat Pho if you like is to get a Thai massage. After all, this place is said to be the birthplace of traditional medical practice. I was considering that as an interesting activity to do, but we ended up skipping that and moved on to visit the nearby Grand Palace instead.

The photo below was taken inside the temple. I tried to get as much as I could of the Buddha, and took the photo quickly before other people came and get into the field of view.

Reclining Buddha

Kindness of a stranger… or a scam?

Another part of experiencing a culture is the interaction with the people. You can learn about the good and the bad of a culture from the experience interacting with the locals during your stay. It is helpful, however, to read up about the culture before you go. Many guidebooks (and online travel guides) have good information about what to expect when meeting the locals, and some also warn you on what to avoid.

Our first interactions with the locals during our visit to Bangkok, Thailand, were true to what was said about the Thai. They were very friendly, kind, and you’re met with smiles. We were off to a wonderful start during our full day in Bangkok with an unexpected birthday gift for my cousin Kristi from our hotel staff. We also received helpful advice before we left and the hotel provided us with a map that covers the areas that we wanted to visit. The hotel manager also gave us a curious warning when visiting the Grand Palace: beware of anyone saying that the palace is closed and that you need to go back later. I wasn’t really sure why anyone would tell that to tourists…

When we walked closer to the temple of Wat Pho, a gentleman standing at the street corner came and said hi to us in English. I guess it was obvious that we were tourists — our backpacks, cameras, and maps gave it away. The gentleman asked us where we’re from, our impressions of Bangkok, and where we’ve visited. He also asked where we were going to go. When we mentioned that we’re on our way to Wat Pho, he said Wat Pho was closed at that time of the day due to a ceremony, and that we should come back at later time. Then he asked me for my map, and started pointing out places on the map where there are other temples to visit. He suggested that we visited those first, and then come back to Wat Pho when the ceremony was over. He also said that he could help us finding tuk-tuk to drive us to these other temples as they are a bit too far to visit on foot. We had quite a packed schedule for the day and were planning on being elsewhere for a scheduled tour later on that day, so I politely declined the offer. We were about to continue walking towards the entrance of the temple when he told us to go to the other direction — he said there was nothing to see in the direction we were headed to. I just smiled and continue walking to find out that we were heading to the right direction. The temple was open, and there were other tourists around visiting as well.

Later on, on our way out of the temple to go to our next destination, the Grand Palace, we were stopped by another gentleman at the temple exit. He asked for our tickets, and when I gave him those, he marked the tickets and asked me where I was going next. When I said we were heading to the Grand Palace, he told us that the Grand Palace was closed around noon time for a ceremony, and he suggested that we should visit other tourist attractions before coming back. Sounds familiar? It was the same thing… another scam to get independent tourists to go on tuk-tuk ride elsewhere in the city.

So I think the lesson learned from that experience is to expect the best from your experience interacting with the locals, but don’t let your guard down and be a victim of scams… It’s always good to learn about this beforehand by reading guidebooks or learning from other people’s experiences.

The photo below was taken inside the Wat Pho complex. The large stupas were built to commemorate the first four Thai kings. As you might have guessed… there was no ceremony going on that morning, and tourists were free to come and visit the temple.

Wat Pho