This first-class royal temple dating from the Ayutthaya period was originally called Wat Photaram or, colloquially, Wat Pho. King Rama I had the whole temple complex restored in 1788 and had Buddha images brought from deserted monasteries around the country to be installed in the ubosot (ordination hall). The temple was renamed Wat Phra Chetuphon in 1801 and renovated again in the reign of King Rama III. It is known as the birthplace of Thai traditional massage.
The temple grounds cover a large area with a variety of halls, chedis, cloisters and Buddha statues. The impressive Reclining Buddha (Phra Phuttha Saiyat or Phra Non), depicting the Buddha's parinirvana (i.e. death of an enlightened being), was constructed from plaster around a brick core and coated with gold leaf. It is 46 meters long by 15 meters high. The soles of its huge feet are inscribed in mother-of-pearl with the 108 auspicious signs of a Buddha.
The walls of the Reclining Buddha hall are covered with Buddhist murals, including one panel behind the Buddha's head depicting "The Foremost Women Disciples of the Buddha." This mural is composed of a coordinated series of excellent paintings illustrating the life stories of the Thirteen Foremost Bhikkhuni (female monk) Disciples of the Buddha and the Ten Foremost Laywomen Disciples of the Buddha. Also behind the Buddha image is a series of 108 bowls for those wishing to donate to the temple.
The principal Buddha image in the ordination hall is "Phra Buddha Deva Patimakorn" in a seated posture on a three tiered pedestal called Phra Pang Samarthi (Buddha in the posture of concentration), and some ashes of King Rama I are kept under the pedestal. On the middle tier there are images of the Buddha's two leading disciples, while eight statues of the "Holy Priests" stand on the lowest pedestal. This hall looks magnificent when lit up for evening prayers.
There is a large number of "Chinese Dolls" (Up Chao) in the temple grounds. These cement and stone statues, as well as the large rocks in the rockeries, were used as ballast in Thai ships trading with China. The Lan Than Rock Giants with weapons represent aristocratic warriors in Chinese opera-style clothes. Fierce-looking armored giants can be found guarding the temple gates. Others, wearing European clothing, represent Marco Polo.
The temple is on Rattanakosin Island and easily accessible by boat or bus. Take the 508 aircon bus from Sukhumvit, Ploenchit or Siam Square. It can be reached on foot or by bus No. 12 from the Banglamphu backpacker area. The entrance fee as of January 1, 2012 is 100 baht.
Sources: Guidebook Wat Pho.
Updated: March 17, 2012.