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History of Wat Pho, The Temple of the Reclining Buddha

Picture of Kelly Iverson
Updated: 10 January 2018
Set on the banks of the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok is Wat Pho, otherwise known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. It is one of the oldest and largest wats, or temples, in the country, and every visitor to the Land of Smiles should visit this religious structure. Here’s a history of Wat Pho in 60 seconds.
Kit Dale /
Kit Dale / | © Culture Trip

Wat Pho has a total of three names: Wat Pho, Wat Phra Chetun, and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. It lies to the south of the Grand Palace, which was built in 1782. The current site of the temple used to house the temple of Wat Phodharam. Locals came here to study and practice traditional medicine, as well as traditional Thai massage, as it was one of the first public universities in Thailand.

Kit Dale /
Kit Dale / | © Culture Trip
Kit Dale /
Kit Dale / | © Culture Trip
Kit Dale /
Kit Dale / | © Culture Trip

The temple was built during the reign of Rama I. Wat Pho underwent more construction in 1788 when the king decided he wanted to make it larger. King Rama I’s ashes are actually found in the ordination hall, or boht, of Wat Pho. The boht was built when King Rama III was in power.

Kit Dale /
Kit Dale / | © Culture Trip

Much of the temple’s architecture is Ayutthaya-style. Many other structures in the temple grounds were brought from the salvaged remains of the temple town of Ayutthaya, but not all of them. The large Chinese statues around the 16 entrances, for example, were once used as ballast aboard Chinese junk boats. Similar statues can also be found in Wat Suthat, renowned for the large, red swing outside its entrance.

Kit Dale /
Kit Dale / | © Culture Trip
Kit Dale /
Kit Dale / | © Culture Trip
Kit Dale /
Kit Dale / | © Culture Trip

One of the most noteworthy finds on the temple grounds is the Reclining Buddha, built in 1848. It was, and still is, the largest Buddha in Thailand. In addition to the golden structures, marble interiors, and Buddha images, the temple is home to a Bodhi tree that is believed to have been grown from part of the tree under which Buddha became enlightened.

Kit Dale /
Kit Dale / | © Culture Trip
Kit Dale /
Kit Dale / | © Culture Trip