© Heloise Bergman / Time Out
This vast, mellow temple rewards wandering, despite some touristy aspects. Its popular name derives from the 16th-century Wat Photharam, which was rebuilt as Wat Phra Chetuphon, in Rama I's grand Rattanakosin scheme. He adorned it with Buddha images retrieved by his brother from Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, including a major Ayutthayan image in the bot. (Rama IV interred Rama I's ashes in its base.) Large pairs of stone guards with Western features protect the inner sanctuary. The kuti (monks' quarters) lie south of Thanon Chetuphon, where the main gate is less tout-ridden than the Reclining Buddha gate.
In one of several restorations, Rama III added the awesome Reclining Buddha in 1832. Made from brick and gilded plaster, it measures 46m (151ft) by 15m (49ft) and shows the posture of entering nirvana. With pillars of the vihaan built around it obscuring a full view, photographer's focus on the head and feet; the soles depict 108 auspicious signs in mother-of-pearl inlay (an early Rattanakosin speciality). The mystical number 108 recurs in the quantity of bowls along the wall. A coin dropped in each brings luck and longevity.
Wat Pho houses 99 chedi (stupas), nine being a lucky number to Thais. Signifying the first four Chakri reigns, the colour-themed Phra Maha Chedi show classic Rattanakosin style, with square-bell shape, indented corners and floral ceramic cladding. Two hold the remains of kings Rama II and III, while another enables slim sightseers to climb inside to a unique viewpoint.
Massage and herbalism
King Rama III also made this Siam's 'first university'. Wall inscriptions give lessons in astrology, history, literature and, famously, massage pressure points. It remains a repository of traditional medicine, meditation and nuad paen boran (ancient massage). Statuary show yogis in healthful poses, while salas offer massage for the weary. Wat Pho Massage School is nearby.