The Golden Buddha at Wat Traimit

By Jeffrey Miller, The Korea Times Feature Writer, June 2, 2005

BANGKOK, Thailand -- There are many magnificent Buddhist temples awaiting travelers in Bangkok, but of all of the Buddhist images, none are perhaps more impressive than that of the Golden Buddha.

<< The Golden Buddha at Wat Traimit Korea Times Photo by Jeffrey Miller

Located in Wat Traimit at the end of Yaowarat Road near Bangkok's Hualampong Railway Station, the Golden Buddha is one of Bangkok?s must-see attractions. Although the temple itself pales in comparison to other temples in Bangkok with its rather modest temple architecture, it is the Golden Buddha inside that attracts hundreds of visitors daily.

Built during the Sukhothai Period, the three meter (about 10 feet) high image of the seated Buddha is made of solid gold and weighs five and a half tons _ the largest of its kind in the world. The enormous statue gleams with such richness and purity that even the most jaded are inspired by its quiet strength and power that overwhelm you as soon as you approach it. To be sure, of all the Buddha images that one can see in Bangkok from the Emerald Buddha at Wat Phra Kaeo to the Reclining Buddha at Wat Po, the Golden Buddha is without question one of the lovelier and more serene statues found in the city.

Inasmuch as a visit to Wat Traimit should be at the top of your list of places to see when visiting Bangkok, the story behind this amazing Buddhist statue (and its discovery) is equally impressive. While it has been determined that the statue was made sometime during the Sukhothai period (13th to 15th century) _ one of Thailand?s more famous periods of architectural and Buddhist arts _ no one knows exactly when and where. However, it was located in a temple in the ancient capital of Ayutthaya (about one hour north of Bangkok).

The story of the Golden Buddha is interesting because the statue was camouflaged to protect its identity. When the Burmese were about to sack the city, the Golden Buddha was covered in plaster to conceal it from the invaders. Obviously, the camouflage job turned out to be too good because when those responsible for covering it with plaster died, so did the true nature of the Buddha image inside.

Later, the encased statue was moved to Bangkok and installed as the principal Buddha image in the main building of the Choti-naram Temple, or Wat Phrayakrai, during the reign Thailand?s King Rama III (1824-51). The temple was deserted around 1931, and the plaster-covered Buddha was moved to a temporary shelter. Two centuries after it had been first covered in plaster, it was thought to be worth very little.

The true nature of the Golden Buddha might not have been discovered if it hadn?t been for an accident. When the statue was being moved to a new temple in Bangkok in the 1950s (during expansion work of the Port of Bangkok) it slipped from a crane and fell into the mud. According to temple lore, in the morning, a temple monk, who had dreamed that the statue was divinely inspired, went to see the Buddha image. Through a crack in the plaster he saw a glint of yellow and soon discovered that the statue was pure gold, and the rest is history.

Since then, the statue has become one of the main attractions in Bangkok and is definitely worth seeing no matter what travel itinerary you might have while in the city. Although Wat Traimit, sometimes called the Temple of the Golden Buddha, has little architectural merit _ the statue itself sits in a plain building just barely big enough to hold it within the temple compound _ the Golden Buddha should not be missed when visiting the city.

Getting to the temple is rather easy because it is located within walking distance from Hualampong Railway Station, which can be accessed from Bangkok?s new subway system and the Skytrain. It?s probably a good idea to arrive early before the tour buses show up and everyone crowds into the small sanctuary that houses the Buddha to take photographs. Nonetheless, it is one of the few temples in Bangkok that allows visitors to get very close to such an important Buddhist artifact.

The building housing the Golden Buddha is open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and admission is only 20 Baht. There are a few other buildings located within the confines of the small temple compound, but it?s probably best just to pay your respects to the Golden Buddha, light some incense, take your photographs and continue your sightseeing. To be sure, if you are looking for other places to visit while in the area, from here you can also get to Bangkok?s legendary Chinatown by foot so it can fit in nicely with a good day of sightseeing in this part of the city.

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