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Wat Po is among the most photogenic of all the wats (temples) in Bangkok; it's also one of the most active. Also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, Wat Po was built by Rama I in the 16th century and is the oldest and largest Buddhist temple in Bangkok. The compound is immediately south of the Grand Palace, but it takes 15 minutes to walk from one to the other. The huge compound contains many important monuments, and the block to the south of Chetuphon Road is where monks reside.

Most people go straight to the enormous Reclining Buddha in the northwestern corner of the compound section. It is more than 43m (141 ft.) long and 15m (49 ft.) high, and was built during the mid-19th-century reign of Rama III. The statue is brick, covered with layers of plaster and gold leaf; the feet are inlaid with mother-of-pearl illustrations of 108 auspicious laksanas (characteristics) of the Buddha.

Outside, the grounds contain 91 chedis (stupas or mounds), four viharns (halls), and a bot (the central shrine in a Buddhist temple). Most impressive, aside from the Reclining Buddha, are the four main chedis dedicated to the first four Chakri kings and, nearby, the library.

The temple is considered Thailand's first public university. Long before the advent of literacy or books, many of its murals and sculptures were used to illustrate and instruct scholars on the basic principles of religion, science, and literature. Visitors still drop 1-satang coins in 108 bronze bowls -- corresponding to the 108 auspicious characteristics of the Buddha -- for good fortune, and to help the monks keep up the wat.

Wat Po is also home to one of the earliest Thai massage schools (http://watpomassage.com); a 30-minute Thai massage here costs 220B. These days, you'll find dozens of more luxurious spas around town, costing up to 10 times as much for a similar treatment, but offering far more comfort. You can learn about traditional Thai massage and medicine at the Traditional Medical Practitioners Association Center, an open-air hall to the rear of the wat. True Thai massage, such as that taught here, involves chiropractic manipulation and acupressure, as well as stretching, stroking, and kneading. Massage courses are available, but many overseas therapists prefer schools with tutors who speak more proficient English. There are also a few astrologers and palm readers available for consultation, though foreign visitors are bound to encounter language difficulties. For a small donation you can receive a blessing from a monk and a bracelet of braided colored string to commemorate the occasion. Donations go toward upkeep and renovations.