20 March 2015

Pattaya - The Sanctuary of Truth

Date of Exploration : 11 Mar 2015

Like a fan following the works of an author or movie series, I've recently completed something of a travel trilogy with my visit to The Sanctuary of Truth in Pattaya. An exquisite monument that pays homage to traditional Khmer architectural stylings while being imbued with Buddhist and Hindu iconography, The Sanctaury of Truth (I shall call it The Truth for short) is one of three religious-cultural attractions conceived by Thai business tycoon, Khun Lek Viriyaphant. The other two attractions financed and owned by Khun Lek are Muang Boran and Erawan Museum, both located in the Samut Prakan province, which is within the jurisdiction of Bangkok.

Unlike franchise-chain attractions that feature a basic entertainment concept duplicated across different markets with some localisations, the trio of attractions by Khun Lek are vastly distinct although their founding philosophies of preserving Thai religious heritage and architectural traditions mirror each other. The result is three places of interest in Thailand that enthrall in different ways... at Muang Boran, you will find a sprawling collection of definitive Thai architectural replicas across the Kingdom spanning the Ayuthayan period to more modern times; while Erawan Museum takes visitors on a transcendental journey through the three realms of existence from the underworld, earth and heaven all housed within a whimsical musicbox-like building crowned with a three-headed elephant; and The Truth is an intoxicating blend of mastery in handcrafted carpentry with enlightening percepts of Hindu-Buddhism.

A vision by the sea. The tiered roof of The Sanctuary of Truth pierces the landscape of Pattaya's northern coastline with an understated majesty.

Visiting The Truth is my main reason for coming to Pattaya. From my visits to Muang Boran and Erawan Museum, I've come to expect nothing but to be fascinated by Kun Lek's imaginative aspirations in cultural philanthropy and the bewildering artistry of the built monuments.

Getting to The Truth

Packages are available at most hotels and pop-up travel booths along the streets of Pattaya for about 800bht for a half-day tour. However, it is not difficult to visit The Truth on your own with public transport.

Pattaya is divided into 3 sections - North, Central, and South. From North to South, it's about 8km. The Truth sits at the tip of a beach in the North in a district known as Nak Lua. I was staying in the South Pattaya near the Walking Street and intended to take a taxi to The Truth (cost between 250 - 300bht one way; better to take taxi if there are 4 in your group) but after chatting with my hotel's receptionist, I was told a cheaper way to get there since I'm travelling solo. Here's how :

1. Take a song taew (also known as 'baht bus') from South or Central Pattaya to Dolphin Roundabout. The drivers all know this roundabout and it costs 10bht.

2. From Dolphin Roundabout, cross over to the side of Nak Lua Road (next to Dusit Thani Hotel) and board another song taew (10bht). The song taews have no 'bus' numbers to indicate their routes because they basically just travel down the main roads, make a loop and turn back and travel back and forth. You just get on or off along their fixed route.

3. On Nak Lua Road, look out for Nak Lua 12 (which is a side street) and get off. On Nak Lua 12, look for a motobike 'taxi' and get it to take you to The Truth. The ride is about 5mins and should cost between 40-50bht.

From South Pattaya, I took a song taew (baht bus) along Second Road to the Dolphin Roundabout, crossed over to Nak Lua Road and took another song taew to Nak Lua 12. From Nak Lua 12, I took a motorbike taxi to The Truth. Total travelling time approx. 25 minutes without traffic jam. Total cost one way : 70bht. It sounds complicated but it's actually pretty easy and a great way to experience local transportation modes.

Dolphin Roundabout at North Pattaya Road. If you are not sure where to get off, tell the song taew driver to let you know or better yet, use Google Maps and type in "Dolphin Roundabout" to track where to get off if you bought a local traveller's SIM card.
Arriving at The Truth

The Pattayan attraction is tucked inside a small lane (Nak Lua 12) with an understated entrance that looked more like a gate to the Thai embassy than a tourist attraction.

Entrance of The Sanctuary of Truth. Opposite the entrance is a convenience store where you can buy drinks or an ice-cream to cool off before exploring The Truth. Behind me from this road sign is a rest area for motobike taxis which you can hire to take you back out to Nak Lua Road to catch a song taew after your visit.
It costs 500bht (adult) for foreigners to enter The Truth and the staff will try to upsell you an elephant, horse or boat ride to tour the park grounds at a cost starting from 800bht which includes entrance fee. I went with the basic 500bht option although I think the boat ride would provide an interesting vantage point to appreciate the monument from the sea. But I'm cheap. Ha.

The Truth is not immediately visible from the entrance and we had to walk through a goat pen and stable before reaching the main building. I thought the close encounters with the farm animals were a rather cute welcome.

You want to meh-ess with me? Feeds for the goats can be purchased at a shed next to the pen.

Steedy, pose!

Elephant rides are available for hire to go around the park if you want a taste of transportation in the olden days.

A cultural dance performance that features a variety of dance styles served as appetisers before visiting The Sanctuary of Truth building. This pretty dancer reminds me of Anne Heche with her beautiful bright eyes.

A Thai martial arts sequence interspersed the dance performance and audience participation added an element of unpredictability to the show. This ang moh is a natural at being a comedian and he's so funny by pretending to misinterpret everything he was told in a sword fight scene!

Framing The Truth

It's very tempting to immediately head towards the main building upon seeing it but reign in the enthusiasm a little and walk around the park area surrounding the monument and you may find some interesting foreground to frame The Truth.

This is the first glimpse of The Truth building after a short walk from the entrance.

There's a neglected garden with a lake on the way to the monument's front entrance which presented some interesting opportunities to frame the building through lush foliage. Walk around and find your photographic angles.

From framing with leaves to reflection in a small lake, there are quite a number of ways to photograph The Truth before reaching the monument.
On the Surface of The Truth

Building started in 1981 and continues to today with 70% of the monument being completed. The remaining 30% is slated for completion over the span of another 30 years. Even though scaffolding mars some of the exterior as well as interior parts of The Truth, the building is still a stunning visual masterpiece. The ostentatious monument is built entirely out of wood which comprises red wood, mahogany and teak. That's why the monument has different colours varying from grey to brown to deep ochre. Some parts look green and they are actually 'diseased' wood due to termite infestations and will be replaced.

Main entrance of The Truth monument.

Different colour variations arise as a result of different wood used in its construction and the different age of the various parts as building has been ongoing for more than 30 years.

Everything from the building's structure to its adorning statutes are crafted by hand. Look out for the 4 faces of Bodhisattava that sits on the back roof, The four faces represent Love, Kindness, Sympathy and Equality.

Not a moment for the eyes to rest looking at the ornate roofing. But wait till you see the inside.

This looks ouch. Apparently, no nails are used in the construction and assembly of the monument.

Rows of hand carved celestial maidens lining the roofs. No two are alike.

No empty spots on the wooden canvas. Those that are empty are yet to be filled up. There's no end to the carvings, creating an encounter with the monument that is both intimidating yet marvellous.

A closer look at the carvings that brings to life the characters and scenes from Thai, Indian, Chinese and Cambodian religious myths and legends.
The Heart of The Truth

Just looking at the building's exterior, I was already overwhelmed by the intricacies of the woodwork. But that's only the tip of the iceberg because once inside and looking at the carved decorations upclose, my mind got boggled by the sheer ingenuity and skill in turning pieces of wood into a massive work of art.

But more than just a visual spectacle, The Truth holds nuggets of Hindu-Buddhist wisdom that enlightens the mind and liberates the soul. A couple of my favourite lessons I took away from the visit are :

- The body will be ravaged by time and deteriorate but truth and goodness are immortal.
- There are 3 things that cannot be hidden - the sun, the moon and the truth.
- Materialistic pleasures are superficial and external joys. True happiness comes from intrinsic spiritual fulfillment.
- Every belief, religion and philosophy is just a different way of reaching spiritual fulfillment.

Central to the guiding theme of The Truth is that of "family" as there's no higher order of love than that which exists within a family between spouses and offsprings. A parent's love for a child is all sacrificing and unconditional and that represents the purest form of truth where the heart is open and there is nothing to hide.

Entering the truth. There are four entrances, each at a cardinal direction, but not all are open or as ornate as the main one behind the statue of the family.

Central hall of the monument. It's one of those gasp-worthy scene.

It's hard to tell where one carving begins and the other ends.

At the heart of the sanctuary is an exhibition of Buddha tooth relics. The monument does not serve as a place of worship or shrine but locals do come here to meditate and seek divinity.

Ceiling adornments in the inner hall. It would be so cool if the sculptures are mechanised and they start moving their arms and heads or some of the statues can rotate so that we can see all sides of the multi-faced buddha!

Lots of religious sculptures topless celestial maidens with ample breasts pole dancing within the monument.

One of the key exhibits is a four-walled carving that represents the central gods in Hinduism - Shiva (god of earth and fire), Vishnu (god of water), and Brahma (god of wind). These four walls encapsulate the Hinduism concept of creation, maintenance and destruction.

You can identify the god by looking at the carvings around him. If there's a dragon, which breathes fire, that's Shiva, while Brahma has carvings of clouds beneath him.
The Hard Truth

Although The Truth monument is not as big as I imagined it to be, it's colossal in terms of ambition in what it has achieved. A project of such scale is an institution in Pattaya that employs the skills of many craftsmen and women for its realisation. For a behind-the-scene look at the arduous work that goes into carving the statues, wooden laces and gopuras that make up The Sanctuary of Truth, take a walk to the nearby workshop for a peek at where all the magic happens.

Gouge, sweep and chisel... blocks of wood emerges as a sculpture or relief under the hands of masterful carvers. I can never visualise how I could turn a block of wood or stone into a person or animal.

Truth in the making as craftsmen create more works to be added to the monument.

Due to the ongoing construction works, wearing a hard hat is a must when visiting The Sanctuary of Truth. Also wear insect repellent as there are quite of bit of mozzies waiting to feast.

Having been to the other attractions that Pattaya has to offer such as the beaches, Big Buddha (Wat Khao Yai), Walking Street, Nong Nooch Tropical Garden and Pattaya Floating Market, I would say that The Sanctuary of Truth is definitely a must-see if there's only time for one attraction here. It is quite possibly the Sagrada Familia of the East!

The Sanctuary of Truth

Address : 206/2 Moo 5, Soi Naklua 12, Naklua, Pattaya, Bang Lamung District, Chon Buri 20150, Thailand

1 comment:

  1. i am travelling to Pattaya and Bangkok next week, glad to go through your blog here. Very detail and nice pictures!


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