Pattaya is a world-famous holiday spot. This once-sleepy (now never-sleeping) town has a hard-won reputation for hedonism. During the day, tourists slumber on the beach while sipping exotic cocktails or enjoying exhilarating water sports. And as the sun goes down, the beachfront throbs to the bass beat from bars and the sun-seekers explore neon-lit streets and dance the night away.
So it comes as a surprise to many visitors to discover that the area is home to a religious sanctuary of peace and serenity which not only offers an enlightening taste of the region’s spirituality, but also showcases and preserves centuries-old artistic skills. And all this is only a short drive from the heart of partying Pattaya.
The “Sanctuary of Truth” is one of the wonders of Southeast Asia. Sitting in a lush green area on the edge of the Gulf of Thailand, this temple-style sculpture rises some 105 metres into the blue skies of Pattaya – certainly not as tall as the area’s towering condos, but this is a structure made entirely of wood – and what wonderful wood.
Inside and out, every surface of the structure is decorated, almost overloaded with intricate Eastern sculptures from the Thai, Hindu, Chinese and Khmer traditions all carved in full relief. These whittled wonders cover every inch from exterior panels to the huge supporting columns (made of the trunks of teak trees) and buttresses and statues on the roof. Indeed, so concentrated are the carvings that as you gaze at them, they seem to move, twist and change before your eyes, as your brain tries to make sense of the sumptuous details.
The carvings come in all shapes and sizes from the huge triple-headed elephant god Erawan, (favoured mount of the God Indra) at the entrance, to the tiny finger-sized depictions of Bodhisattvas who peer out at you from the woodwork.
The Sanctuary of Truth was the vision of the late Lek Viriyaphant a Thai patron of the arts who dedicated his life to helping preserve ancient Thai crafts while encouraging people to explore their spirituality. Building started way back in 1981 and is expected to be completed around 2025. This means it’s a working site, so you have to wear a hard-hat while visiting but you do get the chance to see the skilled artists actually working on sculptures and carvings.
The Sanctuary is divided into four main halls that meet in the towering central atrium. The first hall, looking out over the sea, symbolises the origin of life and the universe and it’s here you’ll find the most exquisite carvings. The second hall celebrates the sun and moon while the third pays tribute to the most powerful force in the universe, parental love. The fourth hall promotes the attributes that we should strive for: humility, sacrifice and goodness. The towering central chamber simply impresses with its sheer scale.
Indeed it doesn’t really matter at all what your personal beliefs are. You won’t fail to be moved by the Sanctuary of Truth simply because it strengthens your faith in the ingenuity and artistry of man.
As well as showcasing the Asian arts and beliefs, the Sanctuary of Truth promotes dynamic visual arts; such as, Thai dancing and martial arts. Throughout the day, you can enjoy dazzling displays of artistry and skill. Stunning dancers show off some of Thailand’s many traditional dance styles including the famous Lao Kra Top Mai dance in which the performers make their elegant moves between poles of clashing bamboo, perfectly timed to avoid bruised ankles.
The martial arts displays are fun, with sparking swords, whoops and yells from the “fighters” who have perfect comedic timing. You can admire their skills without feeling that anyone is really in danger, and they even invite members of the audience to join them in a sword fight.
As Thailand is inviting international travellers and local tourists alike to “Discover Thainess” in 2015, the Sanctuary of Truth forms parts of the seven main aspects of “Thainess’ that comprises Thai arts, Thai food, Thai fun, Thai way of life, Thai festivities, Thai wisdom and Thai wellness. The Sanctuary of Truth depicts Thai fine arts in a grand way and plays an important role in keeping the kingdom’s traditional skills alive.
The woodcarving techniques used here have been developed over centuries and used to adorn Thai temples and palaces for centuries while many of the dances practiced by the Sanctuary performers are becoming rare regionally but here find a new and appreciative audience.
But perhaps more importantly, the Sanctuary of Truth is a repository of local philosophies that teach us a different way of living and a fulfillment that modern life can’t offer. It certainly offers like a spiritual counter-balance to the fun and thrills of Pattaya. The ambience makes you meditate and reflect on the ethereal nature of existence and the wisdom of past generations. In the end, you go home in a more relaxed and stress-free state of mind than any beach holiday or colourful cocktail can induce.
The Sanctuary of Truth is located at 206/2 Mu 5, Soi Naklua 12, Naklua, Banglamung, Chon Buri 20150; Tel: +66 (0) 3836 7229-30; Website: www.sanctuaryoftruth.com
Opening hours: 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Tickets are 450 Baht for adults and 225 Baht for children