As you approach the Sanctuary of Truth from a distance it is not unlike a formidable building very much like a castle created from dark drift wood with looming spires, pointy roofs and protruding structures. As you approach the gateway an archway sign says “Welcome to the Sanctuary of Truth“. The entrance is on higher ground and you can make your way down either by a pony carriage ride, a horse ride or just plain old walking down the many wooden steps from the Vantage Point that overlooks the Sanctuary and also the place where you can get some really nice eats at the outdoor café. A visit to the Sanctuary of Truth will reveal one man’s passion to bring to the world a legacy of not only beautiful sculptures but a philosophy for peace, humanity and piety.
The Sanctuary of Truth is located along a small peninsula in Pattaya. Nestled between the sea and a small wooded area it is fairly isolated and adds to the mystery of the place. This place is now included in most tour of Pattaya itineraries and not difficult to access. There are a lot of other activities included aside from just a visit to the Sanctuary and for those who are here to enjoy some instant fun there are many other activities and attractions at the Sanctuary of Truth. As you break out from the foliage surrounding the area, you will catch a closer glimpse of the Sanctuary and the imposing height of the building is the first thing you will notice. Also at first glance the wood used in the construction of the building is a dark grey interspersed with a motley green. This is the effect of chemicals used to preserve the wood from the ravages of the sea air. Before approaching the Sanctuary, you will be handed out construction helmets, a funny thing you might add but a necessity! The building is not quite finished, work is still on-going and if you ask any of the guides who will lead you around the building when it will be completed, the answer will always be “Never”! Though it is scheduled to be completed in 2025, in reality that would not be feasible as maintenance and upgrading has to be constant seemingly that everything is constructed out of wood including the nails. The building of the Sanctuary of Truth is a carpentry construction marvel, there are no iron nails or metal beams. Everything is based on wooden joinery using various forms of carpentry joints such as dove-tail joints, mortise and tenon and many others!
A walking tour of the Sanctuary of Truth is accompanied by guides who speak various languages and will explain the many facets of the building, the history and vision of the originator. You may ask them any questions and they are well prepared with the answers! From the outside you will see the many carvings made from teak, iron wood and black wood carved in the images of deities, legendary figures, mythical creatures and religious icons. The first thing the guides will tell you is that the Sanctuary is not a temple though indication do point in that direction from the many carvings and seemingly alter-like items in the inner sections. The intricacies of the carvings are fabulously detailed and adorn the exterior of the building from the foundation all the way up to the spires. The influences in the carvings can be seen as Burmese, Thai, Chinese and Hindu. One can marvel at the amount of work it must have taken to produce these carvings and work-in-progress on other carvings can also be seen at the site. Most prominent on the exterior is the image of a four faced Buddha atop a carving of Erawan the Holy elephant which was earlier highlighted at another place in Samut Prakan called the Erawan Museum. The Sanctuary of Truth is the third and final concept by the founding creator Khun Lek Virayaphan who constructed two other places called Ancient City and Erawan Museum. Both of which are located in Bangkok and also worth a visit when you do the tours of Bangkok. The upper most spire stands a sculpture of Kalaki mounted on a horse that is depicted as the last Bodhisattvathat is to come in the future. In total there are four lesser spires for each corner of the building of North, South, East and West.
The concept for the Sanctuary of Truth was based on an Eastern philosophy that human kind and civilization was achieved and nurtured through the ages with a series of religion, philosophy and truth. The four sections of the building represent Creation (Mother/Father), Foundation of Heaven and Earth(Earth, wind, fire, water), Life (Sun, moon, star) and Religion (China and Buddhism). These four sections radiate from the centre which is the core of the building of which a huge hollow column sits reaching all the way to the top in the inner sanctum. When you look up from the outside and see the four lower spires, the one on the east depicts a goddess with a book in hand. This is symbolic of immortal knowledge garnered through learning and understanding. The west spire depicts a goddess with a pigeon perched on one hand and a chafe of rice in the other which symbolizes peace and wealth through merits and good deeds. The North spire has a sculpture that depicts a Celestial being holding a lotus flower to symbolize religion which is the pillar of the world and the South spire depicts a Celestial being carrying a child and leading an elderly person to symbolize life which has been bestowed on human beings through sacrifice, love and sharing. If your neck is not already aching by now to crane and see all the details of these wonderful carvings there is more to come on the inside! It will take you a good half hour to walk around the outer perimeters of the building and that is to not stop and click away on your camera at all the lovely details in the carvings.
The entrance way into the building are steps leading up to a podium and into the hall ways. Along the side of the entrance stairway it is embellished with carvings and sculptures on the walls, banisters and ceiling. You can run your fingers along the carvings and appreciate the finesse of the workmanship. The Sanctuary of Truth was also documented by the National Geographic Magazine team some years back and it is hoped that one day it will be recognized as a new wonder of the world. The walkway leads up another few steps to the great hallway. Fronting the entrance is the great column flanked by four lesser gateways around the column. An interesting point to note is that you will notice one of the pillars wrapped with a pink sash. Incidentally, this wooden pillar is the foundation pillar for the Sanctuary and it is little known that the tree trunk used as this pillar is 600 years old. It is an old Thai belief that there is a spiritual existence for all old things and that they reside within these objects. Out of mere superstition or belief the ceremony to plant this particular pillar was symbolic to the meaning that this place is claimed for the use of the Sanctuary and to instill it as the Guardian of the building. True or not, that is a traditional belief and custom. The Thai people sometimes come here to offer small prayers and acknowledgement as well as to ask for favors from the entity that is believed to reside within the pillar. Just an interesting point to note while you are visiting!
The center column has been constructed hollow on the inside. There are four doors and five steps leading up to the doors. The four doors symbolize a gateway of truth to the four doctrines of Buddhism. The Bud-sa-boke Pavilion represents the centre of the Universe and the cycle of life based on the five principles of obligation to truth, self-control, humbleness, compassion and merit in order to attain enlightenment. On one side of the column is an opportunity for you to take some great pictures on the seats prepared for visitors. You might want to consider this opportunity to take a great picture during your tour of the Sanctuary of Truth! The wood carved domed ceiling lets in the light and gives this central podium a surreal feel. Every inch of the interior is adorned with wooden carvings and murals of the finest quality. The West Hall is where you can see carvings of the four elements representing Heaven and Earth. The fluidity of the carvings is amazing and one wonders exactly how long it took just to carve these! The South Hall has loads of sculptures representing the Sun and Moon and the Stars. Celestial beings, Gods and Goddesses as well as lesser deities adorn this hall which symbolizes the cycle of life and how it influences the human being. It differentiates between man and creature and human consciousness in good and bad. The East Hall represents parents and parental love. Sculptures here represent the figures of father and mother, the endowment of unconditional love and creation of life through the parents. Parents are made to symbolize pure love, teachings of knowledge and character through the generations and obligations of virtue. The West Hall represents Taoism and Confucianism with the precept of the Bodhisattva in the sector of Mahayana Buddhism. This particular hall is more Chinese in flavor with the presence of figures such as Kuan Yin and other Chinese deities and celestial beings.
A sightseeing and tour of the Sanctuary of Truth is best done with an open mind and an open heart. It is the effort of one man to leave behind a legacy that will in some way teach the future generations the importance of family values, religion and filial piety which he had found lacking in modern society. Each figure tells a story in the struggle of good and bad influences in the average human life and how the ideal way to enlightenment can be achieved. One does not need to be a Buddhist to understand this concept but to admire the handiworks of the talented wood carvers, the concept as a whole and the stories it tells. Every piece of carving, mural and paneling is a work of art that can be appreciated by those who visit the Sanctuary. One can never finish taking in all the wonders of this place completely in one day, after all it took them already almost 10 years or maybe a little more just to get to this stage! Things are constantly maintained, sculptures and carvings added which on the other hand makes you wonder is if there is just any more space to put another carving or statue. So while you are in Pattaya, do make it a point to at least visit this place once in your lifetime and appreciate the wonder of it all. To keep you entertained there are also many other activities and things to do at the Sanctuary of Truth that will keep you quite busy and amazed!