11 July 2024

Culture vultures who happen to be in Pattaya should not miss the chance to visit the unfinished “Sanctuary of Truth” museum. Yes, you read that correctly: the museum is unfinished and there is no firm date as to when it might be completed. Yet the Sanctuary of Truth has been welcoming and impressing Thai and foreign visitors for many years now.

A state-of-the-art wooden “castle” greets you from a distance as you approach the museum. But visitors cannot go inside until they have learnt about the museum from the staff. They begin by telling you that the construction, which began in 1981, is still ongoing and therefore every visitor must wear a hard hat, just like a civil engineer wears on a construction site. “No one knows when it will be completed because we can always add new features to a building, and at the same time, repairs are constantly ongoing,” a staff member explains.

That truth immediately becomes evident as you tour the building and spot a few local craftsmen working on certain parts of the structure. They are not there for show – they are actually doing their bit.

Sanctuary of Truth. (Photo by By Veena Thoopkrajae)

At a reception point, we learn a secret of Thai architecture. The castle, like any traditional Thai house, is built without nails. Imagine building a structure from small pieces like Lego. This explains why you can move a traditional Thai house to another plot when needed. This building is constructed entirely out of wood, specifically mai daeng, mai takien, mai panchaat and teak, and can be pulled out in parts. Those parts can be constructed on a new land plot. The staff shows us a completed model of the structure and all the joints and how parts of wood are connected using Thai architectural wisdom. After this point, everyone is good to go and explore.

The museum is privately owned by Thai businessman Lek Viriyaphan, also the owner of the Ancient City and the Erawan Museum in Samut Prakarn province. It has been under construction for a few decades and is tentatively planned for completion by 2025.

Thai wisdom. (Photo by By Veena Thoopkrajae)

There are entrances but no doors on any side. The “Sanctuary of Truth” offers an open-air tour with a nice breeze as the building stands against the backdrop of the Gulf of Thailand. And if the scale and grandeur of the 100-meter-tall structure stun visitors from afar, the beautifully carved details inside are positively jaw-dropping.

Religions and philosophical thinking of the East

In the indoor space of over 2,000 square meters, visitors can absorb the religion and architectural art of Thailand as intended by its founder. No ceremonies or rituals are conducted inside: perhaps the owner believes the best way we learn the truth is by observation.

The carvings and figures reflect religious beliefs and myths. Although Thailand is the land of Theravada Buddhism, Thais wholeheartedly absorb other religions and beliefs into their everyday life. And while the museum features Hindu gods including the Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu Shiva, and Ganesh, the Buddhist God “Guanyin” (Goddess of Mercy) is also there.

Despite all the Gods and Goddesses, the Sanctuary of Truth conveys the most important message in Buddhism about enlightenment. The main message is that the path to enlightenment and truth will be long and difficult and in order to achieve it, you need to understand everyday chaos.

The theme differs from one hall to another. For example, the Northern hall features Guanyin and other sculptures representing the wisdom of emancipation. The Southern hall has astronomical themes, namely the sun, moon, and other planets impacting people’s well-being. The Western hall features representations of the Elements  earth, water, wind, and fire and sculptures of the Hindu Trinity.

There are a lot of photo opportunities inside thanks to the lights and shadows that change with the time of day. The Sanctuary of Truth is a showcase of Thai architecture and culture but it is not built only for foreign visitors. Thai visitors too are bowled over when they see the real structure, which is unlike any other. To date, it is the largest completed wooden structure in Thailand.

And while it is not immediately obvious, the Sanctuary of Truth also welcomes the disabled or people in wheelchairs. It has a lift – a wood-carved one that many may fail to spot thanks to its beauty.

If you go:

The Sanctuary of Truth is located at 206/2 Moo 5, Soi Naklua 12, Naklua, Banglamung, Chonburi 20150.

It’s open from 9.00 to 18.00 (last tour at 17.00)

Guides are available (Russian-and-English speaking guides available upon request)

Women should cover their knees and shoulders; see-through clothing is prohibited.
Tel: +66 81 350-8709, +66 3822 5407

By Veena Thoopkrajae

The beautiful lift. (Photo by By Veena Thoopkrajae)