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Bangkok Travelbug June 11 – The Sanctuary of Truth Pattaya
May 27, 2011

The Sanctuary of Truth Pattaya

This is the third anniversary of the Bangkok Travelbug. We would like to thank all our loyal readers who been with us since the early days and also welcome the new readers who have just joined us. We wish you an enriching travel experience with the Bangkok Travelbug.

I first visited the Sanctuary of Truth in Pattaya in 2003 when I chanced upon the brochure on the hotel counter. As I have always loved viewing wood carvings, I was fascinated by the intricate sculptures in the Sanctuary of Truth.

But to view the Sanctuary of Truth as merely a sculptural masterpiece would be missing the point. It was the philosophy and the man behind this project which never seemed to end that intrigued me.

For this reason I returned in 2011 to write about it.

Contents (click on the link to go directly to the topic)

Overview of the Sanctuary of Truth

If you approach Pattaya by sea from the north you will see a huge teak structure covered with elaborate wooden carvings in an expanse of land of about 32 acres by the sea at Rachavate Cape at the northern end of Pattaya Bay.

The teak building is 105 m high and covers an area of 3,000 sq. m. On a closer look you will notice that the building actually consists of four sections each with distinct characteristics and carvings. Each section points in a cardinal direction and is joined to a central core.

Sanctuary by the bay

Welcome to the Sanctuary of Truth.

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Khun Lek Viriyaphant

To understand the philosophy behind the Sanctuary of Truth, it is necessary to know something about the man who created this work of art and his other works.

Back in 1941, Khun Lek Viriyaphant (1914 – 2000) and his wife ran an import business for high quality products like Telefunken radios and refrigerators. They also became the distributor of the Mercedes-Benz trucks and buses for military use.

The petrol engines were replaced by diesel engines and these vehicles became popular because of cheaper operating costs. The turning point in their business came when they became the first official Mercedes-Benz dealer for luxury passenger cars.

Back then in the post-World War II years who would have thought that a luxury car like the Mercedes-Benz could sell in impoverished SE Asian countries. On the contrary in the decades to come, the Mercedes-Benz became the top luxury car and status symbol for the wealthy in major SE Asia cities.

With his billions Khun Lek could have done the same as many successful businessmen; build resorts, hotels, shopping malls, condominiums. But he didn’t. He wanted to preserve Thailand’s cultural heritage, history and art. This he did in a big way that really left his legacy in Thailand.

He first launched Muang Boran or the Ancient City, an outdoor museum in Samut Prakarn covering 240 acres with scaled models of ancient ruins and monuments located in an area in the shape of the map of Thailand.

In 1981 construction of the Sanctuary of Truth in Pattaya commenced which will be covered in this issue.

In 1994, Khun Lek started work on the Erawan Museum which is also in Samut Prakarn. The structure, with a gigantic three-headed elephant, became a landmark that stood out for miles around.

The architecture of the Erawan Museum represents Hindu mythology on the Three Worlds; the underworld, Earth and Heaven. It was also meant to preserve Thai art and culture on Thai soil.

Khun Lek died in 17 November 2000. Many of us come and go through life without leaving anything significant behind. Some leave material landmarks and corporate empires which fade away with time.

Khun Lek Viriyaphant – a lasting legacy

The rare ones leave their mark by endowing to society a lasting cultural heritage symbolic of their ideals and lives’ endeavours. Lek Viriyaphant was such a man.

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The philosophy of the Sanctuary of Truth

The second half of the 20th C saw a growing surge in materialism and over-reliance on technology neglecting in the process traditional values, morality and spiritual contentment. Greed led to constant conflicts and the relentless pursuit of material wealth.

It was in this setting that the Sanctuary of Truth was created, a sanctuary based on truth and goodness drawn from religion, philosophy and art. The sanctuary embodies the seven Creators essential for Man’s existence; Heaven, Earth, Father, Mother, Moon, Sun and the Planets.

The four halls of the sanctuary each represents an aspect of the universe and values to nurture and cherish.
  • The West Hall symbolizes the creation of the universe where all things begin.

  • The South Hall depicts the planets and stars and their influence on the course of human life and events.

  • Father and Mother, the creation of life, their off-spring and the purity of parental love are represented in the East Hall.

  • The North Hall holds out enlightenment through suffering and sacrifice for our fellowmen, doing good deeds will allow us to be released from the cycle of life.

View Sanctuary of Truth - plan view in a larger map

The four halls are linked to a Central Hall which stands for enlightenment or nirvana. The sculptures both inside and outside the sanctuary are a blend of Hindu, Khmer, Chinese (Taoist and Confucianism) and Thai influences.

The four spires at the four corners of the roof symbolize religion, life, knowledge and peace.

Symbolism of the sanctuary

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Touring the Sanctuary of Truth

Entrance to the sanctuary

After you have bought your tickets at the entrance, there’s a free pony carriage ride to the vantage point. Or you can walk if you like, it’s not that far and it’s a pleasant walk.

Take the pony carriage or walk?

Visitors will be admitted to the sanctuary in small groups so as not to over-crowd the place. Use this waiting time to admire the Sanctuary of Truth from the vantage point, it’s a breadth-taking view!

The first encounter

Next, walk down this wooden staircase to the Sanctuary of Truth below, hold on to the guide rope and mind your step.

The way down

When you reach the sanctuary, this is the view of the East Hall.

Close-up view – East Hall

But you will enter the sanctuary from the West Hall on the other side of the building. The reason will be obvious as we go along.

West Hall

Walk around the sanctuary in an anti-clockwise direction and view to admire the sculptures. The North Hall was under renovation during my visit.

The façade of the West Hall has a distinct Hindu character. You will see sculptures of the four-headed Brahma and the three-headed elephant Erawan.

The West Hall

The West Hall holds Trimurti, the Trinity of Hindu Gods, Shiva god of earth and fire, Vishnu god of water and Brahma god of the sky and wind and creator of the universe and the beginning of life. For this reason the tour of the sanctuary starts from the West Hall.

South Hall

The sculptures in the South Hall represent the sun, moon and the planets in the Solar System which influence Man and the course of life. Each star or planet symbolizes certain qualities. Incidentally the days of the week in Thai are named after these stars and planets.

Sun – honour and status (Sunday)

Moon – beauty (Monday)
Mars – courage and industry (Tuesday)
Mercury – gentleness (Wednesday)

Jupiter – wisdom (Thursday)
Venus – wealth (Friday)
Saturn – unhappiness and suffering (Saturday)

The distinctly Khmer exterior of the South Hall

The stairs to the South Hall

East Hall

The East Hall depicts Father and Mother who bring children into the world, who love, care and nurture their off-spring with the power and purity of parental love.

Parents and their children

Children in return respect and show gratitude to their parents, a characteristic that distinguishes humans from the other living beings.

The East Hall also promulgates these values.

"The physical and material deteriorate with time. Ideals give direction to life. Every belief, religion and philosophy leads to the same goal along different paths. Only Truth and Goodness are immortal.

Exterior of the East Hall

Acquire knowledge, let wisdom conquer ignorance, live for humanity and create peace, these are goals great men strive for."

Elaborate stairs of the East Hall

North Hall

Chinese concepts of Taoism and Confucianism pervade the North Hall. Guan Yin the Goddess of Mercy is present in several sculptures.

North Hall under renovation

"The values promulgated here are that good deeds and sacrifice free man from desires. Men though born under different circumstances can be released from the cycle of life by leading good lives and performing good deeds.

Those who sacrifice and suffer for their fellow-men yet decline enlightenment like Guan Yin are accorded the status of Bodhisattva."

Central Hall

The Busabok Stupa stands in the Central Hall with relics of Buddha stored at the top symbolizing enlightenment.

The Central Hall

Special construction feature

Like all traditional Thai buildings, there are no nails used in the construction. Every pillar, beam, rafter or board is held together by various types of wooden joints which are illustrated in the chart below.

Traditional techniques

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Other attractions around the Sanctuary of Truth

One other place that attracted my attention was the workshop for the sculptors.

Here a team of sculptors work constantly to produce the carvings to replace or renew parts of the sanctuary.

It’s marvellous just to watch them work on both small and huge sculptures.

How can a project like this just drag on for years? Looking at the artisans at work, I can understand why. What are they going to do if this project stopped?

How are they going to preserve their skills? They would probably do something else for a living which would have an impact on traditional handicraft in Thailand.

Relaxing by the lake

You can also relax over lunch in the restaurant that’s just by the lake or walk in the scenic tree lined area around the sanctuary. Then there are the usual distractions like elephant rides, ponies etc. around the premises.

Usual distractions

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Map to the Sanctuary of Truth

View Sanctuary of Truth, Pattaya in a larger map

How to get there

Take the skytrain to the Ekamai station which is right next to the Ekamai Eastern Bus Terminal. From the bus terminal take a tour bus to Pattaya. Take the bus that goes on the toll way. This will save you some time. The fare is 113 baht per trip.

Get off at the Pattaya Bus Station in Pattaya North. From there take a motor cycle taxi to the Sanctuary of Truth. The name of the place in Thai is pra-sart-sut-ja-tham in Soi Nakluea 12. The fare is 60 baht per trip.

Opening hours and admission

The Sanctuary of Truth is open every day from 8 am – 5 pm.

Admission is 500 baht per person.

Contact information

The Ancient City Co Ltd
206/2 M 5 Nalkuea
Chonburi 20150

Tel no 038 367 229, 038 367 815


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My thanks

I like to thank Khun Jaray Invichien and his staff who were extremely helpful and knowledgeable. They have helped me understand the meaning of the Sanctuary of Truth much better than from my first visit.

With all the symbolism in the numerous sculptures, I think we will always learn something new with every visit.

All photographs are with the courtesy of The Sanctuary of Truth.

One last look – an enduring image

"Only truth and goodness are immortal", that is the essence of this architectural and sculptural wonder called the Sanctuary of Truth.

"Whatever you have done today is of great importance
because you gave a day of your life to achieve it"

Lek Viriyaphant

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Next month

The old Ang Sila weekend market

Site Build It!

Book hotels in Pattaya

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Till next month then.

Eric Lim

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