If you want temples, Bangkok’s got ‘em – from famous landmarks such as the spectacular Wat Phrakeo & Wat Arun, to lesser known but equally beautiful temples like Wat Samphanthawongsaram Worawiharn & the Erewan Shrine, there are noteworthy temples tucked away in virtually every corner of the city. But few are quite as well hidden or mysterious as the Chao Mae Tuptim shrine, aka the Penis Temple.
ust when you think you’ve visited every Southeast Asian temple there is to see and you’re starting to get temple burnout, someone uses the phrase “penis temple” and tells you about a temple that is full of penis statues of varying sizes, and you simply have to go and check it out. It isn’t that simple however – Chao Mae Tuptim is unsignposted and, hidden away at the top of Wireless Road on the banks of Khlong (canal) Saen Saep, it’s hard to find. But eventually, after a long walk past the British & Swiss embassies and negotiating the Swissotel car park and staff canteen, I come across a small wooden house and there, to the right, is the Penis Temple in all its glory.
The temple’s history is a colourful one. It is believed to have been built by Nai Lert (after whom a nearby park is named), one of Thailand’s first ever property developers and the man who introduced public buses, taxis, and ice cubes to the country. He built a spirit house on the site of the temple for a female spirit named Chao Mae Tuptim, who was believed to haunt one of the banyan trees that still occupy the current site. One day a woman is believed to have come to pray to the spirit for a baby, which duly arrived nine months later. The woman returned to the shrine and left a wooden penis by way of thanks.
Rather than being dismissed as an eccentric, this woman was clearly seen as some kind of trendsetter and since her visit the temple has been inundated with phallic symbols or linga, these being a symbol of fertility in Thailand and other Southeast Asian nations. It’s certainly a colourful sight – there are clusters of brightly-painted wooden penises, some the size of fire extinguishers, propped up in the middle of the temple, whilst a table next to the central altar groans with smaller penises, including a penis-shaped candle. There’s even a disembodied concrete penis on legs – truly the stuff of nightmares.
But thanks to its unconventional contents, the Chao Mae Tuptim shrine has a fun, playful ambience lacking in most Asian temples – there’s a real sense of enjoyment to be gained from a visit there. And given its location, it’s also very quiet, with only the occasional passenger boat chugging along the canal to disturb the serenity. So for a truly unique experience, and some, er, eye-catching photos to show the folks back home, make sure it’s on your itinerary next time you come to Bangkok.
Fancy checking out this and other amazing Bangkok temples? Visit the Thailand page on our website, or email us on info [at] remotelands [dot] com to start dreaming of your trip.
Tim Russell is Remote Lands' Marketing Director, based in our Bangkok office. He arrived in Thailand in September 2012 after a decade living & working in Vietnam.