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Perhaps the best-known hell temple in Thailand, Wat Saen Suk is a pretty easy day trip from either Bangkok or Pattaya. I’m not sure whether it’s well-known because it had English signs, or it got famous and added the English signage later. Either way, Wat Saen Suk (also called Wang Saen Suk for some unknown reason) is one of the only hell temples with English around.

(By the way, this is your last chance to click the ‘back’ button in case you’re not ready for the NSFW action…)

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At around 10 meters tall, the preta dominate the scene. In a past life, they were greedy or jealous people, reborn as gigantic beings with mummified skin, distended bellies, and insatiably hungry or thirsty. A few people leave offerings of food and water here to make merit, while virtually every set of statues has an opportunity to leave a donation in a nearby box.

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Surrounding the preta are a number of spirit, each of which has been reborn as a animal as a result of their sins in their past life. Those who steal other people’s property will be reborn as monkeys in the next life…

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…while those who take habit-forming drugs or intoxicants become crustaceans. Some of them seem a little far-fetched, but who am I to judge the Buddhist afterlife?

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Being one of the only hell temples with good (but nowhere near perfect) English signage, it’s a relief to be able to understand what’s going on instead of having to guess or piece things together. Killing (a violation of Buddhism’s first precept) will cause you to get sliced open in the next life over and over again. Unlike the Christian version of eternal hell, one remains in Buddhist hell until one’s bad karma is worked out, which can be billions of years, trillions of years, or longer.

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Stealing, cheating, or destroying other people’s property? Look forward to being sawed in half or beaten with a club as a result of violating Buddhism’s second precept.

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Being drunk (or drinking intoxicants until you’re not in control of your mindfulness)? Enjoy being forced to drink some boiling oil as a result.

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Another row of statues get a bit more specific – the penalty for “killing baby in ovum” (e.g. having an abortion) is essentially disembowelment.

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Rapists, guess what punishment you have coming your way? Yep, getting stabbed in the johnson. Over and over again.

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I’m unsure if this is the result of a poor translation, but the sign claims those who hurt their parents, teachers, drink alcohol, and “do not pray his prayer will become the devil when they die.” Harsh. DSC_3571

A practice still done in some parts of the world – snatching or stealing things will cause you and your hands to become separated.

OK, enough of the hell and crime and punishments. What say we move on a bit?

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I… got nothing. The signage along this row switches to Thai only, but they seem to have something to do with Thai folk tales…

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Another folk tale, though somehow I doubt Sisyphus and this guy have much in common…

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Later on are all 12 animals of the Chinese / eastern zodiac, complete with a rider. The accompanying signs indicated which months you had a greater influence. They all encouraged you to donate one baht per year of your age to ‘drive away the evil spirit’ and otherwise remove bad luck.  DSC_3675

Another series of statues shows 18 Chinese saints who have received “a transformation in their human bodies”. One counts through the saints until they reach their age, then learns of their fortunes – and of course, donates a baht for every year in their age. This is the tenth saint, Pra Huak Chela Hud Tela – the prediction? “He will have no luck and suffering but he will have a patron sometimes. He should do good all the time. He should not be careless. However, he should have some patrons.” O…K…?

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There’s a whole story here about a giant turtle and the Tripitaka (the teachings of Buddha). In order to cross the sea, Phra Tung Sum-Jung (a Buddhist priest) rode on the back of a giant turtle that was more than 1,000 years old. The turtle asked the Buddhist priest to ask the Buddha when he’ll be a Bodhisattiva (one who seeks salvation for others). The priest received Buddha’s teachings, returning to the giant turtle to cross the sea. The turtle asked the answer to his question, but the priest forgot to ask the Buddha. In anger, the turtle dove underwater, causing parts of the Tripitaka to float away. The priest kept 1/4 of the teachings, while others floated on Cambodia, Thailand, and China.

The moral of this story? When a turtle asks you a question, be sure to give him the answer.

In any case, Wat Saen Suk is one of the best examples of hell temples in Thailand. Like most others, time has not been especially kind to it, and all signs indicate little work is being done to restore them. See this before it fades too far.

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Name: Wat Saen Suk (AKA Wat Saen Suk Suthi Wararam AKA Wang Saen Suk AKA วัดแสนสุขสุทธิวราราม)
Address: 373/49 Moo 15 ,Bang Saen Sai 2 Soi 19, Tambon Saen Suk, Mueang Chon Buri District, Chon Buri Province 20130 (373/49 หมู่ 15 บางแสนสาย 2 ซอย 19 ต. แสนสุบ อ. เมืองชลบุรี จ. ชลบุรี 20130) (GPS: 13.297500,100.9128611)
Directions: A taxi once in Bang Saen will be the easiest way here, but it’s reachable by public transportation. Start by catching a minivan from Pattaya for Bangkok (or vice versa). Exit Pattaya’s bus terminal, turn left, then walk 100 meters to the main road (Sukhumvit road). Turn left to walk along Sukhumvit and begin looking for white minivans – you want either van number 46 or one with a red front. Either way, inquire about Bang Saen – if they’re going, jump on and be prepared for about a 1 hour ride. Once off the van, board a red songthaew, which should take you the rest of the way. (In our case, it continued up the highway for quite awhile, but it should turn around and head along a quieter side road eventually. Use the link above to go to Google Maps, or look for the blue street sign saying soi 19. The Bang Saen Beach is less than a kilometer away, so if you get turned around, head there and use the GPS coordinates / Google Maps to arrive.
Hours: dawn to dusk
Admission: free
Phone: none
Website: none

Ratings out of 5 globes (How do I rate destinations?)

Ease to arrive:

2globes

Foreigner-friendly:

4globes

Convenience facilities:

4globes

Worth the visit:

4.5 globes