On the very top of Pratumnak Hill, between Pattaya and Jomtien Beach, you can’t fail to notice an enormous 18 metre tall Buddha popping up through the trees. This Big Buddha – the largest in the region – is the highlight of Wat Phra Yai, a temple built in the 1940s when Pattaya was nothing more than a fishing village. The Big Buddha is extremely popular with tour groups who love to see the intricate design of the statue and the temple complex, but it is also revered by local people who come to pray at the temple. Despite the crowds, the wreaths of flowers and burning incense create a reflective mood in which to explore the many smaller Buddha statues, partial views of Jomtien Beach, and the pavilion hall which has a beautifully painted mosaic on the walls.
The staircase leading up to the temple is quite striking as there are golden dragons running along the entire handrails, and at the foot of the stairs, seven-headed mythical snakes called Nagas emerge from the dragon’s mouths. Once at the top, visitors like to take photographs with the many Buddha figures in different postures (some are sitting, others lying down or standing) which are representative of different days of the week. Many foreigners are unsure on which day they were born but in Thailand there is a special relevance placed on this information, with a unique Buddha posture which should be revered. Although a visit to Wat Phra Yai requires some walking, it is a popular activity with old and young visitors and the stairs aren’t difficult to handle.
Before you arrive at the top of the hill, you will notice traders selling many small birds that are kept together in cages. The idea is for people to set them free and gain good karma. This all sounds wonderful, but actually we would not encourage it because, in reality, the more money given to this practice, the more birds will be caught and enslaved. It is far better to donate to the temple. Either enter the temple at the foot of the stairs and be blessed by a monk in return for a small donation of your choice, or donate in the pavilion hall at the top of the stairs, next to the enormous smiling Buddha. Another popular activity while visiting Big Buddha Hill in Pattaya is to ring the line of bells with a big stick, which is supposed to call good luck to whoever completes the task.
The Big Buddha Statue in Pattaya is a cultural highlight to any visit to Pattaya and can be enjoyed by people who are knowledgeable about Buddhism but equally by people who have limited knowledge of the religion and the way of life. Pratumnak Hill is only 2km from South Pattaya and entry to the temple is free. If you need transport, a songtaew (baht bus) will take you there for around 200 baht. Opposite Wat Phra Yai there is a Chinese Shrine complex dedicated to Confucius, Guan Yin, and a Taoist temple which can be explored afterwards.