The Sanctuary of Truth

From the Viewpoint
View of the sanctuary from the upper viewpoint.

Monumental projects in Thailand are almost always community-based, usually undertaken by temples. Rarely are they undertaken by a single individual, other than the king. One of the few exceptions to this rule was the eccentric billionaire generally known as "Khun Lek." First, he conceived the Ancient City as a place for Bangkok residents to see the rich architectural heritage of Thailand. He also build a huge art museum in the shape of the mythical three-headed elephant Erawan. Then, about 20 years ago he started construction on a temple-like structure near Pattaya, which he christened "the Sanctuary of Truth."

Woodworker at Work
Part of the team of 250 woodworkers carving away on the sanctuary.

Construction was only begun after many years of research by Khun Lek himself. Although the overall shape roughly follows traditional Thai architecture, the temple is richly detailed with wood carvings depicting the four major philosophical and artistic influences that can be seen in Thailand: Hindu, Khmer, Chinese and Thai. In fact, the building is being constructed entirely of wood. That's the main reason it is taking so long. A team of 250 woodcarvers are at work on the sanctuary at any given time, yet construction is not expected to be completed for another five years.

The Khmer Styled west wing
The Khmer styled west wing of the building.

Each of the cruciform-plan building's four wings reflects a different one of the four styles. One wing recalls the monumental architecture of the Bayon Temple at Angkor Wat, while another is decorated with Chinese motifs. The wing forming the main entrance is stylistically Thai. Much of the exterior appears complete, although some parts now have to be repaired due to their long exposure to the elements. Most of the new work being done now is on the interior. The inside is being covered in the same rich carvings as the outside, and there's now a large altar in the center of the rotunda.

Interior Ceiling
Shafts of light illuminate the richly carved ceiling of the sanctuary.

Sadly, Khun Lek passed away a few years ago, so he will never see the sanctuary completed. But the work goes on according to his meticulous plan.

Although incomplete, the building site is open to visitors who want to view the work in progress. The 500 Baht (12.99 USD) entrance fee is a bit steep, but that appears to be intended to keep the number of visitors low so that they do not interfere with the construction. You do get a personal guide to take you through the complex, although they are generally not well versed in English. Hard hats are provided to protect you when inside the building.

The Sanctuary of Truth (in Thai Prasat Sut Ja-Tum) is dramatically set on a rocky point of the coast just north of Pattaya, in the small town of Naklua. It's near the end of Naklua Soi 12. You could easily get a songtaew (a small pickup truck turned into a sort of taxi-bus) from Pattaya, as Pattaya 2 Road becomes the "main" street of Naklua. However, it's a long walk from the mouth of the soi to the temple. You would best be advised to rent a car or motorcycle to make your way to this place from Pattaya.

The "master plan" for the sanctuary complex originally called for additional small buildings and even guest houses to be built after the main sanctuary is completed. However, that's clearly been abandoned and the place now resembled an adventure park, with ATV courses, elephant rides and a dolphin show. Still, you can ignore all that and take in the fascinating construction project.