Want a glimpse into the fiery afterlife?
Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden in Bang Saen City, Chonburi, is an easy day trip from Bangkok. It offers visitors a glimpse into the darker side of Buddhism, where the damned are punished for their earthly crimes with sin-specific discipline. This larger-than-life garden is sure to send chills down your spine and have you scrambling to make amends in this life.
Buddhist Hell is separated into specific rings called Naraka, and Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden features plenty of them. You could easily spend the better part of a day wandering through the macabre exhibits. When I visited, there was an iced coffee stand outside, but it’s advisable to bring your own water, comfortable shoes, and plenty of sunscreen. Fittingly, Buddhist Hell can get hot, and it’s almost all outside.
Are you ready to descend into the blazing depths of Buddhist Hell? Here are some fascinating facts you need to know before you go.
1. It Was Built Recently
Unlike many of the other temples and gardens in the Land of Smiles, Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden was built relatively recently. Chonburi’s most ghoulish attraction wasn’t constructed until 1986, making it the newest and most interesting Buddhist destination you’re likely to visit.
2. You’re Greeted By Preta
Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden is dominated by two colossal statues with protruding rib cages and long tongues. These grim guardians are Preta, or starving ghosts who are trapped in Purgatory but haven’t quite sinned enough to merit their own place in Buddhist Hell. The Preta are shocking enough, but they are far from the most gruesome statues that you’ll encounter as you make your way through the Narakas.
3. Each Sin Is Punished Accordingly
Buddhist Hell is remarkably specific, with each earthly crime being paid back tenfold. Many of the statues have the heads of animals, some are simmering in huge pots, and one horrible exhibit shows the damned climbing a thorny tree to escape from wild dogs. Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden doesn’t shy away from bloodshed, and visitors should expect to see all kinds of torture enacted on the souls trapped there.
4. Sinners Probably Won’t Be Stuck There Forever
The only silver lining for those tortured in the Narakas is that there’s an end in sight, although it might be billions of years down the road. According to Buddhist theology, transgressors who prove their penitence are eventually relieved. This idea of repentance is in line with the concept of karma: Even the damned are in control of their future.
5. You Can Leave A Donation In Buddha’s Belly
When I visited Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden, there was no charge for admission. Instead, visitors were invited to drop a donation of their choosing into a Buddha on the perimeter of the garden.
6. It’s Off The Beaten Path
Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden is off the beaten path, making it an exceptional experience that is slightly hard to get to. You can take a bus or train from Bangkok to Chonburi and a taxi from Chonburi to Bang Saen City, but the quickest option is getting a traditional cab or GrabTaxi straight from Bangkok. Taking a car from Bangkok will take you roughly an hour one way, and public transportation will take several, depending on traffic and any train delays.
7. There’s A Hell Temple In Chiang Mai
The visual representation of Buddhist Hell isn’t unique to Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden. There are smaller, less elaborate depictions of the Narakas all over the country, and there's even a Hell Temple in Chiang Mai. Wat Mae Kaet Noi is a stern warning to mortals and the brainchild of Pra Kru Vishanjalikon, a monk who helped bring the Hell Temple to fruition.
Buddhist Hell might just be the highlight of your Thailand vacation. It’s an easy trip from Bangkok, off the beaten path enough to be exclusive, and a totally unique experience that you won’t forget anytime soon. Go over to the dark side and put Wang Saen Suk on your bucket list.
Planning a trip to Thailand? Check out these eight things to know before you go, this guide to cultural etiquette in the country, and this list of the best things to see and do while you're there.