Two hours Southeast of Bangkok lies Chon Buri, a relaxed beach city which is often overlooked for its more famous and raucous neighbour, Pattaya. The city does, however, have one thing over its more famous neighbour – Wang Saen Suk. Or, Buddhist Hell Park. Sometimes spelled Wat Saen Suk, this park of horrors was constructed close to the Buddhist temple, Wat Saensuk Suthi Wararam, and an unassuming monastery equipped with stray dogs laying about in the heat and Monks going about their daily business. It’s very hidden away, so much so that we had to ask a Monk for directions to ‘Hell’ which he gave obligingly with a smile. Despite the park’s covert location, looking for it by driving through the various sois (alleys), letting the serene surrounding area unfold before us, added to the excitement of the trip and provided more shock value once inside the park. The grotesque images inside couldn’t be further removed from the nearby temple and city surrounding it.
The park has two entrances. One leads to a pretty run of the mill garden with Buddhist statues and deities, equipped with plaques in front of them explaining the story of Buddha. Over the wall, adjacent to this garden, is Hell Park. Apparently, there is a sign in front of Wang Saen Suk saying, “Welcome to Hell”, but we didn’t see it. Instead, we noticed a huge statue of a rotund Buddha with gold teeth and a giant hole where his belly button should have been; you’ll know you’re at the entrance of “Hell” when you see him. Feel free to walk right in, by the way, entrance is free! As you enter Naraka (the Sanskrit word for Hell or Purgatory), you’re met with the sight of two massive statues. One is female and the other male and both have their incredibly long tongues hanging out of their mouths. The female statue has her arms raised, and her eyes protrude like she’s seen her emaciated frame and distended belly for the first time. She appears shocked by her appearance, whereas her male counterpart seems frozen, his slack arms denoting a frozen psyche too terrified to move or acknowledge his surroundings. They are the Pretas (Hungry Ghosts), Nai Ngean and Nang Thong, supernatural beings known for suffering unimaginable levels of hunger and thirst. In their past lives, they are believed to have been deceitful, succumb to greed and compulsive behaviour, entertained jealousy, and participated in corruption. The accumulated negative Karama over their lifetimes subjects them to insatiable hunger and unquenchable thirst, usually for a revolting substance like faeces or the flesh of a corpse. Unlike Christian hell, which is eternal, Buddhist hell is temporary, though it may feel like forever for those suffering through it. A resident of Naraka (hell) remains there only until his or her negative karma has run out. Thereafter, the individual will be reborn into the world and live their life once again, either committing acts that afford them good or bad karma.
Below them stand equally emaciated and frightening statues with the heads of animals. Each damned soul is assigned an animal head depending on what sin they committed. If someone, for example, is given the head of a rat in Naraka, it means they were careless with the possessions of others and destroyed them. They can get specific too, like the soul with the head of the bird. Their sin was stealing the “dry uncooked rice” of another. As you walk further into the park the depictions of torture become more vicious. In one area we spot a man getting his genitals speared. The plaque in front of him states that he participated in sexually deviant behaviour. In another spot a woman is being impaled from the front and back with heavy circular concrete blocks, crushing her spine and abdomen; her plaque reads that she had an abortion. A large group, lying below the Pretas, is being boiled in the cauldron. And finally, one poor soul is getting her tongue cut out. It’s quite a sight! If you’re travelling with children and you’re worried the park is too graphic for youngsters, fear not. Whilst we were there, Thai locals frequented the park with their children in tow, and they appeared excited and in awe, laughing and climbing all over the statues. It was quite comical watching a young girl smile as she climbed atop the statue of a man being sawed in half (see picture below). Or the brother and sister trying to outdo each other by seeing who could climb the highest on one of the statues. That being said, it’s at your discretion to show your children the park or not. All in all, Wang Saen Suk is a great afternoon trip if you have a few hours to kill and are travelling from Pattaya or Bangkok. The park isn’t that large, even though it’s the largest Hell Garden in Thailand. It will take no more than 45min to circle the grounds, maybe tack on an extra 15 min if you include the time spent posing for photos.
The park also provides a unique contrast to the images we normally think of when we hear Buddhism. Colourful temples, lotus ponds, tranquil monks tending to their daily prayers or studies, and statues of reclining or sitting Buddha covered in gold leaf, looking serene, are usually what come to mind. Buddha Hell Park is a surprising respite from those images and allows tourists not so well acquainted with the religion to see a different side to it.
Finally, the visit is also an opportunity to see Chon Buri, or at least the area closest to its beaches. If you have enough time, take a walk down to Wonnapha beach and see the lookout point, Laem Tan. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time during this trip, but the reviews seem stellar. Visiting these sites also allow you to see seaside life in Thailand that isn’t inundated with foreign tourism. So, venture down, take a look and strike a pose with the poor souls of the Buddhist underworld. Oh, and if you’re queasy, maybe avoid visiting it on a full stomach.
Getting there from Bangkok:
From Ekkamai Bus Terminal catch the Bang Saen bus to Burapha University. The bus will stop in front of Laemtong Bangsaen shopping mall. Each ticket will cost 100B. From Laemtong Bangsaen Mall you can order a Grab or regular taxi to Wang Saen Suk. It should not cost more than 100B and should take 10 minutes. You can also walk. It takes 40 to 50 minutes, but you can walk along Bangsaen Beach which, after a bus ride, might be pleasant.
Getting back to Bangkok:
To get back to Bangkok, take a taxi, or walk, back to the bus drop off point at Laemtong Bangsaen Mall. Walk down the alley you were dropped off at. You should see a sign saying Pizza Company at the back of the soi (alley). Opposite this sign is the bus ticketing office. Head inside and say you want to head back to Ekkamai Bus Terminal. The ticket will cost 100B each. We were told the last bus would leave at 7:30pm – it left at 6:50. Luckily, we arrived back at the mall at 6:45. When it comes to bus times in Thailand, don’t opt for the last bus. Rather aim to get the second last or third last bus back to your chosen destination.
Address: 150 Bang Saen Sai 2 Rd, Tambon Saen Suk, Amphoe Mueang Chon Buri, Chang Wat Chon Buri 20130
Note: On several sites, the location is spelled Wang Saen Suk. On Google maps, it is referred to as Wat Saen Suk.
Hours: Monday to Sunday 6:00am to 6:00pm
Note: We were warned that the park hours might be different because of the Queen’s birthday celebration (12 August 2019), a public holiday in Thailand. The park, however, seemed to be following their regular hours. This might not be the case during other holidays. Seeing as there is no number to call to make sure they’re open, you’ll have to take your chances and go see for yourselves. For this reason, try not to go on public holidays.