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“It’s called Bangkok, not Bangcunt, honey.” – Ladyboy from The Hangover II
Though not quite relating to the quote above, I found myself in Bangkok last month with a funny bit of time between meetings. You know what it’s like like when you don’t have enough time to go back to your hotel but have too much time to just sit in a cafe? It was that kind of time. (Not to mention it was 90 degrees and I didn’t feel like moving anywhere outside.)
So, what did I do? Walk for 30 minutes in the heat trying to find a small penis shrine, naturally.
You know, for research. (And apparently because I’m crazy and instead of going shopping in an air conditioned mall like any normal person in hot Bangkok would do, I choose to traipse around town searching for strange sites.)
The Shrine of Goddess Tubtim, or San Chao Mae Tubtim / ศาลเจ้าแม่ทับทิม (sometimes “Tubtim” is also spelled with a p – Tuptim), is not only an unsuspected shrine, but also located where you would least suspect it, the 5-star Swissotel Nai Lert Park luxury hotel in Bangkok. Wandering through the park grounds felt like I was on a sneaky, twisted treasure hunt, particularly because I’m pretty sure the hotel guests lounging by the pool had no idea that just meters away from them was a small garden area filled with penises.
I first heard about the shrine from my friend, Ian from Where Sidewalks End, but had never had the opportunity to find it. Already being relatively close and with time to kill, this was my chance. Fortunately Ian also shared detailed directions to the shrine on his site…because otherwise I probably would have given up. When I say the shrine is at the hotel, I’m mean it’s really at the hotel. I thought perhaps it was close to the hotel or just outside the grounds. Nope, to get there you walk through the hotel lobby, pool area, grounds and employee parking lot acting like you know what you’re doing. (See directions below!)
The goddess actually has Chinese origins and nothing to do with penises or fertility, like what you would initially assume when coming across the shrine, which makes the origins and reason for the shrine even more unclear. Supposedly, the man who originally owned the property, Nai Lert – one of Bangkok’s first developers and, interestingly, the first person to start making and selling ice in Thailand – had a spirit house placed on the spot near a large ficus tree where the goddess’ spirit was thought to live. No one knows exactly when, why, or how the penis offerings came into being, but it’s believed that a woman who wanted to have a baby went to the spirit house to make an offering, which were originally often white lotus buds or jasmine blossoms, to Chao Mae Tubtim. It worked, she got pregnant, rumors spread and since then other women wishing to get pregnant have continued to come to the shrine bringing gifts of flowers, incense, treats, dresses and jewelry, and penises, or lingams, which symbolize fertility, virility, power and protection.
Is the shrine worth walking half an hour in the heat for? Mmm…probably not. However if you’re in the Lumpini/Ploenchit area and wanted to see something not on the usual Bangkok tourist trail, check it out. (Then sit in the hotel lobby pretending to check messages on your phone while you’re really just enjoying the aircon before getting the energy to head out again.)
The Swissotel Nai Lert Park is in the Ploenchit neighborhood just north of Lumpini Park on Wireless Road (also known as Witthayu Road). The closest BTS station is Ploenchit. When you get to the hotel, walk through the main entrance passing straight through and down the stairs to the doors that open up to the pool area. Wind your way around the pool to the right on the small path until you reach the car park. Continue to the right walking along the side of the building until you see the entrance to the shrine. Again, the shrine is within the hotel complex so don’t walk across the car park and out of the hotel grounds.
When you reach the car park and continue to the right, it will start to feel like you’re going the wrong way or that you’re not allowed there (you’ll see hotel security guards and staff walking around but no guests). Just keep going!
Want to know more? Yeah you do. For additional details about the shrine and it’s history, visit Thaizer’s article, Bangkok’s Penis Shrine, Chao Mae Tuptim, or Where Sidewalks End’s, Bangkok’s Tubtim Fertility Shrine aka Penisville BKK. There’s also an extensive post about figuring out just who Chao Mae Tubtim is on Women Learn Thai.