The Chao Mae Tuptim or Penis shrine is one of the hidden places in Bangkok and not as famous as Golden Mount of Wat Pho (huh..temple of Vietnamese soup????). But I would include this unusual site into any itinerary as a must-see. Unlike other temples in Bangkok, it is very quiet, so most of the time you will find yourself alone there.
The Penis Shrine, otherwise known by its real name the Chao Mae Tuptim Shrine, is hidden away in Nai Lert Park next to the hotel of the same name, the Nai Lert Park Hotel (used to be the Hilton Hotel). We just walked through the hotel, its garden with a nice swimming pool, and still had to ask an employee of this hotel. He showed us through the parking lot directly to the shrine.
The shrine was originally dedicated to Chao Tuptim, a female animist spirit who people believe has been residing in the banyan tree next to the shrine for hundreds of years. As the legend goes: years ago though, a woman came to pray at the shrine asking for help from Chao Tuptim because she couldn’t conceive. Nine months later, she gave birth to a healthy son. She was so pleased with her child that she came back to the shrine and left a large wooden carving of a giant penis in thanks.
Others followed her lead and today, if you visit, you will see literally hundreds of wooden penises, all different colors and sizes. Some have colorful pieces of fabric tied around them to protect them. Others are dyed red, blue or green. Some of these penises have penises themselves ;-) As such it is believed the shrine is dedicated to fertility (and good luck).
Many religions in the past worshiped body part including penises and breasts, for example. In Hindu mythology, when Shiva is killed, the goddess Kali squats over his body, rips out and eats his organs, and then mounts his still erect manrod to complete the cycle of creation. Most historians agree that fertility and phallus worship existed in prehistoric central and Eastern Asia, influencing the pre-Buddhist and pre-Shinto religions of the area. Min was an ancient Egyptian god of fertility. In Egyptian art and statues, Min is always shown holding his cock with his left hand and a threshing flail in his raised right hand.
It will definitely seem strange to many people to be surrounded by penises of various sizes or its images on walls like in Bhutan. Most of these will be from countries where Christianity, Judaism and Islam are the dominant religions. But in many Asian countries we can still see people worshiping this part of the body - from India to Japan to Bhutan. The three big monotheistic religions have definitely changed people attitude towards sex, sexuality and prohibited many aspects of sexual life.
Being in the Penis shrine feels a bit strange like being in a sex shop with an altar. But if you are in Bangkok make sure you find some time to visit this place. It is centrally located and not that difficult to find. Any taxi or tuk-tuk driver will take you to Swiss Nai Lert Hotel. Here is the map.