View from the hill!

View from the hill!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Here a Wat, There a Wat

One of the top thing on all tourists lists when visiting Bangkok is to head up the river to Rattanakosin, the historical and cultural heart of the city. After several attempts to get to this site of the old royal city I finally made it there on my last day (previous attempts were spoiled by mean tuk tuk drivers and massive hangovers). I had been told the best way to get to these sites was by boat, up the Chao Phraya river. I of course did not want to take the easy way (aka the tourist boat) so it was a bit tricky trying to figure out where the commuter ferry departed from and which direction I needed to go. However, once on the boat I pleased to find out I only had to pay 14 baht (about 40 cents) and was able to ride the boat all day long with as many stops on the east bank as I pleased.

Although the river itself is not particuarly scenic, the long tail boats and well known landmarks we passed on the way (sights such as the famed Oriental Hotel and Wat Arun) made for an enjoyable 45 minute ride to my destinaion, Wat Phra Kaeo and the Grand Palace. I got the palace early before both the heat and crowds were too unbearable. I knew to dress conservatively so thought capri pants and a t-shirt would do the trick, but I was ankles allowed. Luckily I packed my sarong just in case. Looking stylish in my tenis shoes, sarong, backpack and guuide book in hand I was ready for a day of Wat visits (F.Y.I. wat=temple in Thai).

The first step into Wat Phra Kaeo, also known as Temple of the Golden Buddah, transports you into a world of incredible golden spires and extravagent pavilions guarded by all sorts of be-jeweled mythological creatures and the site simply takes your breath away. Instead of rushing directly to the bot or meeting hall (which holds the emerald buddah) I took some time to walk around the grounds and explore the dozen or so other buildings. It was almost overwhleming to be surrounding by so many incredible buildings, unlike anything I had ever seen before. The mix of colors and textures, everything from pastel painted ceramic and porcelains to shimmering gold stupa's, made the outer grounds of the wat even more fascinating to me than the Emerald Buddah himself. However, it is important to point out that the Emerald Buddah is the most holy and powerful statue and a symbol to the Thai people of the power, divinity and enlightenment of their country. And the wat in which he rests is the most significant religious structure in Thailand. Whithin the grounds of Wat Phra Kaeo is the grand palace, another rather impressive building which combines both Western and Thai styles but it looses some of its allure after viewing the exquisite carvings and decoration of the Wat.

My next stop was Wat Pho, also known as Temple of the Reclining Buddah. This temple is the oldest and largest temple complex in Bangkok. The reclining Buddah himsef is of course the main attraction, and at 150 feet long he is hard to miss. It is almost hard to appreciate his size because the building that holds him is so small, it is almost impossible to get a photo of him because of the lack of space. The massive buddah who is laying on his side with his head propped on his elbow represents his moment of enlightenment, when he entered nirvana- not when he entered a deep sleep which it may seem at first!

One of my favorite features of Wat Pho were the many statues of Indian hermits in yoga positions which occupied the Wats surrounding grounds. These statues helped to guide students in the correct postures for meditation and other relaxation techniques. Wat Pho's College of Traditional Medicine was the first in the ountry to teach Thai massage and is still used for instruction. The Wat has a very relaxing atmosphere with the yoga statues, relaxing music, calming lotus flowers and thai massage taking place all around you it would be easy to sit on a bench here for hours as busy Bangkok rushes past outside the walls of the Wat.

After my Wat visits I wandered to Pak Khlong Market (known for its beautiful and colorful fruit and flower displays) and then China Town with a lunch stop in Little India. Running low on energy and time I did not make it to the kings official residence, Chitralada Palace, but i did make it over to Dusit Park where I saw another impressive Wat as well as the Royal Plaza and Throne Hall (all surrounding his residence and surrounded by guards with massive machine guns).

All in all it was a busy wat full day and I was ready for a good night sleep...on my first night train in Asia!

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