Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bangkok: Temples

After taking late night flight into Bangkok, Thailand from Saigon, Vietnam; we found it difficult to find a hotel in the suggested backpacker's district and spent the better part of the first night looking for suitable accommodations. After seeing what Bangkok's backpacker's area had to offer we quickly decided we're exactly shoestringing it and decided to what more luxury accommodations there were in the river district of Bangkok. The river district had a lot to offer in terms of convenience and proximity to transportation. We soon found a hotel close to the river for quick and easy access to the water ferries and only a few blocks to the monorail and BTS public transportation. So first up was to take a 30¢ ferry up river to the famous temples, but first we had to grab breakfast. Bangkok is a city full of street food and quick bites of food to eat. Food is EVERYWHERE! Thais like to snack all day and we quickly found food stalls on the street up to the ferry terminal. We were already missing our soup breakfasts in Vietnam so we opted for a soup made out of bitter gourd and pork balls. Numerous temples are easily accessible from the river, which provides for a local experience, fantastic views of the city and no hassles with traffic, which is awful in Bangkok.Bangkok is a great city to be a tourist in. It is exotic, easy to get around, everyone is friendly and speaks English and there are great sites to visit, such as the temples, which are free! The first temple, or wats as they are called in Thailand, we visited was Wat Pho with it’s HUGE leaning Buddha. Built in the 16th Century it is Bangkok’s oldest and largest Wat.
The Buddha’s feet are made of mother-of-pearl and are HUGE.
The grounds which house the large reclining Buddha is a massive compound with large, ornately tiled and bejeweled chendis or stupas and buildings. Massive and unbelievably ornate. The next temple we visited was the Marble Temple, with a large courtyard and buildings made completely of marble.Housed around the courtyard was a collection of different styles of Buddha and explanations on what the different positions Buddha statues represent.
Seated Thai Buddha
Standing Japanese Buddha
Seated Burmese Buddha
Standing Khmer Buddha
Seated Fasting Buddha
On the opposite side of the river is the imposing Wat Arun. With it’s gigantic spires, it was an impressive structure from afar and even more impressive up close.We were able to climb to the second level of the tallest structure on the temple grounds, which gave us with an amazing view of the river and Bangkok below.
And now for the hard part – getting down and conquering fears.
Wat Phra Kaew is across the river and home to the famous Emerald Buddha and the Grand Palace and the only site we had to pay to see. It was a large site with a strict dress code. At all the temples it is required that women have their shoulders covered and clothing be below the knee. At the Grand Palace men were not allowed to wear shorts, but this is a common issue with tourists so there is a place to “rent” pants.
The Grand Palace was, well – Grand.
The Emerald Buddha was, well – Green and Small. The history of the Emerald Buddha is fascinating. The Buddha was found in a cave in Loas covered in stucco, a monk discovered after seeing a piece of the stucco coming off the Buddha that the Buddha statue was actually a solid piece of green jasper. The Emerald Buddha has been transferred back and forth through years of war between Thailand and Loas and now sits in Bangkok.The temples in Bangkok are amazing, not only because they are grand and ornate, but the fact that these temples reside in a major cosmopolitan city, accessible to everyone makes the temples the premier attraction of Bangkok. We thoroughly enjoyed them.

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