BANGKOK IN THE DAYLIGHT
Bangkok in the Daylight, great expectations. Still victim of heavy jet lag and a bottle of Chang, morning silence on Khao San road seems surreal. It doesn’t last: a colorful parade of food carts is already marching on the streets carrying smells and noises when we go out.
Bananas at a Seven Eleven for breakfast and then we walked to Pier 13 to board an orange flag boat, decided to visit at least three temples, Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho and Wat Arun. Yeah, right, with two kids and that heat…
Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha
Together with the adjoining Grand Palace, even if quite different in style, this is one of the most characteristic and crowded places in Bangkok; thousands of people visit it every day. Most of the time I find myself trying to avoid other people getting caught in my pictures. A city within a city, with its norms of conduct and dressing codes too.
Once they believe our clothing is decent enough, my handbag is checked. Then we walk inside (500 Baht for both buildings). I suddenly find myself inside an exotic wonderland: Wat Phra Kaew, with over a hundred colorful, glittering buildings, statues and spires; some of them connected by corridors of red wood, walls decorated with jakata stories, depicting the victory of Buddha against the demon Mara.
The Temple of the Emerald Buddha was built together with the city and finished by 1782, its formal name is Wat Phra Kaeo Sri Rattana Satsadaram or The Residence of the Holy Jewel Buddha. It is the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand; in fact one of my children, who had already read about it all, convinces the family to sit in prayer and meditation in front of the powerful Buddha (my five-year old is not able to meditate that much, I must admit!).
Filippo, my eldest son and official reader, also tells us that the King presides the change of clothes of the green Jade Buddha (in fact, it is made of jade or jasper not emerald, he adds!) three times a year: Summer, in Winter, and in the rainy season, all important rituals that should bring good fortune to Thailand.
This small (about 70 cm tall) Buddha is high above the heads of visitors, inside a glass box. So, do not expect great pictures of it… simply take off your shoes, relax, and visit the temple – photos inside are forbidden, by the way. The story of this little statue is very peculiar. It was found inside a stupa in Chang Rai, back in 1434, covered in another material that with time started coming off, to reveal that glorious green, making everyone think it was pure emerald. It finally ended in this temple after a long record of pilgrimage around the region.
It is a tradition to sprinkle some water on your head – the most sacred part of your body – with a lotus flower before entering the temple. When going inside, offer this flower to Buddha together with your wish.
In Wat Phra Kaew it is also possible to see a miniature model of the Cambodian temples of Angkor; the Royal Pantheon with statues of the first kings of the Chakri dynasty, (open only on 6th April). Mythical guardians as Kinaree and Thotsakan, among others, surround the Pantheon, all sharing animal features and human traits as well.
There are also two important libraries with Buddhist literature.
The Grand Palace
The Grand Palace is completely diverse architectural style that catches you by surprise, less Oriental, to put in some way, or more modern. It is no longer the Royal residence and it is only used for ceremonial purposes.
Some of the buildings inside the Palace include the Amarinda Hall, original residence of King Rama I and the Hall of Justice, which has the antique throne and is used for state ceremonies and royal anniversaries; just nearby, in the Paisal Taksim Hall, all coronation ceremonies take place.
The Grand Palace Hall itself, or Chakri Maha Prasat group of buildings also includes the Central Throne Hall with its fine architectural style. This group was finished in 1882, for the centenary celebration of Bangkok. The Borom Phiman Mansion instead, built in full western style in 1903, was used as a royal residence on various occasions.
Getting to Wat Pho
On our way to Wat Pho, which I could define as located just around the corner (a long way to the corner…), landscapes and tastes of the city come to me all at once: a mom bathing her daughter on the sidewalk, trying to kill the heat. Street vendors selling Buddhas, socks and knives. Smell of durian. A fresh pineapple I eat from a little cellophane bag.
The Wat Phra Chetuphon – as Thais call it – has a special atmosphere to it, it might be the reduced amount of impressive scenery or even the kindness of the guards at the door, but once inside it takes me nothing to feel at home. A temple famous for its huge Reclining Buddha, for the massage school and well as for the enormous amount of statues of Buddhas one finds around the building. Technically speaking, it is the largest Wat in Bangkok (it is the oldest as well, and that is easily seen), nevertheless, and at least for me, there is a relaxed and intimate feeling.
The reclining Buddha is an impressive statue 46 meters long. It wants to represent the passing of the Buddha into Nirvana. Some parts of its body are of mother of pearl. Its feet, under maintenance during our visit, are really worth seeing too. Another interesting view of the temple is the enormous amount of sitting and standing Buddhas, most of which from the cities of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai.
One thing you cannot miss inside the temple is the original Thai massage, as the Thailand University for Thailand Massage functions inside this building. It is also possible to study and take courses.
GOING BACK..? WAT ARUN
I am sorry… do believe me. And no, it’s not because I know it’s still undergoing a long restoration process, therefore there are thousands of bamboos around it. It’s just we are so very tired. Let’s put it this way: Wat Arun is the our first item in a long list of excuses to return to Bangkok.
It is five in the afternoon already. We already had liters of water during the day, but no lunch at all so far. We decide to go back to the pier and eat a bite on our way back to the hotel, but we miss the street and end up inside an urban slum. An urban slum inside Bangkok, right in the middle of the old city, behind the port and the river, next to the market. Well… people are polite; they say Hi while having quick showers or washing their kids, their fruit or their dishes. They give us directions to finally get to the pier.
Once on the boat, everything seems easy again. Even the crying-for-God’s-sake-spicy papaya salad we have on Rambuttri road. A dish I plan to talk about when I write about Foodporn in Thailand. And do believe me, Thai food is Porn Food!
Back to our hotel: a refreshing swimming pool and even more refreshing black skies full of monsoon-like rain. Amazing Khao San under the raindrops.
A word or two on clothing: avoid sleeveless garments as well as above the knee pants/skirts, mostly for the Gran Palace. My eldest kid (nine) was tall enough to wear long pants, so I solved this with zippered pants, I just added the lower part before entering. The youngest (five) could enter with regular short pants, though I was prepared for him too. I added a long skirt to my short dress and my husband changed his shorts into long light slacks (all those inside my handbag). It was really very hot, and even if cloudy we got tanned all the same. Do not carry water with you; buy it there for a little money since it gets hot in a matter of seconds. And you will drink a lot.
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