Finally, we got ourselves moving to see the sights of Bangkok. Dozens of temples are scattered through this city as well as another two dozen points of interest such as museums and houses. Where to start?
First up was the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, home of the Emerald Buddha.
This being a major city it is of course prone to traffic jams. All advice leans towards using the Sky Train or metro whenever possible, or else, allow 45 mins for any taxi journey. That is all very well, but the metro system serves the North, South and East of this sprawling metropolis, and most of the major tourist attractions lie in the old town which is in the West. The boys were up for going there in a Tuk Tuk.
Its a strange phenomenon in this city that the Tuk Tuk drivers charge double the cost of taking a taxi. Several times we have tried to negotiate with them over price knowing that on average a taxi will cost us less than 100 Baht, the Tuk Tuk starting price is 200-300 Baht for any journey – long or short. We left the hotel and flagged down a couple of taxis – it seems to be rare that the first one you stop will take you where you want to go, mostly because they don’t have enough fuel, so they say. On the second attempt we got one who would take us to the river so that we could catch the river taxi up to the Grand Palace.
For the boys this was almost better than a Tuk Tuk, and it gave us a chance to see the city from another view point.
A helpful lady next to us advised us as to which stop we needed to get off for the Grand Palace, and gave us a commentary on what we could see from each stop the boat halted at. River traffic is chaotic at times and one presumes that there is some sort of mariners’ code as to who has priority and who should pass on which side, but it seems to work. We mingled with long tails and cruisers, tug boats and barges and ferries which traversed the river at strategic places carrying passengers from one bank to the other.
After 20 minutes or so we arrived at the landing point for the Grand Palace and disembarked straight into a food market just before the palace. We wandered through pausing only to buy a coffee for us both and to put on the bottoms of our trousers and our long sleeve shirts so we could show our respect – we had seem numerous posts, articles and information leaflets stating that ankles should be covered and armband that flip flops and sandals were a no-go.
As we squelched and trickled our way into the grounds in the 30 degree heat and 90% humidity I began to wonder if we were really in our right minds to be doing this. It soon became clear that the administrators were not that fussy about dress code as we spotted visitors in flip flops and short dresses, and tee-shirts. At the first opportunity we changed our tops for short sleeves, but kept the ankle covering attire – some standards should be maintained after all!
Passing through the ticket-cum-security checkpoint we emerged from the turnstiles into Wat Phra Kaew. I had two immediate impressions, the first was “Wow!” I hesitate to use the word bling, but there was a lot of shiny gold and ceramic tiles glinting and glistening in the sunlight; the second was “We are definitely not alone”.
I do not begrudge anyone the right to visit one of Bangkok’s marvels, and as a visitor myself I have to acknowledge that I cannot have the place to myself. But all the same….. I am sure you all know what I mean. I sometimes wonder how photographers get “that shot” of a monument, statue, or temple as I wait for the 5th gaggle of tourists to get out of my frame, oblivious to the fact that someone else might want to take a photo. Ooops, am I ranting again?
Returning to Wat Phra Kaew…. as you enter, on your left you have cloisters that have magnificent paintings touched with gold that shine through the semi-gloom, cloisters that go on for ever with a seemingly never ending host of stories depicted along the walls. They define the boundaries of the temple complex and they are a sight to behold. Here are some examples, and a lady doing some restoration work to the border of one part of the wall.
Straight in front and to the left were a collection of temples and shrines…
We wandered the cloisters for a good while before emerging into the hot sun to start the tour of the temples. Whilst the wall paintings were superb, the opulence of the buildings was beyond rich, and the sunlight played and danced on the gold and reflective tiles, dazzling us with their beauty.
And this was before we had even arrived at the temple of the Emerald Buddha!
At long last we arrived at THE temple and caught our first glimpse of the famed Buddha. This statue has travelled a lot, starting in the North of Thailand in Chiang Mai before being taken to Laos by marauding kings and then King Rama waged war against Laos and recapturing the idol brought it back to Bangkok where he built a magnificent temple to house it. We were expecting an object of great beauty, and judging by other statues we had seen great size too. Peering through the doors we saw the Buddha raised up on a platform of gold, and whist beautiful to behold, he was really very small.
Before entering the temple, we took flowers and dipping them in the font, shook the flower water over our heads and shoulders. Then, removing shoes we joined the mass of tourists and entered the temple, the boys immediately rushing to the front and adopting their prayer position.
We were not allowed to take photos inside which upon reflection was a good thing as we were able to focus on the image and spiritual feelings of this place, rather than queuing up to take the perfect shot. After resting a while and saying a prayer for our good friend Scot’s Dad who had called ill, we left the Emerald Buddha temple and recovered our shoes.
I must confess that I know little of the Buddha and the religion surrounding him, other than he was a prince that gave up his wealth in pursuit of enlightenment. The people we have witnessed offer devotions to each and every statue they see, and there is ceremony around their visits to the temples. They are, on the whole, calm and serene and they smile a lot. I know that there is a thing called Karma and that there is a need for merit-making – in Christian terms this would be “good deeds”. I know that they also meditate and this is a self examination through which you can combat your inner demons and move closer to enlightenment. But there is so much more to it, of that I am sure. I know my friend Scot will be groaning at this point and itching to put me right!
We left the temple complex and entered into the Grand Palace.
It was clear that this was a more security conscious part of the whole complex as we passed first of all a sentry box – who didn’t quite have the poise of the guards outside Buckingham Palace as he nodded to our request for a photo, and then a patrol of soldiers. On the doors to sensitive areas were khaki clad soldiers, and at the far end were government buildings that were off limits.
The first building we cam too was the Throne Room, used mostly for ceremonial purposes it was quite spectacular, but no photos! Next to this was the official reception hall used for state banquets, and also housing a small museum of arms that the boys enjoyed – but not Tania, she’s not into guns!
Whilst not as opulent as the temple complex, there was still lots of glitter and gold, and a few canons on show too, not to mention the school kids.
Thoroughly wowed, we headed back to the river to catch the boat home, well as far as the end of the Sky Train. Hot and sticky, the air conditioned train was a blessing! And soon we were back at Suk 11 to clean up and get some street food before heading to bed with sore feet but happy hearts.