Day 2: Bangkok – Rattanakosin & temple architecture
(This is the third post in a series of posts of my trip to Bangkok and Pattaya. Though each post can be read independently, its best to read them in sequence)
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Thai heritage, architecture and culture is amazing and this is amply evident in Rattanakosin where ancient designs and artisanship are displayed at their best.
Rattanakosin is the Indian equivalent of Old Delhi, brimming with temples and palaces constructed by Thai kings from the late 18th century onwards. Old Delhi’s monuments date a bit more, but to Rattanakosin’s credit, its incredibly well preserved and tourist-friendly. Golden and red colors seem to play an important role in Thailand and the chedis (spiral domes on their temples) shine in shimmering gold at sunset.
Rattanakosin is also known as the Royal Bangkok, and ain’t it royal. On top of the tourist list is Wat Phra Kaew (the ‘t’ in Wat is a soft T and Kaew is similar to the hindi ‘kyon’) and the Grand Palace (located in the same massive complex) – these are as grand as how you see them in their pictures. The Wat Phra Kaew or the Temple of Emerald Buddha (Wat = Temple) is the most visited place in Bangkok. If there was a way to measure the amount of architecture in a give square mile, the Wat Phra Kaew would rank very high on the density index.
But this also makes it a shade more crowded that you’d prefer. Books that mention that you’d be jostling for space with other tourists unless you make it there right at 8:30 am when it opens, hit the nail.
If you thought Indian architecture is intricate and colorful, wait till you see the murals and designs inside Thai temples. Magnificent paintings and carvings adorn the walls & roofs of these structures. The ones inside the building that house the Emerald Buddha (and the Reclining Buddha) will leave you spell bound. Indians though can take solace that India’s religion and culture has had a major influence on Thailand. Their first king who built the capital in Bangkok was anointed as Rama I and the current King Bhumibol is Rama IX.
Be patient as you wait your turn to get clicked in front of the various structures as other eager smiles pose for the camera. Every structure supersedes the previous one, as you make your way through winding passages, narrow steps and open courtyards. For a while, everything is overwhelming and very similar, give yourself some time to adjust to your surroundings.
The Bot holding the Emerald Buddha is one of the most sacred places for Thais, do take your shoes off when you go inside. And I recommend you see it at the last so that you can sit and meditate here peacefully.
While the Grand Palace is in the same complex as the WPK, you cannot come back to WPK once you cross the narrow entrance leading to the Palace area. As the name suggests, the Grand Palace is where the earlier kings ruled the empire from and each of them added their own buildings and structures to it. The current Royalty no longer stays here, these buildings are put to use only for special ceremonies or as residences for state visitors.
After the heavy showers the previous day when we emerged from Siam ocean world, I had anticipated clearer skies the next day. I was partly rewarded and Sunday morning was a mix of white and blue skies, but the humidity was high. Bribing the gods was probably easier than Aarav. All the excitement building up to this trip fell through when he started nagging us in the first few minutes of entering Wat Phra Kaew. ‘I want to go back’ he declared. ‘Where’, I said, ‘to the hotel?’. ‘No, back to Delhi’. He wanted to ride his favorite 3-wheeler and play cricket with grand-ma. Parts of rest of the day were spent in cajoling him, enticing him with chocolates and ice-cream, threatening to leave him alone at the hotel next time and finally reprimanding him that returning to Delhi was not an option he had. From a two year old maneuverable baby that he was during our last trip where we could trick him into doing our way, we quickly realized he is no longer the kid who will tag along with us wherever we go. We spent a lot of Bahts on chocolates for him to keep him at bay and on ice-creams for me to keep my cool. Oops, sorry for diverting.
We spent half a day at WPK and the Grand Palace, though I’d say even a full day is not enough. Our itinerary for the day had three more stops – Wat Ratchabophit, Wat Pho (it houses the famous Reclining Buddha statue) and Wat Arun (it is Bangkok’s most famous landmark). The temple circuit in Bangkok is extremely enchanting, so we had limited option but to move on from here. After exiting from WPK we crossed to the other side which has vendors selling souvenirs on the pavement, some very good items, but slightly over priced.
We decided to walk to the remaining places, its best to explore this area on foot and Wat Ratchabophit is on the way to Wat Pho anyways. Wat Ratchabophit was under construction hence we spent very little time there. It is tucked away amidst other buildings, but is a cute and cozy temple. All buildings in the Rattanakosin area look new and freshly painted. Even if they don’t have any historical significance, you feel like pointing your camera to them.
Wat Pho is not just about the Reclining Buddha, as it is usually made out to be, though it is its star attraction.
Wat Pho is officially the largest temple in Bangkok and rivals the WPK in grandeur and architecture. Also, it has the world famous Wat Pho massage school. The only drawback is that the status of the Reclining Buddha is housed in a building supported by several pillars, which makes it difficult to capture it completely on your camera.
The best views are from right behind the head or to walk down to the feet of the Buddha (so metaphorical too, to be at the feet of the Lord). Wat Pho is a reservoir of Buddha statues, numbering several hundreds, lined up along the walls of its buildings. Here too, the one hour we had planned was easily not enough. But the humidity, heat and Aarav’s constant nagging was taking its toll. The massage centre at Wat Pho came as a soothing sight to our jaded bodies, that we were ready to sit through 45 mins of waiting time. They provide the most traditional Thai massage in all of Thailand and to have learnt this skill here is equivalent to an MBA from one of the Ivy league schools. And when we got the massage, those 30 mins were probably the most wonderful in quite a long time. The fatigue was gone in a jiffy and we were revitalized enough to go on another tour. But we decided against it and headed back to the hotel. We decided to leave Wat Arun for another day. Sifting through a few taxis and tuk-tuks, we found a taxi honest enough not to overcharge us. The empty streets of Bangkok on that Sunday evening were a total contrast to the world-famous traffic jams its known for.
After a long but unsatisfying dinner at restaurant named Indian Chef, just opposite our hotel, we stretched out on the bed. In less than a minute, we were fast asleep, snoring and dreaming.
We were heavily tanned by Sunday evening. I was dark red which turned black next morning. Tan is welcome on white skin, but I looked particularly unattractive with the dark brown on top of my light brown skin. All efforts of Rashmi, who is probably even darker than me, in applying powder and cream went down the drain and I got my kick pulling her leg throughout the trip.