The Big Ones: Bangkok’s Grand Palace and Temples

One thing I knew I had to do while we were in Bangkok was visit the big tourist draws, even though they came with big tourist prices. These included the Grand Palace (only used now for ceremonial purposes), Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun. Alina was “all wat-ed out”, so she decided to pound out some work while I went on a solo journey.

I got a lateish start and after a nice kilometer long walk along a park, arrived at the Grand Palace’s walls a bit before noon. The palace is enclosed on all sides by a high, featureless white wall, broken every so often by a gate.

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Most of these are closed. I started walking around, figuring I’d eventually come to the one with the ticket booth and entrance. Well, it turns out I had just missed the entrance, so I ended up walking the entire perimeter of the compound. What poor luck!

Well, eventually I did find the entrance, only to discover that the palace was closed from noon onwards for ceremonial purposes. Aargh! On the plus side, Wat Phra Kaew, home of the Emerald Buddha, was still open for visitation, and was being offered for free. Well, that sounded good, but it wasn’t open till later in the afternoon, so I walked around the whole palace again to go see whether I would do any better at Wat Pho.

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It was open! Wat Pho is home of the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand, and he is certainly impressive, taking up the entire space of the hall surrounding him.

The rest of the temple was massive, spanning many different areas, what I would call cloisters probably in a western church. There were small chedis (towers) strewn everywhere seemingly at random, and several massive ones arranged in a threesome. Around part of the perimeter wall were an endless procession of golden Buddhas. It was really impressive, and overwhelming. I thought this was about the best the Thais could do. I was wrong. But before that, an interlude.

I’d intended to take a ferry across the river to visit Wat Arun, the temple of the dawn. It’s a massive white spire, ascending skyward. However, when I got over to the docks, I discovered I had no small change, just a 1000 baht bill, which they were not likely to take happily to. So I wandered for a while in search of somewhere to break that bill. Well, that’s not so easy. You need a real store, not street food vendors or any of the market stall owners I passed through. Oh well, Wat Arun will have to wait for another trip. On the plus side, I did get to walk through the so-called Amulet Market, filled with row after row of vendors selling small amulets, many antique I believe. I’m not quite sure the significance, and I can’t really see I’ve seen many Thais wearing them.

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After those wanderings and finally picking up a dirt cheap belt, which I’d been searching for desperately and fruitlessly for weeks since losing some weight due to sickness, I decided to give Wat Phra Kaew another try. The temple was indeed open this time, and I oozed my way through the gates midst a crushing throng of tourists and locals both coming and going. Wow! This place is impressive.

Each gate is guarded by a pair of tusked giants wielding massive weapons, and painted in vibrant colors. The grounds are once again strewn with smaller temples, chedis and outbuildings. It’s amazing how each element had its own distinct architecture and personality. White and blue glazed walls here, a giant golden spire there, demons(?) supporting a tower, and everywhere gold foil, vibrant color, and shining bits of inlaid glass.

The main attraction of course was the temple holding the Emerald Buddha (actually made of jadeite). I was reminded immediately of the Mannekin Pis in Brussels. A lot of hype surrounding this very tiny statue. He also even wears clothes that are changed with the seasons! But I must say, he is much more serene than a little peeing boy on the street corner.

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Both temples I visited were simply amazing, both in their ornateness and their grandeur. I really hope I have the chance to continue to visit such distinctive and iconic locations as we continue our travels.

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