The beautiful temples (aka wats) just outside of the central business district (downtown) parts of Bangkok are so sacred and cultural that it truly represents Thailand and its rich history. There are 400 wats all over the City, each structure unique in design, size and colour so that at every turn you feel like you are somewhere new – sacred temples.
The three most popular ones are Wat Pra Kaew, Wat Arun and Wat Pho that are the most commonly visited.
While these places are opened for tourists, they are still used as sanctuary for the Monks, so it is still mandatory to cover up properly (no shorts and sleeveless); the Grand Palace being the most strictest.
If there is one tip I can give you for when you are planning a visit is don’t buy anything outside of the Grand Palace area; they rent temporary coveralls for a small deposit (which you get back upon return) inside the gates, as there are independent street vendors outside that will charge you ‘tourist’ prices.
Or as I did, opting for a maxi dress and my over-sized denim jacket that kept me photo ready and dress code appropriate for the temples.
Wat Phra Kaew is a glorious temple to explore, especially the 2 km stretch of wall gallery covered with incredibly detailed mural paintings depicting the 178 scenes of the Ramayana story. And around every corner there are tall chedis covered with glazed tiles or gold leaves.
And then we grabbed a tuk-tuk (those cute buggies on wheels) to see Wat Pho, named after a monastery in India where Buddha is believed to have lived, is one of the oldest and largest Buddhist temples in Bangkok. Wat Pho is also known as ‘The Temple of the Reclining Buddha’ at 15 meter high, and 43 meter reclining.
It is a beautiful structure but somewhat over-hyped, I wasn’t sure what to expect but it really is just that. So while it still may be one of the top sites to visit, don’t miss out on others around the vicinity as there are other interesting wats and Buddhas that are far less hyped and talked about.
And connected from Wat Pho, we walked over to Wat Suthat, better known for the towering red Giant Swing that stands at its entrance, is one of the oldest and most impressive temples in Bangkok. It features an elegant chapel with sweeping roof, magnificent wall murals and exquisite hand-carved teakwood door panels. Very serene compared to the crowded chaotic scene at Wat Pho.
Where we bumped into some local kids that were out and about interviewing tourists for their perception of Bangkok, and of course I had the pleasure of answering a few questions myself, one favourite, “what has been your experience and thoughts on Bangkok so far.” – to which I responded, “Amazing food just about anywhere, rich in history, beautiful architecture, and the most cultural people that make Bangkok such a unique City.” This realization really put a smile in their faces. Since most tourists see Bangkok as the “red light district” capital and the ‘anything-goes’ attitude for backpackers, which is partially what makes Bangkok all the more interesting.
As I mentioned before, that every turn becoming a delightful surprise, and this endless row of golden Buddhas are just so ethereal.
Did you know that it is actually discouraged in Thailand to be using Buddhas as home decorations? It’s a bit of an oxymoron, as they are sculpted like beautiful statues, most non-religious often mistake them as a piece of art more so than associating it as a symbolic God to a religion. Think of how many of us decorate our interior homes/gardens with a Cross (for Christians or Catholics), or a Mezuzah (for the Jewish) – you wouldn’t hang if you weren’t of that Religion. So this whole Western fascination of “Zen” and “Fengshui” and associating the Buddha were (and are still today) misinformed.
Mind you, as ironic as the World may be, yes Buddhas (even in Thailand) are sold as souvenir memorabilia’s, and of course they are beautiful and interesting work of “art” aesthetically, so I totally understand. But this just goes to show how little we know of other cultures and what it means for them. There is just so much to learn out there that we do not know about. The World would be a much more peaceful place if we took each of our efforts on hatred and used it towards understanding others a little better
Lastly, do try to bargain a flat fare with the taxi drivers when leaving the temples, as those cabbies (unfortunately) will over-charge knowing that it is a tourist area (and most will refuse to run on meter).
I think visiting such historical places are important when touring, as Asia is growing rapidly and developing in major cities, a lot of the historical aspects are not being preserved as they should be. It helps learning about the history and how the culture came to be what it is today. Other than China, every other Country is limited with the space they can work with, so naturally taking down something old, to build something new is inevitable. While sleek modern finishings are great for the new found wealth and their toys; people need to recognize what is sacred and worthwhile in preserving for their Country – something that money can’t buy.
Or if you wish to learn more about discovering South East Asia, a really awesome collection of book(s) to read/or even gift to newly grads is my personal favourite “LUXE City Guides Asia“
Have you visited Bangkok? What were some of your memorable places you visited? Share below!
Thanks for reading!
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