Sneaking up on my mom and sister, who you’ve met in a previous post, at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Aiport was a moment of pure joy. It had been about five months since I rendezvoused with my madre in the Mediterranean, and I hadn’t seen my sis in seven. Yet it only took moments for us to fall into our usual routine of giggling and good-natured teasing. Well, good-natured minus those occasional situations that end in tears. Like when we told my over-tired sister that we would not be waiting for a pink taxi.
We only had three days in Bangkok and I was eager to show my family everything I love about Thailand’s capital, even if it meant dragging their travel-weary and jet-lagged behinds all over the city. (Spoiler: It totally did). My dad wasn’t arriving until later that evening, so I used Day One to show my mom and sister some of the sights that my dad and I covered during our 24 hour tour of the city in 2009: The Grand Palace at Wat Phra Kaew, and the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho.
Wat Phra Kaew is Bangkok’s leading tourist attraction — you ain’t gonna have it to yourself. Yet despite the group package tours and the overwhelming crowds there is something about this iconic temple complex that makes me think — Yes, this is it. I’m in Thailand.
Separation of church and state is a foreign concept here. The temple is both a religious and political symbol in Thailand, where equal importance is placed on both. The Thai flag is a series of red, white and blue stripes. The colors stand for the three most beloved concepts of the Thai people: red for the nation (land and people), white for religion (Theravada Buddhism) and blue for the monarchy (the highly revered King).
Before purchasing tickets, we had to walk by the Modesty Police, with whom Olivia’s white short shorts did not pass muster. Into the sarong rental pavilion she went, and emerged wearing what is surely the most vivid pink sarong to ever exist on the planet. I can only imagine the line that formed as she rejected fabric after fabric in search of the perfect modesty panel.
While the temple grounds aren’t enormous, it can be a bit overwhelming trying to make sure you see it all. We started out by ducking into the closed walkway that surrounds the entire complex. The murals on the wall are exquisite — its hard to capture in photos but there was a painted gold leaf layer that gave the whole thing a very 3D feel.
We opted not to hire a guide and instead took frequent breaks to read from the guidebook. For me, the focus was on photography. I feel like my photography has improved immensely since my last visit here, and I was anxious to take see what I could do with one of Bangkok’s most photographed sights. Conclusion? Better, but I still have a lot to learn (curse you, blown out skies!)
One thing you won’t see photos of here is the temple’s most famous offering, the Emerald Buddha, because photography of the 18 inch figure is banned. The revered icon has three different outfits that correspond to the season and are changed to much ceremony by the Thai King. I for one came up with several hilarious off-color jokes about the Emerald Buddha and the King and the world of fashion blogging, but I won’t post them here. Because, well…
It’s hard to get over the level of detail here. The delicate tiling, the intricate murals, the meticulously crafted statues… the whole thing is a work of art. Still, too much fine art appreciation combined with the aforementioned jetlag and exhaustion is a recipe for a bit of silliness. Luckily Wat Phra Kaew is rife with opportunity for giggles.
My mom tried not to encourage us. I wonder at what age we started embarrassing our parents in public rather than the other way around?
Just kidding. We love each other.
The King no longer resides at the Grand Palace, spending most of his time in the seaside town of Hua Hin. Still, a visit to Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace is a great way to learn a bit more about the Thai monarchy, take in some beautiful art and architecture, and pose for a silly photo or two. If you only have time for one Bangkok tourist attraction, this is the big one.
Certain people were starting to beg for a nap at this point, but they don’t call me the Travel Nazi for nothing. It was time to hop over to Wat Pho. Luckily for tourists, most of Bangkok’s top attractions are located in a condensed area called Rattanakosin, making temple hopping easy. And if Wat Phra Kaew is number one, Wat Pho is a close second on the Top Temples of Bangkok list.
Its claim to fame is the 142-foot-long Buddha that reclines inside, smirking down at those who try in vain to photograph it. The position represents the Buddhas passage into Nirvana (and I’m not talking about the 90’s grunge band) and is accented by the mother-of-pearl inlaid feet. I find the foot detail very interesting here, because in Buddhism the feet are considered the lowest and most unclean part of the body, and it is highly offensive to point with your feet or even sit with feet pointed towards a Buddha image. So I don’t understand why they are highlighted in this revered statue. Any Buddhism experts want to clue us in?
While the reclining Buddha is the main event, the rest of Wat Pho is equally impressive. As a bonus, it’s more spread out and less crowded than Wat Phra Kaew, giving you a bit more breathing room.
Unfortunately, someone, and I am not naming names, was starting to get a bit loopy…
What? Is there any point to having a blog if you can’t post embarrassing photos of your baby sister?! Although, once something is posted on the internet all blackmail potential is lost.
I am extremely jealous of the amazing photos my sister was able to take with her iPhone. But I’m a Blackberry girl. Can’t imagine typing on that touch screen.
I could simply spend hours at these temples taking photos and soaking up the atmosphere. A visit here is a great first stop in Bangkok as an introduction to Thai culture, religion, art and architecture.
Top Tips for a Bangkok Temple Tour:
1. Get a map and walk between the temples. The main ones are all very close. You don’t need a tuk tuk or taxi!
2. The temples in Thailand follow a strict dress code. Men must wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts and shoes; women must wear long skirts. At Wat Phra Kaew, sarongs can be rented at no charge (though you must leave a deposit). At Wat Pho they will give you a shawl at no charge in order to view the emerald Buddha. Don’t believe anyone on the street who tells you otherwise… they are probably trying to sell you something! Outside Wat Phra Kaew the dress code is less strict, as you can see from our photos. Still, I don’t condone wearing short shorts to any temples. It is compulsory to remove shoes before entering the interior of any temple, as a sign of respect of the Buddha.
3. While sitting before the Buddha image, sit with feet tucked towards the back to avoid any offensive foot pointing towards Buddha. Many people are there to pray so be respectful and quiet.
4. The popular temples featured here can be crowded. However, patience is rewarded. Compose your shot, wait for that magical moments when the crowd clears, and snap away. Don’t get huffy, everyone is there to enjoy the same thing you are.
5. Try to visit as early as possible in the morning or right before closing. The midday heat can be oppressive, especially as you might not be used to wearing long pants/skirts and sleeves.
And with that our Bangkok Temple Tour was complete. My two guests were begging for sleep at this point, but I was determined to break their jet lag by keeping them awake until 11pm, sans the help of alcohol. So we were off for a quick dinner followed by the exciting evening adventure I had planned… Stay tuned!