The first few things that come to mind when you think of Bangkok are the food, the shopping and the night life. But trust me, there’s plenty of sightseeing to be done as well.
Almost 95% of the population of Thailand practices the religion of Buddhism. It’s really no surprise then that the country is full of Temples, known as Wats. All popular cities / destinations in Thailand will without a doubt have a few Temple visits recommended as integral parts of any traveler’s itinerary. According to Wikipedia, there are more than 30,000 Buddhist Temples in Thailand currently in use; 400-500 of these are in Bangkok alone. Open a Bangkok city map, and it’ll be full of small golden triangles indicating the many Wats scattered all over the city.
Even though we were only in Bangkok for two days during our week-long holiday, I was keen to try and visit as many Temples as possible; they are an integral part of the city’s cultural and spiritual fabric, its very essence, to an extent, and I didn’t intend to miss out on experiencing them.
What I intended to do:
Begin the day early. Opening times for most attractions in Thailand are 08:00 am so our plan was to set out early. We wanted to reach the Grand Palace by about 09:00 am, so that we could explore the Palace Grounds, visit the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, then walk over to the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, and finally visit the Temple of Dawn; all in the first half of the day. Post a late lunch we then planned to head towards Wat Saket or the Golden Mount; known for offering great views over Bangkok.
What actually happened:
We were able to set out only by around 10:00 am. Not only was the previous night our first night in Bangkok but it was also a Saturday night. Well, lets just say alcohol was involved, so waking up at the crack of dawn was a bit out of the question. As a result, we were able to explore only the Grand Palace before lunch; with the others on the itinerary pushed to after. We never made it to Wat Saket at all.
From our hotel in Sukhumvit, we first took the BTS Skytrain from the Asok Station to the Saphan Taksin Station, which is where the Sathorn pier is. We then boarded the Chao Praya Boat for a one-way transfer to the Tha Tien Pier, the Grand Palace as well as Wat Po are a short walk away.
At the heart of Bangkok is the Chao Phraya River, flowing 372 kilometres from the central plains of Thailand through Bangkok before finally emptying into the Gulf of Thailand. It’s a bit of a lifeline for the city, something which becomes evident almost at first glance. The river is full of Boats! Locals use the commuter ferries to make their way around the city and avoid the infamous Bangkok traffic, visitors use the Tourist Boats in order to get to some of the most popular attractions, some charter long-tail boats to cruise the river, barges of all sizes carry cargo up and down as well.
Spending even just 30 minutes on the river is a great way to take in Bangkok’s sights and sounds.
Our first stop was The Grand Palace, Bangkok’s massive and most visited Temple Complex, a visual onslaught of colour, a kaleidoscope of intricate patterns and glittering spires.
The Palace Complex is huge; within it are many halls and buildings including government offices, the colourful and intricate Thai-style Pavilions:
contrasting with the more European Facade of the Chakri Maha Prasath Buildings, where the Central Throne Hall is.
Also located within The Grand Palace Complex is the Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. One of the country’s most revered Buddha statues, apparently carved out of a single block of jade, is enshrined here. So revered is the Statue of the Emerald Buddha, that no one except the Thai King is permitted to touch the statue. Dressed in seasonal costume like many other Buddha statues in Thailand, the Emerald Buddha changes costumes thrice a year every time the season changes, in an elaborate ceremony performed by the Thai King himself. Photography is not permitted inside the Temple.
Even though it is the magnificence of the palace grounds and the popularity of the Emerald Buddha which attract hordes of visitors here, there is a smaller and much less talked about museum within the Grand Palace Compound as well, one that I would highly recommend: the Pavilion of Regalia, Royal Decorations and Coins. Located just beyond the ticket booth, and right before the entrance to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, this obscure little museum does get some what over-shadowed by its more illustrious neighbours, but as the entrance is included in the cost of the main ticket, it is definitely worth a visit to see the large collection of everything from jewellery, to weapons as well as ancient Thai money.
Interesting Fact: The Grand Palace served as the official residence of the King and his royal court from 1782 right until 1925; and even though the present Monarch does not live here anymore, it continues to be used for official events.
By now, we had already spent over two hours exploring the Grand Palace. Our next stop was Wat Pho, or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Located just a short 15-20 minute walk away, we munched on street food and rummaged through stalls selling everything from clothing to accessories to souvenirs on our way to this next spot on our Temple Run.
Wat Pho’s claim to fame is the huge, nay massive Buddha statue that resides here. This 43 meter long statue reclines with its head resting on one hand; and is pretty impossible to capture on camera in its entirety. There are 108 bronze bowls in the corridor indicating the 108 auspicious characters of Buddha. People drop coins in these bowls as it is believed to bring good fortune, and to help the monks maintain the wat.
If you still haven’t had your fill of statues as yet, don’t fret, because Wat Pho is also known for housing the largest collection of Buddha images in all of Thailand. According to one source, the outer galleries are said to have around 400 gilded Buddha images.
Interesting fact: The Traditional Thai Massage originated here; the school still exists and Thai masseurs have been training here since 1955. You could get one too, when you visit.
Next up: Wat Arun or the Temple of Dawn. This one is probably one of Bangkok’s most recognised attractions; you just have to see how gorgeous it looks all lit up at night. Wat Arun also finds itself on a Thai 10-Baht coin, that should indicate to you how iconic a landmark it really is. Named after Aruna – the Indian God of Dawn, it is believed that after the fall of Ayuthaya the royal fleet of King Taksin, founder of the former capital of Thonburi, arrived at this location precisely at dawn, which is how it got its name.
Located right across the river from Wat Pho, it is easily reachable by the Chao Phraya Express Ferry that makes trips back and forth from one side of the river to the other. Climbing up is possible, very steep and narrow steps lead to a balcony high on the central tower, and if you’re brave enough to attempt the somewhat intimidating climb, you’ll be rewarded with some fantastic views.
Interesting Fact: The 79 meter high prang or Khmer-style tower is decorated with ceramic tiles and fragments of multi-colored porcelain which had previously been used as ballast by boats coming to Bangkok from China.
I’d be lying if I said we still had the energy to continue our Temple Run after this, with the sun, the walking and the climbing. We decided to call it a day, despite not visiting Wat Saket, or the Golden Mount. Gives me a reason to go back, I suppose. 🙂
So, where are you off to today?