Bangkok: Wat Pho and The Grand Palace


I’d collected Frank Oh Bok Young from the airport the night before; he’d joined me for the last part of my winter vacation in Bangkok.

The day began with a saunter around Wat Pho and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha; it was 5 minutes from the hotel. Having been built during the Ayutthaya Period, Wat Phra Chetuphon was previously known as “Wat Photharam or Wat Pho”.  The Wat dates back to the 16th century and was famous for Thai medicine as well as the original Thai massage developed by the monks. The star attraction is the 46 metre long and 15 metre high reclining Buddha with its ornate mother of pearl inlaid feet displaying the 108 auspicious signs of the Buddha.

The temple architecture is stunning, from the grounds sprout dozens of ornately tiled prangs, or spires, inlaid with richly coloured floral mosaics. The temple buildings have traditional Thai-style, fish-scaled roofs that turn up sharply at the corners. The corners have all been painted gold and carved into delicately curved shapes that resemble flames or horns. Large “Stone giants” guard the many entryways and arches, and beautifully weathered stone monks with flowing beards and long fingernail stand solemnly in the courtyards watching over the gleaming, golden Buddha’s that sit, cross-legged and frozen in prayer, along the courtyard walls.

After squeezing past the crowds and an especially ignorant German tourist we moved on to the main chapel or Phra Uposot, inside is the principal Buddha image, depicting “Phra Phuttha Theira Patimakon” seated on a three tiered pedestal, which has underneath some ashes of King Rama I the Great. The base of the shrine overflowed with offerings, glass-encased Buddha statues, ornate porcelain bottles, flowers, and candles and the shrine’s walls were covered in what looked like hand-painted wallpaper.

Just outside an army of monks was seated for what seemed an officious gathering, we found out that the 92-year-old founder of Singha beer was in attendance. After spending some time wandering around the complex, pre-prepared for any impending scams, we left and headed for a Pad Thai lunch at the Tha Tien Pier before taking the 15 minute walk to the Grand Place entrance.

As we turned away from the river we were accosted by some real gentlemen who informed us that the Grand Place Complex was in fact closed until 2:30pm and that we should use the time wisely by visiting a tall standing Buddha to our left. Indeed there is an impressive Buddha in the area they mentioned it’s conveniently situated next to a silk factory. Ignoring their protestations and crocodile tears we made our way to the Palace, which of course was open.

Visitors must dress appropriately before guards will permit you to enter the Palace; with this in mind I’d popped on the linen trousers as the Myanmar Longyi was a fashion disaster. If you do not have appropriate atire, it is possible to hire suitable gear at the gates of the Palace.

It was a busy day at the palace but not too overcrowded; though the UN probably had a representative form every country in attendance. I was a little disappointed by the overcast weather which hindered good photography but the carbon footprint generated by the throngs of vehicles that stagnate movement here are readily the cause of this great haze. Its still not half as bad as Beijing. The buildings are well maintained as they should be now theres a £10 entry fee. On my previous visits in 1992 and 1989 (yes I am that geriatric) I had experienced exactly the same in terms of the overcast skies which inhibits punchy colours.

The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew have considerable historical significance and are extremely beautiful. 

 King Rama I who established Bangkok as Thailand’s new capital built the Grand Palace in 1782. The palace was to be bigger and grander than palaces built in the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya eras to underscore the significance of the change of capital. The result was a palace of jewels and gold and splendour like never seen before in Thailand. The Grand Palace remained the Royal Family’s official residence from 1782 to 1946. The last king to live there was King Chulalongkorn, you know him, ecetera etcetera, etcetera!

Wat Pra Kaew was built to house the stunning Emerald Buddha, which was returned to Thailand after Thailand’s capture of Vientiane (Laos) in 1778. The Emerald Buddha is the most important symbol of the Buddha for Tha Buddhists. To pray before the Emerald Buddha is to generate merit for oneself.

Surrounding the Temple of the Emerald Buddha resembling a cloister is the Ramakien gallery. The walls of the gallery are painted with murals depicting scenes from the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Indian epic the Ramayana, which deals, basically, with the triumph of good over evil. There are 178 panels in all. They were originally painted when the temple was first constructed in 1783, but exposure to the elements requires constant maintenance. The architectural elements in the panels, such as palaces and temples, are adapted from the real palaces and temples of the capital.

That evening we took a trip to Khao San Road; it could have been bloody Benidorm! Whilst our street snacks were good the Shishas, trashy souvenirs and music that annihilated conversation made it a never to engage again experience for me; the “travellers” were lapping it up. Sophisticated travellers such as Frank and Gaz prefer the rooftop Sala Bar overlooking Wat Arun and hence this is where we headed for a beer to close the evening. This terribly hip and chic open-air rooftop bar and lounge delivers stunning views of the Chao Phraya River towards the illuminated Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun) and to the rear across the Grand Place and Wat Pho. The morning would see our Ayutthaya River Cruise.

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