Bangkok: The Sunrise Emigrated but I Flaneured to the Golden Mount

My final day began with a post dawn saunter to Tha Tien Pier while salivating over the prospect of the sunrise behind the Temple of Dawn. When life disappoints just pick yourself up and move to the next celebration! The sunrise was, or one should say wasn’t, as physically it happened but visually it mirrored the feeling you get when the toast gets burned under the grill. H Jackson Brown said;

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

It’s a great motto for life, don’t stay trapped in education if it ain’t for you. Don’t choose a path in order to please your parents because you have respect, follow one picked by you; if they love you they’ll respect your decision. Don’t stay in that job controlled by hierarchical management structures that stifle creativity, break free. Don’t get too disappointed at a shit sunrises, enlighten the day with a meandering flaneuring walk to somewhere you haven’t been before. 🙂

And so with Brown’s motto pinging in my ears I alighted at the pier setting off in a generally North East direction; my aim eventually to find the Golden Mount. As I passed through the “prohibited” (as relayed by taxi drivers) narrow roadway (Chetuphon) that separates Wat Pho from its monastery I spotted yet another feral mum with her 10 (ten) pups. She had sheltered in the side doorway to Wat Pho and a kind monk was tending to her with water and what looked like spicy fish!

I crossed over Sanam Chai Road towards Saranrom Park. This park was originally a royal garden part of the Saranrom Palace. At the south end of the park is a marble monument dedicated to HM Queen Sunantha Kumareerat and HRH Prince Kannaporn Phetcharat, who died in a boating accident in the reign of King Rama V. It’s beautifully manicured and aside from ponds, a cherub fountain and a Chinese pagoda there are scale models of regional teak houses. I followed the perimeter passing T’ai Chi practitioners and enthusiastic badminton players before stopping impressed by ballroom dancing taking place on the island pagoda. I’d seen this in Beijing and Xian, old couples, some same-sex, practising to 30’s music accompanied by a beat box and CDs. I notice a really active open air gym populated by obsessive body builders; cartons of body building supplements were visible under the benches. A number of folk worshipped at the Chinese buddhist shrine adjacent to a plant nurser area, Finally I passed what could have been an impressive Edwardian era glasshouse but it was somewhat dilapidated, before emerging at the East gate.

I stood opposite the Khlong Talat and realised if I turned right and followed the canal I’d come to the flower market. I crossed and arching bridge stopping to buy papaya from a street vendor, then turned left crossing over to Wat Ratchabophit. The temple was constructed in the reign of King Rama V in 1869. There is a large chedi housing a Lop Buri-style Buddha image. The temple exterior is Thai while the interiors are European. Many of the buildings within the temple have a Gothic feel. The doors, windows and internal beams are decorated with gold leaf and small mirrors. On my visit monks were seated at the base of the seated buddha, the inside whilst obviously a buddhist temple had the same architectutal aura and finery as I’d experienced at Versailles.

on leaving I turned right and crossed Tanao Road and followed my ears down a side road discovering a lively local market. Fresh Markets (also called “wet markets”) sell fruit, vegetables, meats, fish and some grocery items. These markets, where most people do their grocery shopping, often open very early in the morning and close up by midday. Here food-wise there wereI bags of cut fruit, all the famous Thai entrees; Pad Thai, Som Tam, Tom Yam Geung, pretty much any rice-based dish you can imagine, noodles, iced coffees, fruit shakes, coconut milk, scoops of homemade ice cream and a multitude of other things.

I emerged on Tri Phet Road on the West side of Wat Suthat, the Temple of the Giant Swing (Sao Ching Cha). Wat Suthat is one of the oldest and largest temples in Bangkok, famed for its beautiful roofline, huge golden Buddha, magnificent frescoes and giant swing out front.

King Rama I brought the temple’s main Buddha image the 8-metre high meditating Buddha figure of Phra Siri Sakyamuni Buddha, to Bangkok by river from Sukothai. On its arrival, the king declared seven days of festivities and the bronze statue was paraded through the streets on the way to the wihan built specially for it at Wat Suthat. Rama himself walked barefoot in the procession and it is said he was so exhausted by the time he arrived that he staggered into the temple.  A huge red teak arch, carved under Rama II, is all that remains of an original giant swing, which was used to celebrate and thank Shiva for a bountiful rice harvest and to ask for the god’s blessing on the next.  The minister of rice, accompanied by hundreds of Brahman court astrologers, would lead a parade around the city walls to the temple precinct. Teams of men would ride the swing on arcs as high as 82 feet in the air, trying to grab a bag of silver coins with their teeth.  Due to injuries and deaths, the dangerous swing ceremony was discontinued in 1932, but the thanksgiving festival is still celebrated in mid-December after the rice harvest.

The temple does have a dramatic roof line and is often less busy that say Wat Pho, particularly in the morning. The inside of the temple is renowned for its beautiful murals and frescoes. Outside, there are number of Chinese statues and it is thought that these were brought over from China during the reign of Rama I when they were used as ballast on rice boats, like the tiles at Wat Arun. The swing is a little underwhelming because its in need of a lick of teak stain and the seat on which folk did their swinging is no longer there.

Opposite is the architectural monster that is City Hall and beyond that the mysterious mouthful that is Khlong Lot Wot Thep Tida Ram. Before reaching the canal I passed a number of police sporting riot gear; the canal itself was alive with street restaurants, old folk doing washing and kids throwing objects at whatever was moving.


I passed along the canal for a short while then turned into Dinso Road spotting a colourful “I Love Thailand”

mural. I reach the rotary of Damrong Rak Road and turned right passing sleeping protestors and others selling the by now ubiquitous “Shut Down Bangkok” T-shirts. Protestors were also sleeping under cover at Wat Ratchanaddaram behind the King Ram 3 Memorial. Passing the Mahakan Fort inside which lies a thriving local community. The fort is only one of two surviving that sat in the old city walls. The  octagonal white  structure of Phra Sumen Fort is three storeys high and contains a number of rooms where weapons and ammunition were stored. At two levels canons were deployed, which are still there and there is an observation tower giving good views across the city towards Wat Pho and the Grand Palace (well on an irregular clear day).

Just beyond here I entered Wat Saket and the Golden Mount through a “secret” passage where an old dear gave me some tea and a wet wipe. I paid my dues and climbed the footpath that snakes to the top.

Wat Saket itself (the temple complex at the bottom of the hill) dates back to theAyutthaya era, when it was called Wat Sakae. The wat was restored under Rama I (1782-1809). The temple was used for cremation ceremonies, which were not permitted inside the walled city.  During a plague in the reign of King Rama II (1809-24), 30,000 bodies were brought here.  The Golden Mount is an artificial hill constructed under King Rama III (1824-51). When the king tried to build a chedi here before the hill existed, it collapsed because of the soft soil beneath. He therefore made a strong pile of mud and bricks to support it.It was Rama IV (1804-68) who crowned the new hill with the intended chedi. He also shored up the hill with 1,000 teak logs because it was already sinking into the swampy ground.  Rama V (1853-1910) added the chedi that stands today, enshrining within it a relic of the Buddha, said to be from India or Nepal, given to him by the British. The monstrous concrete walls were added during World War II to prevent the hill from eroding and the structure collapsing.

The complex has a peaceful atmosphere and from the top offers panoramic views of Bangkok, it’s therefore one of the major sites in the city. It wasn’t busy on my visit but it was still early morning so the coaches hadn’t yet arrived. Around the circumference at the base are a series of animals that correspond to the Chinese Zodiac years.The 318 step walk to the top softens the initial impact of the concrete walls as they are softened by streams, mist and foliage. Deities stand in the streams and mini-falls, further up the structure are bells that buddhist always ring when passing.  According to Tibetan Buddhism, ringing the bell represents an offering to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas in order to accumulate positive karma. Also, the bell represents wisdom, so ringing the bell is the sound of wisdom which purifies confusion.

After accumulating my positive Karma and clearing any confusion I reached the summit. In the centre is a buddha image surrounded by a variety of seated and reclining Buddha’s. There was plenty of irreverent laughter mainly from monks as one poor old gut seemed to be asking their forgiveness which probably slowed down their card school which was taking place in an open side room.

I descended the mount and headed back towards Wat Suthat passing carpenters shops with Buddha images of unmeasurable number. A lorry of protesters smiled and waved at me, I gave them a thumbs up and continued my stroll back to my hotel.  It was by this time 10:30am and I had to leave for the airport at 11:15am. Arriving back I wished Pocky and Ya Ya all my best wishes and took the river ferry to central pier, followed by MTR and Skytrain to Suvarnabhumi Airport.

My fantastic winter vacation was over the best holiday ever!

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