Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Thailand Tour Part 6: A Bucket List Day

November 28, 2015
Bangkok - The Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), and 
Wat Pho, (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)

Today was a day I'd been waiting years for - a visit to the Grand Palace of Bangkok, built in 1782 and home to the royal family of Thailand for the next 150 years.  The kings who reigned here included King Mongkut -Rama IV - who ruled Siam from 1851 to 1868.  Like many of you, I learned about this king from the musical, "The King and I," and it was a life-long dream to see the places that Anna Leonowens had lived and taught.
Yaksa Tavarnbal - giant demons who guard the Palace gates.
I learned later in our travels that Anna Leonowens is not held in high regard here in Thailand.  After reading her own personal journals, I can understand why.  She was a woman of her times, and her Victorian perspective clearly saw the English as a superior race.  She complains often about the barbaric and backwards Siamese.  But there is no doubt that her teachings had some influence on King Rama IV and his son, Prince Chulalongkorn, who studied in Europe and brought back a love of western architecture, which is apparent in some of the later buildings in the city.  King Rama IV and his son were, without a doubt, forward looking men who had the welfare of their nation at heart.  They continue to be revered in this country.

Our tour group met after breakfast for our long bus ride through the crowded Bangkok streets, but the time passed quickly with our daily Thai language lesson.  We joined the massive crowd outside the palace, walked by the prominent military presence, and stood outside the walls of the palace for photos and a bit of history.
Sawaddee kha!  Language lessons on the bus

The military presence outside the gates of the Grand Palace

The palace was swarming with visitors from all over the world.

A view outside the palace walls.

Three distinct styles of towers.
Finally we followed Yo through the gates into the outer courtyard, guarded by the huge and intimidating statues of the demonic looking creatures. the Yaksa Tavarnbal,  which we saw in numerous spots around the city.  I loved these fearsome creatures, who originate in the Ramayana, and always got a little thrill when I encountered one.

Just inside the entrance to the outer courtyard.

Looking back at the entrance to the outer courtyard

The outer courtyard

Other than coping with the huge crowds that filled every corner of the palace complex, our visit exceeded my imaginings.  The outer courtyard was a hodgepodge of temples, both large and small, stairways leading to ornate towers and spires, and the huge bell-shaped chedi, its gold leaf gleaming above us.
The golden chedi

Small temple in the outer courtyard

Elephants outside administrative buildings in the outer courtyard

Rob and Joan enjoy the sights.

Demons and angels stood watch over many of the buildings.

...and angels.

The walls of the temples also glowed painted murals and with gold and jewels set in intricate three-dimensional surfaces.  Some of the buildings were heavily encrusted with floral ceramic decorations.  It was hard to take it all in.  My eyes - and my camera - bounced from building to building and from feature to feature.
Mural on a courtyard wall

Intricate designs on the outer walls

Joan and a gorgeous wall

Ceramic wall

Ceramic dragons over an entrance

Floral decorations fit for a wedding cake!

Mythical creatures support the golden tower.

The centerpiece of the outer courtyard is Wat Phra Kaew, the home of the famous Emerald Buddha.  Yo gave us a little orientation on appropriate temple etiquette, then we removed our shoes and entered the great hall.
Wat Phra Kaew - the Temple of the Emerald Buddha

Outside of Wat Phra Kaew

Yo provides a lesson on temple etiquette...

...and the umbrella reinforces the lesson.

Unlike the huge Buddha statues we would encounter later in our travels, the Emerald Buddha is only about 16 inches high, carved from a single rock of jade.  It sits high on a pedestal, and the only person allowed to approach him is the king, who changes the statues robes three times a year, for the summer, the winter, and the rainy season.  No photos were allowed inside the temple, but I found some images online that were licensed for sharing.
Summer robes

Cool season robes

Rainy season robes

I could have stayed for hours soaking in the sights, but it was finally time to walk past the actual palace, the residence of the kings of Siam.  Parts of the palace are open to the pubic, but sadly, we did not have the time to visit.  (A good reason to return to Thailand!)
The changing of the palace guard

The Grand Palace - the residence of the royal family

Planters in front of the palace

Palace buildings and greenery

Thai demons decorate the rooftops

Our next stop was Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.  This temple is also a famous Thai massage school, and we stopped first to see the old murals that had been used in the past to train the school's students.
Wat Pho

Massage school murals used for instruction

Our group learns about the massage school, which still operates today.

We also had some free time to explore the grounds.  I loved the statues of the wise sages who guarded the gates of this temple.
Palace residents

I had to laugh at these particular statues.

A rather stern angel

Another reminder of Temple Etiquette
Finally, we joined the line to see the giant reclining Buddha inside the temple.  This impressive statue is 46 meters long, (its feet alone are five meters in length), and covered in gold leaf.  We walked all the way around the statue and exited past 108 bronze bowls into which pilgrims dropped coins that help the monks maintain the temple.  According to Wat Pho, the 108 bowls represent the "108 positive actions and symbols that helped lead Buddha to perfection."
Yo demonstrates the position of the Reclining Buddha

The face of the Reclining Buddha

A pensive Buddha

The feet of Buddha far in the distance

Floral offerings to the Reclining Buddha

Floral offerings to the Reclining Buddha

Pilgrims drop coins into the bronze bowls

108 bronze bowls
The day was very warm, in spite of the rather overcast skies, so our group rested for a bit under the shade of a big tree before heading back to our hotel for a rest.  As we left, one of the vendors outside of the gates decided that Rob was a likely candidate to purchase one of her art prints and followed him for several minutes before giving up.

Our group cools off in the shade

Rob uses the time for a little meditation

Rob tries to escape from a persistent saleswoman.
Tonight was a dinner on our own, so while some of the tour group joined Yo for a tour of Bangkok's China Town, Rob and I enjoyed an elegant dinner at the Naj Restaurant.  A nice ending to a very exciting day!
Waiting for a great dinner at Naj Restaurant

1 comment:

Darleen said...

The temple is indeed more than one can cover in a day. I was so surprised how many buildings were there. If you don't come prepared with proper arm and leg covering as you did, one can rent a large button up shirt and wrap around skirt as we did. It's already quite warm and with the addition of another set of clothes the heat is sweltering. But it's still worth it!

We liked the street food vendors who seamed to be everywhere, and the little massage shops with the large gym mats to lay on. They were cheap and quite good, but a different style than Swedish that we are used to.