But first, a quick note: I’m over at Turtleduck Press this week, talking about a fabulous shop I discovered on another recent trip: Fossils and Rocks and Gems, Oh My!
On our second day in Bangkok, I headed out on a solo adventure. My travelling companion had had enough of temples, while I couldn’t wait to see more – and Bangkok has some of the most spectacular temple architecture in Thailand.
Getting to and from the temples was a mini-adventure on its own, because I got to take a ferry. These little pedestrian-only ferries run up and down the river to circumvent the congestion on the roads. Bangkok has both tourist ferries and commuter ferries for the locals; the former is three times the price of the latter, but even so, a ticket for 40 baht (a little over $1) won’t break the bank…at least not for Westerners. I got to ride on one of each, both fascinating experiences.
The Grand Palace
My first stop was the Grand Palace. There are a variety of buildings inside, some accessible to the public and others not. The focus for visitors is the collection of wats (temples) – shining golden or brightly painted, and decorated on every surface with ornate statues and mosaics and trim. Each of the wats is very different, but all of them are equally a feast for the eyes. I wandered around in a daze of awe, photographing absolutely everything, as usual.
Then I circled the white palace walls to visit the equally famous Wat Pho, a temple that houses an enormous reclining Buddha statue.
Again, everything in and around the main building is decorated to the hilt, down to the giant soles of the statue’s feet. But unlike the Grand Palace and the temples I visited in Chiang Mai, the Wat Pho complex has the feel of being well-used, not just visited and admired. Parts of it were under repair; the courtyard was playing host to a Chinese New Year celebration, complete with music and blessings for the new year; quiet corners could be found.
By the time I left Wat Pho, I was dreadfully hot (again), stressed out from the signs in the wats warning of pickpockets, and hungry, and I couldn’t find anywhere close by to eat. So I skipped the third famous temple, Wat Arun, only managing to get a shot from the return ferry. From the brief glimpse I got, it’s very different from the other two, featuring beautiful Cambodian-style prang (towers).
Oh well. I decided early on not to stress about the sights and locations we were missing – we’d be exhausted if we tried to see everything, and with a trip this long, we knew we would have to pace ourselves.
That’s easier said than done, though. When you know you may only have one shot at a country, it’s hard to be okay with skipping things. We pushed ourselves harder than we had originally planned, for that reason.
So the next day…more temples!
For our last sightseeing expedition in Thailand, we headed out of the current capital city, Bangkok, to the ruins of a former capital, Ayutthaya. This city, the capital of the former Kingdom of Siam, was founded in the fourteenth century and destroyed in the eighteenth century by an old enemy, the Burmese. In the centuries between, it flourished as a centre of culture, diplomacy, and trade.
Sadly, not much remains of Ayutthaya’s former glory, though it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We should have learned our lesson from the underwhelming ruins of Wiang Kum Kam, near Chiang Mai. Like them, Ayutthaya is well interspersed in a modern subdivision.
We took a whirlwind tour of several sites, including more temples and the Grand Palace (which was the model for the current Grand Palace in Bangkok). But again, it’s hard to glean much from waist-high brick walls – all that remained for the most part.
We did get to peek inside one of the prangs (reliquary towers) – the inside was surprisingly small for all the grand size of the exterior – and wander around the grassy confines of the Grand Palace.
But the most evocative aspect of the ruins were all the lonely Buddha statues, many of them headless, that still sit in quiet meditation.
That’s all I’ve got for you from Thailand. Tune in two weeks from now for the beginning of my six-week adventure in India….