It was quite by chance that the first thing we did in Bangkok was to shower and go to see the Wat Pho Temple or the temple of the Reclining Buddha. Bangkok's temples are a unique part of the city known more for more its carnal pleasures than religious leanings. A visit would not be complete without seeing at least two of them. The architecture even for us out of exotic India was awe-inspiring and the glittering decoration like no other we had ever seen. Since I cannot load pictures on this site, just imagine thousands of pieces of coloured glass and pottery adorning the exterior of the temples, glittering in the noon day sun complete with gold leaf decoration. I had to pinch myself to believe what I was seeing was true! - you're indeed in a City of Angels!
According to the receptionist at our hotel named Siam @ Siam, the best time to visit most temples is early morning when it's cooler and generally less crowded. The temples ('wats') are not just tourist attractions but also play an important part in Buddhist tradition. Monks live in the temple complexes, wake up around 4am, complete their rituals and then go out into the streets to beg for food and necessities from ordinary people on the streets. If you are up very early in Bangkok you will see monks walking around, dressed in saffron coloured robes. This daily alms ritual (called 'tam boon') takes place all over Thailand and is part of the Buddhist philosophy of giving and achieving merits for the next life.
The Wat Pho or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, was the first Wat we visited. It is located behind the temple of the Emerald Buddha and is considered the largest temple in Bangkok. At the entrance we were scanned for decent clothing and only then let into the temple precincts after removing out shoes and neatly putting them into given racks. As we walked in we noticed other tourists being denied entry for not wearing appropriately decent clothing. Shorts and sleeveless clothes are banned but a number of tourists got away by lightly throwing long scarves hastily bought from vendors, across their shoulders or worn like sarongs to cover their legs.
Inside the wat was the famed massive and majestic reclining Buddha which measured 46 metres long and which is covered in gold leaf. The underside of the Buddha's feet are 3 metres long and are exquisitely decorated with mother-of-pearl illustrations of the Buddha. We walked around slowly waiting for breaks in the tourist groups to take our shots.
For those who would like a guide, Wat Pho also has good English speaking guides who will provide interesting information for a negotiated fee, depending on how many people there are in your group. Outside under the cool shade of the trees there are also a few astrologers and palm readers available for consultation. A cute custom is you can also receive a blessing from a monk for a small donation which helps to maintain the 'wat' (temple). The entrance fee is a minimal 20 baht.
With our minds swimming with the beauty of the place, we went out to the west bank of the Chao Phraya river to the Wat Arun or the Temple of the Dawn. We had to jump into a water taxi that took us to the other side of the river for a few baht. Felt a little scary as the boats are not very steady and rock around on the brown and muddy water. However once the engine is fired they go off like shots from a gun.
We loved the look of this particular temple and the boatman told us it was one of the most outstanding temples in Thailand. The spire (prang) of the Wat Arun graces all the pc’s tourists like to buy of Bangkok and is an iconic landmark. The imposing spire which is over 70 metres high, is beautifully decorated with tiny pieces of coloured glass and Chinese porcelain which have been placed delicately into intricate decorative patterns. Although it is known as the Temple of the Dawn, it's absolutely stunning at sunset, particularly when lit up at night. Spend a little time sipping some freshly squeezed juice or a snack on the Tha Thien Pier which is opposite and drink in the sight of the temple at twilight.
Take a trip to Bangkok, and enjoy the difference in the cultures before you settle down to shopping for yourself and your loved ones. There is more to the city if we allow ourselves to look.