Wat Phra Kaew visit
Today was a momentous day in the history of my life. First proper day in Thailand. First proper day in all of Asia. First proper sightseeing in Thailand or in Asia. And first ever visit to a Buddhist temple. A momentous day: but in my sweltering and jet-lagged state, not an overly strenuous one. To kick off my exploration of the sights and sounds of Bangkok, I went and saw Wat Phra Kaew, one of the largest and most magnificent of the city's many wats (lit: "temples"). Lovely temple — and boy, never before have I seen so much, covered in such quantities of pure gold, in all my life. Buddha like his gold nice 'n' shiny.
Wat Phra Kaew: the temple of the Royal Palace.
Wat Phra Kaew is a nice, convenient 10-minute walk from Khao San Road (which is the area I'm staying in, of course). The journey to the temple was a trip down memory lane for me, as it retraced my steps from where I got lost yesterday evening. Since I rocked up at the temple wearing my disrespectfully knee-length boardies, I was obliged to shell out 50B at the door, so that I could hire a pair of flamboyant, baggy long pants. Worth the cost, in my opinion: better than walking all the way there in long pants; and other than that, there's no entry fee to visit the temple.
Deliciously vivid colours and striking designs in this temple.
The wat is a captivating structure: it's painted everywhere in a lovely set of vivid pastel colours; its curves and spires are exotic and gracious; and pure gold can be seen in lavish abundance on it. I realise that there are literally thousands of other temples — and that's just here in Thailand — and that they're all built in a similar style. But because this is the first authentic Asian temple I've ever seen, the architecture really did blow me away: I was awed by its new, exotic and regal style.
Grand columns and friezes dominate the temple.
Entrance to the main devotion and meditation hall.
Daym, nigga: that's a lotta gold!
After wandering around the temple gardens for a bit, and admiring the fabulous architecture, I respectfully removed my shoes and entered the main meditation hall. The front of this hall is a cordoned-off area filled with gold Buddhas and other sacred statues; while the communal area at the rear is filled mainly with awkward-looking farangs, and also with a few Thai locals (and even the odd monk or two). I followed the example of my farang brethren, and haphazardly sat down cross-legged on the stone floor. Sitting down was quite uncomfortable — especially since you're meant to point your toes backwards, as doing otherwise is considered disrespectful to the Buddha — and I must say, I made very little headway in achieving inner peace here. The babbling tour guide sitting next to me didn't help with that, either: although eavesdropping on his lecture did provide plenty of useful information.
After I was done at the temple, I exited the compound and returned to the main street — only to find the road closed off to vehicles, smartly-dressed policemen directing people onto the sidewalks, and a dense crowd of spectators lining the road on both sides. Apparently, the King's brother died today: the spectating crowds and the road closures were in anticipation of a big procession; and due to the unfortunate death in the family, I hear that the Royal Palace is closed to visitors for most of the day. Anyway, I didn't see a procession or anything like that when I hit the streets: just a lot of people waiting for one to start.
From the temple, I headed over towards the river, where I found a shaded little food market, whose stalls offered a variety of hot meals for lunch. I randomly picked one of the stalls: and since they clearly only served one dish, I asked them for whatever it was that they had available. I have very little idea what it was that I ate — some kind of mystery soup, with vegetables and balls of possibly seafood — but it tasted pretty good. I sat down and finished off the soup with a visiting young Hungarian couple, who also agreed that the soup was delicious, but an enigma.