Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Bangkok: temples and palaces

Wednesday 25 August: Arriving at Ekamal, Bangkok's eastern bus terminal, it's an easy Skytrain (64th mode of transport) link and motorbike taxi west to the backpacker enclave of Khao San Road. I usually stay in the Chart Inn but it's being going downhill for years, so I walk further west towards the river where the quieter Merry V Guesthouse, near pier 13 (Banglumpoo), is a far better choice.
Thursday 26: Quickly leaping onto an express river taxi (65th mode) to Marine Office pier 4, I walk to Bangkok's main Hua Lamphong station (more later) to pick-up timetables and make a reservation.

That done, popping into nearby Wat Traimit to see the world's largest solid gold Buddha is a stroll. I've been here before and the story is this: a modest plaster Buddha was given to Wat Traimit and when lifting the heavy statue into place the crane snapped, the Buddha crashed and the gold beneath was revealed. The Buddha was coated in plaster in antiquity to disguise it from thieves and looters but this revelation, at a poor wat in an unsavory part of the old city, was deemed as divine intervention, so here it remains. When I saw it last it was tarnished, poorly lit and housed in an old dusty ground-floor temple. Today, donations have obviously made a difference, it's now the gleaming centrepiece of a new three-storey temple towering over Chinatown. On my way back I'm tempted by Wat Arun which dominates the west bank - so I jump ship. Close up the main tower is decorated with thousands of multi-coloured shards of Chinese porcelain and the grounds are pretty too.
Friday 27th:
If you were trying to imagine a fairy-tale palace you would be hard-pushed to dream up one better than Bangkok's Grand Palace and adjoining Wat Phra Kaew. I'll let my photographs speak for me.
Saturday 28: Every time I pass through Bangkok I make a point of visiting Wat Pho and this trip is no exception. For me, this less visited living monastery is more magical than even the Grand Palace. A garden of multi-coloured chedi point skywards, a gallery of gleaming Buddhas line the cloisters, there are secluded courtyards and, if that's not all, the world's largest reclining Buddha rests here - 150ft long, made of brick and plaster covered in gold leaf. Arriving early to avoid the crowds I'm trying to take some tourist-free photographs of the temple grounds and the magnificent reclining Buddha. It's a long way from his head to his feet which, alone, are as tall as the open exit door. But, best of all is his benign expression - my favourite Buddha, and I've seen many.
In the afternoon I wander out to Vimanmek Mansion, a former royal residence. Built by Rama V on his return from visiting many European palaces. It is made entirely of golden teak without a single metal nail. Only five colours, in various subtle shades, are used in the cool restful interior (no photos, strictly enforced) - powder blue, green, peach, yellow and ivory.
Photos of some of Bangkok's temples and palaces.

Rushing back to pack, I grab my small bag, my sleeper reservation and head for Hua Lamphong station.

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