I’ve heard a lot of people say Bangkok is nothing more than the city you have to fly in and out of on your way to other locations in Thailand. However, when Mark and I started planning a short trip to Bangkok to meet some friends who would be in the city on their way back to the US, we discovered that it boasts over 400 Buddhist temples. That was enough to make us rethink our short stay and decide to extend our trip to a full week. And even then, we barely scratched the surface of the beautiful, historical, amazing temples that the city offers.
In 1782, King Rama I established Bangkok as the capital city of Thailand. During his reign, and that of his successors, The Grand Palace and more than 400 temples were built.
Before visiting any of the temples I thought, we’d choose two or three (I mean, how different can one temple be from another – right?) Boy, were my eyes opened! Each of the temples we visited had their own gorgeous architecture, statuary, gardens, and fascinating histories. While we, of course, weren’t able to get to all of the temples, we did visit the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Si Rattana Satsadaram, Wat Pho, Wat Arun, and Wat Prayurawongsawas Warawihan.
The Grand Palace (built by Rama I) is made up of 35 structures that includes the palace itself, a library, and several Phras (mausoleums).
The artwork on the walls of the grand gallery tells the story of the battle between Tosakanth (king of demons) and King Rama (human being.)
Eventually, as the stories go, the demons worked in unison with humans and are often depicted guarding temples and supporting stupas.
Buddhist temple, Wat Arun, is named for the Hindu god Aruna. There is an interesting blending of the two religions and it’s not unusual to see a mix of statuary depicting both Buddhist and Hindu gods.
Wat Pho, the oldest temple in the city, was built sometime between 1688-1703. This temple houses a reclining, gold-gilded Buddha. At approximately 51 feet long x almost 50 feet high, this representation of Buddha reclining with his head propped up on his bent elbow is astounding.
The bottoms of his 16 foot long feet are decorated with mother-of-pearl depictions showing the 108 actions that helped Buddha reach perfection.
So, I beg to differ from those who tell you to get out of the city as quickly as possible. Even if Bangkok had nothing else aside from its awesome temples it would be a city that’s definitely worth a visit. But of course, the city has many other attractions; fascinating museums, impressive high-end shopping malls and outdoor traditional craft and food markets, a huge Chinatown (I recommend going at night, when it really comes alive), and boats that ferry you up and down the Chao Phraya river.
Oh, and I no longer think that if you’ve seen one temple you’ve seen them all!
Bangkok is hot and the temple grounds usually offer very little shade. Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing and bring an umbrella (you need it if it rains, and you need it for shade if it doesn’t.)
For some of the temples (The Grand Palace for sure) both men and women need to wear something that covers knees and shoulders. Otherwise, you may have to purchase a pair of the ubiquitous elephant pants. Note: This will make sense when you get to the temples. Just look around, you’ll see them everywhere 🙂
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