Susan's Shanghai Blog - Week 29

This week and next week will cover the 4 days we spent in Bangkok, Thailand in January 2012. We wanted to go somewhere warm and we were successful in that part! Thailand (which used to be called Siam) is a new country for both Tom and I, neither of us having visited there before. While not as many people as China, Thailand still is pretty crowded with 64 million people with almost 12 million of those living in the greater Bangkok area. The city also has a "ceremonial name" which can be written as Krung-devamahanagara amararatanakosindra mahindrayudhya mahatilakabhava navaratanarajadhani puriramya uttamarajanivesana mahasthana amaravimana avatarasthitya shakrasdattiya vishnukarmaprasiddhi. This translates to "The city of angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, the impregnable city of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarma". There is a plaque in the city which contains this full name as well.

We arrived and had a car waiting for us at the airport that took us to the hotel. Thank goodness, too. Normally, we attempt to take public transportation. However, we would have needed to take the SkyTrain, then find a private boat to go to the hotel across the river since it was late enough that the ferry across the river had stopped already. We picked a really nice boutique hotel on the opposite side of the Chao Phraya river from the old city and the palace. This little hotel sat right on the river and has only 3 rooms. Getting there is also interesting, since you go down through a few alleys that we would have never found in the dark. We stayed in the Sunshine room, which had this nice double-bed with a canopy. Right outside of our room, through a set of glass doors that opened up, was a semi-private balcony (on the 2nd floor) that overlooked the river. From there, we watched the sun rise over the Grand Palace and had breakfast. They had a set of flower pots along one side with these really nice ping flowers. They also had these really cute hand-made signs for "please do not disturb us, we're snoozing" and "please clean the room".

Sitting right on the river, we took pictures looking North towards this large suspension bridge, then South towards the Temple of Dawn or the Wat Arun.

We were also directly across the river from the grand palace, and grabbed a couple early morning shots.

There was a ferry right next door to our hotel and we grabbed that to get to the other side of the river. Pretty reasonable ... 3 baht, which is around 10 cents. Our first stop was the Wat Pho, or Wat Po (we've seen it spelled both ways). They were renovating it, but it was still open. A "wat" is a monastery temple, which normally consists of monks quarters, the temple itself, and a large image of Buddha. To be a Wat, there must be at least 3 monks residing in the area. Wat Pho is one of the oldest and largest wats in the city. There are 16 gates and each are guarded by Chinese giants, Lan Than Nai Tvarapala�, holding weapons in their hands, all carved out of rock.

These are a couple of the Chedi, and there were many of these around the temple grounds. Chedi is the regional name in Thailand for a stupa, and a stupa is a structure in a template that contains Buddhist relics, typically the remains of Buddha. In this wat, there were 91 chedis total: the majority (around 70) smaller ones contained the ashed of members of the royal family and the larger ones contain the ashes of Buddha.

The most impressive thing in this wat was the reclining Buddha. We took several pictures since it was too large to get into any single frame, so hopefully you'll get the idea. It is just under 50 feet high and 140 feeet long. The Buddha is laying on one side with one arm supporting it's head. From the back you can see 2 pillows and a head of curly hair. When you get down to the feet, the soles of the feet are covered with small mosaic inlays made from glass. There are 108 panels containing various things, such as flowers, dancers, elephants and tigers.

There were also these great pictures around the walls.

The buildings all have this great architecture. In alot of Thai architecture, they have a decorative ornament called a Chofah at the top. It resembes a tall thin bird and looks somewhat like a horn. It generally represents a mythical creature called Garuda, which is half bird and half man. Most of the buildings are white with these amazing elaborate roofs. The roofs here tended to be green, red, and yellow and the peaks all have elaborate carvings and mosaics.

In one of the courtyard passages, there was a seated Buddha image.

This is the main chapel, the Phra Uposatha. The principal Buddha image is �Phra Buddha Deva Patimakorn� in a gesture of seated Buddha on a three tiered pedestal called Phra Pang Smardhi (Lord Buddha in the posture of concentration). We stopped for a few minutes and were sitting on the red carpeting relaxing, when someone told Tom that he was sitting incorrectly, since he had his feet towards the Buddha. Bad Tom :-)

This is the Phra Maha stupa and there are 4 of these at the corners of the chapel courtyard. Each is covered with marble tiles and each contains a little statue at the top.

From the Wat, we walked a couple blocks to the Grand Palace, following this long white wall. When we got to the corner, there was this great sculpture in the middle of the intersection with 3 ping elephants. As we walked into the outer walls, they carefully checked what we were wearing to ensure we were dressed appropriately. If you aren't, you can "rent" proper clothes (long pants and shirts with sleeves). We had read all of the books and had worn jeans (which looking back on things, we should have just worn shorts and rented pants along the way, since it was HOT HOT HOT!) To the left as we entered was this large grass area and behind, you can see the Wat that is contained in the Palace grounds.

We picked the right time to come into the palace (total luck) as there was a changing of the guards that took place and we got a perfect view of the guards with the fife and drum marching by.

The Grand Palace complex was built in 1782 after King Rama I ascended to the throne. It has not only the Royal Palace buildings, but also the Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. This is the most sacred wat in Thailand. The Upper Terrace contains 4 monuments, including a large gold Stupa called the Phra Si Ratana Chedi, which is a 19th-century stupa built in a SriLankan style which contains ashes of the Buddha.

There are lots of buildings and shrines in the wat complex itself, which is quite compact and on that day, filled to the brim with tourists. Most of the buildings, like those in the Wat Pho, were elaborately decorated with gold, jewels, and mosaics.

There is also a Model of Angkor Wat, which is the most sacred shrine in Cambodia. Tom and I had talked about going to Siem Reap to see the Angkor Wat and this model makes us want to see it even more ... just as a model, it was quite impressive. The miniature was created on the order of Rama IV.

We walked around (somewhat aimlessly) through the buildings in the temple. The main building in the Wat houses the Emerald Buddha (no pictures of the Emerald Buddha were allowed). The Emerald Buddha is actually made of green jade and was first discovered in a stupid in Chiang Rai in 1434. It was originally thought to be "nothing special" as it was covered with plaster. Eventually, the plaster came off revealing the green carving, which the abbott who found it thought was emerald, and hence, the name. The Wat complex has over 100 buildings, most in a Rattanakosin (old Bangkok) architectural style. In one of the pictures, you can two giant figures guarding the entrance to a building. There are also multiple stupas and chedis, small shrines, and carved statues.

On the walls of one of the building was this painting, which shows the royal palace, and the 2nd picture shows the sleeping guardian, which was above it. If you look in the first picture at the top, you can see the sword that the guardian is holding.

This is the main temple building which houses the Emerald Buddha. You can see it is the most elaborately decorated building in the Grand Palace area.

This is the Borombhiman Hall, which is built in French/Neo-Renaissance architectural design. It was built between 1897 and 1903 during the reign of of Rama V and was the residence of King Rama VI, but is now used as guest house for visiting foreign dignitaries. Standing right outside was a set of military guys who were playing with some sort of drum. The mallot is on a string mounted at the top of a piece of wood, and by shaking or moving it side to side, the drum gets beat on each side.

The Phra Thinang Chakri Maha Prasat and the throne hall. The throne hall is constructed in an eclectic style, a blend of Thai and European (more specifically Renaissance or Italianate) styles. The lower part of the structure is European, while the upper part is in Thai-styled green and orange tiled roofs and golden spires.

The Dusit Maha Prasat Hall is part of the Dusit Group. The audience hall is built in pure Siamese architecture.

We did a bit of "street vendor" food while in Bangkok. One of our favorites was the fruit carts. On the cart were different types of melons and pineapple, and when you ordered something, the cart-guy would cut it up into bite-size pieces and put it in a bag along with a large wooden toothpick to eat it with.

We have no idea what this building is, but it was really nice!

We headed back to the hotel to change into shorts (way too hot for the long pants) and then hit the ferry again. This time we noticed a few more things ... there were hundreds of pigeons at the ferry stop, along with pretty big fish. You could buy bread and fish-food to feed the animals.

We headed back out for a walking tour of Chinatown. We started near the Memorial Bridge and the first thing we came across was the Wat Rajaburana, which is a large Buddhist temple built during the Ayutthaya period between 1677 and 1767.

This is the Red Chinese Template, which is a more typical Chinese shrine.

We walked down Sampeng Lane, which is also known as Soi Wanit. This narrow alleyway goes on what seemed like forever, and is supposedly a pedestrian area. There are shops and stalls selling treats, dried fruit, clothes, toys, fabric, sewing supplies .. almost anything.

The Wat Chakkrawat, which we found down another little alleyway. It has just a small simple temple in it, and it was quite small compared to the other ones we'd seen.

We started getting (obviously) closer to the actual Chinatown area, since we started seeing lots of red lanterns and decorations, all getting ready for the Chinese New Year.

This is the Wat Traimit, which features this really great white building with a towering gold spire, which you can see for many blocks around it. It houses (supposedly) the Golden Buddha, which is the largest solid gold Buddha image in the world: 3 meters high and 55-tons. We got there after 5pm and the building was already closed, so we were unable to glimpse at the Buddha.

Dinner was a very typical Thai restaurant (from what the book says).

Continue to Day 2 in Bangkok, Thailand