Trompe le Monde: A Round the World Tour Diary

An online travel diary so people can keep up to date with what I'm doing and where I'm going.

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Location: Home, United Kingdom

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Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Wat Po, Grand Palace, Wat Arun

Continuing the (childish and perhaps casually racist - you be the judge) amusement I often derive from Thai words (actually, come to think of it, words in any language that sound a bit like English words), the Thai word for temple is 'Wat', pronounced like 'What'. This isn't particularly funny in itself, but combine it with other Thai words and you get places like 'Wat U Mong' and 'Wat Wang', both of which make me laugh rather a large amount.

Anyway, back to the point at hand: There are of course many Wats in Bangkok. Yesterday I went to see some of the most famous and beautiful. We started at Wat Po, a large collection of buildings making up a temple (or a series of temples - not really sure). The highlight of Wat Po is a huge (46m long 15m high) golden statue of a reclining Buddha (Buddha lying down dying and thus ascending to heaven/nirvana, I believe), which is extremely impressive. Though the back side of it reveals a disappointing lack of definition about the buttock region. Not that I go and see Buddhist masterpieces to look at their arses, obviously...

Wat Po is also very impressive just in itself, a large collection of amazing architectural works. They're all done in what I would consider to be very much an oriental style, red and green layered tiled roofs and such. Quality.

This style of building was repeated, but with variation, at the next building complex we went to see, the Grand Palace. The Grand Palace is where the Thai King (they have a constitutional monarchy not unlike the British model except the King is very much loved in Thailand (according to Lonely Planet)) lives, so you can't go in, but you can look at the building from outside, and it is pretty good. Very palatial.

The most impressive part of the large number of buildings in the complex, however, is another religious building. Wat Phra Kaeow (I think that's how you spell it's name but I may be wrong) is the King's own private monastery. By which I mean it's a monastery, but no monks live there - it's reserved as the King's private prayer hall. It's visible from a way off due to three enormous tower type things in front of the hall proper, one golden. Inside the prayer hall is the Emerald Buddha, a jade (yes, jade, not emerald - both green though so that's how the mistake was first made, and the name just stuck, I suppose) model of Buddha that is of immense religious significance to Thai Buddhists. As per the rules with all Thai Buddhist relgious places, be careful not to point the soles of your feet at the Buddha - in Thailand the feet are the lowest and dirtiest part of the body (didn't know they even knew me!) so mustn't be pointed at anyone or put on seats or whatever.

The last temple we saw was Wat Arun, a large Khmer (Cambodian, if you didn't know - the Khmer were an ancient Cambodian people, hence Pol Pot adopting the name for his country-flaying Marxist group the Khmer Rouge) type design across the river from the rest of Bangkok. It's also impressive, though it suffered as a result of me having seen other, larger examples of Thai Buddhist art and architecture on the same day.

All dead good, anyway. Bangkok is going up in my estimations, and it started high. The other day I bought fried crickets from a foodstall by the side of the road - delicious!

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