Sunday, October 21, 2012

RATTANAKOSIN: 01 - Gold Overload at Wat Phra Kaew

Thailand’s temples, you just have to see them. When I cancelled Ayutthaya, it was because I was confident that I would be seeing something similar in Bangkok. I think Ayutthaya is more on ruins. For Bangkok, they drown you with colors. Aside from the concentration of palaces and temples in one area (the touristy ones at Rattanakosin, at least), you could also marvel on their variety in terms of color and design. If you have been to several temple and palace complexes in China and South Korea, this is probably the first main difference that you would point out. While the Chinese and Koreans do know the definition of grand, they seem to have stuck with some sort of template which makes the designs look similar: an influx of red and gold for the Chinese; a mix of red, green, and brown for the Koreans. For the Thai, being floral and reaching for the heavens seems to be the norm.

Where to start and how to get there? I suggest taking the Chao Phraya River Taxis, or whatever they are called. Contrary to what your eyes would probably tell your nose, the river is not at all stinky. Coming from Silom, I hopped on the BTS from Chong Nonsi to Saphan Taksin, which is where the Sathorn Taksin station of the river boats could be found. There is a time table but it seems as though it is not always followed. As for the ticket booth, I bought a ticket from there during the first day, and got refused the next day when they asked me to go straight to the boat and pay there. Even the price is quite erratic, ranging from 12 to 40 baht despite the proximity of the stations whence I came and whither I went. Your options are limited, though, because neither MRT nor BTS have connections to the temples themselves, and a bus ride would mean contending with Bangkok’s infamous traffic. Go for the boats, as they even offer astounding views perfect for photos.

Two stops to remember: Tha Tien and Tha Chang. Begin at Tha Chang and head south if you want to do Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace first. Those two are within one compound and often done in tandem. Or you could get off at Tha Tien going north if you want to see the giant reclining Buddha of Wat Pho first. The 3-baht boat crossing the river towards Wat Arun could also be found at Tha Tien. Wherever you disembark, the two stations are just around five minutes away on foot if you are a brisk walker. It is not that much of a dilemma unless you hate the intense sunlight that would make the photos that you take look pro.

Wat Phra Kaew does not cover much ground by itself, but what will make you stay there for two hours or more would be the endless picture-taking. You see, Wat Phra Kaew seems to have it all: gold, glitter, and crowd. The sight of gold might be enough to arrest attention, but at Wat Phra Kaew they go the extra mile with colors that shimmer under the sun. The artwork for each sculpture is done in painstaking detail, so exquisite that you could not help but take several photos of one subject in different angles.

But there will always be one that would stand out, and perhaps that would be the golden stupha, which is a popular choice for photo-ops, maybe because of its solid gold design that light up when hit by the sun’s rays. The other structures next to it are just as interesting, but this golden structure always gets the tourists. The grand temple at the center is also quite popular because of the mythical creatures lining up its walls, all of which seem identically exquisite up to the last detail.

Another common feature here, aside from the combination of colors and gold, is the pagoda with floral designs. They are not shiny like the others, but the design that they have, mostly floral, also serves as a feast for the eyes.

You might want to bring along a bottle of water or two, as it is almost always very hot in Thailand. While this makes wonders in terms of pictures produced, it could also be annoying due to the accompanying sweat and shortness of breath. It could also be harmful to your skin so better apply sun block as necessary. Back to the temples and the palace, I do not remember paying an admission fee. As per information from the internet, it was supposed to be around 400 baht for Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace. However, there was also a note by the gate that the Grand Palace was closed at 2 PM because of some commemoration event. Maybe that is why we no longer paid?

I do remember roaming around the grounds of the palace after the temple tour as they are within the same compound. Or are tourists allowed entry to the palace’s interiors when there are no scheduled events? No, I saw no palace interiors that day, just admired the architecture from the outside. Come to think of it, there was a gated building that I was able to photograph. Maybe that was it.

Anyway, this is one of the good aspects of this tour. The combination of old world temples and European inspired mansions play with your imagination, an unlikely fusion not just between two varying schools of architecture, but rather of ideas and beliefs originating from opposite sides of the world. The result of the said combination is exercise for your arms and a drained battery for your camera as you snap one photo right after the other non-stop. I arrived after lunch. That is a bad idea. If you want to save up on time and effort to get there, start in the morning. That way, you could do all three Wats and the Grand Palace in a day.

Refreshments and food? There are plenty of restaurants and cafes scattered all over the area. In addition, both Tha Tien and Tha Chang have a busy market place selling everything from street food to souvenirs, leading all the way to the piers.

So far, I am not regretful for cancelling Ayutthaya. I believe that the right time for that will come. Having seen Bangkok’s palaces is not a bad consolation after all, and has been one of, if not, the most interesting tour I have had when it comes to the admiration of architecture.

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