From my hostel it’s a 20 minute walk to Wat Pho temple and The Grand Palace – staples of Bangkok.
Sunday morning I got up fairly early and went down for breakfast feeling much better and opted for banana pancakes with a fresh yoghurt dip.
I had planned to go straight from breakfast so retuned to my room to collect my things. Awaking from my nap 2 hours later, I made my way through the hot streets; it was already 32 degrees. Thankfully its a straight line, and you can see the bright white palace walls peaking from the top end of the street.
The entrance to the Palace was on the far side so I decided to visit Wat Pho first as it was closer. The entrance fee was 100 Baht which is about £2.50 and included a free bottle of water.
Approximately 400 years old, Wat Pho is one of Thailand’s oldest temples and is the centre for teaching traditional Thai medicine and massage, as well as Buddhist worship. The temple also houses the largest number of Buddha images in Thailand. Most famous of all: The Reclining Buddha.
46 meters long, 15 meters high, and gold plated. The Reclining Buddha is sculpted to represent the Buddha during the final stages of illness before entering Nirvana. Even his feet, considered the lowest part of the body in Buddhist culture, are ordained with mother – of – pearl.
It is truly something; the size, the engineering, the devotion. On the right hand side of the temple were 108 bronze bowls which represent the 108 characters of the Buddha, where, for 20 Baht, you could place a coin in each bowl to bring you luck and fortune. Of course the monks take some for maintenance.
Leaving the temple, I collected my shoes and had a good look around; it was heaving with tourists. After poking into a few more ‘mini’ temples I spotted a tiny cafe tucked away in the corner and had a break.
I sat on a plastic chair in a tiny bit of shade under a parasol with my family pack of Lays. I wondered whether it would be acceptable to take them into the air conditioned toilets and eat.
Next to me were three fortunes tellers avidly explaining to payees what their futures held as they frantically scribbled. To give them their dues they prophesied for a solid 20 minutes.
It was about 12 o’clock and the sweat was dripping. At one point I touched the end of my skirt trying to work out where I could have stepped in a puddle, only to realise I was the puddle. Despite the buildings being painted white, everything made of concrete or stone absorbed the heat and bounced it back at 10 degrees higher. Add to that 70% humidity and you were bound to be damp.
It did not detract however from the temples beauty.
Everything appeared gold plated. The spires decorated in little tiles shone in the sunlight and rich yellows and reds add a sense of opulence. It quite literally sparkles. It was quite astounding how much love had gone into it.
However, none of that compares to The Grand Palace. Built in 1782 it has stood the test of time with it’s outstanding architecture and detail – a testimony to Thai Craftsmanship.
Having burnt my face enough for one day, I returned to the Palace on Monday. At breakfast I made a Korean friend who’s name sounded like Tang-Lo – I distinctly remember thinking NOT tang-go, and we walked down together.
‘This is your first time in Asia isn’t it?’
‘Yes, how can you tell?’
‘By the way you cross the road: Hesitant.’
Unwillingness to die I thought.
We parted ways before entering.
Entrance is 500 Baht for foreigners and free for Thais as it is an active place of worship.
Now the Palace really is golden. It was one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen. The architecture alone was incredible. Over 218,000 square metres of temples, garden, palace and government offices.
The central temple was open and you could watch the prayer; orange clothed monks on one side, Thais on the other and foreigners silently at the back. I wish we were allowed to take photos. The temple was simply stunning. Across the grounds offerings of food and incence were being made to golden Buddhas.
I left feeling a.) Pleased I was out before 12pm and B.) Reminded that humans are many, many things but fundamentally we have, and always will be, engineers. At our core that’s who we are as a species. We make. We build. We create. For thousands of years we have been engineering, starting with stone and moving forwards in size and complexity. Something as stunning as The Grand Palace or Wot Pho is a culmination of all that we can be. An advertisement for what we can really do. There is no other species on this planet that can engineer like we can. We are utterly unique.
Because to create beauty we must first know beauty. And that is a comforting thought.