Bangkok is primarily a Buddhist country, and there are temples everywhere. There are nearly 500 temples in Bangkok alone, so obviously they are an important part of life in this city. We've visited Catholic cathedrals in Italy, Hindu Temples in India and Nepal, Shinto Shrines in Japan, and Buddhist Temples in nearly every country we've visited in Asia. And I have to say that the ones in Thailand are some of the most ornate and beautiful I've ever seen. If Italy has most of the beautiful cathedrals in the Catholic world, then surely Thailand has the most beautiful Buddhist temples.
One of our first visits was to Wat Traimit, also known as the Temple of the Golden Buddha. This Buddha is made of solid gold, which is fairly incredible considering its size.
You can get an idea of its size here by contrasting with the worshiping woman kneeling at his feet.
I don't know much about Buddhism, so if you want to know more, I'm afraid I won't be of much help. It's a religion that I find fairly fascinating, though. It's so very peaceful and embracing and tolerant compared to many religions in the world. Not that Buddhists always adhere to the peaceful principles of their religion, but I'd wager that fewer wars have been fought in the name of Buddha than of any other deity you can think of.
So many tuk-tuks in Thailand!
We passed this beautiful flower market on our way to the next stop. There was one long street of shops and stalls full of flowers, each with women weaving the flowers together to create intricate wreaths and garlands.
Another famous temple we visited was Wat Po, also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Something I didn't realize before this part of the trip is that there are seven different Buddha postures corresponding with each day of the week. The day on which you were born indicates which Buddha posture is a special one for you. I was born in Thursday, and so mine is the meditating Buddha. According to that link, I am "peaceful, calm and honest, likely to be a teacher or in the legal profession." Sound like me? ;-)
This is the entry gate to Wat Po.
And here is a small part of the reclining Buddha (who is Carter's special Buddha, since he was born on a Tuesday!) This statue was HUGE, apparently the largest reclining Buddha in all of Thailand.
Carter posing in front of "his" special Buddha posture.
Another thing I learned about Buddhism is that there is a belief that the soles of the feet are the dirtiest part of your body, and so it is extremely impolite to point at things with your feet or show the soles of your feet to anyone, especially to the Buddha. However, the soles of Buddha's feet are important in the religion and represent the holy on Earth, loosely. There are many references to Buddha leaving footprints in stone, with the idea that even when he walked on solid rock, he left footprints behind, so holy was he. (Or something like that. My apologies if I'm mangling that completely!)
Though the reclining Buddha was covered with gold leaf, the soles of his feet were covered in intricate designs in mother of pearl.
On the back side of the temple there are 108 coin pots representing the 108 aspects of the Buddha (all of which are displayed in the designs on the soles of his feet above). If you put a coin in every pot, you can make a wish.
Outside the temple were many of these structures, called stupas.
We were on a tight schedule (and Carter has limited patience), and so this was the closest we got to Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn. Always leave something for the next trip, right?
We passed a seafood market where many different types of dried fish were being sold. I'm sure you can imagine the smell. ;-)
This vendor was selling fruit kebabs.
And more tuk-tuks!
Another place we visited was the Grand Palace, once the residence of Thailand's royal family. (They now live somewhere else, and the elaborate palace grounds are used only for ceremonial purposes.) I expected this to like like the scenery in The King and I, somehow. This was far more ornate.
And crowded, wow. There were SO many people visiting the palace that it was actually difficult to walk around.
This is a very typical building. Everything is golden and glittering and incredibly ostentatious.
I mean, look at this building! It's covered with gold! And that's not paint...
But more importantly, this is Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. We weren't allowed to take pictures inside, but it was a beautiful Buddha. You can see what it looks like here.
This gives you an idea of how crowded it was. I had a hard time taking pictures without hordes of people in them.
So a lot of my pictures look like this! Still, the buildings are stunningly ornate. It's unlike anything I've ever seen.
Even the statues are incredibly ornate.
Here's a closeup of the detail on one building. They ALL looked like this!
Here is Carter standing in front of one of the buildings
They have guards here who won't flinch. Carter was a little leery of posing next to them.
Another temple we visited was Wat Benchamabophit, also known as the Marble Temple.
Our guide told us that this is one of the oldest known statues of Buddha, more than 1000 years old. I can't find confirmation of that anywhere on the web, though.
Apparently this temple was one of the pit stops in the 9th season of The Amazing Race!
What really struck us about this particular temple was that the inside looked like a basilica. The building was in the shape of a cross, the Buddha statue was sitting in the place an altar would be in a Christian church, and there were ornate stained glass windows.
You can see the cross in the ceiling here.
The next day, we headed down to Pattaya to visit a former colleague of Doug's who lives there. Those photos will be in the next post.