Bangkok is known as one of the most vibrant cities of the South-East of Asia. With its charming mixture of tradition and modernity, this metropolis is a must-see in your discovery of Thailand. Nonetheless, the relentless pace of its streets (just think about the five-lanes motorways running through the city) and its constant humid heat can hit you harder than you expect.
One way to survive in Bangkok is treating yourself with a wonderful Thai massage (highly recommended). Another way is exploring its colourful Buddhist temples (wat). There are more than 400 temples spread through the city, but if you only have a couple of days to spend in the capital be sure not to miss the 4 main ones.
Wat Phra Kaew
The Temple of Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) is a vast complex of Buddhist temples and one of the main attractions in Bangkok. The place includes the ancient residence of the Thai sovereigns (the Grand Palace) and it was established in 1782, when Bangkok became the capital city. While the rooms of the Grand Palace are mainly closed to the public, Wat Phra Kaew has plenty of chapels and pavilions worth exploring.
Despite the massive crowd of tourists visiting the site every day, the uncomparable beauty and colours of its buildings can’t be missed. The wat is surrounded by a perimeter of galleries whose walls are decorated with painting of Ramakian (the most important literature in the reign of King Rama I). Six pairs of massive demon guardians stand at the gates of the gallery: they are Yaksha, ogres or giants from the hindu mythology.
The highest buildings of the complex are the three main chedi: the seven-level roof of the Phra Mondop, the spire in khmer style of the Prasat Phra and the golden Phra Si Ratana.
The most important building of the temple is Phra Ubosoth, or the Chapel of the Emerald Buddha. This stunning hall in Thai style architecture (of the Ayutthaya period) dominates the view. The outer walls are covered in gilt and colour glass mosaics. The famous Emerald Buddha inside this chapel is actually a small statue made of nephrite, a kind of jade.
Take your time to explore the entire site without any fixed itinerary, trying to get the spirituality and beauty of the temple. One thing that amazed me was the artistic technique of the statues and walls: it consists of a simple combination of coulourful tiny tiles and golden decorations.
At the end of the tour you will see the Grand Palace from the outside, a mixture of western and Thai architectural styles. The ticket for Wat Phra Kaew (500 Baht) also includes the visit of the Pavilion of Royal Decorations and Coins.
At a short walk from Wat Phra Kaew, your next destination is Wat Pho, my favourite temple in Bangkok. This large complex contains the greatest collection of Buddha statues in the entire Thailand and a 46 mt long Reclining Buddha. This huge statue is covered in lacquer and golden leaves, and is hosted in a building that just seems too small for it. As you will see, this Buddha looks like he’s chilling and expresses a vast sense of calmness (as a matter of fact he represents the entering of Buddha into the state of nirvana).
Other important buildings of the site are the Ubosoth (the holiest prayer room, also called the “ordination hall”) and the four royal Stupa. Every Stupa is 42 mt high and decorated in glass tiles and majolicas of different colours. Four smaller Stupa forests are built in geometrical order at the four corners of the complex.
All around Wat Pho you will find several Chinese statues in stone and granite. They came from China in 19th century, when Thai people traded rice and teakwood and returned with silks and porcelains. During those crossings, the Thai sailors used the Chinese statues as ballasts on the boats.
Wat Pho is also the national centre for teaching and conserving the Thai traditional medicine (including the Thai massage). If you are tired and sick of the humid heat, you can get a massage at the school inside the temple.
To reach Wat Arun (“Temple of Dawn”), you have to cross the Chao Phraya River on a ferry from Tha Tien pier. This temple is one of most iconic of Bangkok, with its prang (high tower in khmer style) and elaborate floral mosaics made of coloured pieces of Chinese porcelain.
Its name comes from the hindu God Aruna, often personified as the radiations of the rising sun. Although the temple has existed since the 17th century, its distinctive spires were built in the early 19th century during the reign of King Rama II.
Wat Traimit is located in the Chinatown of Bangkok, an area full of tuk tuks, restaurant and little shops. The great attraction of this temple is beyond any doubt the massive solid gold statue of the Buddha. It is 3 mt high and weights almost 6 tons.
The funny thing is that the statue was discovered by chance about 40 years ago under a covering of plaster or chalk: it fell off a crane while it was being transferred to another building of the temple.
It is believed that the covering had been added to protect the priceless statue from the invadors and ravagers during the period of Ayutthaya.
You can reach Wat Traimit by taxi.
This was the first article about my recent trip to Thailand. I hope you enjoyed it, let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂