Jet to the lag.
While it’s always hectic getting back into “real life” after a trip, it’s especially challenging when your days and nights are completely turned around from an 11-hour time difference. Whew! So here I am, one week later, wrapping up my posts from Bangkok.
The last of our temple visits were two of the most overwhelming, and for very different reasons. We visited Bangkok’s Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha on April 6, which is a holiday in Thailand. Chakri Memorial Day (วันจักรี or Wan Chakkri) commemorates the founding of Bangkok by King Phutthayotfa Chulalok in 1782. It is also the one day when the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is closed to the public so that the reigning king can visit in person and pay his respects. On this particular Wan Chakkri, the grounds of the Grand Palace were a madhouse.
The temple has very strict dress codes (which were not enforced) and signs everywhere asking for an atmosphere of quiet reverence (also not enforced) and prohibiting photography (most definitely not enforced). The throngs of people working their way around the tour path were regularly interrupted by people pausing to take selfies and group photos in plain sight of security guards.
Despite the oppressive number of people, the grounds surrounding the Temple of the Emerald Buddha were meticulously landscaped and worth seeing in person. There is a rope barrier that keeps crowds at a slight distance, so you’ll have an unobstructed view of the topiaries and statues. Tickets to enter the temple grounds are 500฿ (approximately $14.50 USD).
Samantha and I had envisioned the temple as a calm, serene place of worship, so the crowds were rather jarring. We also stopped counting the number of times we were almost blinded by umbrella spokes at the hands of tourists desperate for a bit of shade under the hot sunshine.
We talked about the number of times we’d seen photos of tourist attractions around the world that made it seem like there was nobody around (here’s looking at you, Mona Lisa), when in fact they are constantly swarming with people. It all depends on how patient you are about getting the shot you want.
After leaving the hordes of people at the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew), we almost called off our visit to the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho) since we expected to encounter the same kind of crowd. However, our driver, Mr. Dan, insisted that we stop by for a few minutes. We’re so glad we took his advice!
We’d already toured the grounds of Wat Pho during our nighttime tuk tuk food tour, but we weren’t able to see the Reclining Buddha while we were there. It is definitely worth seeing. The 150-foot (46 m) statue was built by King Rama III in 1832, and its enormity is breathtaking. You enter at its head and walk the entire length of the magnificent statue until you reach its mother of pearl-inlaid soles. As you reenter the temple from the other side, you encounter a row of 108 bronze bowls.
For 20฿ (approximately $0.58 USD), you’ll get a tin dish of 108 Thai coins so you can drop one into each of the copper bowls and make a wish to Buddha’s 108 auspicious characters. It is a very enchanting ritual to walk the length of the statue and hear the coins drop as you go along, and the donations help the monks maintain the temple.
Tickets to enter the wat are only 100฿ (approximately $3 USD) and include a bottle of water. You must remove your shoes to enter, but you’ll be provided a tote bag to use during your tour.
The grounds of Wat Pho are beautiful during the daytime when it’s easier to see details like floral tributes draped on Buddha statues in various poses beneath the temple’s stunning spires. It was just the calm we needed after the sweaty crowds at the Grand Palace.
Today’s expat evaluation: -5 for insane holiday crowds, +1 for calming rituals