Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Grand Palace and Other Temples in Bangkok : Part II

          After exploring the Grand Palace complex in Bangkok we had lunch at a small restaurant across the Grand Palace.We had chicken rice which was really good. After lunch we decided to go to Wat Po temple to see the reclining Buddha. I almost forgot Wat Po because I thought every important temple in Bangkok including Wat Arun was inside the Grand Palace complex. I was wrong. Wat Po is a block or two away from the Grand Palace and Wat Arun is on the other side of the Chao Phraya river. I learned about Wat Po because of the reclining Buddha which is probably one of the most photographed Buddha images in the world. It didn't interest me at first because I'd seen so many Buddha statues already (name it! I've seen them in different positions,sitting,standing, etc.) , but when I learned that Wat Po is the birthplace of Thai massage and is also considered the oldest educational institution in Thailand it became a must-visit to me. There's a bit of history there so I had to include it. We started walking but I was wondering if a block or two in Bangkok is the same distance as it is in my hometown. Later a man walked past us and called my attention.He told me to watch out for pickpockets since I was carrying my bag on my back. I was glad someone reminded me. The man stopped and turned around. He introduced himself as a local police and asked us where we're from and if it's our first time in Bangkok.We told him that it's our first time in Bangkok but I regretted it shortly after when I sensed that he was up to something. He inquired where we're going next. I told him we're looking for Wat Po. He said it's closed at noontime since it's a Monday and that monks would be praying but it would open again at 2 pm. I almost believed him since the scam that I had been warned about was slightly different (Some drivers would tell tourists that a temple is closed for the day because of a certain holiday). When the man started suggesting other places to visit I started to keep my guard up. I also noticed that he was mindful of the surroundings while he was talking to us. He then started calling tuktuk drivers to take us to the places he recommended. I told him that the other place  on our list was Wat Arun. He nodded and instructed the driver to take us to the pier. I told Anna that I was suspicious of the guy but I also said that we could give him the benefit of the doubt since we would be going to Wat Arun anyway and the tuktuk ride to the pier cost only 10 baht per person. When we reached the place that was supposed to be the jump off point to Wat Arun (which was on the other side of the river) I realized that it wasn't a pier. There were men waiting for us but it dawned on me that it's another scam. I told Anna to leave the place and not to talk to the guys there. Anna was trying to be polite and argued with me. She told me that I could have refused their offer politely and that I shouldn't have walked out on them. Well, they deserved to be treated that way for wasting our precious time.

              Few meters from the scammers we bumped into some locals.We played "charades" again. The Thai are generally nice people except for some scammers. It's just frustrating that as much as they would love to help they couldn't because of language barrier. Our acting skills were always put to the test whenever we talked to them. The locals we talked to this time could not tell us how to get to Wat Po so we just started walking again until we found the temple. The gate to the temple was actually wide open although I'm not sure if that was the right entrance for tourists because I've heard that some people had to pay an entrance fee and we didn't. We looked for the reclining Buddha right away. I had seen it a thousand times on pictures but I didn't expect it to be so stunning. It practically occupies the entire building. It's 46 meters long and 15 meters high, decorated with gold plating on his body. At the back of the statue we saw alm bowls lined against the wall of the temple.People were dropping coins into the bowls. We had no clue what they were doing but we had our picture taken pretending to be dropping coins as well.

             From Wat Po we walked to the Tha Tien pier. When we reached the pier I was so thrilled to see Wat Arun standing on the west bank of the river . It was surprisingly greyish from afar. I had expected  it to glisten under the sun,nevertheless it was still beautiful. We paid 3 baht for the ferry ride to the temple. We went up to the upper terrace of the central phrang (tower). When I looked down I realized how steep the steps were and I got worried about descending from the tower. The view of the metropolis from the top was spectacular. Up close you can see that the central phrang and the four smaller surrounding phrangs were decorated with seashells and porcelains which had previously been used as ballast by boats coming to Bangkok from China. After almost an hour spent at Wat Arun we boarded the boat back to the other side of the river.
             I was impressed that despite the construction of modern structures all over Bangkok they were able to preserve the old temples that are very much part of  Bangkok's historical and cultural identity. I was glad that my first impressions of Bangkok were wrong.      

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