Bangkok

Reclining Buddha in Wat Pho temple... ...the 15 m high and 43 m long statue represents the Buddha during his last illness, about to enter the parinirvana

Reclining Buddha in Wat Pho temple… …the 15 m high and 43 m long statue represents the Buddha during his last illness, about to enter the parinirvana

Dates visited: December 30, 2014 – January 3, 2015

If you know Buddha like I know Buddha, then be prepared to be amazed and awed by what Bangkok has to offer in the “Know Your Buddha Basics” category! Prior to visiting Bangkok, if you had asked me to describe a Buddha image/statue, the only one that I could visualize was a stone/bronze Buddha in a meditating pose, seated with his legs crossed and his hands either raised (palm outwards) or resting between the cradle formed by his legs. Not necessarily in Bangkok; here you have Buddhas for all occasions and in many different poses—you have day-of-the-week Buddhas, sitting Buddhas, standing Buddhas, and even reclining Buddhas! In Japan and Hong Kong, I saw Buddhas carved out of rock and bronze, but in Thailand, I saw golden Buddhas, gold-plated Buddhas and jade Buddhas. In my opinion, this ostentation and extravagance goes against the simple life that Buddha lived and the values that he preached.

Of course, Bangkok has lots more to offer than Buddhas; there is the revered royal family and the Grand Palace, larger-than-life-size portraits of the King, tall buildings and narrow streets, pink taxis and flamboyant tuk-tuks, traffic jams, amazing Thai food and lots more. We just had a wonderful time here enjoying the friendly people and the festive atmosphere… …New Year’s Day is supposed to be an auspicious time so people were out in throngs. One thing that hits you right away as you start exploring Bangkok is that people love their King. King Bhumibol Adulyadej (aka Rama IX) has reigned since 9 June 1946, making him the world’s longest serving head of state and world’s longest reigning current monarch in Thai history. Whether it is the fear of lèse majesté (the Thai Criminal Code says “Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” without defining what actions constitute “defamation” or “insult) or the citizens are brainwashed or the King has genuinely helped the subjects, you can hear admiration and respect in people’s voices when they talk about their King Rama IX. Also to note, we were in Bangkok seven months after the Thai Army launched a coup d’état against the caretaker government but we did not encounter any inconvenience or safety issues.

In terms of food, Thai food is a whole lot spicier than the 3-4 chilies represented on a Thai restaurant menu card here in the US. I can manage 2-3 chilies worth of hotness in US, but even the mildly prepared curries in Bangkok were enough to set my tongue on fire! But given their lip-smacking delicious flavor and aroma, I was prepared to swallow a fire extinguisher, if needed! Also, the Thai love their meat! I am a 100% self-acknowledged, rigorously-practicing carnivore but my friends that were traveling with me were vegetarians so when we asked our guide to recommend and reserve a good restaurant, she kept referring to my food as “normal food” and their food as “vegetarian food”. But one dessert all of us loved was mango with sticky rice and our guide kept buying it for us from places that specialized in it.

While I enjoyed exploring Bangkok, two attractions that stood out for me are Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) and Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha).

  • The Reclining Buddha is 15 m high and 43 m long, but the structure that houses the statue is extremely narrow. Because of that, your perspective of what to expect gets skewed and as you enter the temple and look to the left, you suddenly see a massively huge golden Buddha head resting on a gigantic hand! Your view is obstructed by several wide columns that separate the viewing area from the Buddha so as you walk down the narrow corridor, the Buddha reveals himself in small portions at regular intervals until you get to the end (by his huge feet) and see the Reclining Buddha in its entirety. That’s a sight to remember forever!
  • The Emerald Buddha, compared to the Reclining Buddha, is tiny… …30 inches high! But this green jade statue of Buddha in a meditating pose is the most sacred Buddha in the entire of Thailand and is housed in the Wat Phra Kaew temple on the grounds of the Grand Palace. Only the King is allowed to touch it! Thrice a year, before the onset of the summer, rainy and winter seasons, the King changes the clothes on this Buddha in a much-anticipated ceremony. But the entire temple (Wat Phra Kaew) complex is worth at least a couple of hours of serious sightseeing. I found the numerous chedis (stupas), 6m tall statues of yakshas (demons), detailed paintings of the Indian epic, Ramayana, and spotless buildings with their beautiful carvings and striking architecture very unique.

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