When I was a little girl, I would sit transfixed for hours listening to my mother’s many long-playing vinyl records of Broadway and theatrical musicals and operas (I am happy that the re-emerging popularity of vinyl makes it unnecessary to explain what these recordings are). My favorite album was from the theatrical version of “The King and I” starring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr, which I not only played to exhaustion, but also learned a scene to play in an acting class many years later in college. While I unfortunately don’t have a recording of my infamous performance – here is what it undoubtedly looked like:
Siam, as Thailand was called then, seemed otherworldly, awash in golden splendor with temples seemingly reaching up to the heavens with graceful spires, while scary multicolored guardians protected their entranceways. Modern Thailand is now replete with skyscrapers of glass and steel, but it thankfully has retained its glorious historical architecture and in fact many of the structures are still in use.
That’s not to say I didn’t thoroughly enjoy staying in one of Bangkok’s lovely new hotels, for while it retained the old Thai flavor with teak floors, wood panelled rooms, open air restaurants and a profusion of multicolored orchids, the hotel also greatly pleased my modern sensibilities with this:
Universal electrical adapters! Despite the fact that I had brought a bag full of various sized adapters I was nevertheless thrilled to be able to simply plug-in. (This appears to be the norm in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam and I am eternally grateful).
There is also one of the longest terraced pools I have ever seen, providing a peaceful oasis to enjoy a Thai lunch – which we did with a friend who had just recently moved to Thailand:
Thus refreshed from our 20 hour flight, we hit the ground running, You might need sunglasses for some of the sights I am about to share with you. Let me provide you with a few definitions:
Wat – Buddhist Temple
Chedi or Stupa – A structure of Indian origin used to store relics of Buddha (the bell-shaped stupa is of Sri Lankan origin)
Naga – snake or dragon like god from Indian mythology found at the edge of the temple’s roof, protecting its treasures
Yaksha – a large benevolent spirit which stands at the portals of temples to prevent demons from entering
All of the temples we are about to see are structurally eye-popping, but Wat Pho contains a reclining Buddha so large it is simply impossible to capture it all in one shot. Gilded with gold leaf, the serenely smiling Buddha is the largest in Thailand, measuring 151 feet long and 50 feet tall. The Buddha’s feet are 16 feet tall, and are inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Along the temple’s opposite wall is a long series of brass offering bowls so as you view these images see if you can hear the gentle chime of coins dropping:
The toes and fingers of Buddhas are always the same length and are extremely long. In fact, a standing Buddha’s arm reaches below the knee (I tried this position but came up way short).
From Brobdingnag to Lilliput. Wat Phra Kaew, which is part of the glittering, colorful, expansive ancient court of the Grand Palace houses a tiny jade buddha known as the Emerald Buddha (the original Emerald Buddha was stolen). To get there we embark on the first of many unique forms of transport, the tuk-tuk:
Wat Phra Kaew is Thailand’s most important shrine and dates back to the 14th Century. The Emerald Buddha sits very high on a series of platforms and no one is allowed near the Buddha itself except the King. A seasonal cape, changed three times a year to correspond to the summer, winter, and rainy season covers the statue. The changing of the robes is performed only by the King to bring good fortune to the country during each season.
I was able to get a few photos using my zoom lens while outside the temple:
The grounds of the Grand Palace are almost indescribable – there is a dizzying array of temples flashing gold and glittering with jewels and crystals. Everything is a blaze in the typical Buddhist temple colors: orange, ochre, green, red and white. Chimes hanging from the rooftop tiers tinkle in the slight breeze – they must have caught all the air, as from where I stood it was hot hot hot. I suppose that was due somewhat to the hoards of people running hither and thither around the palace grounds – the Grand Palace is a very popular site for the nearby Asian countries. We arrived on a holiday – the end of the lunar new year celebrations – so many locals had obviously taken advantage of the day off to visit:
Timothy Leary would have loved this place.
I think King Monghut said it best: “etcetera, etcetera, etcetera and so forth.”