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. Regrettably I don’t have a recording of my infamous performance.
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.
But Thailand’s real beauty is that it is a country awash in gold. You might need sunglasses for some of the sights I am about to share with you. Let me start with the most jaw dropping statue hinted in the photo at the top of this post.
Wat Pho (Wat is a Buddhist Temple) contains a reclining Buddha so large it is nearly 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).
In case a tourist was interested, there were of course countless shops where one could purchase smaller statues of “gold” as remembrance:
From Brobdingnag to Lilliput. Wat Phra Kaew, which is part of the glittering, colorful, expansive ancient court of the Grand Palace, houses a much smaller (26”x19”) gold and jade buddha known as the Emerald Buddha (the original Emerald Buddha was stolen).
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 Emerald Buddha is fiercely guarded by rows of Garuda on the Temple walls:
The grounds of the Grand Palace are almost indescribable – there is a dizzying array of temples flashing gold, glittering with jewels and crystals. Everything is ablaze in the typical Buddhist temple colors besides gold: orange, ochre, green, red and white. Chimes hanging from the rooftop tiers tinkle in the slight breeze – but 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 nearby Asian countries. We also 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. As you may have surmised this trip was taken pre-pandemic:
This structure is a called a chedi or stupa. It is a structure of Indian origin used to store relics of Buddha (the bell-shaped stupa is of Sri Lankan origin)
Taking photos during this visit to Thailand was challenging – as you can see it was difficult to get photographs without a piece of someone’s body.
Timothy Leary would have loved this place.