BANGKOK - Okay. That's possible the most cliched and possibly insulting headline ever, considering a Wat is a sacred temple in Thailand. But it's hard to resist a bad pun, so there you go. And let me quickly state there was no offence intended and that I loved visiting the two Wats I toured in this city on the weekend. Okay? OKAY????
As I was saying, I had a morning this past weekend doing a walking tour of some of the dozens of sights of this capital city. My tour guide, the very likeable and knowledgable Kay from Bangkok Private Tours, showed me around the funky Banglamphu neighbourhood and gave me a tour of two magnificent temples: Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho.
Wat Phra Kaew has the Emerald Buddha, which actually is jade but looks emerald, Kay told me. The grounds simply took my breath away; stunning spires of gold and deep blue tiles and colourful statues of deities and the Emerald Buddha itself, which is fairly small but sits high atop a mantle of gold and is given robes for different seasons, not that Bangkok has anything we’d call winter.
It’s a magnificent structure, filled with renderings of Buddha’s life and thousands of tiny paintings in surrounding structures. I really hadn’t done enough research, but it was one of those times I was glad I didn’t as it gave me a chance to be truly taken aback.
Wat Phra Kaew is the Mecca for Thai Buddhists, Kay told me; a place all Thais want to see at some point in their life. It’s only a few bucks to get in, and an absolute gem of a place in a city that, for many North Americans, is known mostly for nightlife, food and, yes, sex.
We also toured Wat Pho with the massive, gold Reclining Buddha. It’s another temple filled with gorgeous towers and colourful tiles, as well as miniature gardens with amusing statuary; some that looked like something out of “Where the Wild Things Are” and others causing teenage boys to laugh hilariously; most notably one with a man on his back and a woman helping him stretch his legs (I think) while resting her bum just under his chin.
The Reclining Buddha is 45 meters long, and is said to be the third longest reclining Buddha in the world or something like that. I’m not so great with numbers and who really cares if it’s 1 or 2 or 17; it’s a remarkable piece of work that’s 17 meters high and shows the Buddha slipping into nirvana, otherwise known as the Canadian Senate.
Following a dynamite lunch on the waterfront, Kay suggested I ease my curiousity about the canals that split off from the Chao Phraya river and drop 60 bucks of the Star’s money on a “James Bond” boat trip.
We quickly jumped into a long, narrow boat with a high (very high) prow and an outboard motor off the back that looked to be the size of a baby elephant. Certainly not a contender for the eco-friendly tourism award, but it’s a great way to get around the canals when you have only a limited time.
We kept it slow most of the time to keep the wake down, and passed a wonderful parade of waterside homes, broken-down shacks, colourful floral displays, tiny corner markets, men fishing with their sons or daughters, teens perched on overhead road crossings while smoking cigarettes and small kids pushing one another into the murky waters. It was, in other words, an absolute delight and something I would put near the top of my list for anyone visiting this wonderful city.
Also awesome is dinner outside in Chinatown, perched on narrow, long picnic tables on the edge of choking traffic and under the basking glow of a million neon lights and a three-quarter moon. I’ll tell you more about it in the Star later, but suffice to say it was cheap and great food and tons of fun.
We followed that with a tour of the nighttime flower and vegetable market, thanks to Scott Coates, the Canadian businessman who helped start the hugely successful Smiling Albino travel company, which specializes in Southeast Asia. And then drinks at a fabulous, outdoor bar on the river directly across from Wat Arun, which is beautiful to behold at night.
It was only 48 hours or so, but it really made me want to go back to Bangkok. Let alone Chiang Mai and any of the dozens of cool-looking islands.
Friendly people, and I mean that sincerely, great food, warm weather, tons of cultural sights; it’s a city that rightfully deserves to be near the top of anyone’s list.
More coming from Southeast Asia later this week, including some posts from fascinating, colourful and highly entertaining Hanoi, and then later from Halong Bay, Vietnam.