The final posting about Bangkok... promise!
Our shopping-shopping itch duly scratched, by Sunday we're in the mood to absorb some of the city's culture, history, and architecture, so we book ourselves on that afternoon's, “City & Temple Tour”. We report to Reception at the appointed hour to be met by Eddie – our tour guide. Eddie – like many of the Thais we met – spoke quite good English but with a very heavy accent that made it quite hard to understand him; not the best trait to have in a tour guide. We follow him to the lift (the hotel reception is on the 18th floor), and down on street level we board a waiting minibus with another couple already in it. They've been picked up already from another hotel and as we depart, Eddie explains that we need to pick up another passenger along the way.
45 minutes later and I'm beginning to realize that the “City” part of the “City & Temples Tour” is going to consist mainly of crawling through Bangkok's traffic trying to find our final passenger, but we do eventually pick her up – a Japanese lady travelling alone – and off we go to our first temple. Eddie explains that we'll be visiting three temples this afternoon, and along the way we'll also visit Chinatown and the Buddhist market, finishing off at a local jewellery factory: my credit card starts to throb at the very thought.
Of course I've got my new camera so a lot of what Eddie is saying is bouncing off me as I fiddle with the many knobs and buttons (and there ARE lots), in the back of the bus.
I was so engrossed in learning my way around the camera that I can't remember the name of the first temple we visited, but I can tell you it was quite small compared with what was to come later. This is home to the famous Gold Buddha: a statue some ten feet tall and made of five and half tons of solid gold. We join the throngs of other tourists in taking off our shoes before entering the chamber where the Gold Buddha sits, looking down serenely on us all,
and I take some comfort from the fact that I'm not the only one whose thirst for the perfect photograph is taking priority over historical and spiritual interest. Camera-pointing-dads are elbowing each other out of the way to get a shot of their family standing in front of the statue without any unfamiliar body parts spoiling the image. The photos taken, we move to the temple itself: a very peaceful and quiet place with another large Buddha at the pinnacle of a large shrine, looking down on the kneeling worshippers below. There are no benches or pews in the temple, just an open carpeted area where the barefooted worshipper kneels or sits to meditate.
Flowers and incense sticks all around help to create a serene, spiritual atmosphere that I find very calming until, as we leave the temple, Eddie chirps, “OK everyone ten minutes for shopping-shopping then back on the bus!”
The second temple is called Wat Po, wat being the Thai word for temple. Wat Po is a huge compound containing multiple temples and other religious buildings, all beautifully designed and set within exquisite landscaped gardens.
The largest of these temples contained the giant reclining Buddha which, at 45 metres long, completely fills the space so that there is just enough room for people to walk around it.
And apparently this is only the third-largest reclining Buddha in the country!
The final temple is just as breathtaking as those that have preceded it; this one being in the centre of a large garden complete with stream, wooden bridge, and ornate shrubs.
It is at the entrance to this third temple where the old woman selling live fish and toads (see pic in previous post) had her “pitch”.
During the tour I was overawed by the beauty and serenity of the temples and their surroundings, and I did learn that all Thai men have to spend some time as a monk as young adults. This could be as little as two weeks or as much as several years. I also learned that Buddha statues come in a variety of poses; each with it's own significance and meaning. One hand on the leg, pointing down, means “towards the Earth”, both hands folded on the lap is meditation, standing Buddha with one palm raised and forward means, “stop fighting”, and so on.
But that's all I learned I'm afraid, because I spent more time playing with my camera than listening to Eddie's lecture.