One of the neatest things for me about visiting Bangkok was seeing Buddhist temples everywhere. I am no student of their faith and much less of all the specifics of the architecture of these temples but they are impressive and that’s why I am glad I made the time for a stop -however brief- in Bangkok as I traveled between Bali and Cambodia. Time was short so we had to keep it only to the main temples in Bangkok (plus the one we visited during our bike tour of the countryside).
Once we finished our bike ride outside of Bangkok after lunch that day, we headed into the heart of Bangkok to visit Wat Arun and Wat Pho. (Be careful with this latter one as asking about it may lead your fellow traveler to think you are messing with him and almost earn you a fist to your face! Remember “Who is on first?“, etc. Yea, that.)
I will not try to tell you the story of these two places as there are plenty of resources out there for that. These temples are very colorful thanks to what seem to be porcelain tiles and mosaics everywhere. It is great to admire from a distance but getting up close allows one to see the details of the decorated exteriors. Also, know that these are the very abbreviated names for these temples (which are really each a temple complex on its own) – names there can be quite long!
Wat Arun – Temple of the Dawn
Wat Arun dates from the 17th century but the main towers one sees are much more recent. We started our temple visits by arriving here but crossing it quickly to get to the ferry to first visit Wat Pho on the other side of the river. Once we finished with Wat Pho, where we spent most of our time, we crossed the river back to check out Wat Arun.
The highlight for me happened rather unexpectedly. We walked into one of the temples. There was a monk sitting near a box where one could drop a coin and he would pray over you. Not certain how this all worked, I walked away to a donation box not close to him. As I walked back to the back of the temple, the monk called me over to him and signaled for me to sit on the floor. He proceeded to give me a blessing. Unbeknownst to me, my friend Phil started video’ing the whole thing and I ended up with a neat ‘souvenir’ from this random event!
Wat Pho – Where the Reclining Buddha is
The Reclining Buddha may be what makes this temple complex most famous but it is quite an impressive site. But first, the Reclining Buddha is not just napping – he has reached the ideal state and the posture signifies that (vs. a sitting Buddha or a standing Buddha). The Reclining Buddha is very long (46 m; 150 ft) and based on how it is housed within a building, one can’t just stand in front of it and capture it head to toes in a nice, clean photo. Which is kind of cool, come to think of it. This unique piece was built close to 200 years ago and it impresses.
But Wat Pho is much more than its famous resident statue. Pagodas (towers) built by different kings which house their own Buddhas and other parts related to the monastic complex are worth exploring (there are well laid out signs to explain to the visitor the complex and its contents). The ceramic tile-work on the roofs are different depending on the king or period in which the structures were built.
What to know
- You can go way more off-the-beaten path than what we got to see. But these two are a must!
- You can use ferries/boats up and down the river in Bangkok to move between the temples. No need to just suffer city traffic. Plus, at some point or another, you WILL need to cross the river!
- Temples do close earlier than a tourist may expect. Know the times or use a local guide. We went for the latter as we didn’t have to think about anything plus he knew a few other things (like best photo spot at a given temple, etc.).
- Temples are about someone’s faith. They ask that you do not wear shorts or sleeveless shirts. It was sad to see how many people showed either ignorance or disrespect. One doesn’t have to subscribe to the beliefs of the locals, but one should respect them. Yes, it is hot and humid. Wear a wicking t-shirt and some hiking pants that convert to shorts and one will be alright in that weather!