A stop in Bangkok: the Royal Palace and Wat Pho

August 2, 2013. It is very early in the morning as our plane touches down the runway at the Bangkok airport. Traffic to reach the city center should not be too bad at this time of the day, we hope.

Check-in at our hotel, a short nap to catch up on missing sleep, and off we are to go sightseeing. We will start with the Royal Palace, a very famous landmark and an absolute must-see in Bangkok.

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It is also a very, very, very touristy place, and taking pictures without hundreds of conspicuous tourists blocking most of the scene is a real challenge. Better arrive on site as early as possible once it is opened! The Palace was built in 1782 by Rama 1st on the left bank of the Chao Phraya River.

The site is gigantic and houses not only the Palace but also several temples among which the very famous Wat Phra Kaeo where the Emerald Buddha can be admired (but cannot be photographed, alas).

The Emerald Buddha is believed to have been made in the northern part of Thailand. It was taken to different places, all the way up to Laos, until Rama 1st brought it to Bangkok. It rests atop an 11-meter-high throne and is protected by a canopy. Only 62-cm long, the Emerald Buddha is actually made of….jade, and not of emerald! It wears 3 pieces of clothing which the King changes at the turn of every season. The wall paintings all around the temple tell the life story of Buddha (stay tuned for an upcoming post on this topic).

After a long moment admiring the Emerald Buddha, we continue our visit with the paintings of Ramayana on the inner side of the fences surrounding the site. We have seen similar wall paintings in the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh depicting this historic epic (see our post on Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace in the Cambodia section).

The Ramayana, or ‘’Rama’s journey’’ is a mythological epic written in the Sanskrit language between the 3rd century before Christ and the 3rd century after Christ. It is composed of 7 books, 24,000 verses, and 48,000 lines, and is believed to have been written by Valmiki, an Indian poet.

Along with the Mahabharata, it is one of the founding writings of Hinduism.

The Ramayana tells the story of Prince Rama, who is the 7th incarnation of the Vishnu God. The epic story starts with the birth of Rama and his education and then depicts his conquest of Sita and his union with her. The book tells about Rama’s exile, the abduction of Sita, her release, and the return of Rama to the throne. After having been evicted from his father’s throne, even though he is the legitimate heir, Rama flees away from Ayodhya, in the company of Sita and his brother Lakshama. Sita is later abducted by the Ravana demon and kept imprisoned in Lanka. After a long and painful search, Rama delivers Sita with the help of Hanouman, the General of the monkey’s army.

Ravana is killed by Rama, who then gets his throne back and governs the kingdom with great wisdom.

All is well that ends well! Thaïlande 2013_08 034 Thaïlande 2013_08 040

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In the temples, we will get to see a few monks in their orange gowns.

The numerous golden stupas look like the ones you can find in Sri Lanka, the reason being that Buddhism came into Thailand from Sri Lanka.

A stupa is a memorial of Indian origin and built upon the relics of Buddha or of some eminent religious figures.

On the facade of one of the temples, you can admire some angels and demons, all covered with golden leaves.

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They of course represent good and evil.

The ones without shoes are the fitting symbol of good, whereas the demons, symbol of evil, wear shoes!   Well, this has been a fantastic visit.

We exit the site of the Royal Palace, and just outside, the tuk-tuks are patiently waiting for the tourists coming out, hoping they will be exhausted from their visits and thankful for a ride to some place or another. Thaïlande 2013_08 006

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 As for us, we are not finished yet for the day, and we head for Wat Pho: a set of temples of which the main one houses the very famous reclining Buddha.

This temple was built by Rama 1st in the 18th century, and it is the largest temple in the country. The reclining Buddha is made of bricks and covered with golden leaves.

It is 45-meter long and 15-meter high.

A massive and imposing figure! His ears are stretched out so as not to disturb him while meditating. It is an impressive symbol of enlightened death and the attainment of nirvana. On the sole of his feet, the writings are a testimony of his greatness.

They are made of 108 Lak-sa-na’s (graphic signs).

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 All along the various galleries of the temple, one can count precisely 394 statues of Buddha. An impressive display, no doubt.

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Satisfied and happy with our visit for this first day in Bangkok, we head back for our hotel, the Nai Lert Park, looking forward to a well-deserved rest.