The most congested city we have ever been to
11.11.2012 - 12.11.2012 28 °C
Bangkok is the capital of Thailand (formerly Siam) and its largest city with a population of between 10 and 15 million depending on who you talk to. Because of its location in the delta of the Chao Phraya River (River of Kings), it is very water oriented with many canals running large distances off the river and through the city. Being a delta the land is also very flat with very little elevation and so is prone to flooding - there was a very big one last year which we saw the disasterous results of.
We decided to start our exploration of the city gently and booked a "Grand Palace and River of Kings Canal Cruise". The Grand Palace complex was established in 1782 and consists of the royal residence and throne halls, a number of gevernment offices and numerous temples including the renowned Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Phra Keow. It is a huge complex covering an area of 218,000 square meters. Here is a map of the complex.
Grand Palace Complex
Here are the 4 of us in front of the Grand Palace.
Hazel, Sue, Roy and Dave
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy ruled by King Rama IX, a much beloved and revered monarch who has ruled since 1946. He is the world's longest serving head of state having taken over the throne when he was only 18. Pictures of the King and Queen are very prominent in many locations in the country. Officially the king of Thailand is titled Head of State, Head of the Armed Forces, the Upholder of the Buddhist religion, and the Defender of all Faiths. The Buddhist religion is woven into every facet of life in Thailand and most homes and public areas have one form of shrine or another. Even our hotel has a 20 foot square shrine in the main parking area in front of the hotel.
90 to 95 % of the population are Buddhist. Thailand's holiest religious statue is the famed Emerald Buddha which is located in the Wat Phra Keow temple located in the Grand Palace Complex - so as to be close to the royal residence. Here is a picture of the Emerald Buddha which we found surprisingly small although the building it is housed in is very substantial and very elabourately decorated inside and out.
Emerald Buddha in the Wat Phra Keow
The Buddha is mistakingly referred to emerald - actually it is carved from jade. It is dressed in gold garments which change 3 times a year with the seasons.
Many other items of interest included:
Statue of a Giant
Model of Angor Wat in Cambodia which we will be visiting much later in our trip
Temple of the Emerald Buddha
Other view of Temple of the Emerald Buddha
Hall of the Elephants
This building is interesting as it was built in the European style. There was much criticism of the style so they simply put a roof on that was more to the eastern style. The front courtyard used to be the place where they kept the elephants. When the elephants were moved elsewhere they put 2 statues of elephabts on each side of the large front steps.
We left the Grand Palace and headed over to Wat Pho, the temple of the reclining Buddha by tuk tuk.
Here is Roy getting into the tuk tuk
and David following him
The Reclining Buddha is the largest buddha in Bangkok. We guessed that it was about 100 feet long and about 20 feet high. Here is its head:
This is the view looking towards the Buddha's feet
and looking back up from the feet (note the "toe prints" on the bottom of his toes.
The bottom of his feet have very intricate decorations (all with specific meanings) made from mother-of-pearl.
This complex of Wat Pho has exquisite detail on the exterior of the buildings
This was the centre of learning and medicine. Here are some diagrams on the walls related to traditional Thai massage and medicine
Diagrams used to teach traditional Thai mecidine
We then visited another temple with another spectacularly decorated Buddha
We then walked down towards the river through a market with raised walkways.
We boarded a long tailed boat
Long tailed boat
which had a pretty spectacularly large engine
and headed out into the fairly choppy river and then into a whole series of canals to see how the people lived on the river. These people are very poor and live in very basic housing. Note the raised concrete walkways along the canals - we were to bicycle along some of them the next day. They had a big flood last year and many of these "houses" were flooded with the water rising well above the walkways. Here are some canal scenes:
Even here, in the middle of this very poor section we came across another beautiful temple.
During our boat ride we stopped to purchase some bread from a local buddhist monk to feed the catfish in the canal. This is believed to make the catfish happy and bring good luck. Tossing in bread caused quite a feeding frenzy.
This blog is getting lengthly so we will stop it for now and continue with our next 2 days in Bangkok and area in the next blog post.