I went to Bangkok the second week of March for a work trip expecting to eat authentic Thai food and not much in terms of attractions. Unless green curry macaroni classifies as authentic Thai, I didn't eat good Thai food. I was at a conference where they served breakfast lunch and dinner and it was mostly continental food. I am not complaining too much because I got to eat a lot of salmon and cod that I don't get in India.
Bangkok city surprised me. It was not quite Singapore, but pretty darn close in terms of cleanliness, skyscrapers and infrastructure. I did see some poor dwellings, but it was nowhere near an Indian city. My only complaint was that the traffic was terrible. None of the attractions were close to their Metro Rail stops, so I had to travel by taxis and was often stuck in traffic.
I was in Bangkok for work, so was able to take only a few hours a day to visit the attractions. The first two places I went to were Wat Pho and Wat Arun. Wat in Thai means 'temple'.
Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)
Wat Pho is a 17th century Buddhist Monastery that houses the famous reclining Buddha. The buddha statue is 46 meters long and 15 meters high and covered in gold leaf. An interesting fact about this temple is that the Buddha statue was built first and then the hall to cover it. A 50 bhat tickets lets you gain access into the sacred hall that houses the Buddha. I walked in and was stunned by the art that covered every inch of the hall. The roof had a maroon and golden floral design and every inch of the walls were covered in murals describing the past lives of Lord Buddha. Areas around the statues were covered in gold plated metallic designs. It was very overwhelming to be in this hall surrounded by ancient Thai art. I don't think I felt this way about art after Italy!
Murals on the Temple Walls
When you walk out of the hall, you are welcomed by a number of intricately decorated chedis or pagodas. There are about a hundred pagodas in the complex, some in Cambodian Style, some in Chinese and the rest in Thai style architecture.
The pagodas and bells in the courtyard were intricately decorated using Chinese porcelain. The courtyard itself has a lot of Chinese Statues that were brought by traders as gifts to the King.
One other thing that struck me most about the temple compound were the brightly colored roof tiles and gold leaf decorations giving it a very rich look.
What Pho is also considered to be Thailand's first public university. This is the birthplace of Thai medicine and the famous massage technique.
Vam: Hey Saru, Can I give you a Royal Thai Massage?
Saru: Do I have to get naked for that?
Vam: Do you want to get naked?
Saru: Do I have to?
Vam: No, it is normally done with clothes on. Lie down and close your eyes. I will start from the toes and work my way up.
Saru: Should I even ask where you learnt this ancient art?
Vam: I remember some details from my massage and the rest I will wing it.
Saru: Oh God!!
Vam: So, they use their fingers, hands, elbows, feet...
Saru: Feet?? She uses her FEET?? Does she also jump on you?
Vam: It is quite sad how most of your knowledge is based on bad action movies. Any way, she did not jump on me, but she sat on me.
Saru: She SAT on you?? Oh my God!! Then what happened?
Vam: She pinned me down, tied my hands and ran away with my purse! Am I telling you a story here?
Saru (shaking his head in dis-belief): I can't believe you allowed a woman to sit on you!
Vam: Well...she didn't exactly sit on me.She almost sat on me.
Vam: She sat in the sitting posture, but didn't put her weight on me. Anyway, it is part of the massage. For 450 Bhat (~700 Rs), I got a 2 hour massage.
Saru: TWO HOURS? What did she do for two hours?
Two hours might seem like a long time, but time flies when you are getting massaged by magic hands . Based on recommendations from my Thai colleague, I went to Health Land Spa. It was a wonderful experience not to be missed. On subsequent days, I went back to the spa for a foot massage and a facial and was transported back into heaven!
Wat Arun - Temple of Dawn
My next trip was to Wat Arun or the Temple of Dawn, which ironically is best seen at dusk. The temple is situated on the east bank of Chao Phraya River. I took a ferry that cost 3 Bhat and exactly 3 minutes to cross the river to get to Wat Arun. Built in the early 18th century, this temple has a massive tower decorated in colored porcelain from China.
The tower is supported by rows of demons and monkeys. Steep knee-busting steps lead way to a balcony with great views of the monastery complex, the river and the modern Bangkok.
I also took this night picture when we were on a dinner cruise. I had to change ISO to 800 to get this image, so it is not a good one.