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It broke my heart a little to leave Yangon, Myanmar and its tumbledown tranquality behind. The mood is entirely different in Bangkok and it took me a while to adjust to the different spirit of life here.
In aboriginal culture it’s believed that after a journey it takes a while for the spirit to catch up with the body and that was definately my feeling today exploring Bangkok.
I was seeing beautiful places and amazing sights and yet, with no ostensible cause, feeling a bit disconnected and disengaged from them.
I started with a visit to Ko Ratanakosin. It’s the oldest part of the city and home to numerous temples, palaces, museums and markets. Far too many to explore in a single day. Here are a few pictures.
Next, I wandered over to the golden mount which affords some beautiful sights and a panoromic view of the city from the top.
The story of the vultures is interesting. Apparently it was customary leave bodies out for vultures prior to crematation. In the 19th centurt, during a particularly bad cholera outbreak, the bodies were piled high on the golden mount creating a gruesome spectacle as the vultures feasted. This attracted the attention of monks who were drawn to the spectacle as a bracing meditation on impermanence. Now that confounds our cultural expectation of what meditation is doesn’t it!
Next I took some time to venture off the main path and explore some smaller and delightful alleys and markets as I wandered in the general direction of Wat Phra Kaew and the royal palace. Life and commerce spilling over eternally. The atmosphere was very positive and friendly and I started to feel more in tune with the place (coffee helped!).
Wat Phra Kaew is the religious enclosure that forms part of the grand palace and is one of Bangkok’s biggest tourist magnets. Beautiful but very crowded. It was a real jostle to get into the ordination hall that houses the emerald Buddha – an important icon of Thai national identity. Originally made in Northern Thailand out of pure jade (and not emerald) in the 15th century. It was carried off to Laos in the 16th century before being returned to Chaing Mai, Northern Thailand by prince Setthathirath who united the thrown of Lao and Lang Zang, an ancient kingdom in Northern Thailand with Chaing Mai as capital. It was subsequently taken to Bangkok in the late 18th century by the forces of the then Siamese military after putting down an insurrection in the North. It has remained in Bangkok as Siam morphed into Thailand, artfully dodging colonisation in the 19th and 20th centuries, unlike its neighbours in the region. I will write more on history and politics later. But back to the emerald Buddha…
It sits there shimmering in the beautiful temple as devout Thai’s pray and tourists jostle in a formidable throng. Photography is forbidden in the hall so I’ve no photo of the inside, but here is the exterior.
The rest of Wat Phra Kaew is full of beautiful buildings but most are closed to the public. Very pretty. Here are some photos.
The rest of the buildings in the royal palace are mostly off-limits to tourists but look lovely from the outside. Here are some photos. The palace is spacious and impressive.
It’s all very pretty but to be honest I just wasn’t feeling it. I don’t if it was the throng of tourists, the sweltering heat or tourist fatigue but I just didn’t feel much connection here.
Afterwards I crossed the road and entered a small shrine and simply sat down for a few minutes. I watched the people come in sit, pray and take photographs. It was lovely just to sit there, observe and be part of a more ordinary place and I left connected and balanced again. Here’s a photo.
If I was feeling more in the mood , I could have gone to Wat Pho with its reclining Buddha, mother of pearl inlay and stone giants but I wasn’t.
A good lunch, a read of my book and it was time to move on. A night bus to Ranong, where I will stay for one night before a few days on the island of Ko Chang ( off the Andaman coast, not to be confused with its more famous Eastern namesake) lie ahead. Best, Alan
Alan Coakley is a Travel Director based in Ireland.
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