Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Siamese Wonders in Bangkok

Grand Palace BangkokAncient travellers wrote about the beautiful capital city of the kingdom of Siam. Frenchmen from early 16th century reported the splendor of the temples and palaces they saw which to their mind (in the ultimate praise) even rivaled Paris.

I can understand why. There are many reasons people travel to Bangkok: for its beaches, its night life, its food, and for bargain shopping. I am here for business, but in the few hours I had to myself today, I used well. The Grand Palace in the heart of Bangkok with its revered Emerald Buddha temple is a sight to behold. I have never seen so much gold-leaf all at one place in my life!

Grand Palace BangkokLike in Bali, I noticed a lot of common symbolism in the temples and palaces here with Hindu temples in India. While Thailand is predominantly Buddhist, their temples are adorned with mythical figures of monkey-men, frescos depicting scenes from the Ramayana (while Rama's name has remained unchanged, Ravana has a different name here signifying his ten heads). Many have names with Sanskrit origins (my guide's name was Aranya).

Grand Palace BangkokThe Thais love their king and the royal family. My guide spoke with reverence every time she mentioned the king. Called Rama IX, he is the longest reigning Thai monarch and the world's longest serving head-of-state. The king's elder sister had recently died and there were signs of mourning (the colors white and black are both used to signify mourning here). Local visiting the Grand Palace could therefore be easily identified today by their black and/or white clothes.

The temple of the Emerald Buddha is apparently the most sacred one among the 140 temples scattered around this city of 10 million people. The statue is only 16 inches tall and made of jade (and not emerald!).


In the Grand Palace I could see a lot of influence from neighbouring Cambodia and China. Porcelain and ceramic tiles with designs that are distinctly Chinese, and some rounded temple-tops such as those in Cambodia intermingled with the local architecture. There are also some structures which have been built to European specifications but with Thai adornments on the roof. One of the interesting things here is a detailed, scale model of the Angkor Wat temple.

Grand Palace BangkokAmazingly, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian state that avoided colonial rule! My guide atributed that to the skillful diplomacy of the then king of Siam who she and her people hold in very high esteem for this reason.

The tour of the Grand Palace will take about two hours. The mornings are more crowded then later in the day, but for good reason: it can get pretty hot and humid during the afternoon. Also note that shorts (for men) and strappy dresses (for women) are not allowed. Photography is not permited within the temple of the Emerald Buddha and a few other places.

9 comments:

Sig said...

Wow beautiful pics.. where is the food? Few hours, so you must've grabbed at least one meal right? :)

Kate / Kajal said...

Lovely pictures and a gr8 review on Bangkok . I've been there a couple of times, but u said it best.

Zhu said...

Looks wonderful! Better than Paris in my opinion ;-)

French has always loved South East Asia, you're right. Not just the place, the people too...

backpakker said...

beautiful pics and great post ..Ive always liked the south asian architecture..I remember when we went to Bali, there was a huge sculpture from the Ramayana right in the middle of the road..

Shantanu said...

@sig: Thanks! As for the food, certainly...an whole post coming up. :-)

@kate/kajal: Thank you!

@zhu: LOL!

@backpakker: I know which one; it's one the way to the city from the airport and in white.

harinair said...

Hey Shantanu - in Bangkok on work? Looks like it is time for the Thais to circle the wagons. The war medicine seems to have been made and the Indians (as in the software kind) seem to be fully painted for war. Is the falling Dollar puttting the poor Thais at risk?

Shantanu said...

@harinair: Haha, well this was work, but not specifically related to Thailand. We were meeting here. :-)

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