Friday, March 10, 2006

Travel: What's a Wat?

During my week-long stay in Bangkok, we managed to squeeze in two brief tours of the city. It really would've been better if I'd taken off to explore on my own for days. Being that I was there for a conference (honest!), it really wasn't too bad. At least we got to see some of the Thai cultural icons ~ Wats.

What's a Wat?

In a nutshell, it's a Buddhist temple from the Cambodian, Lao or Thailand region. Click 'HERE' for a more detailed definition.

Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) was one of the gems we visited on the first of our Chao Phraya River tour. Located on the Western banks/Thonburi area of the city, it consists of a center tower (Khmer style prang), boasting 104m tall, with 4 smaller prangs seeded at its corners. All of the towers are adorned by pieces of Chinese porcelain.

Nothing sits within this temple. This is only a structure, with no rooms or halls for believers to pray in. Although it once housed the infamous Emerald Buddha, the relic has now been moved to Wat Phra Kaew, closer to the Grand Palace.

Noting that Wat Arun is probably one of the most published images of Bangkok, it is also on the back of a 10Baht (USD$0.25) coin.

Wat Pho, or Phra Chetuphon as known by the locals, impressed me the most.

Wat Pho dates back to about 200 years prior to Bangkok being established as the capital of Siam in 1782 by King Rama I. It is by the Grand Palace, housing a 13m (43ft) high and 46 meter (151ft) long sleeping Buddha.

At the temple, handfuls of beads could be offered up as prayers, placing them one by one into the bowls while walking alongside the temple walls.

Wat Traimit in the China Town area was one of the interesting ones. In there, sat a statue of Buddha, made out of 5,500kg (12,000lbs)!

At first glance, the 3m high Buddha image in here looks distinctly average and undeserving of the busloads of tourists that visit every day. What attracts them all however, is the remarkable fact that it's made of 5.5 tonnes of solid gold.

The story behind the image is that in 1957 a large stucco Buddha image was being moved by crane during development of a port. To the horror of all concerned, the crane operator accidentally dropped the image, sending it crashing towards the ground. Instead of smashing however, the stucco covering merely cracked and in the process revealed the solid gold image hidden underneath. It is thought to have been covered like this during the early Ayuthaya or Sukhothai period, apparently to protect the image from the invading Burmese, and remained that way for several hundred years.


Wats are everywhere in Bangkok. Turn every corner, and you'll see a Wat here, there, and everywhere!

Kings continually to built temples in the capital. Probably the last official one being built by the kings, as we were told, was Wat Benchamabophit ~ or Marble Temple. Construction commenced in 1899, under orders of King Chulalongkorn. This is a UNESCO world heritage site, housing 52 Buddha statues, an intricate roof (inside and outside), and is actually still being used by monks for meditation.

I'd like to go on and on about more of the places we visited, and the histories, but I guess that's probably enough about Wats for now.

If you'd like to see more pictures of the trip, not only of temples, do click on my photo album link on the blog's sidebar, or 'HERE'.


At March 10, 2006 1:25 PM, Blogger Joel said...

Thanks for taking us on your tour. In my couple of years in Korea I have had several plans to head to Thailand, but they always falls apart. It looks great!

At March 10, 2006 2:10 PM, Blogger domestic rat said...

Did you manage to go see the Four-faced Buddha?

At March 10, 2006 4:16 PM, Blogger Jo said...

sounds a nice trip to Thailand!!!!
any sleeping buddha huh?

At March 10, 2006 6:13 PM, Blogger piffles said...

dang. i'm so old and i haven't been to bangkok or any parts of thailand..

At March 11, 2006 10:26 AM, Blogger Max said...

A little correction, you said at Wat Pho, "handfuls of beads could be offered up as prayers, placing them one by one into the bowls while walking alongside the temple walls."

But they're not beads, they're coins. They're small and only worth 1/4 baht (a fraction of a penny). The only other place I saw these coins was at the supermarket. Beads don't feed monks, coins do. ;)

At March 11, 2006 11:00 AM, Blogger Kurios1978 said...

Joel: Heard that the prices of tickets could be as low as 500,000 Won during the off-peak seasons... Might be worth a shot.

Domestic Rat: The Erawan... I believe I saw it while walking around the area. Never took notice of it, until someone told me about it later on.

Jo: Got la, at Wat Pho!

Piffles: Don't worry, this was my first trip too. :P

Max: I could've sworn they were beads. Well, a small donation was required for the them THINGS anyway. I guess that feeds the monks. :)

At March 11, 2006 3:53 PM, Blogger Max said...

Trust me, they're coins. Yes, you do buy them there because nobody in their right mind would be walking around with a pocket full of coins only worth $.006 each.

At March 14, 2006 2:45 PM, Anonymous Gary said...

Argh, your photos and blog are amazing!!! I miss Thailand!!! Magical place isn't it? All the best with KK!!! : P


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