Thursday, February 26, 2009
Wat Pho and The Grand Palace
We had to spend a day exploring the Wat Pho and Grand Palace which are conveniently located across the street from each other. The best way to get there is to find your way to the river and jump on the ferry. Really easy to find.
First we went to the Wat Pho, which is famous for it's giant reclining Buddha. This Buddha is 46 meters long and 15 meters high. The feet are really interesting because they are covered with different patterns made of mother of pearl. I've seen a lot of temples and a lot of Buddhas in Asia and this one was pretty darn impressive. This wat is currently under construction- they are replacing the tiles on the roof. In fact, you can donate to the cause and "buy" a tile. They let you write a message on it. We're cheap and we didn't do this but we did look at all the tiles that other people had written on.
Next we decided to go to the Grand Palace. We'd heard repeatedly that there were tons of scammers all around it and not to listen to anyone saying that the Palace is closed for one reason or another. Even knowing this, we were both taken aback when we were approached. You see, the Grand Palace is surrounded by a massive white stone fence. It stretches forever and has lots of mini openings all around it. It's hard to tell where the main gate is or if you are at the main gate already. And the scammers look like they work there. They speak English, they are helpful and well dressed. They might even be wearing some sort of badge or identification. One guy stopped us and said that the Palace was closed for a ceremony for a short while but would reopen to the public at 1:30pm. We were actually almost convinced. He took our map and was asking us questions like, "Have you been to Wat Pho?", "What about the National Museum?" and seemed so kind and helpful. Then he tried to get us in a cab to go to some "Happy Buddha Temple" and we knew it was a scam. We thanked him and kept walking. We were approached by a less convincing guy but by that point we weren't even acknowledging him. We walked around the big white walls until we found the obvious main gate where they were letting everyone in. Bottom line: this place is open everyday of the year and even if there is a special royal event happening, most of the palace will still be open to visitors. Don't be fooled.
Once we were inside the Grand Palace (and the Wat Phra Kaew which is connected) we were amazed by all the gold everywhere. It's a stunning set of buildings and there is a lot of Hindu imagery- lots of Hanuman and Rama images, basically lots of scenes out of the Ramayana. It was really clear how closely the two religions are tied in their folklore. We saw the Emerald Buddha within the Wat Phra Kaew. Cute story about that- apparently it used to be covered with clay and then one day a monk noticed that some of the clay had chipped off. They uncovered the Buddha, which is actually made of jade, but thought it was made of emerald, thus it's name. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take pictures of it but the Wat Phra Kaew was a really peaceful place to sit. As always, we took lots of pictures that you can see here.