Temples and Waterways
Long before the first ray of morning light addresses the fading night sky, Buddhist monks are already deep in prayer. Meanwhile, hotel staff members are finalizing details, checking the crisp linen and polished silver once again. Office workers are preparing for long commutes from the outer areas. And tiny women are sweeping the marble walkways of the shimmering temples with handmade brooms.
Bangkok awakens. Though this city has changed with the times, it too has remained as it was when travelers arrived from afar only by rail or by steamship.
Temples to the Sky
Bangkok’s hazy skyline is dotted with temples, or wats as they are known in Thai, resembling a giant chessboard with gilded pieces. Housed within these ornate holy places are saffron-robed monks and the few remaining white-robed nuns, all with their heads shaved. These monks greet the dawn by wandering side streets accepting offerings in their lacquer ware bowls for they own few material possessions or food. Those making these offerings of food do so, so that they and their deceased ancestors will be granted spiritual rewards.
A few of Bangkok’s more important wats include the Wat Phra Keo, built on the Grand Palace grounds by King Rama I in 1782. Within its ornate walls is the Phra Keo, or Emerald Buddha, which is the single most sacred treasure in all of Thailand. The king no longer inhabits the Grand Palace. Instead, it is the site of official receptions, traditional ceremonies, and the like.
Wat Pho is reputed to be the oldest Thai temple. Thailand’s largest Reclining Buddha, a massive golden figure measuring 50 feet high and 150 feet long, lies inside in silent repose.
Looming on the banks of the Chao Phaya River is Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn. While not as immediately impressive as other temples, this wat boasts an interesting porcelain-decorated prang (or tower) which glitters in the midday sun.
Life Along the Klongs
This Chao Phaya River is Bangkok’s lifeblood. It provides the people with a transportation route, a means of shipping goods from place to place, a source for food, and a focal point for interest and activities.
Many Thai people still live along this river’s tributary canals, or klongs. Their stilt houses are often more modern than their earlier counterparts. No longer only simple wooden lean-to’s, many of today’s klong houses feature electricity, public water and sewer connections, trash removal, and mail delivery. Nonetheless, naked children still splash about in the tepid waters, women still wash clothing and dishes on their watery front steps, and dogs still bark at passing boats rowed by young girls offering everything from ripe bananas to Tupperware.
Houses along the narrower backwater channels, no wider than a canoe, are much as they were long ago when they lacked all modern conveniences. Accessible only by small boat, they often still have a small plot of farmed land or a pen of water buffalo attached.
As the afternoon sun causes your pace to slow a step or two, it’s time to retreat into one of the fine hotels flanking the banks of the Chao Phaya. A server, as gracious as a princess, will bring you a frosty iced tea and adjust the oversized umbrella perfectly so you are safe in the shade. Turn your chair so you can focus on the passing parade of rice barges, speedy boats, and cross-river ferries plying this busy river. From this spotless terrace vantage point, you’ll capture images of Bangkok you’ll savor long after your visit has ended.