Wat Phra Kaeo

The Wat Phra Kaeo or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is a Buddhist temple located inside the complex of the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. This temple is considered as one of the most sacred sites in Thailand, but given its location at the Grand Palace and also its quite ornate architecture, it is a popular destination for both the locals and tourists alike.

When you visit the Grand Palace complex, you would enter through the part where the Wat Phra Kaeo is located. First you would have to go through a security line that also doubles as a checkpoint for the visitors’ adherence to the strict dress code for visiting the temple. During our visit we actually saw some foreign visitors being asked to go back to get the appropriate coverings before entering the temple area.

Once you’re inside the temple area, you can see a long wall around the temple area that is decorated with murals depicting the story of Ramakien (Thai’s version of Hindu epic Ramayana). The murals are divided into 178 scenes. They are so intricate, and they are well maintained. When we visited, we saw a gentleman in the process of meticulously hand painting parts of the murals with his fine brush.

The central part of the temple complex is the Wat Phra Kaeo itself, a large building housing the Emerald Buddha statue. The building itself is quite impressive; it has rich marble floor, and the walls and pillars are inlaid in colorful mosaic. From the entrance, you have to walk to the other end of the building to see the entrance to temple. You can walk in and see a section reserved for worshippers in front of the Emerald Buddha that sits on top of a big mound. The Emerald Buddha statue itself is a pretty small statue made out of jade. Given that this is an actual worship site, you have to be reverent and watch quietly while worship session is going on. Photography is not allowed inside the temple.

Outside the temple, there is another area also where worshippers perform ceremonies. I thought it was interesting to see so many people around, mixed between locals who came to worship and tourists who came for sightseeing. I wonder how one could concentrate and focus in worshipping when you have many foreigners around observing and taking your photos.

The temple grounds also include some large pagodas to its immediate north, including the Phra Si Ratana Chedi, a large golden stupa that’s probably the most recognizable feature of the temple complex. There is also a miniature scale model of Angkor Wat, the most sacred religious site in the Khmer Empire (Cambodia). Quite curious to see this in the complex — it was started by King Mongkut and completed by King Nangklao as the memorial of Angkor Wat and Kingdom of Cambodia that have been occupied by Siam for many hundred years until the colonization of Kingdom of Cambodia by France. I couldn’t help to think of this in comparison to the name of the area where Angkor Wat is located, Siem Reap (which in Khmer it’s translated to ‘the defeat of Siam’). Both the miniature model of Angkor Wat in Wat Phra Kaeo complex and the name of the area in Cambodia give you hints about the animosity between the Thai and the Khmers, two neighboring kingdoms that were in war with each other for long period of time.

The photo below was taken outside the Wat Phra Kaeo temple building. You can see the intricate decoration of this building. It’s awesome to look at as a whole, but it’s even more impressive to look at the intricate details of the decoration.

Wat Phra Kaeo

Southeast Asia

I spent this New Year at home — a low key one. But to start the new year for this blog, I thought I would begin with a series of posts based on my trip last year around the New Year’s Day to several Southeast Asian countries.

This trip started initially with an idea to go to Australia to visit my cousin who was studying in Melbourne. I was planning on going home to Indonesia, and I thought it would be nice to piggy back on that trip with ‘a trip within the trip’ to go somewhere near Indonesia. Well, the Australia trip ended up not working out, so I had to look for an alternative. The timing was at the end of December and beginning of January, as that was the time that would work best for my cousin Kristi who would be my traveling partner. We looked at several ideas: New Zealand (too expensive), China (too cold), and Japan (both too expensive and cold). Then we started thinking about where we would like to celebrate the New Year’s Day to make it memorable (with the original Australia trip, we were thinking about being in Sydney for the end of the year). One place came up to mind: Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Neither of us had been to Cambodia, it’s close to Indonesia, it’s relatively cheaper to travel there, and the weather should be pretty good at the end of December.

So that was the ‘anchor’ for the plan — New Year’s Day at Angkor Wat. Then we started building an itinerary around it. We thought of going for two weeks, so we started thinking about places in Cambodia and nearby countries that we would like to visit and the one that Kristi had not been before. I had never been to any of these countries, so any place we pick would be new to me.

Finally we settled on the following itinerary: starting with a couple of days in Bangkok, Thailand, then continued to Cambodia with visits to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (timed to be in Siem Reap for the New Year’s Day), then continued to Northern Vietnam with visits to the capital city of Hanoi, the mountain region of Sapa, and the famous Ha Long Bay, and finally ending with short stop in Singapore. So this series of posts will follow this trip and I will highlight places we visited and some unique travel experience from this trip.

The photo below was taken on the New Year’s Day at Angkor Wat near Siem Reap, Cambodia. We decided to skip the New Year’s Eve celebration and went to bed early so we could get up early in the morning and experience the first sunrise of 2011 at Angkor Wat. So there it was… the most memorable New Year’s Day morning in my life to date.

First sunrise of the year