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

Bangkok

The first city that my cousin Kristi and I visited during our Southeast Asia trip last year was Bangkok, Thailand. We decided to go to Bangkok as our first stop of the trip as it is a hub in Southeast Asia that provided us with more flight options for traveling to the next country in our trip, Cambodia.

In the last twenty years or so, Thailand has become a major tourist destination in Southeast Asia. The city of Bangkok itself has its charm with its palaces and temples, as well as the river and canals (that gave it a nickname ‘Venice of the East’). Many westerners (from Europe and America) come to Thailand also to visit its pristine beaches (Phuket, Ko Samui, Pattaya) and mountainous region (Chiang Mai). It is also rich culturally and historically, being the only country in Southeast Asia that was never colonized.

When we were planning our trip, we knew Bangkok was the most convenient gateway city to come into Thailand from Indonesia. We did consider visiting other parts of Thailand (particularly Chiang Mai in the north), but after considering the time that we had available, we decided to visit only Bangkok for this trip and leave the other places in Thailand for future trip when we can spend more time in this country.

Kristi had been to Bangkok before with her friends, but her experience before was limited mostly to accompany her friends shopping. For some, Bangkok is a choice destination for shopping as you can get some goods (garments, electronics) for lower price than elsewhere. In this trip, we decided to focus our time exploring the cultural aspect of the city, so it’s also a new experience for Kristi.

The photo below was taken at the Grand Palace in Bangkok. The stupas, spires, and statues are very distinct and recognizable landmarks in the city.

Grand Palace