After 22 hours of travel, 18 hours air time and two back-to-back red eyes, I finally arrived in Bangkok, Thailand early Monday morning, feeling only mildly jetlagged.
With my first two days in Bangkok, I wanted to focus on the Wats (temples) throughout the city. I managed to visit four these first few days, staying at each for quite some time taking in the scenery. It’s also about 30 degrees Celsius, or roughly about 90 degrees how I know it, and I found myself sitting in shaded parts of the Wat really just to beat the heat – and you know, take it all in and sketch and such.
SENSORY OVERLOAD IN BANGKOK
So I just want to start by saying Bangkok is by no means a calm city. Walking around that first day, I felt like all of my senses were being subjected to about 5 things at once. Let me paint the picture. First off, the streets are packed with cars, busses, mopeds, tuk-tuks, bikes and pedestrians. As far as I’m concerned, streetlights and walking signals don’t matter, and no one ever actually stops – so you just have to run across the street and hope for the best. Meanwhile, every cab and tuk-tuk driver is yelling out at you “Miss! Where you going? Miss!” (Let’s just say I don’t exactly fit in…) And lastly, the smells. It’s and odd combination of delicious pad Thai and Thai flavors with car exhaust and body odor. So it was a huge relief when I found the first Wat, Wat Suthat.
Out of all the temples I’ve visited, Wat Suthat felt by far the most authentic. With more monks than visitors, you can get a much better sense of the peacefulness and the calm that exists within these Buddhist temples.
It’s a beautiful feeling, going from the chaotic streets to the stunning silence within the temple. You are required to remove your shoes, and as you enter into the prayer space, there are almost no sounds to hear. Even as just a visitor, you can feel the deep connection between the community and their worship.
Outside of the Temple, there is a complex of other buildings and spaces. This complex is typically walled off from the city, with tremendously less people.
I think that walking around Wat Suthat that first day was my saving grace. I spent quite a bit of time here soaking in the complex, with their small and big moments, falling in love with the stillness that existed just being in that space.
And here’s how it looks from the outside:
THE ROYAL PALACE
Unfortunately, the calmness ended with Wat Suthat. I spent the next day visiting the “temples you just have to see,” and I was visiting them with the thousands of other tourists in the city. (Side note, I didn’t realize I planned this trip around Chinese New Year, and most people living in China are on holiday right now. I swear they all came to Bangkok.) So it was terribly packed. Regardless, I found my moments of peace in the shaded areas of the temple.
I’m probably alone in this, but I actually didn’t see the Emerald Buddha while at the Royal Palace. Why? It was so packed you couldn’t move, and even just getting to the steps of the temple was formed by a line stretching hundreds of people.
Instead of finding solace in the Emerald Buddha, I focused on this beautiful rain gutter detail.
I didn’t notice it until I sat on these steps to escape the crowds, and started to notice the small drench in the ground that aligned with the waves of the sloped roof above. My sketch might be a little off, but I love the connection between the roofline and ground plane. I also wish I could see this detail in action: I absolutely love the idea of watching the rain drip off the roof and flow in the channel. (Side note, we did see this detail at Kengo Kuma’s Japanese Pavilion in Portland, Oregon.)
Another side note, multiple people came up to me while sketching to not only take a picture of what I was drawing, but to pose with their kids. I’m now in a number of Chinese selfies.
WAT PHO & RECLINING BUDDHA
Wat Pho is right next to the Royal Palace, which typically means just as many tourists. However, by the time I got there it wasn’t nearly as packed as my previous experience. Walking around the Wat, there are perimeter galleries with endless statues of the Buddha, in multiple positions. And yes, these galleries all have my new favorite gutter detail.
And of course, Wat Pho is most popular for the temple of the reclining Buddha – all 46 meters of him.
Other than the reclining Buddha, Wat Pho also has four spires all representing a different King of Thailand. These are all decorated with various porcelain designs of different colors, each special to that King’s stature.
The last temple, Wat Arun. In order to get to this temple, you have to take a ferry which is all of 4 baht. 4 baht is literally equal to 15 cents. And the ferry ride offered great views.
Wat Arun is certainly most known for their porcelain decorated sculptures. I’m reluctant to call them buildings, because as far as I could tell, there was no inside.
I’ll be back in Bangkok in a few days, but I write this back from the airport waiting for my next flight to Surat Thani to go to Koh Sok National Park.