the emerald buddha temple

Wat Phra Kaew - Bangkok, Thailand

Located within the Grand Palace complex, Wat Phra Kaew, more commonly known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand. The main hall of the Wat contains the Emerald Buddha, which is made of jade, and clothed in gold. Only 66cm high, the Emerald Buddha first came of interest in 1434. The Buddha’s surface was covered in stucco, with no indication of the jade surface inside. When the temple the Buddha was being housed in was struck by lightening, a Monk noticed part of the stucco had broken off, revealing the jade beneath. 

The temple also features three pagodas, all in different and distinct styles, representing the changing centers of Buddhist influence in Thailand. Phra Si Ratana Chedi, a golden Stupa in Sri Lankan style, is said to house some of the ashes of Buddha. 

10

It Started With a Bangkok!

My first stop in South East Asia is Bangkok! I am only here for 2 days because my dad has joined me and my mom did all of the planning. The schedule is packed. I’ll probably be back in a few months though,  since Bangkok is such a hub and also contains “backpacker’s paradise” Khaosan Road (literally a backpacking Las Vegas-type Convention Place that’s been around since before my mom traveled here in the ‘80s) which I haven’t properly explored because I am in “family vacation” mode.

Of course Bangkok is a standard first stop for South East Asian travel. Oh man, it is worlds different from the places I have been in Africa of late. I am so overwhelmed by the intricate details in gold and gems and… beetle wings on every temple or building of importance. 

After juggling jet lag and a quick culture shock, my dad and I started our first full day hoping to see some temples and the Grand Palace. We found a tuk tuk driver and told him which temple we wanted to start with. I showed him on a map and he said he knew where we meant.

15 minutes later, we arrived at what looked like a palace… next to a zoo. And it was a zoo. Buses on Buses on Buses of Chinese tourists were unloading at this location that…wasn’t the temple we pointed to on the map and definitely wasn’t the “Grand Palace.” Turns out it was  The Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall. I have no idea why the driver took us here, but I am glad he did. 

Once my dad and I maneuvered through the sea of tourists and realized we did not have to wait in line with them, we entered the palace. Inside there were displays of golden thrones, silk embroidered tapestries 10 feet tall, fantastic acrylic paintings, and the most detailed wood carvings telling stories of Thailand’s history and royalty. Every piece was absolutely magnificent. We couldn’t take photos but the silk tapestries are some of the most beautiful pieces of art I have ever seen (it all kicks anything in the Louvre’s ass, sorry Paris). Most took many sempstresses and years to complete, but they were shimmery and mind-blowing. If I ever become wealthy, I will buy one of these tapestries. Even if it is small. 

After realizing what this museum was and feeling grateful that we randomly ended up there (I recommend it!), we hopped on another tuk tuk and hoped it would take us to the Grand Palace!

It kinda did. It took us to the neighborhood.

We had to walk a bit. On the way we were told that I would need to buy a shirt to cover my shoulders. I saw men and women of all nationalities and ages wearing typical Thai Elephant pants. Most had to buy these on the spot because they were wearing shorts. You must be well dressed to visit the most sacred place in Thailand! I thought a shall covering my shoulders and a dress covering my knees with ballet flats instead of my usual flip flops was enough, but I was wrong. Respect for the King is a huge part of Thai culture and it’s phenomenal. 

When I was finally dressed up enough, we were about to cross the street with a giant hoard of tourists to enter the Palace grounds when police men started screaming in Thai. The people who understood took off their hats and began to kneel. Everyone else followed suit. For the next few minutes, we all hovered over the ground as fancy cars holding Thai Officials entered the premises. 

When we finally entered the Palace Walls, it was a bee hive of tourist activity. Giant tour groups were assembling in every piece of free space. It was hard to find where to go and I got a bit overwhelmed. 

Once we walked into the Temple area where the Emerald Buddha is housed, I was even more overwhelmed. So many ornate, golden-tiled buildings surrounded us, climbing to the sky. Photos could never do the Majesty of this sight justice. I was beginning to have a bit of culture shock. I hadn’t seen this many tourists or intricate details ever in southern Africa or Madagascar and it was A LOT to take in. 

We walked into the Prayer Temple to pay respects to Buddha by sitting in lotus position with our feet pointed away from the shrine as a monk said a prayer over some Thai Buddhists kneeling ahead. It was hot and very busy but I think most people did their best to respect the religious rites unfolding before our eyes, despite the frenzied environment. 

After we left the temple area, we walked past the Grand Palace and read a bit about the former king who ruled for 70 years. He was a very multi-talented, highly respected man. 

After the Palace, we walked a bit down the street to find Wat Pho, the oldest temple in Thailand. This temple houses the famous “Reclining Buddha” which is GIGANTIC and awe-inspiring. 

Later that evening, my dad and I walked around Khoasan Road which is nick-named “Backpacker’s Paradise.” It is filled with bars, tattoo shops, henna shops, hair braiding stands, massage parlors, clothing stands (your typical colorful travel dresses and elephants pants- gotta get the look!), jewelry, and a mazillion other things like lights and music and activity that is SO OVERWHELMING to someone who just got off of an island where for two years I hardly participated in night-life. 

I bought some dresses. There are so many!!! But I do feel guilty since I try to be so minimalist… and stingy. Good thing Dad is paying for these few weeks. 

After a night of bad sleep thanks to jet-lag, a tour bus picked up my dad and me to go to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market 90 kilometers outside of town. I was soooo tired but I hopped in the car and turned off my brain for an hour and half. Eventually we arrived at the floating market which was mostly a giant Disneyland, tourist experience. But it was cool and sometimes you gotta do the Disneyland Things. Most of the boats on the water were actually canoes of tourists, but there were also paddle boats carrying cold spring rolls and fresh fruit floating around. It was all kind of silly, but still unique and I am glad we went. 

After the floating market, our group went in a speed boat along the canals to see the houses and agricultural life around the brown waterways made by the Chinese. It was super cool. 

Once we returned to the city by mid-day, my dad and I took a cab to check out a random part of town and ended up in the financial district. After that we took a cab to Chinatown and explored a bit before I collapsed from exhaustion. I normally don’t pack this much activity into an average day because I am traveling for many months/years and it is a marathon. I also just left winter in Africa and came to summer in a tropical, humid climate, so my body is confused. 

Anyways, Bangkok has been fun to explore. I am pretty sure I’ll be back, but I am glad I have already done the most touristy things (and didn’t have to pay for them) so next time will be more chill!

Elaborate funeral for Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej

The cremated remains of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej were transferred Friday to spiritually significant locations for Buddhist rites that will prepare them to be enshrined on the final day of an elaborate funeral that has transfixed the nation.

Hours after the late monarch was cremated in a ceremony steeped in centuries of tradition, his son King Maha Vajiralongkorn returned to the site to bathe Bhumibol’s charred bones and place them in golden urns. The remains were then moved to the Dusit Maha Prasad Throne Hall and Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok’s Grand Palace for monks to bless.

On Thursday night, just before midnight, smoke rose from the ornate crematorium built across from the palace in the year since Bhumibol died aged 88, signaling his cremation had taken place following a day of spectacular funeral processions broadcast worldwide.

Bhumibol’s death on Oct. 13, 2016, after a reign of seven decades sparked a national outpouring of grief for a monarch who was regarded by many Thais as a father figure. Yet is has also ushered in a sense of uncertainty for Thais who had grown used to Bhumibol serving as a unifying presence in a country regularly beset by political upheaval.

The five-day funeral began Wednesday with Vajiralongkorn performing Buddhist merit-making rites. On Thursday, a ceremonial urn representing Bhumibol’s remains was transferred from the throne hall to the crematorium in somber processions involving thousands of troops, a golden palanquin, a gilded chariot and a royal gun carriage.

Sawang Jiravorapat, 60, watched ceremonies on a TV inside the pharmacy he owns.

“His goodness will forever be in our hearts, because there is so much goodness he has given us,” Sawang said. “It is a great example to the coming generations for them to be vigorous and sustainable.”

The funeral will conclude Sunday once Bhumibol’s remains are enshrined and placed on royal pedestals in the throne hall and within two temples in Bangkok closely associated with the royal family: Wat Bavoranives and Wat Rajabopidh. (AP)

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Elaborate funeral for Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej

A royal palanquin is carried by soldiers during a procession to transfer the royal relics and ashes of Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej from the crematorium to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 27, 2017. (Photo: Jorge Silva/Reuters)

Source: Yahoo News Photo Staff

A Thai royal palace honer guard stands in attention as traditional drummers walk in a procession moving late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s ashes to special locations for further Buddhist rites in Bangkok, Thailand Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. With solemn faces and outright tears, Thais said farewell to their king and father figure with elaborate funeral ceremonies that cap a year of mourning and are steeped in centuries of tradition. (Photo: Wason Wanichakorn/AP)

Source: Yahoo News Photo Staff

A royal palanquin is carried by soldiers during a procession to transfer the royal relics and ashes of Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej from the crematorium to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 27, 2017. (Photo: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

Source: Yahoo News Photo Staff

Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn, center, participates in religious rituals to move the ashes of his father, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, following a royal cremation ceremony in Bangkok, Thailand Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. (Photo: Sakchai Lalit/AP)

Source: Yahoo News Photo Staff

A Thai mourner holding a picture of late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej prays in front of the royal crematorium in Bangkok, Thailand early Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. (Photo: Kittinun Rodsupan/AP)

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Thai mourners offer alms in Buddhist merit making ceremonies, a day after the cremation of late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Bangkok, Thailand Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. (Photo: Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP)

Source: Yahoo News Photo Staff

Source: Yahoo News Photo Staff

A royal guard bows during a procession to transfer the royal relics and ashes of Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej from the crematorium to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 27, 2017. (Photo: Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

Source: Yahoo News Photo Staff

Thailand’s Princesses Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, Ubolratana Rajakanya, Bajrakitiyabha and Sirivannavari Nariratana attend during a procession to transfer the royal relics and ashes of Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej from the crematorium to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 27, 2017. (Photo: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

Source: Yahoo News Photo Staff

Thai royal palace officers in ceremonial attire stand guard ahead of religious rituals to move late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s ashes to special locations for further Buddhist rites in Bangkok, Thailand Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. (Photo: Wason Wanichakorn/AP)

Source: Yahoo News Photo Staff

A soldier salutes in front of the Royal Crematorium during a funeral for the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej near the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 27, 2017. (Photo: Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

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Thai officials hug as smoke rises from the royal crematorium of Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Bangkok, Thailand, early Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. (Photo: Wason Wanichakorn/AP)

Source: Yahoo News Photo Staff

Smoke rises from the royal crematorium of Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Bangkok, Thailand, early Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. (Photo: Wason Wanichakorn/AP)

Source: Yahoo News Photo Staff

Mourners line up to offer sandalwood flowers at a replica of the Royal Crematorium during the funeral of Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 26, 2017. (Photo: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

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The ceremonial urn of Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej is transported during the funeral procession and royal cremation ceremony in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. (Photo: Wason Wanichakorn/AP)

Source: Yahoo News Photo Staff

A mourner prays in a sea of black umbrellas at the funeral procession and royal cremation ceremony of late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, seen on photograph, in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. (Photo: Wason Wanichakorn/AP)

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An artillery gun is fired at the funeral procession and royal cremation ceremony of late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. (Photo: Wason Wanichakorn/AP)

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Participants take part in the Royal Cremation ceremony of Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej near the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 26, 2017. (Photo: Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

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Royal guards take part in the Royal Cremation ceremony of Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej near the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 26, 2017. (Photo: Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

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The Royal Urn of Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej is carried during the Royal Cremation ceremony at the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 26, 2017. (Photo: Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

Source: Yahoo News Photo Staff

A detail of the Great Victory Chariot carrying the royal urn is seen during the funeral procession for Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Bangkok, Thailand, Oct. 26, 2017. (Photo: Jorge Silva/Reuters)

Source: Yahoo News Photo Staff

Thai mourners stand in a line before laying down sandalwood flowers in a replica of the royal crematorium in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. The funeral of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who reigned for 70 years before his death on Oct. 13, 2016. Bhumibol will be honored in an elaborate royal cremation ceremony from Oct. 25 to 29. (Photo: Kittinun Rodsupan/AP)

Source: Yahoo News Photo Staff

Thai mourners, carrying a portrait of late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej gather in front of a replica of the royal crematorium in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. (Photo: Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP)

Source: Yahoo News Photo Staff

5

860+ Global Wim Swaan Photographs Available as Open Content 

Swaan, a photographer and architect, devoted his life to documenting art and architecture around the world. Highlights ranging from the temples of Southeast Asia to the cathedrals of Europe are now available as high-res digital images through our Open Content Program, free to download and use for any purpose. 

The remainder of Swaan’s prolific professional and personal photographs at the Getty continue to be catalogued. The collection of approximately 47,900 photos focus on the art and architecture of medieval, Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance Europe; Islamic Spain and Morocco; Turkey, Egypt, and Iran; ancient Egypt and Greece; Asia, including India, Pakistan, Tibet, Nepal, Japan, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka; Pre-Columbian and Colonial Latin America; and the landscape of the American West.

The Wim Swaan photograph collection join the more than 100,000 images from the Getty Museum and the Getty Research Institute already available through the Open Content Program.