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!

Day 12

Today I slept in a bit because I was, ahem, tired from the night out. I recovered by eating some rice and eggs in a microwave box from the 7/11. Afterwords me and a bunch of people from the hostel explored the grand palace, emerald Buddha temple and Wat Pho which has the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand. It’s incredibly huge and breathtaking. All of the temples here are actually awesome in the true sense of the word, invoking awe, but these especially were opulent and amazing to see. I find every huge religious object to be breathtaking but these went above and beyond. The reverence in the people here for these places is astounding and the work that goes into their upkeep is remarkable. However the only small caveat is that inside the temples you must remove your shoes, and being packed into a small room with hundreds of tourists who just their shoes off when it’s 90 degrees and humid lends a certain smell to the air. This distracted slightly from the reverent attitude, but they also burn a lot of incense which distracts. Afterwords we got dinner in Chinatown after getting lost trying to find a famous restaurant Obama ate at(we couldn’t find it, it was in some hidden alleyway)

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.