For those who only have a short time in Bangkok, you’ll be glad to know that you can do three of the big temples comfortably in one day. Warning: you’ll be all templed out by the end of it!
The Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Wat Arun are all within walking distance of each other– and a quick boat ride for little more than 10 baht– in the Phra Nakhon district. This is handy due to the heat which lulls walkers into a slow amble and makes even the smallest journeys tiresome.
Most temples have a dress code out of respect, which means covering up the shoulders and upper arms, the legs and the chest. At The Grand Palace the dress code is strictly enforced and policed. Having anticipated this, I went with a light pair of summer trousers and a shawl. Billy, on the other-hand, had to queue up and borrow a dodgy looking pair of draw string trousers.
The Grand Palace
Even the magpie with the most far reaching imagination would struggle to dream of a place more wonderful than the Grand Palace. I found myself trying to suppress childish squeals of delight at every corner. Trying to fit its magnificence into a single frame was impossible and so I began collecting multiple images of sweeping rooftops and their tingling bells, embellished door frames and carved window frames. What will probably strike you first is the assault of colours, the gold and the reflective coloured glass. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha was my favourite part.
The Grand Palace is actually a collection of buildings that display a range of Thai architecture, since it’s inception in 1782. It was once home to the King, the Royal family and the government — as you wander through airy pavilions it’s hard not imagine them drifting in and out of the shadows. The middle court was the most important part, at the centre of the palace. The tiered, sloping roofs of the Phra Maha Monthian group of buildings are pretty dramatic. Meanwhile, the Phra Thinang Chakri Maha Prasat group of buildings provides a more sober and authoritative sight, having been built later in 1890. I loved the immaculate gardens that sit on either side.
It’s easy to get stuck in the Grand Palace, so try to keep moving so you can get around it all. Our ticket included entry to the museum, but we began to run low on time and energy so bypassed it. Keep an eye out for the soldiers sitting in their barracks at the front gate — several royal offices remain in the palace.
Better known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, Wat Pho is adjacent to the Grand Temple, but still a good 25 minute walk past various food vendors and street stalls. The atmosphere at Wat Pho is a little more relaxed — there are no stern looking soldiers to keep order — and the trickling sound of its water features seems to be enough to cool you down.
I was worried I was running out of steam, but actually the sheer size of the reclining Buddha is very impressive. At 14m high and 43m long, it’s hard not to wonder at how they managed to fit it into such a snug spot. Despite its golden aura, it was the feet that most caught my attention, with their 108 inscriptions in mother-of-pearl. Each panel depicts auspicious images of Buddha, though I didn’t realise this at the time!
Thankfully, it doesn’t take long to get around Wat Pho and it’s shady grottoes provide a bit of relief from the sun. Do be careful with your shoes here as the temple isn’t guarded, use the bags provided.
We took some time-out before nipping over the Chao Phraya river to Wat Arun. Food and air-conditioning were our only requirements — we found a little cafe across the road to rest in. We needn’t have worried about being faced with another exhaustive temple exploration. Wat Arun is pretty simple to get around, if you’re okay with heights… The three minute ferry ride across the Chao Phraya river provided a pleasant breeze and a fab perspective on the city as the sun began its descent. As we arrived just 15 minutes before closing time, we were allowed in for free — which was great because really, we didn’t need more than 15 minutes.
Wat Arun is in a league of its own as far as I’m concerned — I was bowled over by it in a completely different way to the extravagance of the Grand Palace. It reminded me of Chichen Itza in Mexico, due to its stone carvings and steeply stepped ascent. However, Wat Arun was much more intricate and colourful and accessible, due to the few thousand year’s time difference no doubt! There wasn’t much by way of information on the site, so we simply climbed part of the way up and admired the vision and workmanship that must have created such a feat. We had a fantastic view over an increasingly dusky Bangkok. It was peaceful up there, I would recommend doing it last thing in the evening.
After shamelessly bum-shuffling back down — it’s seriously steep guys — we were treated to watching the sun-set cast an enormous silhouette of the structure.
Having visited three of the top attractions in Bangkok in one day, I was on the verge of being ‘Templed-Out’ but it never quite happened because each was so uniquely special. I would recommend reading up on the temples before or after you’re visit — there’s not much by way of information which can make the experience seem slightly superficial.