Saturday, February 13, 2016

A Gem Among Gems. Wat Arun.

At Wat Arun. Bro standing before me, Ayşe waving from above. 

It's our second day in Bangkok. Already I feel like time is passing by too quickly as we leave day after tomorrow.

As always, I was very ambitious with our travel itinerary. I had us visiting Wat Arun in the afternoon of Day 1 but we obviously we were not able to do that so it's on the top of today's sightseeing agenda. Today was suppose to be market day and maybe we'll have time to fit that in later today. Maybe.

Since we're on vacation, we get up whenever we get up but even without an alarm clock, everyone was up well before 8am. We took our time getting ready.

We cruised by Wat Arun on our ferry ride to the Grand Palace so we pretty knew where we had to go.

We retraced our steps back to Saphan Taksin Pier. It was a quick stop at the market on Soi Pradit. A lady, selling tiny pastries, that looked like curry puffs caught my eye. A local Thai woman was buying some so we asked her what was inside the pastry. In turn, she asked the lady our question. The reply came back that most of the pastries were filled with sweet fillings - from fruit to red bean. We decided to get a few of each to try. Our bag of 20 pastries cost 15 baht - less than 50 cents!

Next, Bro made a stop at a fruit vendor to stock up on some chikoo - one of his favorite tropical fruits.

At Soi Pradit market.

From Soi Pradit, we turned on to Silom Road to continue our walk to the pier.

Tuk tuks are a common sight in Bangkok though most travel sources will tell you to avoid them.  They  often scam tourists!

As we walked, we kept an eye out for a place to have breakfast.  We popped in to a small cafe selling western style pastries and serving coffee.  I figured Ayşe would want to stop here but she wasn't interested.  I was pleasantly surprised by her reaction.

We then passed by an office building and on the ground floor, there appeared to be some fast food eateries.  We decided to check it out.  Inside it was indeed a very modern looking office building and there were a few restaurants and fast food places open.  We checked the menu out for one place that advertised itself as serving Thai food.  It looked reasonable so we got ourselves a table and ordered our food - bowls of noodle soup for each of us and a papaya salad to share.  It wasn't bad food but the servings were small so we had to order seconds.  Unfortunately, Ayşe's second dish contained pork so Bro and I had to finish up for her. We have to be more mindful to make sure the dish does not contain pork before we order it.  I asked if she wanted to order something else but she wasn't keen.  I just hope she had already eaten enough to tie her over to our next meal....whenever that would be.


It was a long walk to the pier.  So far, it's early enough in the morning for the heat and humidity to be tolerable for the Wilted Lily.  Today, I am even more prepared than yesterday - plenty of water and if need be, a towel that I can douse in water and place atop my head to cool off.

Back at the pier, we knew exactly where we had to go to get our tickets.  Oddly enough, we were directed to stand in a completely different spot than where we boarded the ferry from yesterday.  For a few minutes, we were wondering if we were in the correct line but a quick question to a nearby attendant confirmed we were where we were suppose to be.

Back on the ferry.

Down the Chao Phraya River we went. It's amazing what you often miss seeing the first time around. Yesterday, all I noticed were the hotels and high rise buildings.  Today, I noticed the riverside apartments that are obviously inhabited by local Bangkokians (?)  They didn't look like fancy apartments but I'm sure this is expensive property by Bangkok standards.   After all, they have an unobstructed view of the river.


Aboard the ferry, I found myself a seat on the side of the boat.  Perfect spot to take photos and video.  Here's a two minute snippet of our ride up the river.


Yesterday, we got off at pier stop number 9.  Today, we got off at Pier 9.5 - Maharaj Pier.


Unlike Pier 9, Maharaj Pier is a cluster of ramshackle buildings that are home to restaurants and shops catering primarily to tourists.  We knew we had to cross the river but the challenge was figuring out where to catch the local ferry from.  It took some asking, but we finally found the ticket booth.  It cost an incredible 2.5 baht for a ticket.  2.5 baht!!  It's 33 baht to a dollar so it would literally cost us less than 10 cents to get to the other side!  How do they make money  here?!?!

Sad to see the trash in the water.

Wat Arun.  View of Phra Phrang, shrouded under scaffolding.



Our ferry ride took probably no more than 10 minutes.  We followed the rest of the crowd to disembark.  The one thing that I noticed was the ferry was not full of passengers.  I was hoping this meant that the crowd would be thinner here than at either the Grand Palace or Wat Pho yesterday.


Welcome to Wat Pho??

Seriously cheap fare.

Without anyone leading us, we had no idea where to go and the signage here is lacking.  But....we just followed the people walking ahead of us and as I had expected, we found ourselves at an entrance.  And to my delight,  there were far fewer people here.  I am happy!  I guess the large conducted tours don't bring their groups here as it does require that ferry crossing.

Guardian demons flank the entrance gate.  That's Sahassadecha on the right and Thossakun on the left.

On the flip side, one look at the Phra Phrang was all it took to confirm that it was closed to visitors.  Supposedly, you can take a set of steps to  somewhere near the top but that was not looking likely today.


Wat Arun is one of the few Bangkok temples predating the Chakri dynasty, the current rulers of Thailand. When general Phya Taksin crowned himself king in 1769, he moved the capital across the Chao Phraya river to Thonburi.  Before Wat Arun stood on this spot, Wat Makok was here.  Legend has it that after King Taksin fought his way out of Ayutthaya, which was taken over by a Burmese army at the time, he arrived at this temple just as dawn was breaking. He later had the temple renovated and renamed it Wat Chaeng, the Temple of the Dawn - a name thought to commemorate the founding of the new dynasty.

King Taksin did not treat the temple monks well, expelling them so that he could worship privately in the temple.  Monks were allowed to return during the rule of King Rama I, the first King of the Chakri Dynasty, who disestablished Wat Jaeng as the royal temple when he moved the capital across the river to what it is today downtown Bangkok. His successor, King Rama II renovated the temple changed the temple's name to Wat Arunratchatharam. He planned to raise the central phrang beyond its original 16 meters, but he died before the project was realized. His successor, King Rama III, completed the project in from 1842-1847 raising the height of Phra Phrang to 80 meters (262 feet) making it the highest one in Thailand even today.  It was also King Rama III who added the decoration of the spires with porcelain. King Rama IV rechristened the temple the temple its current full name of Wat Arun Ratchawararam Ratchawaramahawihan

The temple was briefly home to the revered Emerald Buddha, after it was recaptured from Laos, but before it was moved to Wat Phra Kaew in 1784.



We passed through the first entry gate to be welcomed into a small courtyard.  With so few tourists about, it was really enjoyable being here.


The noise of the river was far away.  It was peaceful here - a world away from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok.

Looking back at the entry gate.

Situated in the center of a large, inner courtyard was the Ubosot aka ordination hall.  A small but absolutely beautiful building.  Unlike the Ubosot at either Wat Phra Kaew or Wat Pho, the one at Wat Arun seems more understated (if that's really possible) in design and decoration - not as much tile and mirrored glass.  There's a sophisticated elegance to this building.


A covered passageway, Phra Rabiengkote, lines the walls around the Ubosot. The passage is lined with 120 Buddha statues in the sitting position.  These statues were cast in the reign of King Rama II.



The remains of deceased are kept in cubicles below the statues.


The mirror tiles are kept to a minimum at Wat Arun.  I prefer fewer mirrors. 

The entrance door was again beautifully framed.


We took our shoes off and headed inside.  The small interior was filled with quite a lot of people, most of whom were seated on the floor and praying.  There were some really rude Asian tourists who were walking between the devotees and talking loudly.  They should know better.  Seriously.  I quickly snapped a few photos and then put my camera down to observe the space around me.




Colorful murals line the walls from the floor to the ceiling.  There is no white space here unless it's painted as part of a mural!

Closeup of a section of wall mural.

Outside the entrance, a woman was working on regilding a Buddha image.  There can never be enough gold gild here!


 Small phrangs dot the courtyards at Wat Arun.



From the Ubosot, we walked over to the Viharn or sermon hall. 


The viharn is an equally impressive looking building, both the exterior and interior.

Upclose view of the cracked porcelain details on a pillar at the Viharn.

A small altar with a stone statue of an elephant bowing before Buddha.

There were barely any visitors inside the Viharn so we had the whole space pretty much all to ourselves.  Unlike the interiors of many of the other buildings we had seen so far, this one was not filled with murals from floor to ceiling.  Just some simple design and perhaps of the colors that were used, the space felt open and light.  I liked it here.




It's amazing what strucks you at first glance.  For me, standing inside the Viharn, the one thing that caught my eye were all the clocks!  Notice the three grandfather clocks as well as the digital one near the Buddha.  Why all the clocks?  There was no one around to ask so I guess I will never know....unless I go back and ask.  Another sign I must return to Wat Arun one day :-)


Who needs a donation box when you have have a money tree?

Back outside, it was finally time to see the cluster of phrangs that Wat Arun is famous for.  But first, we took a breather.  For the other two, it was the opportunity to use the facilities but for the Wilted Lily it was a good time to get out of the blazing sun, sit under the shade, and gulp down some water.  Thank God we have a freezer in the apartment.  Some of the ice, in my water bottle, had dissolved and the cold water was perfect to cool me off!

As I waited for the other two, I walked around to check out a few of the Chinese stone statues that dot the ground around the phrangs.  Everyone one of them was decorated up with a red bow - presumably in honor of Chinese New Year.


I had to take a photo of the pig - the Chinese zodiac symbol of my birth year!

Refreshed and rejuvenated, we went to check out the phrangs.  Although it looked like the upper levels of Phra Phrang were closed for renovation, it appeared the lower levels were accessible so we went about exploring those.


The surface of all the phrangs are decorated with pieces of porcelain - some of the porcelain is laid flat to create a two dimensional design while others are used to created three dimensional designs.  It's incredible to realize that the entire exterior surface is decorated with materials that are so fragile - it's not hard to crack or break porcelain.  Thankfully,  Bangkok is not located in an earthquake prone area.

Upclose view of the detail on Phra Phrang.

From an architectural perspective, Wat Arun is a reproduction of Mount Meru, the center of the world in Buddhist cosmology.  Phra Phrang, which represents Mount Meru, is flanked on the four corners by four smaller (lesser) phrangs, that house the images of the guardian gods of the four directions - north, south, east, and west.  This design reinforces the symbolism of Mount Meru, aka Phra Phrang being the center of the cosmic universe.

While Phra Phrang is decorated in porcelain that is predominantly green in color, the four lesser phrangs are faced in porcelain that is main white in color.



The four lesser phrangs as well as Phra Phrang are decorated with seashells and bits of porcelain which were used as ballast by boats coming to Bangkok from China.  Wat Arun gets the award for best use of recycled porcelain!!  I still find it amazing that they actually had enough pieces of the same color to created the same design across the four lesser phrangs.  Or perhaps, that's just a well placed design illusion i.e., not all the blue pieces are the same....if you look up close.  Or perhaps, whoever did this was a design genius.  I'd like to think it was the latter.




I'm not much of a videographer but it seemed like the best way to capture the views of Wat Arun....in case my photos would not do it justice.


I love the cracked porcelain work - bits and pieces reconfigured as flowers.  So creative and the results are just charming.



Looking up the facade of one of the lesser phrangs.

A view of two of the lesser phrangs.

Detail of Phra Phrang.

From the ground level of Phra Phrang, we headed up to the first level but first, a quick set of photo ops.



Bro trying to emulate the stance of a Chinese warrior.  Hmmm.....good first try but needs practice :-)

Another photo.  There can never be too many of Bro :-)

Standing behind the barrier and ooking up the steep steps that lead up to the upper levels of Phra Phrang.

Even from the first level of Phra Phrang, we had some nice views.  Such a shame that the upper levels were closed.

Full view of one of the lesser phrangs.

Close up of the demons that decorate the facade of Phra Phrang.  I am obsessed with these demons. I took way too many photos!

More of the cracked porcelain work.

An example of two and three dimensional designs created using the cracked porcelain.

Bas relief of a beautiful kinnara.

Men and women were hard at work on renovating Phra Phrang.



They looked to be doing some surface cleaning.  Perhaps that's why the white sections of all the prongs are so perfectly white in color.


The facade of a lesser phrang on the left and Phra Phrang on the right.  It's a dizzying photo!

With so much of Phra Phrang closed for renovation, it didn't take us long to see what we could see.  Still, I really enjoyed my short time here. 

Before we left, Bro wanted to use the facilities once again.  When he returned, he had treats for Ayşe and I - Magnum popsicles.  Perfect snack - cold ice cream to cool us down and sugar to give us some energy to keep going.  What a thoughtful guy! :-)



After we enjoyed our sweet treat, we made our way back to the pier to catch the ferry to the other side of the river.  Along the way, we passed by several covered pavilions.  Loudspeakers were blaring out the sound of a man saying something or other in Thai.  There was also a stage with a people seated in front of it.  We had no idea what was going on.  Something related to Chinese New Year??  I'm using that as the reason for anything that I see that is either wrapped with or is displaying lots of stuff in red and gold.




Past the pavilions, we caught out last views of Phra Phrang before boarding the ferry.


I think it takes as long to walk down the gangplank as it does to ride the ferry over to the other side of the river. Okay, not true but it really is a short ferry ride.


Forking over 7.5 baht for the three of us.  That's less than 22 cents!

As we pulled away from the pier, I was already sad to be leaving Wat Arun behind.  I decided that while Wat Arun may not be as *flashy* in look and feel as either Wat Phra Kaew or Wat Pho, it ended up being my favorite of all three - a gem among gems.  The phrangs, as over the top decorated as they are, have an elegance to them that really appeals to me.  Should I be so lucky as to come back one day, I will make sure to spend more time here.


Back on the other side of the Chao Phraya River, we had to wait for the ferry to take us to our next destination, the Flower Market.