Tokyo – my last day in a great city – Part3

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Last day in Tokyo, a busy one!

My last day’s itinerary for Tokyo would be Senso-ji Temple, Denboin Gardens, Nezu Shrine, Meiji Shrine, Shibuya and Shibuya crossing.  Yes, yesterday’s hiccup with the overcharge took up most of the day.  Even so, it didn’t deter my enjoyment of my short saunter in Tokyo (Tokyo Part 2).  PS. After more emails, there was still no resolution grrrrr!

After a quick breakfast, I needed a caffeine boost to help kickstart the day.  The day before I had found a great coffee shop around the corner from the hotel.  I realised the following day it’s actually a hostel…a hostel which happens to have a great coffee shop.  Cool place, with an industrial décor, and military precision-made coffee.  What really impressed me was their meticulous approach to making the coffee; they weigh the ground coffee to ensure the precise amount is used to achieve consistency for every cup.  One of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had.  If you ever happen to be in the area its worth visiting Berth Coffee, I’d even make a short detour.

Tokyo Skytree, Asahi Beer Hall and Asahi Flame

Tokyo Skytree, Asahi Beer Hall and Asahi Flame, the last two are part of the Asahi Breweries headquarters – Tokyo

 

Sensō-ji / Senso-ji Temple

My day commenced fuelled by rocket strength caffeine, I was moving with gusto and purpose!  First, the Buddhist temple Senso-ji, the oldest in Tokyo.  To me, temples/shrines conjure up thoughts of zen like places.  A place of meditation, reflection or simply a place for peace and quiet to escape the world.  Not so here…I’ve been to music festivals with less people!

Senso-ji is at the end of a circa. 100m walkway, shouldered with shops on either side.  These shops aren’t a recent construction for tourists, they were specifically constructed as shops early in the 18th century.  Selling arts, crafts and temple related goodies along with sunglasses and tacky stuff…anything really.  If you like trinkets this place is your jackpot, but you need to wade through a sea of people.  It may be better if you visit very early or late, that would be my recommendation.  Consequently, even the most stunning of places can lose their sheen when packed full of people.  It’s the same throughout the world, pity.

Sensō-ji

The long corridor with shops as you enter the Sensō-ji / Senso-ji Temple complex – Sensō-ji / Senso-ji Temple

Sensoji Temple

Sensō-ji / Senso-ji / Sensoji Temple

Senso-ji became an independent temple not long after World War II, prior to this its association was with Tendai of Buddhism.  In fact, temple Sensoji Kannon main temple (Bodhisattva of compassion), is said to be the most visited spiritual site in the world – 30 million people per year!  Hmmmmm…explains why it was so busy, wish I knew that before visiting.

Sensoji Temple

Beautifully painted ceiling of the Sensoji Temple – Tokyo

Tokyo

5 Story pagoda in the Sensō-ji / Senso-ji Temple complex – Tokyo

With the first temple constructed in 645 AD, it followed a prior shrine dedicated to Kannon dating back to 628.  Included in the grounds is Sensoji Kannon, a five-story pagoda, Shinto shrine and the Asakusa Shrine – that’s not all it has, with 10 temple/shrines in total.  Can’t say much else about the main area, I got to frustrated navigating through the people….so I didn’t.   Moving on, I can’t say the visit to Senso-ji Temple was enjoyable, the noise and congestion irritated me.  As a result I found myself taking photos for the sake of doing so – I hate that.

Sensoji Temple

Bronze Hokyoin-to cast in 1761 – much bigger than it looks at 8m high.  Within the grounds of the Sensoji Temple Complex

 

Denboin Garden

I lost my ticket to Denboin Garden sometime during my travels, it wasn’t expensive that’s all I do remember. Funny, even though it’s not a temple the environment is akin to one.  Denboin Garden is adjacent to the Senso-Ji complex, an inconspicuous entrance hidden away.  Looking for relief from the crowds I found it by mistake (glad I did).  My timing was perfect (lucky), because it’s only open to the public between mid-March till early-May 😊.

Tokyo

Denboin Garden with the 5 story pagoda in the background – Tokyo

Keeping on the topic but going off on a tangent.  Without a doubt Japanese gardens are the most beautiful I have ever seen.  Tokyo gardens and parks are stunning, but pale in comparison to what I would see in Kyoto.  Gardens are manicured down to the blades of grass (that’s no metaphor, I saw this in Kyoto).  Still, with such pride and skill put into these pristine gardens they somehow manage to feel natural.  For this reason, some gardeners are revered in the same light as artists, Denboin Garden is a great example of this.

Denboin Garden is attributed to Kobori Enshu (1579 – 1647); an artist, celebrated garden designer and master of the tea ceremony.  A large pond filled with koi is the focal point of the garden, with a walk path around it.  Like taking a walk around a lake set in a little forest.  Within the grounds is one of the original lodgings where the monks working at the Senso-ji temple used to lived – you can see it but no entry.  It was great to get away from the hordes of people, but my time was limited, I had to a schedule to keep.  Nezu Shrine would be my next stop of the day.

Denboin Garden

Denboin Garden with the koi filled pond and the 5 story pagoda in the background – Tokyo

Tokyo

Old meets new, they do have a similarity. 5 story pagoda at Sensoji Temple and the Tokyo Skytree

 

Nezu Shrine

Visiting Nezu Shrine is secondary if you go in early April to early May, why, because the Azalea Festival is on.  WOW!  My brief time in Tokyo was a Yin Yang metaphor. Not knowing the Azalea Festival was on, because I didn’t know it existed.  Completely distracted by the vivid lush display of the garden, paying little to no attention to the Nezu Shrine.

Before I get into the Nezu Shrine (and garden!), I regret not taking more pictures on the walk from the station.  Particularly when walking passed traditional Japanese restaurants well-known for Fugu; Japanese word for the dish prepared with puffer fish.  Many chefs and staff in traditional dress standing outside, all stern looking.  My guess was it must have been their breaktime.  Sadly, I did not see this sort of thing again, hence my regret not taking photos.  For this reason, don’t be shy to take pictures if something catches your eye!  Another lesson I learnt the hard way.

Nezu Shrine

The Honden, the main shrine at the Nezu Shrine – Tokyo

 Background information; building the Nezu Shrine began in the beginning of the 18th century in Ishi-no-ma-zukuri style of Shinto architecture.  Considered of great cultural importance, it is old, famous along with being one of the oldest places of worship in Tokyo.  It is most well-known for its gardens…I’ll get to that very shortly.  At first it was located further North, “that” shrine was founded in the 1st century.  It was moved in 1705 to the current location by Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (1646–1709), by the fifth shōgun of the Tokugawa dynasty.

Nezu Shrine

The Romon at the Nezu Shrine – Tokyo

The temple complex consists of three main areas:

  • Honden – the main temple building
  • Romon – An elaborately decorative archway, a standalone structure. In this instance it acts like a gateway to the Honden
  • Torii – Look like elegant doorframes placed in many multiples to create a passageway. Mostly in red or deep bright orange

Yes, these are vague and basic descriptions – I’ll add more details about these are I post about my time in Japan – no, I won’t forget.

Torii at Nezu Shrine

My first bit of detail is about the torri.  I guess most people have seen these tunnel-like structures when looking at pictures of Japan, I certainly had.  Here would be my first opportunity to see them up close.  Their visual impact intrigues and lures you further down the rabbit hole as you walk through/under them; following the lay of the land, like a snake laterally undulating its way through the garden.

Torri

Torii tunnel at the Nezu Shrine – Tokyo

Torii come in various sizes, some are huge!  Not all are red/orange (vermillion to be precise) either.  Maybe it’s just my experience, or bad memory, but I cannot recall any small/short torii that weren’t vermillion.  At the entrance of some shrines/temples torii can me stories high, then usually make of massive timber &/or concrete.  The larger are normally singular structures, the shorter/smaller, as is the case at the Nezu Shrine are in multiples.  During my time is Kyoto I would see torii of a different kind, laid out in their thousands!

Azalea Festival

I’m not going to make stuff up about the Azalea Festival.  Like I said, I didn’t know anything about it!  That aside, you don’t need to be a horticulturalist to appreciate the beauty and colour on display.   Comparative to puffy clouds of green, red, pink, orange, purple and a sparing dash of white.  This river of colour, running through undulating gently rapids, large trees on its banks casting scattered shadows.

Nezu Shrine

Azalea Festival at the Nezu Shrine with the tunnel of torii – Tokyo

Azalea Festival

Azalea Festival at the Nezu Shrine – Tokyo

Bright vermilion torri dulled by the florescent colours emanating from millions of flowers.  From a distance the colour a solid blanket, like one massive flower ball – up close, thousands of dainty petals packed tightly together.  If your parachute didn’t open this is where you would wish to land, on a mattress made of flowers.  Just looking at it made me want to “bush-dive” onto them, it looked so soft and inviting…obviously I didn’t, nor am I advocating doing so 😊!

Nezu Shrine

Nezu Shrine garden during the azalea festival, the repetitive torii below – Tokyo

Azalea Festival

Balls of azalea flowers like puffy clouds – Azalea Festival at Nezu Shrine in Tokyo

Azalea Festival

The few dashes of white against the green, pinks and reds at the Azalea Festival, the gardens of the Nezu Shrine – Tokyo

Considering Tokyo is one of the most densely populated cities, though not equally polluted nor dirty.  Nezu Shrine with its garden, is without doubt a sanctuary – a sanctuary of colour, flowers, nature and bliss, even when filled with people.  Coupled with me being mildly preoccupied about the hotel overcharge (it hadn’t been resolved), I left Nezu Shrine on cloud nine.  Walking back to the metro with effervescent floral bouquets still fresh in my nostrils and vivid in my mind.

….I hope my pictures do it justice!

Yoyogi Park

Moving on, I made my way to Shibuya to see the famous Shibuya Crossing, arriving earlier than planned.  I could have gone straight there then head back to the hotel.  Instead, taking a look on Google Maps, Yoyogi Park was less than 100m away.  Why the hell not kill time and go check it out.  Yoyogi Park combined with the grounds of Meiji Shrine may as well be the same thing.  Though large parts are, some of Meiji Shrine has separate paid entrances and fenced off.

Entering Yoyogi Park from Harajuku station is the largest wooden torri I’d seen (possibly the largest wooden one I’d see throughout my whole time in Japan).  Expecting small park paths after the torri, I couldn’t have been more wrong.  I use the word “path” loosely, I’ve seen narrower motorways!  A gravel path/road, 6 cars wide easily, leading to the Meiji Shrine.

Yoyogi Park

The huge torii at the entrance of Yoyogi Park heading to the Meiji Shrine – Tokyo

Yoyogi Park

The pedestrian “pathway” in Yoyogi Park / Meiji Shrine grounds heading to the shrine – Tokyo

Stereotypical to Japanese custom, the walk along the road was quiet despite the train of people in both directions.  A gentle crunching sound filled the air with a subtle hum coming from the grinding of gravel under foot.  Additionally, one thing stood out to me as I walked, the Japanese people don’t like to make eye contact at all.  They don’t just dim their eyes downwards, no, they dip their whole head.  In Japan this is a sign of politeness, in many other cultures it would perceived as negative.  During my short visit I found Japanese people to be very reserved and respectful, this can be misconstrued as being aloof.  However, when you do get to speak to anyone (hotel, train station, shop etc.) they are exceptionally friendly and willing to help – even if you ask a stranger on the street.

Sake

Almost forgot to tell you about the sake barrels!  These barrels add a colourful display and uniformity against the backdrop of the evergreen forest.  It goes without saying, the sake barrels are not solely there to attract tourists, Japanese don’t do things that way.  Uniquely sake and Shinto shrines have had an intrinsic relationship for hundreds of years.  Called (the sake barrels) kazaridaru when displayed near a Shinto shrine they are decorative barrels, and empty…imagine if they weren’t! 😊).  Considering the ancient Japanese word for “sake” is “miki”, which in turn is a combination of the word’s “god” and “wine”.  It explains why sake is seen and used as a conduit between the gods and people.

kazaridaru

Sake barrels (kazaridaru) in Yoyogi Park heading to Meiji Shrine – Tokyo

 

Meiji Shrine

A forest surrounds Yoyogi Park and the Meiji Shrine, the latter grounds alone are 70 hectares. In fact, the park is the most visited park in Tokyo. I’ll explain shortly, why the Meiji Shrine has great significance to the Japanese.  For Edokko (meaning “people of Edo”, the term commonly used for people from Tokyo), it is the most visited shrine for hatsumōde; meaning the first Shinto shrine visited for the Japanese New Year.

torii

Another huge torii not far from the entrance to Meiji Shrine – Tokyo

Meiji Shrine is in honour of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken, both are deified.  However, it is not their burial site, that is just South of Kyoto. Emperor Meiji played a large role in the Meiji Restoration (Part 1) this is in large part the reason for his veneration.  After the Emperor’s death in 1912 construction started, taking 6 years to completed (1915-1921).  It’s gardens however took an additional 5 years, finishing in 1926.  During WWII Tokyo was heavily bombed destroying much of the city and the shrine.  The shrines’ rebuild was finance through public funding and concluded in October 1958.

Meiji Shrine

The Romon to the Meiji Shrine – Tokyo

Meiji Shrine

Part of the wedding procession, the bride and groom in the background – Meiji Shrine, Tokyo

Unsurprisingly, the shrine was busy when I got there.  Owing to a traditional wedding taking place, access to most of the shrine was closed to the public.  The bride and groom must either be wealthy or have high social status, that is my guess.  Personally, I think your average Joe could arrange nor afford a wedding at such a venerated shrine, maybe I’m wrong.  My rationale for this, not everyone can get married at St. Pauls, Westminster Abbey etc.  I’ve been to many weddings, this is by far the most sombre and austere.  Whoever they are I wish them longevity and happiness.

Shibuya

Back to my day, people seemed to be enjoying the weather and parks, the whole area a hive of activity.  Everything from ball games, picnics to musicians busking on the pavements, everywhere had a jovial atmosphere.  During my walk I came across a unique street performance of Japanese rockabillies between Harajuka Station to Shibuya station.  Rockabillies clad in denim, hair gelled back with high quiffs and wearing cowboy boots they danced to classic Rock ‘n Roll.  Notably their boots a testament to how much dancing they do; soles worn through, held together by layers of duct tape.  These rockabillies seemed so out of place in Tokyo, yet somehow fitting.

Central Shibuya mixes Akihabara and your bog standard shopping district, with distinctive Japanese flavour.  Including a few anime and manga places, but Shibuya isn’t known for that.  Strolling around is interesting, even with may Western brands dotted about its unmistakably Japanese.  I like Japanese signage, though I can’t explain exactly why.  It’s bright, bold with lots of colours and there is so much of it.  Creating a shockwave of light with no uniformity in size and positioned perpendicular to the buildings.  Looking down the roads it’s a kaleidoscope of colour and light, adding to the vivacious energy of Shibuya’s bustling streets.

Shibuya

Shibuya, Tokyo

 

Shibuya Crossing

It’s not often you can say going to a traffic intersection is your list of things to see, or a tourist hotspot!  Shibuya Crossing is just that, a large intersection next to Shibuya train station and it’s a tourist hotspot!  Added to the fact it’s not the biggest intersection I’ve ever seen, not by a long shot. Shibuya Crossing is somewhat a metaphor for Tokyo and the Japanese; discipline on a mass scale.  The place was packed when I got there.  Some videos themselves joining the crowds whilst crossing the road, others climbing up lampposts to get a better vantage point.  Starbucks offers one of the best views…with a long queue “buying coffee” to get a window seat to watch and watch people crossing the street – in an orderly and Japanese way.

I had no such luck in the Starbucks, nor was I willing to wait in the queue.  Instead, I found an OK spot inside Shibuya station.  Not the best of views, but away from the rugby scrum down below.  Whatever your fancy, this is an oddity of a tourist spot.  Only spending about 25 minutes at Shibuya Crossing, most of it taking up looking for an elevated position.  I was expecting more, actually, I don’t know what I was expecting…it is after all a traffic intersection.  In all fairness I wasn’t there during peak time, you wouldn’t think so judging by the amount of people.  Still, it was nice walking around Shibuya, with Shibuya Crossing simply part of the fabric of the area.

Well, that was it for Tokyo.  I was really beginning to enjoy Japan now, still no resolution on my hotels.com overcharge.  Kyoto would be my next stop.   Obviously, I’ll get into more details of why I chose Kyoto and how I got there etc.  Now, writing this post in New Zealand while visiting my brother and sister-in-law again…that’s a whole new story in itself.  Over the past month I’ve been out of kilter with my routine, totally off track with my writing too.  That in turn has demotivated me a little, but now I’m beginning to feel near normal again.

Putting some perspective on what’s yet to come; I haven’t even started on writing about my time in Sydney, New Zealand South island, Peru (some awesome archaeological sites), Bolivia (some of the most diverse and beautiful scenery), Bogota, New York, Switzerland, Munich, Italy and Greece…..LOADS more to come.  I hope you enjoyed this final snippet of Tokyo and enjoy what’s yet to come.

PS. I’ve tried a different approach/technique with my writing, you may or many not notice.  I’d be grateful for any feedback.  Thanks for reading.

 

 

Bangkok, love it or hate it

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Bangkok, now I understand why some people love it and others hate it with no in-between.  Knowing loads of people who have visited Thailand I decided to go without speaking to any of them, sometimes this works, sometimes not, I still prefer the former modus operandi.  My hotel was Mybed Sathorn, maybe not the best of locations which added to my experience of Bangkok, not a good one; the hotel was ok, no window though and it’s far from most of the main tourist attractions.  Bangkok is a sensory overload in every respect, with 14 million people it is filled to the brim and with that comes a compact environment of people, sounds, smells and visuals.

For some reason I just wasn’t “feeling” Bangkok, I couldn’t get into a groove and felt claustrophobic in my windowless hotel in the backend of the city.  One thing good about my location was the lack of tourists, so getting to see the real people of the Bangkok was great, with no alternative but to eat the street food and take in the atmosphere.  Even so, I struggled to grasp why some people love visiting this city, fascination I totally understand!

Living and working in London you get used to city life and crowded surroundings, but I’ve not experienced it like this before.  Sure, Cairo has a higher population, but you only leave your hotel to go site seeing, here you are on the street all the time, scooters, cars hooting all the time and pavements filled with people and food vendors.  Low tables and chairs popped up where ever possible; I like the fact that it isn’t filled with Western food chains, even so, I just couldn’t get the why some people like the city.  What to do I do when I feel I’m in a rut, go for a walk, the longer the better, heading straight to the main tourist attraction areas.

I ended up walking past some of the major temples because I was wearing shorts, they aren’t too strict at most of the temples but at the Grand Palace and adjoining temples they are.  They use the Chao Phraya river like a highway, instead of busses they have ferry busses with stops along.  If I ever do stay in Bangkok again I think I’d stay close to the river and use the ferry, central and less cluttered than the streets.  Anyway, the Rama VIII Bridge even at a distance is striking, with elegant simplistic lines like a harp stretching across the river.

Bangkok

Rama VIII Bridge

Giant Swing

I didn’t think much of it at first, honestly, even after I had seen it I didn’t understand what the fuss was about and why it was such an attraction.  Quite often I’ll visit a place before reading/learning about it so that my opinion isn’t tainted…sometimes it works, others not, this time the latter would be true.  Sitting lonely in the middle of a traffic island its proportions look quite precarious, it made me think of an electric pylon made to look pretty, no offence intended.

Bangkok

Giant Swing

The Giant Swing is in fact near 250 years old and a religious structure which was used in an old Brahmin ceremony (Hindu priests).  Built during the time of King Rama I, the ceremony was discontinued during the reign of Rama II because the swing had structural damage caused by lightening.  In 1920 the swing was renovated and moved to its new, albeit lonely and less attractive location, the swing ceremony was reborn and continued till 1935 – is stopped because of several fatal accidents.

Wat Suthat Thepphawararam / Wat Suthat

Located over the road from the Giant Swing, it is commonly known by its shortened name Wat Suthat.  This was the first temple I visited, but not the first I had seen as I walked past the high Grand Palace walls, even though high they cannot hide the large temples enclosed within – there colourful roofs with ornate pointed tips.  This Buddhist temple was started by King Rama I in 1807 but only finished by Rama III in 1847.  The architecture of the temples in Thailand not just Bangkok, are so different to what I’m used to, describing them may require a different tact and frame of mind.

Bangkok

Wat Suthat Thepphawararam / Wat Suthat

Bangkok

Wat Suthat Thepphawararam / Wat Suthat

With white walls and pillars holding up bright tiled roofs of yellow, green and red that flare out to the gutters like a starched frayed dress.  At the ends of the ridges, hips and drip edge the roofs decorated with golden chofa – they look as if they are inspired by dragons.  Inside the walls from floor to ceiling are lined with tapestry like wallpaper, hand painted in detailed scenes; what they specifically depict I don’t know or its relevance – I need to do some serious reading!  I was lucky enough to watch a lady busy restoring some of the walls, cleaning and touching-up with the utmost care – after an hour she had only done about one square centimetre.  It’s always nice to see preservation being done with such delicate intimacy and care.

Bangkok

Wat Suthat Thepphawararam / Wat Suthat

Bangkok

Wat Suthat Thepphawararam / Wat Suthat

All the temples take on the same format, entrance in the front with the Buddha/Shrine at the other end.  Here a large golden Buddha sitting legs folded with a content facial expression occupies the space, I would normally say dominate the space but not here; although the golden Buddha is a stark contrast to the worn dark walls it somehow seems appropriately fitting.  In the humid heat of Bangkok, the white panels of walls radiate the suns rays that shimmer off the exquisite and extremely ornate window frames in repetitive sequence along the temple sides.  The window frames alone are worthy of hours of study, like pictures hanging in an art gallery, here they are almost forgotten and neglected as visitors pour into the temple.

Bangkok

Wat Suthat Thepphawararam / Wat Suthat

Bangkok

Wat Suthat Thepphawararam / Wat Suthat

Bangkok

Wat Suthat Thepphawararam / Wat Suthat

Bangkok

Wat Suthat Thepphawararam / Wat Suthat

The gardens around the temple are kept in supreme condition, each plant, flower, tree manicured individually by hand.  The care given to the garden seems as much a part of the temple as the temple building itself, the trees cut into designs even the smallest ones.  Compared to some of the cathedrals I’ve been to the temple is much smaller, more like a small school hall.  Yet they still create a feeling of space and the size gives it intimacy, the contrast in colour from the outside to inside adds to this intimate feeling.

Bangkok

Wat Suthat Thepphawararam / Wat Suthat

First day in Bangkok wasn’t very productive in so far as site seeing, but it was good walking about again, Bangkok is huge so my brief time there would only allow me to explore a tiny fraction.  Hmmmm…I’ve grown tired of cities, they are full of tourists and most cities are the same; hotels, tourists, luxury housing &/or shops next to the poorest of the city living in a different world compared to the flashy shop and malls.

Next day I headed out reasonably early, around the corner from my hotel is M.R. Kukrit’s House, they were having a function when I got there so only a small portion of the place was open to the public.  Unless there is a lot more to the place than what I saw it was a disappointment, can’t figure out why it would be an attraction.  I walked quite a bit, instead of taking a taxi or a tuk tuk like the day before, so the walk to the Grand Palace!

Bangkok

M.R. Kukrit’s House

NB. Tuk Tuks are much more expensive than taxis, and if a taxi doesn’t want to use their meter then don’t use them!

Grand Palace / Phra Borom Maha Ratcha Wang & Wat Phra Kaew / Temple of the Emerald Buddha

A massive temple and palace complex in the heart of the temple region in Bangkok (218 400 square metres).  I remembered to wear my trousers this time, well my Salomon Trouser/Shorts (grrr need to update my gear section!) – there is a dress code for the Palace Temple Complex, shorts, a no go.  The place was bloody crowded, even so it’s still spectacular.  I don’t mind crowds, but silly crowds irritate me e.g. groups of people walking blindly with selfie sticks guiding them like dog leashes!  Some groups seem to loose all sense of self as they stumble along as is dazed and confused bumping into everything and everyone as they pretend to be professional models, posing repeatedly till they get the perfect picture…after 50 have already been taken!  ARGH, rant over.

Bangkok

Wat Phra Kaew / Temple of the Emerald Buddha from the entry garden to the complex

Bangkok

Wat Phra Kaew / Temple of the Emerald Buddha

This palace and surrounding temples enclosed within its fortress like walls has been the official residence of the Kings of Siam (later to be known as Thailand) since 1782.  Till 1925 the Grand Palace was the core of government where the King and his court would rule the country until the abolition of absolute monarchy in 1932 – the Grand Palace is now used for government and royal ceremonies.

Bangkok

Wat Phra Kaew / Temple of the Emerald Buddha

Bangkok

Wat Phra Kaew / Temple of the Emerald Buddha

A uniformity in the many structures that make up the Grand Palace is evident, even so you cannot miss the subtle differences.  This is because, since commencement of the first building in 1782 the palace has expanded organically through the years by successive monarchs.  The actual palace is closed to the public, at least when I was there, from the outside it is spectacularly ornate with gold adorned decoration prevailing from the roof, windows, pillars and statues however the buildings have a delicate graceful nature.  Possibly if one of these buildings were a standalone structure it would be easier to take in the actual detail, here is an overload of visual sensory only added to by the herds of people jostling around like lost sheep.

Bangkok

Wat Phra Kaew / Temple of the Emerald Buddha

Bangkok

Wat Phra Kaew / Temple of the Emerald Buddha

I would most certainly visit the Grand Palace Complex again, only differently by going as early as possible.  Whilst walking around the sea of lost people I tried to imagine how different this place would be with less, preferably no people around, like walking through a garden of green and gold, an Alice in Wonderland experience.  The morning sun reflecting yellow-orange off the gold like walking through glistening rays of golden hew as is walking through the breaks in clouds as the sun shines through only knowing you are on the ground by the bottle green manicured shrubs and trees brushing past your shoulder.

Bangkok

Wat Phra Kaew / Temple of the Emerald Buddha

Bangkok

Grand Palace / Phra Borom Maha Ratcha Wang

Come to think of it the first temple complex before you get to the actual palace has so much gold that you almost don’t realise it, by that I mean the gold becomes part of the fabric of the building.  I’m not a gold fan, even a fraction of so much gold done badly would be the height of kitsch, here no; it is done masterfully by craftsman of the highest order, reflecting the style, taste and artistic craft and wealth of the Thai people of the time – it doesn’t have to be your style, but you cannot argue or question the workmanship nor magnificence of what is on display.  What I did notice, although I didn’t go inside the palace, is the temples are many times more lavish than the palace, quite different from those I had seen in Europe or the same time period.

Bangkok

Grand Palace / Phra Borom Maha Ratcha Wang

Bangkok

Grand Palace / Phra Borom Maha Ratcha Wang

Bangkok

Grand Palace / Phra Borom Maha Ratcha Wang

Wat Pho / Temple of the Reclining Buddha

Officially called Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm Rajwaramahaviharn…doesn’t that just roll of the tongue!  Located over the road from the Grand Palace and Temple Complex, this was the actual reason I went to the area, the palace being over the road was a bonus – I saw a picture of this long elegant golden buddha lying on its side with its head cupped in hand and thought….I’d like to see that in real life….viola I’m in Bangkok!

Bangkok

Wat Pho / Temple of the Reclining Buddha

Bangkok

Phra Chedi Rai which contain the ashes of members of the royal family.
Wat Pho / Temple of the Reclining Buddha Temple Complex

I walked around Wat Pho complex without a map (as I did at the Grand Palace) I had no idea what building was what!  Similar to the Grand Palace and Temple complex but not as lavish, comparing anything `with the Grand Palace as you base will almost certainly be less lavish!  Wat Pho was built by King Rama I, considering many of the lavish temples and the palace were built by him I guessed that this must have been a very prosperous time for the region.

Bangkok

Phra Chedi Rai which contain the ashes of members of the royal family.
Wat Pho / Temple of the Reclining Buddha Temple Complex

Bangkok

Wat Pho / Temple of the Reclining Buddha Temple Complex

At near 200 years old, built in 1832, the temple of the Reclining Buddha is quite big, but for visitors it is cramped because the Reclining Buddha encompasses most of the space at 15m high and 46m long.  The relaxed posture of the Buddha is in contrast to what it metaphorically is watching as the tourists push and barge to get a nice selfie.  It is nevertheless a very impressive structure, at it colossal size is isn’t a domineering figure either, quite the opposite.  With all this hustle and bustle most people, even me too at first, forget to take in just how intricate and beautiful the rest of this temple is, it may not be as grand as those in the Palace & Temple Complex but by no means inferior and more personable.

Bangkok

Medicine pavilion on the left.
Wat Pho / Temple of the Reclining Buddha Temple Complex.

Bangkok

Entrance to the South (I think) Viharn
Wat Pho / Temple of the Reclining Buddha Temple Complex

My history of Europe and to a lesser degree Ancient Arabia is not too bad, but my knowledge of Asia is poor at best.  Not to compare Europe but I found it intriguing and fascinating at the difference in styles circa. late 18th century.  Bangkok is filled with temples and shrines, every government building and many businesses and homes have shrines outside, normally near the entrance.  The temples around Bangkok are surrounded near breaking point by over 8 million people, the temples as a contrast are like a different world.  Although the sounds of Bangkok can be heard in the background the smells of the city are diluted by the burning incense, these tourist site temples are still fully functioning and used temples, these are not just old buildings now used as window dressing to attract tourists.

Bangkok

Wat Pho / Temple of the Reclining Buddha

Bangkok

The Viharn in the background that houses Wat Pho / Temple of the Reclining Buddha

Going back to my first sentence about Bangkok, I can see why some people like it and others don’t.  My opinion, to be fair I only saw a fraction of the city, taken that I’ve tended to be anti-cities of late Bangkok reinforced my thoughts on them…quite strongly.  If you compare what the rest of Thailand has to offer then I’d gladly not go to Bangkok again, instead just fly straight out to other parts of the beautiful country.  The one thing I will take away from my visit to Bangkok is to smell, a constant aroma, fluctuating in strength that always lingers at the tip of you nose.  To me it had a tinge of sour, no doubt the cooking on the pavements adds to this, not to forget that they wash all the cutlery and crockery on the pavements too, the smell is a mix of food, pollution and everything in-between.  That may sound a tad gross, maybe it is, what is good to see is happy people, people of all types sitting together eating dinner, eating local and making the best out of challenging circumstances.  I take back what I said, to a degree, the rest of Thailand is beautiful (what I saw) but I’d give Bangkok another try…just a short one.

My growing disdain putting it harshly, to cities, made me ever the happier to get out of Bangkok (a hotel with no windows is also a terrible thing!), next stop would be Koh Samui…sun, sea here I come!.

My journey commenced in Dubai, here is the link if you’d like to take a look “Dubai, world hub from nothing