Fun things to do in Thailand

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    Wat Trimit

    by traveldave Updated Aug 24, 2012

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    Wat Trimit, variously written in English as Wat Trimitr, Wat Traimit, and Wat Traimitr, among others, is a Buddhist wat located in Bangkok's Chinatown. It is often referred to as the Temple of the Golden Buddha because it houses the Golden Buddha, the world's largest solid gold object. (See my tip on the Golden Buddha for more information).

    What is now Wat Trimit was built in 1939 and was originally called Wat Sam Chin, which means "Three Chinese Temple", because three Chinese men donated money and property toward the construction of the wat. The name was changed in 1956 when it became a royal temple.

    If it were not for the Golden Buddha, it is unlikely that anyone but locals would visit Wat Trimit. Compared to the many magnificent wats in Bangkok, Wat Trimit is rather plain architecturally, and it is located on a small side street in an out-of-the-way section of the city. Away from the tourist crowds who come to see the Golden Buddha, the wat does offer an interesting glimpse into Thai Buddhist practices. Devotees light sticks of incense to carry prayers heavenward, and worshippers apply thin sheets of gold leaf to images of the Buddha to make merit.

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    Phra Maha Chedi Si Rajakarn

    by traveldave Updated Aug 24, 2012

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    Phra Maha Chedi Si Rajakarn is a set of four large intricately decorated chedis located on the grounds of Wat Pho. Built during the reign of King Rama I to house relics of the Buddha, they also honor the first three kings of the Chakri Dynasty (two are for King Rama III). Later, King Mongkut ordered the construction of a walled enclosure around the chedis to ensure that no others would be built in their vicinity.

    Each of the chedis has 12 notches on its side (lesser chedis have less notches) and terminates in a 138-foot (42-meter) spire. They are decorated with colorful mosaics of glazed tiles and fragments of porcelain.

    The chedis that make up Phra Maha Chedi Si Rajakarn are but four out of a total of 91 chedis on the grounds of Wat Pho. Seventy-one of the smaller chedis contain the ashes of members of the royal family, and 21 contain the purported ashes of the Buddha.

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    The Grand Palace Complex

    by traveldave Updated Aug 24, 2012

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    The Grand Palace Complex is the royal center of Bangkok and includes the largest collection of temples and palaces in Thailand. The 54-acre (22-hectare) temple complex is located on the east bank of the Chao Phraya River and is surrounded by four defensive walls that contain 12 gates and 17 forts. Rather than being a single building, the Grand Palace is made up of numerous buildings, some of which include Wat Phra Keo, the Royal Pantheon, the Royal Chapel, the Royal Collection of Weapons, and the Coin Pavilion, among many others.

    The temples in the Grand Palace Complex are generally in the Rattanakosin (traditional Thai) style of architecture and are covered in gold leaf, tiles, and mosaics of porcelain which glimmer in the tropical sun. Architectural structures include chedis (tall spires) and prangs (obelisk-like towers). The large gold chedi visible in the background is the Phra Si Rattana Chedi, constructed to house a piece of the Buddha's breastbone.

    The Grand Palace Complex is divided into quarters which include Wat Phra Keo, the Outer Court, the Middle Court, and the Inner Court.

    Wat Phra Keo is also called the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Thailand's most sacred object, the Emerald Buddha is a statue of the Buddha that is carved not from emerald, but from green jade. The quarter also contains other magnificent examples of Thai architecture including the Royal Pantheon, salawats (pavilions), statues, chedis, and prangs.

    The Outer Court contains public buildings that are closed to the public, such as the office of the king's private secretary and offices and departments of the Royal Household. Of interest to tourists is the Pavilion of Regalia, Royal Decorations, and Coins.

    The Middle Court contains the most important residential and state buildings, and is considered the heart of the Grand Palace Complex. Its most important building is the Great Chakri Palace, once the residence of the Thai kings, but which now serves as the royal throne hall. The quarter also contains numerous temples and pavilions.

    The Inner Court was once reserved exclusively for use by the king, and in ancient times, his harem of queens and consorts. This quarter also contains the extensive Siwalai gardens.

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    The Great Chakri Palace

    by traveldave Updated Aug 24, 2012

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    The Great Chakri Palace serves as the ceremonial throne hall for Thai kings. The palace is closed to the public and is only used by the king for ceremonial occasions, such as Coronation Day and state visits by foreign dignitaries. It was a royal residence until 1946, when King Rama IX moved to the Chitralada Palace a few miles away.

    After a trip to Singapore and Java in 1875, King Rama V brought back English architect John Clunich and his assistant Henry Rose to design and build the throne hall. The king wanted the building to be completely European in style, but at the insistence of his Chief Minister, decided to add Rattanakosin-style roofs and spires. Therefore, the Great Chakri Palace is now an odd mixture of Rattanakosin (traditional Thai), Renaissance, and Italianate styles. The lower part of the building is in the European styles and the upper part is in the Rattanakosin style, with green-and-orange glazed tile roofs and golden spires.

    The interior of the three-story building is dominated by the throne hall, or the Chakri Maha Prasat. It runs along the front of the entire building. The throne itself is in the center of the Chakri Maha Prasat, and is a golden chair on a raised dais, the base of which is adorned with golden garudas. The throne is flanked by two seven-tiered umbrellas and is topped by the Royal Nine-Tiered Umbrella.

    The upper floors of the palace consists of various state rooms and include reception rooms, lesser throne rooms, galleries with royal religious images, and libraries.

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    The Wat Pho Complex

    by traveldave Updated Aug 24, 2012

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    At 20 acres (eight hectares), the Wat Pho Complex is the largest complex of wats in Bangkok. It is also the oldest, having been established about 200 years before Bangkok became the capital of Thailand. The complex consists of two walled compounds separated by Soi Chetuphon, an east-west street. The southern compound, called Tukgawee, is closed to the public and is a working Buddhist monastery with living quarters for the monks and a school. The northern compound is popular with tourists and contains Wat Pho and a school for traditional Thai massage.

    Known mostly for the Reclining Buddha, one of the world's largest images of the Buddha, the Wat Pho Complex also has more Buddha images than any wat in the country, with more than 1,000. Most of these were moved here from Thailand's ruined former capitals of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai.

    The grounds of the complex contain a total of 91 chedis, including four large chedis honoring the first three kings of the Chakri Dynasty (two are for King Rama III). There are also four viharas (halls), a bot (central shrine), chapels, rock gardens, and numerous statues.

    The wall around the compound has 16 gates guarded by Chinese giants carved from rock. They had been used as ballast on ships that were used for trade with China. The outer cloister contains images of 400 Buddhas out of 1,200 that were brought to Bangkok by King Rama I.

    Wat Pho, the main temple, is built atop a raised marble platform punctuated by mythological lions at the gateways. The exterior ballustrade of the wat contains 150 depictions from the epic Ramakien, the Thai national epic derived from the Hindu epic, Ramayama.

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    Wat Pho

    by traveldave Updated Aug 23, 2012

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    Wat Pho, or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is the oldest and largest temple in Bangkok. It is considered to be the birthplace of traditional Thai massage. The main attraction of the wat, however, is the Reclining Buddha, a statue that is 151 feet (46 meters) long and 49 feet (15 meters) high, and covered entirely with gold leaf.

    Prior to the establishment of Wat Pho, the site where it is located today was a center of education for traditional Thai medicine. The grounds contained statues showing the various yoga positions.

    When the former capital of Ayutthaya was sacked by the Burmese in 1767, a large image of the Buddha was destroyed. King Rama I ordered the construction of Wat Pho to house the fragments of that destroyed image. (The king named it after a monastery in India where the Buddha is believed to have lived). Construction on Wat Pho began in 1788 and its design was based on that of an earlier temple that had been on the same site, Wat Phodharam. The wat was restored and significantly expanded by King Rama III in the 1800s. As part of the restoration work, the king had plaques inscribed with medical texts placed around the building.

    Adjacent to the main temple building is a small raised garden. Its centerpiece is a bodhi tree which was propegated from the original tree in India under which the Buddha sat while awaiting enlightenment.

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    Wat Benchamabopit

    by traveldave Updated Aug 23, 2012

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    Wat Benchamabopit was constructed by King Chulalongkorn in 1899 to house the ashes of King Rama V. It was the last major temple constructed in Bangkok.

    Often called the Marble Temple, Wat Benchamabopit was constructed of white Carrara marble from Italy, which was almost priceless at the time. The main section of the building, the ubosot, was designed symmetrically with multiple layered roofs of glazed Chinese terra-cotta tiles trimmed with gold leaf.

    The interior of the wat is an interesting mix of Thai and European influences. The bot, or chapel, features stained-glass windows, and the hallways are decorated with European-style stucco. The ceiling is supported by large Rattanakosin-style lacquered and gilt cross beams.

    In a courtyard behind the wat there are 53 Buddha images which represent famous images and styles from all over Asia.

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    "Salawats"

    by traveldave Updated Aug 23, 2012

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    A sala is an open-sided pavilion used as a meeting place and to protect people from the sun and rain. They are common throughout Thailand, but a sala located on the grounds of a Buddhist temple, or wat, is called a salawat. A person who builds a salawat at a wat or in a public place gains religious merit.

    There are 12 small salawats situated around Wat Phra Keo, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. They were built by King Rama I to house Buddhist relics, some from such places as Cambodia and Java. The salawats on the grounds of Wat Phra Keo are magnificently decorated with gilded pediments and glass mosaics arranged in floral designs. Often worshippers who come to see the Emerald Buddha make some sort of offering before the salawats, which can include the burning of incense, offering food to Buddhist monks, giving coins to the needy, or just saying a prayer.

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    The Ayutthaya Historical Park

    by traveldave Updated Aug 23, 2012

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    Anyone who is interested in history should visit the ruins of the ancient Siamese capital that are preserved in the Ayutthaya Historical Park. Located 55 miles (89 kilometers) north of Bangkok, the historical park contains the ruins of hundreds of temples and palaces scattered over 14 non-contiguous sites around the modern city of Ayutthaya. The Ayutthaya Historical Park is now the most important and popular tourist site in Thailand outside of Bangkok. Most visitors take a day trip out of Bangkok, arriving by bus and returning to the city on a cruise down the Chao Phraya River.

    Ayutthaya was founded around 1350 by King Ramathibodi. By the fifteenth century, the city had become a regional military power, conquering most of the city-states in what is now northern Thailand and Laos. And over the centuries, Ayutthaya became a flourishing center of trade and commerce. Foreign traders were welcomed and allowed to set up trading settlements outside the city walls. There were communities of Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Indians, Pakistanis, and later Europeans. By the sixteenth century, Ayutthaya had become one of the largest and wealthiest cities in eastern Asia.

    Beginning in the mid-fifteenth century, Ayutthaya came under repeated attacks by the traditional enemy of the Siamese, the Toungoo Dynasty of Burma. The Burmese attacked Ayutthaya many times between the mid-1500s and 1700s, but each time without success. Finally, in 1767, the Burmese were able to sack and loot the city, leaving it abandoned. The inhabitants fled south and the king set up his new capital at Bangkok, which became the capital of Siam.

    From the time Ayutthaya was abandoned until about the mid-1930s, locals looted the ruins for bricks and building stones. Many of the temples and palaces were completely dismantled. In 1935, the ruins of Ayutthaya came under the protection of the government, and in 1969 the national Fine Arts Department began renovating and restoring the remaining ruins. In 1976, the Ayutthaya Historical Park was established, and in 1991 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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    "Kinnari"

    by traveldave Updated Aug 22, 2012

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    A kinnari is a Thai mythical creature that is half woman and half swan, with the head and torso of a beautiful woman, and the body and legs of a swan. She also has both human arms and swan wings. The kinnari is known for her exceptional singing voice and graceful dancing. She is one of several mythical beings that inhabit the Himapan Forest, located on the India-Nepal border, one step beneath the Buddhist heaven, and invisible to mortals. Statues of kinnari are often placed within temple grounds throughout Thailand. The one pictured here watches over the Royal Pantheon in Bangkok.

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    Model Hills

    by traveldave Updated Aug 22, 2012

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    The grounds of the monastery at Wat Pho contain 24 model hills, called khao mor in Thai. These model hills are decorative rock gardens placed around the monastery grounds for contemplation. They feature various types of exotic plants (particularly dwarf trees), statues (which represent hermits positioned in the different poses of healing massage), Chinese rock stupas, and pillars. Each of the model hills is named for a type of plant.

    The model hills were created by King Rama III, who used rocks taken from the rock garden at the Grand Palace

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    The Royal Pantheon

    by traveldave Updated Aug 22, 2012

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    The building behind the golden chedi is the Royal Pantheon. This pavilion houses life-size statues of each of the kings of the Chakri Dynasty.

    The pavilion that is now the Royal Pantheon was originally intended to house the Emerald Buddha. Construction began in 1856 under the direction of King Rama IV. The building was not completed before his death, however, and his successor, King Rama V, considered the building too small to accommodate the large congregations normally at royal ceremonies. It therefore never housed the Emerald Buddha.

    The pavilion was substantially damaged by fire in 1903, and it was repaired by King Rama VI and dedicated as the Royal Pantheon of the Chakri Dynasty.

    The Royal Pantheon is flanked by two gilded chedis built by King Rama I, the founder of the Charkri Dynasty. One is dedicated to his father, and the other is dedicated to his mother.

    The Royal Pantheon is open to the public only on Chakri Day (April 6), which commemorates the founding of the Chakri Dynasty by King Rama I.

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    Temple Roofs

    by traveldave Updated Aug 20, 2012

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    Temple roofs in Thailand always have multiple tiers. In fact, multiple tiers are reserved for temples, palaces, and important public buildings. Most temples have two to three tiers, but some royal temples have as many as four. The lowest tier is the largest, the middle tier is smaller, and the smallest tier is on the top. Most temple roofs are covered with colored, glazed Chinese terra-cotta tiles which are arranged in precise geometric order.

    The blade-like projections at the roof's peak, called bai raka, represent either naga fins or the feathers of a garuda. (A naga is a mythical winged snake, and a garuda is a large mythical bird. Both are important creatures in Hindu and Buddhist mythology).

    In Wat Pho, visitors can "buy" a tile for just a few bhat. For a small donation, visitors can make an inscription or sign their name on the tile, and it will eventually be incorporated into the roof of one of the temple buildings during routine repairs.

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    Wat Arun

    by traveldave Updated Aug 19, 2012

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    Wat Arun, or the Temple of Dawn, was named after Aruna, the Hindu god of the dawn. It is so named because the first light of dawn reflects off the surface with pearly opalescence.

    Initially called Wat Chaeng, the original wat was located on the east bank of the Chao Phraya River near what is now the Grand Palace Complex. However, it was relocated to the west bank of the river during the reign of King Rama I. The wat that was constructed at that time was built to house the Emerald Buddha. Eventually, in 1785, the Emerald Buddha was moved to Wat Phra Keo in the Grand Palace Complex.

    After the Emerald Buddha was moved, Wat Arun lost its importance and was abandoned, and remained so until the reign of King Rama II. The king began restoration work on Wat Arun in 1809, and it was completed during the reign of King Rama III in 1824.

    The main feature of Wat Arun is its central Khmer-style tower, or prang, surrounded by four smaller satellite prangs at each corner of the building's base. The main prang is 259 feet (79 meters) tall and represents Mount Meru, the center of the universe in Tibetan Buddhist belief. It is surmounted by a seven-pronged trident, said to be the Trident of Shiva. The four satellite prangs are dedicated to Phra Phai, the god of the winds. The prangs are supported by rows of demons and monkeys, and their surfaces are decorated with seashells and broken pieces of porcelain which had been used as ballast on ships that sailed between Thailand and China.

    Inside Wat Arun, the ashes of King Rama II are buried beneath the temple's main Buddha image.

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    The Reclining Buddha

    by traveldave Updated Aug 19, 2012

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    The Reclining Buddha is the centerpiece of Wat Pho, often called the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. The image represents the Buddha passing into nirvana.

    At 151 feet (46 meters) long and 49 feet (15 meters) high, the Reclining Buddha is so massive that it is difficult to get all of it into one picture. Its head is supported on two box-pillows encrusted with blue glass mosaics, its body is covered with gold leaf, and its eyes and the soles of its feet are covered with mother-of-pearl. The feet are ten feet (three meters) high and 16 feet (five meters) long, and the soles are divided into 108 panels displaying auspicious symbols, such as flowers, dancers, white elephants, tigers, and altar accessories.

    There is a large seven-tiered umbrella over the image which represents the authority of Thailand. Along the corridor in front of the Reclining Buddha are 108 bronze bowls which indicate the 108 auspicious characters of the Buddha. People drop coins into the bowls for good fortune, and the money is used for the upkeep of the wat.

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