Day 2 had me up early. I didn’t sleep well- mostly because my body was still adjusting from the trip and the heat. I found a local Starbucks and planning had again paid off. Staying in a more western part of town gave me access to a grocery store that stocked western food and the comforts of things like overpriced over-roasted coffee.
Today I would be venturing back out to the outskirts of town and then a foray into the beginning of Bangkok proper. There were three Wats on the list; all very different and serving their own unique purpose in the Thai Buddhist culture.
First up is Wat Dhammamingkon. Visible from any high point outside of the straining skyscrapers of downtown, this temple was relatively new on the scene. Like many temples in Bangkok, it took a long time to build. The raising of funds began in 1965, and the tower was completed in 1985. It is a modern recreation of the temple that was the inception of Buddha’s enlightenment in Bodhgaya.
They were preparing for the Songkran ceremonies that were going to take place the next week, and most of the monks and assisting laity were installing tents, putting up chairs, and readying the rooms where discussions, meditation workshops, and classes would be held. Inside there were a few people praying, meditating, and making offerings to the great and giant Black Buddha.
I quietly said my prayers for the safe passage and soul of my family that had departed this last year, and made merit with a donation of flowers at the altar of the great Black Buddha.
Surrounding the high tower are several shrines to Buddhist deities. Once again my presence was welcomed by all except the feline that had made the shrine to Kwan Yin her napping place for the day.
Pictures are not usually allowed in the higher floors where many artifacts from notable monks are housed.
In addition they had closed off the room housing the worlds largest jade Buddha as plaster had been falling in and was endangering the ceiling. They let me look in but I was forbidden to take pictures while the work was being done. Still in this state the jade Buddha was magnificent, and here is a stock photo that shows off its incredible grace and elegance.
No prayers could be made here, as scaffolding and workers in hard hats moved quickly around. Their glances at me told me that even this glimpse at this time was more than their generosity would usually allow. I thanked them graciously and retreated back down the stairs. It was time to move on.
Next in the day’s journey was the ancient Wat Pathum Khongka, a 300+ year old temple next to the belly of the dragon: Chinatown. This Wat serves as a functional mausoleum. Where people may have their ancestors laid to rest in the walls that surround the temple. Golden Buddhas surround the inside, giving each group of cremated remains their own place below. A few families were there, with blankets and large picnics of food, wine, and candles laid out. To stay connected to their fallen family members, they would gather here on their birthday, to share a meal with them in remembrance and reflection. It is not a somber occasion, instead one of quiet contentment and peace.
A quick walk to the hub at the entrance of Chinatown a bustling city within a city that houses over one million people. It is one of the largest of its king in the world, beset in the center of town with arches wishing good luck and fortune to all who pass through.
From this vantage point Bangkok shows off one of the many high jewels of the Thai kingdom: Wat Traimit.
I spoke to a monk who was outside taking the offerings of food, robes, and other gifts and blessing people at the beginning of the new year. In between people coming up for prayers I was able to glean the importance on Songkram directly, even though my research had given me some insight I wanted more. Firsthand knowledge, even gapped by language, has more meaning. It is a celebration of the cleaning of the house, spirit, temples, and the cities themselves. Every year is seen as a single entity unto own. New years, both in the Thai and Khmer culture, is a chance to start over. To begin everything new. Buddhas are washed. Houses are cleaned. New clothes are purchased. A reset marked by the changing of the lunar year. It is as much a rebirth for the city (water being sprayed everywhere greatly helping to clean the city as much as the buildings) as it is the people. In a religion where reincarnation is a deeply held belief, each passing new year is a symbol of that. A demure reset of life from the life and memories both good and bad, of the old.
I paid my entrance fee and looked up at the splendor that is Wat Tramit- home of the revered and sacred Golden Buddha. It is the largest solid gold Buddha in the world but has a storied past. It spent over 200 years covered in glass and stucco to hide its true identity and value presumably when invading forces had come into Thailand. It had been sequestered to a smaller Wat, and was presented in a small tin roofed simple building. When that Wat closed, it was scheduled to be moved to another. Not knowing the actual weight of the statue, when lifting it with ropes was attempted in 1935 it fell hard to the ground. It was revealed that there was more to this statue than plaster and glass. In total, there were 9 sections of pure gold that could be reassembled along with an instruction set of how to correctly align them. Unlike many sacred objects pushed into hiding that are melted down for money, bullets, and cannonballs, this one survived its time in exile.
The body of the Buddha is 40% gold, moving to 80% for the head, with 99% purity for the hair and the top knot. Plans for a new Wat were set forth to give it a proper home towards the heart of the city. Its impressive temple now a must see for all visitors and locals alike.
It is a wonder to behold. Strong piercing gaze directly below to those who offer prayers. Seated perfectly east to see the rising of the sun. A usually loud and rambunctious city of tourists and citizens is silenced in this room- blessed to be in its presence and awed by its creation.
As the third day would be a long 2 hour ride to Pattaya followed by three Wats in the afternoon, and given the amount of heat choking the polluted city, I thought it best to make my way back to the small efficiency apartment I had rented and see if I could get some sleep after sifting through and editing the days photos.