Who Put the Bang in Bangkok?

Bangkok, Thailand

April 28, 2008

Who put the bang in Bangkok?

Not the “entertainers” in Patpong, certainly. I even skipped that entirely. I turned in early instead for a day of temple-hopping. And was I glad I did!

The Look of Nirvana: The Reclining Buddha in Wat Pho

To be honest, I initially had qualms about seeing another Buddha. I had been to Wuxi, China where a colossal Grand Buddha stands at about 90 meters tall. It would be fairly remote for any other Buddha to top that.

But the Reclining Buddha in Wat Pho had me at the first sight of his massive head.

Why would Buddha be reclining in the first place? Too much Pad Thai, perhaps? It is said that King Rama III built the statue in 1832 to allow people to meditate on Buddha’s attainment of nirvana. I had associated that kind of transcendental tranquility with the lotus position, but this image of Buddha in repose explicitly captured the idea of freedom from worldly pain and passions.

The wihan (an assembly hall that houses the Buddha) could feel stuffy because of the dense stream of people crammed in the narrow passageway. Ironically, it was the quietest crowd. The silence was just intermittently broken by clanging sounds of coins dropped on prayer bowls and the clicks of cameras all around.

Hallowed Hallway in Wat Pho

Drop Coin Prayer in the Wihan

For the first time I saw Buddha’s toes. They were curiously long and of even lengths, juxtaposed so closely as if webbed. These non-human toe features, I learned later, symbolize the extra-human strength of Buddha.

The soles of his feet were elaborately designed. Toe prints were visibly lined with a swirl of concentric circles, the soles extravagantly overlaid with a parquet of mother-of-pearl. The squares show the 108 auspicious characteristics of Buddha, and the circular center of each sole represents Buddha’s chakra. Under these Gulliver-feet was a throng of tourists jockeying one another for that perfect shot. Considering my height, or the lack thereof, I didn’t stand a chance against the tall farang (Caucasian, in Thai) photography buffs.

At Buddha’s Feet

Soul to Sole

I barely made it through the throng to have my picture taken by Buddha’s backside instead. It was less crowded, but the figure was no less magnificent…

By Buddha’s Backside

…or photogenic. The back of Buddha’s head looked like a jackfruit, embellished with little spiry projections that conjured a crown rather than hair – truly his crowning glory.

Back of Buddha’s Head

The walls of the wihan had been adorned with Mithila mural paintings. They supposedly tell a story, not individual static scenes but a series of events. However, it was impossible to stop and figure out the plot while a file of tightly-packed people nudged you to go on.

Marvelous Mithila Mural

To Light and to Limn: Wat Pho Murals

There is not much space in the wihan that a full view of the horizontal statue can only be had from either end: as you enter and as you leave. My last look was the most spectacular: the Reclining Buddha’s 46-meter long glistening glory, feet first. That puts the bang in Bangkok in my book!

Golden and Glistening: The Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

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26 thoughts on “Who Put the Bang in Bangkok?

  1. FYI, “Bang” means “riverside village”, “kok” is a kind of wild plum.
    Also, Thais never refer to their capital as Bangkok, only tourists do. Locals prefer Krung Thep – City of Angels.

    • Thanks Garbo! Greta? :) Didn’t get to have any meaningful interaction with Thais the short time I was there. I hope next time I can stay longer in this amazing city.

  2. Wow AJ, that’s a unique Buddha pose I must say! Maybe the Buddha is kind of a little tired doing the yoga pose so it ended up in a reclined pose this time.
    Glad to read that you had visited Bangkok! I’m going to Thailand in 3 days time but mine is more of a tropical getaway to Krabi and hopefully a boat ride to some other islands like Phi Phi islands or Coral islands.. Is it possible to get a domestic flight though from Krabi to Bangkok? How long will it take?

    Thank you for sharing such wonderful experience with the reclined Buddha.

    Cheers!
    J

    • Good point, Jim. Yes, pointing with your feet is considered rude in Thailand. But I guess if you’re Buddha, you’re exempt from such custom. Haha!

    • Haha that’s called temple burnout, Nelieta! You really just choose a handful of temple to visit, not all. Wat Pho alone has around 200 stupas in its grounds. I think this and Wat Arun should be enough for one trip.

    • IKR! But tourists come in waves. Just wait a bit for the hordes to pass through and snap away before another bus-load of tourists attack the place! :D

  3. and finally you got to take your photo on the reclining Buddha upfront. I love it there AJ though Thailand is one of my most desired place to visit one day and surely, when I get there, I will come here and visit this.

    I love the photos you took AJ as usual.

    • You’d have a field day in this temple, Doc. I’d love to see it again through your photographic treatment. It’s not just one temple; it’s a complex. I’m sure you’d love it. :)

    • The last photo took some measure of timing and angling to get right. Too bad, I wasn’t as meticulous with the camera settings. The photo is overexposed. :D

  4. You just don’t know AJ but I have to confess…it was me…it was me who put the BANG in BANGKOK…lol…

    You know what I think about these reclining Buddhas? they are very sexy…hehehe.

    The great AJ…you have such a good life for having been into so many countries…Thailand included.

    • I knew it was you all along. I mean how could an inanimate statue, no matter how sexy, compete with your live and bangin’ appeal? :D

      Nope, I haven’t been to that many countries actually. But I don’t allow poverty to get in the way of living the good life. :)

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