We are the Schaeffers, and we travel to win.
We had only one day in Bangkok before leaving for the beach; led by my fearless father, we felt the need to conquer the entire city in the given 24 hours.
And we did a pretty dang good job, if I do say so myself.
We started off the day at the Grand Palace, which is actually a gigantic compound with all kinds of things. We hired a tour guide, Mr. Prakeet (I have 100% invented this spelling), who was fantastic and helped us to understand infinitely more about the temples and history of the place than we ever would have on our own.
The temples had actually just been opened to the public about a half century prior to our visit; before that, they were the private temples for the king.
The entire place is breath-taking on both the macro and micro level. As for things that are impressive for their sheer size, we noticed the unbelievable amounts of gold, coating buildings that tower above the tourists below. There are three main spires reaching into the sky, each with different influence. Mr. Prakeet explained to us that you can always tell temples with Cambodian influence because “they look like ice cream cones.”
We were all a bit scared about how Andrew, at ten-years-old and not exactly begging to study the culture, would do with the long, hot day at the temples. Although he may not admit it to you, he was actually quite taken by the sheer amount of gold and entertained by playing photographer with my camera.
On the micro level, I was enthralled by the attention to detail. Everything was tiled, hand-painted, or carved beautifully. At one point we were convinced that the walls inside an older palace were covered by intricate wallpaper, but later learned that it was, in fact, all done by hand. Supporting pillars consistently resembled the photo below, and the tower depicted is covered by flowers made from recycled Chinese porcelain.
Some of the statues were “supported” by monkeys and demons underneath. There was a lot of symbolism in the way their shoes or lack there of, their faces, etc. Basically, some were happy to be helping Buddha and others were in constant torment. We decided to help.
The culmination of the temple portion of the visit was going to see the Emerald Buddha, which is the most sacred religious figure in Thailand. It had once been encased in cement to protect it from enemies, and the Thai discovered true figure underneath, made entirely of Jade, when the encasing began to crack. The Buddha has three outfits that he dons depending on the season, which the King changes himself. He is currently in his winter garb. There were no pictures allowed inside, but the throne, if you’d like to call it that, upon which the figure – probably a foot and half high – sits is indescribable. It is Thai custom to make a journey to worship here once in a lifetime, much like the Islamic trek to Mecca. While it was fascinating to see all of this, it was sad at the same time to think of all lost people putting so much hope into this small idol.