The first day was overwhelming. Our guide, Tony, led us first to Wat Traimit, the Temple of the Golden Buddha. The Temple itself is not particularly impressive, constructed fairly recently specifically to house the Buddha, but the Golden Buddha itself is jaw-dropping--5.5 tons of solid gold. Interestingly, to protect the Buddha from invading Burmese, it was covered with plaster ages ago. While being moved to a new shelter in the mid-1950's, the Buddha was dropped from a crane and a monk inspecting the cracked plaster discovered the true nature of the Buddha.
The Reclining Buddha
While our morning tour was amazing, the afternoon visit to the Grand Palace exceeded all expectations. The complex is a maze of soaring stupas and striking temples, pitched so closely together that taking everything in is overwhelming. Despite the stifling heat--98 degrees and humid as a bucket of tepid water--we strolled the grounds like kids at a candy store, eagerly awaiting the next architectural wonder. One of the highlights is certainly the Emerald Buddha, carved from a single piece of nephrite, a type of jade. Wars with Burma were fought over this Buddha, with the Thai people eventually capturing it and enshrining the Buddha within the Grand Palace complex.
Also impressive are the 178 Ramakian murals, wrapping around a 2km cloister, and depicting the epic clash of humans uniting with the monkey king to conquer an evil alliance of enemy humans and demons, all to reunite a pair of young lovers.
Ramakian Mural Panel
A few particularly colorful temples are crafted from English pottery that was broken in the holds of ships crossing the ocean. The striking Phra Si Rattana Chedi is covered with golden tile imported from Italy. The throne hall, Chakri Maha Prasat, is a fusion of Thai and European architectural styles. Despite the oppressive heat and humidity, I left the Grand Palace reluctantly because it truly is a complex where another surprise lurks beyond every corner.
Exterior of Broken Pottery