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Jean-Marc MICHEL | profile | all galleries >> Thailand >> Bangkok tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Bangkok

Bangkok was founded in 1782 by the first monarch of the present Chakri dynasty. It is now the country's spiritual, cultural, diplomatic, commercial and educational hub. It covers an area of more than 1,500 square kilometres, and it is home to approximatlely ten million people or more than 10% of the country's population. Over the last few decades, Thailand's capital city, Bangkok, has changed into a modern, exciting and sophisticated city. It offers to visitors not only the cosmopolitan amenities they would expect from other big cities, but also a unique treasure trove of cultural attractions. Thailand, in the heart of Southeast Asia, was never colonised and thus kept its unique culture and heritage intact. Bangkok offers visitors the opportunity to experience fascinating glimpse of Thailand's gentle culture amidst the bustle of a great and dynamic metropolis. This great city has had astounding success in combining the ancient and modern world. The city is dotted with 400 glittering Buddhist temples of great beauty and fascination, magnificent palaces, classical dance extravaganzas, numerous shopping centres and traditional ways of life, especially along the "Venice of the East" timeless canals and the Chao Phraya River of the "River of Kings" winding through the city. It is worth taking a trip along its waters before exploring further into different canals to take a glimpse of old Bangkok.

Royal Barge National Museum: The Royal Barge Procession is one of the most spectacular events in the world. It is performed occasionally during the Tod Kathin Buddhist Festival when H.M. The King delivers new robes to the monks at Wat Arun. It was also seen by millions of viewers around the world when it was specially staged for the 2003 APEC Conference in Bangkok and broadcast live to the participating countries.
These ornately decorated boats are maintained by the Royal Thai Navy and docked at The Royal Barge National Museum on Bangkok Noi canal on the Thonburi side.
The most impressive and important boat is the Kings personal barge, Suphanahong which was built in 1911. It is 46 metres in length hewn from a single tree and covered with intricate gilt carvings and colourful pieces of glass. The design is representative of a mythical swan. The crew consists of 54 oarsmen who paddle in time to the rhythmic beat of a drummer.
The Royal Barge fleet consists of 52 vessels. Each is a masterpiece of marine and traditional craftsmanship. They feature a variety of figureheads on their bows, including a sacred Garuda, Hanuman and the seven heads of Naga.
In formation the fleet travels in rows five abreast and more than one kilometer from the leading barge to those at the rear. These are propelled by 2,082 specially trained naval personnel.

Wat Arun: The temple was built during the Ayutthaya period and was originally called Wat Makok after the name of the local village Tambol Bangmakok. It means "Village of Olives".
Wat Arun gets its name from Aruna, the Indian god of the dawn, hence its common name The Temple of Dawn.
The location of the temple is in the area that used to be occupied by the palace of King Taksin who re-established the Siamese Kingdom after the fall of Ayuttaya more than two hundred years ago. The main Buddha image is believed to have been designed by King Rama II.
Wat Arun, often called The Temple of Dawn, is one of the most remarkable visual identities of Bangkok. The imposing Khmer-style prang or tower is 104 metres tall and decorated with bits of porcelain that was used as ballast by boats coming from China. It is surrounded by four smaller prangs. Construction of the prangs were started by King Rama II and completed by King Rama II.
The central balcony is an ideal spot for looking across the river to The Grand Palace and The Temple of The Emerald Buddha.
Each year at the end of the three-month lent period for Buddhist monks, H. M. The King or his appointed representative travels down river in a Royal Barge Procession to present new robes to the monks. This ceremony is called Royal Tod Kathin.

Wat Benchamabophit: To stand at the main gateway and look upon the Monastery of Five Kings is a sight to behold. The perfect symmetry and proportions must inspire admiration of this architectural masterpiece. Wat Benchamabophit Dusitvanaram is known to foreigners as The Marble Temple as its exterior is clad in Carrara marble. Very talented The Prince Naris, a son of King Rama IV , designed the main building which was completed during the reign of King Rama V.The interior crossbeams are decorated with lacquer and gold. The walls of the spacious inner courtyard are lined with a large collection of bronze Buddha images. The canal in front and to the left hand side has ornate bridges.

Wat Trai Mit: Have you ever seen five and a half tons of gold? Wat Trai Mit, near the Bangkok Railway Station at Hua Lamphong, is home to the famous Golden Buddha which is 3 metres high.
The Golden Buddha is believed to be 700 to 800 years old as it is in the Mara attitude, typical of the Sukhothai era. It was installed at Wat Phrayakrai in the Yannawa area of Bangkok during the reign of King Rama III where it stayed until 1931.
The temple had fallen out of use and was abandoned so the Ecclesiastical Commission had it relocated at Wat Trai Mit. At this time, no one seemed to know that it was made of pure gold.
Then in 1955, Reverend Phra Visutha-thibordee, the presiding abbot at the temple had supervised the construction of the temple building to house the Buddha. When it was being moved into its new position, the covering plaster was damaged revealing what was inside, Buddha image cast in 18 carat gold.
It is believed that the original Golden Buddha was disguised under the plaster covering to hide it from enemies during the Ayutthaya period. Photographs of different stages of the plaster removal are displayed in the Wihan.

Wat Sa Ket and The Golden Mount: This landmark, on the only hill in Bangkok, is of great significance for all followers of The Lord Buddha. 320 stairs take you up to the top for panoramic views of the Rattanakosin Island.
The Golden Mount is on a man-made hill with a diameter of 500 metres and soars 100 metres to the sky. There was a small chedi on this site and after it collapsed, King Rama III commissioned the constructed of a much larger one which was completed during the reign of King Rama V.
In 1877, King Rama V brought the Buddha relic in the custody of the Royal Chakri family from the Grand Palace to the Royal Pavilion at Wat Saket. It was then enshrined in the in the pagoda on top of the Golden Mount.
Two decades later, Marquis Curzon, the British Viceroy of India, presented more Buddha relics near the Nepalese border to King Rama V. These were enshrined in a bronze pagoda in 1899 and installed on the top of the Golden Mount.
The temple, Wat Saket, was built during the reign of King Rama I and is the location for a festival each November that includes a climb to the top of the Golden Mount.

Wat Pho: This is possibly the most interesting temple in Thailand as it combines history, medical science and is a center for meditaion and traditional massage training. Its official name is Wat Phrachetuphon Vimon Mangkararam Ratchaworamahawihan, although it is commonly called Wat Po.
Founded during the 16th century, Wat Pho is most famous for the golden reclining Buddha that measues 46 metres and has feet inlaid with mother-of pearl. This is the main attraction that draws visitors to the temple. In more modern times, Wat Pho has gained international recognition as a meditation centre and for the traditional Thai massage that is both practiced and taught here.
Traditionally, temples were the schools as there was no formal education system, with monks providing basic lesson in both spiritual and secular subjects. King Rama III turned Wat Po into a major centre for learning in botany, geography and history.
Bas reliefs around one of the main buildings depict the story of the Ramakian which is the Thai adaption of the Indian Ramayana. The walls have marble tablets describing basic anatomy and treatments. In the late afternoon, traditional medicine practitioners are there to dispense herbal mixtures. Nearby, there is a cloister where you can have a traditional Thai massage.

The Grand Palace: Every visitor to Bangkok should see the magnificent buildings within the Grand Palace compound to get a feeling of the grandeur architectural style.
Since the founding of Bangkok as the Nations capital by King Rama I, The Grand Palace has been the major architectural symbol of The Thai Royal Family. In the present time, The Royal Family resides at Chitralada Palace while The Grand Palace is used for ceremonial purposes.
The main buildings within the Grand Palace compound were built for King Rama V, who was the first Thai King to travel to Europe.
Phra Thinang Chakri Maha Prasat, built in 1877 by King Rama V as his Royal Residence, is the most highly recognized architectural landmark of the Nation. The central Throne Hall, which was formerly used for the reception of foreign envoys, is flanked by reception areas decorated with galleries of portraiture. The central room on the second floor is used as a shrine for the reliquary ashes of Kings Rama IV, Rama V, Rama VI, Rama VII and Rama VIII.
Borom Phiman Mansion was also constructed during the reign of King Rama V. When his son, King Rama VI ascended to the throne, he had it improved for use as his residence. The three succeeding Kings also resided here at one time or another.
The Siwalai Gardens, where the office of The Royal Household Bureau is located, were used for receptions as well as a recreation area for the royal women and children.
Maha Monthien Prasat houses The Audience Hall of Amarin Winitchai where ceremonies of the Court usually take place in front of the throne surmounted by its canopy of nine tiers of white cloth.

Wat Intharawihan: It is an awesome feeling to stand before this Buddha image that reaches to the sky at 32 metres tall.
During the reign of King Rama I he suppressed a rebellion in Laos and brought members of the Lao royal family to settle in this area. One of these was Chao Inthawong, who was a devout Buddhist, helped to restore the local temple which is now Wat Intharawihan.
In 1867, Somdej Phra Buddhachan started the construction of this giant Buddha called Luang Pho To, logs and structural steel were used as alternate abutments. After his death in 1872 construction continued until completion in 1927. This spanned the reigns of King Rama IV to King Rama VII.
Luang Pho To stands 32 metres tall and is 11 metres wide. On two occasions, in 1964 and 1967, Their Majesties The King, The Queen and their children covered this statue of Buddha at the Topknot and forehead with gold leaves.
The Topknot contains relics of The Lord Buddha which were donated by the Government of Sri Lanka and placed there in 1978 by H.R.H The Crown Prince Vachiralongkorn.
For Bangkoks Bi-Centennial Celebrations in 1982, the then Abbot, Phra Khru Woraphattikhun carried out restoration including decoration with 24 K golden mosaics from Italy.
Devotees believe that Luang Pho To can bless everyone with success, particularly if they present the head of a mackerel fish, a boiled egg and a lei of flowers.

Wat Phra Kaew: The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and the adjoining Grand Palace together form perhaps the greatest spectacle at Bangkok. Despite the fact that the whole compound is so full of people, it's a pretty amazing place to visit.
It consists of over 100 brightly colored buildings, golden spires and glittering mosaics, and dates back to 1782, when Bangkok was founded. When you enter the compound, you first of all see Wat Phra Kaew and the nearby attractions, and then move on to the Grand Palace afterwards.
Wat Phra Kaew itself, generally known to the Thais as Wat Phra Si Rattana Satsadaram, is perhaps the main attraction. This is Thailand's most important and sacred temple, so you're expected to act with due respect inside it. It houses the tiny (between 60 and 75 cm) Emerald Buddha, which is located high above the heads of the worshippers and tourists. Not much is known for certain about the statue, except that it isn't actually made of emerald but rather of green jade or jasper.
It's thought to have been made in the 15th century and was the cause of several wars before ending up for good in Bangkok in 1782. The image is considered a talisman and holds tremendous significance for Thailand and the Thais. The 'robe' that it wears is changed 3 times each year by the King himself, at the start of each season: A diamond encrusted gold robe during the hot season, a solid gold robe in the cool season and a gilded monk's robe in the rainy season. There are also many other Buddha images inside the temple.
Round the interior walls are murals depicting the jataka stories. These are located according to the typical Thai conventions inside temples. The ones facing the altar depict the victory of the Buddha over the evil demon Mara, as he subdues her and achieves enlightenment. As is normal for Thai temples, shoes must be taken off before entering into the temple.
Despite it's national importance, Wat Phra Kaew is the only temple in Thailand that doesn't have any resident monks, and so is not a seat of Buddhist learning in the same way as the likes of Wat Pho and Wat Mahathat.
A cloister surrounds the temple, and depicted along here is an extensive mural of the Ramakian, the Thai version of the famous Indian epic, the Ramayana. In total there are 178 sections, and although they date from the reign of King Mongkut (Rama IV 1825-1850) they have since been restored on numerous occasions. The explanatory texts across from each were devised by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V).

Copyright Jean-Marc Michel. Use of any image is strictly forbidden without my explicit written permission.

The images on the site are available for sale as fine art prints and also as stock images.
For more information please contact me at jeanmarcmichelmy@yahoo.fr
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