Buzzing, humid and exotic, Bangkok is the larger-than-life city where magnificent temples, historic markets, skyscrapers and rooftop bars create an intoxicating vibe that’s hard to resist. A blend of the traditional and the modern, Bangkok's every street has a surprise in store. Ramshackle buildings crouch next to striking holy shrines, which are overlooked by modern hotels and offices.
But traditional Thai life is never very far away. Saffron-robed monks weave among the morning rush hour to collect alms; communities dwell in stilt houses by the Chao Phraya River, eking out a living using centuries-old skills.
WAT PHRA KAEW AND GRAND PALACE - At the heart of Bangkok on the bank of Chao Phraya River is the Royal Grand Palace. Thailand's present monarch doesn't live in the Royal Grand Palace, but did his predecessors reside here before 1925. Built in 1782 and for 150 years the home of the Thai kings, the seat of power, the Royal Grand Palace is a blending of traditional Thai architecture and 19th-century Beaux Arts and a window to the royal opulence of Thailand. It is also a venue for royal ceremonies and state functions every year.
Within the walls of the palace compound, the Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of Emerald Buddha) is the main stunt. The temple is the most revered Buddhist shrine in Thailand with it colonnades lined with more than a hundred murals depicting scenes from Ramayana, which provides inspirations for temple murals around the country and even for contemporary Thai art. The famed Emerald Buddha stands 2 feet tall, high above the heads of the worshippers and tourists. Only the Thai King can get close to the statue, who conducts rituals at the temple throughout the year. Note the dress code for entering the temple: no bare shoulders, sandals, and shorts or short skirts.
WAT PHO - Bangkok's largest and oldest temple, the Wat Pho is home to more than one thousand Buddha images, including an enormous gold-plated Reclining Buddha which sprawls for some 46 meters across and 15 meters high with mother-of-pearl inlaid feet. Built in 16th century, Wat Pho came to the peak of the authority during the Chakri Dynasty when it was regarded as the most important monastery in the country.
Wat Pho is also known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage. It houses the most famous traditional medicine and massage school in the country. If time allows, try to get a Thai massage there. There is a working Buddhist monastery and a school in the Wat Po. And it is said that a number of accurate fortune-tellers along the eastern edge of the compound, want to have a try?
WAT ARUN - There is an incredible number of Buddhist temples scattered around Thailand, but this one, the Wat Arun, is undoubtedly one of the most striking ones. Situated on the western bank of the Chao Phraya River, the Khmer-style temple dominates the riverside landscape with its central prang (spire) soaring into sky. And despite its name (meaning Temple of the Dawn), the best view of the temple comes at sunset, when it presents an impressive silhouette against the skyline.
The centerpiece of the temple is an 80-meter-tall terraced prang (Khmer-style pagoda) decorated in delicate mosaic details, which was built in the 19th century to symbolize the legendary Mount Meru, center of the universe. On its four corners are four smaller prangs dedicated to the wind god Phra Phai and encrusted with seashells and porcelains. A very steep and narrow staircase leads to a platform high on the top of the central pagoda. A climb to its top can be strenuous but affords fine views.
JIM THOMPSON HOUSE - Located at the heart of Bangkok, the Jim Thompson House is the home of Jim Thompson, an American entrepreneur who housed an extensive collection of Thai and Southeast Asian art collection in this traditional teak home, including sculptures, paintings, porcelains, etc. With a peaceful jungle-like garden setting, this charming house composed of six traditional Thai-style houses is a key stop for travelers to Bangkok. Jim Thompson is not only a silk trader but an antique collector. He collected artworks which are predominantly from Southeast Asian countries. In 1958, he purchased six separate old houses from various parts of the country and adapted them in 1959 to display his collections. Most parts of the house were purchased from the royal capital of Ayuthaya and the oldest part of the main house is an early 19th-century house brought from the silk weaving village of Bang Krua, across the canal.
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