Silver Pagoda (Royal Palace, Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

Silver Pagoda (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)

Silver Pagoda (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)

From the Throne Hall, Osang, Violet, Jandy and I proceeded to south side of the Royal Palace complex.  The beautiful Silver Pagoda, built in honor of the Lord Buddha, is the official temple of the king of Cambodia.  Formerly known as Wat Ubosoth Ratanaram, its official name is Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot (“Temple of the Emerald Buddha”), after the green baccarat crystal Buddha it houses.  Its name is commonly shortened to Wat Preah Keo.

Mandapa of Satra and Tripitaka

Mandapa of Satra and Tripitaka

Constructed in 1962, at Queen Kossamak’s command, by King Norodom Sihanouk, it replaced the wooden pagoda built by his grandfather in 1902,  the original aging structure being too weak to stand. During the Khmer Rouge years, more than half its contents were stolen but the pagoda itself was pretty much unscathed.

King Norodom's Statue

King Norodom’s Statue

The Silver Pagoda, is so named because of its 5,329 silver floor tiles, each around  20 cm. (8 inches) square and each weighing 1.125 kg (2.48 lbs), and having a total weight of more than 6 tons. Some of its outer facade was remodeled with Italian marble. The pagoda’s construction shows the clear influence of Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaeo, also home to a precious crystal Buddha to which the one in Phnom Penh bears an uncanny resemblance.

King Ang Duong's Stupa

King Ang Duong’s Stupa

After removing our hats and leaving our footwear outside, we were allowed to enter the vihara which houses a rich collection of 1,650 royal gifts received by the Royal family over the years, including artifacts and Buddha images, many of them national treasures.  The pagoda is more a museum than place of homage and no monks stay in permanent residence here. However, on entering the pagoda, we only saw a small area of the temple’s signature  silver tiles as much of the floor was covered by carpets. Photography is also not allowed inside.

Kantha Bopha's Stupa

Kantha Bopha’s Stupa

On display are gold and jeweled Buddha statues, notably a a small 17th century baccarat crystal Buddha (the “Emerald Buddha” of Cambodia) and an impressive, life-sized gold Maitreya Buddha. The latter, housed in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple, was created in the palace workshops between 1906 and 1907.  It weighs in at 90 kgs., is dressed in royal regalia commissioned by King Sisowath, and is decorated with 9,584 diamonds (the largest of which weighs 25 carats).

Reamker Frescoes

Reamker Frescoes

The main building (vihear) is bounded, to the east, by the statue of King Norodom (sitting on a white horse) and to the north by the Mondapa of Satra and Tripitaka, a library housing Buddhist texts.  At the eastern corner is the bell tower, south of which, near the exit, is a model of Angkor Wat. South of the vihear stands 4 structures, from west to east – the chedi (stupa) of King Suramarit and Queen Kossamak, the Dharmasala, the Chedi of Princess Kantha Bopha and the Phnom Mondop (Mount Mondop, where the statue of Preah Ko is situated). The last mentioned is an artificial hill with a pavilion housing a bronze footprint of the Buddha from Sri Lanka.

Osang, Jandy and Osang at Kantha Bopha's Stupa

Osang, Jandy and Osang at Kantha Bopha’s Stupa

These structures are surrounded by a wall – the oldest part of the palace – covered with 80 m. long, colorful series of frescos depicting episodes from Reamker, the Khmer version of the Indian Ramayana, , one of the great Hindu epics.ainted from 1903 to 1904, its bottom half has faded, throughout the Khmer Rouge years, due to neglect. Some restoration has been done but much of the damage is still clearly visible.

Royal Palace: Samdach Sothearos Blvd., Phnom Penh.  Open daily, 8 to 11 AM and 2 to 5 PM.

Keelung City: Chung Cheng Park

I still had the whole morning for sightseeing on our fourth and last day in Taipei so I availed of the Northern Coast Tour (Keelung City) offered by Edison Travel Service (NT$1,000/pax).  After breakfast at the hotel, Jandy and I, as well as a 69 year old retired USAF serviceman named Gerald and his wife Leona, were picked up at the hotel lobby by our tour guide.  The sun was already up and shining (this after 3 days of rain) when we boarded our van for the 45-min. drive to Keelung City. Nicknamed the “Rainy Port” (due to its frequent rain and maritime role), Keelung City is Taiwan’s second largest seaport (after Kaohsiung).

Keelung City Proper

From the city proper, our van drove up a hill, east of the city, to Chung Cheng Park (derived from Chiang Chung-cheng, a given name of Chiang Kai-shek).  Situated on the side of Ta Sha Wan Shan, atop a hill off Hsieh Road, Chung Cheng Park (also spelled as Jhongjheng Park) was formerly called Kang Park in the past.  The first immigrants to Taiwan used to fight with each other for land. In order to stop these disputes, they set up a temple for yearly worship. During the Japanese occupation, the temple was in Kao Sha Park  and later moved to Chung Cheng Park.

Entrance to Chang Chung Park

There are three levels in the park. On the first level is a historic cannon fort. On the second level is a Buddhist library, Chung Lieh Temple and Chu Pu Tan Temple.  The temple attracts many worshipers on July 15, the Chung Yuan (Hungry Ghost) Festival, when families lights a lamp in front of their door in order to light the way for ghosts at night.

Chang Chung Park

Our destination was the Kuan Hai Pavilion, on the third level. Here, we  had a scenic view of Keelung City, its excellent 2,000 m. long and 400 m. wide harbor (embraced by mountains to its east, west and south); luxury passenger ships; smaller commercial craft; naval and coast guard vessels: and the azure Pacific Ocean.

Naval and commercial ships

Dock facilities

The city proper

Also here is the 22.5 m. (74-ft.) high, white smiling statue of Guan Yin (the Buddhist message of compassion and peace), the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy.  The landmark of Chung Cheng Park, it is the biggest goddess statue in Southeast Asia. Inside the statue, Jandy and I climbed a steep stairway leading to the top. From portholes on the sides, we could take in views of the harbor and the city.

Statue of Guan Yin (Buddhist Goddess of Mercy)

For me, Chung Cheng Park is a combination of a Buddhist holy site and amusement theme park. The grounds by the Guanyin statue are crowded with snack vendors and souvenir shops while toy vehicles for children to ride around on, some of them musical, are offered for rent.

The souvenir shop and children’s rides for rent

Behind the statue is a Buddhist temple. We noticed a  backwards swastika, a Buddhist symbol of peace (as opposed to the forward facing Nazi symbol), on top of a bell tower (you can ring the bell for a NT$50 donation). Further downhill are several 3-storey pagodas, a museum and a martyrs’ shrine. Since this park is near downtown, it is popular with city folk as well as tourists.

The backward swastika symbol

Chung Cheng Park: Keelung City, Taiwan.  Tel: (+886-2) 2428-7664.

How to Get There: take 206 bus and stop at provincial hospital.  The park entrance is on the other side.

Taipei City: Mengjia Longshan Temple

From Taipei 101, Jandy, Isha and I again walked to the Taipei City Hall MRT Station where we boarded the MRT to Longshan MRT Station.  It was just about dusk when we arrived at the station.  Before exiting, we all bought cups of coffee for take out and, upon exiting, leisurely sipped it while watching a Chinese dance being performed, beside the fountain, at Manka Park.

Gateway of Mengjia Longshan Temple

After finishing our coffee, we all walked over to the Mengjia Longshan (also spelled as Lungshan) Temple in front of the park, one of Taiwan’s most important places of worship.  Surrounding the temple are antique shops, Buddhists article shops, fortune tellers, traditional Chinese medicine shops and paper stores selling paper products that are burned for the deceased.

Waterfall of Cleaning Your Heart

Built in 1738 (during the Qing Dynasty), on a much smaller scale, as the spiritual center of Han settlers from the Jinjiang, Nan’an and Hui’an districts of Quanzhou County, Fujian, China, the temple has been destroyed, either in full or in part, by numerous earthquakes and fires. Nevertheless, Taipei residents have consistently rebuilt and renovated it. From 1919-1924, it was renovated, in large scale,  under the direction of famous architect Wang Yi-shun, a master of temple building in Fukien.

The Fore (or Front) Hall

On June 8, 1945, during World War II,  it was hit by American bombers, who claimed that the Japanese were hiding armaments inside. The whole main hall and a part of the right annex were damaged and many precious artifacts and artworks were lost in the ensuing fire. The fire somehow  missed the statue of Avalokiteshvara (in Sanskrit) or Guanyin (short for Guanshiyin which means “observing the sounds of the world”), the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy (only her toes were singed), even though the iron railing around her melted.  After the end of the war, a few months later, the temple was again rebuilt.

The main deity Guanyin with 2 bodhisattvas (Manjusri at the left and Samantabhadra on the right)

On August 19, 1985, Longshan Temple was designated as Taipei City’s fourth official historical site (after the Chang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, National Palace Museum and Taipei 101). The temple, one of the oldest and largest in Taiwan, has also been declared a Secondary National Heritage Site.

The temple courtyard packed with worshipers

We entered the temple’s gateway and, at the courtyard, noticed a small, man-made waterfall (the Waterfall of Cleaning Your Heart)  on one side and a lucky dragon fountain on the other.  The temple was already packed with locals either praying, reciting religious chants, lighting candles or burning incense sticks. They worship a  mixture of Buddhist, Taoist and folk deities such as Guanyin (also called Kuan-in), the main deity, Buddha, Matsu and other divine spirits. Thus, it is often called “meeting place of the gods” for the wealth of deities worshipped here. We didn’t see any Western tourists.

A bronze dragon pillar, the only one of its kind in Taiwan

The resplendent Longshan Temple,  with southern Chinese influences commonly seen in older buildings, is an emblematic example of Taiwanese Classical architecture.  Facing the south and mixing traditional Chinese siheyuan (“four-building courtyard”) with palace architecture in its design, it has a fore hall, main hall, a rear hall (added around the end of the 18th century) and a left and right wing.

Yuan Tung Grand Hall, the main hall

The Yuan-Tung Grand Hall, the main hall, is the center of the whole complex.  It houses the statue of Guanyin. The rear hall is divided into 3 parts.  The center is for the veneration of Matsu, the goddess of marine voyage, the left is dedicated to the gods of literature (or patrons of examination for civil service in the olden days) and the right is for Lord Kuan, the god of war.

The Rear Hall

The octagonal ceiling in its fore hall, the clock tower roof, and the circular ceiling (with its 7-layered spiral plafond) in the main hall are exceptionally elegant.  Its doors, beams and poles are also beautifully decorated.

Exquisite and elaborate carvings

A treasure trove of folk art, its fore hall is graced by a pair of unique bronze dragon pillars while the main hall has four pairs.  The walls and ceilings are covered by exquisitely delicate sculptures as well as many Chinese poems, verses and lyrics on signs, adding a touch of literature. The temple walls are graced with paintings of vivid creatures while stone statues of mystical creatures guard the temple grounds.  The wall and the roof  are joined without the use any nails or braces made of metal.

A phoenix figure on roof edge

The temple roof, representing the pinnacle of mosaic art in Taiwan, is covered with overlapping tiles and is decorated with figures of dragons, phoenixes and other auspicious creatures, all decorated with porcelain, clay, and shards of colored glass.

Drum Tower (West)

Bell Tower (East)

Two 2-storey buildings, one housing the bell on the east and a drum on the west side of the courtyard, between the fore hall and the main hall, have conic, hexagonal roofs with double eaves that forms a converse “S” curve, the first such roof design in Taiwan.

Mengjia Longshan Temple: 211 Guangzhou St., Old Town Center, Wanhua District, Taipei City, Taiwan.  Tel: (+886-2) 2302-5162. Website: http://www.lungshan.org.tw. Open daily, 6 AM-10:20 PM. Admission is free.

Taipei City: Shandao Temple

At the end of our half-day city tour, Jandy and I opted to visit the renowned Taipei 101 Building, once the highest building in the world, with Isha also joining us.  After Reto and Gabriella were dropped off at their hotel (they were leaving Taipei in the afternoon), Mr. Pang dropped us off at the Shandao Temple MRT Station where we were to take the MRT to Taipei City Hall Station (free shuttles to Taipei 101 can be taken there).

Shandao Temple

Next to the MRT station is the elegantly simple Shandao Temple, the largest of Taipei’s Buddhist temples.  We made a short visit here first.  Established in 1926 by Sera Yoshinari and Tamura Chigaku, two monks from the Japanese Pure Land School, the temple was originally called the “Pure Land School Taipei branch site.” After the defeated Japanese left Taiwan in 1945, the Taipei City government’s Department of Education expropriated the site.

Mercy and Kindness Building

The Shandao Temple originally comprised the Mahavira Hall (Precious Hall of the Great Hero), the Amitabha Hall (Maitreya Hall), the Hall of Observance and  the Merit Hall. In 1986,  the 9-storey Mercy and Kindness building was constructed over the original site of the Hall of Observance. Its 4th floor houses the Taixu Library while the 5th to 7th floors contain a museum of Buddhist history.  The museum’s collections include Buddhist artifacts from  the Northern Wei and Song Dynasties  to the present. The Amitabha Hall was converted into a 7-storey building in 2002.

The Three Treasures Buddhas at Mahavira Hall

We visited the Mahavira Hall, converted into a 10-storey building in 2003.  Its structure and feeling is very different from those built by the Taiwanese, the austerity and solemnity being the biggest differences.  Its pared down architecture is truly a soothing change from the bright colors and opulence of other temples. Inside its main hall, large enough to accommodate several hundred people, are the Three Treasures Buddhas.

Shandao Temple: Zhongxiao East Rd., Section 1, Zhongzheng District, Taipei, Taiwan.  Open Tuesdays-Sundays, 9 AM-5 PM.

Taipei City: Tung Ho Zen Temple

Jandy and I woke up by 6:30 AM as our half-day city tour was scheduled this morning.  After our buffet breakfast at the Golden Ear Restaurant, we proceeded to the hotel lobby to await the arrival of our tourist guide, Mr. Pang of Edison Travel Service, who arrived by 7:45 AM.  We boarded a van and made short stopovers at 2 hotels to pick up Swiss couple Reto and Gabriella Conrad and Ms. Ishani Dave, a Marketing & New Product Development  Manager at Hannover Milano Fairs India Pvt. Ltd.

Tung Ho Zen Temple

The first item in the tour itinerary was a visit to the century-old Tung Ho Zen Temple, a Soto Zen monastery.  The temple was first started in 1908 and originally covered an area of 4,500 pings (14,850 sq. m.).  It then consisted of the Soto Zen Center, the Kuanyin Zen House, the Taipei Junior High School and the bell tower. The bell tower (designated a municipal historic landmark in 1997) and the Kuanyin Zen House are the only two remaining buildings in the area of the complex that has gradually shrunk to 700 pings (2,310 sq. m).

Interior of temple (in the foreground is the censer or incense urn)

The Kuanyin Zen House was renamed as Tung Ho Zen Temple in 1946, about the same time that the complex and the land it was built on were donated by the Japanese colonial owners to the temple’s former master, the Master Hsin Yuan.  Upon the death of  Hsin Yuan on March 1970, aged 89, the central government took over the complex a month later.

Interior of temple (at right, a devotee prays to the goddess Mazu)

Tung Ho Zen Temple: cor. Linsen South Rd. and Jenai Rd., Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan.

Taipei City: Xingtian Temple

After checking in at our hotel room and freshening up a bit, Jandy and I went out for lunch, bringing our jackets as it was drizzling when we arrived in Taipei.  After changing a US$100 note for New Taiwan Dollars at Taipei Fortune Hotel (the banks were closed it being a Saturday), we walked along Song Jiang Road to Changchun Road where, near the corner, we dined on burgers at a MacDonald’s outlet.

Xingtian Temple as seen from Song Jiang Road

Thus sated, we started our own tour of the city, walking back to Song Jiang Road, past our hotel, towards Minquian East Road, where the 7,000 sq. m. Xintian Temple (and an MRT station) is located.   This relatively new temple (also called Hsing Tien Kong or Shingtien Temple), built in 1967, is one of the biggest and most popular (visitors sometimes number more than 20,000 a day) temples in Taipei.

Entrance to Xingtian Temple

The temple is dedicated to Guan Yu or Guan Gong (162-219 A D ), a famous general who lived  during the Three Kingdoms period (184-280 AD) and an important character in the Chinese classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms.  A man who valued loyalty and righteousness above all things, Guan Gong was later deified and worshiped as the God of War (and, by extension, of martial arts).  Since he had a gift for strategy and tactics and was also adept at managing finances, Guan Gong is also worshiped as the patron deity of businessmen and merchants.

Main building of Xingtian Temple

It being a weekend, this  simple and dignified temple’s courtyard was filled with with crowds of worshipers bowing their heads, burning incense or kneeling in devotion, praying for help or seeking divine guidance by consulting oracle blocks.  Sculptures of dragons feature prominently in this temple’s design.  Its soaring, ship-prow roofs are adorned with carved dragons.

The unusual censer (incense urn)

At the front courtyard of the hall, we noticed a censer (incense urn) with 2 handles in the shape of golden-winged dragons clinging to each side, a somewhat unusual design, with its 2-tiered metal canopy adorned with a horde of dragons’ heads stretching toward the sky.

A long table with offerings

On the main altar, we saw long tables with offerings of fresh flowers, fresh fruit (pineapples, bananas, apples, etc.), migao (a sticky, slightly sweet rice cake) and tea from the faithful.  The temple forbids the killing of of animals as offerings;  discourages the burning of ritual paper money (or “ghost” or “spirit” money) as an offering to the deities and the spirits of the deceased; the staging of operas for the gods; the presenting of gold medallions in gratitude to the deities; and the like. Candles are supplied for free to worshipers and there is no donation box (a first for traditional religion in Taiwan). After the gods have partaken of the offering’s essence, these are eventually given to the needy.

Statue of the red-faced, black-bearded Guang Gong

Among a pantheon of Chinese deities is the easily identifiable statue of the black-bearded, red-faced Guan Gong.  In his youth, the face color of this defender of the weak was said to have been given to him  by an immortal as a disguise after he killed a local bully. Along the hallways of the temple are elderly seated nuns, in  blue robes, reading scriptures.

Blue-robed nuns reading scriptures

People also stand in line to get blessed by these blue-robed nuns who wave incense onto the clothes of visitors in the practice of shoujing (which restores souls that have left the body in a frightened state).  These nuns, who tend to the day-to-day operation of the temple, also hand out incense sticks.

A nun blessing a worshiper

We missed visiting the “Street of Fortune Telling ,” the famous psychic alley located at the underground pedestrian passage  under the Song Jiang-Minquan intersection, filled with numerous fortune telling stands.  These fortune tellers, who do a brisk trade taking commercial advantage of the temple’s popularity, offer answers to troubled people or discuss the future.

 Xingtian Temple: No. 109, Section 2, Minquan East Rd., Zhongshan District, Taipei, Taiwan.  Tel: (+886-2) 2503-1831 and (+886-2) 2502-7924.

To get there, take the THSR (Taiwan High Speed Rail) or TRA to Taipei Station, transfer to the MRT to Xingtian Temple Station.  Go out Exit 3, then turn right.  The temple is on the other side of a crossroad. You can also take the 5, 33, 49, 63, 72, 74, 214, 222, 225, 283, 285, 286, 505 or 617 bus to Xingtian Temple Stop.

Singapore: Chinatown District

From Tanjong Pagar, we crossed over to the Chinatown district via South Bridge Rd.  This traditional Chinese precinct is bounded by South Bridge Rd., Kreta Ayer Rd., New Bridge Road and Upper Cross St..  South Bridge Road is unique, being an example of Singapore’s multi-racial and multi-religious community, with the Sri Mariamman Temple (1827), Jamae Mosque or Masjid Chuliam (1830), Fairfield Methodist Church and  Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum (2007) are all located here.

South Bridge Road

In 1843, the area was leased or granted to the public for the building of shophouses, many of which doubled as shops, warehouses, family quarters and workers dormitory.  They display strong Fujianese, Teochew and Cantonese influence.  Today, relatively little has changed with the original buildings in the area.

Colorful Chinatown Shophouses

Jandy and I first visited the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. This S$62 million temple, its architectural style based on the Tang Dynasty, was built in 2007 to house the tooth relic of the historical Buddha found in 1980 in a collapsed stupa in Myanmar.

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum

Sri Mariamman Temple, with its landmark ornamental tower entrance (gopuram), is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore.  More popularly known as Mariamman Kovil or Kling Street Temple, it was first built in 1827 by immigrants from the Nagapatnam and Cuddalore districts of South India.  However, unlike my first visit here in 1992, I wasn’t allowed to take pictures inside.

Sri Mariamman Temple

In 1843, the temple was rebuilt in plaster and brick and, in 1962, a new temple structure with intricate sculptural works reminiscent of temple architecture in India was built. The original gopuram, built in the late 1800’s, was rebuilt in the 1930s and, in the 1960s, was repaired and restored with elaborate proliferation of sculptures.

Jamae Mosque

The nearby Jamae Mosque, on the other hand, was built in 1826 by the Chulias (Tamil Muslims). Its unique architectural style is eclectic. The entrance gate is distinctively South Indian while the 2 prayer halls and the shrine are in the Neo-Classical style typical of George Drumgoole Coleman. The mosque was gazetted a National Monument on 29 November 1974.

Chinatown Heritage Center

Kreta Ayer, considered by many to be the heart of Chinatown, houses the Chinatown Heritage Center, Chinatown Night Market and Chinatown Food Street.  The newly-restored Chinatown Heritage Center, occupying 3 shophouses along Pagoda St.,  houses memories and untold stories of Singapore’s early forefathers. The Chinatown Complex, along Smith Street, houses a wet market and shops selling sundry goods. At its second floor food center, Jandy and I indulged in some authentic Singaporean hawker food fare for lunch.

Trengganu Street

Shophouses do not have a single classification, combining different elements of Baroque and Victorian architecture with narrow wooden jalousies (often with adjustable slats) and decorative fanlights over the windows and pilasters, balconies and plasterwork seemingly Mediterranean in flavor.  Many of them are painted in a variety of different pastel colors. Trengganu St. (converted into a pedestrian mall transformed into a night market after dark), Pagoda St. and Temple St. as well as development in Upper Cross St. and the houses along Club St. are examples of this type of architecture.

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum: 288 South Bridge Rd., Singapore 058840. Tel: 6220 0220. Fax: 6220 1261. Open daily, 7 AM-7 PM.  E-mail: services@btrts.org.sg.  Website: www.btrts.org.sq.

Bangkok: Grand Palace

On our third day in Bangkok, we availed of a tour from the travel agency at the hotel, of the fabulous Grand Palace (Phra Borom Maha Ratcha Wang), the gem of Bangkok’s impressive collection of temples and palaces, and its adjoining Wat Phra Kaew (Chapel Royal of the Emerald Buddha), Thailand’s most important temple. This would the first for Jandy and Cheska. After breakfast at the hotel, we were picked up at the hotel lobby by a good English-speaking guide (he seemed to be of Indian ancestry) and driven to the palace in a sedan.

Marching Soldiers Entering the Palace Gate

We arrived at the palace just when a troop of marching soldiers, dressed in colorful ceremonial uniforms, were entering the gate along Na Phra Lan Road, on the north side, to the palace’s Outer Court and we followed at their heels.  The weather was sunny but extremely hot. Whether you take a guided tour or not, the route through the  complex is more or less fixed, with the Wat Phra Kaeo first and the Grand Palace last.

Grand Palace’s Outer Court

Nowadays, the Grand Palace, the official residence of the king of Thailand from the 18th century to the mid-20th century, is used only for occasional ceremonial purposes and is no longer the royal residence as King Bhumibol (Rama IX) lives in Chitralada Palace (closed to tourists) which is located not too far away in Bangkok’s Dusit district, near Dusit Zoo. However, the interiors of most of the buildings in the Grand Palace remain closed to the public.

Wat Phra Kaeo Entrance Guarded by 2 Yakshis (mythical giants)

Sitting on the eastern bank of the Chao Phraya River, this complex of of shrines, temples, royal halls and apartment buildings, despite their proximity, have a distinct contrast in style, the Grand Palace being European-inspired in architecture  (the roof being the exception) and the Wat Phra Kaew very Thai.  It covers 218,400 sq.m. and is surrounded by a 1,900 m. long wall.

Wat Phra Kaeo

The 94.5-hectare (234-acre) Wat Phra Kaeo, built in 1782 during the reign of King Rama I, has a roof embellished with polished orange and green tiles, pillars inlaid in mosaic and pediments made of rich marble. The temple houses the small (45 cm. tall), beautiful, gold-clothed and greatly revered Emerald Buddha, carved from a block of fine green jade (instead of emerald) sitting on a high throne under a golden filigree canopy. As in all Thai temples, we were required to remove our shoes or sandals before entering.  Bare feet are not allowed either. We also weren’t allowed to take pictures inside.

A Gallery Filled with Murals

In the middle of the complex is the Phra Mondop, a library built in Thai style by Rama I.  It houses elegantly carved, Ayutthaya-style mother-of-pearl doors, bookcases with the tripitaka (sacred Buddhist manuscripts), human-and dragon-headed nagas (snakes), and images of Chakri kings.

Phra Mondhob

Enclosing this temple complex are galleries with typically Thai murals that feature lovely paintings depicting 178 unbelievably vivid and detailed scenes from the Indian epic Ramayama (Ramakien in Thai) that show the heroic tale of Rama of Ayodhya and his war against the giant Ravana, king of Lonka.

Phra Sri Rattana Chedi

The Upper Terrace has 4 main monuments: the Phra Sri Rattana Chedi, the Repository of the Canon of Buddhism, the Prasart Phra Dedidorn (the model of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat presented to King Mongkut)  and the Prasat Phra Thep Bidon.  The Phra Sri Ratana Chedi, located west of Wat Phra Kaeo, is a 19th century stupa built in Sri Lankan style.  It enshrines the ashes of the Buddha.

Prasat Phra Thep Bidon

The Prasat Phra Thep Bidon (Royal Pantheon), crowned with a high filigree prang, contains the relics of the previous kings of the Chakri Dynasty.  It has lovely kinnara (half man, half bird) statues up front.

Chakri Maha Prasat Hall

The Grand Palace has two groups of residences: the Chakri Maha Prasat Hall and the Phra Maha Monthian. The Italian Renaissance-influenced Chakri Maha Prasat Hall, built in 1882 by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), is a remarkable mixture of European and traditional Thai styles. Each wing has a shrine (mandap) crowned by a spire and has 3 prangs instead of domes.  This palace houses elegant staterooms and an exhibition of the royal weapons collection at the ground floor.

The Phra Maha Monthian consists of the Amarin Winitchai Audience Hall  and the Paisal Taksin Hall which features the monarchy’s coronation chair.  The Amarin Winitchai Audience Hall was where court ceremonies took place before the throne. It has a very interesting 4-tiered roof and a very pretty pavilion in front of it (Amporn Phimok Prasad).

At the eastern end is the Borombhiman Hall, built in the French architectural style.  Formerly the residence of King Rama VI, it is now used as guest house for visiting foreign dignitaries.

Borombhiman Hall

Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew: Open daily, 8:30 AM-4:30 PM.

How to Get There: take bus 44, 47 and 91 and drop off at Thaiwang Road, between Wat Pho and Wat Phra Kaew. You can also take bus 1, 25, 44, 47, 82 and 91 and drop off at Maharat Road, west of Wat Phra Kaew. North of Wat Phra Kaew, on nearby Sanam Luang, you can also take bus 3, 15, 30, 32, 43, 44, 59, 64, 70, 80, 123 and 201 as well as airconditioned bus 6, 7, 12, 39 and 44.  The Tha Chang river express boat stop is also very near.

Ayutthaya: Wat Phra Mongkhon Bophit

From the ruins at the Ayutthaya Historical Park, we moved on to the Wat Phra Mongkhon Bophit, southwest of Phra Si Sanphet and south of the Royal Palace ruins. As with any temple visit, we were required to remove our shoes.  What is remarkable here is the gigantic Phra Mongkhon Bophit (Buddha of the Holy and Supremely Auspicious Reverence), the Ayutthaya bronze Buddha installed in the viharn. It is similar to the Ayutthaya-style bronze Buddha in Wat  Phanan Choeng at the southeast corner of old Ayutthaya.

Phra Mongkhon Bophit Temple

The bronze Buddha, one of the largest in Thailand, was sculpted in 1538 during the reign of King Chairacha (r. 1534-1547) at Wat Chi Chiang Sai. It had previously been damaged by lightning and was restored in the Rama V period. The vihara building we see today was rebuilt during the rule of Field Marshal Phibunsongkhram in the early 20th century.”  Its Buddha was previously enshrine in a mandapa (square-roofed structure). However, during the reign of King Sua (r. 1703-1709), it was recorded that when lightning struck the spire of this building, the roof caved in and the bronze head broke off.

Phra Mongkhon Bophit

King Sua had the mandapa demolished and a new tall preaching hall built.  The vihara and the image were badly destroyed by fire during the fall of Ayutthaya in April 1767. The roof of the vihara was damaged and the head and the right arm of the image were broken. In 1920, the broken head and right arm were repaired by Phraya Boran Rachathanin during the reign of King Rama VI. In 1931, another restoration took place with the financial support of Khunying Amares Sombat.  During restoration works on the statue in 1955, a quantity of Buddha images were found on the left shoulder of Phra Mongkhon Bophit. These images can now be seen at the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum.

The Prime Minister of Burma on official visit in Ayutthaya in 1956 gave a donation for the restoration of the vihara. The vihara was finalised in 1957, but not with the same beautiful craftsmanship of the former one.  The statue of Phra Mongkhon Bophit was covered with gold leaf in 1992 by the Mongkhon Bophit Foundation, in celebration of the 60th birthday of H.M. Queen Sirikit. The Phra Mongkhon Bophit, seated in the position of Subduing Mara, measures about 9.5 m. across the lap and a height of 12.5 m. (without the pedestal).

Ayutthaya: Wat Mahathat

From Bang Pa-in Palace, our tourist bus next traveled, 10 kms., to the very heart of the city of Ayutthaya.  Here, we dropped off at Wat Mahathat (Temple of the Great Relics) in Ayutthaya World Heritage Historical Park, perhaps the most striking of all of the temples in the city. Wat Mahathat was said to have been built in 1384 by King Rachatirat as a symbolic center  to enshrine a relic of the Buddha although others say it was more likely built during the reign of King Boromaraja I (1370-88). The temple was also the residence of the Sangaraja, the Supreme Patriarch or leader of the Kamavasi (City Dwelling) sect of Thai Buddhist monks.

Wat Mahathat

During the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767, Wat Mahathat was set on fire by Burmese invaders. The monastery was restored and remodeled many times in the later Ayutthaya period, until it finally collapsed on May 25, 1904. Only the symmetrical laterite base of the main prang (Khmer-style tower), with staircases on the 4 sides, and some of its upper structure remains. There are rows of headless Buddhas and traces of rows of columns that once supported the roof structure of the verandah that enclosed the chedi.

The Much-Photographed Buddha in a Tree

Scattered around the temple are some important remains of variously-shaped prangs and chedis, in particular an octagonal chedi with a truncated spire in the Ceylonese style. Nearby, the head of a still much-revered statue of the Buddha lies on the ground. The much photographed stone head of one Buddha is entwined in the roots of a Banyan tree.  Although only partially restored, the existing ruins are still vast and imposing, giving us an insight into what was once a most important religious center.

Octagonal Chedi

As in most architecture of the early period of Ayutthaya, Wat Maha That consisted basically of a large, 46 m. (150 ft. ) high central prang surrounded by 4 subsidiary prangs at the 4 inter-cardinal points, standing on a raised square platform. Around 1625, the top portion of the main central prang collapsed, but was restored and heightened by some 4 m. (13 ft.) in 1633. In 1911, the main prang collapsed again and only the foundation of the main prang remains at present.

Base of Central Prang

East of the main prang is the rectangular, 40 m. by 20 m. Wihan Luang (Royal Assembly Hall), orientated towards Khlong Pratu Khao Pluak. The vihara had a front porch (east) which could be reached by 3 staircases. There was also an entry into the hall from both sides. Behind the main pedestal were two exits leading down to the gallery. The multi-tiered roof of the viharn was supported by 2 rows of columns. The hall contained mural paintings of the Vessantara Jataka. Wihan Luang has undergone several restorations in the past as well as in recent times.

Wihan Luang (Royal Assembly Hall)

West of the main prang is the rectangular Phra Ubosot (Ordination Hall).  The hall had a double entry to the west and two exits on the sides, near the main pedestal which contained the presiding Buddha image. The hall was surrounded by an inner wall called kamphaeng kaew (literally “crystal wall”), forming an inner court which gave access to the, gallery. Outside and around the ubosot were 8 boundary stones or marker slabs (bai sema) at the 8 cardinal points in order to demarcate the sacred area of the Sangkha (Buddhist brotherhood).

Phra Ubosot

In 1956, a secret chamber was uncovered in the ruins; among the treasures found inside were a solid gold lion sitting in a fish-shaped container decorated with a gilded motif and filled with other gold accessories, gold jewelry, a gold casket containing a relic of the Buddha, and fine tableware.

Wat Mahathat: cor. Chikun Road and Naresuan Road, Tha Wasukri sub-district, Ayutthaya, Thailand.