Swinging a leg over my bike, I am instantly awash in a joyous feeling that permeates our rides in Bangkok. Biking in this city is fun! This morning, under the benevolent gaze of Thailand's dweeby-looking royalty, observing us from their huge, decorative frames placed throughout the city, we head towards Wat Pho.
Supposedly a must-see destination, this temple, with its enormous reclining Buddha, is our attraction for the day. An exhilarating ride though busy streets, over canal-spanning bridges, past countless market stalls, deposits us in front of the heavily-touristed wat.
Skipping the overpriced fruit stalls and their eager hawkers, we enter the compound and pay for our tickets. A quick right leads us to a building, in front of which we remove our shoes, leaving them in an already large collection of other tourists' footwear. Into a long hall we go, and there we meet the golden reclining Buddha, laying like a stoned Alice-in-Wonderland grown enormously large in her now-tiny house.
It is huge, to be sure, but it looks even bigger given that it just barely fits in its building. Its feet alone dwarf us in size. I wonder why they made the shelter for it so small? It is impossible to get a good picture, even with our wide angle lens.
More interesting than the Buddha is the gentle sound of angelic raindrops echoing throughout the building it rests in. Around the perimeter of the structure are 108 metal offering bowls, arranged in a line against the wall. Apparently, it is good luck to buy a bucket of change and then drop a single coin into each of the bowls, while praying for one's family and ancestors.
Outside, a thick cloud cover hangs heavily, poised and waiting. Tourists mill about, reading up on the temple in their guidebooks, fanning themselves with brochures for restaurants and hotels. It is hot. Exploring the leafy, shaded area around a man-made pond, I shower my sweaty feet under a small, churning waterfall.
Though the main draw of this site is clearly the giant cordoned-off Buddha, a little exploration reveals our favorite part somewhere else entirely: a quiet, out-of-the-way shrine, nearly devoid of people. We have it all to ourselves, save for one local taking a nap, and one lazy dog sprawled out near him. It's such a sleepy, sticky afternoon, that we're tempted to follow suit.
We sit for awhile, feeling meditative and quiet. Away from the crowds, in our own private corner of the wat, we're able to get into the spirit of the temple experience. When the thunderclouds overhead announce their presence with a deep drumming, we decide to enjoy the impending shower from the safety of our peaceful, newfound shelter.
A gentle music lilts in the air, piped from loudspeakers hidden in the bushes. It's a bit cheesy, but it certainly does add to the meditative ambiance.
Having had enough quiet time, we exit our little haven and wander around some more, admiring the statues and the architecture along with everyone else. Every inch of every surface of every structure seems to be carefully decorated. This little figure and the hundreds of perfectly shiny mosaic chips surrounding it make up just a few square inches on a huge temple wall.
Even the older, less showy decorations, like these big, beefy statues, are intricately designed. I love how old and weather-worn they look, and the way the gorgeous, fragrant frangipani grows right alongside them.
Feeling complete Wat Pho, we take one last wander around our tranquil surroundings, and then head out into loud, bright Bangkok for more sight-seeing.