Bangkok is the capital of Thailand and is situated over the banks of the most famous river, Chao Phraya River. The spot became a kingdom when in 1782, King Rama I founded the modern Bangkok along the banks and made some of the most beatific looking temples.
There are more than 400 wats (temples) in Bangkok. The most alluring and attractive temple is WAT PHRA KAEW or ‘The Temple of Emerald Buddha’. If anyone is visiting Bangkok then it is complementary to visit this temple. It describes the rich culture, tradition, highness, architecture of Thai people.
The Wat Phra Kaew is the most important temple of Thailand. It is located in the centre of the city and has a rich history and culture. It is also called as ‘The Temple of Emerald Buddha’. This is because it houses an Emerald Buddha which is a Buddha image in meditating position dated 15th century AD carved from a single piece of jade.
It was built in 1782 and just two years after King Rama I (Yodfa Chulaloke) moved the capital across the Chao Phraya River to form the present-day Bangkok, in 1784 Wat Phra Kaew became the royal chapel and the home of Thai King for 150 years. It also was once a Thai war ministry, state department, royal court and the administrative seat of government.
The official name of Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok is Wat Phra Si Rattana Satsadaram which means the ‘Temple of the Holy Jewel Buddha’ or the ‘Emerald Buddha’.
About The Emerald Buddha
First of all, you should know that it is considered the most sacred object in Thai culture. Now you’ll be thing it to be big, bulky, gold or other but NO!
The Buddha image, seated in a virasana posture, is only 26 inches (66 centimetres) tall. It is made up of semi-precious stone like Jade or Jasper but not emerald. It is clothed with gold and no one is allowed to go near it or touch it except the King of Thailand.
There are three ceremonies for three seasons of Bangkok that are summer, winter and rainy. Three golden robes studded with jewelleries are offered to the Emerald Buddha by the King with the help of an assistant.
That’s the only time when the image is touched by anyone. It’s an important ritual, performed only by the king to bring good fortune to his country.
History of Emerald Buddha
No archaeologists have ever being allowed to spend much time near the statue. Still, some historical reports say that the statue was created in India or Sri-Lanka due to the particular posture of Buddha, at around 800 AD. It is believed that it surfaced near Chiang Rai in 1434 and since became the idol for Thai kingdom.
It is the most sacred and respected object in Thailand and people believe that the fortune and prosperity of Thailand depends upon it.
How to reach
It’s located right on the banks of Chao Phraya River. It is 27 km from Bangkok airport. There are many options to reach Wat Phra Kaew, but the most convenient is to take the boat service.
You can take the Chao Phraya Express boat in Chang pier and then you’ll find a market. Just cross the market and you’ll see the big, white walls of the temple. Just get along with the wall until you see the entrance to the gate of Wat Phra Kaew.
The ticket costs around 14 Baht for one way making it 28 Baht for the trip.
Other options are taxis and cabs but these are not most convenient. The driver mostly will tell you that the temple is closed today and you should go somewhere else suggested by them. They sound convincing and many tourists fall for their trap. They get certain commission for these scams.
Visiting time and other information
The temple is mostly open for all the tourists from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm until there is any royal ceremony going on. The temple closes when a royal ceremony is held or the king arrives. The ticket counter closes at 3:30 pm and then the guards will start requesting you to leave the temple.
The best time to Visit the temple is early morning when the crowd is less and the place looks all peaceful and quiet. Also, the temperature increases as sun rises.
Photography is not allowed inside the temple. It’s allowed on the outer grounds to capture the main architecture called Rattanakosin style and beauty of outdoors.
The entrance fee is 500 Baht for an adult.
Important things to know
Thai people are very concerned about their culture. Who isn’t? But in Bangkok, the list of ‘not cool’ things are big as compared to any other place.
Keep some in mind while visiting any temple in Thailand:
· Look for English signs first everywhere.
· Don’t walk with earphones or headphones on.
· Silent your phone and avoid much photography.
· Do not eat anything inside the premise.
· Carry water bottle as the scorching heat will make you thirsty often.
· When entering any building remove hats, sunglasses, and shoes until others are not doing the same. Follow the suit.
· Don’t speak in loud voices or laugh loudly. It’s not a good time to joke.
· Pay respect to the King and don’t talk anything about him.
· Don’t point at anything like monk, statues or anything.
· Do stand-up when monks or nuns enter the room.
· Walk around sacred objects in only a clockwise manner.
· Don’t touch anything until allowed to do so.
· Don’t take selfie with any Buddha statues as you’ll be directing your back towards it, which is not acceptable in Thai culture.
The list is long and it should be. The not to do list is all logical. The Thai people just don’t want tourists to disobey their god in any way. It could be turning your back to any statue, pointing your fingers to any sculpture, not standing for monks, speaking loudly or anything.
You should be there just to admire the architecture, culture and pay respect to their king and their idols.
Taking picture is not a crime but taking a lot of pictures or taking pictures of others is a little awkward. You should always look for signs or any board for these things. Taking a selfie means turning your back towards the god which is not tolerable.
You can donate in temples and in Wat Phra Kaew also. It’s not necessary but you should. Although, they will be selling trinkets for fund raising and the thing to know is that you shouldn’t expose that on airport while leaving. It is illegal to carry any Buddha relic and sometimes its confusion and lots of time waste.
Women in Thai Temples
Women should take more care in temples as there are monks hanging around all over the place. Women’s aren’t allowed to touch the monks or their robes. It’s a big cleansing process for the once they get in contact with any women. Sometimes it’s a big issue.
Dress code for women’s is also a strict discipline to follow in Thailand.
This is one of the important things to consider when visiting any temple in Thailand. Without a proper dress, you won’t be allowed to enter the premises. In that case there will be sellers right outside the temples selling the proper clothing which are sometimes a form of guilt to wear.
Some of the factors to take care of are:
· Knees and shoulders must be covered
· No rugged jeans or torn clothes.
· No religious themes
· No death, devil, demon related or negative T-shirts.
· No see through dresses or yoga or tight pants.
· Cover your Tattoos.
· No hat or sunglasses.
· No slippers. Wear shoes.
Now that you’ve known enough about the Wat Phra kaew temple, you should visit this place and devote a full day to it instead of giving just an hour and others for other temples. Feel the spirituality, essence of culture, art of architecture, tradition of devotion of Thai people and learn a little from it.
You can also have monk chats with the Monks in Wat Phra Kaew. There are scheduled "Monk Chat" times when tourists are allowed to meet with English-speaking monks for free. These are available only on random days so if you are lucky enough, you’ll get a chance to talk to Thai monks.
You can ask them questions about their religion and sometimes they will share with you immense knowledge. Just make sure you sit beneath them to pay respect and not interrupt them when they are talking.
Ask them about the history of temple, Thai people, culture and all. Ask them how they live in temple and try to learn from their knowledge.
Probably it would be the best and peaceful day spent in Bangkok and you’ll have hell of a great story for your friends to share and motivate them to visit Wat Phra Kaew once.