What’s Wat on a Day Trip in Bangkok

From Wat Pho to Wat Phra Kaew Mal Tattersall discovers what’s wat on his day trip in Bangkok Thailand.

City Breaks, Culture & History, Southeast Asia

From Wat Pho to Wat Phra Kaew Mal Tattersall discovers what’s wat on his day trip in Bangkok Thailand.

“YOU going to see Wat?” the smiling woman at reception asks after breakfast on my first day at a rather charming riverside hotel in Bangkok’s Ratanakosin district.

“What?” I reply.

“Yes, Wat?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “I think I’ll just go for a stroll around.”

“Wat Pho.”

Me: “Huh? Er, what for? Well, to see the sights.”

“Like Wat,” she beams. “Famous Wat Pho in Bangkok. “Everybody goes see Wat Pho.”

What? What for? I am growing convinced the lady is just a tad bonkers.

Or perhaps I am.

“Sorry, I don’t understand,” I mutter, a little embarrassed.

Then she points to a picture on the wall of this stunning Buddhist temple complex. And the penny drops.

Day Trip in Bangkok : Wat Pho

day trip in Bangkok
Heavenly bliss … the Buddha’s golden smile is 5m wide

I’d spotted the steeple-shaped chedis and ornate pagodas just across the road when I arrived the previous evening.

So off I go to have a look at Wat Pho, built in the 17th century before King Rama I made Bangkok Thailand’s capital.

And what a magnificent sight it is, with its more than 1,000 statues of Buddha and 99 chedis, or stupas.

Several stone statues of comical-looking Westerners in wide-brimmed hats placed near the entrance look a little incongruous.

But then I come across this chapel with a massive 45-metre gilded statue of a Reclining Buddha.

Even the smile on his face is 5m wide – perhaps not surprising, though, as he is just about to enter Nirvana.

Which, I imagine, must be rather like my local boozer. Only perhaps a bit bigger and it never closes.

The Buddha’s feet – 3m long and 4.5m wide – are covered with 108 mother-of-pearl panels, or lakshanas, each depicting an auspicious Buddhist symbol.

And dropping a coin in one of the 108 bowls – Buddhists consider 108 a sacred number – alongside the statue apparently guarantees good luck and a long life.

Thai Dancing and Martial Arts

Sticking up for themselves ... boys practise martial arts
Sticking up for themselves … boys practise martial arts

Nearby, among the temples, I watch a group of schoolgirls getting tuition in graceful Thai dancing.

While across from them a bunch of young lads learn martial arts from a stern-looking saffron-robed monk.

Sitting under an umbrella at another corner is a fortune teller.

For a few quid, he’ll tell you your lucky number, your lucky month or your lucky animal.

Predicting your actual future will maybe set you back a tenner, which seems quite a bargain.

Another building offers traditional massages called “Nuad Thai”, which, it is claimed, can cures all sorts of ailments.

Bangkok Grand Palace

The Grand Palace, just down the street from Wat Pho, is the official residence of the Kings of Siam (which later became Thailand) since 1782.

Sleeveless shirts, backless tops, shorts, mini skirts and even torn jeans are banned.

So are t-shirts bearing symbols of death or religious logos like crosses and crescents.

You can get round the rules by buying a sarong from one of the hawkers standing around outside, but it’ll cost you.

Hatta boy ... statue of a comical-looking Westerner
Hatta boy … statue of a comical-looking Westerner

Day Trip in Bangkok : Wat Phra Kaew

Still, it’s worth dressing up to see the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, or Wat Phra Kaew, the most sacred Buddhist site in Thailand.

Twelve huge statues of Demon Guardians clutching giant swords stand to attention outside, next to a pot-bellied hermit figure in a funny hat.

But while Wat Pho’s massive Reclining Buddha is 45metres long, the Emerald Buddha is tiny at just 66cm tall.

And oddly, it’s not made of emerald at all, but from jasper (although some guide books claim it’s jade).

Even more bizarrely, the statue has three different costumes – one for summer, one for the rainy season and a third for winter – each made of gold and diamonds

The Ramakien
The tooth is out there ... statue of a hermit
The tooth is out there … statue of a hermit

Running round the palace gallery is what is claimed to be world’s longest mural.

The 178 panels, stretching almost a kilometre, tell the story of The Ramakien, the Thai version of the Hindu epic Ramayana.

This starts when the demon king Tosakanth kidnaps King Rama’s Queen Sida and carries her off, hoping she will fall in love with him.

She doesn’t, of course, and Rama soon sets out with an army of monkeys to rescue her.

Finally, after a long battle, good triumphs over evil as Rama defeats Tosakanth’s demon warriors.

The murals are very detailed and the story does get a little complicated, so it’s worth hiring a guide to explain everything.

Sounds a bit of a tall tale to me, what with monkeys fighting demons. But then is it really less likely than the walls of Jericho suddenly tumbling down after the Israelites blew their trumpets?

A day wandering round Wat Pho and the Grand Palace builds up quite an appetite. So eventually I wander outside for a huge plate of noodles and goodness knows what else at a little streetside café.

Everybody uses chopsticks, but if you can’t handle them, they’ll give you a plastic fork.

Day Trip in Bangkok : Chao Phraya River Boat Trip

Day trip in Bangkok Pixabay boat trip
Boat trip on the Chao Phraya River

Then it’s a short stroll down to a rickety jetty on the Chao Phraya River for a trip on a long-tailed boat along the city’s canals, or klongs, as the sun goes down.

If you watched The Man with the Golden Gun, you’d have seen Roger Moore’s 007 being chased at high speed in one of these. Fortunately, my driver keeps to a more leisurely pace.

Back in the 19th century, Bangkok was dubbed the Venice of the East for its network of canals.

Now many of them have been filled in and paved over, but it’s still a lovely way to unwind as we sail past expensive houses, rundown shacks and, of course, the inevitable temples.

When I finally stroll back to my hotel that evening, the same smiling receptionist is on duty,

“Where you go today?” she asks.

“Wat,” I tell her.

She looks at me as if I am perhaps a little hard of hearing.

Then she repeats louder: “Where … you … go … to … day?”

I just bow respectfully, the way that lovely Thai people do, and smile back at her.

Then I take the lift to bed.

covid travel restrictions lifted

Bangkok Airport

Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport is the international airport. There are many Bangkok direct flights from all around the world. Many airlines have Bangkok flights from the UK.

There is also Don Mueang Airport which is now used as a low cost carrier airport with flights across Thailand and the region. You can reach Suvarnabhumi Airport by the Airport Rail Link, which is fast, convenient and cheap. If you are looking for flights to other parts of Thailand we recommend Bangkok Airways.

Bangkok Currency

The baht is the currency of Thailand.

Bangkok Things To Do

If you are looking for more inspiration for what to do on your Bangkok holidays, or even on a day trip in Bangkok, perhaps you could consider our article 7 Undiscovered Things to Do in Bangkok – Travel Begins at 40. For more travel Thailand advice visit the official Amazing Thailand website.

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Mal Tattersall

Mal Tattersall

Malcolm “Mal” Tattersall spent almost 40 years working as a staff journalist on some of Britain’s biggest-selling tabloid newspapers. Originally from Lancashire, he once found himself under house arrest in a brothel after a military coup in Africa, taught English in Istanbul, narrowly avoided being thrown in Turkey’s notorious Midnight Express prison, and, for a brief period, was a brickie’s mate labouring on a building site in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Now semi-retired, Mal loves travelling, writing and supping real ale – although not necessarily in that order.

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