Monday, 8 December 2008

Bangkok City-Break

The King and I

Demon of the Royal Palace

Lotus World
Lotuses in Jim Thompson's Garden

We are back in Bangkok for the weekend. We’re passing through on our way to Trat and the islands in the eastern Gulf of Thailand. An overnight stop makes the long journey from western to eastern Thailand bearable. Two nights and we have time to see a couple of our favourite places from our time in Bangkok in 2004. These are Jim Thompson’s House and the Grand Palace with Wat Phra Kaew.

Jim Thompson's House
Standing in Jim Thompson's Garden behind his House

Jim Thompson was an international man of mystery. He came to Thailand to help liberate it from the Japanese at the end of WW2 but the war ended before he arrived so he worked in the region for the precursor of the CIA. On retirement he stayed in Bangkok where he helped to revive the silk industry and built a beautiful house out of five traditional Thai teak houses, furnished with Thai and Chinese antiques and surrounded it with a tame and cool jungle garden. This was 1959. Eight years later he went missing during a walk in Malaysia, never to be seen again. His house is an elegant legacy to Thai style and his own tastes.

Golden Glow
Golden statue in Wat Phra Kaew

The Grand Palace was the home of the Kings of Thailand until recently. This massive walled sanctuary in the centre of old Bangkok is now the major tourist attraction in town. The ridges of elegant traditional steeply pitched red-tiled Thai roofs break the skyline one after the other. They compete with technicolour prangs and golden chedis to dazzle with their gold and enamel splendour. There can be few places in the world with such sumptuous architecture that renders the art of the most beautiful handwoven silks into wood, stone and clay.

Bangkok Demons
Wat Demons?

Stone and Gold

The jewelled highlight of the Palace is the Royal Temple – Wat Phra Kaew. Westminster Abbey falls into the Wats deep shadow by comparison, little more than a dusty parish church next to an eruption of rubies, sapphires, emeralds and gold. Multi-hued enamel-coated demons hold up towering prangs next to the three wats that are giant jewellery boxes turned inside out. The gorgeous serene faces of mythical creatures that are half-bird and half-woman stalk the terraces in between. The Emerald Buddha, a jade statue, sits high up on a golden mound of lotus buds and attracts Thai pilgrims to pray at its feet at the very spiritual heart of the Thai Kingdom.

Ramakian Monkey
Ramakian Monkey

Ramakian Sita
Sitting with Queen Sita

Ramakian Gold

This exquisite world of make believe is enclosed within four walls on which the story of the Ramayama, known as the Ramakian in Thailand, is rendered in gold leaf pictures that together must form one of the largest figurative paintings in the world. The skill of the craftsmanship, the ornate detail, the epic scale of the story and sheer size re breathtaking. Stroll around the cool cloisters in front of this work and behold a tapestry of colour that makes the Bayeux Tapestry look like a well-stiched hankerchief. The dazzling art and architecture will hold you through the heat and beyond hunger to be refreshed and fed by splendour meant for the minds of kings.

Restoring Ramakian
Restoring the Ramakian

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