Sunday, July 26, 2009

Phra Nakhon district museum

The most beautifully located district museum (พิพิธภัณฑ์ท้องถิ่น) is the one of Phra Nakhon district, the central district of Bangkok. Prior to its merger with Thonburi, the Bangkok province was named Phra Nakhon after this central district. The museum is located directly next to the district office on Samsen road. It is therefore close to the popular tourist area of Khao San road.

The museum is in a wooden house in traditional Thai style, the former residence of Phraya Borirak Ratcha (พระยาบริรักษ์ราชา), who was a palace guard for King Rama V till Rama VII. In one room in the second floor it has some portrait paintings of the former home-owner.

The other rooms show various exhibits connected with the local history, the traditions of the citizen like local products, like the baskets and other wickerwork as shown in the photo.

When visiting this museum, also take a look at the district office itself located at the other exit of the lot towards Samsen Soi 3. While most of the administrative offices are located within a modern office building, there's also a historic building which probably was the original district office - however in real I don't know anything about this building, it only look worth to take a photo.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Wat Rakang

Wat Rakang Kosittharam Mahawihan (วัดระฆังโฆสิตารามวรมหาวิหาร) is one of the 32 temples in Bangkok Noi district, but one of the most significant. And since I love to explore the city by walking, this temple makes a good target as it's just 3 kilometer away from where I normally stay. I have thus visited there twice, and only lack of time and lots of other targets made me skip this tour the last two times I was in Bangkok.

The main feature of the temple is the bell tower, because those bells gave the temple its name - Rakang (ระฆัง) is the Thai word for bell. The temple got its name when the original bell was moved to Wat Phra Kaeo by King Rama I, and the king sent back five new bells as the replacement. These bells were hanging in the bell tower in the southeast of the compound, but are now in Wat Phra Sri Rattanasattadaram in Bangkhen district, so the bells seen here are replacements of the replacements.

The bot is also well worth to go inside, it not only has a big Buddha statue like most temples, but even more noteworthy are the murals on the walls. Though a bit weathered already they are still worth looking at. Since 1949 they are registered as a national heritage site.

Around the bot are several small and large chedis, and one can see that temple is also a popular place for the final rest - in the walls and chedis it has many urns with the photos of the deceased. I have however only taken one photo of the largest of these chedis.

Another noteworthy building is the library, at first look an inconspicuous wooden building hidden between the trees next to the bot. In my first walk there I hardly noticed it, only to learn later about its significance. Sadly during my second visit the building was under reconstruction, so the photo shows more of the scaffolding than the actual building.

Towards the river is a large temple market, mostly selling those stuff Buddhist need for making merit - incense sticks, flowers, buckets full of items for the monks, animals to set free to gain "tambun", but of course also some small food stalls. But if you are looking for a "normal" market, just walk north next to the historic Patravadi theater towards Sirirat hospital. The last part of this walk then inevitably leads you through that market.

Apart from walking there, the temple is quite easy to reach as it is located very close to the Chao Phraya river. The Wat Rakang pier (photo) itself is only used by ferries or hired boats, but the nearby Phran Nok pier is serviced by the Express boats, and then walk from that pier towards Wat Rakang through the market.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Phra Samut Chedi

The most significant Buddhist temple of Samut Prakan province south of Bangkok is Wat Phra Samut Chedi (วัดพระสมุทรเจดีย์), located on the western bank of the Chao Phraya river not far from its mouth into the Gulf of Thailand. In the past it was surrounded by the river and is still also known as Wat Klang Nam (วัดกลางน้ำ, temple in the middle of the water). The temple was constructed by King Rama II and was finished in 1828. It was then the first significant sight of visitors coming to Bangkok by boat. Anna Leonowens, famous by her fictionalized character in the musical and movie Anna and the King in her travelogue and diary wrote
On the other, which at first I took for a floating shrine of white marble, is perhaps the most unique and graceful object of architecture in Siam; shining like a jewel on the broad bosom of the river, a temple all of purest white, its lofty spire, fantastic and gilded, flashing back the glory of the sun, and duplicated in shifting, quivering shadows in the limpid waters below. Add to these the fitful ripple of the coquettish breeze, the burnished blazonry of the surrounding vegetation, the budding charms of spring joined to the sensuous opulence of autumn, and you have a scene of lovely glamour it were but vain impertinence to describe. Earth seemed to have gathered for her adorning here elements more intellectual, poetic, and inspiring than she commonly displays to pagan eyes.
I have to admit, when I went there I was much less impressed. As you can see in the photo, the chedi was not fully white and had lots of black sprinkles of mold. There's no significant Buddha statue and no lavishly decorated bot like in other temples, the only place which was more interesting was a pavilion containing a statue of King Rama II and with some murals on the walls. I just learned now that in fact this pavilion normally isn't accessible, so we were very lucky to be able to go inside. Sadly I only photographed the statue and did not shot the murals.

For some more information on this temple take a look at Richard Barrow's site, which also has a description on the annual Phra Samut Chedi fair.

Update: Richard has posted several more photos in a new thread at his forum, including photos of the murals.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Wat Kaew, Chaiya

The most important historical building in Surat Thani province is Wat Borom That Chaiya with the chedi in Srivijaya style. Next to the temple is the local branch of the national museum, so when I visited this place several years ago I did not omit the museum. But these two locations are still found in guide books, and there's even talk about it being part of a World Heritage site to be proposed to UNESCO soon.

However these two should not be topic this time, but two minor sites nearby. While walking through the museum I noticed a map of the surroundings of the main site marking the location of two other temples, named Wat Long and Wat Kaeo (วัดแก้ว). So I asked to go to these as well, and it turned out that in fact I had to guide since noone of family knew the way to go there. When I succeeded thanks to memorizing the map well I could impress my mother in law a lot, who is a native of Chaiya but never knew these places.

The first one, Wat Long, isn't that impressive, as only the foundations of the chedi have been preserved, surrounded by a small pond, and found directly next to the road. The top photo might give an idea on how it looks like.

A little further driving comes the second site, which is more impressive since a much larger part of the chedi is preserved, though one can see the weathering of the centuries well. In the niche, the black hole in the above photo, is a Buddha statue. If these two chedi ruins are in fact those referred to in the Thai inscription #23 as labeled by Prince Damrong in his Collected Inscriptions of Siam, then they are more than 1200 years old.

Though I have been in Chaiya again, I haven't been able yet to revisit these sites, which is really a pity as I am quite dissatisfied with the quality of the photos. Redoing them with my digital SLR should give much more presentable photos, and also more than those few I did back in 2003. Hopefully in next trip.