One of the most stunning places in Bangkok is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Phra Kaew.
The temple is right next to the Grand Palace – it’s the Royal Family’s private chapel, so it’s close by for ease of access.
There are a hundred or so buildings in the compound, and as you walk in you will start with the temple.
Wat Phra Si Rattana Satsadaram
The temple is usually referred to as Wat Phra Si Rattana Satsadaram by the Thais. It is actually the most important temple in Thailand but – and I imagine that these things are connected but I haven’t been able to verify this – it is the only temple in Thailand that doesn’t have any resident monks. It’s an impressive building with red peaks and golden spires. Inside the temple is a tiny green statue of Buddha, standing only between 23 inches and 29 inches high, which gives the temple its name. It is located up high to signify its importance.
The Buddha Statue
The Buddha statue is made of jade (rather than emerald as you may expect), and was probably carved in Thailand in the fifteenth century. It was discovered in a wat (temple) in Chiang Rai province in 1434. Apparently, lightning struck the pagoda and a plaster covered image of Buddha was revealed. After many years, the plaster began to crumble, to reveal the jade figure inside. It’s very hard to look at properly due to its position in the temple (it is on an altar, about thirty feet high).
It’s believed that the statue was created in the fifteenth century, but eventually ended up in Bangkok in 1782. There are three seasons in Thailand – a hot season, a cool season and rainy season. The statue has its clothes changed in what is a very grand ceremony at the beginning of each of these seasons. It wears a golden coloured robe and headdress in the rainy season, a crown and jewellery in the hot season and a shawl made from solid gold in the cool season. The king himself oversees the change of clothes.
As with many other temples in Thailand, murals adorn the walls of the temple which depict the Jataka stories (stories relating to the birth of Buddha) and are situated according to the usual Buddhist conventions. There is a cloister that runs around the outside of the Temple, where a mural depicting the Ramakian, a famous epic tale. It has a total of 178 sections dating back to 1825.
More Sacred Buildings
There are three more sacred buildings in the compound. The Royal Pantheon is surrounded by half human figures, both male and female. This building is only open to the public on Chakri day, and is home to statues of sovereigns of previous ruling dynasties. There is also a huge golden pagoda and a library.
The library is home to Buddhist scriptures; the pagoda is said to contain a fragment of Buddha’s breastbone. Many miracles have been associated with the statue, so it now has a reputation for bringing good fortune. Like all Buddhist temples, visitors should remove their shoes before entering, and ensure that they are dressed appropriately.