The temples in Bangkok are a shining golden light in a city of filth and squalor. There’s a beauty here, for sure, but at first we struggle to find it. In the streets everything gets lost in the noise of horns and hard times. People struggle here, and tourism only fills so many pockets. City life benefits only a few, and everyone else falls through the cracks.
When I launched Maps and Mandalas, I finally organised a lot of photos that had been sitting on my computer. Dean and I went to Bangkok in 2013 on our first trip to South East Asia. It was one of the first major Asian cities we visited, having flitted around Southern Thailand and Bali beforehand. The shock was pretty obvious. At the time all I felt I could write about was what struck me most, which was the hard stuff. But in reality we saw so many of the temples in Bangkok, and I just glazed over it all. It wasn’t until I looked over the photographs that I realised how stunning it was, and how much we’d seen.
As a city, Bangkok makes us sad more than happy, at least at first. The city was all hum, traffic and dirt, and it got everywhere. Our eyes fill with gunk. Our chests become heavy with spluttered coughs like throaty tuk-tuks. Our feet fester and blacken from so many blisters. We are ready to pack it in early and more to literal greener pastures, but we opt take some time to see the city’s temples first.
It’s a decision we don’t soon regret.
Seeing the temples in Bangkok means dodging the usual line up of minor scams and obstacles. We walk from where we’re staying close to the tourist hot spot of Khao San Road. Even though it seems like a world away, many of the temples are actually quite close. Of course, we won’t have the chance to see them all. There are around 400 temples in and around Bangkok city, so it’s out of reach, but we catch a few of the top picks. Wat Phra Kaew or ‘The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Pho and its Reclining Buddha, Loha Prasat, Wat Mahatat, Wat Suthat, Wat Benjamabhopit. They become impossible to keep track of, each different but with a gorgeous consistency. They have their own unique markers, like fingerprints on a giant hand.
Vivid metallic leaf and shining pieces of glass. Statues of all shapes and stunning mosaics of coloured tile. Exploring the temples in Bangkok is like walking through a vision of jewels. They shine in the Thailand sun, golden and glowing like a sun amidst the city’s darkness. For two weary travellers, it’s a welcome reprieve.