Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Temple of Dawn

I have come to the conclusion that one cannot have a favourite Temple in Thailand. There are just so many astounding Temples of different styles in so many different places in the country that it is simply impossible to choose a favourite. In Bangkok alone there are a magnitude of impressive temples.

One Temple I have visited numerous times is Wat Arun, also known as the Temple of Dawn, the impressive Temple on the west bank (Thonburi side) of the Chao Phraya river. From Saphan Taksin BTS station take the pleasant riverboat to Tha Thien pier. Tha Thien pier and surroundings is a great experience in its own right....but that can wait for another post...this is about Wat Arun! Once off the river boat you turn right, walk a couple of meters and you will see the turnstile entrance for the ferry across the river to Wat Arun. The crossing as at February 2011 cost 3 baht per person and the trip is 2 minutes or so, including docking time, which seems to require a bit of skill if the river is choppy.

Turn left off the ferry and you will come first to the Ordination Hall with its two giant guardians (Yaksha) standing out front. The main temple complex is off to the left of that, hard to miss really, just look up and you'll figure it out. The striking architectural feature of the complex is the massive Khmer style Prang (tower) which stands at about 76 meters high. It is surrounded by four smaller Prangs. You can climb up steep stairs to two different levels on the main Prang. It is easy going up but, if you suffer vertigo, coming down is a whole different matter.  Those steps are really, really steep. There is a handrail - make use of it. The views from up above (though you cannot go anywhere near the top) are spectacular so it is worthwhile making the trip up and suffering gut-wrenching, bowel-loosening, naked, raw, primeval fear on the way down. That gut-wrenching fear will soon be forgotten and the views and satisfaction of having 'conquered' the heights of Wat Arun will make it all worthwhile. (Otherwise just do as I do and descend sitting down on your ass one step at a time like the giggling Japanese university students do - I did the giggling bit too, but the visual effects were not so aesthetically pleasing!)

The detail on the Prangs is magnificent.  Each are covered in bits of brightly colored porcelain and seashells. These little chaps help to hold the whole structure up.  Without their tireless efforts day in, day out, the whole thing would have come crashing down by now:
Apart from the main Prang and the four satellite Prangs there are other buildings in the complex worth seeing. Monks also live on the premises and there appears to be some sort of military base or military living quarters in the vicinity as men in uniforms were much in evidence criss-crossing the area between the Wat and the river.  There are also opportunities for visiting females (or males if you are so inclined!) to dress up in traditional Thai dress, complete with elaborate headgear and those long fingernails, and pose for photographs in front of the temple, all for the reasonable price of 100 baht. (Dog in background does not cost extra but he may want a tip).

It is called Temple of Dawn, but I confess I have never been there at dawn.  I have only been there late afternoon, towards sunset, which is, so everyone says, the time to go. For sure, that is a beautiful time to go as the sun sets behind that magnificent Khmer style masterpiece of architecture, and the view from the opposite bank of the river is awesome, but I owe it to myself to one day rise early and really see the Temple of Dawn at Dawn!

Thai Connoisseur

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bare breasted brouhaha in Bangkok

Never, since Janet Jackson's infamous 'wardrobe malfunction' of 2004, when the moral midgets of 'Middle America' were convulsed by paroxysms of rage, have the sight of bare female breasts aroused the levels of brobdingnagian borborygmus that appears to have gripped the bigwigs of Bangkok.  The story started when Youtube videos were uploaded which showed three young Thai ladies embracing the more traditional, and somewhat forgotten aspects of Songkran, by dancing in much the same way as their great grandmothers would have done back in the days of Siam. In other words, bare breasted! Who can blame them? I think it is a good thing for the young people to revive forgotten traditions of one's ancestors. Anyway, they were soaking wet and it is better to get out of your wet clothes rather than risk catching a cold by leaving them on. Ok, so they were dancing provocatively on top of vehicles. Err, no....they were trying to get dry by shaking their bodies around!

The video went viral and next thing you know the Thai Ministry of Culture has gone into full panic mode. Culture Minister Nipit Intarasombat said:
the clip has negatively affected the image of Thai culture and that all parties involved with such behaviour should be punished, while asking police to give importance to this issue, for it destroys the country's reputation.
At the same time:
 Bang Rak district chief Surakiat Limcharoen filed complaint against three Thai women dancing topless during Songkran festival at Silom area together with their supporters and those releasing the trio's video clip on the internet. The complaints are to charge the three ladies, dancing topless on Friday night at the Silom-Narathiwat intersection area, with a fine of no more than Bt500 each for shameful behaviour in public, while their supporters are to be responsible by two-thirds of the trio's punishment. Those releasing the clip will face imprisonment of up to 5 years and fined up to Bt100,000 under the country's Computer Crime Act.
Link:  http://www.mcot.net/cfcustom/cache_page/196465.html

The twittersphere meanwhile is having great fun pouring derision on the reaction to the 'incident', the overwhelming consensus being that officials were boobs and had only succeeded in making complete tits of themselves.

In a humorous side twist it was pointed out, by  http://twitter.com/#!/tri26 that the Ministry of Culture had an image of three bare breasted maidens on their website. News quickly reached the aforesaid Ministry and, as reported by http://twitter.com/#!/thethaireport the image was speedily removed  (on a Sunday!) and replaced.       http://twitter.com/#!/RichardBarrow managed to post 'before and after' pictures.

http://twitter.com/#!/bangkokpundit rather cruelly remarked:
Is the outrage over the topless silom coyote girls and that they damaged the country's reputation because the girls weren't that pretty?
I actually thought they were very sweet and really hope this has no adverse consequences for them.

All in all it has made amusing fodder, but with a dark undertone. Oh well, TIT. What could be more appropriate?

Thai Connoisseur