Visiting Wat Pho, a top ranked royal temple.

I finally made it to Wat Pho! Although I took a huge detour (which was worth it), I did make it before they closed. If you want read about my “forced” detour to the Grand Palace/Wat Phra Kaew complex it’s in THIS POST, and how I ended up there is detailed in THIS POST. Anyways, back to the subject at hand . . .

Wat Pho is one of the oldest and largest wat complexes in Bangkok (it’s actually comprised of 2 walled compounds dissected by a road). One of the buildings houses one of the largest Reclining Buddha statues in Thailand. Wat Pho is also recognized by UNESCO, has chedi’s which contain Buddha relics and some that contain the ashes of the royal family. On top of all that, Wat Pho is recognized as the first public university in Thailand where the Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School was the first school of Thai medicine approved by the Education Ministry. If that’s not enough, Wat Pho still sells amulets within the temple grounds. I’m a huge fan of UNESCO recognized places and temples with Buddha Relics. If you’re so inclined to believe, it’s said that an amulet’s “power” comes from the temple and monk who made the amulet and the amount of prayer bestowed on the amulet. The higher the “power” of the monk and temple, the better the amulet will be. I’m not a scholar of these beliefs so if I can’t explain it well, my apologies. So to ensure I got an “authentic” amulet I chose Wat Pho’s “gift shop” as opposed to the shops on the streets or even right outside the temples. You’d be hard pressed to find a “better” temple in Bangkok than Wat Pho.

I’m so glad I was able to visit. When I first arrived at the entrance, the first thing I noticed was the line of tuk tuk’s parked on the street, then I noticed the street art vendors who had their goods out even in the drizzling rain. Goods which consisted of amulets, Buddha busts, statues, painting, posters, keychains etc. I thought that was a bit out of place since I’ve seen a lot of billboards trying to prevent the sale and export of such items. Anyways, I ignored the tuk tuk drivers’ touts and went straight into the Wat Pho Complex, found the easy to see ticket booth and paid my $200 Baht entrance fee, which came with a coupon for a free bottle of water. I didn’t immediately see where to redeem the water and stopped looking because I got distracted by the “gift shop” which was right at the ticket gantry a few steps away from the ticket booth. Just thought I’d mention this as there’s more than one entrance/exit. Right outside the gift shop, I think I saw the booth to redeem the water coupon but I got distracted by the entrance to the Reclining Buddha statue which is the main tourist attraction of Wat Pho.

 

The Reclining Buddha statue is by far the biggest reclining statue I’ve seen to date, measuring 150 feet (45m) long. Recline, in this sense context, is Buddha lying on his side with his head propped on one arm. The statue is surrounded by a wooden picket fence that’s far enough away to prevent even the tallest basketball player to reach out and touch the statue (yeah, I have no idea how far away the fence is from the statue) except the feet because the building isn’t long enough. Along the front side, there are little sections for prayer and some sections for viewing/picture taking between the pillars. Along the back are some other artifacts as well as some prayer bowls (a whole row of 108 of them) that you can toss coins into while praying/chanting. You can donate $20 Baht for a plate of coins to drop into the prayer bowls. I don’t know how many coins I was given but I had more than enough coins to put 2 in each bowl. I was fortunate that it wasn’t that crowded when I was there but there was enough people around which made getting pictures a bit of a challenge (plus the pillars were in the way a lot). I can’t imagine how packed it would be if a tour group or two came through, well I can and it’s not pleasant, haha.

I didn’t expect the complex to be as big as it was. I thought it was just he usual chedi, main hall, ubusot type of complex. Yes, I was wrong, there’s a lot more to see. I exit one area only to find myself at the start of another interesting area. I wouldn’t say I got lost but it just seemed like I maze where everywhere I went was something cool to look at or a place where I felt an image to be made, I just had to stop and find it. Unfortunately for me, time was what I didn’t have that day. I’m pretty sure I didn’t get to see 1/2 of the complex, by that I mean literally see it and not “seeing” it creatively. Although I wasn’t rushed by anyone, the closing of gates and such pushed a sense of urgency to find an exit, plus I had no exit strategy to get to my dinner appointment, which I ended up being almost 2 hours late for (transportation issues posted HERE if you wanna read about it, lol). I’m really wanting to go back in the evening just before closing, on a nice day to catch the sunset light on the chedi’s, I bet that would be an amazing picture.

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Chiang Mai’s silver temple, Wat Sri Suphan

Chiang Mai’s silver temple, Wat Sri Suphan

Honorable mention on my top 5 list of must visit wats in Chiang Mai is Wat Sri Suphan.  Once you reach the premises, which is located slightly off a main road (you won’t be able to see it from the main road), you’ll immediately see the uniqueness of Wat Sri Suphan. The Ubusot, both interior and exterior is all silver. Maybe not pure/real silver but I’m pretty sure it’s not paint because it gets really bright when the sun hits it. I think it’s silver gilding but don’t quote me on that.

I rode the Songthaew from just outside the Tha Phae Gate at a cost of $80 TBH and paid an entrance fee of $50 TBH. The entrance fee comes with a sticker you have to put on your shirt and a small bottle of water. After paying the entrance fee I proceeded to walk towards the front of the silver temple (I didn’t know it was the ubusot at the time). Then I walked around it and ended up outside the “barricade.” Yup, the premises is that small! I didn’t even get inside or the other side of the outside. So I went back to the entrance and was stopped by a ticket guy, I pointed to my sticker, of course, my sticker wasn’t there. Luckily the lady I had paid my entrance fee to, recognized me (there weren’t many people there, like less than  10) and I was able to go back in.  So the entrance fee is just to check out the silver ubusot and the other silver statues and the odd gold one here and there.  Both the interior and exterior are very intricately detailed, much more so than the other wats I’ve seen in Chiang Mai, thus far. I can’t imagine having to polish all that. The interior of the ubosot is pretty incredible, all silver except the one big, gold Buddha statue. Even the floor is silver, metallish but not slippery. As customary, no shoes allowed and women aren’t allowed in either. There aren’t many donation boxes around, less that the other wats (that I’ve noticed) but they do have a lot of things you can buy and leave as offerings.

Once you’re done with the silver temple, you can check out the prayer hall and stupa, which is outside the paid section so it’s free. In the vicinity are stalls selling food, drinks and souvenirs too. All in all the premises is quite small so it won’t take up much time and so worth the visit, in my opinion. I spent about an hour there but as usual around closing time so I didn’t get to go into the prayer hall and many of the food stalls were closed. Oh, if you do get a chance to go and it’s really sunny, bring your sunglasses because it can get very bright. If you go around sunset, you can get some pretty cool / weird color reflections on the silver temple and on the silver statues too.

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Funan DigitaLife Mall’s rebirth. What’s the big deal? Something you’ll want to think about.

A new mall in Singapore, different from the rest

So what’s the big deal? I’ll give you something to ponder further down in the post but first a little bit about why I even know about this mall.

Funan DIgitaLife mall WAS my go to mall (almost the whole mall was geared towards IT stuff) when I wanted anything electronic (computers, console gaming, camera gear etc). It is a far more “upscale” and the shops were less controversial than its’ main rival Sim Lim Square (I do buy pc parts from shops in Sim Lim Square since you’d be hard pressed to find parts or repair shops in Funan and not all shops are shady. Nowadays it’s pretty much cleaned up, I’m still cautious in there though. Funan was demolished in 2016 and just reopened at the end of June 2019. It was slated to open in 2020. So yeah, I was excited to go stomping in my old IT haunt!

Artistically, I found it very impressive . The color palette used is quite obvious, you can see it everywhere, starting from the outside. The earthy tones are nice and fit their theme but too dim for my liking. To break the usual ho hum square-ish mall design, the interior incorporates a lot of angles, quite stylish and interesting to look at. The outside still looks like a boring rectangle with a few angle elements and the use of color and reflections at one entrance make it a bit more interesting. Since the opening, I’ve been to Funan twice, the first to check it out and the second to buy a Macbook. There’s just something here that bugs me, other than my first reaction of, “wow it’s dim in here,” when I first entered the premises. Something more than my saltiness at the sheer number of eateries, non IT shops and clothing shops. Gone is Funan the Digitalife Mall. Damn it, arrrgh! I’m guessing that IT related shops account for less than 1/4 of the shops here. In their defense, they are not marketing the mall as an IT mall anymore. Instead, it is a mall with shops “clustered around six passion themes Tech, Craft, Play, Fit, Chic and Taste.” So what else is in here that wasn’t before? How about a huge gym, movie theaters, a climbing wall, lots more eateries (of which there’s Carl’s Jr. and Little Caesars), a media studio, local brand fashion stores and a shop that sells fold up bicycles. I think those bicycles look pretty cool and on top of that, you can ride your bike through the mall albeit only on the main floor, only between certain times of the day and at a max speed of 10km/h. Now that’s gotta be a first, well it is for me, anyways. Noticeably gone is the local, big name IT retailer, Challenger, I guess it’s because Funan is to “posh” now for the likes of the budget friendly, general IT shops like Challenger. Near the center, on the main floor, is a flight of stairs that has areas for people to sit and hang out on, which I found weird and interesting at the same time. Hopefully this will free up tables in the multitude of eateries in the building.

I gotta admit, I got so bothered by this new mall in Singapore that I had to Google it and found some interesting yet concerning things. First things first, I’m going to express my opinions and what I’ve experienced, I’m in no way condoning or trash talking anyone or any organization. The words in quotes are from Funan’s Press Release pdf. Here are the links to the Funan’s website: www.funan.com.sg and the press release pdf that I came across in my search for info: https://www.capitaland.com/content/dam/capitaland-newsroom/International/2019/jun/capitaland-unveils-reimagined-funan/190628_News%20Release_CapitaLand%20unveils%20reimagined%20Funan.pdf

The really cool things I found in the pdf but didn’t see or get to use in the mall are:
1) VR pods for movies and games
2) 24h drive through to support the online shoppers
3) E-paying service at the food court accepting cryptocurrencies (this may not be so cool after reading the points in the “NOT COOL” section below)
4) Food ordering through Facebook Messenger
5) “Using one of the about 40 smart directories in Funan, shoppers can browse and search for trending merchandise before mapping the shortest route possible to reach a store with the wayfinding system”
6) “By year-end, shoppers can expect a robot-enabled handsfree shopping and 24/7 click-and-collect drive-through service”
7) The handful of parking spots you can reserve via the mall’s app.
8) Roof top urban farm
9) “Unmanned futsal facility”
10) “Dedicated Bicycle Hub with end-of-trip amenities”

The NOT COOL things (in my opinion) are:
1) “video analytics to measure and analyse footfall throughout the mall and entering each store”
2) “In-store smart terminals further capture transaction data so that tenants can use the analytics to refine their offerings and enhance customer experiences”
3) “smart directories can also make product recommendations based on the shopper’s demographic profile”

So it sounds to me, like as soon as people are picked up on camera, they are profiled and followed by someone/software and that is stored somewhere accessible by someone(s) so that the data can be shared. Admittedly, shared (in a repackeged form) on a public display and to their tenants as detailed reports on shoppers’ choice of store(s), purchases and movement patterns? So how am I supposed to know that the data that’s been captured of or about me isn’t being shared/sold anywhere else and only used for what they say they’ll use it for? How does the smart directory get my demographic profile in the first place?! This is a lot of surveillance going on which raises privacy issues. If you’re the sort who uses crypto currencies for the anonymity, well, if you use it in Funan, you won’t be so anonymous anymore. Couple all this data with the mandatory finger printing going on when you enter and exit customs/immigration at many airports these days a very detailed report can be compiled very quickly by many people/organizations. I can see the point for surveillance as a security measure but to track people and profile them? That seems excessive and I’m pretty sure the majority of people entering Funan do not know they are being surveilled to this extent.

Yesterday, I went to visit Funan Mall just to get some imagery for this post and to see if I could find any of the surveillance, I mean, video analytics cameras. I couldn’t. I did find the facial recognition devices use to access the other areas of the building like the office towers and serviced apartments though. Maybe I’ve just interpreted things very badly and this may all be just fluff, like “who cares kinda stuff” but I really think that we all should care, or at least give a reasonable amount of consideration to. At least consider our willingness to wantonly give this type of access to our personal habits, to a shopping mall no less. How about you? How would you feel if a mall in your area did this? How would you feel if all malls started doing this?

As I was finishing up this post it occurred to me that I watched how data can be used to get sales. I watch this happen on Harajuku’s main shopping street (in Japan) but without the high tech. As I was standing on a corner waiting for my “girls” to finish shopping at one shop, I watched these guys holding binders with images of their wares (basketball related stuff like shoes, jersey’s etc). There were at least 3 of them walking around within a block or two of their shop. Every now and then they would stop a target that they picked out of the crowd (acquiring visual data etc) and try to peddle their wares and at the same time herding them towards their shop. At times they got grabby too. I just pictured myself walking into Funan and as I pass a shop, a sales rep runs out and tells me of a deal “just for me” or something like that, lol. OR if you have the mall’s app, you’ll start getting a barrage of notifications informing you of deals and discounts. Since it’s so easy here in Singapore to pay using your phone, this could be bad, very bad for impulse buyers like me. Food for thought…

All images used in this post were shot using my Samsung Note 8. Consider following me for updates and to find not only my other travel bloopers, blunders and shenanigans but also photography related news/reviews and the occasional contest entry.

All the photos (unless otherwise noted in the post) were taken by me and are available for sale. If you’re interested in buying an image or three, 😃 please don’t hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!

Comments & Critiques are always welcome, as are upvotes and resteems.

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