Wat Saket is something special. I can’t explain it, only feel it.

Wat Saket dates back to the 1700’s and has an iconic structure named Golden Mount. This man made mountain has a winding staircase up to the prayer hall where followers can offer prayers, flowers and ask for divine guidance. Climbing up the very narrow and steep stair case to the roof is where you’ll find the golden stupa. The views and statues are really soothing to look at and when the breeze blows through, it feels refreshing and the dinging of all the wind chimes, adds to the ambiance nicely. Although it’s quite spectacular, the rest of the complex is really peaceful and serene too. If you want to see more photos of Golden Mount, you can check out my post HERE. If you need directions on how to get to Wat Saket / Golden Mount via public transport, I posted about that HERE. If you need a break on the way up, there’s a coffee shop on the way up I didn’t have time so I passed, it looks nice though!

I visited Wat Saket 2 days in a row because there was so much going on. It was Loy Krathong, the yearly week long festival (my post about it HERE). With all the festivities going on, I didn’t get any opportunities to get any pictures of the serene feeling premises. Maybe next time. Navigating was somewhat difficult as well because crowds got really big at times and not only were some entrances concealed by the crowds but once you’re in the mass, you really can’t go anywhere except with the flow of the mass. I actually had no idea where I was going and walked around the complex twice before actually getting to see any of the religious statues and things. Some buildings were closed when I got around to them and some I found totally by accident. Meaning I saw a bunch of people moving into something so I just went too. That’s how I found the starting stair case to get up to Golden Mount as well as a cave.

The man made cave houses a giant standing Buddha statue, that looks like it’s carved into the cave and smaller, free standing Terracotta like Buddha statues. Also within the cave are some pieces of really old looking paper with writing on it, but I couldn’t read it, looks important, though.

There is also cemetery that is part of the base of Golden Mount which doesn’t look creepy or anything and you’d probably pass it by not knowing it was a cemetery but look closely and you’ll see. What’s creepy, I think, is that I’m sure I took multiple pictures with my camera’s yet I can’t find any of the cemetery photos on any of them. What do you make of that? Anyways, there’s also a museum on the premises, with some more Buddha statues and history, if you’re interested in that. It was closed by the time I found it.

Then there’s the vultures. If I had not strayed off the path leading down from Golden Mount, I would have totally missed the scene commemorating those that perished from the cholera outbreak. This scene is known as the vulture scene. I took a picture of the commemorative plaque so you can have a read if you’re so inclined.

There’s also a few Buddha statues in enclaves that you can offer prayers too around this area. The main prayer hall isn’t that large but the plaza in front is quite spacious, providing plenty of space for worshipers to pray in front of the Buddha statue that is outside the hall. There’s an even bigger Buddha statue inside the hall. I didn’t get to see everything even though I went twice. I think, during non festive times, you could see it all in 3-4 hours if you’re just walking through. I’ll include a premises map so you can plan your trip 😎

I missed this whole section behind the building in the above photo, it may not even be part of Wat Saket (I think because it’s named a bit different) but it’s accessible from Wat Saket until closing time when the close the entry/exit gates. I think the people having a picnic beside red sign hopped the fence to get in because I didn’t see a way to get in there, lol.

Out of all the wats I’ve visited in Bangkok, Wat Saket is the one that resonated most with me. I “felt” something there, neither good nor bad, just something and for me that’s special. I later learned that there are Buddha relics (Buddha’s Teeth) at Golden Mount, enshrined in the golden stupa and enshrined in the 4 gold leafed statues in the circular shrine. If you need to satisfy your spiritual hunger and only have time to visit one wat in Bangkok, I would highly suggest Wat Saket over the more “touristy” wats. That’s my opinion, don’t roast me for it. 😃

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Crackdown on Thai amulets and Buddha themed items in Thailand?

Over the past couple years, I’ve been to Thailand multiple times, I love the culture and the relatively inexpensive yet high quality dentistry (I posted about my dental experience HERE). It is only this most recent trip (to Bangkok) that I’ve noticed the signage regarding the “respecting of Buddhism”. The various signage that I’ve seen, seem to indicate that having the Buddha image as tattoos, t-shirts designs and such are prohibited as is the export of such items. At first, I didn’t know what to expect, as in how this is actually going to be enforced because I’m still seeing t-shirts, carvings, statues, artwork etc depicting Buddha in the shops albeit not as abundantly as before. Note: I’m interpreting, “Buddha image” as anything depicting the likeliness of Buddha (in any form/medium).

Frankly, I didn’t think anything of it, even though I had my heart set on acquiring a Thai Buddhist amulet. I had asked some Thai friends where I could acquire an “authentic” amulet and was told amulets are readily available “everywhere”, there’s even a street specifically selling such items but they advised me to get one from within a temple, those should be authentic. This amulet market, I was told, is near Wat Pho and a ferry terminal, I couldn’t miss it. Well, I walked from the Grand Palace to Wat Pho and visited 2 ferry terminals, I couldn’t find this amulet market. Maybe most of the shops were close since it was raining? Or maybe the crackdown is really happening? The most probably reason why is because I’m just an idiot and couldn’t find it, lol.

Now what is the big deal with Thai Amulets? Well, supposedly they have spiritual powers (if you’re so inclined to subscribe to that notion and belief system). Authentic amulets are the ones that are hand made by monks and have been “enchanted” through prayer. The more famous the wat and monk, the higher the “power” and worth/price the amulet will be. Some amulets cost in the 100’s of thousand US dollars range! There are different amulets covering different aspects of “life issues”. For example, luck and or success in your career or school, love life charms, warding of bad spirits, omens, calamities etc. Much like the plethora of different charms sold at the Japanese temples (Shinto temples, I think they were). Unlike the Japanese charms, you don’t have to return/recycle them after a year (I’ve seen big drop boxes at these temples for you to drop your old charms into. Instead Thai amulets (again this is what I’ve been told so I don’t know exactly how accurate this info is) are given out on loan and the monetary amount you pay is the rental/donation fee. Once your “crisis” has been averted and/or you feel better, you’re supposed to return the amulet. When I acquired my pendant from Wat Pho (first image of this post), I didn’t see any signage regarding the “rental” practices and I tried to ask but the language barrier was to great I think. So I have no idea if this is true and if so where to return the amulet to. What happens if I lose the amulet etc.

This is the one I got from Wat Pho (I picked the least expensive one that I felt “comfortable” with, the charm inside is suppose to be 22k gold foil). I also bought the stainless steel necklace for the charm at $100 Baht the charm itself set me back $400 Baht. Expensive or not, in my mind, the dollar amount that I’m relinquishing goes towards something I subscribe to, at a place that’s absolutely stunning plus authentically religious with historic significance and it gives me peace of mind (it can’t get much more authentic than this, right)?

Anyways, sorry for the lack of photos in this post, I really didn’t intend to post on this topic. So why am I? Well, I’ve always had a Buddhist pendant on me since childhood, so I never thought twice about the “warning” signage and although I’m not a full fledged follower of Buddhism, I’m still a believer in most of the teachings that I’m aware of. So these signs don’t pertain to me, right? Well, apparently not.

I had forgotten I had my new amulet on (I put it on at the temple and haven’t taken it off). So at the at the airport security screening I place my bag on the xray machine and walked through the metal detector, which didn’t beep but the guard beckoned me over, so I assumed the position, legs spread and arms out to the side. The usual waving of the wand, then he waves it up and down just below my chin, I thought he wanted to see the tattoo on my chest (it’s happened before at LAX they made me take off my shirt so they can full body scan me). He shakes his wand from side to side and says, “no” (when I showed him my tattoo) and uses the wand to point at my neck. I think I gave him a funny look cuz then he starts wiggling and pointing the wand at my neck, it’s then I realize he wanted to see my necklaces/pendants. I reach into my t-shirt to pull out my necklaces/pendants for him to check out. Which he does by leaning in for a closer look and then waves me off with the wand. Much ado about nothing?

I have been wearing this one for at least 3 years.

And my new amulet’s casing is showing quite a bit of tarnish. Maybe I was let go because of the state my pendants were in? Maybe they look inexpensive/fake etc? I don’t know but I’m not complaining. Note: some amulets you can purchase without a case so you can find/purchase higher quality ones..

Having told my story to my Thai buddies, who had a big laugh, they related to me some instances in the news where some people were fined/jailed for having tattoo’s of a Buddha image, taking photos at religious places in “disrespectful” poses, standing/sitting on things that people normally wouldn’t etc. I have no idea what would have happened if the guard took offense to my amulet and pendant but it is something to think about, wouldn’t you agree?

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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 Rai’s Blue Temple aka Wat Rong SueaTen is a gem worth uncovering

Wat Rong Suea Ten AKA the Blue Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Wat Rong Suea Ten is a relatively new temple and lesser known of the artistic temples. The main hall was completed in 2016 and built to replace the previous ruined and abandoned wat which dated back about 100 years. Honestly, I had no idea a wat like this existed and I am so glad (and lucky) that I was able to visit it. The only reason I found it was because the front desk clerk at the hotel I was staying at in Chiang Mai recommended a “White Temple” in Chiang Rai after I told him I was a photographer and loved the Thai styled temples. A quick search online revealed a lot of day tours featuring a “White Temple” then some filler places like a Blue Temple, a Black House or tribal villages. There were others but I stopped reading because I was short on time and couldn’t visit that many places anyways. If you’re interested in the White Temple, I made a post regarding my time there, RIGHT HERE. Having been to both temples, I have to say, Wat Rong Suea Ten is, pound for pound, just as spectacular as the more famous White Temple and it won’t stay unknown much longer.

As you can probably tell (from the name), the wow factor of this wat is that the ubusot and chedi are blue (with a lot of gold trim). All the statues and décor are predominately blue with the more traditional art style of the Thai Buddhist culture/religion (as opposed to the artistic interpretations found at the White Temple). There are 2 giant Buddha statues that are glossy white (as opposed to matte white). The one inside the ubosot is sitting whilst the other (located directly behind but on the outside of the ubusot) is standing. The inside of the ubusot is predominately blue with a lot of gold colored ornamentation (statues and artwork on the walls). This gives the white Buddha statue a pretty cool looking shade of blue. The various spot lights make it even more interesting to look at. Not everything is blue inside though. The furniture is predominately reddish brown with gold trimmings, as are the doors. There’s even a semi translucent, gold adorned, red Buddha statue.

The temple’s artwork is credited to Mr. Phuttha Kabkaew (a former student of Mr. Chaloemchai Kositpipat (of the White Temple fame). Personally, I really like the art style, rich in color and detail. I have to say, I feel more at ease with the subject matter being used to adorn the interior of the blue temple than I was with the artistic renders of the subject matter that dominates the White Temple’s interior. Anyways, both temples, in my opinion relay the artist’s message very clearly and beautifully. I found myself artistically and spiritually satiated with the balance between art and religion at the Blue Temple, it’s truly eye candy for the soul. Here’s some images of the ubusot and the chedi:

Some miscellaneous notes:

I spent roughly 1.5 hours here and wasn’t completely finished. I didn’t get to check out the shops because I had to leave in order to catch my bus (the last one for the day) back to Chiang Mai. I’m known to really take my time looking and photographing things so I think for me 2.5 hours would be enough time but if you’re not a photo nut like me 1.5 hours would be just right unless they add more things to see, there certainly is room for more on the lot.

I made my way via Grab taxi to the “Blue Temple” at a cost of $220 TBH and the ride took roughly 20 minutes from the White Temple. If you need assistance with finding your way to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai, have a look at how I did it in THIS POST. The Grab taxi ride from the Blue Temple to the bus terminal cost me $100 TBH and roughly 20 minutes. Both trips had relatively light traffic conditions. If you choose to drive to the Blue Temple, there is parking both inside the compound and outside. Within the compound you’ll also find some gift shops with both religious items as well as the more touristy stuff, a local/traditional style clothing shop and snack shops. The wat is nestled amongst, from what I can tell a residential area so you won’t be able to see it from the main road. The hours of operation is stated as 7 am to 8pm and is free to enter. Here’s some statues which I found pretty cool looking.

One of my favorite shots:

The Blue Temple of Chiang Rai, Thailand in a crystal ball

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Chiang Rai’s Wat Rong Khun aka the White Temple definitely a must visit!

Wat Rong Khun aka the White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand

If you are ever in Chiang Rai or even Chiang Mai, Wat Rong Khun aka the White Temple (in Chiang Rai) is a must visit if you’re into art and or wats/Buddhism in general.  If you’re interested in getting to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai, I’ve made a post about my experience with that HERE. After being inspired by Chiang Mai’s silver temple (post is here), I did a quick online search and found the White Temple and two other spots that looked interesting so I quickly made arrangements to go as I only had a few days left in Chiang Mai.

Not having any time to spare (I planned to visit 3 places in Chiang Rai), I used the Grab app and booked a ride to the white temple (at a cost of $200 TBH) immediately after stepping off the bus because I didn’t have time to mess around with the tuk tuk drivers or songthaew drivers. They are all at the back of the terminal, I didn’t see any at the front, it’ll probably be cheaper (highly dependent on your negotiating skills) to go via tuk tuk and songthaew. By the time I got to the front of the building, maybe 30 meters away, I got a message on the Grab app from the driver asking where I was and I replied with “in front of the building” to which I got a reply “me too”. So I looked around and didn’t see any car idling or coming down the street. Then someone came up to me and said, “Taxi?” to which I said “No, thanks” but he showed me the Grap app so I went with him. He was parked on the other side of the street. This was a first for me. Anyways, away we go! (Can you tell I’m excited?!)

If you’re expecting your usual wat, you are in for a huge surprise, as I was. Just to prep you a bit, here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia  “It is a contemporary, unconventional, privately-owned art exhibit in the style of a Buddhist temple.  It is owned by Chalermchai Kositpipat, who designed, constructed, and opened it to visitors in 1997.” I didn’t find monks praying/chanting inside the “white temple” nor “monk chat” sessions (at the time of this post) but I did find monks taking selfies outside and around the premises.  The décor is definitely not the norm for wats, here’s some examples of what you can find:

When I saw those statues/figures, I was like “what the @$#! Is this?! Is this even a legit wat?” but I did find it kind of cool in the way that those Hell themed parks are (like the one in Singapore that I posted about HERE). Definitely not what I was expecting to see but I liked it.

I guess a bit of historic reference is needed. Wat Rong Khun was a wat at one point in time but for whatever reason had no funds for repairs so Mr. Chalemchai Kositpipat,an artist, had taken it upon himself to completely fund and rebuild the temple to what you see today and he’s not done yet. The original plans for the entire compound is to have 9 buildings that include the “white temple” (which is the ubosot), a meditation and learning center, housing for monks, an art gallery, a hall of relics and others to be completed by 2070. I’d guess there will be a prayer hall and such for monks and the followers of Buddhism to practice their faith, it is a wat after all, right?

I wasn’t prepared for just how stunning it was and it just kept getting better and better the closer I got to it. Nor did I know exactly how big the compound was.  All the statues and buildings were well maintained and intricately detailed as was the rather large pond and water ways around the temple. Even the “under construction” buildings and areas that were off limits to the public looked neat and tidy unlike any construction site I’ve ever seen.

So the white structure that is being referred to as the White Temple is actually the ubosot but inside the ubosot you won’t find the usual things you would find in an ordination hall. Instead you’ll find murals of more modern day things like depictions of the World Trade Center attacks, Michael Jackson, Superman, fiery murals with demon faces and others. It was quite shocking to me as I didn’t expect to see that and frankly my mind is having problems coming to terms with it (I guess I was expecting all the usual religious statues and relics but done up in the same style as the exterior). Don’t get me wrong though, the artwork is stunning and that’s an understatement.  I can also understand the message that the artist is relaying but my mind is just so conflicted(?) …I don’t know, I don’t have the words. I would have loved to have taken photos to reflect upon and further contemplate what I saw and to show you but sadly no photos allowed inside and there are ushers reminding you as you walk in.  You won’t find any of the usual donation boxes or incense pots or the offerings of food and drinks at the altars inside, to be honest, I can’t even remember seeing an altar in there.

When you’re done with the ubosot and pond area, there are other areas to check out such as the washroom. Wait, what?! Yup, you should check it out. This building is at least 2 levels, done up in gold with intricate statues all around. Just looking at it you wouldn’t be able to tell it’s the toilets. Lucky, I didn’t need to use the facilities because standing in front of the building, I couldn’t tell where the “Mens room” was because both paths leading  into the building had signs in Thai with the English word “women” on it. However, there are images of both male and female on both sides of the building! Being really short on time, I didn’t go any closer but judging from the people buzzing about maybe I should have.

Toilets at Wat Rong Khun aka the White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Beside the toilet building is the gift shop with the usual gift shop items as well smaller prints and art cards of the artist’s work. On the other side there is a mural/display depicting a scene with the Monkey King/God, Sun Wukong, complete with bells you can ring. A bit further down the path is an area where you can offer incense and fruits and prayers in front of a Buddha statue in a jungle themed alcove.

There is a rather large, open air pavilion type structure which has a large floor area for praying as well as chairs. I”m guessing this where the monks would chant/pray. Within this pavilion are the more traditional Buddhist  statues and artwork. Right outside is a booth selling thin metallic leaves you can write your name and message on then hang them on the tree like structures, which when full, the leaves get moved to create the roof of the covered walkway, pretty clever right?

Behind all of this is an area with another  temple, I think, all done up in gold. I didn’t have enough time to check it out. It was around this time that I realized that I wouldn’t be able to see the other two if I spent any more time at the White Temple so I rushed past this area, reluctantly.

As I was rushing by things, I saw the Mr. Chalermchai Kositpipat’s art gallery/museum and I had to go in.  I’m really, really impressed with his style of art. The gallery doesn’t look big from the outside but it’s pretty big and has a decent sized gift shop area. Yup, I bought some art cards I just couldn’t resist. Lucky, I had time and space constraints or I would have bought more and bigger pieces too. Now, at this point, I had to make a choice. It was clear now that I couldn’t see all three of the places I had planned and if I didn’t leave now I wouldn’t have enough time to enjoy the second spot so completely finish this awesome place or hit the next spot? There is an entrance fee of $50 TBH for foreigners but free for Thai people and even with the bus fare I found Wat Rong Khun, the white temple, well worth the trip and so I left with the promise of . . . I’ll Be Back.

Oh almost forgot, there are eateries, snacks and gift shops in a plaza like area right beside the wat so you can plan to have a meal or two there. I hadn’t eaten anything yet so I just grabbed a couple of Gatorades and croissant like things from a shop and off I went to the next stop. Again the Grab driver was already there, in the parking lot of the plaza, lucky me.

NOTE: Even on an overcast day such as it was the day I was there, the buildings are really, really bright and glittery. I lowered the brightness of the images (a fair bit) in this post to better define the details, so bring a pair of sunglasses just in case it gets too bright.

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