Taking Bangkok’s public transport to Wat Pho and Wat Arun

Following my fiasco of an attempt to get to Wat Pho, I decided to do some research and try to get there again. You can read about what I went through last time, if you want a chuckle, in my post HERE.

As you can see from the photo above, this trip includes a boat ride. So if you get seasick, take your motion sickness meds. I get motion sickness quite easily and I didn’t take any meds for this ferry ride (I didn’t have any and was too lazy to buy from the pharmacy). Luckily, the actual ride itself was ok, roughly 30 min. The boat goes fast enough that I didn’t feel sick. It’s only when the ferry is idling (waiting for for embarking/disembarking and waiting for boat traffic to clear when leaving/arriving at the piers) that I felt queasy.

I started this journey on the Sukhumvit Line (light green BTS line), making my way to Siam BTS station. Alight at this station and switch to the Silom line (dark green line) where you’ll be heading towards Bang Wa Station BUT alighting at Saphan Tak Sin station. The direct way is to go down the escalators to the platform with the train going the correct way. However, I found that the easiest (less crowded) way is to walk directly across the platform and take the train to National Stadium (it’s on the Silom Line). This will take you in the opposite direction to where you’re supposed to be heading BUT it’s only 1 stop away and the train terminates there. Just change trains and you’ll be headed in the correct directions, without having to mess with the crowds at Siam Station (which is almost always crowded) plus most likely you’ll get a seat for this roughly 6 station ride. Up to you which way you wanna take, I can’t wholeheartedly tell you which way is better because the crowds can differ greatly at both stations depending on the day of the week and time of day.

Alight at Saphan Tak Sin and follow the signs that lead you to the Chaophraya express boats. At exit 2, the pier is about 2 minutes walk from the station. You can pretty much see it once you get out of the station at  exit 2.

Once you reach the signage below, you’ll have to make a choice.

Here’s the differences:

“Ferry Boat” costs $100 Baht per person and that’s where most people will go because they’re unfamiliar with the other two options. Like us, we just followed the crowd, lol. These boats are slimmer than the express boats, carry less people and seated space only (as opposed to the larger ferries that may have standing room and some are bicycle friendly). These ferries have life jackets for you to wear as well (I didn’t notice anyone on the other ferries wearing life jackets but that doesn’t mean they’re not available. I just couldn’t see any). Luckily for us, the crowd all got into the previous boat, leaving us with a boat almost entirely to ourselves!

“chaopraya express Boat” may cost as little as $15 Baht depending on what color flag the boat is flying. Not all boats operate on the same days or even time/frequency, which accounts for the differences in price.

” chaopraya express Tourist Boat” costs around $40 Baht but has an English speaker on board to talk about stuff as you pass them. Next time I’ll take my seasick meds and take this boat,  it sounds more interesting.

There are little kiosks with an attendant at which you’ll pay your fare, if not you’ll have to pay as you get on the boat (less ideal option but if you know roughly how much your ride should be, you’d be fine, I guess). Some boats have an all day pass too, if you’re planning on taking the ferry multiple times. There’s very little splash so you don’t have to worry about getting wet. If it’s raining however…I can’t say as I didn’t notice any rain covers (but that could just be me not paying attention).

The pier names are a bit weird, some have numbers, some don’t. Wat Arun pier is called just that, “Wat Arun Pier” (no number). Wat Pho’s pier is number N8 and named “Tha Tien Pier.” N stands for North. The numbered piers are the older ones and the newer ones are the ones without numbers.

For Wat Pho, alight at Tha Tien Pier (N8) and walk towards the end of the alley. Once you reach the end, turn left and keep walking until you reach Wat Pho. You can’t miss it.

If you don’t go into Wat Pho but keep walking instead, the street ends and you can turn left here. Head down this alley and you’ll get to the pier that’ll take you to Wat Arun for a fee of $4 Baht. It’s a short trip, almost exactly on the opposite side of the river from Wat Pho.

When you alight at Wat Arun Pier, you’re basically on the premises already. Find the ticket booth and pay the $50 Baht entrance fee.

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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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Wat Umong, an underground temple in the jungle

Main altar in the underground wat

Rounding out my top 5 wats to visit while in Chiang Mai, Thailand, is Wat Umong. Let me start off by saying this wat is the most unique experience I’ve had visiting wat’s in Chiang Mai and I really enjoyed it. This wat is underground within a jungle and has a $20 BHT entrance fee.

Entrance fee table.

When you get to the premises , you’ll be dropped off at a gravel/dirt parking area where there are a few buildings scattered around but they were all closed when I was there. I couldn’t tell what they were for either. Looking around you’ll easily find the sign pointing to the trail to Wat Umong. Along the way you’ll find , scattered here and there, insightful phrases on cards nailed to trees. Yah, I read every one I could find. Anyways, on the way to the wat, you’ll pass a meditation center / retreat of sorts but I didn’t go that way as it went a bit too far off the path to the wat. Continuing on you’ll find a few statues here and there and a library, yup, a library in the jungle. Oh, the walk to the wat is on a slight incline with stairs every now and then giving you access to the next plateau. Not too difficult a hike.

Wise trees

There’s three entry points into the underground temple, two in front and one in the back (that leads to the stupa). It’s not underground as in you have to go down some steps or anything it’s more like walking into cave built into the plateau but with tunnels that don’t open up to a spacious area, they just end with a display of religious artifacts . The tunnels are relatively short, straight and lit well enough to see where you’re going so it wasn’t scary at all but if you’re claustrophobic that may be a different story as the inner tunnels are smaller. I didn’t know until I got there and read some of the plaques that this wat was built somewhere between the 15 and 16th centuries. It does look and feel old but the electric lights inside the tunnels dull the “feel” of it, I think. Don’t worry about having to walk around without your shoes inside the temple as the floor is tiled and as clean as any other wat. You won’t spend much time inside the wat as there’s not much to see and if there’s a tour group, it’ll get cramped really fast.

While walking around outside the wat, I found a trail that lead to an outdoor, makeshift altar with a rather unique looking statue of Buddha, I’m guessing. The statue is black in color and looked weathered, frankly it made me uneasy looking at it. I’ve seen similar looking statues but this is the only one that made me uneasy. Although I was curious as to what the statue was made of, I had no inclination to go any closer to “exam” it. Then I came up to a cordoned off area with signs saying do not enter. It’s because you’d be walking on the roof of the underground temple. Walking the other way, I found the housing area of the monks. Yes I just strolled right through their housing, I didn’t feel right doing so, so I got out of there as quickly as I could and then found myself in an area I’d describe as a relic graveyard. It was a flat area of land with broken parts of statues arranged, for the most part, in rows. Pretty weird, right? It didn’t look as though I should wander through it, so I didn’t but as I walked back towards the entrance to the underground wat, there was a patch of the “graveyard” with paths between the relics so I wandered through there a bit.

 

The Chedi is quite large and in a bit of disrepair. It’s not bad, in my opinion, it’s just enough to keep the air of being centuries old. The vines growing and cracks on the chedi give it a jungle vibe and a stone petal or two from the lotus flower base lends to the age of the structure. Plus you can get right up to it and touch it!

Whilst exploring I found more stuff like vendors selling cold desserts and drinks, a path leading to more statues and a big pond. One of my favorite finds was the free literature kiosk with booklets about Buddhism, mediation and the like. The signage says free, donations appreciated. I found an interesting booklet amongst the many different ones made a donation and sat by the pond to read it. Turned out to be not so great an idea. As serene as the pond was, with the diy aerator and the water fowl or two, the flying insects and the not timid pigeons made the moment not fun, at all.

I took a songthaew (ride share, pick up truck taxi) to wat Umong from Tha Phae gate at a cost of $80 TBH and the driver asked if I needed him to wait (for an added cost). I declined his offer because I usually don’t know how long it’ll take me to finish looking around and plus I thought it wouldn’t be too hard to catch a ride back. Boy, was I wrong! Yeah, there aren’t any songthaews cruising around that area. There’s only a few outdoor kiosk restaurants , a coffee shop or two and a few local business and the rest is residential. There may be a tuk tuk or two in the parking lot though. When I arrived, there were 4 with the drivers napping at the wheel or back seat. When I was exiting the compound there was only one tuk tuk and the driver called out and I asked him the price to get back to my hotel and he said $120 TBH which was higher than the songthaew ride there so I declined thinking I could catch a songthaew. When I couldn’t, I went back and the driver jacks the price up…I give a smile and told him he told me $120 TBH 30 minutes ago and he starts his tuk tuk and waves me into the vehicle I restate the price and he says, “ok, ok.” Phew! Lol. In any event, this was before I learned there’s Grab Taxi in Chiang Mai and having used it extensively while I was there, I highly recommend installing the Grab app. It’s “saved” me on more than one occasion.

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Wat Chiang Mun, you had me at oldest…

Wat Chiang Mun Chiang Mai’s first and oldest temple

Wat Chiang Mun Is said to be not only the oldest temple in Chiang Mai but also the very first one! Construction was ordered by King Mang Rai in 1306 after making Chiang Mai his new capital city in 1296. WOW! They had me at “oldest!” I love looking at historic stuff, soaking up the ambiance, touching (if possible) a bit of history, yeah I’m weird that way. Just so you know, if you can’t find it on the map, it may be spelt Wat Chiang Man on your map. I “found” Wat Chiang Mun while doing my usual urban exploring, it was such a treat for me to read all the plaques and learning about this wat and its’ historical significance. YAY explorer me!

The main religious attractions of Wat Chiang Mun is the Buddha statue holding an alms bowl. This statue is reportedly the oldest statue in Thailand and is currently housed in the larger of the two viharns. I couldn’t tell which one of the four “standing buddha holding the alms bowl” statue it was and I couldn’t get close enough to check.  In the smaller viharn is the Crystal Buddha carved from a clear, quartz crystal and has a base and canopy made of gold. An estimated 6 kg of gold! You can catch a glimpse of the 1800 year old Crystal Buddha and a 2500 year old marble Buddha statue through the metal bars that is the vault’s door. Also in this viharn is the stone monument depicting Buddha taming an elephant that dates back to between the 8th and 10th centuries ( I guess scholars can’t decide when it was made).  I didn’t see this monument though and later learned that it’s not always on display (neither is the Crystal Buddha). They’re usually only on display during celebratory days or on an occasional Sunday. So I guess I really lucked out having found Wat Chiang Mun and being able to see the Crystal Buddha or maybe the info I got was outdated.

Vault housing the Crystal Buddha and the Marble Buddha

View of the Crystal Buddha

One of the four standing Buddha statues holding an alms bowl is Chiang Mai’s oldest statue

The structural attractions are the Elephant Chedi because the chedi looks like it was built on top of the elephants backs as opposed to just having an elephant statue or two sticking out of the chedi’s foundation. It’s noted on a plaque, that enshrined in the chedi is a Buddha Relic, in this case, a strand of Buddha’s hair. This is a first for me! I’ve been to several buddha tooth relic temples but never a hair one and since it’s enshrined in the circular, gold gilded chedi, I couldn’t see it. The other structure of note is the scripture library and the twist on this rare structure (when it comes to structures on wat premises) is that it’s built on brick stilts, in the middle of a pond! I sat at the entrance looking at the library wondering how the monks got in because there was no bridge and I didn’t see any other means of getting across. Must be some sort of high level ninja skills…just kidding, there seems to be a retractable plank under the library that can be pulled out (if you have a really long pole with a hook on the end), you can see it in one of the images below. Moving on now to the ubosot (ordination hall) which is, as customary, off limits to the public.  On the front porch is the monument with the inscription detailing the exact date and time of the founding of Chiang Mai as well as the premises being the location of the King’s residence at that time. It’s the dark gray thing in the photo below just behind the white fence.

Stone elephant foundation for this gold gilded chedi

Ubusot at Wat Chiang Mun

I would rank this wat as fourth on my list of must see wat’s in Chiang Mai. It’s probably about a 15 minute walk from the Tha Phae Gate heading north.  As with most temples in Chiang Mai, there isn’t an entrance fee but unique to Wat Chiang Mun (to the best of my knowledge) are the few but highly noticeable donation boxes which are actually safes. Their hours of operation are 8 am to 5 pm and is definitely worth planning a trip to and since the premises is small, an hour should be enough time to see everything and get some nice photos, I took 2 hours but you know I linger and the timestamp of my last shot was at 6:28, time really flies when you’re having fun and no one to rush you out.

Donation box at Wat Chiang Mun

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