Bangkok? Wat Pho?

Wat Pho, the temple of the Reclining Buddha, lies just south of the Grand Palace in Bangkok. The enormous gold leaf-covered figure of the reclining Buddha is inside a long and narrow temple which barely gives you a good view of the statue. The best I could do was to take a photo of a small statue of the reclining Buddha placed in front of the main statue. This is what you see in the featured photo. I hope it gives you a sense of the iconography, as well as the scale.

Painting inside Wat Pho Painting in Wat Pho Painting in Wat Pho

The pavilion itself is breathtakingly beautiful. Far away, above the foot of the Buddha, I saw the paintings whose photos you can see in the panel above. They are immensely decorative, but the birds are very realistic. My limited experience with Thai paintings is that this is typical.Screen in the pavilion of the sleeping buddha in Wat Pho, Bangkok There is no attempt at a realistic totality. Each element is completely realistic, but the sizes and their positioning are determined only by the aesthetics of the painting. The screen that you see in the photograph on the right is another example. The birds and the butterflies are each done with attention to detail, and rendered realistically. However, they are elements in a pattern, so their sizes bear no relation to the real sizes of the models. The result is that your eyes are overwhelmed with the decorativeness of the pavilion as you walk through it.

Statue of a tiger in the garden of Wat Pho in Bangkok

The temple complex was not large, but there were statues everywhere. The central courtyard had a fountain surrounded by human statues. This area was very crowded with tourists. After a futile attempt to take photos of the fountain with no tourists in the frame, The Family wanted to move deeper into complex. We found a quieter spot inside with a little garden with a stone tiger, whose photo you see above.

The golden spire of Wat Pho imaged by a light bulb

It was a clear and very hot day. I sat down in the shade of a verandah, and drank a lot of water. Wat Pho is not just another temple. Apparently the monks who lived here developed a system of healing and medicine which included the art of massage which the rest of the world now associates with Thailand. I’d been looking forward to a massage here. The garden I was looking at while I rested in the shade probably contained some of the herbs used in the Wat Pho style of massage. But it was too hot; I was wilting, and a massage no longer seemed like such a great idea.

There were lightbulbs being strung up along the garden. The evening would have the full moon of November, the supermoon. It was the festival of Loy Krathong. Perhaps the lights were for that. The lightbulbs acted as lenses, and I could get a distorted picture of the golden spire of Wat Pho through it. That’s the picture you see above.


July’s full moon was supposed to be a supermoon: the moon was almost the closest that it gets to earth. As a result it was 30 percent more luminous than a typical full moon. An outer pagoda in the Shwe Dagon complex at nightIn Thailand this full moon marks the festival called Loy Krathong, when people float decorated baskets on a river. I was in Bangkok that night, but missed out on what must have been a beautiful sight. The previous night we stood near the Shwe Dagon pagoda in Yangon and watched the bright and nearly full moon asserting itself against the bright gold of the stupa. Already it was brighter than a normal full moon.

The night after Loy Krathong I was on a flight back home. A couple of hours into the flight, cabin lights were dimmed and I looked out to see the bright moon paint the horizon a deep blue. The flight was empty, so I moved to a seat over a wing. The light was brighter than a normal full moon. Around local midnight I could take the featured photo without a tripod to steady the camera. I can see that the wing has come out sharp, but the engine is a little blurred from the vibration of the jet. But the spectacular bit is the sky: blue at the horizon at midnight!

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