Temple respects and gallery tours

by Bea Toews

Over the past week I’ve revisited places I’ve enjoyed in Bangkok. One lovely day – temperature in the low 30’s with a breeze and light cloud cover – a friend and I visited six different Wat’s. That same week I visited two favourite art exhibitions and one new exhibition. In returns of time, energy and money, the galleries were more rewarding to me.

There is a Thai belief that it’s good fortune to visit and pay respect in nine different temples in one day. We planned to do that, starting at Wat Phra Kaeow and ending at the temple on the golden mount. There are over 70,000 Thai Wat’s – more than banks which is some consolation to me – so finding nine near the most important Wat in Thailand was not hard.

With traffic being what it is, and crowds being what they are, we managed only six – three near Sanam Luang and three near Hua Lamphong. Wat Phra Keaow was swarmed with tourists and costs a foreigner 500B to enter. No time to contemplate the stunning art work or carving. Shepherded through for money. Wat Pho was 200B and nearly as full and uninspiring, though I always love the Buddha’s feet and the mediation walk dropping coins in bowls. Wat Arun was under construction again/still and as we couldn’t climb it, we didn’t go in. It would have been another cost in Baht. The ceramic insets are intricate and artistic but I’ve seen them before and didn’t feel the need to go in, though my friend paid respect at a smaller shrine there. On to the river ferry to Saphan Taksin, BTS to Sala Daeng and MRT to Hua Lamphong.

The new metro lines were open so we went to the end of the line and returned to Mongorn Station and walked 200 metres to Wat Mongorn. Very red, very Chinese and free to enter. Wonderful roof line. Back to the MRT to Hua Lamphong and a short hike to Wat Traimit of the famous golden Buddha. 50B, a steep climb and a museum to which entry was 200B. No thanks as I know the story of the hiding and discovery of the Buddha image. Back to the MRT to Sam Yan and again, 40B to enter the Wat Hua Lamphong Wat. No too many tourists as they are all busy feeding the cows there. And then I went home. I’m not Buddhist but my friend is. So she paid respects and I paid money to enter. 

Compare this to the art forays. To BACC which houses at least three exhibitions at any time. It’s free to enter. I saw a world class print exhibition and something called Brutal Art. The latter is interesting and not to my taste. Another day spent at MOCA which though difficult to reach is spacious and cool and has a coffee shop and an eclectic selection of art when you get there. And the price of entry is the same for all nationalities. I am not too keen on the surrealists but the rest of the collection is food for thought.

And finally, the Bangkok Sculpture Centre. Again, a long hike but worth it. A private historical collection. It’s a walk though the evolution of Thai sculpture. The classics are there but so are the moderns and it’s free and empty except for a hushed group of students.

I’m not for a minute suggesting that the average tourist would or should visit so many Wat’s in a day: or try to visit three galleries. What I am suggesting is that for peace, cool, quiet and calm, an art gallery might sometimes be a better bet than a Wat. 

Happy travels – whichever you choose. 

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