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Seeking ‘Buddhahood’ in Bangkok

Bangkok they say is a dazzling multipurpose destination. From being a favourite retreat for the United Nations agencies to a popular venue for promotional and incentive driven corporate meets, to family vacations and now pre-nuptial do’s, it is also a haven for Buddha devotees.

travel Updated: Feb 07, 2013 16:15 IST
Taru Bahl
Taru Bahl

Bangkok they say is a dazzling multipurpose destination. From being a favourite retreat for the United Nations agencies to a popular venue for promotional and incentive driven corporate meets, to family vacations and now pre-nuptial do’s, it is also a haven for Buddha devotees.

Two days in Bangkok and you actually pack in a trip to Wat Pho, the Temple of the magnificent 46 metre-long and 15-feet high Reclining Buddha, the Emerald Buddha temple, a few night bazaars, a ‘junta’ and a luxury mall and an intimate meal at the Jim Thompson House. Oh yes! You also live your oft repeated dream of being a ‘massage junkie’.

You manage all this and more, only because you are very centrally located, bang in the heart of town. To be precise, in the Siam business and shopping district, right behind the National Stadium Sky Train Station stop at the newly opened Holiday Inn Express budget hotel.

For you, Bangkok has been a transit destination, zipping through en route to Singapore, China or Indonesia. Effectively this meant, you could take in just one odd aspect of this multicultural, vivid and eclectic destination which on one hand is most tourist friendly and on the other touted as the ‘most dangerous destination’ too (as per a recent Yahoo poll), where it rubbed shoulders with countries like Palestine, Afghanistan and Somalia.

Day 1
We get in, dump our bags and head out to the nearest malls. Lunch is at a food court –a fusion meal of Indian pav bhaji and chicken curry. Three hours fly past and laden with shopping bags you troop back to the hotel which is within walking distance. Flanked by two squeaky clean authentic massage parlours, you decide to make a beeline for one of them. Foot massage done, you are ready to take on the evening. Dinner is at the Jim Thompson house, also within walking distance. If we today recognise the Thai silk tie and scarf from a distance, credit goes to this American, who worked tirelessly to revive a flagging industry in the mid 1990’s and then one day, just disappeared. The house as it stands today boasts of a quaint museum, a retail outlet and a restaurant. The House is eclectic and not surprisingly so, given the fact that Thompson was part architect, army man, antique collector and silk merchant who built the house by dismantling and reassembling as many as six Thai dwellings. The store had some lovely printed linen, ready-to-wear garments and ties/stoles. Slightly reminiscent of our own Anokhi and Cottage Industries, one still picks up a plain silken stole for Rs. 2500. At the restaurant, delicate Thai dancer moves her limbs ever so gracefully, succeeding in getting our complete attention and also in the mood for a long and unhurried six course meal that ends with local litchis. The crab cakes with mango sauce are highly recommended and for dessert you could also try their diced mango on a bed of sticky rice.

Day 2
Wanting to pack in a punch, you are all set to take in the sight of the grand Buddha in repose. As you enter Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, you find dozens of Buddhas in all shapes and sizes springing up ever so gently from different nooks and crannies of a well manicured garden area that tempts you to take a walk and lose yourself. Entering the hall where the world’s largest reclining Buddha resides, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Taking in the sheer size of the Buddha should be intimidating. But it is not. It just holds you transfixed. The golden sheath is not blinding. Rather it’s soft glow just bathes over your inner senses, lighting up your closed pores, and getting you all attentive and even meditative. You stand and simply stare. The eyes, embedded with mother of pearl, wear a benign expression and the face itself looks beautiful in repose. The entire body length and feet are in perfect proportion and as you move back and forth many times over, you wonder how many hands shaped this Buddha and how did they succeed in having a near ‘jointless’ form with a kind of mastery that comes not just with ace craftsmanship but with unflinching love and devotion. Resident monks go about their daily chores without in any way coming in conflict with the thousands of tourists who mill around. Skin show of any kind is barred here and viewed as a sign of disrespect to the faith. So no, shorts, capris and sleeveless tops.

From here you go to the Emerald Buddha temple which though houses the 66 cm or 26 inch long Buddha. Carved from a single slab of emerald stone, it sits in a deep meditative posture. Visiting this temple is considered to be auspicious and is therefore the most sacred Buddhist temple in the country. Interestingly, its history is traced to India, five centuries after Lord Buddha attained nirvana. It was only in 1782 that it was enshrined in Bangkok at the Wat Phra Kaew temple during Rama I’s's reign.

Temples done (you do only the two most significant ones out of about two dozen that the capital city of Thailand boasts of), you do another round of the malls and massages and then head out for the night market. The air is nice and balmy and very unlike the humid and sticky weather that you were expecting. A brief halt to the infamous Patpong Night Market gives you a different feel of Bangkok. Not a very buzzing and touristy evening, you decide to move to one of the other night markets, the Suan Lum Night Bazaar which has just reopened after renovations. A tempting beer garden right in the middle has much of the action while the stalls around it may have some nice bargains. Laid out in a neat manner it combines a flea market and a designer boutique look with niche stalls selling bric-a-brac and other handicrafts. Taking a walk on the beach front is charming and you don’t really want to leave, till it is clear that the shutters are going to go down and the place deserted.

Well at the end of day 2 you are happy you have soaked in Bangkok’s prime sights. Sure, the floating market and the tiger temple are still on your to-do list but you know, something will bring you back soon. And if you could manage to pack in a punch in your two day sojourn, it had to be because location was king and by choosing to stay at the International Hilton Hotel’s latest budget hotel you had made a ‘smart’ decision, pretty much in line with their branding. The best thing about the hotel, apart from its ‘we don’t charge you for the frills because we give you the option of using and paying for some of our services’ was that by paying 100 baht you could use their laundry area to wash all your dirty linen and go back home with cleaner and lighter bags.

The Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG), Asia, Middle East, caters to the concept of ‘express travel’ and will have as many as 47 mid-scale budget hotels in India by 2016 and 150 by 2020, including the first one in Ahmedabad by end 2012.

Taru works in the development sector on communications and is gradually succumbing to wanderlust as she finds the light-footed traveller in her

First Published: Jul 31, 2012 16:38 IST