Wanderings and History

Last week, a friend from the U.K. visited me and my friends here at Bangkok. It gave me the opportunity to explore areas within and outwith Bangkok that I had not managed in the past 3 months. I made some photographs during these visits. Unfortunately, I do not have my DSLR with me, so I had to resort to the mobile phone camera, which worked surprisingly well in many cases.

Wat Pho:

It is famously called the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. More historical facts can be found here and here. [Yes, that is a Wikipedia link. I assure you, the researcher in me is rather disturbed by it, but sometimes Wikipedia is surprisingly very useful]

Wat Pho #1, Bangkok

The architecture was magnificent and intricate. What fascinated me about this temple and the surrounding monasteries were the opulence that was almost an analogy to the larger-than-life structures. As a tourist, I was struck by the simultaneity of tourist indulgence and active use of these temples as sacred spaces for Buddhists. I suppose that is representative of Bangkok itself – with a large expat community, language and food are so indigenous that it is a juxtaposition of an interesting and intriguing contradiction. There was also a part of me (that part connected to doing historical/postcolonial research) that felt as if I am intruding a sacred space of the natives by being there (I will explain this in a moment), making photographs, etc. For instance, in one of the monasteries/temples, there was an evening session of Buddhist monks chanting sacred texts in front of the Buddha’s idol. The other half of the hall was occupied by (mostly) tourists who were taking photographs of the monks chanting. It felt oddly intrusive to me.

Wat Pho #2, Bangkok

The hall with the Reclining Buddha was under renovation. But the visitors were allowed in. In addition to the magnificent statue of the Buddha, the entire hall was covered with murals that were depicting mythological stories.

Wat Pho #3 (mural), Bangkok

We then went to the historical city of Ayutthaya, which is now a Unesco World Heritage Centre. More on the city here. The best way to get to Ayutthaya is to take a train from Bangkok, which takes about 2 hours to reach. Then, there are numerous shops to hire bicycles. These shops also provide maps of the city, and then, one can go around on their own.

Here again, what struck me was the larger-than-life structures, both of the temples and the Buddha idols.


Ayutthaya ruins #1

Most of the temples dotted around the city are in complete ruins – as in, literally they are held together using scaffolding. There was something really surreal and earthy to walk through these ruins, looking at how large these temples were. One of my favourite “exercise” is to imagine people, from centuries ago when the temples were built, walking around these temples. And wondering whether they would have ever imagined how things would look like hundreds of years later. Perhaps not. But this exercise helps me experience these kinds of historical spaces as embodied ones that were part of human history, rather than disembodied, disconnected historical objects.

Ayutthaya ruins #2

Yet, amidst all these ruins were the signs of civilisation, which was very interesting to see being juxtaposed that way.

Ayutthaya ruins and a cellphone tower #3

The one thing that perhaps struck to me as the most interesting aspect of these ruins was this. Both at Wat Pho (which is in Bangkok city) and at Ayutthaya, there were series of the idols of the Buddha lined up along the inner walls of the temples. Both places have a long history. Yet, the opulence of the former and the bareness of the latter was rather striking, which I tried to capture in the following images:

The Buddhas, Wat Pho
The Buddhas, Ayutthaya

I hope to be able to return to Ayutthaya with a good camera and more photos.