Friday, January 8, 2010

Phuket Temples

What’s a Wat?

A wat is a Buddhist temple or monastery and, in general, is more like a compound than a western equivalent of a church. Many times, a wat will have a temple, school, chedi, bot, and a mondop. A chedi is the conical or bell-shaped tower often with relics of Buddha. The holiest prayer room, or bot, is often where monks take their vows. A mondop is usually a square building with a pyramidal roof, and is used to worship religious texts or objects.

Wat Chalong, Phuket Thailand

We visited Wat Chalong on our first day in Thailand. We were still trying to reconcile our expectations with reality – right off the tour bus we experienced one of these contrasts. Here was this beautiful wat, with traditional Thai architecture built some where in the first half of the 1800’s (the date is debated), when suddenly very loud firecrackers startled us. People were igniting strings of Chinese firecrackers hanging near the wat’s sermon hall. Our tour guide said they do this to give thanks for prayers that have been answered. It was quite loud and a steady stream of firecrackers continued to sound off while we were there. This practice is apparently unique to Wat Chalong.

Buddha details

Mudras - are the hand positions of the Buddha statues. The mudras represent Buddha's teachings or incidents in his life and were created by his disciples who used them to enhance their meditation. There are over 100 different mudras - seen in the photos are 3 of the most common. Meditation - the center Buddha seated in the lotus positions has his hands in his lap with the palms facing upwards, this hand position represents a disciplined mind. Absence of Fear - the Buddha with the arm bent and palm facing out with fingers pointing up represents Buddha’s absence of fear or encouraging courageousness in his followers. Subduing Mara – Mara is a demon who tempted Buddha with visions of beautiful women, the marble Buddha is sitting with his right hand on his right thigh with his left hand palm upward in his lap signifying his renouncement of such worldly desires.

Laksanas - these are the sacred marks that a Buddha's body must display. They usually have slender toes and fingers, a full lion-like chest, long eyelashes and elongated earlobes that is a reminder of the Buddha's original life as a prince, when he wore heavy earrings.

Monkey Temple

At the end of our second day in Phuket we stopped at the Monkey Temple – a frequent stop for those returning from James Bond Island. Somewhere between 50 to 100 monkeys were roaming around outside the temple. They were cute and one could buy bananas to feed the monkeys. Not being terribly fond of monkeys, I was glad for my zoom lens and kept my distance.

The temple itself is a cave with a large reclining Buddha; worshipers believe that a reclining Buddha symbolizes him dying and reaching nirvana simultaneously. The temple is a holy place and a Buddhist monk was there – sitting so still and quietly that at first I didn’t realize he was real. But this was my second Thai Buddhist temple in two days, and I was still struck by how different it is from western churches – you could buy a prayer from a carnival-like vending machine with flashing lights around it. Cats were roaming all around, and bats were hanging from the ceiling – giving the cave a distinct aroma.

The Monkey Temple was the end of our touring in Phuket as a few members of our family came down with Thai Tummy that night, and we ended up staying pretty close to the hotel room for the remainder of our visit in Phuket.

Hey daddy-daddy …

Some of the things that will stay with me from our visit have nothing to do with any “must see” tourist spots. Motor scooters are apparently the equivalent of a family car in Thailand, with the car taxes there making it difficult for most to own cars. Jeff and I were appalled to see moms hanging on the backs of the scooters holding infants in the free arm – no helmets of course (not sure if you can see it, but there a tiny hand peeping out between the two adults that is holding onto the dads shirt - the scooter is holding a family of four). Or the pickups that act as pseudo-buses – I would count the number of people standing in the bed of the truck as they passed us, the most I got to was 15. Thailand is the second largest market for pickups in the world after the U.S.

And the dogs, there were stray dogs everywhere - in Phuket, in Bangkok, in Kanchanburi. Lying in the street, lying on tables, sidewalks and they were pitiful to look at. There are efforts in Thailand to reduce the number of stray dogs and feral cats – for more information you can go to

But we will have funny stories too – our kids could not wait to get back to the hotel and tell me about how Jeff got propositioned with the kids in tow walking down the streets of Patong, by a “scantily clad woman” hanging outside of a bar. “Hey, daddy-daddy you get rid of kids, come back see me later.” Mmmmm – well this was supposed to be an educational vacation afterall, just not sure we were planning on explaining that one to our 11-year-old daughter quite yet! Or, the beach that Jeff took two of the three recovering victims to for a last ditch effort to go snorkeling – only to discover that this particular beach was “european style” – we were already trying to wrap our heads around the very senior men who walked the streets and rode the scooters in nothing but their Speedos (eeeeeeeeeuuuuuuuwwwwww), not sure we needed that visual too!

There are a few more entries to wrap up our trip to Thailand. Check back in to hear about our visit to the Grand Palace and Emerald Buddha in Bangkok, our excursion trip to the Death Railway and our last day when we visited the Chatuchak weekend market, with over 15,000 vendors.

Till next time, sayonara.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts