It occurred to me after my last post, or should I say my first post, that I didn’t explain why Bill and I are even in Thailand. Some of you who I don’t see on a regular basis assumed that we were visiting Annie, who has lived here off and on for a couple of years. In fact, we believe that she is innately part Thai as she can speak, write, and read the language (not an easy accomplishment), and she eats very spicy chili paste as if it were peanut butter! Actually, however, she is back in Chapel Hill studying for a PhD in Anthropology to complement her Master’s in Public Health. Yep, we finally get her back in the states, and Bill decides to apply for and receive a Fulbright Global Scholar Award, for which he will be teaching and lecturing at various universities and organizations throughout Thailand and beyond. This link will take you to a very nice article about his distinguished award: https://factor.niehs.nih.gov/2018/12/awards-recognition/Fulbright/index.htm. So, that’s why we are residing in Bangkok for the next 6 months (in 2 rooms😉).
So far, when Bill is not at the Research Institute, we’ve been taking in the food scene (literally) and enjoying the Thai culture (massages, markets, and maniacal tuk-tuk rides)! Because Bill has been coming to this area for several years, we are also trying to explore places he has never been. The other day, I pulled up Google Maps to find out if there were any wats (or temples) nearby. I giggled when Google changed ‘wats nearby’ to ‘what’s nearby’! Wat Saket is a mere 3 miles away, settling the discussion of within which wat we would wander (whew!). I had been there once with Annie about 5 years ago, but had not climbed to the top, and it would be, surprisingly, a first visit for Bill.
We hopped on the Skytrain to take us halfway there and then negotiated a ride with a tuk-tuk driver for the last mile or so. First, I pulled up the name and location of the wat on my new Thai phone. It’s pretty handy when giving directions to drivers because it has the information in both English and Thai, and often includes photos of our destination. The driver smiled and nodded, and we were off. Well, we really were “off.” The driver clearly had another wat in mind (there are over 400 wats in Bangkok!). When he finally stopped, I showed him my phone again, and he seriously looked embarrassed! And, when we did arrive at Wat Saket, he tried to refuse payment because he had gone to the wrong place. We thought it was a fun ride, however, and worth every Baht, proving once again that it’s not always the destination…
Upon arrival, we walked past the Wat Saket School (a lot of schools in Bangkok are on temple land) and various other buildings surrounding the temple itself. Wat Saket is also known as The Temple of the Golden Mount and is one of Bangkok’s oldest temples. It was originally a crematorium, and holds the ashes of 60,000 victims of cholera. The chedi (a Buddhist structure that houses sacred relics) sits on top of a 78-meter tall hill. To reach the chedi, we began climbing the 344 steps, all the while listening to a recording of a chanting monk.
The steps are nice and wide and there are bells (great big ones and little ones) to ring for good luck along the way, so it’s easy to forget that you’re climbing. Back in the 60s, when my aunt was stationed in Bangkok with the U.S. Embassy (yes, our Thai ties go way back!), this Mount was the highest point in the city. With the sky-scraping office buildings and high-rise hotels, that is hardly the case now, but it still provides a wonderful vista of Bangkok.
Before reaching the chedi, there is a large room with various Buddha statues, as well as an area dedicated to fortune telling. Lots of worshippers were praying to the Buddha and presenting gifts of merit. Naturally, Bill knelt down to shake a fortune-telling stick out of a box (see the two hexagonal metal boxes in the pic below). The stick had a number on it that corresponded to a written fortune. Bill’s fortune was quite auspicious, so I tried it as well. If new love is what I am after, then my fortune was pretty good, too! Otherwise, not so much.
We then ascended a few more stairs to reach the base of the chedi. Several devotees were walking around the chedi three times as is the normal Buddhist practice. Others were writing prayers and sayings on small bells (yes, Bill did that, too), for a small donation. And, because we were there on a windy day, it was rather calmingly noisy with all the bells ringing!
Pretty cool to look out over the city and listen to the chimes and gongs – there were two of those, too! All in all, a different kind of religious experience with new sights and sounds! I’m thinking we may return at some point because it was pretty special and off the beaten track from the more popular temples that we have visited on past trips. I’d also like to try again with the fortune-telling sticks😉.
Needless to say, we had a wonderful time at the Wat! Until next time…