I looked up the definition upon returning to the hotel. Memory: the process of encoding, storing and retrieving information from the outside world that reaches our senses in the forms of chemical and physical stimuli. Earlier that day, I had casually glanced into the entrance of the Western Viharn at Wat Pho, one of the more famous temples in Bangkok. When I caught a glimpse of vermillion rugs leading to a golden Buddha sitting atop his massive throne I jerked to a stop. I stood rooted to the spot as a memory came welling up from the depths of my psyche.
Eight years earlier, during my very first visit to Bangkok, I had visited Wat Pho in the late afternoon, just before closing, when most of the tourists had gone for the day. The temple complex was seedier in those days. The ceramic-faced chedis that dot the grounds were chipped and stained with black mold and the golden gables of the temple buildings had long since faded, yet the place oozed spirituality. After viewing the famous Reclining Buddha I was preparing to leave when I heard chanting in the distance. Curious, I retraced my steps across the deserted grounds to the source of the guttural, reverberating sounds: the Western Viharn.
Trying to be as unobtrusive as possible, I removed my shoes and sat cross-legged against the rear wall of the assembly hall. Several dozen young monks draped in day-glo orange robes sat atop a platform covered by a ratty red carpet that had frayed and curled at the edges. Burnished gold light reflected by the immense golden throne Continue reading
According to the Office of National Buddhism there are 40,717 Wats (Buddhist temples) in Thailand of which 33,902 are in current use. Almost every one of them includes a Chedi (also known as a Stupa or pagoda), a building that in most cases is said to hold a relic of the Buddha. I had often fleetingly wondered about this claim; surely Buddha’s cremated remains could not possibly have produced enough material to fill all the Wats in all the Buddhist countries around the world, but as a practicing Buddhist I didn’t question the claim.
A few weeks ago, I found myself in Bangkok once again. Seeking something new to do in one of my favorite cities, I jumped at a suggestion of my friend, Larry Bosco, to visit Wat Prayurawongsawas, commonly known as Wat Prayoon, in an off-the-beaten-track location on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. The draw was not the Wat itself so much as a man-made mountain, situated in the middle of a pond at the front of the monastery, the design of which was inspired by a mound of melted candle wax that caught the eye of King Rama III. The mountain is surrounded by small pavilions that hold Buddha-images, dotted with caves and niches, and surmounted by a bronze pagoda, but most come to see the turtles that devout Buddhists release into the pond as an act of merit. Unfortunately, when we arrived Turtle Mountain was undergoing renovations and was closed to the public. The best we could do was peek between the iron bars of its enclosing fence.
Instead, I turned my attention to the numerous other buildings on site and discovered that a mountain modeled after melted wax was not the only unique aspect of this Wat. A long lane leading to the inner courtyard was bordered by a red iron fence constructed in the shape of ancient lances, swords and axes. Local legend says the fence was constructed with Continue reading
There’s a kitschy movie playing in the lobby of Lub-d Silom Hostel, George of the Jungle. The antics of the apes and toucan are making me laugh, but also reminding me that a week ago I was happily perched in my own private jungle tree house. Unlike George, I wasn’t in the deepest, darkest heart of Africa; I was on the little-known island of Phra Pradaeng in the heart of Bangkok, Thailand. Across the Chao Phraya River loomed skyscrapers and industrial facilities, but the view from my “nest” – the delightful name for the elevated glass cubicles that serve as rooms at Bangkok Tree House – was of dense mangrove forest where turtles sunned on the banks of canals. Bangkok may have been right across the river, but the hustle and bustle of the city felt a world away.
Bangkok Tree House is the inspiration of Joey Tulyanond, Owner & CGO (Chief Greening Officer) of the unique six-month old guest house. His quest began in 2006 when he read Best Urban Oasis, an article in Time Magazine authored by Andrew Marshall, who thrust a little-known jungle oasis located smack dab in the middle of Bangkok into the limelight. Remarkably, few residents of Bangkok were even aware of the existence of this pristine bit of land. Located in a giant loop of the Chao Phraya River, the only way to visit the island is to make a roundabout drive to one inconveniently located bridge or take a no-frills ferry that makes the crossing every 20 minutes. The inconvenient access had one giant benefit; the land never caught the eye of developers. Today it is criss-crossed by miles of elevated paths that run along mangrove-studded canals shaded by banana trees, where turtles bask in the sun and lizards scurry softly through the underbrush. Continue reading