Thailand has exploded onto the world tourist stage in the last 20 years and it's easy to see why. Superb natural scenery from the mountains of the north to the beaches of the south, marvelous temples and ancient ruins, a fabulous piquant cuisine and a relaxed and friendly people make Thailand the ideal Asia destination for visitors of all ages. However, for most visitors, the most enchanting sight is that of the Thai temple.
Bangkok is home to over 400 temples from the ancient to the modern. These fantastic creations with their multilayered roofs and kaleidoscopic colors amaze and delight all visitors. Somerset Maugham said they were examples of the 'the playful boldness of man'. One of Bangkok's most interesting temples is Wat Po, known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.
Wat Po is on most tourist itineraries owing to its massive reclining Buddha. But a wander through the rest of the temple is extremely rewarding.
Wat Po in fact served as Bangkok's first university. In the 19th century, King Rama 3 enlarged the temple compound and added stone tablets illustrating Thai traditional medicine. He also created the hermit's garden which is populated with statues of hermits in various contortions which are based on yoga. At the end of the temple compound are the massage pavilions which offer traditional Thai massages and also courses teaching massage.
The northern capital of Chiang Mai, though a fraction of the size of Bangkok, has almost as many temples. Most are northern style structures showing a strong Burmese influence. Stone lions stand guard at the gate and writhing nagas or celestial serpents form the balustrades to stairways.
Chiangmai's most eminent temple is considered to be Wat Phra Singh which stands in the old walled city. A temple was first built on this site in 1345 and the original stupa or pagoda still stands.
The viharn or assembly hall houses the Phra Singh image and is notable for its mural paintings depicting traditional life in northern Thailand in the 19th century.
On the southern island of Phuket in the Andaman Sea stands the temple of Wat Chalong, a place of much history and legend. Known officially as Wat Chaitararam, the temple is located in the Chalong district in the north of Phuket.
The main pagoda at Wat Chalong contains a splinter of bone that is said to have come from the Buddha. The chedi is adorned with murals and Buddha images.
Wat Chalong played a dramatic role in the 19th century when Chinese laborers rioted over being denied opium. The abbot of the temple, Luang Poh Cham, rallied the locals to stand and fight the rioting Chinese and eventually save the day.
These are just three of the thousands of fascinating Buddhist temples that grace Thailand. A visit to any temple is not only a feast for the eyes but also the heart and soul.
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