Being Thai in Architecture and Crafts

roof tiles Wat-Benchamabophit-Dusitvanaramor-Marbele-Temple-Dusit

 

Back at home, before moving to Thailand, we  try to read all we could and all we had at hand to knowing at least a little bit, about what are the most recognizable expressions of Thai culture, which are the elements that  we could identify as being Thai.

In this section we will try to present you simple elements that  we see everyday so, very soon,  we incorporate them in our “daily- land scape” , without realizing their relevance in Thai history and traditions. The most visible examples of this  are Thai architecture and crafts, which are amazing at first sight, but with extraordinarily deep symbolism, if we are able to understand their message and meaning. The meaning of being Thai…

Based on own experience of years living in Thailand, and after doing some research, we hope this section would be  helpful for your “landing” and further understanding, sometimes so useful when buying souvenirs, walking into a temple or simply, along Thai streets. Additionally, we suggest where to gather further information. In this way, we are introducing you to Thailand, so you will make your own informed decisions.

Being Thai

One of the best things that living in Pattaya offers, is the huge advantage of its location, just less than two hours driving from Bangkok, which means short escapades that never will be a disappointment. You will not need a long time to discover that  Bangkok is a extremely charming, alluring city and one which  has always something new to show and offer.

Although no one  would   say that is one of the best planned city in terms of urbanisation , a fact that  comes very clear  through its horrific traffic, nobody will deny either  that it is  one of the more surprising and  everyday – changing place of the planet.

The first impression that you get, on your very first visit, still on the car heading  to your hotel, it  is of a  typical  modern and cosmopolitan Southeast Asian city that offers to the visitor an extraordinary  arrangement of hotels, huge- tempting shopping malls, office blocks, apartment buildings, all air-conditioned, all in modern, western  style.

The bustle and energy are certainly in those areas, but we can’t help asking ourselves whether this is the actual  face of Thai culture and, if  it is so,  where  are those brilliantly- decorated tiled roofs temples, that we had been told of and that we have seen during our research, or, as a second  and panicking thought , if they were reduced to glass and steel.

We would like to share with you a few, and this is only a few, images of  the cosmopolitan, glamorous  side of Bangkok…

 

Downtown buildings in Bangkok city Thailand

Bangkok , city that grows reflecting itself on its own buildings. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

CAT building in bangkok reflecting the city itself artistic picture

Bangkok, a city that reflects itself on its own buildings. In this case, the façade of the Communications Authority of Thailand main building as it is seen from the Chao Phraya River. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

Going into Bangkok’s shopping malls could be a remarkable experience. You need to be prepared to find an extraordinary number of shopping malls separated by only a hundred meters, and in some cases, much less; but it is not only the number, it is the architectural design, the sizes, and the fact that you will find nearly all if not all the world’s luxurious brands and life style, at least in some of them. Simply stunning.

Please, have a  look to the few pictures that we had prepared for you , and … Happy Shopping 

 

Bangkok shopping inside of terminal 21 one of the cities most popular downtown shopping malls

Metal , glass natural light, play an essential role in Bangkok’s shopping malls’ design. Very inviting. Terminal 21 Shopping Mall. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda.

People in terminal 21 walking around and shopping

Bangkok’s shopping malls are spaces for doing shopping, for encounters and for families to spent a whole day. Opportunities for all. Terminal 21 Shopping Mall. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

architecture inside terminal 21 bangkok

Glass, stainless steel, natural and artificial lights play a game that respond to a main design, to a integral concept. Impressive. Central Embassy Shopping Mall, Sukhumvit Rd. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

high end shopping in bangkok inside Central Embassy Sukhumvit

Bangkok’s Shopping Malls are not only expressions of a modern Thai architecture, but are spaces, for luxury shopping, some of them, at least. There are plenty options, in this case, as it couldn’t be in other way, we stopped in front of this window…a dream for Bangkok’s women.Central Embassy Sukhumvit Road. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

But then, taking a closer look at the passing city-scape, when the traffic stops, what happens very often, we can see, to our surprise and delight  some of the images engraved in our memory from our research at home:  between the modern buildings  occasional glimpses of something different, a flash of sunlight on a golden, delicate spire in the grounds of a temple, a strange but elegant-bright colored and tilled roof, or a narrow lane lined with food vendors. So, with such relief and delight , we start to realise that there are more than one Bangkok, or putting it  in a different way,  Bangkok has more than one side.

We have chosen some pictures that will, hopefully, show you  what we mean…

 

Thai traditional architecture in Bangkok

At the turning of any corner, you could find yourself looking astonished at the view of stylized spires of a monastery, in this image, Wat Pho. Daily ,modern life , old religious traditions living together. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

wat (temple) in front of modern building downtown bangkok

Amazing mix. Thai tradition architecture facing the Chao Phraya River, but on its back, modernism and future. A classical-style pavilion in from of Siriraj Bimusksthan Museum housing the statue of Rama V and one of his sons, Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, who were named The Father of Modern Medicine and Public Health after his devotion to develop modern medical and nursing education in Thailand and who were the late KIng Bhumibol Adulyadej. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Temple in the distance together with coca cola building banner in bangkok downtown

Beautiful , stylized golden spires of Yawanan temple ‘s roof, a white pagoda, and next to it, an unmistakable soft beverage advertisement , which nobody needs to name it, with the image is enough. Bangkok, an incredible blend that keeps surprising. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

After a while, paying more attention, we will see many more narrow lanes with small but repetitive examples of  village -like life. Rural traditions very well alive, in Bangkok’s bowels. Glass and steel haven’t deleted completely the traditional Thai life. The fact is that Thailand is still exceptionally rural, and yes, they migrate in thousands  into the big cities, but they do so   bringing with them their customs and traditions.

We have seen in the first gallery of pictures, the “glamorous” side of Bangkok. Now, we will share with you, its other face, the village’s – life side, which is very much alive in this  astonishing city. Two lives , two faces of the same city. We only have to know where to look…

 

tuk tuks and barbecue stalls in a Bangkok street

Early in the morning, a mouth – watering smell of chicken just roasted fills this narrow, shady soi, just outside of a Hotel of a very known International Chain, a few meters from the intersection of Sukhumvit Road and Ratchadamri Road, World Trade Center Shopping Mall, Gayson shopping Mall, the Grand Hyatt Erawan, and Erawan Shrine, a corner that is synonym of luxurious shopping and luxury life style. Incredible Bangkok. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Shops and traditional house in Bangkok street

At first look, we are watching at a typical scene of a village’s life : an old wooden house, food vendors under colorful umbrellas, one of them, an advertisement of one of the biggest Thai Banks, a 7 / eleven. But we were only a few meters from Sukhunvit Road, Nana BTS Station, walking down along Sukhumvit soi 11. Another piece of village’s life in the middle of all the noise, traffic and bustle of Bangkok’s streets. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

A pigeon standing on a Bangkok wire

The image of this solitary pigeon enjoying the view of the noisy intersection of Asok Road, and Sukhumvit Road, a few meters from Asok BTS and MRT stations, where hundreds of people walk at every given minute of the day , is just amazing. It is as if this small viewer were enjoying the tranquility of any Thai villages upcountry. We couldn’t but stop admiring its calm. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Thai man driving bycicle while carrying many cleaning devices including dusters, brooms of all sizes,shapes and forms, etc

Village life in one of Rattanakosin area, not so far from the grand Palace. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Thai woman sewing on the sidewalk at her makeshift shop in bangkok

Bangkok’s pavements are infamous for various reasons, they are extremely narrow or non existent, uneven and cracked, if you are lucky enough to find a wide one, it , surely, will be occupied by food vendors stalls or , like this image a young and forced on her task woman sewing. AS in her village, upcountry. But this is Bangkok’s Down Town, this is Sukhumvit soi 11 , just some 50 meters from Nana BTS Station. Bangkok, a city that never fails surprising us. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

Finding the Traditional Thai life …

Still with the image of the two ways of life smoothly blended and  conniving in perfect harmony in  Bangkok, there is only one way to see the traditional Thai way of life , and that is  going to any  village, town or city outside the capital of the kingdom. It is there where Thais  still keep alive old traditions and customs that go down from generation after generation and where the chance to find a huge range of what we could  call  “things Thai” that are unique, still in production, still being used in daily life , is real big.

In these villages and small towns we can see that the rice basket, the farmer’s hat, the traditional hand woven fabrics or, the tube skirt, for name a few, all products of the country’s strong tradition of village crafts,  are still very well alive, we only have to go and see them.

Now, we would like to share with you some images that we captured on our trips trying to learn a little bit more about this country’s history, culture , about its people and customs…looking for what means “being Thai”…Enjoy the tour…

 

Benjaron art Thai traditional craft

In a small garage-type salon one of the most precious Thai ceramics is being hand painted. Extraordinary skills, amazing results. Samut Sankrong area. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Older Thai woman making paper umbrellas in Bangkok neighborhood

Factory of paper umbrellas, Chiang Mai. Photo Credit: Silvia muda

Older man making a traditional Thai umbrella

The artisans at this factory of paper umbrellas didn’t have the need to look at what they were doing. Years of practice made them to work by memory. Literally.Chiang Mai. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Hand made and painted Thai paper umbrella

Getting into the factory grounds, we found hundreds of beautiful umbrellas already finished, it was a matter of choosing one…which wasn’t a easy task. Chiang Mai. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Thai craft loom weaved silk garnet

Among village’s stories, and innumerable trips of the shuttle, we can see the cloth, emerging from the loom. Intricate design, here are those thousand threads so carefully knotted and woven. Extraordinary. Communal loom in Lampun, north of thailand. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Thai traditional loom weaver working her artThe weaver , without missing a word of her friend, keep weaving, passing the shuttle and , as seen in this photo, holding the warp bean. Communal loom in Lampun, north of Thailand. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Loom art in Thailand hand made threaded clothsPreparing the warp. Thousands delicate and thin silk threads that should be knotted, one after one. Hard to believe that after many hours of weaving these dreads will be a cloth. Communal loom in Lampun, north of Thailand. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

pulley on a traditional Thai loom

The pulley, a necessary part of the delicate system of heddles, harnesses, bars suspended from the frame of the loom that will allow the process of weaving get started and in motion. Comunal looms,Lampun, north of Thailand. Photo Credit:Silvia Muda

 

Ok, now we have seen from where comes all the hints of the traditional Thai life that we can see in the alleys of Bangkok, “the Big Mango” as locals like to name it. But, what about the stylised  spires and brightly-coloured  tiled roofs  temples?

Looking for Thai Temples

Still with the images of those beautiful temples the we had seen during our research  when we were still at home, now that you are in Thailand, well, it is time and the place to start looking for them.

There is one thing that won’t fail in Thailand: when  entering any Thai Wat, ( Thai name for  temple), it doesn’t matter whether it is in Bangkok ( with the exception of the Grand Palace, which is inundated by  tourists at nearly any time),  or in any village upcountry, or if it is one with royal status or a forest monastery, the experience would be the same: it is as entering into another world, it is leaving ours behind, where there are no mobile phones, laptops, i pads, just silence or nature’s sounds, and of course, they are  full of distinctive Buddhist iconography represented in carvings, bronze castings, mural paintings, just to mention a few.

More surprisingly perhaps, for a foreigner, as we are, is that these wats are so quietly alive, not just with their community of monks, but as active places of worship and meditation for the laity. There are hardly any Thai temple that are not an integral part of normal daily life of the village or town.

If you are interested in this topic, go to visit a temple, especially one located in any city of the interior of Thailand, with enough time to spend, it is an extraordinary opportunity to observe Thai life in its most simple expression, to understand what it might mean Being Thai…

 

 

Lanna style entrance into a temple in Thailand in Lampang

Entering this temple in Lampang, trough this beautiful Lanna style with Burmese influences Gate, is entering in another world. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Wat Kuti in Petchaburi province, picture shows the entrance to said temple

We were standing next to the ubosot of Wat Kuti, Petchaburi, when we saw this small bird perched on the top of the gate , the cows serenely gracing outside the wat transmitting an extremely sensation of calm, difficult to describe. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Wat kuti Petchaburi thailand

Grounds of Wat Kuti, Petchaburi. The temple, clearly integrated in the city’s life, is open for anyone who would like to visit it. …Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Monk clothes hanging while drying outside wooden house in a temple in Thailand

Daily life in a monastery of one of Lampang temples. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Buddhist ceremony in Lampang monastery Thailand

Serene witness of a Buddhist ceremony , monastery in Lampang. Photo Credit: Silvia Mud

 

Rattanakosin island: Thai art at its highest level

Now, lets go back to the capital of the Thai Kingdom, Bangkok. There is one thing that all, and we mean it, all of us did, do and will, when first arrived to Thailand : we go to see the Grand Palace and, if our ability for absorbing so much beauty, is still capable of more, we go to visit Wat Po that houses  the reclining Buddha, and take more pictures, of course. What means that we will walking  in and around the original heart of the city known as Rattanakosin Island, since the times when king Rama I founded it.

This area that surrounds the royal court, is distinguished by the quality of its artifacts, crafts and architectural details, which  are more refined, accomplished and more costly than those found  in any temple of Thailand, yet, they are aesthetically related . It is here where and when we start to find what we were looking for, a sense, not only of history, religion, but something more…a subtle but strong sense of Being Thai .

Please, have a look at these pictures taken when walking around the Grand Palace, in Rattanakosin island, and you will see what we mean…

 

Temple in Rattanakosin island during walking tour of Bangkok

Walking in Rattanakosin island, around the grand Palace, is as entering in other time, is as going to the past, into Thai history. Suthaisawan Prasat Throne Hall, on the eastern wall of the Grand Palace. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Grand palac walls in Bangkok city Thailand

Looking over the walls of The Grand Palace, we discover one of the finest examples of artisanship . Impressive . Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Defensive walls at the grand palace bangkok

The perimetrical walls, a fierce protection of the Grand Palace and doing so, the Thai kings and their court while they lived inside. But, paying enough attention, we might have a glimpse of the masterpieces enclosed within these impenetrable walls. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Phra Thep Bidorn grand palace

Preset Phra Thep Bidorn, a exquisite sample of what awaits us on the other side of the great walls. The pinnacle of Thai architecture and decorative arts, the Grand Palace. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

The Grand Palace and the sacred complex of Wat Phra Kaew ( temple of Emerald Buddha) within its precinct is considered the culmination  of Thai architecture, in terms both of form and symbolism, and also, the centre of the nation, monarchy and main religion, Buddhism.  High Thai art , an unique experience.

In the past, the best artisans were recruited to work for the palace and nobility, and they gradually developed a refined and highly  decorative art in several different fields as drawing, engraving, sculpting, masonry, mother-of pearl inlaid, gold-resist lacquerwork, ceramics, among others. Called the “ten classic crafts”, they were practiced among guilds based on apprenticeship and inheritance.These guilds  relied on royal patronage, otherwise it would have been impossible to continue through time.

We would like to share with you a gallery with only some of the thousands pictures that you can take in the grounds of the Grand Palace. It is not only the architecture, which left you repeating “I just can’t believe this”, but then, when you are able to react, the creativity, delicacy and symbolism of the buildings and its decorations  will  just hit you…You will understand us only when  you have been there..

In this photo gallery, we will follow our way into the Grand Palace  and then, through the gate, into Wat Phra  Kaew  ( temple of Emerald Buddha) compound itself, walking  until we find at the  Phaitee terrace where are located Phra Sriratana Chedi, Phra Mondop and its most important building , Prasat Phra Thep Bidorn, the Royal Pantheon, in which statues of the past sovereigns of the Chakri dynasty are enshrined …Enjoy the tour…

 

Grand palace bangkok photo taken from outside grounds overlooking the main palace

After walking through the main entrance Gate we get into the Grand Place complex, a huge compound with a special historic and religious significance and so rich in symbolisms. View of the royal monastery, Wat Phra Kaew or Temple of Emerald Buddha enclosed but its surrounding galleries, or cloisters. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Painted murals inside grand palace showing thai traditional history

Phra Rabiang is the wall that surrounds the entire temple of the Emerald Buddha. The murals on the walls depict the whole story of Ramekian , painted in accordance with king Rama I’s edition of the epic story. Since then, the murals were restored several times. We could stay hours trying to absorb so many tiny details, all that beauty, depicted on those walls. It is just amazing….And this is only the beginning … Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Grand palace picture of all beautiful arquitecture

Getting out of the Wat’s surrounding galleries through one go its gates, we found ourselves standing next to Sahasadecha, who is one of the guardian Giants. From this spot we can see the whole Phaitee terrace where are located Phra Sriratana Chedi, Phra Mondop and its most important building , Prasat Phra Thep Bidorn, the Royal Pantheon, in which statues of the past sovereigns of the Chakri dynasty are enshrined. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Phra Sri Ratana golden Chedi

Phra Sri Ratana Chedi, located on the Phaitee terrace, houses Buddha’s relic from Sri Lanka.It is a brick and mortar structure entirely covered with golden tiles made specially in Italy. The chedi has four entrance arches and four porticos. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

two Golden Phra Chedis inside grand palace bangkok

Also on the Phaitee terrace , are two Golden Phra Chedis, which were made constructed by Rama I in homer of his father ( southern chedi) and his mother( northern chedi). The two chedis have the same design and size, having a square base with triple dented corners. The structures are completely covered by with copper sheets, painted with lacquer and covers with gold leafs. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Golden chedis Bangkok gran palace

All around the base of the two Golden Chedis are 20 plaster giants and monkeys decorated with coloured glass who appear to be lifting the chedi. This giants The contrast between the golden background with the colorful giants makes such a strong impression that nearly everybody visiting want to be taken a picture next to them., making so difficult the task of finding a second without anybody in front of them , just for getting a shot .Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Prasat  Phra Thep Bidorn building

Prasat Phra Thep Bidorn is the most important building on the phaitee terrace.it houses statues of the Chakra Kings, from king Rama I to king Rama VIII. The amazing roof is split in four levels, with the front on five . At its centre there is a large prang covered completely with green glazed tiles. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Prasat Phra Thep Bidorn entrance

Prasat Phra Thep Bidorn has four entrances from the phaitee terrace, the stairs on the eastern side are guarded by two angels, the walls are totally covered with plaster and decorated with glazed ceramics in Thai design. Amazing. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Phra Mondop building

From Prasat Phra Thep Bidon we have the a glimpse of Phra Mondop, which houses the golden edition of the tripitaka that is kept in a pearl inlaid cabinet shaped like a mondop. All walls are covered completely with green glass, in a tHai design. It is just extraordinary. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

After staying in Thailand for a while, having had the time for going for a weekend to  Bangkok to enjoy its  richly cosmopolitan and glamorous life but at the same time  paying a visit to its most iconic temples and if you have made time for  visiting a temple in any Thai village, admiring what Thai artisans are able to accomplish, we are sure that you will coincide with us on that our quest of  the real and actual sense of being Thai, well, it might be in front of our eyes, expressed through  the  Thai Architecture and Thai Crafts.

For reading about what we have prepared about Thai Architecture and Thai Crafts, please, visit our sections: Thai Architecture and Thai Crafts

 

Note:

As we have said, the content of this page is the result of our research plus some comments of our own. We gathered and  just put together interesting information that we thought it would be of help, which we had  found while reading the books listed below . So, you could find all this information , and more, reading:

  • Things Thai, Crafts &Collectibles”, by Tanisha Dansiip, Michael Freeman
  • Architecture of Thailand”, by Niti Sthapitanonda , Brian Mertens
  • Unseeing Historical Sites; Unseeing Bangkok“, by Tourism Division Bangkok Metropolitan Administration

 

We just hope that you had enjoyed reading  this page, and that we had been of help. If you have some comment, please, lets know. In this way, we could keep linking Pattaya together.

 

 

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