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Post 351: The Golden Mount .. Bangkok

The Golden Mount in Bangkok, or to give its full title, “The Golden Mount & Wat Srakesa Rajavaramahvihara” stands at the highest point in the city. As Bangkok is about as flat as Lincolnshire that really doesn’t say a great deal, but I’d always assumed that the peak was a natural feature. I had no reason to believe that it wasn't natural, it’s massive and obviously arrived here long before diesel engines and JCB’s. But it’s not, it’s actually man made, every last inch of it.
The temple complex at the bottom dates back to King Rama I and the foundation of Bangkok as Thailand’s new capital city in around 1782 (Thai year of 2325). During the 19th century King Rama III made several attempts at building a large Chedi structure on the site but because of the softness of the underlying earth, each attempt had failed and the partly constructed Chedi had collapsed. In desperation Rama III had ordered that a mount ’this big’ be built using mud and bricks to support the proposed Chedi. It seems that back in those days what Thai King’s wanted Thai Kings got, because as hills go this one is really quite substantial. In the end, the tall golden Chedi wasn’t added until the early part of the 20th century so I guess it’s safe to say that even the demands of supreme rulers can take time to complete.

The Chedi is the golden cone that sits on top of the mount and are often referred to as a ’Stupa’. There might actually be a difference between a Chedi and a Supa, but aside from geographical terminology, I’m really not aware of any. It seems that if the sturcture is shaped like your little finger, then it's a Chedi and if shaped more like your thinb, then it's a Supa. Chedi and Stupa, of which there are more than two hundred thousand dotted around the world, are all supposed to house 'Relics of The Buddha', usually a part of Buddha’s cremation ashes and are therefore places of pilgrimage. The Chedi on top of The Golden Mount contains relics that were donated to King Rama V by the British, and we no doubt stole them from India or Sri Lanka. It does make you think though ... if there was only one Buddha but there are two hundred thousand Chedi?

The best time to visit The Golden Mount is probably during the festival of Loy Krathong which takes place around the third weeks of November. The whole Mount is draped in red cloth and thousands of people join candle light processions walking the 318 steps to the summit. Loy Krathong is principally a religious festival, but don't let that put you off because as with all festivals in Thailand, they’re never without a decent party.

When I first climbed the Mount back in 1987 (ish) the view from the top was quite different. Back in those days all that you could see was smog, lots of it, thick and unlovely. There were very few high rise buildings to compete with the Mount back then, but it didn’t really matter because you couldn’t see anything anyway. Since then, although traffic density has probably increased ten-fold, most of the commercial vehicles now run on cleaner LPG and the air in Bangkok is actually quite fresh and clean. The fragrance on the Mount can be quite amazing with scent from the blossoms and incense filling the air and leaving a lasting impression. It seems that not too many Western tourists visit this place and that’s a shame. Maybe the fact that it’s a working monastery puts people off coming here, or maybe it’s the 318 steps? Whatever the reason, it certainly isn’t the entry price. Thai of not Thai, it costs just 10 Baht ( 10 pence ) to visit the Chedi so if you do manage to make it up all of those steps, please place a one hundred Baht note in the donation box in order to ensure that sites like this remain accessible to those who could simply not afford to pay any more.

One word of caution though, The Golden Mount is just a stones throw from The Grand Palace, and it seems that the 'Tuk Tuk Mafia' are becoming even more brazen in their attempts to fleece the unsuspecting tourist. If anybody ever tells you that The Golden Mount or The Grand Palace are closed for 'Special Prayers' or a 'Royal Visit' during daylight hours then ignore them, because it’s generally utter bollocks. They’ll offer, for a small fee, to take you on a tour of local attractions and upon your return, the Mount or Palace will be open to tourists once again. Their 'Tour' will inevitably include a visit to a Gem Store and a Tailor, the owners of which will probably show a remarkable resemblance to the person who told you that it was closed in the first place …. Mai pen rai kap


Anonymous said...

Great Blog Geoff, once again putting Wikipedia and 'The Rough guide' to shame.. :)

Brady Stump said...

Enjoyed the read.

Geoff said...

thanks guys .. I just write what I see and feel .. sometimes that's Ok and sometimes it pisses people off ... but I've no axes to grind or chips to shoulder, so what you read is what you get .. mai pen rai kap :-)