Monday, June 4, 2012

Bangkok’s Baan Bat Temple: Frozen in Time


No matter which country you are in, historic sites often get a lot of attention from foreigners. However, it could be even more exciting to explore ancient neighborhoods that surround historic landmarks because these are the places that reflect the authentic culture of a country. For Bangkok, it is the less visited places that could give you an accurate picture of the old Bangkok like the Wat Saket. There, a stunning but old and neglected temple serves as the “industry” of Baan Bat. It has been on business since the 1700’s.

The Shophouses

The Sino-Portuguese Shophouses have been standing long before the capital of Bangkok was moved downstream from Ayutthaya about 250 years ago. These are some of Bangkok’s oldest structures, built before the tourism became a major source of income for the country, before foreign culture and beliefs influenced the country, and even before technological modernization started changing how the country lives.

Even though most of the houses look incredibly worn out and old, they still have this silent warmth and charm. Most of them have continuously been in use ever since it was first built. It wasn’t till the second half of the twentieth century that Thanon Bamrung Muang was converted into a small central road from its natural state as a canal.

What You Will Find

Supply shops along this road include products like orange fabric for monks robs, candles, Buddhist chanting books, incense and a vast variety of amulets. One of the more popular products in the area is an alms bowl. Visitors may buy a bowl. The bowl may then be given to monks who use to ask for “donations” from people.

Every morning, before the sunrise, monks collect these donations from the community. Donations usually come in the form of food as monks are not allowed to have any “possessions”. This is a 2,500-year tradition and one that truly makes Thai culture unique.

Some tourists, in fact, choose to stay in the area for a night just to witness the monks collect alms. Buddhist or no Buddhist, the site of men, stripped of all their possessions, walk around to ask for food, brings a certain kind solemnity.

Modernity is also taking its toll as companies are starting to mass manufacture alms bowl. It is the Baan Bat Temple that is fighting to keep it simple and true. Bowls sold here are still made by hand.

Thailand is not purely Theravada Buddhist. It has a mix of Mahayana Buddhist and Hindus, Bamrung Muang. This is why visitors will also find images of important disciples of Buddha such as the Hindu deities, famous Thai forest monks, Kuan Yin and protective spirits.

The Baan Bat Temple Aura

Just walking through this part of town takes you through a journey in the ancient times. This little place seems a frozen living memory of the old Bangkok. In fact, some of the things they are selling are more than 50 years old which qualifies it as an antique.

If you want to see Bangkok in its purest form, head to the Baan Bat Temple.

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