Southeast Asia Natural Adventures
nature travel, wildlife tours, adventure travel and general travel to Thailand, Indonesia and Southeast Asia
Thailand: The Wat
Wats, or temple complexes, are one of the most iconic of Thailand's images. From small to large, most are highly decorated and most are used daily. Although many westerners use temple and wat interchangeably, a wat is not a single building but a religious complex, always with a Bot, the place for monks to observe their religious practices and for the laity learn from the monks, the Viharn, where the Buddha image is housed, and often a school, seminary or monks quarters, and a variety of other buildings. The most familiar feature of the wat is the Chedi, the base and stupa, often containing relics or remains. Finally, there is the Prang, the tower structures derived from Cambodian Hindu architecture. These are usually ringed by demons, and capped with a symbol of Shiva.
Although wats are for the followers of Buddha, much of the architecture and even the decoration is of Hindu origin. So the Indian stupa is seen as the chedi; the prang has the thunderbolt symbol of Shiva as a crown, the demon guards are similar to the Cambodian garuda, and there are often extensive depictions of the Ramayama, the Hindu classic story of King Rama, an earthly manifestation of Shiva. Naturally, this is to be expected in a country that for over 600 years was within the ambit Angkor, during its temple-building outburst, and prior to that was subject to the influences of wealthy and influential Hindu from both India an Sumatra.
Most wats can be visited, but certain rules must be followed, and charges are levied at the more famous ones (these are different for Thai or western visitors). Certain ceremonies may prevent visitation, and areas may be off-limits to visitors, such as the inner section of the Emerald Buddha viharn. These are deeply religious areas, and so appropriate respect is required. Dress needs to be decorous, with no shorts or skimpy tops, or open shoes. Shoes need to be removed within buildings.