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Thailand Travel Thai-Chinese Architectural Heritage

(by Steve Van Beek) It is no secret that for centuries the Chinese have been movers and shakers far beyond the bounds of their Celestial Empire. In Southeast Asia, they’ve wielded enormous economic influence, and the symbols of their power — China Towns, shrines, temples, dragons — can be found in a dozen cities, but these potent symbols are normally distinct islands within a sea of indigenous architecture and traditions.

While Thailand exhibits the same compelling evidence of Chinese presence, what sets Bangkok apart and makes for the visitor a fascinating journey of discovery is that subtle Chinese elements have also been blended into traditional Thai architecture. Like finding a Thai Buddhist temple tucked in a quiet lane behind a modern corporate glass tower, the evidence is there for the active traveller and the rewards for perseverance are a multitude of beautiful images that give an extra dimension to a visit and an insight into how Thais view themselves.

Wandering through Bangkok’s nineteenth century wat (monasteries), one becomes aware of something different from the stalwarts of Thai architecture like Wat Phra Kaeow (Temple of the Emerald Buddha).

On many temples, the pediments (the triangular end area below the roof) are covered in ceramic flowers – no roof shelters them, and the chorfa (often called the “sky tassel”), which reach into the air from the roof ends, is missing. Then there are the stone sculptures in the courtyards. These aren’t Thai historical figures, they are distinctly Chinese: generals, gods, demons, horses, pagodas, and more.

These unique temples include some of the city’s largest such as Wat Pho, Wat Suthat, Wat Chalerm Prakiet and Wat Arun, although the most notable examples — Wat Raja Oros, Wat Khruawan, Wat Nang Nong, and Wat Bangkhunthian Nai — are tucked away along canals on the Thonburi side of the river.

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