LAK MUANG, HEART OF BANGKOK

Approach the island from the Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue (Chulalongkorn's version of the Champs Elysees). The lawn of Sanam Luang will appear ahead. At its far end is Wat Phra Kaeo, a sight so majestic that it will stir even the most jaded traveller.

The official centre of Bangkok is Lak Muang (1) (City Pillar), a gilded pillar erected by King Chakri (Rama I) in the late 1700s, joined later by a second pillar, blessed with the city's horoscope and placed there by King Vajiravudh (Rama VI).

Similar to the Shiva lingam that represents potency, the Lak Muang is regarded as the foundation stone of the capital, where the city's guardian deity lives and the point from which the power of the cityemanates. Distances within Bangkok are measured from this stone.

Sheltered by a graceful, renovated shrine, Lak Muang and its spirits are believed to have the power to grant wishes. Floral offerings pile high around the pillar, and the air is laden with the fragrance of incense. Devotees bow reverently in front of the pillar before pressing a square of gold leaf to the monument.

In an adjoining sala, a performance of Thai lakhon classical dance and music is usually underway. The troupe is hired by supplicants whose wishes have been granted' for spectators, the performance is free.

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