November 16, 2012 00:00 By PIYANART SRIVALO,
US President Barack Obama's visit to Thailand will not focus solely on important bilateral issues, but will include a cultural element, as the president has chosen to begin his trip with a visit to Wat Pho on Sunday.
The temple will be closed to tourists during his tour of the temple, which will take in four key locations – the main hall, the Reclining Buddha, the Phra Maha Chedi stupa, and the Thai traditional massage sculptures, according to the temple’s deputy abbot, Phra Udornkanarak.
“Abbot Phra Suthee Thammanuwat will act as a guide for the US president, who is scheduled to arrive at the temple at 4pm. He is expected to tour the temple for 45 minutes,” the monk said.
The temple will be closed to visitors from 10am, and Abbot Phra Suthee Thammanuwat will lead a tour of four sites: the principal hall; the pavilion housing the 43-metre-long Reclining Buddha; the main stupa; and the Contorted Hermit Mount, where hermit statues in traditional exercise postures are on display.
The temple’s official name is Phra Chettuphon Wimon Mangkhlaram Ratchaworamahawihan.
The visit is at the initiative of the US Embassy in Bangkok, which contacted the temple before the US presidential election on November 6. The monk quoted US Ambassador Kristie Kenney as saying that Wat Pho is the most beautiful temple in the world. “The temple and Thailand would like to thank the ambassador for helping to choose the temple, which has certainly helped bolster Thailand’s reputation.”
Unesco listed Wat Pho, also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, on its Memory of the World register in March 2008. The Thai traditional massage sculptures are known all over the world. The temple was the first public university in Thailand and a centre of knowledge for many subjects. Each day, about 10,000 tourists visit the temple, half of them foreigners, the monk said.
After the temple visit, Obama will go to Siriraj Hospital at 5pm for an audience with His Majesty the King, before heading to Government House.
A planned speech in English – which was to have been broadcast live – by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra at an event at Government House during Obama’s visit on Sunday has been cancelled. Officials feared that a recurrence of her verbal mishaps and mispronunciations, if witnessed globally in real time, could be exploited by her critics and political opponents, as has happened in the past, a Government House source said yesterday. The cancellation was ordered yesterday by PM’s secretary-general Suranand Vejjajiva.
“This is meant to prevent such problems from recurring – a lesson learned during a recent trip by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Thailand, which continues to have negative resonances and has been continually exploited by [her] political opponents,” the source added.
A 40-minute press conference is scheduled, with journalists divided in two teams – one comprising Thai reporters and members of foreign news agencies; and a team of 120 US-based journalists travelling with Obama, the source said. Only four questions will be allowed from the media, two from the US-based reporters and two from the other group.
The US Embassy will make available interpreters and translators, with 100 sets of headphones for impromptu translation readied, while the Thai Foreign Ministry has prepared its own interpreters and translators. “The Americans will deploy their own interpreters and translators for the event. Maybe they are afraid we will give the wrong translation?” pondered the source.
Obama will meet Thailand-based American expatriates in the evening at Chulalongkorn University Sport Complex.