Bangkok's big temples grab the attention but it is in its smaller neighborhood ones, unaffected by tourists, that you get a real feel for the city's spiritual side.
At Wat Phrakaew, inside the Grand Palace, I am always disoriented by the size but all paths eventually lead to the sacred Emerald Buddha that Thais believe protects Bangkok. No photos are allowed and the temple guards are always verbally aggressive to those who ignore the signs pointing this out. I remember the pre-digital days when a see-through plastic box in the middle of the hall would fill with whole rolls of film confiscated from those who tried to sneak a shot. There is a calmer atmosphere at the outdoor shrines, where I light a few incense sticks and candles for the Buddha images.
Ten minutes down the road is the 17th-century Wat Phra Chetuphon, famous for its massage school and large reclining Buddha. Foreigners still call it Wat Pho, a shortening of its former name, Wat Potoram.
But as glorious as these temples are, I prefer my neighborhood ones where the monks go about their daily chores in tranquility, unaffected by tourists. My local temple is surrounded by orchards and canals and I sometimes see boat-people selling fruit or other food. I like to go early for the chanting of the monks before they eat the offerings given to them on their morning walks. The leftovers are afterwards passed out to ordinary Thais, who believe they are auspicious.
I light a few incense sticks and offer them to the three main Buddha images in the temple grounds, careful not to drop incense ash on my skin, a common accident. Then I pay my respects to the abbot before I leave.