The Grand Palace is the busiest tourist attraction in Bangkok. It has been home to the Kings of Siam and Thailand since 1782. It is not one building as the name implies but a series of buildings, halls, and pavilions set around courtyards, open lawns, and gardens.
On first approach to the complex you are literally assaulted by it’s stunning array of colors, shapes, textures and symmetry, overwhelming in it’s sense of beauty. The gold statues and chedis gleam in the intense sun and are almost a distraction from the massive crowds.
Arrive early to see the top sight of the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew, the Chapel of the Emerald Buddha.
Carved from a single piece of jade the Emerald Buddha has been on an interesting adventure in the past few centuries. Said to have been discovered by the Abbot of a monastery in Chiang Rai Northern Thailand in the 15 century, the emerald buddha has spend time in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Luang Prabang, Laos before moving to a shrine near Wat Arun in Thonburi before it’s final home at the Grand Palace. The Emerald Buddha is considered the palladium of the Kingdom of Thailand. Perhaps it’s for this reason that photographs are not allowed inside the chapel. The building is considered a personal chapel of the royal family and not a temple as monks do not reside there.
The emerald Buddha statue is 19 inches wide and 26 inches high and is adorned with 3 gold seasonal costumes, one for the rainy season, summer, and cool season. They are exchanged by the King in a ceremony at the change of each season. A duplicate of the emerald Buddha can be seen a photographed in Chiang Rai.
The Grand Palace is filled with adornments including the gold mythical Aponsi, half-woman, half lion, demon guardians supporting the gilded chedi and the Kinnon, half-human, half-bird.
Phra Mondop, at the base of which sit stone carved Buddhas in the Javanese style. Sixteen twelve corner columns support the multi-tiered roof that houses the Buddhist Canon, or sacred texts.
The gold gilded chedis are among the most striking structures of the Grand Palace especially on a bright day with a blue sky. The star creatures of the grounds are the giant Yaksha of the Thai Ramakian , Thailand’s version of the Ramayana, an epic Hindu poem. Many murals inside the walls of the Grand Palace feature images of the Thai Ramakian, the story of Rama, whose wife, Sita is abducted by Ravana, the King of Lanka, or Sri Lanka. The Ramayana or Thai Ramakan explores human values and the concept of dharma.
On most days the Grand Palace will seem like the hottest place on the planet. So pace yourself. The extra clothing you will have to wear to cover your shoulders and legs as part of the dress code will add to the discomfort. Drink lots of water, wear a wide brimmed hat and do as the Asians do, use an umbrella as a barrier to the intense sun.
At the east wall of the Wat Phra Kaew sits eight Phra Atsada Maha Chedis. Each chedi is decorated with a different shade of Chinese porcelain representing the eight elements of Buddhism, Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Concentration and Right Mindfulness. The porcelain creates a glowing effect fitting for their significance.
There are still many buildings to admire and visit outside the walls of the Chapel of the Emerald Buddha including the Central Court. Here is where the king resided and where all state business was conducted.
The Phra Maha Monthien Group are a series of buildings near the eastern edge of the central court that were the main residence and audience hall for the king. During the week you can visit inside and see the gilded thrones used by the kings.
Next to the Dusit Group is the Chakra Maha Prasat, nicknamed the westerner with the Thai hat due to it’s mixed styles of architecture. Today Chakra Maha Prasat is mainly used for state banquets and receptions for foreign ambassadors. It’s closed to the public but there is a weapons collection on the ground level that can be viewed on weekdays.
The base of the Chakra Maha Prasat houses the royal guards who you can see standing at attention throughout the day in front of it’s VIP main entrance. And yes you can take pictures with them, just don’t expect any conversation or engagement as they are on duty.
Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall is the only building that is open to the public within it’s group. No photographs are permitted inside but you can enjoy the features including a mother of pearl throne and a large mother of pearl throne bed which was used by the king for relaxing between audiences. Today the throne hall is used for lying in state for kings, queens, and favored members of the royal family.
Thai kings stopped living in the palace full time at around the beginning of the 20th century but the Grand Palace is still considered the spiritual center of the Thai Kingdom. The inner court where the Thai kings resided and their royal consorts and daughters lived is no longer used but is still closed off to the public.
Most of the important sites of the Grand Palace can be seen in one visit. This is probably not a full day trip as the heat and crowds can be overwhelming to most and the exhibits that can be viewed and open to the public are easily seen during a morning or afternoon .
If you arrive at the main entrance gate by the 8:30 opening you have plenty of time to see The Chapel of The Emerald Buddha and the buildings of the Central Court with time for breaks in the shade and be finished before lunch. You might be able to squeeze in a visit to one of the on sight museums as well.
Like the Taj Mahal and Angkor Wat the Grand Palace is a tourist bus magnet. Though worth every bit of patience to quickly immerse yourself in the history of Siam and Thailand and understand the importance of the King, the royal family, and Buddhism to the Thai people.
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