Five million tourists; the Grand Palace Bangkok

The iconic Grand Palace is one of top sights in Bangkok

The iconic Grand Palace is one of top sights in Bangkok

By Dave Rudd

The Grand Palace complex in the old part of Bangkok is the number one landmark in the entire city. It is a stunning collection of temples and important artefacts and sits close to the banks of the Chao Phraya River. Although pricey, the Grand Palace is a must-see, with the Emerald Buddha as its main highlight.

The palace hails from the late 1700s and used to be the main residence of Thai kings, up until King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) decided to move into nearby Dusit Palace. Contrary to popular belief, the current king (Bhumibol Adulyadej – Rama IX) also does not live here - His Majesty resides in Chitlada Palace on the Dusit grounds.

The Grand Palace was built under King Rama I - first king of the current Chakri Dynasty - when he settled across the river, away from Thonburi, into old Bangkok of today. It was about this time that Bangkok was being established on the move of power from Ayutthaya and its themes and forms represent the style of palace of Thailand’s former illustrious capital.

The palace’s Thai title is Phra Borom Maha Ratcha Wang and it has grown immensely over the years to include various departments of government. Although the Thai government is no longer run from the palace, the Grand Palace remains the spiritual heart of the country.

The Grand Palace covers a huge area of Rattanakosin Island and the walls are a couple of kilometers around. The entrance is along the north boundary along Naphralan Road, which is where the main tourist sights reside within the complex. The bottom half is out of bounds to visitors and is home to various royal palaces.

You enter near the Outer Court from Naphralan Road, with the Central Court to the south and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) off to the east (left). The King’s old residence was in the Central Court, parts of which remain open to tourists during weekdays. The closed off section known as the Inner Court is beyond the Central Court.

Gruesome statues adorn the walls of the Grand Palace

Gruesome statues adorn the walls of the Grand Palace

The whole place is littered with stunning structures, with the Wat Phra Kaew complex having the most impressive ones. There are loads of classical Thai temples in here that are in the Rattanakosin style, with Wat Phra Kaew itself having the greatest allure. Inside it is the Emerald Buddha image, which is said to be originally from India and was gifted to Thailand by Cambodia in the 1400s.

Adjacent to Wat Phra Kaew is the Grand Palace, which is as grand as can be from the outside. The stunning reception room of the Grand Palace Hall is decked out in a European style. The Amarinda Hall is another Grand Palace highlight and was home to King Rama I when he first had the palace built. The original throne is in here.

Also be sure to visit the Boromabiman Hall, which was built by King Rama VI, and the nearby Dusit Hall, one of the finest structures in the entire complex. In addition, the Grand Palace Museum is another top sight that tells all about the complex and has models of the palace. More on sightseeing.

The Grand Palace opens every day of the week from 08:30 to 15:30. It may close on occasion for special functions so it is always worth checking ahead to be sure, and don’t take a tout’s word for it. Free guided tours are available several times a day in English and there are also audio guides available for a charge. Private tours can be booked through agencies.

If you specifically want to see the Grand Palace audience halls, be sure to visit during the week as they shut up on weekends, while the Royal Pantheon in Wat Phra Kaew only opens on April 6.

The admission is quite steep and there are two separate prices: one for just the grounds of the Grand Palace and another, all-encompassing one that also takes in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew). The larger fee also includes entry to Bangkok’s Vimanmek Mansion, which is the famous all-teak house that resides within the nearby Dusit Palace complex to the north of the Grand Palace.

Dressing appropriately when visiting the Grand Palace is a given and while many temples may be lax on this issue, the Grand Palace is strict. In short, covering legs and shoulders is a must and you cannot get away with wearing flip flops unless you are wearing a pair of socks. Luckily, there is a booth near the entrance where folks can rent loose-fitting pants and tops.

Touts ply the streets near the entrance to the Grand Palace to try to get you to go on a guided tour of the city because the palace is closed. Never believe anything any random person on the street says, or a taxi driver for that matter. While there may be certain days when the Grand Palace is closed, it generally remains open year-round.

Visitors staying in Khao San Road can actually walk to the Grand Palace complex in about 20 minutes, although this is not advised anywhere near midday because of the high heat and humidity. A popular way in is to take the Chaophraya Express Boat to nearby Tha Chang Pier. It is then a short walk east to the palace entrance, which is unmissable.

There are also bus stops nearby and you can of course take a taxi or tuk-tuk from anywhere in the city. For more on transportation.

Accommodation: If you are looking for somewhere to stay which won't break the bank then we recommend Hostelbookers. They have comprehensive listings for backpackers and budget travellers all over Bangkok.

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