Guide to Grand Palace & Wat Phra Kaew Bangkok

bangkok-highlights
Bangkok highlight; the Grand Palace

Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace together comprise the number one tourist attraction in Bangkok, and hence probably all of Thailand. If you are only going to see one sight in Bangkok this should be it – the stunning grandeur of the temples inside the complex is unforgettable. Built at the end of the 18th century as the centrepiece of a new capital of Siam, it is located in the stately district of the city alongside several other important cultural sites.

The utmost respect is required when entering this building, shoes must not be worn and no photography is allowed. Also, when seated, make sure your feet do not point towards the Buddha.




Running the entire breadth of the cloisters is a fascinating, richly detailed mural depicting scenes from the epic Ramakian fable. This very impressive mural is constantly being painstakingly restored and touched up; a seemingly endless task which you will always see people studiously undertaking. There is also an ancient scale model of Angkor Wat inside the temple grounds.

Wandering around the spacious, but crowded, grounds you will also see the enormous gilded chedi, one of several stupas in the complex, along with a mondop(library) with its towering columns and lofty interior, a royal pantheon, and various photogenic statues, including Kinarees (mythical birdmen), ferocious scowling giant guards (Yaak) and garuda.

The adjacent Grand Palace – built in a neo-Baroque style during the reign of King Rama V – is not as impressive, but is also a must-see. Nowadays it is only rarely used by the King, except on Coronation Day and other ceremonial occasions. Visitors are allowed to view the exterior but seldom gain entrance.

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Also located here is a French-Baroque styled Boromabiman Hall, the Amarinda Hall, containing gilded thrones and impressive interiors, and the renaissance inspired Chakri Mahaprasat, which serves as a reception hall. Among them is a rather English looking manicured garden with topiary. It all adds up to a rather eclectic architectural amalgam, used solely as a tourist attraction and the odd ceremony.

Wat Phra Kaew, which is named for the much-revered ‘Emerald Buddha‘ within, actually consists of several temples, all of which are superb examples of classical Thai temples styled in the current Rattanakosin era. Glittering gold stupas rise up among ornate pillars and roofs studded with intricate mosaics sparkling in the sun. Giant yaak (guards), ancient murals and endless Buddha statues add to the attraction of the site.

Wat Phra Kaew, which is named for the much-revered ‘Emerald Buddha’ within, actually consists of several temples, all of which are superb examples of classical Thai temples styled in the current Rattanakosin era. Glittering gold stupas rise up among ornate pillars and roofs studded with intricate mosaics sparkling in the sun. Giant yaak (guards), ancient murals and endless Buddha statues add to the attraction of the site.



The chief attraction is an ubosot housing the much venerated Emerald Buddha, and even before entering you can note its importance from the colourfully detailed naga (serpents) and garuda (mythical bird) guarding it. After entering through two towering doors, you encounter an interior that is richly decorated, and inside you will be able to witness dozens of pious Buddhists making merit and praying before this statue. Atop a grand multi-tiered dais, the tiny Buddha is seated in the Bhumisparsha Mudra (position), which depicts the Lord Buddha touching the earth to bear witness to him subduing the Mara, which might distract him from attaining enlightenment. The Buddha is also ‘dressed’ for each of the Thai seasons.

A museum of royal decoration and coins is also located on site. The large open field in front of the complex, known as Sanam Luang, has long been a gathering place for cultural events, such as the Royal Ploughing Ceremony, as well as festivals and regular protests. Also within walking distance (though a quick tuk tuk transfer beats sweating in the heat), is the popular Wat Pho, and its Reclining Buddha, the notable National Museum, with its rewarding repository of Asian antiquities, the bizarre Giant Swing at Wat Saket, and the Temple Mount – once the highest structures in Bangkok.

This section of the city is not serviced by either the Skytrain or Metro, and it’s easiest to get there and back by taxi, but try to travel after 09:30 and before 15:30. You can, of course, use the riverboat so you avoid traffic jams and get to see the complex magnificently from the water. Those staying near Khao San Road are within walking distance.

Viator

Admission to the Grand Palace compound and Wat Phra Kaew is 500 baht for foreigners, free for Thais and open from 08:30 to 15:00. In order to enter you need to be wearing a sleeved shirt and long pants, with suitable footwear. However, any of these items of clothing are available for hire at the entrance if you are not dressed correctly when you arrive.

The Travelling Buddha:

The Emerald Buddha is perhaps the most revered and valued Buddhist icon in all of Thailand and attracts thousands of tourists and Thai pilgrims every day. In fact the statue is rather diminutive in size, measuring just 75cms in height and isn’t actually made of emeralds, but rather jade or jasper. It also has a rather tumultuous background.

The origins of the Emerald Buddha are unknown but earliest records begin with a non-descript Buddha of marble and gold leaf in Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand, which cracked open in a fall to reveal the present ‘Emerald Buddha’ inside. Considered a good omen, the legend of this Buddha was sealed.

In the late 15th Century it was moved to a temple in nearby Lampang (both of these temples are also called ‘Wat Phra Kaew’), and later to Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai at the zenith of the Lanna Kingdom’s power. But in the 16th Century, raiders from the Lan Chan (Laos) Kingdom took the Emerald Buddha to Vientiane and installed it in a temple there.

It was not until 200 years later that it returned to Thailand after King Taksin defeated the Lao. It originally found a new home in the new capital of Ton Buri but was moved across the river when Bangkok became the new capital, and the present Wat Phra Kaew was built especially for it.


Further reading…