Bangkok isn’t a city with a huge number of tourist attractions or must-see sights. But one thing you can’t miss in the City of Angels is the Grand Palace, an expansive complex that contains the official royal residence, as well as the beautiful Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). At 500 baht (about $14 US) per person, admission here is quite expensive by Bangkok standards, but it’s certainly worth it.
From the moment I walked through the gates to the palace, I was blown away by the gorgeous architecture.
Perhaps the most impressive building on the palace grounds is the Chakri Maha Prasat, which has royal living quarters and spaces for holding state functions, as well as King Rama IX’s official throne. Sort of the Thai version of Buckingham Palace, it was created by British and Thai architects working in collaboration, and the influence of both countries is evident.
The palace is also home to the Dusit Maha Prasat (Throne Hall) where members of the royal family lie in state before burial.
In addition to being home to the royals, the Grand Palace also contains Wat Phra Kaew, considered to be the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand.
As you enter the temple area, a statue of Buddha’s doctor greets you. He’s seated in front of a stunningly gilded display.
A major highlight of Wat Phra Kaew is the gleaming golden Phra Siratana Chedi, which enshrines the Buddha’s ashes.
The temple’s library, Phra Mondop, with its multiple gold-plated columns, is beautiful. This being Thailand, there are also elephant sculptures all over the place, which obviously I did not hate. Locals rub the heads of the elephants for good luck, so they’re shiny and smooth.
I was amazed by all the intricate details. So. Much. Gold!
The temple is protected by these yakshas, who are supposed to ward away evil spirits.
I loved these sculptures of kinnaras, mythical half-horse, half-man creatures, who were also standing guard over the temple.
Two other buildings of note on the temple grounds are the Hor Phra Monthian Dharma (Scripture Library) and Hor Phra Naga, the mausoleum of the Royal Family.
I’m pretty sure if it weren’t for the sweltering heat I could have stayed here all day. It seemed like around every corner there was a new view that was even lovelier than the last.
If you’re wondering why there are no photos of the temple’s namesake Buddha (who is actually made out of jade), it’s because he was inside the temple and there was a “no photography” sign nearby. There were plenty of people taking photos anyway, but I didn’t want to be That Tourist or risk a run-in with the Thai authorities.
A bit of practical info about visiting the palace: all the guidebooks recommend going early in the day to avoid crowds and beat the heat (it officially opens at 8:30, but they reportedly often let people in even earlier). We had every intention of doing just that, but between jet lag and our adventures getting there, it was almost noon when we arrived, and we shared the palace with many tour groups.
As with all religious sites, you need to dress modestly. Our guidebook indicated that the dress code is very strict and you need to wear pants or skirts that extend all the way to your ankles, i.e. no capri pants or calf-length skirts. I took this seriously and wore pants (linen ones, thankfully…I would have died in denim in that heat!) but, in retrospect, capris or a below-the-knee skirt would have been fine. Avoid shorts, sleeveless tops (t-shirts are fine), and, of course, short skirts. If you’re dressed inappropriately you can still get in, but you’ll have to wait in a line to borrow a sarong. You have to take your shoes off to walk in the interior temple areas, so wear sandals or other shoes that slip on and off easily, and you might want to bring a pair of socks if you’re OCD about walking barefoot in public places.
As I mentioned in my previous post, the “Grand Palace is closed now” scam is the most popular and notorious of the many Bangkok scams. There are myriad explanations you might hear for the “closure” but they all sound relatively plausible (it’s a Buddhist holiday, there’s official state business happening at the palace, it’s closed in the morning for the monks to pray and will be open to the public in the afternoon, etc. etc.). In reality, the palace is almost never closed to the public during its normal opening hours and if someone (even a very official-looking person) tells you it is, just ignore him and keep making your way inside (and whatever you do, don’t listen to him if he suggests a tuk-tuk tour of alternative sights).