The Grand Palace is a must-see destination; you shouldn't leave Bangkok without visiting it. In fact, it was the icing on the cake for our amazing three-week visit to SE Asia. It's actually a 2-million-square-foot complex of buildings which includes the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. We spent a morning there and we could have stayed longer.
Construction of the palace began in the late 18th century and the royal family lived there until the early 1900's. The current royal family resides in the Dusit Palace not far away, however the Grand Palace is still used for ceremonial events.
We had passed the Grand Palace the day before. The size of the complex as well as the number of buses and tourists we saw convinced us that we needed a guide in order to best explore it, and that turned out to be the right call.
Travel & Leisure magazine puts the visitor count at 8 million a year. That's a whopping almost 22,000 people a day! I wasn't surprised to read that; the day we visited, a random weekday in November, it was packed as you can see from the photo below.
The Temple of the Emerald Buddha also known as Wat Phra Kaew, is the holiest temple in Thailand and is located on the grounds of the Grand Palace. It's unfortunate that no photos are allowed inside the temple, but the outside was also pretty amazing.
There are six pairs of "yakshas" or demon guardians on the palace grounds. Most of them protect the Temple of the Emerald Buddha from evil spirits. Each of them was different and they were fascinating.
And a close-up of this guy...
This is the golden stupa (also called a chedi). They are located at temples and usually contain a relic of the Buddha.
I'm a sucker for mosaics. The mosaics, carvings, inlays and other detail work on these buildings are incredible.
My favorite was the Phra Mondop library. It's not open to the public, but the outside left us in awe. The walls are covered in green mirrored tiles inlaid with gold.
Notice the rows of small golden buddhas.
Our guide told us that this statue was made out of lava.
As if there weren't enough to take in, King Rama IV commissioned this model of Angkor Wat in the mid-19th century which is also located on the palace grounds.
A closer view. The light spot is actually natural light at the other end of the passage in the model.
This is one of the gilded stupas on the palace grounds, built by King Rama I and devoted to his parents. It is supported by smaller yakshas which were so interesting.
I loved these guys!
This half man, half bird statue was also impressive.
The elephants that were scattered throughout the grounds represent strength and power. It's customary for children to rub their heads.
These are some of the 178 murals on the walls of the galleries that surround the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
The lotus flower is very important in Buddhism, representing purity of mind and spirit. The faithful use it in meditation and paying their respects in the temples.
You can't tell how hot I am in this photo...or maybe you can!
The Throne Hall was completed in 1882. King Rama V was impressed with western architecture and commissioned two British architects to build the hall. The lower part reflects Renaissance and Italianate style but the king bowed to pressure to add the Thai roof and the spires. After being immersed in Thai architecture for the morning, it seemed strange to see this mostly western-style building on the palace grounds.
You shouldn't go to Bangkok without visiting the Grand Palace. Plan to spend at least two - three hours taking in the history and artistry of this amazing place.
If you want to read more about our time in SE Asia, visit the Home page and click on the post you'd like to read or click on Blog from the Home page, then the country.
➜ Top Tips
The Palace is open from 8:30 - 3:30 daily. Plan to get there early. We arrived mid-morning and it was wall-to-wall people. Arriving early will also enable you to start your visit before the midday heat. Wear a hat to protect from the sun.
If you want to enter the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (and you should), make sure you dress for it; shoulders and knees must be covered.
Don't let the number of visitors discourage you from going. Set aside plenty of time and bring your patience!
Hire a guide. It will be so much more meaningful. Read as much as you can about it before you visit to enhance your visit - there's a lot to take in!