Thailand’s biggest tourist attraction is a large complex in the city centre, made up of temples, buildings, halls, courtyards and gardens. The Grand Palace is the result of more than 200 years of refinement.
A short historical introduction
Located near the Chao Phraya river the palace grounds occupy a large rectangular area protected by a high, white wall. Ayutthaya, the capital of Siam had in 1768 been sacked by a Burmese army and the capital was moved, first to Thonburi and then Bangkok. In 1782 King Rama I rammed the first poles into the river bank marking the shift of capital to Bangkok and the start of the new royal palace.
The Outer Court
The Grand Palace was not built in a day, but after the first 100 years the most important buildings had been constructed. As you enter the tourist gate on the north end of the palace, you will face a long, wide lane. You are now in the Outer Court. To your left, in the north-east corner of the complex you will notice across a huge lawn another wall around Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). Forget having a picnic on that lawn.
The Inner Court
To your right, near the river, we find the Inner Court. Or rather, we could have found it. It is still off-limit to visitors almost a century after the last royal family left the premises. This is where the kings, queens, consorts and daughters used to live. The Inner Court was like a Forbidden City (remember Beijing) and was populated only by women and boys under the age of puberty. The royal family moved out in 1925. A few years later all government offices moved out as well. After a revolution the new government had decided to abolish absolute monarchy and to distance itself from the symbols of royalty.
Follow the signs
Anyway, the signposted route I followed leads you towards the Phimanchaisri Gate leading into the Centre Court. I would get to it later. Instead I turned left and had a look into the Pavilion of regalia, royal decorations and coins. Kind of interesting but not compared to the rest.
When we continue in the same direction we enter into the large temple compound of Wat Phra Kaeo. Inside you would want to circumnavigate the temple itself, clockwise of course. You will pass by some extremely glittering buildings and statues and also a large model of Angkor.
The Emerald Buddha itself dates back to the 15th century. It was carved from a single block of jade and has earned a reputation as being the centrepiece of the most important temple in Thailand. The little Buddha figure sits atop a pedestal and only the king is allowed to touch it, which he does. Three times a year he arrives and changes the robe of the Buddha.
On leaving the temple do not miss the Balcony with its murals telling the entire Ramayana epic, in paint. The columns have inscriptions of the same epic, in text.
The Central Court
As you leave the temple you are about to enter the Central Court. This is where the King used to conduct his duties as head of state. The main building has a very European appearance, apart from the Thai styled roof of course.
You will find it impossible to stay less than an hour inside the Grand Palace. If you stay more than three you will grow a fatigue and would be better off returning the next day. In my view there is simply too much glittering extravaganza. This is the Thai way and they really know how to impress.
My visit to this palace was a result of a 24-hrs layover in Bangkok. To get the most out of the stay I prepared a map.
Here is my map showing the places I went but not least the most important sights of Bangkok. As always I made a rather good job at identifying and then selecting the places I wanted to go. Your priorities might differ. You will have to zoom in to find the Grand Palace. Work on the map as you like, click the markers and even expand the map into a separate window for more details.
All articles in this series:
(5) The lovely sound of Wat Pho’s bronze bowls (NEXT)
Bangkok was a short stop on my way to the Himalayas.
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