Making the Most of the Grand Palace in Bangkok
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The Grand Palace is without doubt the most famous landmark in Bangkok. The sprawling compound spans over two million square feet, and has been the official residence of Thailand’s monarchs for almost 250 years. A number of its ornate throne rooms, gilt temples, and holy courts are currently open to the public, but with so much to see and do, it's important to go in with a plan to make the most of your time. Here are our top tips, with some answers to your most commonly asked questions.
What Is the Grand Palace?
The sprawling complex was built in the late 1700s at the royal command of King Rama I, the first monarch of the reigning Chakri dynasty of Siam. It was the primary residence of the Thai royal family and seat of government for over 150 years, and still hosts royal and state events.
Where is it and how do I get there?
The Grand Palace is in the centre of the old city of Bangkok, on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. The complex is a short taxi ride from most hotels in the city centre, or you can take the BTS Skytrain to Saphan Taksin station, then hop on the Chao Phraya River Express boat and alight at Tha Chang Wang Luang Pier.
What are the must-see sights?
- The Emerald Buddha... Wat Phra Kaew (The Temple of the Emerald Buddha) glimmers with so much light and colour that it is practically otherworldly, and its star attraction, the Emerald Buddha statue, is carved from a single block of jade and clothed with golden attire that is changed seasonally by the King or a member of the Royal Family.
- The Buddha wears an elaborate headpiece made of gold and adorned with precious stones in the summer; a golden monk's robe draped over one shoulder in the rainy season; and in winter, a jewel-fringed, gold-mesh shawl. The changing of the Buddha's clothes remains an important ceremony (which is, unsurprisingly, not open to the public).
- The Demon Guardians... several pairs of ornate, fire-spewing demons are the spiritual guardians of the temple. They tower over 16 feet high and have protected the Emerald Buddha for over 150 years.
- The Golden Stupa... called Phra Siratana Chedi in Thai, this gilded, bell-shaped shrine is home to the Relics of the Lord Buddha.
- The Royal Library... you can't go inside Phra Mondop, but the outside is dazzling enough. This library holds the sacred palm-leaf scriptures of the Canon of the Buddha, and has mother-of-pearl-inlaid doors guarded by elaborate, dragon-headed snakes.
- Angkor Wat... perhaps surprisingly, the Grand Palace is home to a perfect mini replica of the famous Cambodian temple. The model was originally built by King Rama IV so his subjects could appreciate the beauty of the Khmer ruins.
When is the best time to visit?
The Grand Palace welcomes millions of tourists annually, but if you arrive before 9am on a weekday, you have a good chance of seeing the complex without the crowds. Go straight to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha for the chance at a moment for quiet meditation.
How much does it cost to get in?
A ticket costs THB 500, or around £12, and gives you access to the Grand Palace complex and the Pavilion of Regalia, Royal Decorations, and Coins museum, which is at the entrance of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
It is worth checking out the museum — it contains amazing examples of crowns and royal regalia, worn at coronations, and royal tonsure garments, worn at the ancient topknot-cutting ceremonies that once marked a royal child's coming of age.
Is there a dress code?
Both men and women must cover their elbows and knees. This is enforced, so go for long-sleeved shirts, and long dresses and skirts or full-length trousers.
You'll need to take your shoes off before entering the temples, too, so it is a good idea to bring a bag with enough space to carry them.
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Nick Elvin contributed to this post.