If you are visiting Bangkok or have friends visiting Bangkok, a site you cannot miss is the Grand Palace. I always believe that to understand a city and its people you have to understand it’s past. The Grand Palace is exactly that. It is what the old Kingdom of Siam (Thailand before we changed our name) is all about and it is indeed majestic sitting on the banks of the ChaoPhraya River or the River of Kings. If you are a first time visitor, this should be your first stop, and if you have friends coming over, please take them to the Grand Palace. It’s an amazing site that everytime I go there, I feel like I’m transported into another era. Bangkok is not just about shopping malls and good food.
Amazingly, one can spend years and years in Bangkok living day to day life and probably never see the Grand Palace if you don’t make an effort to see it. The city has expanded so much and now the economic centre is far from the Old Bangkok. If you don’t have any business in the area or live in other parts of the city, you’d probably get lost when you come to this ancient area of Bangkok. Fortunately for me, my office is located in the old area of Bangkok with all the government offices and so I get to explore the area a bit more.
What is so beautiful about the Grand Palace? First of all, it is not just one building but rather it is a complex of buildings which were constructed in the 18th century when the capital of Bangkok was moved from the Thonburi side of the river over to its present day location. This was to be the seat of the Rattanakosin government and centre of the Chakri Dynasty. This was where the King and his family resided, where the government held court and where they worshipped. This is also the location of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew). What makes this palace even more amazing is that its plan follows that closely of the palace in the ancient capital of Ayutthaya. No one but the King is allowed to touch the Emerald Buddha.
The architectural style is that of ancient Ayutthaya and is so colourful and intricate you could get lost just looking at the details. The roofs have gentle curves that gives the structure a certain elegance and softness whilst the bright orange tiles and green borders make it radiate. The walls are filled with glittering mosaics and colourful tiles adorn the outside. The corridors and walkways are of marble. If you go there on a hot sunny day, the flickering spots of light make you wonder if you are in some sort of dream. Beautiful and mesmerizing. Be sure to wear sunglasses though. It gets very hot in the sun.
Surrounding the inner area where the Emerald Buddha, which is actually made of Jade, is located you will find “Giants” standing guard over the entrance. These mythical giants are 5 metres high and enough to make any child scared, but they are so beautifully painted and filled with mosaics, it makes me smile everytime I see them. They are the temple’s guardians.
On the inside walls, you will also find murals of the Ramayana. Thai Buddhism is greatly influenced by India and we share many things in common. It’s a beautiful depiction. I could go on and on about the Temple, the Grand Palace, the Golden Pagodas, the mythical creatures and the legends that surround it, but it would require an entire book and so I leave you at this.
If you decide to go visit, I recommend making time for an entire day walking around the Grand Palace and visiting other sights in this old area of Bangkok. (I’ll outline a plan in future posts). Go early in the morning as it gets very warm. Dress respectfully as it is a place of worship and still used in ceremonies. This means, long sleeves, long pants, long skirts and no sandles. If you don’t have them, you can rent it by the entrance. There are guides available too and if you are a tourist, you can buy tickets which is a mere 250thb ($8) per person giving you entrance to the entire complex as well as to the armory and smaller buildings in the complex. The ticket also gives you entrance to the Teak Palace not far away which is also incredibly beautiful. Thais do not have to pay as it is a temple and place of worship.
If you start around 8.30am you could finish in around two hours. Afterwhich I recommend visting Wat Pho with the reclining buddha just behind the Grand Palace, having lunch, taking a boat ride across to the Temple of Dawn before spending time walking around the park by the river and having some tea. There is much to do. One day won’t be enough if you love historical sites…
Photos are courtesy of wikipedia today..I’m still searching for my photos!