The Grand Palace of Bangkok is one of Thailand’s crowning jewels. It was the home of the country’s rulers from 1782 until 1925. Once a fully functioning city within a city, the Grand Palace now used for various government offices, royal ceremonies, state functions and, of course, a tourist attraction.
Construction on the Grand Palace began in 1782 and continued off and on until the late 1800s. The original Grand Palace was hastily thrown together after General Chao Phraya Chakri staged a coup and took over the government from the previous king, King Taksin. King Taksin had resided in Thonburi, which is about 2.5 miles from the Grand Palace. When Rama I took over, he changed his name to King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke (Rama I). His desire was to create a new palace for his new dynasty, the Chakri Dynasty, and moved the royal court from the east side of the river to the west side. The old palace, a simple structure which had only been in use for about 15 years, then became a residence for various members of the Chakri Dynasty before being converted into a naval academy in 1900.
The location of the Grand Palace was carefully chosen as one that was easily defensible, had room to expand and was in a beautiful location. Unfortunately, there were already residents living in the area where Rama I had chosen for his palace. That problem was easily solved by Rama I’s order for that Chinese community to remove themselves and relocate to outside the city walls. The area where those people moved to is now known as Yaowarat, or Chinatown.
When the Grand Palace was first built, there were not sufficient funds to make anything grand or elaborate, so it was made solely of wood and completed in about 30 days. After the completion of the simplified palace, Rama I held a simple coronation ceremony to solidify his rule. He planned to hold off an a full-scale coronation celebration until he had a palace worthy of such an occasion. The original ‘palace’ was a simple complex comprised of a handful of wooden structures surrounded by a log fence. Over the next 200 years, various monarchs would upgrade, add and expand the buildings on that site to create the vast Grand Palace that we see today.
In order to prepare for his grand coronation ceremony, Rama I needed to upgrade his palace. Since the treasury was pretty low on funds, he chose to begin his upgrades by scavanging materials from the ruins of the nearby Ayutthaya Kingdom. Over the next three years, Rama I’s workmen completely decimated the former Ayutthaya royal palaces and built up a new palace worthy of a King. In 1785, Rama I felt his palace was grand enough to host his coronation and held a full-scale coronation ceremony proclaiming himself the ruler of all Siam.
As it stands today, the Grand Palace is made up of four areas: the Outer Court, the Middle Court, the Inner Court and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Each of these areas is separated by walls and gates. The Outer Court is where the royal offices are located. The Middle Court was where the royal household lived and where the king’s ceremonial throne halls were located. The Inner Court was solely for the king’s wives and concubines and their all-female households. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, as it sounds, is the temple that houses the revered Emerald Buddha.
Unfortunately, not all of the palace grounds are open to visitors. There is an alleyway of shops, a few small museums and a lot of grounds. In the above picture, only one area is fully open for the public to roam: the group of buildings on the bottom left surrounded by a red gate (Temple of the Emerald Buddha Complex). Other than that, the public can go in the museums, which are buildings 32 and 35 at the bottom right, the outdoor area around building 31 and the grounds in front of building 26. Everything else is blocked off and guarded.
When you first enter the palace grounds, you get a great view of the chedi, mondop and royal pantheon just beyond the wall. I was pretty excited when I saw those. They’re just beautiful.
Disclaimer: This was my very first day of my first international trip and I was still learning to use my camera, so some of the pictures are less fabulous than I’d like them to have been.
To get into the area with the chedi, you’ve got to go through a gate,
Which leads you down an alley
Where you’ll go through another gate (number 33 on the map) and then you will be inside the Temple of the Emerald Buddha Complex.
As you walk along the wall surrounding the temple complex, one of the fascinating things you’ll see is a mural. The murals tell the story of Ramakien, which is the Thai version of the Ramayana, a Hindu epic that “depicts the duties of relationships, portraying ideal characters like the ideal father, the ideal servant, the ideal brother, the ideal wife, and the ideal king” (wikipedia).
The next thing you’ll notice, or probably the first because they’re kinda hard to miss, are the giant 16.5 ft tall statues. These are Yaksa Tavarnbal (demon guardians) who guard the palace.
One of the next structures you will come to is the giant golden chedi that dominates the sky.
Beside the chedi is a beautiful building surrounded by pillars.
Click the images to see them bigger and read a little more information about each piece.
Beside Phra Mondop is an equally impressive structure.
Check out the roof! Isn’t that amazing!
Beyond those three structures you’ll find a relica of Angkor Wat. I think this was one of my favorite parts about the visit.
Behind the replica sits a building that is designed quite different from the rest.
As you walk around the temple complex, you will see many other structures, sculptures and decorative items. Click through the images to read a little more information about each piece.
Before leaving the temple complex, you would be remiss if you didn’t see the actual Temple of the Emerald Buddha itself. Unfortunately, cameras are not allowed inside, but we got a few semi-decent shots from outside.
As a side note, the Temple is not actually a temple. By definition, it is a chapel since it does not have living quarters for monks. Were there living quarters for monks, then it would be a Buddhist temple. It is still commonly known as, and called, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha because that is what most people know it as.
After leaving the temple complex, you’ve finished with the biggest part of the Grand Palace. What’s left are the few buildings you can wander around the exterior of in the Middle Court.
PLAN YOUR VISIT
Price: 500 baht – This price also include a ticket to The Pavilion of Regalia and a ticket for the Vimanmek Mansion Museum*, which is offsite and can be used within 7 days.
- As of Spring 2019, Vimanmek Mansion is closed for renovations to the foundation and it is unknown when it will be reopened.
Dress: As for requirements to get into the Grand Palace, the dress code is quite strict. No shorts, tank tops or short skirts. Men must wear pants and a shirt with sleeves. Women must wear a long skirt and a shirt with sleeves. Short sleeves are okay, but sleeveless is not. Women wearing pants will be turned away, but you can rent a sarong at the entrance if you don’t have one with you. There are people outside the palace who will rent clothing to you, as well, but be warned, they may run off with your deposit money. That happened to us.
NOTE: I’d recommend visiting the Grand Palace first thing in the morning. We arrived around 1pm and it was VERY crowded. I’d recommend arriving in the morning as soon as it opens. Since we got there so late, we kinda had to rush through parts of it so we could see the whole thing. I’d also recommend allotting around 3 hours for the Grand Palace.