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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrOn the right bank of the Chao Phraya river, directly across from the Temple of Dawn, as if to reflect the sunrise's glare in the huge golden pagoda, stands the Grand Palace. Having served as a residential area for the royal family since 1782 until 1925, the complex stretches over 218,400 square meters, and is comprised of a large variation of structures, from numerous chedis, worship sanctuaries, a miniature replica of the Angkor Wat, to the royal chambers and the Grand Golden Pagoda that is said to host the remnants of Gautama Buddha .
The most prominent structure in the complex is Wat Phra Kaew, known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the hearth of the statue with the same name which is regarded as the most significant religious relic in the country.
The eclectic architectural style found within the four walls of the Grand Palace reflect its long and varied history. Construction of the complex lasted for well over two centuries and undertaken by a host of Kings. One of the most distinctive element is the design of the roofs on many of the buildings. The most well-known particularity of the roof are the edges which are sculpted in the shape of Naga, the malevolent water spirits in Thai mythology. Aside from the unique shape, the use of multiple roof tiers is not unusual for important buildings, such as temples, palaces, and even public buildings. Usually, the number of tiers vary according to the building's importance, and their purpose is purely aesthetic.
General OverviewNo one would dare argue that the Grand Palace is not worth its weight in gold. In a city which has surprisingly few cultural and historical attractions worth seeing twice, this place stands as the supreme landmark leader. Having said this, it's worth noting that a visit here is not always a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Unlike hubs like Khao San Road and Patpong, where crowd watching is half the fun, the hordes of visitors at the Grand Palace can make it extremely arduous to actually appreciate the architecture, spirituality, and overall beauty of the place. yet there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of leaving elated and enlightened rather than fed-up and frustrated.
Visiting TipsHere are our top 3 tips for making your visit to the Grand Palace a most memorable one, for all the right reason:
Rise and Shine!No matter what anyone says, Bangkok is, first and foremost, a party place, which means that crowds don't start descending on the Palace until about 9.30 a.m. Your mission, should you wish to accept it, is to get here at 8.30 a.m. instead. Not only do revelers need a sleep in and a greasy breakfast before tackling the mammoth task of a visit, but a large number of visitors are on packaged tours. By the time they all get picked up and herded here you could well be into your second touring hour. Moreover you should be all sighted out by the time the day's heat gets unbearably intense. Another quiet time to visit, relatively speaking, is lunch time, which is that golden couple of hours where there is a palpable change in shift between morning and afternoon group visits. Choose this option and following our second tip becomes even more imperative.
Keep Cool!One of the biggest annoyances you'll probably suffer is getting completely dehydrated during your tour de force. Pack a minimum of 2 liters of water if you don't want to crash and burn early, as no drinks are sold on site. In addition, make sure you wear thin, loose cotton clothing which covers all your limbs. Not only is this a requirement of the strict dress code but it will also ensure you don't suffer from sunburn and heat-stroke. A hat, sunscreen and sunglasses are most highly recommended, naturally.
Wise Up!The Grand Palace is a truly incredible place with a plethora of insanely beautiful and awe-inspiring statues, halls, and structures. Yet what makes a visit thoroughly rewarding is when one knows the history, cultural and religious details of whatever it is one is admiring. Spend some time researching the history and details of every nook of this Palace before you visit, as it is considerably more apt than doing the same afterwards. Contrary to what the annoying touts out front will attest, you do not need a guided tour of the Palace but it's advisable to have at least some info with you as you stroll through the complex. when you purchase your tickets you'll be given a print out map of the Palace along with the top 35 points of interest, which are convenient to admire in numerical order.
The Grand Palace is still very much a functioning workplace, hence only sections of it are open to the public. Nevertheless, the sections which you are allowed to visit are extensive enough to necessitate around 4 hours' exploration. The Palace has the strictest dress code of all the landmarks in Bangkok so do come suitably dressed. T-shirts, shorts, tight leggings, and skirts above the knee are unacceptable attire, as are fabrics which are so thin as to be see-through. At last visit, flip flops are fine and acceptable although they are arguably the worst kind of footwear you could choose for such a walkathon. Socks and trainers would be more advisable.
SectionsThe Grand Palace comprises four main sections: the Outer Court, Central Court, Inner Court, and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, or Wat Phra Kaew.
The Outer CourtThe Outer Court served as an office of sorts for administrative chores. The treasury and the military organization were conducted here, sometimes by the King himself. In the Outer Court of the Grand Palace you can also visit the National Museum, with paintings, vestiges and royalty elements from the 18th and 19th centuries. If you enter the palace from Visetchaisri Gate, the main entrance, you'll have the Wat Phra Kaew Museum on your left and the great majority of the public buildings to your right.
Many of the halls and buildings on the outer court are in use, hosting various ceremonies throughout the year, as well as serving the needs of the Royal household and overseeing the Royal Family' philanthropic activities.
The Central CourtThis court is the literal and figurative heart of the Grand Palace and consist of a mind-boggling number of buildings. More than 20 are clustered in four separate sections, although deciphering where one ends and the next begins is both difficult and quite irrelevant. The only distinctive feature being the Siwalai Gardens. This area is the former residence of the King, and it can mostly be admired from outside with the exception of two throne halls, which are open for visit on weekdays.
Phra Maha MonthienThe most central group of buildings comprises the former living and sleeping quarters of the Royal Family and played host to all the coronations since the time of King Rama I. The two throne halls open to the public are in this group yet admiring the diverse architecture and striking details of all the building's exterior is arguably the most rewarding aspect of a lengthy visit in this section of the palace.
Phra ThinangChakri Maha PrasatThis group of nine halls and its exteriors are a striking infusion of oriental and European architecture, making it perhaps one of the most spectacular complex on site. Construction and renovations have been going on here since the turn of the 19th century.
Phra Maha PrasatOn the western end of the Central Court is where you'll find the oldest strictures in the Grand Palace. Here, you'll find the coronation hall used for King Rama I, which was totally destroyed during a devastating fire in 1789 fire and consequentially rebuilt.
Siwalai GardensThe extensive gardens you'll see on the eastern end were initially landscaped by request of King Rama I, although through the centuries they had been overtaken by even more royal halls which were eventually demolished. The gardens were returned to their intended use during the rule of King Rama V. the opulent pavilions found in these gardens are by far their most arresting features.
Throughout the balconies of the Central Court lie one of the many highlights of the palace. Over 170 murals depicting the completed scenes from the Indian legend of Ramayana, along with carved inscriptions explaining their meaning.
The Inner CourtAs the biggest area of the palace, the Inner Court of the palace was reserved for the King's family, which up until King Rama VI's rule included a healthy number of consorts. Royal polygamy was in full swing when this section was constructed, and the Inner Court is said to have resembled a mini-city onto itself. Shops, schools and many residential buildings comprised the court, most of which was inhabited by women and children, and it remains completely closed for the public until today. Despite the fact that this entire section is uninhabited nowadays it is still, unfortunately, off-bound to the general public.
The Royal Pantheon is recognizable as the biggest building in the complex. Initially intended to house the Emerald Buddha, the final structure proved too small for the task, so it has been turned into a gallery depicting the kings of the Chakri dynasty. The gallery is only open on April 6, the Chakri day.
Wat Phra Kaew: The Temple of the Emerald BuddhaSheltered in the largest temple pavilion of the complex, which bears its name, Temple of the Emerald Buddha or Wat Phra Kaew, the Emerald Buddha is considered to be extremely sacred, and only the current King has permission to touch it. With the change of every season, the King partakes in the ceremonial changing of the statue's clothing accordingly. The statue is actually made of jade (emerald being a Thai reference to the color, not the material), and measures approximately 66 centimeters. While not as tall as many would expect, the statue is of true magnificence, shining a vibrant green color on the pedestal in the shape of Garuda , the mythical mount of Rama, with the Naga in its claws, a central image in Thai Buddhism. According to Thai legends, the statue was cast in jade by the Indian Saint, Nagasena, with the help of Indra and Vishnu, 500 years after Buddha has reached Nirvana. With the creation of the statue, he predicted that it will bring great prosperity to the land that will host it.
The temple is intricately carved and magnificently decorated, yet although both building and contents are immensely revered by Thai Buddhists, it does not mean you'll be automatically floored by either one. This is especially true if you've been touring Southeast Asia for a considerable amount of time. The statue is rather small and set back far enough to make the detailing hard to appreciate. Moreover the temple is one of the top 3 most visited sites in the palace making a contemplative moment here a little hard to find. Alas, the temple is really quite spectacular, so if you only have time/energy/patience/curiosity to see one temple when in Bangkok, may as well make it this one.
HistoryThe construction of the palace began in 1782, at King Rama I's orders. Lacking the necessary materials for the construction, the palace was first constructed using wood, and when the King was officially crowned, the palace was still very different than it is today. During the next several years, the wood was gradually replaced with stone. With the shortage of construction funds, the King ordered his men to bring materials from Ayuttaya, the old capital left in ruins by the 1767 war. With the exception of temples, many buildings were leveled, including the city walls and the former royal palace in order to provide construction materials for the Grand Palace. The main transportation method during this time relied greatly on boats which would be used to traveled down the Chao Phraya river. The construction was finished in 1785, during the crowning of the King. The structure of the palace greatly resembles that of the old palace in Ayuttaya. Both cities were located near the river, and Bangkok was a small island in itself when the first canals were built around it.
Admission feesThe entrance to the palace is free, yet the Temple of the Emerald Buddha requires a fee of ฿500 ($16). If you are fortunate to travel to the temple on the King's birthday, your visit will be free of charge.
AnnoynacesUnlike what the aforementioned annoying touts will also attest, there is a 99% change that the palace is NOT closed on the day you choose to visit. Selling off replacement tours is the main objective of this comical, but by now well known, scam.
What Else to VisitThe Grand Palace is right across the street from Wat Pho, or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, made famous for the huge 40 meter gilded statue, and the birthplace of Thai massage. If you arrived by boat, you have probably already seen the Temple of Dawn, where King Taksin saw the dawn for the first time after the decisive battle against the Burmese and had the temple raised so that it reflects sunlight. Not far away is the Khao San Road, famous from the movie “The Beach” and is lined with stalls, stores, cheap bars, and known for its backpacker culture.
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Author: aelumag. Last updated: Apr 19, 2015