The grand palace of Bangkok is amongst the most visited monuments of Thailand, if not the most visited one. Dating back to 1782, the Royal Residence was first made of wood before its founder Rama I ordered bricks to be brought back from Ayutthaya on the Chao Praya River. Buildings were dismantled, but the temples of the former capital that served as a model for the palace. Since then, every king has left its mark and it is surprising to walk the alleys, buildings and halls as many different styles mix.
Situated on the Rattanakosin Island in the heart of Bangkok, the Grand Palace has not been the royal residence but a site for ceremonies since the abolition of the absolute monarchy for a constitutional monarchy in 1932. Still, it is a major landmark for Thai people and Buddhists in general as it hosts the most revered Buddha image of Thailand in the chapel of the Emerald Buddha. The 66-centimetre high sculpture was carved from a block of jasper in the 15th century. The outside of the chapel is surrounded by more than a hundred Garudas, the king of birds, holding a Naga, or serpent. The chapel is also guarded from evil spirits by a dozen 5-metre tall demon guardians.
Other interesting statues populate the grounds such as monkey demons decorated with gilt and colour glass mosaics or Chinese statues. The latter were brought back as ballast when rice and teakwood were traded against silk and porcelain.
In the middle court, Thai-style prasat spires top off the Chakri Maha Prasat Hall of European built. When we visited, thousands of Thai people were waiting in line in front of the building to pay their last respects to their beloved king Rama IX who passed away in October 2016.
So many Thais come to the Grand Palace to present their respects to their late king that before reaching the Chakri Maha Prasat Hall, the queue goes all around Wat Phra Kaew, the temple hosting the Emerald Buddha. The temple is surrounded by a gallery which walls are covered with fine murals, telling the story of the Ramakian, the Thai national epic. Based on the Indian Hindu Ramayana, almost 200 scenes depicts how the demon king Tosakan abducts queen Sita, hoping to marry her, and how her husband, the virtuous king Rama conquers her back with the support of powerful armies of monkeys. Many battles rage against Tosakan’s demon armies. Finally, Rama defeats Tosakan and kills him, and returns with Sita to reign on Ayutthaya. If the murals emphasise human values of honesty, faith, and devotion, some details are fun to catch, like this soldier making out with a cute woman by a fort!
As it is a very popular site, it is best to arrive early to enjoy the grounds of the Grand Palace, and look for small details that make the visit rewarding.
Claire & Marcella
- Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area!
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