So you want to visit the Grand Palace in Bangkok? Great! So do thousands of other people! Bangkok receives more than 11 million foreign visitors every year so you’ll be fighting for elbow room when visiting its major attractions, and the Grand Palace is no exception. But if you’re willing to brave the crowds, your reward will be taking in the intricate details of a number of beautifully adorned structures.
Thailand's Grand PalaceWhere: Rattanakosin Island in Bangkok
Hours: 8:30am–3:30pm, seven days a week
Entrance fee: 500 baht
Time: Expect to spend 2-3 hours
The Grand Palace has served as the seat of government and home of kings for more than 150 years. While the royal family doesn’t currently live here, it is still used as a government palace. The highlight of the complex is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, or Wat Phra Kaew, which houses an ancient carved jadite statue of Buddha and claims the title of Thailand’s most sacred site.
Getting there: Hop on an Express Boat and get off at Tha Chang Pier. Be ready to pay the “exit toll,” which should only be 20-30 baht per person. Walk through the pier market and follow the street to the left. By now you’ll see a crowd starting to form, and that’s how you’ll know you’re heading in the right direction. The palace grounds are free to enter, but you must purchase a ticket for Wat Phraw Kaew. Once inside the palace grounds, walk past the lawn and turn down the road that goes to the left to purchase your ticket and enter the temple area.
Dress code: The dress code is strict as this temple is considered Thailand’s most sacred site. Absolutely no shoulders or legs may be exposed. I wore long pants with a tank top but pulled a scarf out of my bag to wrap around my shoulders and I was still not allowed entry and had to go across the street to a souvenir shop to buy a tshirt. Same goes for men: no shorts and no tank tops! We had also heard reports that no bare feet were allowed, and that you must wear socks with your sandals, but we didn’t find that to be true.
The Temple: The Temple of the Emerald Buddha doesn’t have any monks; it was more of a private temple for the royal family, built exclusively to house a solid jadite carved Buddha that was brought from Vientiane (now the capital of Laos). Photos are not allowed inside the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, but can be taken freely around the rest of the complex.
The complex is composed of 7 or 8 buildings including a royal columbarium housing the ashes of minor royals, a library where the Buddhist texts are kept, a model of Angkor Wat, and a large golden chedi that is said to house a piece of Buddha’s breastbone. Most of the buildings are never open to the public and are for royal family use only, so you’ll only get to appreciate them from the outside.
There is somewhat of a predefined path you’re shephered along throughout the temple grounds. You’ll have to fight through the crowds to push through narrow passage ways, but once you’re in the main courtyard you’ll have a little more room to breath.
Once your path through Wat Phra Kaew is complete, you’ll walk past the government buildings of the palace, which are not open to visitors, and be routed back around to the main thoroughfare. From here you can optionally visit the Queen Sirikit Textile Museum, which collects and preserves the royal textiles of Thailand including the Queen’s wardrobe. Photos aren’t allowed, but if you have an interest in royal high fashion it’s worth a stop.
Notre Dame, the Coliseum, Times Square; we’ve been to a number of the world’s major attractions, and the Grand Palace easily takes the crown as the most crowded one we’ve ever visited. As such it’s hard to give it a ringing endorsement, but if you’re able to beat the crowds you’ll find perhaps the most beautiful buildings in all of Thailand. For that alone it’s worth the trip.
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