The Grand Palace: a must-see sight for all the travel geeks

Tourists visiting The Grand Palace
Tourists visiting The Grand Palace. View from the front of The Pantheon. Photo by Discovering Bangkok

Bangkok is one of the most visited cities in the world with over 21 million tourists every year. Its shopping malls, floating market, and beautiful temples are the source of attraction for international tourists. But the biggest landmark of this city is the Grand Palace ( พระบรมมหาราชวัง) which is known worldwide for its ancient architectural design. It catches the attention of millions of visitors (it’s among the 50 most visited tourist attractions in the world) and apparently, the 218,400 square meters of the Palace grounds is not enough to accommodate all the tourists.

The Grand Palace is the most sacred site of Thailand with a complex of temples, halls, and government residences. If you want your visit to The Grand Palace, you need to show some patience. As soon as you enter the walls of the palace you will be crowded with thousands of people, it will be hot and you may feel uncomfortable in the beginning. But, remember it’s an incredible opportunity for you to familiarize yourself and your family with Thailand’s history.

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Plan of the Grand Palace. By Sodacan [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Grand Place is divided into four courts: the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the outer, inner and middle courts. Though the Palace is open for the common public, the administration offices are still situated inside the Palace.

The Outer Court, near the entrance, is used to accommodate government offices in which the King was directly implicated, such as civil administration, the army, and the treasury. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, along with the Library and the Pantheon, is located in one corner of this outer court.

The Central Court is where the residence of the King and halls used for conducting state affairs were established. Only two of the throne halls are open to the public, but you’ll be able to wonder at the beautiful detail on the facades of these remarkable buildings. 

The Inner Court is where the King’s royal consorts and daughters lived. The Inner Court was alike a small city completely inhabited by women and boys under the age of adolescence. Although presently no royalty resides in the inner court, it’s still entirely closed to the public.

A brief history of the Palace

The Grand Palace was constructed in 1782 under the reign of King Phutthayotfa Chulalok ( พระพุทธยอดฟ้าจุฬาโลก), King Rama I ( พระรามที่ 1), the founder of Rattanakosin Kingdom ( อาณาจักรรัตนโกสินทร์) in 1782 and the first monarch of the Chakri dynasty ( ราชวงศ์จักรี), the present Kingdom of Thailand reigning royal house.

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Mural paintings in the galleries of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha at the Grand Palace. Photo by Discovering Bangkok

The Grand Palace was originally made using woods because of the lack of funds. But later, the walls, gates, forts, and royal residences were rebuilt using materials taken from Ayutthaya. The Palace has been the residence of the kings of Thailand from King Rama I to King Rama V since 1782.

Temple of the Emerald Buddha

The Temple of the Emerald Buddha or Wat Phra Kaew ( วัดพระแก้ว) is the most sacred temple in Thailand. The main structure is the inner Phra Ubosot ( พระอุโบสถ), which accommodates the statue of the Emerald Buddha. An ubosot ( อุโบสถ) or bot ( โบสถ์), in its shortened acceptation in Thai colloquial speech, it’s a Buddhist temple building. It is the holiest prayer place, also known as the “ordination hall,” where ordinations are held.

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Decorative wall figures in The Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Photo by Discovering Bangkok

Phra Sri Rattana Satsadaram ( พระศรีรัตนสาสัสดาราม), meaning “Holy Jewel Buddha’s residency,” is Wat Phra Kaew’s official name.

On your entrance to the temple, you will see two statues often called as the demon guardian statues, 5 meters tall, known as yakshas, mythical giants.

Giant Demon Statue in Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)

Inside the temple, you will see the statue of Buddha, sitting in a meditation pose with golden robes, which is sculpted out of a block of green jade, about 70 cm tall and has its origins in the 14th century. In Thailand, The Emerald Buddha ( พระแก้วมรกต) is profoundly venerated as the country’s protector.

The statue was first unveiled in 1434 in Chiang Rai, northern Thailand, after arriving there coming from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Cambodia. After then, in its long way to Bangkok where is now settled, the statue was installed in Lampang, Chiang Mai, and Vientiane (current capital of Laos), from where was moved to Wat Arun in 1967 by the King of Thonburi (King Taksin) when he moved the capital to Thonburi. Finally, it was moved in 1782, to its present location to Wat Phra Kaew in the Grand Palace by King Rama I.

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The sacred Emerald Buddha at Wat Phra Kaew. © JPSwimmer / Wikimedia Commons

The statue was embedded in stucco at the moment of its discovery. During the transport, the case was damaged and fragmented and then the jade figure in the case was discovered, showing like is now reverenced.

The Emerald Buddha goes through a ceremonial attire renovation, performed by the King of Thailand who sprinkles water over the devoted to bring good fortune throughout the upcoming season. This happens three times a year for the summer, rainy and winter seasons. This ceremony is held on the 1st waning moon of the months 4, 8 and 12 (around March, July, and November). The Emerald Buddha chapel is closed during those days, although tourists are still free to access the temple grounds.

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Emerald Buddha 3 seasons costumes. Photo by Anusak at Thai Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

King Rama I created two costumes for the Emerald Buddha, one for the summer and another for the rainy season. A third costume, for the winter or cool season, was created by King Rama III.

The Library

The Library or Phra Mondhop ( พระมณฑป) is a beautifully structured building, decorated with glass mosaics and located behind the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The building is enhanced by a multi-level ceiling, crafted as a Thai king’s crown.

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Entrance to the Library (Phra Mondhop). Photo by Discovering Bangkok

Phra Mondhop is the Repository of the Canon of Buddha (palm-leaf scriptures) which is kept in a mother-of-pearl box.

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Buddha statue at Phra Mondhop. Photo by Discovering Bangkok

The Pantheon

The Pantheon or Prasat Phra Thep Bidorn ( ปราสาทพระเทพบิดร), one of the largest buildings in The Grand Palace was built in 1855. Inside the building, there are statues of each of the kings of the Chakri dynasty. This building opens for the public only on Chakri Day ( วันจักรี), which is April 6th and remains closed for the rest of the year.

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Demon statues that appear as if they are holding up the chedis in front of the Pantheon. Photo by Discovering Bangkok

Two big golden chedis are standing on either side of the staircase, facing the Royal Pantheon. They are surrounded by a series of colorful demon sculptures that seem to hold up the chedis.

chedi or stupa is a hemispheric structure that contains relics and is used as a meditation place. A complementary architectural terminology is a chaitya, which is a prayer hall or temple enclosing a stupa.

Golden Pagoda at The Pantheon in Grand Palace Bangkok

The Royal Pantheon is flanked by two pagodas originally built by King Rama I, devoted to his parents.

The Porcelain Viharn

Phra Viharn Yot ( พระวิหารยอด) or the Porcelain Viharn is a repository of Buddhist learning.

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Two tantima birds guarding the entrance of Phra Viharn Yod at Wat Phra Kaew. Hzh [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

It also contains one of the oldest treasures in this sacred place: a stone which was the throne of Ram Khamhaeng the Great ( รามคำแหงมหาราช), the third king of the Phra Ruang dynasty ( ราชวงศ์พระร่วง), governing the Sukhothai Kingdom ( อาณาจักรสุโขทัย), the first of the kingdoms of Siam อาณาจักรแห่งสยาม, from 1279 to 1298 during its most thriving epoch.

Ram Khamhaeng the Great is recognized by the creation of the Thai alphabet or Thai script ( อักษรไทย) and the strong foundation of Theravada Buddhism as the kingdom’s state religion.

During his years of wandering as a monk, King Mongkut (Rama IV) discovered this throne, and he took it to Bangkok.

Angkor Wat Model

A stone model of the renowned Angkor Wat temple complex made during the reign of King Mongkut (Rama IV) when the Thai territory spread over the Cambodian territory.

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Angkor Wat stone model in the Grand Palace. Photo by Discovering Bangkok

This miniature model gives an interesting history exercise and an impression at the monument as it was being projected.

The Great Chakri Palace

Even though the Great Chakri Palace is not now the royal residence, it is still something exceptional to view. Official events like several royal ceremonies and state functions are held within the walls of the palace every year.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej ( ภูมิพลอดุลยเดช), reigning as King Rama IX, was residing in the Chitralada Royal Villa ( พระตำหนักจิตรลดารโหฐาน);and in the Amphorn Sathan Residential Hall ( พระที่นั่งอัมพรสถาน), both in the Dusit Palace ( พระราชวังดุสิต), his successor King Vajiralongkorn ( วชิราลงกรณ), the current sovereign reigning as King Rama X.

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Front view of the Great Chakri Palace. Photo by Discovering Bangkok

Highlights inside the Great Chakri Palace that is worth paying a visit are:

Boromabiman Hall

The official name for the building overlooking the gardens, where the annual King’s garden party was celebrated is Boromabiman Hall ( ห้องโถงบรมพิมาน). Mosaics in the interior portray the four Indian gods as guardians of the world: Indra, Yahuma, Varuna, and Agni.

Since the time of King Rama VI, who built this building, all the Crown Princes, have grown up and lived here at some time. At the present moment, this building is only used sometimes, regularly to receive visiting chiefs of state or high-level Buddhist dignitaries.

Amarindra Hall

Amarindra Hall ( ห้องโถงอมรินทรา) was both the primary residence of King Rama I and the Hall of Justice. The name of this building is in honor of the wife of King Rama I, Queen Amarindra ( อมรินทราบรมราชินี).

Nowadays this extraordinary hall is used for solemn occasions involving heads of state and coronations. It contains the antique throne, which was used before the present one having a Western-style. In front of the building you can see a peristyle (a courtyard with a covered passageway around it and columns supporting the ceiling) which was used to read the royal proclamations.

Grand Palace Hall

The Grand Palace Hall or Chakri Maha Prasat ( จักรีมหาปราสาท), the largest building in the Grand Palace, was completed in 1882 according to a plan initially designed by an English architect following an Italian Renaissance style, but King Rama V ( พระรามที่ 5) wanted that it be ornamented with typically Siamese stepped covers and mosaics.

Nevertheless, the design is clearly different when compared with the other buildings, it blends with its surroundings when viewed by air. As well as being notable for the richness of their interiors, all the rooms in the palace are treasures with estimable paintings and portraits of every Thai king. The plants that border the garden contain exotic topiary trees. Inside this large reception room decorated in European style visitors are permitted.

Dusit Hall

The Dusit Hall or Dusit Maha Prasat ( ดุสิตมหาปราสาท) that has a unique large inner hall was originally the Audience Chamber of King Rama I. Here the king received his visitors, seated, not on the big throne that can be viewed nowadays, but above a niche-like throne placed in the south wing. The murals were painted in a later time and The richly ornamented lounge and many other different pieces of furniture come from King Rama I’s period.

The Museum

The museum includes information about the restoration of the Grand Palace, Wat and Palace scale representations and diverse Buddha images. texts and labels are only in Thai, but there are free English tours available often.

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Elephants (ช้าง), a symbol of Thailand since old times, at one of the entrances of the Grand Palace. Photo by Discovering Bangkok

The Temple of the Reclining Buddha or Wat Pho (วัดโพธิ์), is located 700 meters south of The Grand Palace. It is a world-renowned 46-meter long gold-covered reclining Buddha. It is a must-see after visiting the palace.

Entrance fees and dress code

The entrance fee at The Grand Palace is 500 baht (about or 16 USD) per person. You will have to pay an additional 200 baht if you want an audio tour. But, the fee is only for international tourists, citizens of Thailand do not have to pay.

You need to follow a specific dress code. Men have to wear lengthy sleeve shirts and long pants. Women have to cover their legs and are also restricted from wearing tight pants, besides no see-through clothes and bare shoulders.

If you show up at the front gate without following this dress code, there is a booth near the entrance where you can rent appropriate attire (long pants, long skirts, etc.) and will be fully reimbursed for the required deposit upon returning the clothing.

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Entrance to the Temple of Emerald Buddha. Photo by Discovering Bangkok

You should be aware that you’ll be expected to remove your footwear when entering the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and some of the other sacred buildings on the grounds.