Wat Phra Kaew and The Grand Palace, Bangkok Old Royal City Travel Guide

Open daily 08:30 - 11:30 and 13:00 - 15:30. Beyond Wat Pho on Sanam Chai Road are the massive white crenelated walls and huge gateways (to accommodate howdah-topped elephants) surrounding the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The main entrance, however, is around the corner in Na Phralan Road.

The collection of regal apartments which comprise the Grand Palace (of which only a small part is open to the public) and the royal chapel of Wat Phra Kaew, the nation's holiest shrine, epitomize Bangkok sightseeing.

Here is quintessential Thailand and everyone's dream of Oriental wonder.

Situated in the northeast corner of the Grand Palace compound, Wat Phra Kaew was built soon after the founding of Bangkok as the capital in 1782.

It comprises a group of buildings profusely adorned with gold leaf, glazed colored tiles and mirror-glass inlay, while standing guard are statues of giant yakshas, golden kinnaris and other mythological beings.

Encountered in a line from the main entrance are the Phra Sri Ratanna Chedi, the Phra Mondop or library and the Prasad Phra Thepbidon or Royal Pantheon, containing statues of the Chakri Kings (open only once a year, on 6 April, Chakri Day).

Next to the Phra Mondop is a model of Angkor Wat made at a time when Thailand held sway over much of Cambodia.

Emerald Buddha

The 75cm (30in) high statue of the Emerald Buddha, Thailand's most sacred image, is enshrined in the sanctuary in the southern half of the compound.

It has three bejewelled costumes, one for each season, which are changed at the appropriate time by the King. Smaller than most visitors expect and raised high on an ornate pedestal, the Emerald Buddha is difficult to see clearly, but the overall effect of the shrine is awesome.

Scenes From Ramakien

The temple is surrounded by cloisters where there are mural paintings of scenes from the Ramakien.

However, these have been restored several times and in the process have lost much of their aesthetic purity. Note that a strict dress code is enforced - shorts and uncovered shoulders are absolutely forbidden.

Thailand's Prime Temple

While Wat Phra Kaew remains the nation's prime temple, the Grand Palace itself is no longer the Royal Residence, though it is used for certain state functions.

The oldest of the several halls date from the late 18th century. Others are the product of several extensive additions made during various reigns up to the turn of the present century.

Stylistic architectural variations are thus an interesting feature.

Chakri Maha Prasat

Five main buildings may be seen from the outside. Chakri Maha Prasat, readily recognized by its Italianate facade and triple-spired Thai roof, was designed by an English architect and built during the reign of King Rama V, who took a keen interest in European art and architecture.

Dusit Maha Prasat

Dusit Maha Prasat, to the right of the Chakri Maha Prasat, was built as an audience hall by Rama I and is today used for the lying-in-state of kings. The architecture exemplified early Ratanakosin style.

Aphon Phimok Pavillion

The nearby Aphon Phimok Pavilion is a charming little building where originally the king would alight from his palanquin and don official attire before giving an audience in the adjacent Throne Hall.

Amarin Winitchai Hall

Amarin Winitchai Hall, to the left of the Chakri Maha Prasat, is one of the Palace's earliest structures, originally used as the royal court of justice and today the venue for royal birthday rites.

Boromphiman Hall

Furthest west is the Boromphiman Hall, a royal residence from the reign of King Rama VI.

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