For first time visitors to Thailand, the tourist attraction that should be at the top of everyone’s list is the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Or, to be more precise, Wat Phra Kaew (The Temple of the Emerald Buddha). This location is such a feast for your eyes. Every direction you look there is another classic picture waiting for you to take. I have been there about four or five times now. I had an opportunity to go again the other day and just went for it. I never grow bored of this place. The entrance fee is 250 baht for foreigners and free for Thai people. The price is a little steep but I think well worth it. Apparently I could go in for free if I get my school to write a letter saying that I am a teacher. But, I never bother. I am sure the upkeep of the palace must be very expensive and I don’t mind helping out. Though I am curious to know exactly how much they make per day as the grounds are always very crowded. When you buy your ticket you also get a free ticket for Vimanmek Teak Mansion. You have to use this within 7 days.
The Grand Palace is open every day until 3.30 p.m. You might find it closed sometimes for special royal ceremonies. If someone tells you that the palace is closed for the day don’t believe them. Go to the main entrance and look for yourself. This is a common scam as they want you to go on a private tour which will include a number of gem stores. As with all royal sponsored temples, you need to be dressed politely. This means no shorts, sleveless shirts and flip flops. You can wear sandles but they must have a strap around the heel. If you arrive in shorts, you can borrow some baggy trousers from the office near the entrance. You enter the Grand Palace complex from the northern side which faces Sanam Luang. This is where they have kite flying competitions in the summer months. Last year they had the big political demonstrations on the field. As you enter the grounds there is a large grass lawn to your left. Beyond the wall are buildings in the temple complex. This is a good place to have your picture taken with the golden chedi in the background.
Work on the Grand Palace started in 1782. The layout and many of the buildings are based on the ancient city of Ayutthaya which was burned to the ground by the Burmese in 1767. Over the years, successive kings have added and renovated different buildings. Today there is a lack of open space and you might find that unless if you have a wide angle lens you might not be able to get the whole building in your picture. It is also almost impossible to get pictures without hundreds of tourists blocking the way too. You really have to be patient and wait for your shot. When you enter Wat Phra Kaew, you will notice a pair of giants. These are characters from the Ramakien. There are twelve in total and they guard each of the entrances. The green face giant in the above picture is Mangorngun. His crown is topped with a naga. Some have purple, red or white faces and also have different decorations above their crowns.
The golden chedi in this picture is Phra Sri Rattana and houses a relic of the Lord Buddha. It was built by the command of King Rama IV. If you have already been to Ayutthaya, then you might remember the three chedis in a row at Phra Sri Sanphet. This one is based on those chedis and gives you an idea of how beautiful Ayutthaya used to be. To the right of this picture is the main chapel which houses the sacred Emerald Buddha. When I was there the building was covered in scaffolding as they were doing renovations. However, you can still go inside. You are allowed to take pictures around the buildings, but you are not allowed to take a picture inside the main chapel. Also, make sure you take off your shoes and put them on the shelves. If you can read Thai, you will notice a sign that says which shelves are for foreigners only. Not sure why they want to segregate our shoes. Anyway, as you face the doors, to the left, you might spot a cabinet. Tour guides store pictures here of the Emerald Buddha wearing the different clothes of the three seasons. You are welcome to take a look yourself. No-one is allowed to touch the Emerald Buddha apart from the King or the Crown Prince. They change the jeweled clothes three times a year.
I have really only scraped the surface here. I will bring you more blogs with photos later. I just want to finish this blog with some ideas of where to go next. I reckon that you will spend between one and two hours at Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace. From here you could walk to the nearby pier and rent a long-tailed boat for an hour to explore the Thonburi canals. Apparently this is about 500–600 baht per boat now. When you finish you can ask the boatman to drop you off at Wat Arun, otherwise known as the Temple of Dawn. From here you have some fine views of the river. When finished, you can catch a cross river ferry for only a few baht to the opposite bank. Here you will find Wat Pho, or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. This little tour, that you can easily arrange yourself, will take you about four or five hours to complete. There are plenty of places along the way that you can stop for refreshments or a meal. That is probably enough for the day. I would suggest that you next catch a taxi to an air-conditioned mall like MBK or Siam Paragon. If you want more, then you could visit the National Museum, Wat Mahathat and the Amulet Market, the City Pillar, and the Open Air Gun Museum. All of these are in this same area.
Come back later as I will be blogging more highlights around Bangkok every week now for the next two months. I will also be going on a few day trips that you can easily do from Bangkok. If you are planning a trip to Thailand, then make sure you bookmark thai-blogs.com as we will be posting a lot of useful information. Also, try and visit the site instead of just reading on newsreaders. This is because you won’t always get the full blogs or links to extra pictures and maps. At the moment about 4,000 people a day read us on newsreaders. In addition a further 20,000 people visit the site per day. Don’t forget to also visit our popular ThailandQA.com forums to have all your questions answered quickly 24/7.