Stop what you are doing and get to Thailand right now. This is what I wanted to tell the world immediately after experiencing the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Bangkok has only a few ‘must see’ tourist attractions and the Grand Palace is at the top of the list. In our few days here, we found a city with a lot of character and culture. When you aren’t busy exploring the dynamic city, the Grand Palace will give you a great overview about how this city came to be (particularly if you get an awesome guide).
The Grand Palace is actually a walled complex of buildings in the middle of Bangkok. It can be a little overwhelming when you see the size of it. When we came through the tourist entrance, we were greeted by several prospective tour guides offering their services. We spoke to one guide who seemed particularly knowledgeable and decided to take a chance and hire him for a tour. It was an excellent decision which I highly recommend. There are so many details that the free English tour will simply skip over, and a paid guide is still very affordable.
Inside are excellent examples of Thai, Indian and Cambodian architecture constructed by several of Thailand’s kings. Everywhere you look there is something incredible. There is even a building that has an exterior constructed of broken Chinese tea cups. That’s about as ‘green’ as it gets (reuse!). The real gem among these buildings is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew).
While the Buddha housed inside is not actually emerald, (it is made of Nephrite – a kind of jade) it is a spectacular sight. The Buddha is surrounded by an ornate collection of golden art and artifacts. There are even three different golden outfits that the Emerald Buddha wears depending on the season! You can’t take pictures inside the temple, but your camera will still get a workout throughout your walk. I particularly enjoyed the architecture of the building below.
The Grand Palace is a massive building located near the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. You won’t have trouble finding it! The architecture and manicured gardens look like they have been copied from a beautifully written fantasy novel. Our tour guide pointed out that the lower levels are painted white so that the building seems to be floating on top of a cloud in the sky. Sadly, you cannot enter the actual palace. You can, however, take your picture with one of several unmoving guards if you missed that opportunity in London.
Tickets for the Grand Palace are 500 Baht each – which is just under 16 USD. We paid 600 Baht for our guide – about 19 USD. The Grand Palace is one of the more expensive sights to see in Bangkok. This is probably due to the fact that the Grand Palace used to be the king’s home and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is still the king’s personal temple. With your ticket, you can see the three major sights in the Grand Palace complex. These are the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the Grand Palace and the Royal Regalia Collection. As an added bonus, your Grand Palace ticket includes admission to the Vimanmek Mansion and the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall. Both of these sights are at a separate venue near the King’s residence and you can use your admission up to a week after your visit.
Vimanmek is the world’s largest Teak Palace (or so they claim) and the Throne Hall is a beautiful building which currently houses some impressive works completed by the Sirikit Institute in honor of the king and queen. Getting there is difficult and involves going though a concrete barrier/razor-wire checkpoint. It was a little bizarre yet interesting once you finally get there. If you are in Bangkok for less than five days I would recommend skipping these last two sights. If you do go to Vimanmek Mansion, don’t forget to wear pants! You will not be allowed in with shorts and will have to purchase an eye-scorching neon green skirt.
If you finish the Grand Palace earlier in the day, be sure to check out the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho).
Wat Pho is located next to the Grand Palace. It is about 10 minutes walking from the main entrance. What you will find there is an enormous Buddha at approximately 43 meters in length. A Buddha stretching from the 50 yard line to the goal line? Sign me up! The entrance fee is well worth it at only 100 Baht (just over 3 USD).
Bangkok is a sprawling city and there are so many things you could spend your time doing. It is a combination of history and the needs of a modern society. We found that Bangkok is much more than just traffic jams and marketplaces. The Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho are really essential from a historical perspective and you can see these major sites in just one day. We have just begun exploring Thailand, and for me, the Grand Palace has set the bar pretty high.
If you plan to do any traveling in Europe, be sure to check out the new page with Molly’s Long-Term Travel Tips!