The Kingdom of Siam was known for its great excesses. One of the greatest symbols of this excess and power is The Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. Standing tall and proud for over two centuries, this magnificent behemoth structure was constructed at the behest of King Rama I in 1782 when he moved the capital of Siam from Thonburi to Bangkok. Serving as the official home to the monarchy since its construction, the reigning King Bhumibol Adulyadej (aka King Rama IX) actually resides in the near by Chitralada Palace due to The Grand Palace’s massive appeal to visitors. In fact, close to five million people a year tour this miniature walled city to see its beautiful gilded architecture, intricate carved decorations, and fantastic statues depicting both the mythical and the divine.
Continually added to throughout the years, The Grand Palace is now home to over 100 buildings with architecture spanning both culture and period. An inspired and unique combination of traditional Thai and Italian Renaissance styles, Chakri Maha Prasat Hall was completed in 1882 by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). Two wonderful elephant statues stand sentinel at the entrance paying homage to the grounds of the old elephant coral that the hall was built on. Take note of the fascinating collection of ancient weaponry to see as you pass through the grand hallways. Clearly western and Victorian in nature, Borom Phiman Mansion was also built by the good King Chulalongkorn as a gift to his son Prince Vajiravudh (later King Rama VI). The great dome has a gorgeous fresco illustrating Indian Vedic gods guarding mankind.
By far the most popular stop on the tour is Wat Phra Kaew, also known as The Royal Chapel of the Emerald Buddha. It becomes clear upon entering why this is the most venerated and holy of temples in the entire country. The entry way doors are riddled with fine inlaid pieces of mother of pearl which combine to create scenes from the Ramayana. In fact, much of the temple follows this theme from the statues of the giants, to the monkey kings, to the interior wall decorated with other fantastical images from this ancient Sanskrit epic tale. The highlight is clearly the Emerald Buddha itself. Actually carved out of a massive piece of deep green jade and “clothed” in golden robes, the Emerald Buddha is only about two feet tall, but he is surrounded by such spectacular grandeur it makes it seem larger than life.
Due to its position as both a home to royalty and a holy site, there are very strict dress codes to enter. Long pants or long skirts are required as are shirts with sleeves (kept unrolled). In addition, no shoes are permitted inside the temple. Admission to this colorful wonderland is a very reasonable $10.50 (USD) and allows many of the open buildings on site. As the summer temperatures can be a bit stifling, you may want to keep your visit to the cooler months when the dress code will feel less restrictive. Magically beautiful, covered in the sweet intoxicating smoke of incense, and bathed in the rich history of the Thai people, The Grand Palace is a must see destination for anyone visiting this ancient land.