Day two of our stay in Bangkok and we ventured out in ‘appropriate’ clothing for a visit to the Grand Palace. That meant long trousers, tops with covered arms and nothing transparent. We were sweltering in the 33C heat but glad we made the effort when we discovered security rigorously, and sometimes forcibly, enforcing the rules.
The Grand Palace is indeed grand on a large and opulent scale. It is difficult to over emphasise how impressive, decorative and stunning the buildings and architecture are. It was established in 1782 by King Rama 1 and has Royal residences, throne halls and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha amongst the vast array of buildings. It attracts 30,000 visitors a day in high season and 18,000 a day in low season. The entrance fee was 500 Baht (£10) each; They rake it in but it was worth every penny and the upkeep must cost a fortune.
As we entered we picked up an official guide called Moonsong (recommended by security and the American tourists who had just finished their tour). Moonsong (apart from having a beautiful name) was a fabulous guide, explaining in detail about the monuments we saw and recommending best places to take pictures in the crowds.
The Upper Terrace
As we entered the Palace complex a statue of Hor Phra Rajphongsanusorn greets you. He was King Rama 1’s physician and the stone on which he used to grind medicines was laid in front of him (about 234 years old). We moved to the ‘Upper Terrace’ with its vast array of golden and opulent buildings. Here was the golden chedi (a mound like structure containing holy relics). It is decorated with glass tiles each covered in gold and each costing 1USD. It is stunning. Next to it is the Mondop – where Buddhist sacred scriptures are kept. Then there was the miniature model of Ankor Wat crafted and carved in stone upon the order of King Mongkut (Rama IV) and the Royal Pantheon in which former kings of the ruling Chakri dynasty are enshrined. On the ground level of the upper terrace are the scripture library (Hor Phra Monthian Dharma, a beautiful wiharn (Phra Wiharn Yod) containing numerous Bhuddha images and the mausoleum of the Royal Family (Hor Phra Naga) which contains the cremated ashes of the members of the Royal Family. Then there are two small chapels – one containing Buddha images and the other containing images of the current dynasty. In between these stunning examples of architecture are statues of mythical creatures keeping guard over all.
Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha
This is one of the most venerated sites in Thailand where people converge to pay their respects to lord Buddha and his teachings. The Emerald Buddha is enshrined on a golden traditional Thai style throne made of gilded carved wood (a Busabok). It sits in the ordination hall of the Royal Monastery. The emerald Buddha is clothed in seasonal clothing (summer, monsoon or winter) and was still in summer ‘clothes’ when we visited. The King is the only person allowed to change the Emerald Buddha’s clothing. Access is via some very steep steps at the rear. As the current King is 90 years old he now commands the ceremony whilst the Prince changes the Emerald Buddha’s clothes.
The Emerald Buddha is carved from a single piece of jade discovered in a stupa in Chiang Rai in 1434. It was placed in the Royal Monastery in 1778 by King Rama 1. The monastery has no monks but serves as the private chapel of the ruling monarch. The walls of the ordination hall are painted with murals depicting several events in lord Buddha’s life.
Taking photos inside the Temple are strictly forbidden and rigorously enforced by the numerous security guards instructing visitors to sit, stand, move on and be quiet – all with signs and pictures in English and a stick to reinforce the message!
The Borom Phiman Mansion
The Borom Phiman Mansion was built in 1903 in a western style by King Rama V (for the heir apparent). The residence was used on various occasions by Kings Rama VII and VIII (1925-46) and the current King Rama IX. It currently is used as a Royal Guest House for visiting heads of state and Royal families.
The Chakri Maha Prasat
This was built by King Chulalongkorn (King Rama V, 20 September 1853 – 23 October 1910) and completed in 1882. King Chulalongkorn was the fifth monarch of Siam under the House of Chakri. He was known to the Siamese of his time as Phra Phuttha Chao Luang (The Royal Buddha) and to the west as the King in the ‘King and I’ or ‘Anna and the King’. His reign was characterized by the modernization of Siam, government and social reforms, and territorial cessions to the British Empire and French Indochina. As Siam was threatened by Western expansionism, King Chulalongkorn, through his policies and acts, managed to save Siam from being colonized. All his reforms were dedicated to ensuring Siam’s survival in the midst of Western colonialism. King Chulalongkorn earned the epithet Phra Piya Maharat (The Great Beloved King).
The Chakri group consists of the Central Throne Hall and the two wings. The Central Throne Hall is used for the reception of foreign ambassadors and for state banquets for visiting heads of state. The third floor contains the cremated remains of members of the Royal Family.
The Dusit Group
This group of buildings consists of the Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall and the Amphorn Phimok Pavillion. The Dusit Maha Throne Hall was originally built in teak wood but burnt down in 1790 and replaced by King Rama I. It was intended for his own lying in state ceremony but has been used ever since for the lying in state of kings, queens and other members of the Royal family. It is also used for the annual coronation day ceremony.
There were many other exhibitions and and museums to see within the Grand Palace that we simply did not have the energy or capacity to see. The Grand Palace is truly Grand in every sense of the word and I can highly recommend a visit. If you do, look out for the fabulous guide called Moonsong – he’s worth every Baht!