|Phra Thinang Chakri Maha Prasat|
If you are traveling in Thailand for the first time, your Bangkok trip wouldn't be complete without a grand day tour at the Grand Palace. Considered the most visited landmark in Bangkok, the Grand Palace sits at the heart of the city near the Chao Phraya river and is home to many important structures and royal occasions.
|Passing by the Democracy monument on the way to the Grand Palace|
I won't talk much about the history of the Grand Palace because I know nothing much and it just might bore you anyway. But in any case I will be mentioning some important information just for you to have a brief background about the landmark.
|Entrance to the Grand Palace|
At first I thought that the Grand Palace is literally a single palace where the present royal family lives. Talk about narrow-mindedness. Haha. It turned out that the Grand Palace is actually a giant rectangular complex that consists of royal offices, ministry departments, residential buildings, a temple, some religious structures, gardens and museums. All in all the Grand Palace covers an area of 218,000 square meters. That means you gotta prepare for some long distance walking under the sun's consuming heat. So I suggest you visit the place at the earliest possible time for you to finish before the sun is at its hottest.
|The place can get so crowded during weekends|
|The Temple of the Emerald Buddha as seen from the Outer Court|
|Posing under the midday sun. Thanks Ma'am Lea for the photo|
The Grand Palace was built in 1782 to serve as the official residence of the King Rama I after moving the capital from Thonburi to Bangkok. The first structures that were built were the Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall and the Phra Maha Monthian. For almost 150 years, the Grand Palace fulfilled its purpose alongside housing all government offices. Throughout this period more and more structures were built and added, turning the place into one spectacular complex showing Thai artistry and creativity. In 1925 the reigning king and his family moved out of the Grand Palace and when absolute monarchy was put to an end in 1932, all the offices moved out of the complex. At present, the Grand Palace still houses some key government offices and is a venue for several royal events.
|The long, long ticket|
The Grand Palace is divided into four main courts: the Outer Court, Central Court, Inner Court (restricted area) and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Upon entering the outer court, you can already get a glimpse of what's inside the complex. In this area no entrance fees are being charged yet. The outer court is also where a lot of tour guides and interpreters offer their services to tourists who have not availed of any tour packages. You can also rent an English audio guide here for a few hundred bucks if you don't want a human guide beside you.
|Amazing structures indeed!|
|Thotsakhirithon, a demon guarding an exit|
Walking further inside the complex you will reach the ticket booth. At present, tickets are sold at 400 baht each. A bit pricey because the ticket does not only include entrance to the palace complex, but also to other museums and attractions within and outside the complex. Smart move for the government since you have no choice but to pay for all the entrance fees of the landmarks you're not interested to visit. On the viewpoint of visitors, that strategy can both be good and bad. It can be good in the sense that you will be forced to visit all the other landmarks to get your money's worth which may, in the end, give you additional knowledge and unexpected enjoyment perhaps. On the other hand, you'll end up paying more than what you should spend and you are at a disadvantage especially if you have no more time to visit the other landmarks. In any case, the complimentary passes to the other attractions can be used up to a week after the ticket has been purchased.
|Phra Siratana Chedi|
Upon purchase of your ticket, you will first be led to the Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha. This is where the sacred emerald image housed in a gilded-carved wooden throne (Busabok)can be found. The temple complex is surrounded by walls separating it from the other areas in the palace complex. A lot of other structures can be found inside the temple complex, all of which serve different purposes. You will also notice that the architecture of the structures differ from one another since they were built at different times, hence, at different reigns.
|Golden mosaic tiles carefully set in place|
|Demons or yakshas|
The emerald buddha is actually made from a block of green jade. When it was discovered in 1434, the abbot initially thought that the stone was emerald that is why it was called an emerald buddha. It was actually taken to Laos and remained there for some 200 years before King Rama I brought it back to Thailand after invading Vientiane.
|Scale model of the Angkor Wat found in the Upper Terrace|
The ordination hall is where the emerald buddha is placed. Upon entering the hall, visitors shall remove their footwear. It is prohibited to point one's toes on the sacred image. Cameras are also not allowed inside the hall. We saw a security officer confiscate a visitor's camera and deleted the pictures containing the emerald buddha before returning the camera to the owner.
|Phra Wiharn Yod containing a number of Buddha images|
|The half-bird, half-man creature known as Kinnon|
|Demons supporting a chedi|
What's amazing about the royal monastery is the intricacy of the details incorporated in every structure. I can imagine how creative and at the same time patient, hardworking and dedicated the Thais were during the times these structures were built. You will get to appreciate the structures more when you come up close and you'll be surprised that the stupa you thought was painted was actually fully embellished with mosaic and glass tiles. The walls which appear to be decorated with wall adhesives actually feature hand-painted images showcasing Thai history and culture.
|The Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Royal Pantheon side by side|
|Aren't they tired? They've been holding the chedi for more than 300 years now!|
|Ordination hall of the Royal Monastery|
|A visitor performing a Buddhist practice|
|Mural paintings amazingly done by hand, depicting the story of Rama and Sita|
After touring the Emerald Buddha Complex, we headed to the Center Court. This is where a number of magnificent buildings are located. These structures served as the royal family's residence, venues for royal gatherings, reception of foreign ambassadors, and state banquets.
|Towering chedis and complicatedly designed roofs|
|Even physical disability can't hinder one from visiting the place|
|Harap sa kaliwa, na! Cadets marching along Amornvithi Road|
|Come, i'll give you a big hug. lol. The Chakri Maha Prasat Hall at the background|
|Dusit Maha Prasat Hall. Intended to be used for lying-in-state ceremonies|
Our last stop in the Grand Palace complex was the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles. Formerly the building of the Ministry of Finance, the structure was transformed into a state-of-the-art museum in 2003. The museum's goal is to collect, display and preserve textiles from Southeast, South, and East Asia. You will also find the dresses worn by Her Majesty Queen Sirikit during King Bhumibol's state visit in the US in the 1960's inside the museum. The museum has lots of interesting stuff inside, though picture taking is prohibited. Entrance fee to the museum is already included in the 400 baht Grand Palace ticket, but if one wishes to visit the museum alone, 150 baht will be collected per adult, 80 baht per senior citizen, and 50 baht per student or teenager. Children below 12 are free.
|Wat Phra Keo Museum|
|the elegant Queen Sirikit Musuem of Textiles|
Before catching our flight back to the Philippines, our group visited the Vimanmek Mansion. We were supposed to skip this but since it came with our tickets, we decided to pay a visit. You have to ride a taxi to reach the mansion. Taxi fare from the Grand Palace would cost just around 60 baht by the meter, but drivers would sometimes negotiate since they can easily determine whether you are a tourist or not.
|On the way to Vimanmek Mansion|
We were actually intrigued by Vimanmek Mansion's status of being the world's largest golden teakwood mansion but were disappointed to find out that there were a lot of restrictions in the place. To think that it is not a temple or a sacred place, the restrictions were just too much. Dress codes were imposed. Shoes were not allowed inside the mansion. Bags and electronic devices, including cameras and mobile phones, were required to be placed in pay lockers. But what can be found inside? Well, the mansion looked like any other old-house-turned-museum here in the Philippines, only larger. We didn't stay long here as we had to go back to the hotel to get our bags.