The Grand Palace, a fascinating complex of buildings sitting at the heart of Bangkok, has been the official residence of the reigning monarchs of Siam and now Thailand since 1782. The Grand Palace is now used for royal ceremonies and state functions with the reigning monarch King Bhumibol Adulyadej using Chitralada Palace as his official residence.
Construction began in 1782 during the reign of King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke (Rama 1), founder of the Chakri dynasty. Several new buildings and structures have been added, notably during the reign in the early 20th century of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). By 1925 the Royal Family and the government were no longer permanently settled at the palace, having moved to other residences. The palace complex is reminiscent of the palaces of Ayutthaya and is probably one of the city’s most popular attractions.
The Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) is located in the outer court and is open to visitors. One legend states that the Buddha statue, made from jade, is thought to originate from India. Some art historians believe that the statue is cast in the Chiang Saen style from the 15th century and comes from the Lanna Kingdom in northern Thailand.
Whatever the true origins, what is known for sure is that it was moved to its current location in 1784 on the orders of King Rama 1. An important ceremony takes place three times every year conducted either by His Majesty the King or a nominated representative. The gold cloak that adorns the Emerald Buddha is changed in line with the onset of each new season – summer, monsoon and cool. The two sets of gold clothing not in use at any given time are kept on display in the nearby Pavilion of Regalia, Royal Decorations and Thai coins and may be viewed by the public.
Elsewhere within the walls of the Grand Palace sits the Central Court where the former residence of the King and halls used for conducting state business are located. Two of the throne halls are open to the public. The Inner Court is closed to the public.
There is a fascinating mix of Thai, Asian and western architecture used in the many structures throughout the Grand Palace complex. Don’t miss the Amarinda Hall, formerly the home of King Rama 1 and now used for royal ceremonies and coronations.
Admission is free for Thai nationals and foreign visitors pay a nominal sum for a ticket that also includes admission to Vimanmek Mansion and the Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall.
Important tip: Ignore tuk tuk and taxi drivers that tell you the Grand Palace is closed. Check first with your hotel concierge about opening and closing times. It is important that you dress appropriately. No shorts, flip flops or sandals. Ladies must wear full length garments and cover their shoulders.