It’s the gold that gets to you. There’s so much of it and on a sunny day it’s almost blinding.
Entering the gates of the Grand Palace complex in crazy, colourful, feisty, noisy, smoggy, intriguing, hot-wired Bangkok, should be to enter an oasis of calm. But as the number one tourist destination in Thailand, of course it’s nothing of the sort. And yet, and yet, if you choose your time (ie first thing in the morning, last thing in the afternoon, on a non-public day and off season, it is possible. I visited some years ago in hot, humid late March, at the end of the high season. There were lots of tourists milling about, being herded from place to place, but it was still posible to find a few quieter nooks away from the main sites.
The architecture is gloriously OTT, all intricate detailing, pointy curliques, delicate windows and shiny surfaces. I loved every inch of it. Built in the late 1700s by King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke (Rama I) it is as if he had already seen the wonderful ‘King and I’ movie (yul Brynner IS the King) and decided to base his palace on Hollywood’s idea of what the King of Siam should live in. The present King Bhumibol lives in the more comfortable Chitralad Palace so this splendid residence is now only used for state banquets and other royal occasions.
You must see the regal reception rooms in the main bulding, Chakri Maha Prasad, which has the gilded roof of a Thai temple and the lower design of an imperial Victorian mansion. I remember being really impressed by the throne room but for truly golden splendour you must visit the Phra Thinang Amarin Winitchai, with not one but TWO immense thrones. The Bussabok Mala Maha Chakraphat Phiman Throne is shaped like a boat and has two seven-tiered gold umbrellas on either side. The other throne is topped by an even bigger nine-tiered gold umbrella. Apparently the tiers represent the king’s power and prestige “… which extends in eight directions: the four cardinal directions and the four sub cardinal directions. The final and ninth tier represents the central direction descending into the earth.” (Wikipedia)
Another important site is Wat Phra Kaew complex, built in 1783 with various additions over the years. Here you can see the fabled Emerald Buddha, a small figurine actually made from jade, not emerald, draped in gold cloth. It gazes with luminous inscrutability at the hordes of tourists who queue to admire its dazzling prefection through a haze of joss-stick smoke. Rather quaintly, its gold garment is changed three times a year in tune with Thailand’s summer, rainy and cool seasons.
On the walls of the cloister that surround the temple complex is a massive mural depicting the battles, love-stories, family fueds and comedic life from the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Indian epic, the Ramayana. My favourite site was Arporn Phimok Prasad, the dainty little ‘Disrobing Pavilion’ built to the exact height of the king’s palanquin, from which he dismounted and removed his ceremonial regalia before entering the Maha Prasat.
The pavilion is considered the epitome of the finest qualities of traditional Thai architecture in proportion, style and detail and was reproduced by Rama V at his summer palace near Ayuthaya.
It is impossible to see all of the Grand Palace in Bangkok on one visit. On non-pubic days there are fewer visitors as there is an entrance charge but it is worth visiting on a public day as only then will you be able to see just how significant this place is to local Thai people. Whenever you visit, try and find a quiet corner to simply take some time to appreciate the spiritual ambiance as well visual splendour that this beautiful place evokes.
This article was written by Indus travel blogger Zoë Dawes aka The Quirky Traveller. She spent four years living in South East Asia and travelled extensively throughout the region. She loves Thailand, its people, its culture and especially its delicious food. Follow Zoë on Google+
For a truly unfogettable experience join our ‘Memories of Thailand Tour’ Visit the Grand Palace and the famous Floating Market in Bangkok. Then on to the notorious Bridge over the River Kwai. See ancient Ayuttthaya, and Sukhothai, ride an elephant in northern Chiang Mai and relax on a beach on gorgeous Koh Samui.