Bangkok: The Grand Palace

The Grand Palace is amazing, magnificent, confusing and crowded. The Grand Palace is much less crowded if you’re willing to stand in the direct sunshine. The shaded view points go quickly!

Grand Palace: What is it?

The Grand Palace is 54 acres of glittering, bejeweled, gold plated, awesomeness. It was constructed in 1782. The Palace contains a Temple for the Emerald Buddha and functional working areas for royal events. It had not been used as the royal residence since 1925. It is very high on a tourist must do list.

Grand Palace: Where is it?

The Grand Palace is located in the Phra Nakhon District and is very close to the Chao Phraya River. The location has a smattering of hotels/hostels within a short walking distance. It’s feasible to knock out Wat Pho and the Grand Palace in a day.

Grand Palace: What time of day should I go?

OK, word to the wise.  Go early.  Plan to arrive at 8:30AM. It’s very, very warm on the Grand Palace grounds. There’s a high wall surrounding the Grand Palace that seems to block any wisp of a cooling breeze.  Walking among the glittering domes, Wat’s, sparkling mirrors, marble and ceramic tiles is a sight to behold!  Each of these items reflecting and radiate the heat right back at you.  Dress for warm weather.

Grand Palace: Follow the rules

As we slowly made our way into the Palace it was very similar to cuing up for a ride at an amusement park. We were herded by metal barricades funneling us to and fro, walking a zigzagging pattern, back and forth. Walking through the rather empty lines I had a impulse to jump over the railing. First, I hate lines. Second, I hate walking through empty lines similar to a cow headed to slaughter. Moo! At home I’d most likely bypass all the (empty) lines and just go to the front of the line.

What’s the point in weaving back and forth through an empty line? Ultimately, I didn’t jump over the railing. I reminded myself that I’m not “at home” and that I’m a guest in Thailand. Their country, their rules. It doesn’t matter if their rules make sense to me. (Oh on a side note, I was just reading in the news that someone was roughed up in a movie theater when they neglected to stand up for the royal anthem before the movie began.) Some rules matter in Thailand. Some rules don’t. We can’t discern the difference between the two categories so as a result we’re on our best behavior!

Grand Palace: Follow the rules: Dress appropriately

As you select your warm weather clothing, remember to keep your shoulders and everything below your knees covered. Should you forget, you can rent an outfit outside the Grand Palace. No, I’m not kidding. We watched with great interest as a group of tourists moved closer and closer to the front of the line. One of guys had on shorts and a tank top, a clear no-no. Right before we reached the entrance he peeled off from his buddies and left the Palace. We were kind of hopeful that he would stay in line so that we could see what happened with a clear “rule breaker”. There were several shops that offered rental clothing for those that didn’t meet the minimum clothing requirement standards. We saw them out on the main street prior to entering the Grand Palace. We did seem some folks wearing shorts though!

The Royal Pantheon at the Golden Palace
The Royal Pantheon

In my mind’s eye there is a similarity between the Grand Palace and Wat Pho and Wat Arun. (We have a blog post coming later this week about Wat Arun, so stay tuned.) All of the sites seem very, very “full” of items to look at. Perhaps more like an outdoor museum than I realized at first glance. An outdoor museum with hundreds, no, thousand of bright, shiny, glittery, shimmering objects to capture my attention. Keeping my attention on one item is challenging. I’m shooting a picture of one item and already thinking about the next picture I want to take of a different shiny object.

Grand Palace: Artifact density

The smaller, somewhat compact items fit into my preconceived notion of what I expect to see at a museum. When I think ornate I think in terms of jewelry, crowns, etc. The Grand Palace is anything but compact, but it’s definitely ornate.

Perhaps that’s what been so overwhelming about the temples, Wat’s and now Grand Palace; the sheer scale of all the items. Looking at the picture on the left, how many different items are contained within a single image? That’s what I mean when I talk about how dense with artifacts the temples and Wat’s are to the eye.

I’ve never considered myself as having an attention deficit issue, but all of the bright shiny objects here are certainly challenging that notion. Squirrel!

I’ve never seen such “large” objects as ornately decorated as the items we saw at the Grand Palace.

The temple Guardians are mythical demon creatures called Yakshas.

Yakshas
Yakshas

 The scale of the site was breath taking.  It was difficult to not be completely overloaded by all the glittering, eye popping sights. 

The Emerald Buddha temple is THE temple in Thailand for Buddhists to visit.  The Emerald Buddha temple is the equivalent, to the Thai’s, of Notre Dame in Paris France.  It’s a BIG deal. 

The Emerald Buddha

As we approached the entrance to the Emerald Buddha temple we couldn’t help but notice the notification that this was a “no-picture zone”, but that didn’t really bother us though. It was exactly the same when we visited the statue of David in Florence Italy or other similar sites. In fact, David sticks out in my mind so much because they were SO freaking militant about shouting “no picture!” At least the Thai’s didn’t force us to exit via a gift shop when we left the Emerald Buddha temple.

The entrance to the Emerald Buddha temple
Emerald Buddha temple entrance

The Emerald Buddha has three sets of clothes.  One set for winter, one set for summer and one set for the rainy.  The winter set (current season) is a solid gold gown.  You can see good pictures of the gowns on the official Golden Palace website. A fun little tidbit; the Emerald Buddha is actually Jade. The king is the only person allowed to approach the Buddha to change the seasonal clothing.

As we exited the Grand Palace we noticed that our Grand Palace admittance tickets were also good for admittance to the Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theatre.  We jumped into a waiting transport van and they whisked us across town to the theater!  No, actually we crawled into the open air van, waiting fifteen or twenty minutes in the scorching heat, and then slowly made our way across town. 

Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theatre

Noelle snapped a stealth picture as we waited for the ride.  If you’ve traveled as a couple before you know what a challenge it can be to capture pictures of you and your significant other. I love this fun semi-candid picture!

Steve and Noelle capture their own picture while waiting to be transported to the Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theater.
Mirror Mirror…

Once we arrived at the Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theater we didn’t have more than a five or ten minute wait before the interior theatre doors opened.  We found two nice seats in the middle of the theatre and settled in.  Comfortable chairs + Air Conditioning = Happy Steve and Noelle.  The show, while brief, was a lot of fun to watch.

Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theater

The show was a Thai Masked Dance, Khon~Sala Chalermkrung Hanuman. The performers, perhaps fifty in total, performed a 35 minute show about Hero’s last war. It was a nice introduction to Thai dance.

There was a live translation into English and Chinese from Thai that was on a display board far above the stage. Similar to watching foreign films, we quickly found the groove between reading the transcript and engaging in the content on the stage. Oh, by the way, speaking of subtitles, our favorite sub-titled film is Amelie. What’s your favorite?

Our all time favorite movie!

Amelie was where I was introduced to Yann Tiersen. I started the PCT hike by listening to his music. It grounds me. Give him a try!

We exited the show and found ourselves about five miles from where we had been picked up at the Palace.  No return transportation provided!  That was OK though.  We recognized the area we were located in and wandered into Chinatown in search of Air Conditioning and food, in that order. Having a local SIM card is invaluable in using our cell phones to obtain directions.

The show is now closed due to the Coronavirus

Would we do it again?

Yes.  We might have been at the Palace for a total of 90 minutes.  When everything you look at is glittering and golden, it’s challenging to stay “focused” on the task at hand.  We didn’t pick up the ear piece translation sets, which I do regret.  Usually we’re all over them, but at the Grand Palace we just kind of shrugged it off.  That was an error on our part.

Even though we went early in the day around 9:30, it was still very hot.  We should have been there (like we advised you!) when the doors opened at 8:30.  I really can’t imagine taking small children to the Palace, but I’m sure it’s doable with a much smaller time commitment.

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