Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace Complex are considered to be some of the most popular tourist attractions in Bangkok. The complex occupies an area of approximately 218,000 square metres and is surrounded by a 1,900-metre continuous white wall near the Chao Phraya River. This magnificent site was once a self-sufficient city within a city. A good place to begin your Bangkok tour.
Construction of this complex began in 1782 to mark the founding of the new capital and to provide a resting place for the sacred Emerald Buddha as well as a residence for the reigning king. The grounds here are open daily from 8:30 am until 3:30 pm.
A Guided Tour
Allow me to guide you around this magnificent temple compound fashioned after the many palace chapels from the former capitals of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya. The grounds contain a number of typical monastic structures with the first one being at the entrance, the statue of Shivaka Kumar Baccha who was reputed to be the Buddha’s private physician. Just behind is the Emerald Buddha temple.
You’d think the most important temple is the one that houses the Emerald Buddha simply because so much has been documented about this little big guy than any of the other equally enchanting hallmarks. Nonetheless, don’t get me wrong, the reason why this Buddha is so revered is due to his fascinating voyage of discovery. The Emerald Buddha rests within the most sacred building in the complex.
While you’re in the area, take a short walk towards the south-east corner of the complex to a section of the Ramakien Gallery. There you’ll find the 19th century Chapel of the Gandharara Buddha. And housed inside you’ll see a Bronze Buddha image, very often used during the Royal Plowing Ceremony in the month of May. The bell in the belfry is rung only on special occasions such as New Years Day.
The Ramakien Gallery
Encircling the entire temple complex is the cloister-like Ramakien Gallery lavishly decorated with meticulously restored paintings and vast murals depicting ancient legends of the Ramakien. High levels of humidity have persistently damaged many of the 178 original 18th-century panels and have to be regularly renovated.
Each mural is divided by a marble pillar and inscribed with a verse. If you should decide to walk the entire perimeter (that is all the way around the cloisters) in a clockwise direction, you will get to see the complete story albeit you haven’t a clue as to what the legend is all about. It’s perhaps a tall order if you’re up for it.
A pair of giant Yaksha Demons graces each gateway to the gallery and are said to be guardians as well as protectors to the Emerald Buddha against evil spirits. They were originally placed here during the reign of Rama II, each one representing different myths from the Ramakien. I believe the green one to be that of the demon king Tosakan, but I have no idea what the others represent.
The Upper Terrace
The first structure likely to capture your eye on the upper terrace is the striking gold and mosaic tiled encrusted Sri Lankan-style circular Phra Si Rattana Chedi. It is one of four structures built here by King Mongkut (Rama IV) said to contain a piece of the Buddha’s breastbone. Around the outside walls are a number of gleaming porcelain tiled Ramadien figures, one of which has the feet of a monkey. If you take a good look at the photo on this page, you should be able to spot it.
Adjacent to the Chedi in the centre of the terrace is Phra Mondop built by Rama I as a library hall to house Buddhist scriptures. Although closed to the public, you can only but marvel at the splendid exterior. The building has numerous seemingly endless high columns studded with blue and green glass mosaic and at the very top of the structure, is a multi-tiered roof resembling the crown of a Thai king.
Surrounded the building are sacred bronze elephant statues said to represent the royal white elephants from the first five reigns of the Chakri dynasty. Apparently, the four Javanese Buddha images seen on the four outer corners are early 19th century copies. The originals are in the Grand Palace museum.
Adjacent to Phra Mondop is Prasat Phra Thep Bidon or the Royal Pantheon. The intended purpose for this building was to house the Emerald Buddha but was decidedly too small. It’s now said to contain life-size statues of Chakri kings, but unfortunately, you may not get an opportunity to see them as the building is only open for tourists on Chakri Day, April 6th.
Another structure of interest on the upper terrace is a replica of the 12th-century Hindu temple Angkor Wat. The original, in Cambodia, is believed to be the largest religious site in the world which I had the privileged to see. The scaled-down version at Wat Phra Kaew was commissioned by Rama IV to show his people the gracious splendour of its architecture while under Thai rule.
The Northern Terrace
Lastly, we arrive at the northern section of Wat Phra Kaew where we find three structures, the first being Ho Phra Nak, the royal mausoleum. Built by Rama III after the original, constructed in the 18th century by Rama I, was demolished.
The earlier structure contained the gold, silver and copper of a Nak Buddha image which was rescued from Ayutthaya. It was later moved to the nearby Chinese Wihan Yot temple on the same terrace. The present building is modernistic and used to house the ashes of minor members of the royal family.
The final building we come to on this tour is Ho Phra Monthien Tham. It’s an auxiliary library built by the brother of Rama I. The outside door panels you see here were salvaged from Wat Borom Buddharam in Ayutthaya. Should you step inside, you will find many ornate cabinets where Buddhist scriptures are stored.
Well, that’s it for now. I really hope you have enjoyed this wondrous journey with me as much as I did and that you found the data here of immense benefit. Should you require any additional information, please don’t hesitate to contact me.