The Grand Palace is not only the official residence of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the longest current reigning monarch in the world, but arguably one of the most visited spots in all of Thailand. The complex includes beautiful statues, murals and temples, including the famous Buddhist chapel Wat Phrae Kaow, dating back to 1782. In addition, the complex also includes a miniature model of Siem Reap and several museums holding various artifacts, including the bones of a white elephant, deemed important to Thai history.
A bird pooped on my face…
Only minutes after surrendering my ticket and going through the turn-style, I felt a “heavy raindrop” hit my left cheek. Realizing there wasn’t a cloud in the sky I touched my face only to discover that a bird had hit the bull’s eye! Wondering if anyone else had seen this, I, embarrassed, hurriedly brought myself to a bench to the side, where I emptied much of my water bottle onto my face.
Since I had arrived in Bangkok, I had been taking stock of all the disadvantages of traveling alone – basically, I just missed Mindy. Another glaring downside of exploring solo is what to do if a bird poops on your face. I mean if no one is there to check, how do you know if all the bird crap is off your face in a place with no bathrooms (except for outside the complex and once you leave you can’t get back in)? Was I supposed to go up to a stranger and ask if there was any residual bird shit on my cheek? I decided against it and instead paid close attention to people’s faces as they passed, waiting to detect any slight strange reaction they may have to me. None came, so I figured I was safe and turned my attention back to the reason I had come the Grand Palace in the first place.
The Emerald Buddha…
Ever since we visited Wat Phrae Kaow in Chiang Rai and learned about the incredible journey of the great Emerald Buddha, I was excited about seeing it in its current home in Bangkok. The story goes that the Emerald Buddha statue was discovered inside a chedi after lighting had struck it, exposing the statue. A duplicate was made, which stayed in Chiang Rai, while the original was brought to Wat Phae Kaow in Bangkok. So, with high expectations, I walked into the temple…
Many worshipers covered the floor at the base of a mountain of Buddhist relics, including statues, pictures, flowers, candles and other offerings in front of them. My eyes made their way up the slope, and there, at the peak sat the Emerald Buddha, seemingly so small in comparison to the statue in Chiang Rai, where it was housed in a rather small room and you could view it at eye level. By contrast, the Emerald Buddha statue in this large space with a high ceiling seemed like the star on the top of a Christmas tree. The importance of this relic, however, was not lost on those present. I joined the devout on the floor of the temple for a few moments and took in the relevance of my location.
After only a brief visit to the temple, I exited to a sea of tourists. Where had all these people come from? The first round of tour buses had clearly arrived! With each passing moment, it became more difficult to navigate the crowd. Feeling like I had just entered an over-crowded shopping mall, I had the urge to flee. But then…I heard a faint rather inviting sound.
I squeezed through the crowded spaces between the gilded buildings, following the calming rhythm, which replaced my claustrophobia with sheer curiosity. The quiet sound grew louder as I swam against the current of tourists. Eventually, I came upon a beautiful tree with an inviting wooden bench at its base next to a temple (closed to the public), the source of the sound I sought. Monks were chanting inside. I joined two Thai men sitting on the bench and let the murmur of the monks voices wash over me like a cleansing wave. The tourists disappeared.
The answer to this depends on two things: How many Buddhists temples you’ve previously visited and what kind of experience you are looking for. You will get the most out of your visit to the Grand Palace if you visit when you first arrive to Southeast Asia. If you have just landed in Thailand and this is either your first or one of the first Buddhist complexes you’ve seen, then it is definitely worth the price of admission (400 Baht/$13.50 US). However, if you have seen a million and one temples throughout Southeast Asia, skipping this attraction wouldn’t ruin your trip.
If you’re looking to take some great shots of some beautiful architecture, the Grand Palace is a fantastic place to visit as the complex is replete with gorgeous golden chedis, bold statues and temples ornamented with small pieces of colored glass. If, on the other hand, you are hoping for a Buddhist experience or a place to meditate, the Grand Palace is not for you. Instead, find a small neighboring temple to spend some time.
1) Get there when the door open at 8:30am. Tour buses start coming around 9am and the place is absolutely packed by 10!
2) Avoid the line to rent clothing by wearing or bringing your own appropriate clothing. You must have a long skirt or pants and your arms must be covered past your elbows. This is true for both women and men. If you show up without correct attire, you can rent sarongs from a small building just to the right after you enter the main gate (and before you buy your ticket). This line gets very long by lunch time.
3) Go to Wat Phra Kaew first, before visiting the palace. There is a line to get in, which you can avoid by going early, and it can get very cramped in there once the tour buses arrive. By contrast, there is plenty of open space in front of the palace so if it gets crowded it is not as detrimental to your photographs nor your personal space.
4) Bring water…lots of water. It can get very hot and there are not many places to buy water. Besides, a bird might poop on you and you’ll need it to wash it off. 😉 The only stores that do carry water, only sell the small bottles (and are just to the left of the ticket booth).
5) Bring a bag big enough to put your shoes in. Everyone is expected to remove their shoes before entering Wat Phra Kaow and put them on the shelves provided on either side. As you can imagine, it would be very easy for someone to take your shoes and this happens on a regular basis. It is considered rude, however, to carry your shoes into the temple, so it is better to remove them and place them in a bag so as to neither offend nor run the risk of never seeing your shoes again.