The Bangkok Grand Palace Complex was not only the king's official residence from 1782 to 1946 but also once a significant self-sufficient city within a city. It's
fairly safe to say that this site is possibly the most popular tourist
attraction in the city. The ground here occupies an area of around
218,000 square metres and is encircled by a 1,900-metre long white wall
Chao Phraya River.
Firstly, let me start my story with a brief look into the spiritual and historical heart of the old royal city of Bangkok known as Rattanakosin. It is difficult to perceive from ground level, but a bird's eye view would reveal this area, dense with shrines and temples, occupies an oval island, which is in part both natural and artificial.
It grand palace founded by King Rama I who in 1782 set out to construct a protected city following the fall of the old capital of Ayutthaya. Rama I first moved to an area known as Thonburi on the western side of the grand Mae Nam Chao Phraya River.
Later the king used an artificial canal to create an island in a bend in the river which was to become the centre of the new capital. This district was to house all the royal quarters, most of the royal temples as well as all the administrative offices. The Grand Palace was the king's royal residence and also housed the offices of many government ministries, of which only one remains within the grounds today.
Before we begin the tour, let me explain how to get to the Grand Palace complex. If you are staying near the river, the easiest way to the old city is via the ferry. Disembark the boat at the Tha Chang Chao Phraya Express Pier and walk straight up Thanon Na Phra Lan. The Grand Palace entrance is a short way along the road to your right. If staying in other parts of the city, then it's best to take the taxi.
The present King Bhumibol moved the official royal residence to the more modern Chitralada Palace in the Dusit district in 1946, following the mysterious death of his elder brother, King Rama VIII, who was found dead in his room from a gunshot wound. Though official ceremonies are still occasionally held here, much of the Grand Palace's labyrinth of structures and gardens remain closed to tourists.
Nevertheless, many parts of the Grand Palace remain open to all visitors, including the Siwalai Gardens, Amarin Winichai Hall, Phaisan Thaksin Hall, Dusit Throne Hall, Chakri Throne Hall, Chakraphat Phiman Hall, the Aphonphimok Pavilion, the Inner Palace and perhaps one of the most frequently photographed buildings of all, the Grand Palace Hall named Chakri Maha Prasat as seen in a photo below.
Amarin Winichai Hall was one of the first buildings to be completed in the palace complex. Built in the 18th century, it was originally used as an audience hall for foreign guests. Apart from the colourful murals inside, the focal point here is the boat-shaped Busabok Mala Throne, which is surmounted by a nine-tiered white canopy. In the past, when an audience was present, two curtains hid the throne and later drawn back to reveal the king wearing a loose golden gown.
Lavish fanfares were held here in the 19th century for two British ambassadors. One was John Crawfurd, a Scottish physician, colonial administrator and author. He was entertained by Rama II. And the other was Sir John Bowring, an English political economist, traveller, miscellaneous writer, polyglot and the 4th Governor of Hong Kong. He was entertained by Rama IV. Today this hall is used only for a very few state ceremonies. However, the hall is open to the public on weekdays.
Phaisan Thaksin Hall is connected to the Amarin Winichai Hall by a gateway which only the king, queen and royal children are allowed to walk through. The hall was originally used by King Rama I as a private dining hall for his family, friends and members of the royal court. Now only coronations are held here. Unfortunately, this hall is not open to the public. It is believed to house the esteemed guardian deity known as Phra Siam Thewathirat and the coronation chair.
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Dusit Throne Hall is an exquisitely beautiful cross-shaped building complete with a multi-tiered spire, and for many, it is probably the crowning glory of the Grand Palace Complex. This hall was originally constructed in 1784 as a reproduction of one of Ayutthaya's grandest of buildings, the Sanphet Maha Prasat.
Five years on, the hall was struck by lightning but later rebuilt, though on a much smaller scale. The sumptuously decorated golden spire is considered to be one of the finest examples of early Rattanakosin Architecture. Once inside, you'll be greeted with some spectacular Thai art masterpieces.
The main feature is, of course, the original Rama I teak throne, which is inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Once you enter the south wing of the hall you'll notice the window is also in the shape of a throne. The hall is now used for annual coronation day celebrations.
Chakri Throne Hall is also known as the Grand Palace Hall, Chakri Maha Prasat
and occupies centre stage in the complex. It was built in 1882 with a
mixture of both Western Neoclassical and traditional Thai architectural
styles by the British architect John Chinitz. Rama V
commissioned the building to mark the centenary of the Chakri dynasty, a
fact reflected in the theme of the elaborate decoration.
There are a few things that you may need to know before visiting this site. Just be aware that on most days, it can get very hot, no make that oppressively hot even on some rather rainy days, so although you could be inclined to dress down accordingly, you shall be asked to cover your knees and heels before entering.
This means no open sandals, short pants or short skirts are to be worn on the premises. There is, however, no need to panic as appropriate attire is provided should you forget. It's the most holistic temple complex in Thailand so you need to be mindful of this. A little respect, courtesy and common sense are necessary.
It is advisable to take bottled drinking water with you if you wish to spend some time here, but refreshments can be purchased in and around the grounds should the need arise. Umbrellas are also important during the rainy season. You need to remember that these grounds are quite extensive so if you want to see all the important chapels, Chedi and shrines, a fair amount of time is pretty mandatory.
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