Exploring Indochina: The Grand Palace, Emerald Buddha and Wat Pho

Unlike in Vietnam and Cambodia where we joined tours and had a guide, we were on our own in Bangkok so we were able to explore the city at our own pace. 

Naturally, on our first day we paid a visit to The Grand Palace and Wat Pho. From the hotel, we took the BTS to Saphan Taksin (THB30) then ferry to Tha Chang (N9).

Structures along Chao Phraya River
From Tha Chang Pier, it was just a few minutes walk to The Grand Palace. Ignore the touts that will approach you and say that The Grand Palace is closed. It is open daily from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm unless there is a state function.

Also take note that there is a strict dress code as The Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha is Thailand’s most sacred site. Both men and women must wear long pants, top with sleeves (no see-through top for women), and no bare feet. Don’t worry if you missed the memo, there is a booth near the entrance where you can borrow clothes to cover you up properly (with a deposit).

Glimpse of Wat Phra Kaew as seen from the Outer Court

We proceeded to the ticket booth and bought our tickets at THB400.00 each. This includes entrance to The Grand Palace and The Temple of Emerald Buddha as well as Pavilion of Regalia, Royal Decorations and Coins (valid only on the day of purchase), and Vimanmek Mansion Museum (not located within the Palace complex; ticket is valid within 7 days after day of purchase).

Immediately upon entering, Wat Phra Kaew greeted us. The chapel houses The Emerald Buddha (which is actually made of jade; emerald is a reference to its color) clothed in gold which sits atop an elevated altar. Only the king can touch the Buddha to change its clothing thrice a year; changing it according to season.

NOTE: It is compulsory to remove the shoes before entering the temple as a sign of respect, and feet should always be tucked in towards the back (never pointed towards the deity). Taking of pictures and video inside is also prohibited.

The Upper Terrace
There are four main monuments in the Upper Terrace namely the Reliquary (golden chedi), Phra Mondop (library), a model of Angkor Wat, and the Royal Pantheon which is the largest building in the Upper Terrace. Inside are life sized statues of past kings of the Chakri Dynasty.
Phra Mondop (Library)

Model of Angkor Wat

The Royal Pantheon

These mesmerizing mythical creatures can also be seen in the Upper Terrace

We then proceeded to the central court of The Grand Palace where the most important residential and state buildings are located. 

Phra Thinang Chakri Maha Prasat
The throne hall forms front of the facade. It is said that the building is constructed in an eclectic design due to changes from the original structure. Initially designed in Renaissance style with domes as instructed by King Rama V, but was later replaced with Thai-styled green and orange tiled roofs and golden prasats as advised by his Chief Minister.
The base of the building also houses a collection of ancient weapons and is open to the public on weekdays, but again, taking photos is prohibited.

Phra Thinang Dusit Maha Prasat
(believe it or not, I’m in this picture :p)
Our final stop before we left the complex was the Phra Thinang Dusit Maha Prasat. The principal function of this hall is for lying-in-state kings, queens, and honored members of the royal family. It is also used for the annual Consecration Day Ceremony.
A few minutes walk from the Grand Palace is Wat Pho or Temple of the Reclining Buddha. It is one of the oldest and largest wats in Bangkok housing thousand Buddha images, and of course, one of the largest Reclining Buddha. Entrance fee is THB50.00* per head. 
Like in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, every visitor must remove their shoes before entering the temple as a sign of respect. 

Buddha entering nirvana

The soles of the Buddha’s feet are inlaid in mother-of-pearl depicting 108 auspicious signs. 

Touching the mother-of-pearl inlaid feet is prohibited
Aside from the Reclining Buddha, the temple complex also has a massage school and a Buddhist monastery.
From Wat Pho, we walked a couple of minutes to Tha Tien Pier (N8) and took the Chao Phraya Express Boat back to Sathorn (THB30.00). 
* As of January 2012, entrance fee to Wat Pho is THB100 – from Wat Pho’s website

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