The most popular tourist destination in all of Thailand is not a beautiful beach paradise, but rather a royal compound and spiritual haven located in the bustling city of Bangkok. The Grand Palace attracts 8 million visitors to the Southeast Asian capital each year and ranks the third most-toured royal site in the world, according to this CNN article. During my visit in late April, I weaved my way through the maddening crowds to photograph those elegant spires and the fairy-tale design of the Grand Palace.
To my delight and great relief, I did manage to steal a few moments alone in this sparkling setting before the dangerous jumble of umbrellas and selfie sticks took over the courtyards.
A tour of the Grand Palace is best enjoyed in the morning, just after the gates open at 8:30am, for a couple of reasons. First, in those precious minutes before the hordes of tour groups arrive, you may wander and wonder at the bejeweled masterpieces in peace. Second, arriving early can save you from the sweltering heat of the afternoon sun.
The main attraction inside the Grand Palace is Wat Phra Kaew, The Temple of the Emerald Buddha. This brilliantly ornate temple is the heart of the complex and one of the most sacred sites in Thailand. Visitors are allowed to sit on the floor to meditate in front of the jade statue of Buddha, who sits enthroned on a golden altar. Out of respect for worshippers, no photography is permitted inside the building.
Such a revered site requires appropriate dress, and all visitors to the Grand Palace must comply with the strict dress code. No shorts or tank tops are allowed, and dresses and skirts must be below the knee.
Buddhist monks clad in bright orange and faithful devotees remind tourists of the spiritual significance of Wat Phra Kaew.
As I meandered through the close-knit quarters, I tried to take in the exquisite details found on every surface. The colors and patterns are a dizzying display of artistry, and I fell in love with it all immediately.
While exploring this compact complex, I came across an assortment of charming characters, such as the mighty Yaksha guardians, the ferocious lions, and the graceful kinaree.
Speaking of quirky characters, a walk down the halls of the outer court will transport you to a magical world where monsters and mermaids abound. Fantastic murals recount stories from the Ramakien, the Thai telling of an Indian myth, and other epic adventures.
Although I was curious, the growing number of tourists in the confined spaces dissuaded me from visiting the famous coronation hall and royal courts that are open to the public.
For better or for worse, the Grand Palace is guaranteed to knock your senses into overdrive. From the temple courtyard full of fabulously dressed buildings to oodles of people jostling for prime photographic positioning, this small section of Bangkok is truly full of color, culture, and people.
Hey readers! What do you think of the Grand Palace? How do you handle crowds while touring through some of the world’s most famous locations?