Ok so here I am at the entry point to the Grand Palace complex in Bangkok, Thailand. This was not my intended destination (HERE's the post explaining how I got here) but since I'm here I reluctantly went in. I made my way through the crowds and found the ticket booths, paid my $500 Baht entrance fee and proceeded in. As you make your way through the gate, you'll notice military guards/security in white uniforms, if you see these guys, you know you're at the Grand Palace. Across the street there are armed military/security guards as well but those guys are dressed in green uniforms and guarding the Ministry of Defense compound. The palace guards are also there to help enforce the dress code policy as well. If you're prohibited from entering due to your garments (foot wear included) then you can just go across the street where there are a bunch of shops selling clothes, food, souvenirs etc.
The knowledge I had of this "must see tourist stop" was limited to it being a palace with a wat on the grounds in which the revered Emerald Buddha is housed. It is also fairly close to my original destination, Wat Pho. Anyways, what I had wished I had known prior to coming here was:
- The size of the complex because it is HUGE and I would have needed the whole day here (keep in mind that I linger and take lots of photos and the buildings are that that close together)
- The ticket actually includes entrance to "Arts of the Kingdom" museum AND a performance entitled "Thai Masked Dance" ( available Mon. to Fri.)
- Different buildings have different closing times so plan accordingly.
It was on my way out, literally at the exit, when I saw the sign for the traditional dance show. I looked at my ticket and that's when I noticed the peel off portions for entrance to the show AND a museum. I couldn't find any signage on where to go or wait (for a bus/shuttle) to get to the show and then I remember passing a museum while rushing around within the Grand Palace portion of the complex, so I opted to check that out, since I didn't have time to catch the show anyways. When I made my way back to that museum (Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles), it was closed but just as well, because that's not the Museum for which the ticket was for.
Between the entrance to attractions and the ticket booths there are a lot of locals offering their "guide" services. I declined without asking how much their services were because as usual, I was in a rush and besides, I had a free map from the ticket booth, how hard could it be right? Well, in hindsight, if I had more time and the price was agreeable, I wouldn't have minded a "guide" because I overheard some partial stories and details from some of the guides that sounded pretty interesting plus I didn't notice any signage anywhere inside making it hard to get a bearing and read the map.
Just a few steps in from the ticket gantry, I found myself within the grounds of Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). Awesome, I love historic, religious places! The only building that you can actually enter is the ubusot in which the Emerald Buddha is displayed. The Emerald Buddha Statue is said to be centuries old and legend has it, was found covered in plaster or stucco of some sort, after a lightning strike on a Chedi in Chiang Rai. It was only after the attending abbot noticed the flaking off of the plaster that the statue was made from an entirely different substance. Although it's called the Emerald Buddha, it's not an emerald but green like one. It's actually jade. The attire of the Emerald Buddha is changed by the King of Thailand (or anotther relative in his stead) when the season changes, in a special ceremony. The Emerald Buddha has quite an interesting history if you're into this sort of stuff.
Aside from the main attraction (being the Emerald Buddha statue}, I found the murals on the outer walls on some of the buildings really spectacular as was the scale model of Angkor Wat. All the structures on the premises are, as you would expect, intricately decorated in the Thai Buddhism art style and in great condition. Despite the mobs of people, the premises is really clean, you wouldn't think twice about the cleanliness of the floor before taking off your shoes to enter the ubusot to view the Emerald Buddha. The premises, buildings and artwork are so well taken care of and upkept (renovated, rebuilt etc), you'd probably never guess that original construction began centuries ago.
After checking out Wat Phra Kaew, I managed to find a "History of the Grand Palace" Museum which was free to enter. I found it really interesting to see some of the original pieces of architecture used throughout the years as well as photos and other objects that have been saved. If it wasn't for the rain, I may have rushed right by, lol.
The Grand Palace and the surrounding architecture looked, well, grand! Very nice to look at even in the rain. The military guards looked professional and imposing which I think added to the ambience. I didn't get around to exploring this area much because out of the blue, there was a loud thunder clap followed by immediate screaming because (just behind me) it started to rain, HARD! Before I could stop laughing at the hordes of people scrambling for shelter (there wasn't any close by) to get out my umbrella, I got caught in the rain too. It was shockingly quick!
Some things to note, photography is allowed within the complex but not inside Wat Phra Kaew. Smoking and consumption of alcohol is not only prohibited within the complex but also on the street surrounding the complex (at least that's how I understand it). There are signs here and there but not all over the place. So be warned if you're a smoker. Dress code is more strictly enforced here than anywhere else I've been to.
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