The Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha
The “jewel in the crown” of the Thai Kingdom is the Grand Palace (พระบรมมหาราชวัง) and, within its grounds, the glittering Wat Pra Keow (วัดพระแก้วมรกต) or The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which is the palace chapel. This resplendent royal palace, made up of numerous eclectic buildings, halls and pavilions set around lawns, gardens and courtyards, was built and added to over the years as the residences of the Thai kings and their family court from the time the first monarch of the Chakri Dynasty founded Bangkok in 1782 until 1925, since when it has been used just for royal events. Later kings have resided at palaces in the Dusit area just beyond the former confines of the royal city area.
The royal chapel, built adjacent to the throne halls and residencies, contains the legendary “Emerald” Buddha image, actually green jade, known locally as Phra Kaeo Morakot
(พระแก้วมรกต) over which disputes and even wars were fought in the ancient past. The safety of the nation in which this rather small (26 inches high) image resides is said to depend on it. Since its miraculous discovery near Chiang Rai in the Lanna Kingdom (now northern Thailand) in 1434, it has been housed in Lampang, Chiang Mai, Luang Prabang (Laos) and then in Vientiane, the Lao capital, for 214 years until 1779 when it was brought to Bangkok by General Chao Phraya Chakri (later King Rama I) and kept in a shrine next to Wat Arun until its present location on completion of the palace chapel in 1784. Since that time, the image could only be touched by the monarch himself or his designated successor, who ceremoniously washes and dresses this effigy at the start of Bangkok’s three seasons, Hot, Monsoon and Cool/Dry. Although named a “wat” (monastery), the chapel complex uniquely has no resident monks.
Situated near to the Chao Phraya river, The Grand Palace complex is about a 5 minute walk from our guesthouse and it is best to visit in either early morning (8:30) or mid-afternoon (last entry 15:30) when the tour crowds should be fewer and the heat less intense. A brief guide leaflet is given in various languages with each entrance ticket and, being a royal and sacred place, respectful dress is required (shoulders and legs well covered and shoes with closed or strapped heals)