Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Bangkok Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha

Bangkok Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha

The Grand Palace complex, which includes Wat Phra Kaew, is the one absolute must see in Bangkok. 

We were very excited to finally go this morning, as we were unable to make on Monday. We tried to research online how much the entrance fee was, but different sites were quoting different prices. When we arrived, we were hoping for 250 Baht but prepared for 400. The interwebs were wrong.

500 baht. Each.

Which in the grand scheme of things is only $15 US, so we feel like we can't complain, but when every other temple in Bangkok is free or nearly free, 500 baht is a lot. But they can charge whatever they want and we'll still go. And they know that.

And after seeing how busy it is inside, maybe they should charge more.

When you first enter the Grand Palace, you are directed into the main temple complex surrounding Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. We were there right as the complex opened, so for the first 15 minutes or so it was relatively empty and easy to take pictures.

But then the groups came in (including many Chinese tour groups that just swarm the place with little regard or awareness for anyone else). The complex filled fast and we headed for the exit. We thought we would go visit the palace and the rest of the grounds and then come back to Wat Phra Kaew after the rush of groups died down.

Well you can't do that. Once you leave the Wat Phra Kaew area you can't come back in. It's a one way path just like the Forbidden City in Beijing. Well, worse actually. The wat itself has only one specific way to go, you can't completely circle the building.

So once we hit the exit and realized we couldn't come back later, we went back in to take more pictures. Although I understand the idea of forcing the visitors to all go one way to create a flow, it creates a definite bottleneck around Wat Phra Kaew in the morning since nobody wants to leave.

They were doing some restoration work on the temple...

...and some cleaning of the Emerald Buddha. How'd you like to be this guy?

I waited until he was done so I could get a picture without any people. Well, above the crowds, but without any cleaners.

When we finally went through, the crowds on the palace side were much less overwhelming. 

We wandered for a bit and checked out the weapons museums and the throne rooms (which they don't let you take pictures inside).

We also watched their "Changing of the Guard" ceremony, which at times was quite humorous. They would march and fall in line, but when they stopped, they weren't perfectly in line or evenly spaced, so they'd take quick tiny little steps to get in the right position. It made us giggle every time.

As we left the palace grounds, just outside the exit is the textile museum. Entry to the museum is included in the 500 baht Grand Palace entry fee (as are several other places we went to today), so we decided to make the most of our tickets and we went. And we were so glad we did.

The textile museum tells the story of Queen Sirikit, who has been the queen of Thailand for over 50 years. The museum gives an overview of all the things the King and Queen have done for Thailand. It really makes you love them. Pardon the pun, but the thread that tied all the stories together was the queen's desire to create and promote a unique Thai traditional dress (since no such thing existed before her). She worked with designers to make 8 styles that were both traditional and modern. She wanted them to be practical for western attire, but be indisputably Thai. And the results were beautiful.

As I'm rereading that paragraph, I find it weird to be so excited about a clothes museum. But I think the stories about the King and Queen and all they've done for Thailand are just so inspiring. You get in for free, so why not go check it out? It's air conditioned and totally worth it.

We left the grounds and went over to the river to catch the 3 baht ferry across to Wat Arun, but that's for the next post. For now, here are some tips to keep in mind when visiting Wat Phra Kaew and Bangkok's Grand Palace:

1. It's more expensive than you think it will be. They're constantly increasing the price, so be prepared to pay more. But it's awesome and worth it, so buck up and pay it.

2. The ticket includes entrance to the textile museum (mentioned above), the Vimanmek Mansion, Dusit Palace, and a coin museum (supposedly located by the grand palace exit, but we couldn't find it). You have seven days to visit these other sites, so no need to rush.

3. The gates open at 8:30. Be there at 8:30. 8:45 is already too late. You only need two hours to see everything in the complex (Emerald Buddha Temple and the Grand Palace). So if 8:30 is early for you, you can go back to your hotel afterward and take a nap.

4. Roads in and around Ratanakosin Island (the part of Bangkok where the Palace, Wat Pho, and the rest of old town are located) are awful. Traffic is jammed in every direction with no hope of an end in sight. I suggest you take the BTS to Saphan Taksin and drop down to the river and take the 15 baht orange flag ferry up to the pier 9 (walk past the line, you pay on the ferry). Once you pass Wat Arun, get off. It's pleasant, cheap, and quick. And fun. (Click here for more info on the ferries.)

5. There is only one entrance to the entire complex. It's halfway down the road that runs along the north side of the complex. This is the same road that leads to the ferry pier, so if you took the water taxi, get off at number 9 and walk straight up the road.

6. Remember that the path through the complex is one way with no reentry or back tracking. You start in Wat Phra Kaew (Emerald Buddha Temple). Once you exit the temple grounds and walk towards the palace, you cannot go back into the temple. So make sure you're satisfied with the pictures you've taken or the prayers you've offered before moving on.

7. The dress code is strictly enforced (at the entrance, after you have already bought your ticket). Men must have long pants and at least a t-shirt. No tanks or singlets. Same for women, but also no see through tops or short skirts. Technically they still say no open-toed sandals (you'd have to wear socks with them) but they don't seem to care about that one any more. If you come improperly dressed, they have clothes to rent.

8. If possible, go on a weekday. Not only is it a little less packed, the two throne halls that flank the palace are closed on weekends and they're worth seeing.

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