A trip to the Grand Palace and the Holiest Temple in Thailand
Stunning! Absolutely stunning! On rare occasions in life you experience something so impressive that you struggle for words. My recent trip to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, especially to see the Temple of the Emerald Buddha was one such occasion. For once it went beyond all expectations – it’s simply magnificent.
I was on a business trip to Bangkok, and needed to stay over the weekend, so this provided an ideal opportunity to see more of what this amazing city had to offer. Out of all the sites of interest around, which one should I see? Well, Thailand’s most revered temple seemed the obvious answer.
I took a taxi through Bangkok’s dense traffic after my lunch, mindful that entrance to the Grand Palace complex ends at 3.30pm. I was dropped off at an entrance, but was told that this entrance was for Thai’s, and that I had to walk round to another gateway. I brushed aside my feelings of confusion over why they’d do this, and followed the high walls to find the other entrance, with 40 degrees of heat, clear blue sky and the sun beating down on me.
So what was my first impression when inside the Grand Palace? (Phra Borom Maha Ratcha Wang) – Hordes of tourists! One thing is for sure – you are not going to feel lonely here! It was wall to wall people, though I suspect that it might be less busy on a weekday. It seemed that half the population of mainland China was there with me, judging from the faces and accents, alongside locals and people from all around the world.
I skipped past the residences of the King, aware of my limited time available, and intending to return to them afterwards if I have time left, and headed for the temples. A 500 Baht fee secured my entrance. In retrospect I should have also bought sun block and a water bottle whilst I had a chance as well as my ticket!
Once inside, the complex of temples opened out in a kaleidoscope of vivid colours and golden spires, all reaching up into the azure blue sky. It really was a case of where should I look and what to explore first, as there were so many beautiful buildings to see. I took plenty of photos, but decided I didn’t want to just experience everything through the lens of my camera, so I consciously stopped to really look and allow myself to fully absorb each building in turn. A mass of exquisite carvings embellished each, with statues and figures protecting each sacred space.
Amongst all these buildings the Golden Stupa (Phra Sri Rattana Chedi) was a magnificent contrast, it’s simplicity really standing out. Housing ashes of the historical Buddha, the stupa form itself symbolises the Enlightenment of the Buddha, with the various levels of attainment symbolically represented in features of the architecture.
The Temple of the Emerald Buddha
Onto the Temple of the Emerald Buddha itself (Wat Phra Kaew), and this is where the biggest crowds were gathered. My eye was drawn to a group of young monks about to enter the Temple, children all, but calm and still amongst the activity all around them.
Nearby to people who were making offerings of incense and lotus flowers outside, I glanced upon a statue of Kwan Yin which was almost hidden from view, and was stunned by its beauty. Facing away from the entrance of the temple it attracted little attention, yet its features capture the perfection of peace and contentment so well.
I entered the temple, and took my place on the mats, sitting in silence before this revered shrine. The Emerald Buddha itself was perched high above me, on elaborate layers of platforms surrounded by protective figures. Smaller than I imagined, it nevertheless radiated a quiet power. It was easy to feel why it was considered the most holy in all of Thailand.
After a time I noticed the rivers of sweat running down me – it is really hot in this temple, amidst the throngs of people and limited ventilation and fans. The other odd thing was the shouting from large groups of visitors, which was noticeably from one particular culture! It didn’t seem to matter that this was a holy place – they seemed almost oblivious of appropriate ways to behave in such a place! Nevertheless, sweat and noise melted away, as an extraordinary peacefulness pervaded the room, despite appearances.
You are not allowed to take a photo of the Emerald Buddha, unlike the rest of the temples and shrines, so I’ve included a stock photo below.
I explored the rest of the temple complex, marvelling at the energy given off by the figures supporting some of the structures.
Interestingly me for, the standout experience was actually the murals painted on a series of outer walls. Depicting scenes from the Ramayana, the imagery resonated somewhere deep within me, immersing me in their mythic struggles and story.
Some of the faces were simply beyond beautiful, and their look was quite haunting. They were possessed of such a presence that it was as if the events unfolded before me, and I was part of and surrounded by the story.
I left the complex when I’d absorbed all I could – in fact in two hours and a half I actually felt full to the brim with sense impressions and emotions. I knew that I was at my limit.
I took a quick tour around the rest of the Grand Palace with all its grandiose buildings for the King. Whilst they were highly impressive in both scale and character, they didn’t have the same spiritual depth as the temples, so I guess my time with them was lesser in both duration and impact.
By then I realised my skin was being fried by the 40 degrees heat and brilliant Bangkok sun, so decided a cold drink and rest on a step seemed the right move after so much to see. A warning to the wise – beware of people coming round offering your special trips and unbeatable offers – there’s a whole industry of people who target tourists with con acts. Better safe than sorry! They say ‘if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is’ and that is certainly the case with this.
A Boat Ride up the Chao Phraya River
So how do you round off such an intense set of sights and experiences? Just nearby is the mighty Chao Phraya river, so I walked the short distance, and queued for the boat ride back to my hotel. For a mere 20 Baht I took a leisurely 25 minute ride up this magnificent river, and allowed my mind to absorb all that I’d seen and felt that afternoon.
I have to say that it was one of the most impressive places I’d ever been to, and one which touched me deeply. If you are faint of heart you might find the sheer mass of tourists and noise anything from distracting to positively off-putting. Other than that, I cannot find any negatives here – I wholeheartedly recommend that you visit the Grand Palace in Bangkok, and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in particular if you have a chance – I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.
Lastly, whether you’re on business trip or holiday in Bangkok, remember to get travel insurance for peace of mind as you roam around to discover hidden gems in the city.
Find out more: Grand Palace on Wikipedia
Find out more: Temple of Emerald Buddha on Wikipedia
Find out more: Chao Phraya River on Wikipedia