The Grand Palace in Bangkok is certainly one of the best landmarks I’ve seen around Asia. It’s such a shame that I didn’t get to know the story behind those magnificent structures while I was there to personally appreciate its beauty. I made a rookie mistake for trusting that there will be free English tours provided inside the palace. I must have read an outdated guidebook at the hostel I was staying at. Anyway, to save you the trouble, let me tell you a brief history of the spectacular Grand Palace and all the things I wish I knew before visiting.
HISTORY OF THE GRAND PALACE
The Grand Palace is a complex of buildings nestled in the heart of Bangkok. It became the official residence of the Kings of Siam (later called Thailand) since 1782. Back then, it was just a simple complex comprised of a handful of wooden structures. Over the next 200 years, different leaders have continued to build and added more buildings on that site to serve not only as the residence of the royal family but also as the site of administrative offices. Although it mainly serves as a tourist attraction nowadays, it’s still sometimes used for royal ceremonies and welcoming state guests.
The Grand Palace is divided into two main zones: the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the royal residence. The latter is divided into three major areas: the Outer Court, the Middle Court, and the Inner Court. Each of these areas is separated by gates and walls. The Outer Court is where the state offices are located. The Middle Court is where significant royal ceremonies are held while the Inner Court was where the king’s wives and concubines lived.
TIPS FOR VISITING THE GRAND PALACE
► BRING REFRESHMENTS (AND AN UMBRELLA)
The heat in Bangkok is no joke and it will make things unbearable. Thailand, being a tropical country like the Philippines, would have warm to hot weather for the most part of the year. Most likely, it’s going to be scorching hot when you go for a visit (unless it monsoon season) so you better bring an umbrella and your own supply of water to keep you cool and hydrated. Although there are refreshment stops inside the palace, each visitor is limited to only one bottle of water.
► FOLLOW THE DRESS CODE
That means no sleeveless tops, shorts, skirts ripped jeans, and even those fashionable yoga pants (or better known as leggings). The same goes for men. They must wear long pants and shirts with sleeves otherwise they wouldn’t be allowed entry to the palace. Those who didn’t pay attention to the dress code will be ushered by the guards to a changing area and let you borrow a more respectable local garment to wear for a price. It’s around 200 to 250 baht. Just remember to return them when you’re done so you can get your deposit back.
► BE RESPECTFUL
The dominant religion practiced in Thailand is Buddhism so it’s crucial to know about the temple customs and etiquette. The Grand Palace is one of the most sacred sites in the city so we need to show some respect despite the differences in our beliefs. There will be stricter rules enforced especially in the main worship areas. Visitors will be asked to take their shoes off and walk barefoot on the ground. Also, avoid turning your back to Buddha statues for a photo or selfie. Although it’s allowed in Thailand, it’s not really considered respectful.
► BE WARY OF SCAMMERS
They’re everywhere, even inside the palace. There will be locals who will try to offer you guided tours. Some will even tell you that palace is closed for viewing, take you to lesser known temples and jewelry shops where they get commissions on your purchases. Don’t fall for their tricks. Simply walk away. Every tourist should be made ware that The Grand Palace is open every day from 8:30 to 4:00 in the afternoon, unless it’s being used for a state function (which, I heard, is quite rare). Also, only buy tickets from at the official counter.
► PLAN YOUR VISIT
If you want to get an early start and escape the scorching heat wave of Bangkok, then you should be there even before it opens. The palace is huge and it’ll take you the whole day (yes, seriously) to see everything. Also, I noticed that it gets uncomfortably hot at 10 AM onwards. Go in the afternoon if you want to avoid the crowd. I’ve been told that most tour groups arrive in the morning and leave before lunchtime. You might want to slab on some sunblock if you’re choosing the latter.
► NO FREE GUIDED TOURS
Like I mentioned earlier, there are no free english tours provided inside The Grand Palace. Either you hire a private tour guide or rent an audio guide for 200 baht. I would probably get a private tour the next time I visit mainly because I want to understand and learn more about their historical value. Not only do they get to educate me about Thai culture, traditions and importance of these temples, but it will also give me the chance to fully admire the architectural beauty of Bangkok.
HOW TO GET THERE
The Grand Palace is not near any train station. The best way to get there is by boat. Take the Silom line and make your way to Saphan Taksin Station. Once you’re there, get off and go out through exit no. 2. There is a pier called Sathorn Pier where you can take a boat along the Chao Phraya river to the Grand Palace.
All photos are mine unless otherwise stated.