Sunday, January 10, 2010

Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha

The tour of the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew were the highlight of our stay in Bangkok. They were everything we expected and then some. The superlatives are endless – beautiful, breathtaking, majestic and it is hard to describe the vastness of the complex and the powerful impact on visitors. There are the buildings covered in thousands of tiny porcelain pieces and mirrors that glitter and sparkle in the light, there is the polished golden chedi that shimmers and the yaksha’s the brawny guardian giants that guard Wat Phra Kaew where the Emerald Buddha resides and there is the Grand Palace with it’s unique blend of European and Thai architecture. All the guidebooks I’d read, websites I’d researched said this is a “must see” stop if your visiting Bangkok – they were right on the mark. It is not to be missed.

Wat Phra Kaew

Built in 1785 by Rama I , the main building houses the Emerald Buddha, Thailand’s most sacred holy image. No photography is allowed inside the temple and a visitor needs to be briefed in temple etiquette - your feet cannot face towards the Buddha at any time, men must wear pants and shirts, women must have covered shoulders and pants or long skirts. No shoes are allowed within the temple. The Emerald Buddha itself is quite small, measuring only 31-inches tall and is carved from one piece of jade (not emerald). The king is the only person allowed to touch the Emerald Buddha – three times a year he changes the Buddha’s robes for the hot season, the rainy season and the cool season.

Some of the more interesting architectural details we learned about on our visit were:

The Phra Siratana Chedi (the tall polished gold monument)

This is the reliquary said to hold a Buddha relic. There are five purified elements represented in chedi architecture (I’m not sure this particular chedi has all of these qualities):

• the square base represents earth

• the hemispherical dome/vase represents water

• the conical spire represents fire

• the upper lotus parasol and cresecent moon represent air

• the sun and dissolving point represent the element of space


A Thai architectural decorative ornament seen at the top of a wat or palace roof. It resembles a tall thin bird and is generally believed to represent the mythical creature Garuda, half bird and half man, who carried the god Vishnu across the sky.


Guardians protecting the Emerald Buddha from evil spirits. Twelve of these 20-foot tall yakshas are dressed in battle attire and are seen throughout the temple compound,

Kinnara/Apsonsi (these terms were both used to describe these golden creatures)

Beautiful mythological creature, half-woman, half swan, with the head and torso of a woman yet below the delicately tapered waist she has the body, tail and legs of a swan.

Grand Palace

Built in 1782, this former royal residence is used today by the king for ceremonial occasions. The palace is a blend of neo-classical architecture and traditional Thai architecture – referred to as “westerner wearing a Thai hat” because each wing is topped with a mondop – a layered heavily ornamented spire.

The visit to the Grand Palace compound was definitely a highlight of our trip to Thailand. The architectural details were fabulous – there was eye candy everywhere I turned. I tried my best to edit down my 100+ photos of Wat Phra Kaew to a more manageable 15 – hope you enjoyed the entry.

Only two more blog entries to go, check back in on my wrap up of our trip to Thailand.

Till next time, sayonara.

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