You can’t read any list of must see or can’t miss attractions in Bangkok without coming across The Grand Palace. It is without a doubt the city’s most famous and popular landmark, with it’s gold pagodas, impressive mosaic detailing and protective demon guards standing tall in front of the main temples.
To be brutally honest, we did not love our visit to the Grand Palace, and this may have just been because we weren’t prepared and didn’t know exactly what was going on when we arrived. I really don’t like sharing negative experiences on the blog, it makes me feel petty and ungrateful for our opportunity to travel, and I would instead prefer to just avoid sharing the experience completely. But all I could think of when I was walking around the Grand Palace was how much extra information I would have liked to know before we arrived, that would have made our day so much easier. So hopefully, this post can help you be more prepared for your visit to the Grand Palace and have a more enjoyable day!
Having visited and hopped through dozens of temples across Thailand and Southeast Asia before our visit, we thought we’d be fine. Wouldn’t this just be like visiting any other Palace or temple, with maybe a few more visitors? But the Grand Palace is like a tourist attraction on a completely different level.
It was incredibly hot, humid and sticky on the day we visited the Grand Palace, definitely over 35⁰C. I hadn’t put enough thought into what I was wearing. Unfortunately, I dressed for the heat – not for visiting the craziest tourist attraction in Thailand. At other temples, I have always just rented or borrowed their sarongs to ensure that I was respectful and covered within the temple grounds, so I thought I would be fine once we got there. This was not an option at the Grand Palace.
As we approached the Palace we were greeted with much more of a circus than we expected. There were people yelling at us everywhere, telling us what to do and trying to sell us tours. As we approached the Grand Palace we were greeted by two big gates – acting as a perimeter around the Palace grounds. We were told by several of the tour guides standing out the front, that we weren’t even allowed to enter the gates without a ticket or appropriate clothing. This is a lie. They just wanted our business.
Unfortunately, all the yelling and bartering, mixed with our confusion of the whole situation and the extreme heat in the middle of the day was getting a little overwhelming. The street directly across the road from the Palace is lined with shops selling sarongs, t-shirts and pants for people who have not come prepared. In hindsight, we should have just grabbed some clothes from one of the shops and headed into the Palace. What was throwing us off though, was that every guide in front of the gates was telling us that we couldn’t even enter the grounds without a ticket. Again, another lie.
With all the pressure and confusion, we gave in to one of the tour guides standing outside, and agreed to visit the temple on a private tour with him. However, once you get into the Palace grounds, there is in fact a ticket booth where you can purchase tickets yourself. This was instantly irritating to me. I’m not really one for tours, I prefer to explore at my own pace and be free to wander wherever I like. Also, I was annoyed we had just given money to this man that had conned us.
Admittedly, Thom actually enjoyed the tour and learning all about the history of all the buildings, so it wasn’t money that was completely lost or wasted. I was slightly too annoyed, hot and bothered to enjoy our visit. The heat and the crowds were overwhelming, and the fact that I couldn’t take a photo of anything without a million people being in the shot very quickly got old. The Grand Palace, definitely felt like the Disneyland of Thailand – but with even more people.
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History of the Grand Palace
The Royal Palace holds a very significant place in the hearts of the Thai people and is widely considered the most sacred Buddhist site in Thailand. In it’s heyday (between 1782 and 1925) it was essentially a city within a city, acting as the official home to the Thai King, the Royal Court, the Thai war ministry, the administrative seat of government and even Thailand’s mint!
Even though there are no longer any royals living in the Grand Palace, this historic building still remains the spiritual heart of the Thai Kingdom. It is still used for various government offices, royal ceremonies, state functions and of course, as Thailand’s most popular tourist attraction.
A Guide To The Grounds of the Palace
Within the Palace, there are many important and impressive buildings to explore, as well as a centuries of a countries unique and sometimes turbulent history.
The Outer Court near where you enter the temple grounds, was the home to government departments that the King was directly involved in – such as civil administration, the army and the treasury. These days it is still the home to the royal offices. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is found right next to the Outer Court.
Wat Phra Kaew – Temple of the Emerald Buddha
Widely regarded as the most important Buddhist temple in Thailand, Wat Phra Kaew is the home of the famous Emerald Buddha (also known as Phra Kaew Morakot). This buddha was carefully carved from a single block of jade, and sits hill within the temple in a seasonal gold cloak.
The Royal Pantheon – Prasat Phra Thep Bidorn
The largest building on the upper platoform is the Royal Pantheon, which was originally going to be the home of the Emerald Buddha. After it was once destroyed by fire, it was restored and is now the home to exact life sized statues of each of the kings from the Chakri Dynasty.
The Central Court is where the home of the king and the halls for conducting state business could be found. These days only two of the throne halls are open to the public, and only on weekdays. It’s still worth checking out the front of these buildings, the architecture is so beautiful.
Royal Reception Halls
The home to the antique throne, the Royal Reception Hall is still used for important ceremonial occasions, such as coronations. Inside, visitors are actually allowed to visit the Grand Palace Hall (Chakri Maha Prasat), which is a large European style reception room. There is also the Dusit Hall, which has been considered one of the finest architectural buildings of this style, and a museum that offers lots of information on the restoration and history of the Grand Palace.
Behind the Central Court, the Inner Court was home to the king’s daughters and Royal consorts. It was actually like a mini city within the Palace that was entirely populated by women and boys under the age of about 12. Even though there are no royals currently living in the inner court, it’s still completely closed off to the public, and is often offered as a place to stay for visiting heads of international countries.
Dress Code at the Grand Palace
The Grand Palace definitely has the strictest dress code of any temple we have ever visited, as it’s Thailand’s most sacred site.
Men must wear long pants and shirts with sleeves – no tank tops or singlets.
Women must be similarly modestly dressed. Shoulders and knees must be covered and no see-through clothing.
If you’re wearing sandals or thongs/flip-flops you must wear socks – in other words, no bare feet.
If you arrive without the appropriate clothing you can buy something to cover yourself from one of the many shops across the road from the temple.
Some websites do say that you can rent clothes from inside the temple for a small deposit (this is why I thought I would be fine), however we didn’t see anywhere to do this as we walked into the grounds, so I’m not really sure if there is. Also, some websites say that you must leave your passport or credit card as security if you’re renting garments. Seems a whole lot easier to just wear the right thing I think!
How to make the most of your visit to the Grand Palace
Although it’s crazy, crowded and just so humid, the Grand Palace is still at the top of many lists of must-see sites in Bangkok. And so it should be. As the most sacred site in Thailand and the former home of the King, it’s definitely a must see. But to make your trip a little more enjoyable, there are some of our top tips for your day:
- Wear the right clothes – so you don’t have to worry about buying or renting something when you get to the Palace.
- Visit at 8:30am – to experience some of the grounds without the huge crowds and craziness, get there right when the doors open.
- Prepare for the heat – there is very little shade at the Grand Palace, and it can get extremely hot in the midday heat. Definitely make sure you bring water to keep hydrated, and take a break whenever you find some shade.
- Wear shoes that are easy to take on and off – especially if you want to visit the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It’s a crazy scene out the front of the temple all day long, with thousands of people taking off, trying to find and then putting their shoes back on.
- Learn some of the history and significance of the buildings before you go – it always means more when you know what you’re looking at.
- The first gates you walk through are not actually the walls to the Palace – within those walls is where you will find the ticket booths and clothing hire. Any signs that state rules for visiting the temple refer to the actual Palace gates after the ticketing area, so don’t feel like you can’t walk onto the grounds at all.
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Scams to lookout for at the Grand Palace
The tour guides out the front of the palace have several different scams that they like to run on people, to try and get you to take their tours instead of visiting the Grand Palace yourself, like you had intended. Here are a few of the lies and scams we heard about – or have fallen victim to, to help you avoid the same fate:
- You can’t enter the grounds without a pre-purchased ticket
- You can’t enter the grounds without the appropriate clothing, and there is no where inside the Palace to rent garments
- The Palace is closed for a State function, so you should take their tour of Bangkok
It seems like they will pretty much say anything to get confuse and alarm you, so stay alert and avoid getting caught up with anyone outside the temple.
Important Information for your visit to the Grand Palace
Visiting Hours: The Grand Palace is open from 8:30am to 3:30pm each day.
The Royal Pantheon in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is only open on the 6th of April each year, Chakri Day.
Location: On the banks of the Chao Phraya River – Na Phra Lan Road, Old City (Rattanakosin).
How To Get There: Take the BTS Skytrain to Saphan Takin Station. From this station you will need to take a Chao Phyara River Express Boat to Tha Chang Wang Luang Pier, where you can easily walk to the entrance.
Alternatively, you can take a taxi or order yourself an Uber. Remember, it is the law in Bangkok that a taxi driver must have his meter on, so make sure it’s all good before you take off.
Admission: Entry to the Palace costs 500 baht per person, and tickets can be bought either online before you arrive, or at the ticket booths inside the Palace grounds. Ticket booths are also open from 8:30am to 3:30pm and the ticket also includes entry to Vimanmek Palace and Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall within 7 days of your visit to the Palace.
Guided Tours: The Palace offers free guided tours in English at 10am, 10:30am, 1:30pm and 2pm. You can also rent an audio guide for 100 baht for more of a self-guided tour.
Although our experience at the Grand Palace had a rough start and wasn’t the most enjoyable day we had in Thailand, there’s no doubt at all that the Grand Palace is absolutely epic, and definitely one of the most beautiful and intricately designed buildings in all of Thailand. Next time we’re in Bangkok I would definitely like to visit again, following some of my own advice in this post for a much more relaxed day!