Last Update: December 2022
The Bangkok Grand Palace and surrounding temples are absolute must-visit attractions of Bangkok.
Maybe you’re thinking “Palace?, Temples?, meh, boring”. Oh, come on already, don’t give me that! Let me ask you, when you order a burger, do you only eat the bun and leave out the patty?….well, there you go.
Will open your eyes on why you should visit the Bangkok Grand Palace and the temples;
Explains how to get there;
Tells you the do’s and don’ts within the temple grounds.
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Next to Thai food…oh, the food!, the Bangkok Grand Palace and surrounding temples are probably the most popular attractions in Bangkok. And with good reason I might add. The splendor of Thai Royalty and Buddhist worship are on display here with all of its grandeur. Highly instagrammable I might add.
The Grand Palace plus two of Bangkok’s major temples, Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho, are very conveniently located next to each other on Rattanakosin Island (yes, technically it’s an Island).
As a bonus, the National Museum is within walking distance. Another major landmark temple, Wat Arun, lies within earshot just across the Chao Praya river. So, this area easily provides you with a whole day of sightseeing if your feet allow it.
Despite its popularity with tourists the Grand Palace and the temples are not a tourist trap. To the Thai population these monuments are sacred and worshipers come from afar to honor their King and Buddha. Let’s be thankful that they allow us to share their holy place of worship.
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Bangkok Grand Palace
The Bangkok Grand Palace was built in 1782, the same year that Bangkok was established as the capital of Siam. Besides being the Kings residence the palace also housed the Royal court, the war ministry and several state departments. At some point even the mint was housed on the palace grounds. The joint European and Thai architecture with meticulously detailed ornaments are a perfect example of Thai craftsmanship.
While the Bangkok Grand Palace is still the official ceremonial residence, the Royal family has its private residence in Dusit palace, approximately 3 clicks Northeast.
Out of several throne halls only two are open to the public. Between the two of them they provide a sufficient representation of the lavish interiors. Also, the outer court is open to visitors and shared with a number of impressive buildings including Wat Phra Kaew, the most important Buddhist temple in Thailand.
Every morning at 10am the ceremonial changing of the King’s guards takes place. A truly nice spectacle to witness with lot’s of photo opportunities.
Be aware that for entering the palace grounds a strict dress code is enforced. Men should wear long pants and women have to cover their knees. Also, shoulders should be covered and bare feet are a no-go.
On your way to the palace, locals (posing as bystanders) will tell you that either the palace is closed or that you will not be admitted to the palace grounds, because you are not dressed appropriate, even if you are.
To (seemingly) help you, they direct you to a nearby accomplice tuk-tuk for an alternative attraction. The tuk-tuk ride is surprisingly cheap so you’re tempted to comply.
Next thing you know you’re going from one clothes tailor and/or gem shop to another. The tuk-tuk driver receives a commission for every purchase or even for just bringing you there. You can protest, but the driver simply pretends not to understand English.
If you’re lucky you’ll end up at the agreed attraction after a few hours of being railroaded. More likely though, you’ll end up in the middle of nowhere, forking out some serious bucks for the taxi ride back to your hotel.
Occasionally the palace does close its doors, because of official Royal events. If so, just go to the National Museum or one of the temples instead, they’re all within walking distance. If really not dressed according to code, the palace will rent you a sarong for a small fee.
The palace opens daily from 8:30am to 3:30pm and tickets are THB500, including Wat Phra Kaew.
Wat Phra Kaew
The most important Buddhist temple in Thailand shares its grounds with the Bangkok Grand Palace, although separated by a wall around the 16,000sqm temple complex. The main building, or “Phra Ubosot”, enshrines the emerald Buddha, a highly revered Buddha image carved from a single block of jade measuring 66cm in height. It is regarded as the most sacred of Buddhist statues in the Kingdom and the protector of Thailand.
With the changing of the seasons the robes of the emerald Buddha are changed as well. This task can only be done by the King, or the crown prince in the name of the King, as they are the only ones allowed to touch the sacred statue.
The temple site consists of multiple buildings and chedis, all of them elaborately decorated with refined woodcarvings and gold colored ornaments. Impressive 5m tall statues of “Yaksis” (mythical giants) stand guard to keep the evil spirits at bay.
Wat Phra Kaew opens daily from 8:30am to 3:30pm and tickets are THB500, including the Bangkok Grand Palace.
Just South and directly next to the Bangkok Grand Palace is Wat Pho, another magnificent Buddhist temple. Next to the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, the temple also houses a 15m tall and 46m long statue of a reclining Buddha completely covered in gold leaf.
Wat Pho is highly associated with education and to this day houses a school of Thai medicine. Likewise it is recognized as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage, which is still taught and practiced here. If you’re up for it, you can get a massage treatment at one of the two pavilions in the Eastern part of the complex.
The vast temple grounds include long lines of in total 394 gilded Buddha images in lotus position from different parts of Thailand. Furthermore, 91 chedis decorated in ceramic pottery flowers and colorful tiles are spread throughout the area..
Several drinking water stations are set up throughout the complex. Bring your own container or you’ll be drinking from the metal cups that thousands before you drank from.
A few makeshift shops sell trinkets and amulets and there’s even a hand reader, which we tried on our visit to Wat Pho. I could immediately tell he was a fraud when he told us that my girlfriend was a better and more modest person than me. Nevertheless, it was a fun and entertaining reading.
The temple opens daily from 8am until 5pm and tickets are THB100.
How to get there
If you’re staying on or near Khaosan road, it’s an easy 2km walk to the Bangkok Grand Palace. Alternatively, you can go by short taxi ride. Remind the driver to use the meter, especially the Khaosan road taxis often “forget”.
A more pleasant means of transport is the Chao Phraya Express ferry, because of the refreshing river breeze. Never mind the less refreshing smells from the river at times. From Khaosan road hop on the orange flag ferry at Phra Arthit #13 direction South. Buy your THB14 ticket at the pier booth or pay the ticket lady on the boat. Alight at Tha Maharaj #10 or Tha Chang #9 and from there it’s just a short walk to the palace.
Do not use the blue flag Chao Phraya tourist boat, unless you’re planning a whole day on the water. They charge THB200 for a day pass.
From anywhere else but Khaosan, taxi is the most convenient as there is no reasonable public transport to the palace. Use Grab, the South East Asian alternative to Uber taxi. One exception: get on the BTS to Saphan Taksin, from there walk 150m to the Sathorn Taksin ferry pier. Board the orange flag Chao Praya Express boat direction North and alight at Tha Chang #9. Ticket THB14.
So there’s no excuse anymore, every first timer to Bangkok should visit here or else accept that you actually haven’t seen Bangkok at all.
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If by now temple fatigue didn’t get you yet, then head over to Wat Arun, the temple of dawn. It’s just opposite of Wat Pho, but on the other side of the Chao Praya river. From the Tha Tian pier #8 they can ferry you over for THB3.
The temple is worth a visit, if only because of the different architecture from other temples in Thailand. Wat Arun towers 70 meters high over the Chao Praya, consequently making her a major landmark on the Bangkok river bank.
The spire is beautifully decorated with small shards of colored glass and Chinese porcelain forming detailed and refined patterns. It is possible to climb the central prang. It’s very steep, but once up there your reward is a majestic view over the winding Chao Phraya River with the Grand Palace and Wat Pho on the other side.
Wat Arun opens daily from 8am until 5:30pm and tickets are THB100.
Housed in a former palace for the family members of the Thai King. Built in 1782 and transformed into the Bangkok National Museum in 1926. The collection comprises of Thai arts throughout history, as well as (pre)historical Thai artifacts. The museum has several impressive buildings with, among others, Royal carriages and ancient Buddha images on display.
Located just 500m North of the Bangkok Grand Palace the museum can easily be combined with a visit to the palace and the main temples. The museum opens from Wednesday to Sunday, admission is THB200.
Do’s and Don’ts
When visiting the Bangkok Grand Palace and temples you are expected to dress politely. Although some temples are lenient and don’t really enforce a dress code, the palace certainly does.
Shoulders and belly should be covered. Men have to wear long trousers and women should cover their knees. No tight fitted leggings, ripped jeans or any clothing with serious holes in it. Also, no prints with Buddhist insulting texts or images. Short sleeved T-shirts are ok, as are sandals or flip-flops.
If your your dress is not up to code and consequently your access is denied by the guards, they will lead you to a pavilion where you can rent a sarong for a small fee.
Similar to showing respect with your clothing, your conduct should also reflect modesty.
It’s ok to take photos inside the temple and of Buddha images, but do not take selfies with your back towards a Buddha. Remove your shoes, hat, sunglasses and headphones when entering a temple and make sure not to step on the threshold. Silence your mobile phone, lower your voice and move around calmly. Also, do not touch or point fingers/feet to a Buddha and women can not touch a monk or his robes.
More Things to do in Bangkok
Did you visit many temples on your trip to Thailand? After how many temples did the temple fatigue kick in? Or maybe you just can’t get enough of temple visits? Let us know your take on Thai temples in the comments below.
Need more tips on things to do in Thailand? Check out ‘Things to see/do in Thailand’.
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