After our visit to the Chao Phraya River and the National Museum of Royal Barges, Ms Thai took us to visit the most impressive attraction of Bangkok, The Grande Palace. The Grande Palace consists of a complex of buildings which are located right in the heart of Bangkok, and has been the official residence of the Kings of Siam since 1782. Today the King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) and Queen Sirikit reside in a different palace, Chitralada Palace which is guarded by the Thai Royal Guard, however the Grande Palace is used for official events.
The Grande Palace is made up of four main courts, which are separated by walls and gates. The palace houses the famous Temple of Emerald Buddha which is regarded as the most sacred Buddhist Temple (wat) in Thailand. Except for the King and the Crown Prince no one is allowed to touch the Buddha, and photographs are not allowed inside the Temple. Visitors must enter the temple barefoot and remove any hats or sunglasses.
On the grounds of the palace there are three pagodas located to its immediate north, which represent the changing centres of the Buddhist influence. The shrine to the west of the temple is the Phra Si Ratana Chedi, a 19th-century stupa built in Sri Lankan style enshrining ashes of the Buddha.
Ms Thai explained to us by showing a board that features three Buddhas, that the ritual is that the King changes the cloak around the statue three times a year. Each Buddha featured in the photo corresponds to the summer, winter, and rainy seasons.
Elephant statues can be found all around the Grande Palace. They symbolise independence and power, and if you rub the head of an elephant it is considered to be good luck.
Buddhist monks live in the temple complexes and if you are here early enough you can see a number of them walking around. They wake up as early as 04:00 am to perform their daily morning ritual known as tak baht, where they say their prayers, collect food and necessities from ordinary people on the streets which is part of the Buddhist philosophy. We only saw one and I asked Ms Thai if she could ask him if it was ok to take a picture with him, he smiled and said yes, so here I got my souvenir postcard with this lovely Buddhist monk.
When Thai people visit a temple part of the ritual is to make an offering which is known as the wai phra. Ms Thai explained the ritual and I couldn’t leave the Grande Palace without trying the procedure. The usual offering made consists of a candle, a lotus flower, a small square of gold leaf and three incense sticks. These offerings can be purchased at the wat and cost about 20 Baht. First you must light the candle and place it with the rest in front of a Buddha image, and then place the flower in the water and afterwards light the incense which are held in their hand while the people say their Buddhist scriptures. The incense are then placed in the sand. The final step is placing the gold piece on the statue of Buddha. Ms Thai said that for example if you place it on the face of the Buddha you will have beautiful skin.
The walls of the Wat Pra Kaew inside the Grande Palace feature 178 wall paintings which tell the story of Ramayana.
What you must know before visiting the palace is that the dress code here is strict, men must wear long trousers and women must have their legs covered wearing long skirts. Luckily I had a shawl with me which I used to make a long skirt. In case you come unprepared you can rent a skirt at the entrance to the palace.