The Fairy-tale City That Inspired The King and I
Once upon a time, the Grand Palace was the walled residence of the Thai monarch, its monumental, phantasmagorical excess created some 200 years ago by the revered Chakri dynasty of the Kingdom of Sian.
With 5 million tourists a year visiting one of Thailand’s must-see sites, it’s not surprising that current king Rama IX has moved down the road to nearby Chitralada Palace, closed to the public. No matter – it could not possibly be more gilded, decorated, and inlaid, more ornate and fantastical than the maze of more than 100 Eastern/Western buildings and courtyards at the Grand Palace, which remains the greatest single display of traditional Thai arts and architecture. The most famous of Bangkok’s 400-odd temples is found within these walls: the Wat Phra Kaeo, popularly known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
Adjoining the original royal palace, the temple will be the grand finale of your visit, symbolically linking Thailand’s spiritual heart with the former seat of its temporal power. Here sits the most venerated religious object in Thailand, a 26-inch seated Buddha carved from a solid block of semiprecious jade, which was lost and then discovered in the 15th century.
Guarded by ancient bronze lions and precious beyond measure, it is perched serenely atop a gilded throne 34 feet high. As protector of the country, the Buddha presides over the only area of the Grand Palace where incense-burning Thai worshippers outnumber awestruck tourists.