1YoT: Bangkok Part 1 – Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace

Hey all! Its been a while since I posted here, but I needed the break. But now I’m back! Hopefully I won’t burn out again, because I still have 40 or so of these to go. Geez!

Anyways, we’re way behind in our posts now, having left off leaving Vietnam for Thailand. So that’s where we’ll pick up with this post.

We started our Thailand visit in Bangkok, one of the most heavily traveled cities in the world. Inna and I didn’t set our expectations too high here, as we heard the city was touristy, filled with seediness, and wouldn’t live up to the hype. But we couldn’t have been more wrong. Bangkok was amazing, one of Inna and my favorite cities in the world. The seediness is contained to the red light district (which we didn’t visit), the city isn’t that touristy (not nearly as much as some other places we’ve been), and there is so much to see and do here, a lot of which we had no idea even existed!

First and foremost, Bangkok has incredible temples and palaces. Having never been to the city, we didn’t know it had anything special in this regard, let alone some of the most beautiful ones in the world. But we found this out real quick.

We’ll begin with our first stop in Bangkok, the city’s grandest palace/temple complex: Wat Phra Kaew.

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Wat Phra Kaew is the holiest site in Thailand and contains several buildings, most notably the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The complex is also notable because of its proximity to the Grand Palace, where the king resides, and the various government/municipal buildings that fill the area. Every building here was incredible, but the ones inside Wat Phra Kaew were especially so. 

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There are a ton of buildings inside Wat Phra Kaew, and all were very close to each other, making them difficult to photograph. As an example, check out this panorama. This single image captures (from left to right):

  • a statue of Thotsakhirithon, a giant demon protecting the complex
  • Phra Sri Rattana, the complex’s main stupa
  • Phra Mondop, a small building housing the complex’s library
  • the Royal Pantheon, a large and relatively unused building
  • one of twelve Salases in the complex, each one housing rare southeast Asian artifacts
  • the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, housing the centerpiece of the entire complex
  • Ho Phra Ratcha Koramanuson, I don’t know anything about this building
  • another Salas

All of the above is less than half of what is in the Wat Phra Kaew complex.

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Because Wat Phra Kaew was so difficult to photograph, we’ll cover its main buildings one at a time. We’ll start with the grandest: the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. This building, completed in the 1780s, was the first Wat Phra Kaew building constructed, its purpose being to house the Emerald Buddha. The Emerald Buddha is a priceless ~600 year old Buddha statue not actually made of emerald (the statue is believed to be made out of jade or jasper; it is called the Emerald Buddha because it is green in color) and it is so important to Thailand that the country considers it their palladium, meaning the success of the entire country is based on the safekeeping of this Buddha.

Unfortunately, taking pictures of the Emerald Buddha is not allowed, so while Inna and I got to see it, we don’t have any pictures to show here.

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Here is some of the detail work of the outside the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. There are two mythological creatures depicted above: garudas (large humanoid birds) and nagas (giant snakes). These creatures are enemies, with garudas being the cultural symbol of Thailand and nagas being the protectors of nearby Laos and Cambodia (we’ll see more of this later on our trip).

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Next to the Buddisht Temple is the Royal Pantheon, the second grandest structure in Wat Phra Kaew. This building was originally meant to replace the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, but this plan was abandoned when the king realized the building was not located on the highest portion of the platform it was built on.

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Here is a side view of the Royal Pantheon (left), which also shows Phra Mondop (right). Phra Mondop is located on the highest portion of the platform, but it was deemed too small to house the Emerald Buddha. Today, the building houses Wat Phra Kaew’s library, while the Royal Pantheon is only open one day a year (April 6th, to celebrate the founding of Bangkok).

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Here is some detail work of the Royal Pantheon. This architectural style is called Rattanakosin (or Bangkok) style and it originated in Thailand in the late 1700s. The style is extremely colorful, with intricate patterns and designs throughout, making the buildings look like jewelry. 

Here are some even closer close-ups of the architecture in Wat Phra Kaew. Inna in particular was enthralled with this place; normally I’m the one who takes the artsy pictures, but check out the ones Inna took here.

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Wat Phra Kaew was so amazing, there was so much more we could show. But this post is getting long enough, so well move on. But before we go, here is one last Wat Phra Kaew photograph, taken as we exited the complex.

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Unfortunately, Inna and I did not get to see the Grand Palace up close. This is because Thailand’s much beloved king had died several months prior to our visit, and as a result the year following his death was declared a national year of mourning. Throughout this year, Thai citizens were bussed in from all over the country to pay their respects to the deceased king, and when we visited, only these citizens were allowed into the Grand Palace portion of the complex.

That and I’m pretty sure Inna and I exited the wrong exit. I think we would have gotten a better view of the palace had we exited the correct way. Oh well…

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Despite not getting to see the Grand Palace up close, we did get a glimpse of it from the river. It seems pretty impressive from here, so we’ll definitely have to come back and check it out up close.

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Here is the Grand Palace entrance again, this time lit up at night.

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And here is Wat Phra Kaew lit up at night.

Wat Phra Kaew and its accompanying Grand Palace were so amazing, they were easily one of the highlights of our entire year of travel. But Bangkok has tons more temples, and we visited enough for another whole post!

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