Starting 2016 with a bang, I decided to venture off to Bangkok, Thailand! If there is one must-see sight here in Bangkok, it’s the dazzling, spectacular Grand Palace, undoubtedly the city’s most famous landmark. Built in 1782 , this landmark has been the home of the Thai King, the Royal court and the administrative seat of government. Inside the complex you can also explore and take magnificent photographs of the Wat Phra Kawe (The Temple of the Emerald Buddha). Visitors are constantly in awe with its beautiful architecture and intricate detail, a perfect example and tribute to the creativity and craftsmanship of Thai people.
Come along inside my personal experience last week visiting the Grand Palace of Bangkok! To see this magnificent site, I made a smart investment and decided to organize a private tour. This is a MUST if you are only in the city of Bangkok for a limited period of time. Having just a short weekend in Bangkok before continuing our journey to the northern region of Thailand, I decided to organize a tour through the famous Mr.Chob! Mr.Chob is an experienced tour consultant who helps you plan customized tours of the city based on your interests and connects you with your very own personal guide. With limited time, you can hit all the major attractions that are on the top of your list with the consultation of a Bangkok expert – Mr.Chob!
Planning a Tour of Bangkok
Prior to arriving in Bangkok, I planned a detailed itinerary for a full-day of exploring the major attractions of Bangkok – starting with the Grand Palace of course! Mr.Chob connected us with a highly experienced, polite and friendly guide named Ms.Lek, a Thai woman with over 25+ years’ experience guiding private tours. The price paid for planning, organizing and then going on this customized tour with a local guide was the best money spent for our time in Bangkok. Our guide, Ms.Lek, helped orchestrate local transportation, handle all entrance fees, and guide us efficiently throughout the city with her native language and knowledge of the land. If you can’t speak Thai and do not have an organized plan, it is very easy to get confused and completely lost in such a gigantic city. Having Ms.Lek to help us navigate the streets, markets and famous sites was worth every penny! I highly recommend considering booking a custom and private tour to make the most of your time exploring this enormous playground we call Bangkok! Expect to pay around $100+ for a private tour.
What did I love so much about the Grand Palace, you ask? It is such an overwhelming introduction to the country of Thailand, revealing much of the history, craftsmanship and spiritual prominence of the Thai people. I found the buildings to be absolutely breathtaking with fine detailing and vibrant colors.
Here are my photographs capturing favorite glimpses of the Grand Palace. While these pictures are beautiful, the essence of the Grand Palace experience is best captured in person. Read more below for specific tips, including dress code rules that are strictly enforced upon entering the Grand Palace.
After snapping selfies, lighting a candle and wandering the Grand Palace, you might work up an appetite. Fortunately finding food is never a problem here. It could take you weeks, maybe even years, to explore all the street food options that Bangkok has to offer. From the fresh fruit cart to the hot flash of fire in the air as noodles fly off the frying pan, food consumes the streets of Bangkok with live cooking, spicy smells and of courses, savory tastes! Be sure to stop and smell the spices. Good one, right? No but really, take the time in your busy day touring to try some of these classic Bangkok street food items:
- Som Tam (ส้มตำ) – Papaya salad
- Khao Pad (ข้าวผัด) – Fried Rice
- Pad Thai Kung (ผัดไทยกุ้ง) – Noodles with shrimp
- Khao Mun Gai (ข้าวมันไก่) – Steamed chicken on rice
- Gai/Moo Bing (ไก่/หมูปิ้ง) – Grilled chicken/pork skewers
- Sai Krok Issan (ไส้กรอกอีสาน) – Sour Issan sausage
- Pad krapao moo (ผัดกระเพราหมู) – Stir-fried pork with basil
- Pla Pao (ปลาเผา) – Fish barbecued in salt
Karma and Offerings
In some of these photographs, you may wonder what the displays of candles, flowers, food or even money represent. In Buddhism, symbolic offerings are made to the Triple Gem, giving rise to contemplative gratitude and inspiration. Typical material offerings involve simple objects such as a lit candle or oil lamp, burning incense, flowers, food, fruit, water or drinks. Contemporary Western practitioners often find the making of offerings to be occasions for gracious mindfulness. I made sure to give my offerings despite not being a practitioner of Buddhism. I wanted to participate in the spiritual practices of the local people and show my respect for such a holy space. During my time here, I lit a burning candle; the lighting of a candle or an oil lamp represents the light of wisdom illuminating the darkness of ignorance.
Karma is a crucial part of Buddhism. Karma is actually a law, a natural law, principled upon the idea of retributive justice determining a person’s state of life and the state of his or her reincarnations as the effect of past deeds. The idea is that Karma gives all individual free tuition 24 hours a day. Each lesson is perfectly tailored to one’s spiritual needs, as an individual is never presented with any test they cannot pass. Simply put, do good and good will come to you. Steal, lie, cheat or hurt someone, and you will be punished. As a Christian traveling in Thailand, a predominately Buddhist country, I have never felt safer. In stark contrast to the corruption and violence sadly present in my hometown of New York City, I felt that the majority of people in Bangkok would likely refrain from stealing or hurting others because of their devout belief in Karma.
Dress Code at the Grand Palace
The Grand Palace with The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is Thailand’s most sacred site. Visitors must be properly dressed before being allowed entry to the temple. Men must wear long pants and shirts with sleeves (no tank tops. If you’re wearing sandals or flip-flops you must wear socks (in other words, no bare feet.) Women must be similarly modestly dressed. No see-through clothes, bare shoulders, etc. If you show up at the front gate improperly dressed, there is a booth near the entrance that can provide clothes to cover you up properly (a deposit is required).
I was a bit surprised to see that this major tourist attraction requires a dress code, but now that I have seen the Grand Palace for myself, I completely understand why the code is enforced within such a spiritual place. My general advice on the dress code is simple – be a lady, be smart, and don’t dress like a stripper. I’m sorry, I said it. But if you read the explicit dress code language, the Grand Palace essentially prohibits any clothing that can be interpreted as disrespectful. Surprisingly, flip-flops are fine (with socks), as are sneakers. The main items to avoid on a day-trip to the Grand Palace are any skimpy clothes that reveal a bit too much. But as mentioned above, if you show up half naked, don’t worry because they will provide you with “temporary clothes” to cover-up!
General Tips for Visiting the Grand Palace
- Tour Guide – As mentioned above, invest the money in hiring a tour guide – this way you will get the full story, history and understanding of the space and bypass long lines with a local leading the way. You can contact Mr.Chob directly to set-up your next custom tour at the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Shoes – Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to take them off – anytime you enter a temple, you will be required to remove your footwear and it is important to ensure you can slip your shoes off easily. I wore these Nike “city sneakers” and found them incredibly comfortable, as well as chic – I highly recommend them for touring sites that require a lot of walking.
- Bring a Camera – You will see some of the most beautiful, intricate and detailed buildings of your life, so make sure you have the tools to capture the memories.
- Use a Secure Tote/Purse – Unfortunately there will always be pickpocketers looming around at any major tourist attraction, even with the law of Karma present in this part of the world. Although Thailand is a very safe country, I have heard horror stories about items being lost or stolen when visiting major tourist landmarks – so hold your bags close and make sure they are zipped. The Louis “neverfull” bag will probably be a poor choice for your touring bag, sorry ladies!
- Timing – Plan on giving yourself at least 3-5 hours at just this one landmark, as there is so much to see and it is a destination that should not be rushed.
- Food/Drink – While I did not notice any formal restaurants or cafeterias at the Grand Palace, there are numerous “street food” vendors and options as you enter and exit the space for those of you who get a little hungry or thirsty! Grab a Thai beer for just 1 American Dollar!
- Climate – The summer is extremely hot, while the winter and spring months can be a bit more comfortable. However, please note that the winter/spring season is also the peak time for tourism, so expect the Grand Palace to be quite crowded during this period.
In my few hours enjoying the architecture and spirituality present at the Grand Palace, I reminded myself of the wise and powerful words of the great Buddha: Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared. What a powerful idea to think about while immersed in such a moving place in the world – Bangkok, Thailand! Thank you, Bangkok for showing me to share the light and embrace the happiness all around us. Until the next sweet escape.