The Grand Palace + Temple Of The Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Keo), Bangkok

Construction began on Bangkok's Grand Palace, or Phra Borom Maha Ratcha Wang, on May 6th, 1782, after Thailand's King Rama I ascended the throne, founded the Chakri Dynasty and moved the country's capital to Rattanakosin, now known as Bangkok. With a few exceptions, the Grand Palace remained the primary residence of the Chakri Monarchs until the present king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX, moved to the Chitralada Palace. The Grand Palace is still a fully functional royal venue but is now also open to tourists.

The palace is not just a single building but is rather a collection of shrines, temples, royal halls and apartments. Divided into three sections - the inner, middle and outer quarters - the complex covers 218,400sq.m. and is surrounded by a wall that is approximately 1,900m long. Construction was also not immediately completed on the complex, and different buildings display different architectural styles and influences. Situated on the eastern bank of Bangkok's Chao Phraya River, this imposing structure is the most famous of the city's many cultural centers, and its most prized possession is the statue of the Emerald Buddha, which resides in Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

One should set aside several days in which to explore the palace as touring the various halls, shrines and exhibitions should not be rushed. The Upper Terrace is a good place to start a general tour as it features four main monuments surrounded by countless statues and several small pavilions: the Royal Pantheon, the golden chedi Reliquary, the model of Cambodian stronghold Angkor Wat and the Repository of the Canon of Buddhism. The Phra Maha Monthien complex consists of Paisal Taksin Hall, which features the monarchy's coronation chair, the Audience Hall of Amarin Winitchai where court ceremonies take place before the throne and the Chakrapat Phiman apartments that once housed several Chakri Dynasty kings.

Built by King Chulalongkorn, Rama V, in the late 19th century, the Chakri Mahaprasat Hall reflects the Italian Renaissance architectural style. Used mainly to stage receptions for foreign dignities, this hall features a superb display of crystal decorations. The Dusit Maha Prasat Hall, on the other hand, was built by Rama I in the 18th century and functions as both royal apartments and an audience hall. The Dusit Maha Prasat Hall is also where Chakri monarchs and nobility lie in state after their deaths. Phra Asada Maha Chedi, or The Temple of the Eight Prangs, is one of the more magnificent structures and features eight ornately carved towers that are each painted a different color and that each signify a different Buddhist concept.

Although visitors to Bangkok's Grand Temple should also tour the western-styled Borom Phiman Mansion and the Phra Thinang Amarin Winitchai throne room, they must on no account miss Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, with its surrounding mural galleries. The royal temple is the holiest place in Thailand, and its Ubosoth, or assembly hall, functions as the reigning king's private chapel. The 45cm tall jadeite Emerald Buddha, which, legend has it, was carved by the Buddhist sage Nagasena in India in 43BC, is itself unadorned but sports three separate sets of seasonal golden clothing. The reigning monarch will change the statue's clothing at the change of the seasons, and the two outfits not worn by the Buddha at any given time are kept on display in the palace's Wat Phra Keo Museum.

The Grand Palace is open to tourists every day from 8.30am through 4.30pm, and it is recommended that those planning on visiting the complex acquaint themselves with its extremely strict dress code.

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