In the heart of Bangkok, on the banks of the majestic Chao Phraya River, sits a glorious assembly of halls, pavilions, open lawns, courtyards, forts, gates, throne halls and royal residences. The Grand Palace, former home of the Kings, is a historic and cultural highlight of any visit to Bangkok.
Founded by King Rama 1, the Grand Palace was the residence of the Kings of Siam and Thailand during the period of absolute monarchy from 1782 until 1932. It was the administrative and religious centre of Thailand, home to guardsmen, servants, concubines, ministers and courtiers, as well as the royal family. Since the dissolution of absolute monarchy, most government agencies have left, leaving behind a magnificent series of museums – however, it is occasionally used for official events, so make sure you check opening hours before your visit to make sure there aren’t any clashes.
The palace complex is a jumble of traditional architecture from the 150-year period it was occupied – organic growth has seen it expand from a handful of buildings to a sprawling palace complex with a mishmash of architectural styles. 1900 metres of wall surround a Public Weapons Museum, the ashes of bygone Chakri kings and a fascinating textile museum. Key things to keep an eye out for include two gilded thrones, which are used in coronation ceremonies and decorated with the nine-tiered royal umbrella, and an emerald buddha, housed in Wat Phra Kaeo, that dates back to the 14th century.
The Palace is easy to access by taking the Chaophraya Express boat to Tha Chang – be sure to ignore the touts claiming it is closed. Visitors should be wary of strict dress codes that apply – modest dress is a must, with long pants and sleeved shirts a must. Strictly no thongs are allowed. Some two to three hours are needed to fully appreciate the Grand Palace, with free tours often adding a little bit of extra context to the history you are admiring.