The two most popular tourist attractions in Bangkok are the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) and the Grand Palace. They are next to each other, and one ticket gets you into both places. The temple and the palace have something in common: they don’t have full-time residents. No monks live in this temple, which makes it unique in Thailand, and the King doesn’t live in the palace. His home is just a block or so away.
The usual way to visit these two incredible sights is with a city tour. However, you can make your own way here. If you do that, come first thing in the morning; the complex opens at 8:30am, and it will be less crowded and a little cooler. The entrance fee is 200 Baht and, should you make the error of arriving inappropriately clad – sleeveless tops and shorts are not acceptable – more appropriate clothing can be borrowed at the entrance gates.
Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Grand Palace
If you see just one temple in Thailand, make it this one. The dozens of buildings that make up the complex are an architectural delight adorned with brilliant mosaics and golden spires.
The main attraction is the temple that houses the Emerald Buddha, a tiny statue stuck up high and difficult to see. Three times a year the King comes to this temple to change the Buddha’s robe. During the summer the robe is gold with diamonds; plain gold during the winter; and a monk’s robe during the rainy season.
The Grand Palace that adjoins Wat Phra Kaew is made up of several very impressive halls, which have all played a role in Thai history. The Amarinda Hall is still used today for special occasions and houses the antique throne. The Grand Palace Hall is where the present king’s elder brother was found shot dead in 1946; it has not been used as a royal residence since.
Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn)
Wat Arun, Temple of Dawn, is probably the best known of all the Thai temples since it is featured in many of the ads promoting Thailand. Best views of the famous five-tower landmark are from the river. It stands majestically across from the Grand Palace. All river tours stop here for a short while; if you want more time, come on your own (take the 2-Baht ferry crossing from the Tha Tien Pier on Thai Wang Road). The temple’s main feature is the 100-meter high central pagoda, which is covered in multi-colored Chinese porcelain chips – some of which were part of the ballast of the old Chinese ships that used to make crossings to Bangkok – that were donated by local people. Open daily from 7:30am to 5:30pm. Admission: 20 Baht. The ferry operates from 6am to 10pm. You can get great views by climbing up to the second tier of the base that supports the central tower.
South of the Grand Palace, and better known to the Thais as Wat Phra Chetuphon. A temple might seem to be an unlikely place to learn massage, but this is one of the skills taught at this temple, the oldest and largest in Bangkok. The temple is best known for its enormous reclining Buddha image that is covered in gold leaf, 46 meters long and 15 meters high.Within the 20 acres that the temple complex occupies there are more than 1,000 other Buddha images – a record number for any one Thai temple. The original wat was built in the 16th century – 200 years before Bangkok became Thailand’s capital. It has been rebuilt several times since and bears little resemblance to the original structure. The wat has played an important role in teaching traditional Thai medicine, and Thai massage in particular. The temple offers one-hour (250 Baht) and half-hour (150 Baht) treatments. Foot reflexology and herbal treatments are also offered. For those who want to learn the art, 30-hour courses are available at a cost of 6,000 Baht. The lessons can be taken over a period of up to 15 days. The massage center is at the rear of the wat; there’s normally a wait for massages unless you get here at opening time.
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