The Grand Palace is Thailand’s most visited attraction. I am not sure its the best attraction in Thailand, but by the same token you can’t not go. Missing the Grand Palace would be akin to going to Paris and not visiting the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower. Its big, and if you have the stamina you could spend a whole day exploring.
The Grand Palace was the official residence for the Kings of the Chakri Dynasty from 1782 to 1925. A quick history lesson: The former capital was Ayutthaya to the North. This was destroyed during war with Burma and the displaced King came to Bangkok and in turn displaced another King (Taksin of Thonburi), who was resident on the Thonburi side of the river in Bangkok. This happened in 1782, and it marks the start of Siam as a unified nation (later to be renamed Thailand) with the creation of the Chakri Dynasty (to which the current King of Thailand belongs), and the establishment of the Grand Palace in its current location. The Grand Palace is an important historical monument in Thai history and is revered as such. Hence, the strict dress code – as a tourist you will be turned away (or made to rent additional clothing) if you come in shorts or vests.
Successive Kings added to the original palace. King Rama II expanded the temple to its current size of 218,400 sqm. King Rama IV later named it the ‘Grand Palace’. This expansion carried on until the 1920s under King Rama VIII who added personal palaces for the Royal family such as the Dusit Palace. This expansion over time explains the eclectic architecture and layout.
Until the absolution of absolute monarchy in 1932, the Grand Palace was the seat of government in Thailand. It formerly housed thousands of people from soldiers, to ministers, administrators and of course the Royal household and their consorts. The Grand Place was very much a city within a city in the same way as the Forbidden Palace was in Beijing. Nowadays, Thailand is governed by a parliament elsewhere and the current King (Rama IX) resides in the Chitralada Palace in another part of the city.
The Grand Palace still holds some Royal administrators and is occasionally used for important ceremonies, but for most of the year the majority of the site is open to the public. Official opening times are 9am to 3.30 pm, 365 days a year. The entrance fee is 400 Thai Baht ($13). It is not on the mass transit system. You can get there by boat though. Take the sky train to Saphan Taksin BTS station and then transfer to the Chao Praya Express Boat system heading north. The best stop for the Grand Palace (and Wat Pho) is the Tha Chang Pier.
One big annoyance to warn you about is the ‘scam artists’ hanging around outside the Grand Palace. They approach unsuspecting tourists to tell them the Grand Palace is closed and then try to sell you a tour or take you to a gem shop. Under no circumstances should you believe them. The Grand Palace is never completely shut – they are up to no good!
To take the hassle out of traveling in Bangkok you can book an Isango tour of the Grand Palace. You are picked up at either 8am or 12 noon and taken to see the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha. Entrance fees are included and you get the benefit of an English speaking guide. Click on the button below to find out more.