SIGHTS IN BANGKOK: CANALS, WATS, THE GRAND PALACE AND THE GIANT SWING

PLACES TO SEE IN BANGKOK

Bangkok abounds in cultural and historical sites reflecting Thailand’s long history and unique culture. For a start, one may include various palaces, such as the Grand Palace and Suan Pakkad Palace, or major temples, including Wat Phra Kaeo (the Temple of the Emerald Buddha), Wat Arun (the Temple of the Dawn), and Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha), or other noteworthy sites around the city, such as the Shrine of the City Pillar and the Giant Swing.

Besides touring historical and cultural sites, tourists can also spend an enjoyable time riding bicycles or trams around Rattanakosin Isle, the heart of the original city, or taking a boat cruise to view the landscape and lifestyle of the people along the Chao Phraya River and the busy Bangkok Noi and Bangkok Yai canals. Readers of Condé Nast Traveller have voted Bangkok as the best tourism city in Asia for several consecutive years. Criteria for ranking includes neighborhoods, culture, friendly atmosphere, places to stay, eateries, and shopping places, all of which Bangkok has in spades.

Phra Sumeru Fortress (on the Chao Phray River at Phra Athit Road and Phra Sumeru Road, between the Phra Piu Klao Bridge and Rama VIII bridge) was constructed in the reign of King Rama I in 1783 along with 14 other fortresses and battlements surrounding the capital. Approximately 5.000 Vientiane people were recruited by King Rama I to build this Fortress. The shape of the fortress is an octagonal one with three levels. Inside the walls there are steps leading up to the fortress. All together, there are 38 rooms for ammuni¬tion and weapon storage. The roof collapsed during the reign of King Rana IV or V but was restored by the Fine Arts Department in the early 1980s using old photographs as a guide. There is now a small park surrounding the fortress and you can walk along the river all the way to Phra Pinklao Bridge. The walk is particularly pleasant.

Jim Thompson's House (near Siam Square on the banks of Saen Saep Canal, five kilometers east of the Grand Palace ) is a lovely traditional Thai-style mansion made almost completely of teak. The home of the famous Thai silk entrepreneur, who disappeared mysteriously while on vacation in Malaysia's Cameron Highland in 1967, the mansion is comprised of six antique wooden buildings that were transported from northern Thailand to Bangkok in 1959 and reassembled according to Thompson's instructions.

The rooms of the house contain extraordinary carved teak furniture and paneling and Thompson's collection of Thai, Chinese and Khmer antiques and art, the oldest of which dates back to the 7th century. There is also a restored tropical garden and receiving courtyard with bellboys that greet you as you emerge from your taxi and jazz bar next to a canal and, of course, an outlet for the Jim Thompson Silk Company. Be careful touts operating scams are active in the area.

Hours, Fees and Contact and Transport Info: Open everyday from 9:00am to 5:00pm. Guided tours around the house are compulsory. The last one is at 5:00pm.

The Jim Thompson House is located on Soi Kasemsan (2) Song, opposite the National Stadium on Rama I Rd. Located in the center of Bangkok, it is conveniently reached by car, taxi, tuk tuk, or the BTS Sky Train (the National Stadium stop). Admission : Adult 100 baht; Students 50 baht. Contact: Jim Thompson House, 6 Soi Kasemsan 2, Rama 1 Road, Bangkok, Tel: (662) 216-7368 Fax: (662) 612-3744, website: jimthompsonhouse.com ,

Ban Kham Thieng (131 Soi Asoke (So 21) Sukhumvit Road) is a 200-year-old classic northern-style teak house, brought from Chiang Mai and reconstructed in Bangkok. Donated to the Siam Society by its owners, the house was owned by a worker and shows the simplicity of rural life in the north during the last century. It contains a collection of traditional implements used by farmers and rice field fishermen. A large variety of Thai flora can be seen in its garden. Also on display are items used daily by Thai farmers and fishermen. It is open daily except Sundays and Mondays from 9.00am to 5.00pm. Admission fee is 70 baht. Call 661-6470-7 for more information. Website: www.siam-society.org

CHAO PHRAYA RIVER AND BANGKOK’S CANALS

Chao Phraya River is a busy waterway filled with long-tailed boats (known locally as hang yao ), open-air passenger ferries, expensive private boats, tour boats that "look like floating temples" and water crafts of various sizes and shapes. In the old days, when Bangkok was known as the "Venice of Asia," the river was like a main highway and the klongs were its side streets. But those days are long gone. Stretches along the banks are pedestrian only on Sunday. The impressive-looking Rama VII Bridge opened in 2002. Its geometric array of support cables look as if they can be plucked like a harp.

Bangkok’s Canals are known as klongs. Bangkok used to be laced with them. They followed streets, ducked under superstructures and were crossed by bridges. By one estimate a third of the city’s residents in the mid 19th century lived in stilted or floating houses along the canals or the river. Until a few decades ago they were so were so crowded and full of boats that policeman were used to direct traffic. Over the years many of Bangkok’s klongs have been paved over to widen streets and make room for houses and other buildings.Many of remaining klongs are foul and dirty. Some are filled with black oily water. Others are stagnant pools covered by smelly green scum and filled with garbage.

But not all the klongs are a mess. Ones visited by tourists have floating hyacinths and lotus flowers, small houses with garden and fluttering laundry. In some places you can still find monks floating in the water in inner tubes, women in broad woven hats and sarongs using sampans to buy groceries and, floating shopkeepers and deliverymen. In recent years there has been a campaign to free the paved over klongs to attract tourists to places they otherwise wouldn’t go and provide better drainage.

Khlong Mon in Thornburi features weathered teak homes and orchards and interspersed with modern houses, crumbling shacks and the odd temple. Saffron-robed monks can be seen among and stretches of morning glory or water hyacinth. Small boat's travel up and down river. People scrub clothes, take naps and throws scraps to fish, smiling and waving at passers by. Boats leave every 30 minutes from the Tha Tian Pier behind Wat Pro . The fare is minimal. Khlong Bangkok Noi is wider and bolder – more river than canal. It is lined with factories, temples and navy installations as well as homes. Where it meets the Chao Phraya river is the Royal Barges National Museum, where the elaborately gilded barges used in solemn Royal ceremonies can be seen up close.

For around $10 to $20 an hour, you can hire a boat and visit the klongs of your choice. From the water you get a close-up look at the shacks, houseboats and beat up teak mansions that people live in. For a few baht you can take a crowded 21-meter water bus that carries uniformed school girls, office workers in neat suits and monk in saffron robes to their canal-side destinations.

Bangkok River & Canal Tours: Many people say the best way to get a feel for what the real Bangkok is like, and have a good time doing so, is to hire a long-tailed boat for a tour of the Chao Phraya river and city’s klongs (canals). Long-tailed boat (named after propeller drive shaft which extends far beyond the back of the boat) and river taxis ply the Chao Phraya river and some of the klongs. The fares are cheap for short runs. Water taxis and ferries can be used to travel between some destinations in the Bangkok area. They are used mostly by locals. Foreign visitors take them more for the experience and adventure of it rather than to actually get somewhere (after getting off they take a tuk tuk to get back to places more familar).

There are also frequent ferries that cross the Chao Phraya River between the Grand Palace area and Thonburi. Boats with a minimal fare leave every 20 minutes between 6;15am and 8:00pm at the Chang Pier near the Grand Palace. There are several ways to enjoy Bangkok’s klongs (canals) and the Chao Phraya River. There are also several canal routes by long-tail boat which offer more charming scenery with stops at old temples which are scattered along all canals. Tourists can book such a tour through travel agents or rent a boat at Tha Chang (Tel: (02) 225-6179, (02) 623-6169), a pier near the Grand Palace, or Tha Si Phraya (Tel: (02) 235-3108) near the River City Shopping Complex.

A number of cruise companies in Bangkok operate trips to Ayutthaya along the Chao Phraya River. As most companies are affiliated with riverside hotels, the boats depart from the hotels' piers. Normally the trips include visits to the Royal Folk Arts and Handicrafts Center in Bang Sai and Bang Pa-in Palace. There are also express boats sailing to Ayutthaya from Tha Maharat and Tha Chang piers near the Grand Palace every Sunday.

Chao Phraya River Express Boats between Bangkok and Nonthaburi are cheap and fun. This water bus runs roughly 16 kilometers and makes frequent stops at landings along the banks of the river. The service is most frequent in the morning and late afternoon. The route starts at Wat Ratchasingkhon Pier near Krungthep Bridge and ends at the pier of Nonthaburi (a province north of Bangkok). Major landing piers are Sathon, Si Phraya, Chang, and Wang Lang piers. While travelling along the Chao Phraya River, you will see many splendid temples and attractive buildings, for example, the Royal Thai Navy Dockyard, the Thai Maritime Navigation Company, the Old Customs House, the Temple of Dawn, the Grand Palace, and Wat Rakhang.

Express boats on the Chao Phraya River run as far north as Nonthaburi from Wat Rat Singkhon. Fares range from 10 baht to 36 baht and are determined by the flags in the boats. Yellow flag boats stop only at the main piers and charge 20 to 29 baht. Orange flag boats stop at most piers and charge 15 baht. No flag boats stop at every pier and charge 10 to 14 baht. The terminal pier is near Krung Thep (Bangkok) Bridge. The express boat services operates daily from 6:00am to 8:00pam. Tel. 0-2623-6001-2. www.chaophrayaboat.com . Blue Flag boars run Monday-Friday from Sathorn(Taksin) to Nonthaburi(Pibul 3) from 7.00 am to 18.25 pm for 24 to 34 baht. Boat services on the Chao Phraya River which connect Bangkok with the northern neighboring province of Nonthaburi are operated by two companies: Laem Thong Co. Ltd., and Chao Phraya Express Boat Co.,Ltd. Tel (02) 623-6143

Canal and River Boat Tours are offered on Bangkok's klongs and on the Chao Phraya River. From the river you get good views of the Grand Palace, the colorful Royal Barges and Wimen Wak Palace, the favorite residence of "King and I" king. From the klongs you can see Jim Thompson's house, lots of filth and people bathing, washing their hair and brushing their teeth in the foul water.

River trips are usually organized at the Oriental Hotel jetty; and klong trips are arranged at Tah Phra Chand. Long-tailed boats can be rented at Oriental Hotel jetty for about $20 an hour. A converted rice barge that leaves from the Marriot Royal Garden Riverside Hotel at 7:30pm offers a dinner cruise with a set meal, not including drinks, for $35 per person.

The trip along Khlong Bangkok Noi & Khlong Bang Yai depart from Tha Chang Pier many times daily. It takes about an hour to reach Bang Yai, a district in Nonthaburi. Attractions along Bangkok Noi canal include the Royal Barges Museum, Wat Suwannaram, Wat Sisudaram, Wat Nairong and Wat Phaowana Phirataram.

The trip along Khlong Dao Khanong - Khlong Bangkok Yai - Khlong Bang Chuak Nang can be done with a boat rented a boat from Tha Chang Pier. Some attractions along this route are: Wat Sai Floating Market, Snake Farm, Wat Pak Nam, Wat Ko and Taling Chan Floating Market. There are tour programs to other small canals on Thon Buri side, but they are not regular routes and you need to hire a long-tail boat at one of the pier. The standard fare is 400 baht per hour. Prices can be negotiated (before travelling). The major piers for hired boats are Tha Chang, Tha Saphan Phut (Memorial Bridge Pier), Tha Si Phraya and River City.

From Pak Kret, tourists can travel further to Koh Kret, a small island in the Chao Phraya River. A river ferry leaves Wat Sanam Nua, which is located within a short walking distance from Pak Kret Pier during 6.00 a-m.-9.00 p.m. Returning to Pak Kret, visitors are able to catch a small long-tail boat at any pier around the island. Trip Along Khlong Bangkok Noi - Khlong Bang Yai operate from 6.30 aam to 11.00 pm. The boats depart from Tha Chang every half an hour until 11.00 a.m. They leave the pier when there are enough passengers. The boat fare is 30 Baht per person. It takes 50 minutes to get to Bang Yai, a district in Nonthaburi.

After arriving at Bang Yai (a district in Nonthaburi), travelers who expect to continue the trip to Nonthaburi can catch another taxi boat at Wat Sao Thong Hin pier which is situated within a walking distance from Bang Yai pier. The boat service is operated during 4.00 a.m.-8.00 p.m. It takes 15-20 minutes. The fare is 12 Baht/person. Next to Wat Sao Thong Hin, Wat Rat Prakhong Tham has a three-top building which houses a huge reclining Buddha image. Along the route, visitors are able to enjoy the peaceful scenery and waterway life along Khlong Om. Houses along both sides of the canal look very tidy. Almost every house is made of wood in the same style, Colourful flowers are also planted along verandahs by the river. Mit Chao Phraya Express Boat operates another boat trip on Saturdays during 8.30 a.rn.-12.30 p.m. through Khlong Bangkok Noi, Bang Kruai, Khlong Om, and stops for sightseeing at the Royal Barge Museum. The trip costs 100 Baht/person. For more information, Tel: (02) 225-6179, 623-6169.

Visitors willing to take a private trip along this route are able to rent a boat from Tha Chang at the rate of approximately 400 Baht per hour. For advance reservations contact Mit Chao Phraya Co. Ltd. at Tha Chang, Tel: (02) 225-6179, (02) 623-6169 and Si Phraya Trip and Boat Co. Ltd. at the River City Shopping Complex, Tel: (02) 41 2-0207, (02) 41 2-7644.

Dinner Cruise Along The Chao Phraya River: 1) Dairy Queen, Tel: (02) 921-8670-5, From Dairy Queen Restaurant near, Phra Nang Klao Bridge to Wat Arun

8.00-10.00 p.m. every day, 70 Baht per person for the boat cruise; dinner costs as ordered.. 2) the Khanab Nam Restaurant, Tel: (02) 433-6611, (02) 424-8453-4 . From Khanab Nam Restaurant Krung Thon Bridge to Rama IX Bridge, 8.00-10.30 p.m. every day, 70 Baht per person for the boat cruise; dinner costs as ordered.. 3) Loy Nava (Thasaneeya Nava, Tel: (02) 437-4932, (02) 437-7329, From the Oriental Hotel Pier to Tha Wasukri 6.00-8.00 p.m., 8.00-10.00 p.m. twice daily 880 Baht per person including dinner. 4) Manohra 1Tel: (02) 476-0021-2

From Marriott Royal Garden Riverside, Hotel to Tha Wasukri 7.30-10.00 p.m. every day 950 Baht per person including dinner. 5) Riverside Co., LTD., Tel: (02) 434-0090-3

From Riverside Plaza Hotel near Krung Thon, Bridge to Rama IX Bridge, 8.00-10.30 p.m. (Sun-Thu) 8.30-11.00 p.m., (Fri-Sat), 70 Baht per person for the boat cruise; dinner costs as ordered. 6) the Yok-yor Marina Restaurant, Tel: (02) 863-0565, (02) 863-1708. From Yok-Yor Restaurant Dank-of Thailand to Rama, IX . Open 8.30-10.30 p.m. every day, 140 Baht per person excluding dinner.

FLOATING MARKETS IN THE BANGKOK AREA

Floating Markets in the Bangkok Area can be touristy places dominated by pushy hawkers that locals stopped using long ago with that are considerably higher than those offered at souvenir shops in downtown Bangkok. The best ones are located some distance from Bangkok. For early birds in the Bangkok area, the Khu Wiang floating market, near the Royal Barge Museum, operates between 4:0am and 7:00am. For information on ones off the beaten track that see few tourist check the Lonely Planet Guide for Thailand and look through the Central Thailand section.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market (40 minutes by boat from the town of Nakhan Pathom, 104 kilometers southwest of Bangkok) is Thailand's most vibrant floating market, intimately better than the ones located closer to Bangkok. The best time to visit is in the morning. Most of the sellers are old women who paddle their boats to the market before dawn. The market is located along the 32-kilometer-long Damnoen Saduak canal, which in turned is surrounded by more than 1,000 other channels.

Some boats are filled with fruits such as durians, rambutans, bananas and lychees. Others are packed with flowers. Yet others contain woodcarved elephants, hill tribe hand bags and other souvenirs. Some have stoves and gas cylinders and can cook up a noodle dish for you in a couple of minutes. Altogether there are more than 100 merchant boats stretched along an 800-meter stretch of canal. Sightseeing boats weave through them. Behind the boats are stilted buildings with yet more stuff.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is in Ratchaburi province. Photos of this vibrant market featuring many small boats laden with colourful fruits and vegetables and paddled by Thai women wearing bamboo hats, are among the most often published in travel magazines and brochures of Thailand. The Damnoen Saduak canal was built in 1866 under King Rama IV to facilitate boat travel between Ratchaburi and Samutsakhon Provinces. It was finished and opened to the public in 1868.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is quite popular with tourists. There is even a portion of it set aside for them, featuring souvenir-laden shops and souvenir-laden boats. The main 100-year-old market is at Talaat Tom Khem on Khlong Damneon Saduak Canal. Talaat Hia Kui, to the south on a parallel canal, Khlong Hia Kui, gets the most tourists. A third, less crowded market, called talaat Khuan Phitak, is on a smaller canal south of Damnoen Saduak. It can reached by water taxi. Taxis and rented boats can also be used to explore the canals and klong life.

Don Wai Floating Market (near Don Wai temple on the banks of the Ta Jeen River, Tambol Bangkratuek, Amphur Sampran, Nakornprathom) is centered around a Thai style cottage at the bank of the Ta Jeen River that still preserves the old style of living from the reign of King Mongkut. Don Wai is the center of growing area for many agricultural products especially organic vegetables and Thai desserts. Popular dishes include boiled carp in salt, pot-stewed duck, and boiled bamboo shoots with chili sauce.

At Don Wai Floating Market, there is a jukebox for visitors to make merit at the Rai King temple. All the songs are from Yordluk Salakjai (a famous Thai singer). There is also fan palm, a rare fruit that crops only every 50 years. Another attraction of the market is the floating restaurant and a boat cruising tour to see the both sides of the river. The market is open daily from morning until evening.

Taling Chan Floating Market (west of Bangkok) attracts both Thais and foreigners. Many people that live here on the Chakphra Canal still retain the lifestyle of river and canal dwellers. This market, which operates on Saturdays and Sundays 09.00 -17.00 only, is located in front of the Taling Chan District Office in the west of Bangkok. The market is accessible by air-con bus No. 79. After visiting the market, long-tail boat trips along the canals are available.

Wat Sai Floating Market ( in the southwest of Bangkok) used to be famous but now is regarded as a rip off and a disappointment. Most of the boats have been replaced by shops on the banks of the canal. To get there, hire a long-tail boat that leaves the Oriental Pier, Tha Chang Pier, Rachini Pier or Saphan Phut Pier. (06.00-14.00 hrs.) The fare must be agreed before departure.

Ko Ratanakosin (next to the Chao Phraya River) describes an area within a large bend of the Chao Phraya River that embraces many of Bangkok’s most famous sites: the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Suthat and Wat Mahathat. Although Ko means island, the area is not an island. Back in old days it may have seemed like an perhaps as was sided by two large canals—Khlong Bangla,phu and Khlong Ong An—which run parallel to the river.

GRAND PALACE

GRAND PALACE (next to the Chao Phraya River) is Bangkok's most famous tourist sight. Established in 1782 by King Rama I, the founder of the Chakri Dynasty, this one-square-mile complex contains over 100 buildings, including numerous Wats (temples) as well the greatest concentration of classic Thai art and architecture in the country. It is also where important religious and royal ceremonies are held. Most of the architecture belongs to the Ratanakosin or old Bangkok style. Some it—the glistening polished orange and green roof tiles, the gilded chedid (stupas), the mosaic-encrusted pillars and the polished marble floors and walls—is almost blinding with its bright colors and shiny surfaces.

Since founding of Bangkok in 1782 as the capital city of the Kingdom of Siam, the monarchs of the Chakri Dynasty have officially resided at the Grand Palace. The palace has been the focal point of the city as well as the seat of the royal government and the home of the king, his court, his children and his harem. During the reign of King Chulalongkorn, the Grand Palace went through a great transformation, with massive reconstructions and additions being made in the main Middle Court (state buildings) and the Inner Court (residential buildings) of the palace.

These changes were brought about as a means to modernize the palace as well as accommodate its growing population. As a result the palace, particularly the Inner Court, became extremely overcrowded. The Grand Palace also became stiflingly hot during the summer months, with the passage of air being blocked by the closely clustered new buildings. Epidemics spread quickly inside crowded compound. The king, who enjoyed taking long walks for exercise and pleasure, often felt unwell after prolonged stays inside the Grand Palace. Consequently he took frequent trips into the country to take relief of this condition and eventually set up the royal residences in Dusit Palace (See Dusit Palace). Are present, The Royal Family resides at Chitralada Palace within Dusit Palace while The Grand Palace is used for ceremonial purposes.

The central structure, the Golden Temple, is 60 meters high and look like a ground-level hemisphere with a layered platform and spike on top. Next to it is an equally impressive temple that is inlaid with thousands of little pieces of porcelain and glass. Half-human and half-bird figures known as Kinnari guard the temple, which is often swamped with tourists. Make sure to check out the 12 gilded half-man-half-bird garudus and graceful half-woman-half-lion aponsis .

Phra Thinang Chakri Maha Prasat, built in 1877 by King Rama V as his Royal Residence, is the most highly recognized architectural landmark of the Nation. The central Throne Hall, which was formerly used for the reception of foreign envoys, is flanked by reception areas decorated with galleries of portraiture. The central room on the second floor is used as a shrine for the reliquary ashes of Kings Rama IV, Rama V, Rama VI, Rama VII and Rama VIII. The tallest mondops —layered and heavily ornamented spires—contain the askes of the Chakri kings. Flanking them are mondops of princes that nver claimed the throne. The Chakri Maha Prasat is a good example of Western-Thai architecture. In the old days it housed the king’s harem and was guarded by battle-trained female guards.

Among the other notable structures are the Dusit Maha Prasat (a good example of classical Thai architecture) and the Amphonphimok Pavilion. The Borom Phiman Mansion was constructed during the reign of King Rama V. When his son, King Rama VI ascended to the throne, he had it improved for use as his residence. The three succeeding Kings also resided here at one time or another.The Siwalai Gardens, where the office of The Royal Household Bureau is located, were used for receptions as well as a recreation area for the royal women and children. Maha Monthien Prasat houses The Audience Hall of Amarin Winitchai where ceremonies of the Court usually take place in front of the throne surmounted by its canopy of nine tiers of white cloth.

The Royal Thai Decorations and Coins Pavilion is located within the Grand Palace compound on the right hand side before entering the palace’s inner gate. On display here is a collection of coins and other monetary exchange units used in Thailand, as well as Royal regalia. Royal Plaza features an equestrian statue that symbolizes King Chulalongkorn reign. Even today groups of Thais gather around the statue and leave burning joss sticks and offerings to show their respect for his rule.

Light and Sound shows are sometimes held in the evenings at the Grand Palace. One show called the River of King was held from late January to mid February. In 2011, a show called “The Golden Heritage of the Rattanakosin Era” ran through until February.

Fees, Hours, Contacts and Transport: The most enjoyable route to the Grand Palace is to take the BTS Skytrain to Taksin Station. From here take a Chao Phraya River Express boat to Tha Chang Wang Luang Pier. It is a short walk from the pier to the entrance to The Grand Palace public entrance. The Grand Palace is open to the public everyday, except during special Royal Ceremonies, from 8.30am to 3.30pm The admission fee of 500 baht includes admission to Wat Phra Kaeo, The Royal Thai Decorations & Coins Pavilion in the same compound and to Vimanmek Mansion Museum on Ratchawithi Road and the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles located at the entrance of Grand Palace and Vimanmek Mansion Museum . For 100 baht you can rent a personal audio guide in English, French, German, Spanish, Russian, Japanese or Mandarin. Contact: Na Phra Lan Road, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok, Tel. 2623 5500 ext.3100, 0 2224 3273. Website: www.palaces.thai.net Nearby Places/Attractions: Tha Chang Pier , Wat Pho, Wat Arun, National Museum

Grand Palace Dress Code: Visitors are required to dress appropriately and follow the following dress code: 1) Shorts, mini-skirts, short skirts, tight fitting trousers, as well as tights can not be worn as outer garments. 2) See-through shirts and blouses, as well as culottes or quarter length trousers can not be worn. 3) Sleeveless shirts or vests can not be worn as outer garments. 4) 4. Sandals (without ankle or heel straps) can not be worn. 5) All shirt sleeves, whether long or short, can not be rolled up. 6) Sweat shirts and sweat pants, wind-cheaters, pajamas and fisherman trousers can not be worn. Sometimes sarongs and pants are available on loan to visitors who do not meet the dress code.

Wat Phra Kaew (inside the Grand Palace enclosure, in its northeastern and northwestern corners) is regarded as Thailand’s grandest temple. It is a spectacular collection of buildings built by King Rama I to house the Emerald Buddha and priceless relics made by the Rattanakosin masters. Traditional Thai-style buildings within the temple include the Library, the gilded stupa, and the Royal Pantheon. Mural paintings from the Ramakien (the Thai version of the Indian epic the Ramayana ) cover the walls of the gallery.

Wat Phra Si Rattana Satsadaram (“Temple of the Emerald Buddha”) is the official name of Wat Phra Kaew (which itself means “Temple of the Jewel Holy Image”). A royal monastery in Bangkok, it houses the statue of Phra Phuttha Maha Mani Rattana Patimakon (Emerald Buddha) and is the place where significant religious ceremonies are conducted. The construction of the temple was completed in 1784 and there have been constant renovations during every reign from King Rama I to IX. The interior of the Ubosoth and the entire compound walls are decorated with mural paintings. Apart from these, other highlights within the temple include the eight stupas, Phra Si Ratana Chedi and the model of Angkor Wat.

This royal monastery in the precincts of the Grand Palace was one of Thailand’s first attractions introduced to the world when the tourism promotion began in Thailand in the mid 20th century. In addition to the importance as the home of the Emerald Buddha, the architecture of various different eras on display here as well what is said to be the world’s longest mural painting, portraying the enthralling epic of Ramayana on the compound walls. Divided into 178 sections and periodically restored, the murals illustrates the epic in its entirety and begin at the north gate and continue clockwise around the compound. According to a poll conducted by Bangkok University in 2010, tourists voted Wat Phra Si Rattana Satsadaram for their favorite destination in Thailand.

Emerald Buddha (in Wat Phra Kaew) is the most revered image in Thailand. Carved from a single piece of green jasper or nephrite jade, but not emerald, this 2½-foot-high Buddha is mounted on multi-tiered golden altar and encased in a glass case that sits on a pedestal high above the heads of worshippers. It is not known where the image originated or who made it. According to legend it was carved in India and made its way to Thailand via Ceylon buts its style and appearance seems to suggest it originated in the 13th or 14th centuries in Thai kingdoms of Chiang Saen or Lanna. Its true origin may never been know as opening the glass case to examine the image and even photographing it is forbidden.

The Emerald Buddha’s “known” history began in 1434 when it was reportedly found near Chiang Rai and covered with gold leaf and plaster and placed inside Chiang Rai’s own Wat Phra Kaew. Later, when the Buddha was being moved after the chedi that housed it was damaged in a storm, the image was dropped and its plaster encasing cracked open. It later appeared in Lampang, where it stayed for 32 years, and then was moved again, this time to Chiang Mai. In the mid-16th century the Emerald Buddha was captured by the Lao Kingdom when it invaded Chiang Mai and was taken to Luang Prabang in Laos, and later to Vientiane. In 1778 after Siam’s King Taksin declared war on Laos, the Buddha was captured and carried back to Thonburi in Thailand by General Chakri, who later succeeded Taksin and founded the Chakri dynasty as Rama I.

Rama I had the image brought to his new capital in Bangkok. Three robes were made for it—one each for the hot, rainy and cool seasons—and these robes are still changed at the beginning of each season. In Thailand the Emerald Buddha is regarded at the “talisman” of the kingdom. Thais say that as long as the Emerald Buddha stays in Thailand, Thailand will remain independent.

WAT PHO

WAT PHO (behind the Grand Palace, near the Tha Tien Pier) is the largest and oldest temple in Bangkok, home of the giant reclining Buddha and Thailand’s largest collection of Buddhist images and site of Thailand first public education facility. The site was first occupied in the 16th century. In 1781 the first monastery was completed. The current structure was founded in 1832 during the reign of King Rama III for the purpose of public education. It contains Thailand's first university, two dozen or so ornate structures, numerous murals and objects, monk dormitories, an elementary school, and the largest number of stupas in Bangkok,

The grounds of Wat Pho are divided by narrow Chetuphon Road into two sections, each surrounded by its own wall. The most interesting part is the northern section. It houses a very large bot (prayer hall) , enclose dby a large gallery of Buddhas, four large chedis for the first three Chakri kings ( Rama III gets two), 91 smaller chedis, a library with for Buddhist scriptures, a large all housing the reclining Buddha and a school building for classes in Buddhist philosophy. Of particular interest to tourists is the Wat Pho traditional Thai massage school, where visitors can lie in cot in room with other dozens of other people and have their "energy lines" examined and receive a joint-popping massage. The massages are usually conducted by students while their teachers look on. Astrologers and palmists are also on hand to read fortunes.

Wat Phi is officially called Wat Phrachetuponwimonmonkhararam Ratchaworawihan. It was originally called Wat Photharam and was built during the Ayutthaya Period. King Rama I ordered its complete restoration in 1789 and installed many Buddha images that were removed from abandoned temples in other parts of the country. King Rama III ordered another major renovation of the temple to make it a center of learning and art. This restoration took sixteen years to complete. Texts from treatises on various fields of knowledge were inscribed on marble slabs and placed in pavilions in the temple and on stone statues. Wat Pho thus became a source of knowledge for people of all classes and has therefore been referred to as Thailand’s first university.

Important features of the temple include Phra Buddha Dheva Patimakorn, Phra Buddhasaiyat. Phra Buddha Dheva Patimakorn, a Buddha in the mediation posture, is the principal image in the temple. King Rama I brought the image from “Wat Si Na.” Phra Jinnarat and Phra Jinach Buddhas in the west and south chapels are from Sukhothai. In the galleries between the four main chapels (called wihaan) are 394 gillded Buddha images, Rama I’s remains are housed in the base of the Buddha in the main prayer hall. As the base of this staue are 152 Ramakian reliefs carved in marble and originally located in Ayutthaya. Wa Sukree Mansion was the palace of Somdet Phra Mahasamanachao Krom Phra Poramanuchit Chinoros, one of finest Rattanakosin era poets. He has been recognized by UNESCO as one of the world’s finest poets.

The Wat Pho School of Traditional Medicine and Massage offers education in the preparation of herbal medicine and diagnosis of disease as well as the traditional massage, which is depicted in sculptures commissioned by King Rama III. The teaching is practical and everyday large numbers of visitors, Thai and foreign, come to study and to be massaged. The temple is regarded as the first centre of public education and is sometimes called Thailand’s first university.

Reclining Buddha (located in Wat Pho) is an immense golden Buddha over 46 meters (140 feet) long and 15 meters high. Known as Phra Buddhasaiyat (“Giant Reclining Buddha”), it represents the Buddha before he passes into nirvana. The figure is made out of plaster placed over a brick core and is covered in gold leaf. The eyes are made of mother-of-pearl inlays. On the soles of the feet, inlaid in mother of pearl, are 108 auspicious laksanas , characteristics of a Buddha. U.S. President Barack Obama is among those who viewed this famous Buddha.

Hours, Fees, Etiquette, Contact and Transport Info for Wat Pho: Wat Pho is located on Sanam Chai road and Maharaj road next to the Grand Palace. It is open daily between 8:00am to 5:00pm. The admission fee Confucian 100 baht. Tourists must be in polite dress, no shorts, although trousers are permitted. For more information please call (662) 225-9595, 622-0100, 221-1375, Fax. (662) 222-9779, website: watpho.com .

Thai Traditional Medical Science School and body Massage: 1) Massage service fee 250 baht per hour ; 2) Herbal Massage service fee 350 baht per hour; 3) foot massage fee 250 baht per hour . For more information please contact (662) 221-2974, 221-3686, 622-3550-1, Fax: (662) 225-4771, E-mail: WatpoTTM@netscape.net

Transportation: 1) Bus Nos. 1, 3, 6, 9, 12, 25, 32, 43, 44, 47, 48, 51, 53, 82, 103. 2) Air-conditioned bus Nos. 1, 6, 7, 8, 12, 44. 3) Chao phraya Express boat. Get off at Tha Chang pier, Tha Tien Pier or Pak Klong Talad Pier, then walk through Thai Wang Road entrance. It is polite for people in general and Buddhists alike to pay respect to the temple because it is a sacred place where religious rites and activities are performed. Once entering the precincts of any temple, please keep calm and be polite. Traditional or polite dress (shorts above the knees are prohibited for woman) is required. It would be polite to take off your shoes and put them on the shelf before entering every religious building. Woman are also prohibited from all areas set aside for monks to perform their rites.

An image of the Buddha symbolizes the Lord Buddha and is respected by all Buddhist people. In temples and ancient monuments, photos can be taken of yourself beside, but never on the image. Only permitted officer is allowed to climb up the image to clean and place the offerings. Monks represent the Lord Buddha and are regarded with respect by Buddhist people and general public. Visitors are asked to express their gentleness in both manners and words toward the monks just like you are right before the Lord Buddha himself. Practically, monks and men can touch physically, but it is prohibited for women to have a physical contact with monks or novices.

NATIONAL MUSEUM

NATIONAL MUSEUM (on Na Phra That Rd. On the west side of Sanam Luang, opposite from The Grand Palace) is the largest and one of the finest museums in Southeast Asia. Housed in a palace used under King Rama I and Rama V, it displays over 1,000 artifacts, some of which date back to prehistoric times. Sculptures and murals make up the majority of the collection. English-language descriptions are available and free English tours are sometimes offered by volunteers.

The National Museum was established in 1887 by King Rama V. The foundation collection had previously been stored at The Grand Palace. The original building was formerly the palace of a vice-ruler. King Rama VII placed it under the administration of the Royal Institute of Literature, Archeology and Fine Arts which has evolved to be the Fine Arts Department. New buildings were constructed in 1967 and other historical buildings relocated to the museum grounds.

On the museum grounds is The Buddhaisawan Chapel, a structure built in 1787 to enshrine a revered northern Buddha image called Phra Buddha Si Hing. The interior has exceptional murals, while the building itself is a fine example of Rattanakosin religious architecture. Tamnak Daeng is another building that has been moved to the Museum. This Red House was originally the residence of an elder sister of King Rama I. Furniture and other items are from early Bangkok times.

The National Museum collection encompasses a wide range of religious and secular art found throughout the country. Items from pre-historic times, through the Srivijaya, Dvaravati, Khmer Kingdoms and the Sukhothai, Ayutthaya and Rattanakosin periods of Thai history. These include Neolithic tools, painted pots and bronze objects unearthed in the northeast. Thai Buddhist art exhibits feature images in stone, bronze and terracotta as well as illustrated scripture books manuscript cabinets and votive plaques. The Museum also has a large collection of miscellaneous items such as Thai and Chinese ceramics, theatrical costumes, palanquins, weapons and assorted items used in royal households.

Hours and Contact Info: Closed Monday and Tuesday. Open from 9:00am - 4:00pm. The admission fee is 40 baht. Contact: Next to Thammasat University Na Phrthat Rd., Phra BorommaharachawangSub-district, Phra Nakorn District,Bangkok 10200, Tel. 0 2224 1333, 0 2224 1370, www.thailandmuseum.com . Guided tours are given free by volunteers in English and French starting at 9.30am on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Tours are also given in German on Thursdays and in Japanese on Wednesdays of the first & the third week of each month. Guided tours in some other languages can be arranged. How to get there: The most enjoyable route is to take the BTS Skytrain to Taksin Station. From here take a Chao Phraya River Express boat to Tha Phrachan Pier. Walk straight from the pier to Sanam Luang Park and turn left past Thammasat University to the museum. By Bus No. 3, 6, 9, 15, 19, 30, 32, 33, 43, 53, 59, 64, 65, 70, 80, 84 Air Condition Bus No. 3, 6, 7, 38, 39, 80, 82, 91 Airport Bus No. A2 . Nearby Places and Attractions: Grand Palace (Wat Phra Kaew), Phra Athit Road, Khaosan Road

SIGHTS NEAR THE GRAND PALACE

Wat Mahathat (on Mahathat Road north of the Grand Palace, across the street from Wat Phra Kaew) is the home Southeast Asia’s most important Buddhist universities. It is not visually impressive as some of the other wats but it has the feel of a working, living religious center. Wat Mahathat is the national cente of the Mahanikal monastic sect and houses two Buddhist universities. Not only Thai but also Cambodian, Lao and Vietnamese monks study here Shops on the opposite of Maharat Road specialize in articles for the faithful and is a major source of the amulets that Thais wear around their necks and drape from their rearview mirrors. You can also find shops that sell herbal medicines and offer Thai massages. The monastery’s International Buddhist Mediation Centers sometimes offers meditation classes in English. The wat is open everyday from 8:00am to 5:00pm. Admission is free. See Wat Phra Kaew for transport details. Tel. 0 2222-6011.

City Pillar Shrine (across the street form the eastern wall of Wat Phra Kaew at the southern end of Sanam Luang) houses the wooden pillar laid by King Rama I as the foundation pillar of Bangkok. Regarded as the home of Bangkok’s guardian spirit, the pillar attracts a large number of worshippers who make daily offerings of flowers, alcohol and food and pay classical Thai dancers to perform lakon chatri . According to an old Thai tradition, every city must have a foundation stone, which houses the city’s guardian spirit and from which distances to other places are measured.

King Rama I had the Bangkok city pillar erected near the Temple of the Emerald Buddha on Sunday, 21 April, 1782, with the citys horoscope inside. The original pillar was made of cassia wood known as Chaiyaphruek, measuring 75 cm. in diameter and 27 cm. high. In the reign of King Rama IV, the old dilapidated pillar was replaced by a new one made of the same kind of wood, measuring 270 cm. high and standing on a base of 175 cm. wide, sheltered by a Prang-shaped shrine as it appears today. The shrine also houses images of protective deities including Thepharak, Chaopho Ho Klong, Phra Suea Mueang, Phra Song Mueang, Chaopho Chetakhup and Phra Kan Chai Si. The shrine is free and open everyday from 7.00am to 6:00pm.

Sanam Luang (next to the Grand Palace) is a large park and open ground upriver from the northern wall of the Grand Palace and the eastern wall of the former Viceroy Palace or Wang Na. Situated in front of Thammasat National University, it is the site of the Royal Ploughing Ceremony and has been the place where royal cremations took place. Kite fighting can be seen in March and April. Other sports are played through the year.

At the time when Bangkok was first established Sanam Luang was a rice field and over the centuries has been used as a location for a royal crematorium, The park is sometimes called Thung Phra Men which means “crematorium ground” in Thai. The place has been used as the crematorium ground for kings, members of the royal family and nobility, in addition, to being a royal sporting ground. The king also had 365 tamarind trees planted around it.

The last royal funeral was in January 2008 for King Bhumibol’s elder sister Princess Galyani Vadhana. King Bhumibol’s mother was cremated at Sanam Luang in 1996. In 1976 cremations were held for Thai students killed in demonstrations that year.

Wat Arun (in Thonburi, across the Chao Phraya river from the Grand Palace) looks more like a Khmer-style building found at Angkor Wat than a than a Thai temple. Restored when Thonburi was the capital of Thailand not Bangkok and also known as the Temple of Dawn, it features a porcelain-encrusted prang that rises 82 meters (280 feet) above the river. When the Emerald Buddha was brought back Thailand from Laos by King Rama I it was originally placed in Wat Arun. In 1785 it was moved to Wat Phra Kaeo by King Rama I at the beginning of his reign. The temple is pleasantly situated among riverside parks. In Thonburi there are several other old wats.

Wat Arun is officially called Wat Arunratchawararam Ratchaworamahawihan after the Hindu god of dawn, Aruna. King Taksin chose this 17th century Wat for his royal temple and palace. The temple was formerly known as Wat Makok and renamed to Wat Jaeng, literally means Temple of Dawn, when he restored it. Even after the Emerald Buddha was taken away Wat Arun continued to be much revered. King Rama II and King Rama III reconstructed and enlarged the main prang of the temple to its present height of 74 meters. King Rama II renamed it to Wat Arunratchatharam and King Rama IV later changed the name to Wat Arunratchawanaram.

Today, Wat Arun has a long elongated, Khmer-style, prang, the tower, and four minor towers symbolising Mount Meru, the terrestrial representation of the thirty-three heavens. The Prangs are covered with pieces of porcelain, which Chinese boats coming to Bangkok used as ballast. The main Prang, steep steps lead to the two terraces that form the base of the Prang. The different layers, or heavens are supported by Kinnaree, or half humans, and frightening Yaksas, or demons. Pavilions on the first platform contain statues of the buddha at the most important stages of his life, while on the Hindi god Indra or Erawan, his thirty-three headed elephant, stand guard.

Steep stairs reach a lookout point about halfway up the prang. Most tourists come for the climb and do not have time for the rest of the Wat. The main Buddha image inside the Bot is believed to have been designed by King Rama II himself. The king’s ashes reside in the statue’s base. The the murals date from the reign of King Rama V. In a long tradition, every king of the Chakri Dynasty has presided over important ceremonies here, including the Royal barge procession to offer Pra Krathin or monk’s robes, during the Thod Krathin Festival. Hours, Fees and Transport Info: Wat Arun is open daily from 8.30am to 5.30pm. Admission is 30 baht for foreigners and free for Thai people. Getting There: Bus no. 19,57,83 Boat-Ferry-Tha Tien Pier to Wat Arun Pier.

Wat Rakhang (in Thonburi, across the Chao Phraya river from the Grand Palace) contains many stupas and prangs decorated with fine Ayutthaya-style stucco decorations and gilded wood carvings. It also houses an old teak library that was used as a residence by King Rama I. Donated to the wat by King Rama I after he became ruler, the house has been recently been restored. One of the prangs is regarded as the most beautiful example of early Ratanakosin period architecture.

Royal Barge National Museum (on the Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya River near the Phra Piu Klao Bridge, about 1½ kilometers northwest of the Grand Place) displays the Thai Royal Barges, which were formally used as war vessels but are now used in Royal Family River processions. The royal barges are rarely used by the royal family these days because of their age. A few of them are now preserved in the Royal Barge National Museum on. The eight long, narrow boats on display are intricately gilded and each need between 50 and 60 rowers to take their oars. The figure on the bow of each boat signifies whether it carries the King and Queen or other members of the royal family. The most important barge is the Suphannahong, exclusively used by the King. It is used during the Kathin Ceremony, usually in October or November, when robes are offered to monks. Narai Songsuban Ratchakan Thai Kao is the most recently-built barge. It was constructed in 1996 for the King’s Golden Jubilee. The museum is open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm. There is an admission fee. Address: Khlong Bangkok Noi, Bangkok, Thailand. Tel. (02) 424 0004. Website: www.thailandmuseum.com

Wat Bovornives (on Phra Sumen Rd. Ub Banglamphu) is the headquarters of the Tahmaayut monastic sect, the minoriy sect in Thai Buddhis,s. Kig Mongkut, the founder of the Thammayuts, was the abbot at this wat for several years. King Bhumibol, Crpwn Prince Vajiralongkorn and several other males in the current royal family were temporarily ordained as monks here.

THAI ROYAL FAMILY PALACES

Dusit Palace (between Ratchwithi Road, Si Ayutthaya Road, Rachasima Road and U-Thong Nai Road, about three kilometers northeast of the Grand Palace) is the primary (but not official) residence of the King of Thailand and the place where many members of the Thai royal family live. Originally called Wang Suan Dusit or Dusit Garden Palace, it is a compound of royal residences constructed over a large area between 1897 and 1901 by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). It was used by King Rama V, King Vajiravudh (Rama VI), King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) and is currently used by the family of the present monarch King Bhumibol. The palace covers an area of over 64,749 square meters (696,950 sq ft) and contains 13 different royal residences as well as gardens and lawns. [Source: Wikipedia]

Chulalongkorn moved the royal family from the Grand Palace to Dusit Palace (See the Grand Palace). He got the idea of having a royal residence with spacious gardens on the outskirts of the capital from European monarchs during his trip to Europe in 1897. When he returned to Bangkok he began to built a new royal compound within walking distance of the Grand Palace. He began by acquiring several connect farmlands and orchards between Padung Krung Kasem and Samsen canals from funds of his Privy Purse. The king decided to name this area Suan Dusit meaning 'Celestial Garden'. The first building within this area was a single story wooden structure, used by the king, his consorts and his children for occasional stays. In 1890 plans for a permanent set of residences are drawn up and constructions were begun under the supervision of Prince Narisara Nuvadtivongs (the king's brother) and C. Sandreczki (a German architect, responsible for the Boromphiman Palace). Apart from the Prince all other members of the team were Europeans. When it became clear that Chulalongkorn preferred to stay within the garden, with only occasional visits to the Grand Palace for state and royal ceremonies, the name was changed to Wang Dusit meaning 'Celestial Dwelling'.

Apart from taking his long walks, Chulalongkorn also indulge in a new and fashionable pastime of cycling. Even before he took permanent residence at Dusit Palace, he would take his entourage cycling from the Grand Palace to the garden and back. With bicycling trips often taking up all day. This pathway connecting the Grand Palace to Dusit Palace eventually became the Rajadamnern Avenue. The construction of both Dusit Palace and the Rajadamnern Avenue holds particular significance in the urban development of Bangkok, by allowing and encouraging the expansion of Bangkok outside its city walls and the traditional confines of the Rattanakosin area. The palace expanded Bangkok northwards, while the avenue accommodated further growth. The avenue extended from the palace, starting in front of the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall and the Royal Plaza along southwards along the Makawan Rangsant and Phanfah Lielas bridges then westwards across the Phanbipob Liela bridge, then southwards again long the Sanam Luang unto the Grand Palace.

Upon Chulalongkorn's return from his second European tour in 1908, he expanded the palace northward, creating an additional private garden called Suan Sunandha, in honour of his first consort Queen Sunandha Kumariratana, who died in 1880. The garden became the setting of residential houses belonging to the king's consorts and children. Chulalongkorn lived at the palace until his death at the Amphorn Sathan Residential Hall on 23 October 1910 of kidney disease.

His successor King Vajiravudh contributed to the expansion of the palace by the construction in 1913 of another garden called Suan Chitralada, situated between Dusit Palace and Phaya Thai Palace. Within this garden he had a residential villa built and named it Phra Thamnak Chitralada Rahothan or the Chitralada Royal Villa. Later in 1925 during the reign of King Prajadhipok, this garden was incorporated by royal command as part of Dusit Palace. At its greatest extent the palace occupied over 768,902 square metres (8,276,390 sq ft) of land. In 1932 the absolute monarchy was abolished and part of the Dusit Palace was reduced and transferred to the constitutional government. This included the Khao Din Wana to the east of the palace, which was given in 1938 to the Bangkok City Municipality by King Ananda Mahidol to create a public park, which later became Dusit Zoo. The Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall was also appropriated as the permanent meeting place of the National Assembly of Thailand.

During the reign of the present monarch King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the Chitralada Royal Villa and garden became the de facto primary residence of the king and the royal family. This area is then commonly referred to as the Chitralada Palace. In 1970 the National Assembly of Thailand requested a new plot of land for the building of a new legislature, as the Ananta Samkhom Throne Hall had become too small and was unable to accommodate the growing assembly and its secretariat. The King granted a plot of land within Dusit Palace immediately north of the Throne Hall for the building of a new Parliament House of Thailand. With the completion of this new building the Ananta Samkhom Throne Hall was returned to the king as part of the palace once more.

Currently several museums and exhibitions are displayed inside the various buildings within the palace precinct, only a few of these are open to the public. Similar to all Thai royal palaces of the past Dusit Palace is divided into three areas, the outer, middle and inner courts. However unlike the Grand Palace, Dusit Palaces' courts were organized differently and were separated by canals and gardens as opposed to walls. The king then allocated different residential halls and gardens to his consorts and children. The gardens are connected by gates with names drawn from motifs on blue and white Chinese porcelain ware, which the king picked out himself. The gates were specifically named after human or animal motifs, while the name of the paths were taken from floral motifs. Dusit Palace is surrounded by Ratchwithi Road in the north,Si Ayutthaya Road in the south, Rachasima Road in the west and U-Thong Nai Road on the east.

Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall (within Dusit Palace on Ratchadamneon Nok Avenue) is a former reception hall and now serves as a museum and is from time to time employed for certain state occasions. One year after the completion of the Amphorn Satharn Villa within the Dusit Palace in 1906, King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) commissioned the construction of a reception hall to replace the one built during the reign of King Mongkut (Rama IV.). The building in Italian Renaissance and Neo Classic style was commissioned to the architects Mario Tamagno and Annibale Rigotti. Marble from Carrara, Italy, and other foreign materials were used. Italian sculptor Vittorio Novi, who would later also work on the Mahaiudthit Bridge, was employed with his nephew Rudolfo Nolli. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Throne Hall is a two storey construction with a large dome (49.5 m high) in the centre, surrounded by six smaller domes. The domes and walls are covered with paintings by Professor Galileo Chini and Carlo Riguli depicting the history of the Chakri Dynasty, from the first to the sixth reign. King Chulalongkorn died in 1910 and the building was finally completed in 1915. It was used as the headquarters of the People's Party during the four days of the 1932 Revolution (June 24-27), which transformed the country's political system from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one. The first National People's Assembly convened on June 28, 1932 in this throne hall. After that, it was used as the Parliament House until 1974 when the new Parliament House was opened to the north. However, the old Parliament House is still used for the State Opening of Parliament marking the first assembly in consequence of a general election for the House of Representatives.

The Throne Hall is open to the public every day except on Chulalongkorn Day (23 October), the King's birthday (5 December) and the Queen's birthday (12 August). In front of the Hall is the Royal Plaza with the equestrian statue of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). Visitors to the Throne Hall should be aware that "appropriate address" is required for entry. This means a sleeved shirt (short-sleeves are OK) and trousers for men or long skirts for women - no shorts, ripped jeans, short skirts or sleeveless T-shirts. Women in long trousers are not considered 'suitable'. Appropriate attire (a sarong basically) can be purchased if need be when you get there. All cameras and phones must be left in lockers (which are free). There is an entry fee for the Throne Hall, even if you have already paid to enter the Dusit Gardens. A recorded guide is available in several languages.

Chitralada Palace (part of Dusit Palace) is residence of King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) and Queen Sirikit. King Bhumibol was the first king in the Chakri dynasty to live in the Chitralda Palace. He moved there after the death of his older brother, King Rama VIII in the Grand Palace. The palace grounds cover four square kilometers and is surrounded by a moat and watched over by Palace Guards. It also contain the Chitralada School. Initially established for the children of the royal family and palace staff, it is perhaps the most exclusive school in Thailand.

Also known as or the Chitralada Royal Villa, the main building of the palace is a two-level structure built under Rama VI and used as his residence of Rama VI. Chitralada School was founded in 1958 for the children of the Royal Family and palace staff. A possible future king HRH Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti is currently a student in the Chitralada School. As the king is interested in agriculture and agricultural industry, the palace grounds also contain rice fields, fish ponds, a dairy farm and factories. Research centers provide training for farmers. 'Chitralada' is also the 'brand' of products from the palace. Visitors need a special pass to enter the palace.

Vimanmek Mansion (in the compound of Dusit Palace on Ratchawithi Road behid the National Assembly Building) is an impressive structure built entirely of rare golden teak. Constructed in 1901 and designed for King Rama V by his younger brother Prince Naris, it was the home of the king while nearby Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall was being built. Queen Sirikit oversaw the restoration of the palace for Bangkok's bicentennial celebration in 1982. Epitomizing the grace and harmony of imperial Siam architecture, Vimanmek houses a memorial to King Rama V, one of Thailand's most revered monarchs.

Vimanmek is the world's largest golden teak building. The three-storey royal mansion has 81 rooms, halls and ante-chambers containing royal memorabilia.and treasure form the 19th and early 20th century. A one-story teak building situated on the east side houses the H.M. Queen Sirikits collection of handicraft masterpieces created by rural people. Near the entrance is the Royal Carriage Museum. A guided tour in English is provided to visitors. Other beautiful buildings in the compound display various items and art objects such as King Bhumibol’s photography, portraits, old clocks and old textiles.

Hours and Contact Info: Closed Saturday. Open from 9.30am to 4:00pm. Contact: Dusit Palace on Ratchawithi Road., Tel. 0 2628 6300 ext. 5119-5121, www.palaces.thai.net . Admission is 100 baht. Tickets are sold until 3.15pm. A ticket to the Grand Palace also includes admission to Vimanmek, Thai dancing shows are held at 10.30am and 2:00pm. Proper attire is required (See the Grand Palace).

Royal Elephant National Museum (across the road from Dusit Zoo, within the Vimanmek compound and Dusit Palace) is one of Bangkok lesser known secrets and also goes by the name Chang Ton Museum. Located within two well preserved buildings which were former elephant stables, it were built to house a progression of Royal White Elephants in the early 1900s. The stables become a museum in 1988. There is a life-like model of a white elephant near the entrance. Six of the current Royal elephants are housed in the Thai Elephant Conservation Center (TECC) in Lampang near Chiang Mai. [Source: Peter Dickinson, Hub Pages, peterdickinson.hubpages.com ]

The two 'elephant stable' museums are very close to each other and each supervised by a friendly and informed superintendant. You are expected to leave your footwear outside the door and no photography is allowed inside. These two buildings are more than a standard museum they are almost temples in their own right. It would also be truer to say that they were devoted to White Elephants and the culture, fact and fable surrounding these as it applies to Royalty. White was the colour of Thai Royal Elephants.

In the second building there is a statue of a white monkey and a white crow below which there is a lable which states "...these animals should be born for support the king's mysterious power". Here you will find a Statue of the supreme master of the mahouts along with mahout amulets and magic knives. There are statues of Ganesh along with elephant and tiger teeth. A finely polished Rhino horn too.

There are colourful paintings explaining the multiple types of white elephants. The names and ranks of animals going back over many years. There are the ropes and equipment for holding and riding and photographs of ancient elephant round ups. Just after the interesting display of ivory and elephant tail brushes and whisks is the most gruesome exhibit...the flayed skin of a white elephant stewing away in several big glass jars of discoloured preservative.

The most impressive display was that of elephant tusks. There are many small ones within the glass display cabinets but those in the centre of building one are absolutely amazing. Three pairs of huge length, each one longer than I am tall. The longest pair, which are not an even match are 257 and 290 cms long! The Bangkok Royal Elephant Museum is free and open every day from 9.00am to 4:00pm. Tel. 0-2282-3336.

GIANT SWING AND FAMOUS BANGKOK WATS

Wat Benjamabophit (across from Dusit Palace on the corner of Si Ayutthaya and Rama V Roads) is a screen temple built of Carrara marble in 1899 during the reign of King Rama V. The last royal temple constructed in Bangkok, it features a collection of bronze Buddha images in the cloister, representing every period of religious art found in Thailand. Wat Benchamabopitr is a good example of modern Thai religious architecture. Also known as the Marble temple, it features European details such as stained glass windows and classical Thai architecture. Open from 8:00am to 3:30pm. Admission: 20 baht.

Wat Ratchanadaram (intersection between Ratchadamnoen Klang and Maha Chai Road, in Phra Nakhon district) is one of the most unusual temples in Bangkok. Started during the reign of King Rama II and completed only recently by the Fine Arts Department, it contains a 36-meter-high pyramid-shaped, pink Loha Prasat (metal-spired pagoda) with 36 surrounding, symmetrically arranged spires, inspired by a shrine in Sri Lanka. In front of this temple there is a memorial for King Rama III, a welcoming Pavilion for visiting heads of state and the Mahakala Fortress, part of the ancient city wall.

Founded at the home centre of Rattanakosin Island, this is one of Thailand’s six most important temples. King Rama I wished to make it the central temple of Bangkok when construction began in 1807. Construction was completed, according to schedule, in the reign of King Rama III in 1847. King Rama III gave the temple its name, “wat Suthat Thepwararam”.

The most important Buddha is Phra Sri Sakyamuni. Cast in the “Marn Wichai” posture, the image was previously enshrined at Wat Mahathat, Sukhothai Capital. A stone inscription reports that King Phra Mahathammarachalithai who reigned during the Sukhothai period, ordered the image cast as a principal image in Phra Wihanluang Mahathat. Phra Puttatri Lokachet was cast in alloy in the Subduing Mara position during the reign of King Rama III. Eighty 80 disciples stand in front of the Buddha.

Phra Wihan Luang is a copy of Wat Mongkolbophit in Ayutthaya. The central pair of doors were designed by King Rama II,who began the carving. The murals are considered to be the most beautiful work of the Rattanakosin period. Ubosot is the longest, most beautiful chapel built in Thai architecture style during the reign of King Rama III. It is decorated with Chorfah,Bairaka, and glazed green ceramic. Phra Wihan Kod was built in the reign of King Rama III, and surrounds the Phra Wihan Luang on all four sides. There are 156 Buddha images enshrined inside. The door frames are decorated with lacquered images of Sio Kang.

Wat Ratchanadaram open from 8:00am to 5:00pm. Admission is free. Tel. 0-2224-8807, 0-2225-5749. The temple is located at no.146, Ti Thong 1 Rd., Bamrung Mueang Rd., Unakan Rd, Khet Phra Nakorn,Bangkok It can be reached by bus no., 10,12,19,35,42 or Air conditioned bus no.: 8 , 12.

Wat Suthat (on Bamrung Mueang Road, near the Democracy Monument about two kilometers east of the Grand Palace) is one of the most important temples in Bangkok. Inaugurated by King Rama I and completed by King Rama II, it contains a superb Sukhothai-period (1238-1438) bronze Buddha—the largest in Thailand—originally brought to Bangkok from Sukhothai by King Rama I. Considered one of the most beautiful Buddha images in Thailand , the 6.25-meter-high image is eight meters tall including the base. The temple took nearly three decades to build.

Described by Somerset Maugham as having the most beautiful roofline in Bangkok, Wat Suthat also contains fine murals from the reign of King Rama I, a collection of gilded Buddha images, and elaborate wood door panels carved by King Rama II. In front of the temple is the Giant Swing, used in the old days in Brahma religious ceremonies. Open 9:00am to 8:00pam. Admission: 20 baht. Contact: Tel. 2229-4026, www.watsuthat.org . Nearby is Wat Rajbopit features an impressive five-color porcelain mosaics in the main stupa and mother-of-pearl inlays and bas reliefs of the window and door panels of the main chapel.

Giant Swing (in front of Wat Suthat) is a religious structure formerly used in an old Brahmin ceremony in which participants swung in larger, larger arcs in an attempt to grab a bag of gold supported on the top of 15 meter bamboo pole. The ceremony was discontinued in 1935 after several fatal accidents. The original swing was constructed in 1784 in front of the Hindu Devasathan shrine by King Rama I. During the reign of Rama II the swing ceremony was stopped after the swing was damaged by lightning. In 1920 the swing was renovated and moved to its current location and the ceremony was again performed. [Source: Wikipedia]

A major renovation of the swing was completed in 2006 and dedicated in royal ceremonies presided over by King Bhumibol in September 2007. Six teak tree trunks were used. The two used for the main structure of the swing are over 3.5 meters in circumference and over 30 meters in height. The remaining four are used for support and are 2.30 meters in circumference and 20 meters in height. The timbers of the original swing are preserved in the National Museum.

The Ceremony of Tri-yampawai or the Swing Ceremony was one of the 12 royal ceremonies held in each of the months of the Thai lunar calendar. The ceremony was a Bhramin new year's ceremony and lasted for 10 days. According to an ancient Hindu epic, after Brahma created the world he sent Shiva to look after it. When Shiva descended to the earth, Naga serpents wrapped around the mountains in order to keep the earth in place. After Shiva found the earth solid, the Nagas moved to the seas in celebration. The Swing Ceremony was a re-enactment of this. The pillars of the Giant Swing represented the mountains, while the circular base of the swing represented the earth and the seas. In the ceremony Brahmins would swing, trying to grab a bag of coins placed on one of the pillars.

Wat Saket (Ratchdamneon Avenue, near the Democracy Monument about two kilometers east of the Grand Palace) encompasses the Golden Mount, a 58 -meter-tall, wall-like stupa surmouned by a goldeb cupola started in the third reign and completed in the forth reign of the original Siamese kings. Restored by King Rama I, it was for many years the highest structure in Bangkok. It reportedly holds holy ashes of the Lord Buddha. Visitors climb 318 steps to the cupola for a fine view of the Grand Palace area and of the city. Thais leave flowers and lit candles as offerings before the Buddha images. A popular fair featuring performances of traditional theater is held here every November. Open 7:30am to 5:30pam. Admission: 10 baht. Tel. 0-2621-0576.

Wat Trimit (at the intersection of Yaowarat and Chareon Rds in Chinatown near Hualamphong station) contains a famous 5½- ton Buddha that is 40 percent gold—the largest gold Buddha in the world. Constructed in a Sukhotai style in the Ayutthaya period and said to glisten more brightly than other gold object, the 3½-meter-high golden image was discovered inside a huge stucco Buddha in the 1950s after its outer covering cracked when it fell from a crane while being moved to a new building. Inside the temple Thais make offerings and westerners sit in the lotus position meditating. Sometimes followers of Transcendental Mediation come here to try and fly. Often the air is heavy with incense smoke. Large camera-toting tour groups sometimes take over the place. The wat is open everyday from 8:00am to 5:00pm. There is an admission fee is 40 baht.

Maha Uma Devi Temple (on Silom Rd near the Pan Rd intersection) is a Hindu temple. Built by Tamil immigrants in the 1860s, it boasts a six-meter high facade comprised of colorful Hindu deities, including elephant-headed Ganesh and Shiva’s consort Shakti, and topped by a gold-platted copper dome. Around noon on most days a Brahman priests presides over a ceremony in which he sprinkles holy water on the hands of worshippers who then in turn pass their hands through a lamp flame for purification and stick their fingers in colored powders and make prayer marks on their foreheads. The main Indian district I located near Chinatown in Pahurat.

Wat Thammamongkhon (east of Bangkok on Soi 101, Sukhumvit) is a 95 meter-high chedi that resulted from a monk's vision. While meditating in 1991, Phra Viriyang Sirintharo saw a giant jade boulder; at around the same time a 32 tonne block of solid jade was discovered in British Columbia, Canada. Viriyang raised over a half million dollars and purchase the block, which was carved by Carrara sculptors into a 14-ton Buddha sculpture. The massive chedi built to honor the statue contains a hair of the Buddha, was presented to Thailand by Bangladesh's Sangharaja (the head of a Theravada monastic order). The tallest chedi in Thailand, it has an elevator that takes visitor to the top. A leftover 10- ton chunk of jade was carved into a figure of Kuanyin (the Chinese Buddhist Goddess of Mercy). Smaller left overs - a total of nearly eight tonnes - were made into amulets and sold to worshippers for US$20 each, to raise money for 5000 day care centres throughout Thailand. [Source: Lonely Planet]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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