Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Grand Palace: A structural wonder

I WAS only seven years old when we visited the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand for the first time. As a kid, I did not comprehend the significance of the Buddha images, statues, and overall architecture of the entire complex. I was more concerned with the fact that real and powerful Thai kings used to dwell within the building walls.

More than a decade later, we returned to the Grand Palace as adults brimming with interest and purpose. This time, with mature perspectives. We viewed the Palace as something more than a structural wonder for both tourists and locals.

When traveling to Bangkok for the first time, never miss the opportunity to visit the Grand Palace. Although some of the grounds are off-limits to the public, the 218,000-sqm Grand Palace has a complex of sacred temples and other buildings waiting to be explored. Each shrine and mural is cocooned in stories from which the history and culture of Thailand—the home of the gods incarnate—were weaved.

One important thing to remember when traveling to Bangkok is that they implement strict dress codes in certain places like the Temple of the Emerald Buddha—considered the most sacred site in Thailand—in the Grand Palace. But instead of wearing thick, layered clothing; wear comfortable shirts that fully cover your shoulders (or bring spare shawls/cover-ups), and long skirts or loose pants. It helps to pack a hat and a bottle of water too, because the heat gets really unbearable, especially at noon.

In lieu of a tourist guide, we rented a device (an audio guide) that looks like a TV remote with earphones for 200 baht or P328. This provided us with a recording of interesting facts about the temples, Lord Buddha, and the Thai royals. I’ve learned that white elephants, known to the Thais as auspicious creatures, symbolize the status, wealth, and power of the royals, and that King Rama I, founder of the Chakri Dynasty, ordered the construction of the Palace in 1782.

There are some sites in the Grand Palace that prohibit visitors from taking pictures. The intricately decorated interior of the Temple of Emerald Buddha was a sight to behold, so in the absence of photographs, I tried to imprint into my memory the image of the ceiling dome, the murals on the walls, and the Buddha statues of varying sizes perched on pedestals.

Although we’ve marveled at every golden temple and structure, I consider the visit to the newest attraction, Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, my most favorite. The museum building, which formerly served the Ministry of Finance, houses the collection of gowns, dresses, shoes, and hats worn and co-created by Queen Sirikit — the queen mother of Thailand—during her official travels abroad. Every piece of clothing, including the background story of its creation, was wonderfully preserved and exhibited in Thailand’s first textile conservation laboratory. Be sure not to miss this since it’s located just before the exit.

Entrance to the Grand Palace, which costs 500 baht or P820, also allows admission for tourists to the museum.