One of the first things I did when I studied abroad at Thammasat University was visit the Grand Palace, or Phra Boromma Maha Ratcha Wang, in Bangkok.
So why haven’t I written about it until now?
I just wasn’t that impressed.
The Grand Palace is certainly a gem in Bangkok. You can’t miss the gilded peaks and spires of its buildings unless you have your nose mashed against the wall surrounding its grounds.
Since 1782 this palace was the official home of the Thai royals until they moved out in 1925. Even they couldn’t take the pomp it seems. Today they reside in the subtler Chitralada Palace.
If you enjoy getting lost in mesmerizingly intricate carvings and reliefs—or you’re a gold miner—go to the Grand Palace.
Let’s not forget that it’s also home to the coveted, and rather small, Emerald Buddha fabled to have travelled from India through Hindu and Buddhism faith. It toured Sri Lanka, Burma, Angkor, Ayutthaya, Chieng Rai, Lampang, Chieng Mai, Luang Prabang and Vientiane before settling in Bangkok within Wat Phra Kei under the rule of King Rama I.
If you want unique Thai temples, well, unless you’re an avid researcher or expert on the subject, you’ll find that the Grand Palace isn’t that different from hundreds of other temples in the country. Sure they’re at a smaller scale, but at least you can explore their interiors and the cost is reasonable/nonexistent.
Of course, one could argue that the complex offers an impressive collection of Thai Buddhist architecture, and that would be true, however having everything squeezed together into a tiny corner of the palace complex just leaves one feeling dizzyingly overwhelmed. Plus you have to fight the crowds to see this tiny corner.
Unless you have time constraints I’d highly recommend selecting temples from across Thailand and doing a round trip. These temples will pleasantly surprise you rather than blow you over with shock-and-awe tactics.
For example maybe try:
- Wat Phumin: found in the northern Thai city of Nan, this temple is well worth the trip for its historical commentary and amusing murals.
- Or what about Wat Phra That Khao Noi and its large golden Buddha image set to walk into eternity.
- Phra Pathom Chedi in Nakhon Parthon is the world’s tallest stupa.
- Wat Phanan Choeng in the ancient capital Ayutthaya is host to a MASSIVE golden Buddha image.
- Wat Yai Chai Mongkol and Wat Maha That are right nearby with ancient buildings ravaged by a Burmese invasion in 1767 (bring some Burmese friends with you to reminisce).
- Wat Ban Tham is a cave temple that will offer you a panoramic view of all of Kanchanaburi and a free extensive fitness program.
The best thing?
Most of these have no entry fee.
Save the 400/500 baht you’d have to pay for the Grand Palace and travel to three or four (or more) smaller temples instead—especially if you are a student.
If your university offers to take you to the Grand Palace for free—as mine did—then go for it! Never look a gift horse in the mouth!
For all you non-native English speakers/WTF thinkers go here for an explanation of that last linguistic treasure.
If your school is too cheap to help you out, don’t feel bad if you have to skip it for budget reasons. It’s crowded, you have to dodge scams and most of it has been photographed at least a dozen times over anyway.
Go discover something new.
If in the end however you do decide you have this fierce, unwavering desire to see the Grand Palace don’t forget to wear a sleeved shirt and long pants or a long skirt. Oh, and leave the sandals at home.
Also, as a parting gift.
If you somehow find yourself scammed into a more expensive tour, don’t feel too bad… this game of wits has been going on since at least 1972.
P.s. “Farang” is a word Thais use for European foreigners. Today it is sometimes used as a derogatory word for annoying tourists.