Once again, keeping fit while exploring another part of the world, we walked the 4 km to the Grand Palace. I realize its not that far, but in the heat and continually dodging around street venders it is exhausting. Nearing the Palace we came across the Ministry of Defence Building. The Gardens were in spectacular shape, and I loved the well manicured topiary. They started building it in 1882 and was officially opened July 1884. The Building and the grounds have been kept in immaculate shape.
As we got within a couple blocks of the Palace a guy comes up and asks where we are going, we told him the Grand Palace, with which her replied, “it is closed right now, but…” and I just turned and continued walking. I had read about this scam, and wasn’t about to get caught up in it. A little further down the road we had to go through a check point. There were a lot of people around and tents set up everywhere. Not sure what was going on at the time, but we got searched and went through with no problems. Just before you turn down the street to the entrance of the Palace a statue sits in the middle of a roundabout. Its a huge statue of three, three headed pink elephants holding up a gigantic lotus flower. It was given to the King on his 84th birthday. The three heads represent three major Gods in Hindu mythology. Brahma is the creator, Vishnu is the Keeper and Mahesh the Destroyer. The Lotus, represents purity and beauty. There is so much mythology and customs that are shared throughout SE Asia.
There is a dress code at the Grand Palace, as most temples and palaces in Thailand. Although I did wear pants below my knees I wore a tank top, and brought a scarf to cover my shoulders, which was fine elsewhere, but not here. I was turned around at the gate, and had to purchase a shirt from a vendor that was much too pleased to assist in selling me an “appropriate” shirt that would allow me passage into the complex. I think it was $1.50. So now I am a proud owner of a Thailand touristy shirt with elephants on it! The Palace consists of many buildings built behind a wall at the heart of the city, and has been the official residence of the all the Kings of Siam (later named Thailand) since 1782. The combined complex area is 218,400 square metres or 2,351,000 sq ft, so there is a great deal to see once inside. There are three main courts, the outer, middle, and the inner courts all having specific buildings and uses. The inner court, which was a city unto itself, was complete with shops, schools, courts, warehouses and were all controlled by the women. This inner court was reserved specifically for the king and his queens, and what are sometimes referred to as “forbidden women”. The King’s children also lived here, although once boys reached the age of puberty they were sent outside for their education. Polygamy ended early in the 20th century. If men were to enter into the inner court, such as a repairmen, doctors, carpenters etc. they would be watched very closely by the female guards. There are no longer inhabitants at the Inner Court. The buildings are no longer used and the entire court is closed to the public, yet guard’s do standby to protect.
There were some beautiful murals on some of the walls, but they were roped off and we couldn’t see them that closely. Not absolutely sure what the signs said about it being roped off, but as we came across another roped off area, filled hundreds of people dressed in black, it became apparent they were there to pay respects to their King who had passed in October 2016. As soon as the King passed, the country was put into one year of mourning. Any joyous occasions were cancelled, including sporting events, and everyone wore black. Sporting events, joyous or fun activities, etc were allowed to continue after one months time, although people still wear black, and the kings photos, shrines, and special monuments are all over the city and country. People are still coming to the Grand Palace in droves to wait their turn to pay their respects. Tents are set up outside the palace which allows the tourists room to see the area, and keep the mourners comfortable under tents, away from the blistering sun. We really enjoyed the visit, even with the thousand of tourists, its well worth the time but remember to cover your shoulders as a scarf is not appropriate at this palace. Fascinating buildings, architecture and history behind the walls of the Grand Palace.
The famous Emerald Buddha is housed in a temple, with its name at the Grand Palace. It is not made of emerald, as the name suggests, but is made of imperial jade. I expected it to be larger, but it was only 26 inches high, but is shown magnificently atop a stand of gold colored stands and gems. The Emeralds Buddha has a long history, having been discovered in 1434 in Northern Thailand. It is indicated that the discovery was made after lightning stuck a Bamboo Monastery, which then revealed a stucco covered Buddha. It was kept in the residence of the abbot who later discovered a green interior where the stucco was flaking off the nose of the Buddha. All the stucco was removed to reveal the beautiful Emerald colored Buddha. It was housed in many places before finding its final resting place in its own temple at the Grand Palace on March 22, 1784. Shortly after we saw the Emerald Buddha we left the palace, exiting through a huge set of doors. Maybe so big so the elephants could maneuver through easily back in the day?
We continued on and passed through the security check again, we noticed there were hundreds of people, all dressed in black sitting in rows under the tents, waiting their turn to go in and pay their respects to the King. We started to wined our way back towards the hotel. We took a trip through the China town market, and it was so crowded you couldn’t see anything, and hardly move. It took some time to find our way back out onto a street, and then try to navigate to a street we recognized. But we made it and found a street side pub that we had stopped at before and settled in to rest our feet and have a nice cocktail. (really it was a beer, but it was as cold and good as any cocktail I’ve ever had). I am ever intrigued by the complexities of these people lives, and how the new and the old work so well together. Of course like any country/nation there are idiots out there, and we did see some examples here too. As we sat resting an elderly gentleman tried to get onto a bus. He was pretty crippled up, hobbling with a cane, but he was moving in the direction of the stopped bus. He waved towards the driver, but only 2 feet from getting on the bus pulled away. Almost brought tears to my eyes. But a younger fellow came along, and was told the story and when the next bus arrived he held his arm, and assisted him on the bus, then he walked away! So, it did remind me, there is kindness in this world.
Back at the hotel we had a quick dinner and headed out for a night cap, and to watch the sun set one more time from our perch. Unfortunately, the Monks were not chanting this evening, and I have to say I was a little disappointed. Finishing our beer we headed down to our room to get packed, and ready to leave in the morning. To say its been a wonderful trip would be an understatement! Tomorrow….the trip back home!