Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Wat Phra Kaew & the Grand Palace : A first stop when visiting Bangkok

A first stop when visiting Bangkok, the Grand Palace with the Royal Temple (Wat Phra Kaew, or Wat Phra Kaeo), home of the Emerald Buddha, is the spiritual heart of the nation. The entire palace complex offers 218,400 square metres of intricate symbolism, history and cultural traditions.

Wat Phra Kaew is the most sacred site in the country, a glorious explosion of Thai architecture and colour from start to finish, complete with murals of Hindu epic the Ramayana, statues of Yoga masters, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy and many Buddhas.

The sacred Emerald Buddha statue is housed in a building that sparkles with gilt and glass, supported by 112 garudas. Pilgrims come from all over Thailand to see this revered image. It is thought to have been created in Sri Lanka, but was discovered when lightning cracked open an old chedi in Chiang Rai. The Laotians held it for 200 years, but as it was believed to deliver miracles wherever it went, King Rama I snatched the statue back when he sacked Vientienne in the 1770s. The Thai King still personally changes the Emerald Buddha's garments according to the seasons of the Buddhist year.

Moving on, the Royal Pantheon continues the theme of contrasting styles. Depicted over 178 panels is the story of the Ramayana, the Hindu epic that has influenced most of southeast Asia, but brushing up in advance is advised as labels are all in Thai.

Only the northern part of the massive palace proper is open to the public (apart from special royal ceremonies). The audience hall built by King Rama I is a living example of traditional Thai architecture, featuring a roof glazed in red, gold and green and an exquisite throne inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

Among the other countless gems, the admission fee also affords entry to the wonderful Vimanmek (teak) Palace.

Entry is limited to those properly attired. As outer garments, shorts, mini-skirts, culottes, tight-fitting trousers, tights and sleeveless shirts are not suitable, neither are sweat shirts, tracksuits, wind-cheaters, nor sandals without ankle or heel straps. Shirt sleeves must not be rolled up.

source: www.lastminute.com

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