Wat Phra Kaew, also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is just about the most beautiful place in Bangkok, Thailand if not one of the most beautiful places in Asia. The first place I ever visited in Thailand, when I’d literally been in the country for less than 12 hours, I couldn’t believe how unbelievably beautiful Wat Phra Kaew was. Ten years later and numerous visits, I’m still shocked into silence every time I go there.
Wat Phra Kaew’s official name is Wat Phra Sri Rattana Satsadaram, and is known by Thais as the most important Buddhist temple in Thailand. Built in the Rattanakosin style, it’s also famous as the home of the Emerald Buddha (Phra Kaew Morako), which was carved from one piece of jade (not emerald) in the early 15th century. The temple is in the middle of the Grand Palace complex, with many Thais and foreigners thinking of the two as just one place.Wat Phra Kaew has more than 100 temple structures – all quite lovely.
On a visit to Wat Phra Kaew, as well as making sure you see the famous Emerald Buddha, don’t miss the Ramayana murals, which tell the whole story of the Ramayana epic in the most intricately painted scenes. There’s also a model of Angor Wat, the ancient Khmer kingdom, and so many statues, carvings and traditional Thai features, if you love taking photographs, you’ll be there all day.
Wat Phra Kaew is next to the Grand Palace, with one entrance fee for the whole complex. You can wander around the temple grounds and buildings yourself (which I recommend) or, if you’re a history buff and want to know every intricate detail about the place, there are personal guides you can hire for just a few hundred baht. You’ll see them standing around near the ticket office. Just ask one how much he charges and, if reasonable, ask him to take you around.
Don’t forget, like many of Thailand’s Buddhist temples, you must be appropriately dressed. No shorts, sleeveless shirts or sandals. If you arrive wearing something inappropriate, guards won’t let you into the complex and you’ll have to go to a nearby rental office to rent a wraparound skirt, long pants or long sleeved shirt. It’s more comfortable to already be wearing your own, I think.
Also be aware, the Wat Phra Kaew and Grand Palace complex has a high number of scam artists hanging around, who will tell you “Today it’s closed” so they can take you in a tuk-tuk to buy jewelry. Ignore them. The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew are open every day, unless there’s a special ceremony taking place and those are rare. Thank them politely, ignore them and continue on to the entrance.
The most fun way to get to Wat Phra Kaew is to take the sky train to Saphan Taksin station then take the river boat up the Chao Praya to the Tha Chang Pier. Wat Phra Kaew is a 5 minute walk from here, and it’s a pretty walk.
Photo copyright – Top, Middle – Statues at Wat Phra Kaew, leo seta, 1986 – Creative Commons Licenses