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Wat Phra Kaew, Thailand

wat phra kaew
Source: “Wat Phra Kaew Complex” by Maxim B. – Under Creative Commons license

Within gilded decorations and exquisite colorful murals that portray the lessons and life of the Buddha, the deep green image sits in its seasonal attire on his own gold shrine. In the Wat Phra Kaew, standing about 75 cm tall, the Emerald Buddha protects and brings prosperity to Thailand.

Where is the temple?

Even though it dates from 1792, Wat Phra Kaew is a well-kept luxurious Buddhist temple located in central Bangkok, within the Grand Palace. This monastery is also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha because of the image it houses.

wat phra kaew
Source: “Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok” by Gavin White – Under Creative Commons license

statues wat phra kaew
Source: “GR-PALACE-WAT-PHRA-KAEW-20” by Mark爱生活 – Under Creative Commons license

Wat Phra Kaew’s focal point is the temple of the Emerald Buddha. This huge prayer hall is situated on a marble structure where the statue sits on a high shrine surrounded by other Buddha pictures and golden garudas, which are mythical divine birds that protect the main icon from malicious spirits. Outside of the temple, worshippers offer food, gold leaf or incense at a little altar before going into the prayer hall to pray.

Source: “Wat Phra Kaew” by Sarah Karlson – Under Creative Commons license

What is the Emerald Buddha?

The Buddha image is actually carved out of jade, the word “emerald” only referencing its deep green color. Only the Thai King and the Crown Prince are allowed to touch the image. The King is in charge of changing the statue’s cloak three times a year, when the summer, winter and rainy season arrive.

Supposedly, the Emerald Buddha originated in India, where it was prophesied that it would bring fortune and greatness to the country in which it resided. The statue was taken from Laos by the Thai army, and it is largely worshipped in Thailand. Therefore, it is a strong religio-political icon and the protector of the country, Wat Phra Kaew being then the most sacred Buddhist temple.

What can you do here?

Other attractions within the complex are its three golden stupas. All of them are placed on a high platform and the smallest two are surrounded by effigies of mystic guardians. These two were built to commemorate the parents of King Rama I, the founder of the wat.

wat phra kaew stupa

mystic guardian
Source: “Wat Phra Kaeo Emerald Buddha” by Venson Kuchipudi – Under Creative Commons license

The Royal Pantheon, Prasat Phra Dhepbidorn is also nearby. Here you’ll find statues of previous rulers in altars, and a library, all of which are covered in luxurious gilt work. There’s also a 150-year-old model of Angkor Wat for anyone who’s interested in Cambodia.

It is best to arrive early since it will give you the chance to truly value the spirituality and peace of the temple before the coach parties get there. You can even get thirty minutes of total peace if you head straight to the Wat at 8:30 a.m. when the Grand Palace opens.

If you’re not an early riser and you can handle the heat of the afternoon, get there at 3:30 p.m., an hour before the place closes. Look for a shady spot and watch quietly as the crowd scatters, this will give you thirty minutes of almost complete solitude to enjoy the palace. Don’t worry about staying longer than you should, one of the guards will kindly tell you when it’s time to leave.

entry wat phra kaew
Source: “Entry” by Mukashi Mukashi Photography – Under Creative Commons license

While visiting the Grand Palace, you must follow a strict dress code. This means you won’t be able to wear shorts skirts or shorts, sandals, and sleeveless tops. However, this can include other items if they are found “disrespectful”. You can hire more appropriate clothing at the palace, but it seems from decades ago, so just be cautious and choose your own respectful garments.

wat phra kaew 2
Source: “Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok” by V.T. Polywoda – Under Creative Commons license

How do you get there?

You can reach Bangkok from almost any capital city in the world. However, traffic in the City of Angels is a known problem and pollution is an everyday thing that will probably take your breath away, literally. The most comfortable way to travel within the city is taking a riverboat on the Chao Phraya River, which has a stop for the Grand Palace.

Even though most hotels are not near the river, we suggest finding one that is. The Mandarin Oriental is one of the most famous ones. However, if you want to try out a cheaper option, the Vieng Thai is only a 15-minute-long walk away from the Grand Palace.

temple of the emerald buddha
Source: “Wat Phra Kaew” by Jason Eppink – Under Creative Commons license

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