The Grand Palace (Phra Borom Maharatchawang) is a former royal residence in Bangkok consecrated in 1782. Today, it’s only used on ceremonial occasions, but it remains the city’s biggest tourist attraction and a pilgrimage destination for devout Buddhists.
As part of the greater complex that also encompasses the hallowed Wat Phra Kaew (the Temple of the Emerald Buddha), the 94.5-hectare grounds encompass more than 100 buildings representing 200 years of royal history and architectural experimentation.
Most of the royal or sacred architecture is classified as Ratanakosin (old-Bangkok style). Visitors can survey the Grand Palace grounds and four of the remaining palace buildings, which are interesting for their royal bombast.
Give yourself between two to three hours to explore the sight thoroughly, or an hour longer if you take a guided tour.
The largest palace building open to the public is the triple-winged Chakri Mahaprasat (Grand Palace Hall). Completed in 1882 following a plan by Singapore-based British architect John Clunish, the exterior blends Italian Renaissance and traditional Thai architecture.
It’s a style often referred to as fa·ràng sài chá-dah (Westerner wearing a Thai classical dancer’s headdress) because each wing is topped by a mon·dòp (a layered, heavily ornamented spire). It is believed the original plan called for the palace to be completed with a dome, but Rama V (King Chulalongkorn; r 1868–1910) was persuaded to go for a Thai-style roof instead. That decision has been interpreted as a subversive thumbing of the nose to the foreign colonialists in Asia at the time. Many believe the king was showing Thai dominance over European culture by crowing his Western-inspired palace hall with a Thai-style roof.
The tallest of the mon·dòp, in the center, contains the ashes of Chakri dynasty kings; the flanking mon·dòp enshrine the ashes of the many Chakri princes who failed to inherit the throne. The last building to the west is the Ratanakosin-style Dusit Hall, which initially served as a venue for royal audiences and later as a royal funerary hall.
At the eastern end of the palace complex, Borombhiman Hall is a French-inspired structure that served as a residence for Rama VI (King Vajiravudh; r 1910–25). Today, it can only be viewed through its iron gates. To the west, Amarinder Hall Shoenjoy was originally a hall of justice but is used (very rarely indeed) for coronation ceremonies.
Until Rama VI decided one wife was enough for any man, even a king, Thai kings housed their considerable harems in the inner palace area (not open to the public), guarded by combat-trained female sentries. The intrigue and rituals within the walls of this secluded community live on in the fictionalized epic Four Reigns by Kukrit Pramoj, which follows a young girl named Phloi growing up within the Royal City.
The Grand Palace complex was established in 1782 after King Rama I ascended. It is believed that he moved the royal court from Thonburi on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River to Bangkok on the east for protection. The river would then act as a moat for the northern, southern, and western perimeters, while the eastern edge of the city – a muddy delta at the time – would be difficult for attackers to cross without being seen or hampered.
The royal residences were moved out of the Grand Palace during the reign of King Vajiravudh, leaving Chakri Mahaprasat (Grand Palace Hall) to fall into disrepair. In 1932, Rama VII (King Prajadhipok; r 1925-1935) called for a significant renovation of the hall, but the project ran out of money, and the back section of the building had to be demolished.
The Grand Palace was also where Rama VIII (King Ananda Mahidol; r 1935–46) was mysteriously killed in 1946. He was found dead in his bed with a headshot wound.
In April 1981, the deputy commander of the Thai army, General San Chitpatima, used the palace as his headquarters for an attempted coup against Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanond. The coup was unsuccessful.
In October 2017, the Grand Palace complex and adjacent Sanam Luang served as the setting for the funeral of King Rama IX – possibly one of the most ornate funerals in modern history. The ceremony took a year to plan, saw the construction of a nearly 50m-high gilded pyre, cost US$90 million, and was attended by tens of thousands of mourners dressed in black.
The current king, Rama X, had his coronation in the large Amarindra Hall in 2019. Following the ceremony, the king carried the Budtan Thong royal palanquin from the hall’s throne room to the Wat Phra Kaew.
Does the Grand Palace have a dress code?
As with many of Bangkok’s sights, you will need culturally appropriate attire to enter the Grand Palace. This means being well covered. Visitors should wear long skirts/trousers and sleeved shirts—anything that covers more than the lower arms and head.
Sleeveless shirts, vests, and short or see-through tops are all prohibited, as are shorts and three-quarter-length pants/skirts. Visitors won’t be able to enter if they wear torn or skinny trousers, cycling shorts, or miniskirts.
Those who aren’t dressed appropriately at the entrance can expect to be shown into a dressing room and issued a sarong before being allowed in – this adds to queuing and unnecessary delays.
There are no restrictions on what footwear you wear in the palace, but please remember that you will be asked to remove your shoes to enter some of the buildings.
Tickets and other practicalities
The Grand Palace is open daily from 8.30 am-3.30 pm. Enter the Grand Palace complex through the marked third gate from the river pier. Tickets are purchased inside the complex and cost 500B. They also give you access to Wat Phra Kaew and Queen Sirikit Museum, which are both part of the complex. Thai people get in for free.
Tickets can also be bought in advance via the Royal Grand Palace website. Guides can be hired at the ticket kiosk, and audio guides can be rented for 200B.
The grounds and gardens are wheelchair accessible, and there are accessible toilets onsite, too.
Grand Palace tips
Arrive early in the morning for the cooler weather and to avoid the crowds.
Could you ignore any strangers close to the entrance who claim that any of the sights are shut?
Carry drinking water. It gets hot in the bare courtyard during the day. The only cafeteria within the complex was shut when we visited.
Travel a century by booking one of the nine rooms in Asadang, a beautiful antique shophouse in Chinatown. Rooms are relatively small but are big on atmosphere and come equipped with antique furnishings and modern amenities.
Located in a former school, the 42 rooms at Feung Nakorn Balcony surround an inviting garden courtyard and are generally large, bright and cheery. The charming hotel is quiet and secluded, from the main road.
Right in the heart of the hipster Tien village area, the rooms at Arom D are united by a cutesy design theme and a host of inviting communal areas, including a rooftop deck, computers and a ground-floor cafe.
Cap off your visit to the Grand Palace with lunch at Ming Lee, a charmingly old-school Thai restaurant virtually across the street from the complex’s main entrance.
Navy Club is the restaurant of the Royal Navy Association, and it has one of the few coveted riverfront locations along this stretch of the Chao Phraya River. Locals come for the combination of views and cheap and tasty seafood-based eats – not for the cafeteria-like atmosphere.
If you would like, you can enjo a Thai-themed cocktail and a spicy drinking snack at Err.