The Thai royals’ former residence is a splendid, sprawling complex of buildings, halls, pavilions, gardens, and courtyards. Built in 1782 and today used mostly for ceremonial purposes, the Grand Palace glitters with ornate detailing, bold colors, and gleaming spires, all competing for the eye. Bronze lions, gilded mythological creatures, and giant, three-headed guard statues are on display here. So is the world’s longest wall painting.
But the main attraction is a mere 26 inches tall and tucked away inside a darkly lit temple. Spot the tourists acting like paparazzi, and you know you’ve found the right place. On a veranda at Wat Phra Kaew, cameras are pointed through a small open window, zoom lenses trained on a specific object. People jockey for space to capture its image since photos aren’t allowed in the temple.
What is all the fuss about?
Bangkok’s most revered Buddha. The green jadeite statue of a seated Buddha is believed to have been crafted in India in 43 BC and subsequently made its way around Southeast Asia, primarily as a spoil of war, and has had pride of place in Wat Phra Kaew for nearly two and a half centuries.
Several times a year the King of Thailand acts as the Emerald Buddha’s stylist. Since the monarch is the only one allowed to touch the statue, during special ceremonies he (or someone he authorizes) is tasked with changing its attire to correspond with summer, rainy, and winter seasons. The two outfits the Buddha isn’t currently wearing are on display in the Museum of the Emerald Buddha on the Grand Palace grounds.
The Emerald Buddha is not only a tourist magnet but a fashion trendsetter too. In shops around the city, Buddha statues are for sale along with their own gold mesh attire.