In February 2015 the Smithsonian did some research into the World’s Most Visited Castles and Palaces. The Grand Palace in Bangkok came in at number 3 with 8 000 000 annual visitors. First was The Forbidden City (Palace Museum) in Beijing with 15 340 000 annual visitors, followed by The Louvre in Paris with 9 334 000 annual visitors.
The Grand Palace came in ahead of the Palace of Versailles in France (number 4 with 7 527 122 annual visitors), the Topkapi Palace in Instanbul (number 5 with 3 335 000 annual visitors), The Winter Palace (State Heritage Museum) in St. Petersburg, Russia (number 6 with 3 120 170 annual visitors), the Tower of London (number 7 with 2 894 698 annual visitors) and the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna (number 8 with 2 870 000 annual visitors). The figures are mostly 2013 figures and while the numbers of visitors has probably increased substantially it is unlikely that the rankings have changed much, if at all.
A quick check on Tripadvisor confirmed what we suspected. It was going to be busy. Even though The Grand Palace is open almost every day of the year, 8 000 000 annual visitors equates to an average 22 000 visitors per day. These numbers are probably much higher as the late King is lying in state at The Grand Palace and many Thais are visiting The Grand Palace to pay their respects. We would need to get there as early as possible and certainly before the tour groups, especially the Chinese tour groups, arrived. We most certainly did not want to wait for 3 hours just to get in.
Getting to The Grand Palace was, in some ways, a precursor of what was to come. The train was again packed to capacity and the water taxi from Taksin Bridge to Ta Chang along the Chao Phraya River, which must be one of the dirtiest rivers around, was pretty much organized chaos. There are boats of every size and description making their way along the river with little regard for each other.
We managed to get to The Grand Palace before the tour groups and had to wait all of about 5 minutes to get our tickets. The tickets are not cheap at THB500 per person. It certainly pays to get there early.
Construction of The Grand Palace began in 1782 during the reign of King Rama and served as the Royal Residence until 1925. The Palace is divided into 3 areas; The Outer Court which houses the royal offices, the public buildings and the Temple of Emerald Buddha; The Middle Court which houses the important residential and state buildings; and The Inner Court which is reserved exclusively for the King, his Queen and his consorts.
There are six pairs of the Demon Guardians guarding The Emerald Buddha against evil spirits.
The Grand Palace is simply beautiful. Fortunately we managed to view the lovely covered passages before they filled up with Thais waiting to pay their respects to the late King.
The mural paintings depict the story of the Ramakien, the Thai version of Indian Ramayana epic.
We had seen all we wanted to see in The Outer Court by the time the tour groups, mainly Chinese, arrived. They very quickly caught up with us in The Middle Court, the tour operators certainly move them along very quickly.
The flow of tourists is fairly well controlled with the first stop being The Outer Court followed by The Middle Court. Tourists are not permitted in The Inner Court. The buildings in The Middle Court can only be viewed from a distance with Palace Guards making sure that everyone behaves.
One of the dominant buildings in The Middle Court is Chakri Maha Prasat Hall built by King Rama V in 1877 as a royal residence.
This building today is used for State banquets, as an ancient weapons museum, a repository for objects of worship on the Kings and as a shrine for the ashes of King Rama IV, V and VII and their Queens.
Despite having to contend with the crowds, no visit to Bangkok would be complete without a visit to The Grand Palace.