Bangkok is a vibrant city, a jungle of adventure and activities, but a stay in the capital is not complete without a visit to one or more of the royal palaces. They offer an excellent opportunity to experience the wonderful Thai architecture and learn about the history and importance of the monarchy in Thailand.
A bit of history
The current Chakri Dynasty started back in 1782 but the Thai monarchy is traditionally considered to have begun in 1200 with the Sukhothai Kingdom. The kings of Sukothai were considered gods, based on traditional Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, an idea which King Ramkhamhaeng changed in 1279 when he instated “paternal rule”. He saw the King as a father who governs his children. Today the country is considered a constitutional monarchy with the king as Head of State, Head of the Armed Forces, Adherent of Buddhism, and Upholder of religions.
Bangkok became the capital in 1782, when the Chakri Dynasty took control. The city started to flourish and grew rapidly with the majestic Grand Palace complex as its centre. The emblem of the dynasty is composed of the discus (Chakra) and the trident (Trisula), the celestial weapon of the god Narayana (an avatar of Vishnu) of whom the Thai sovereign is seen as an incarnation. Another important complex for the Chakri Dynasty is for sure the Dusit Palace, also open for visits.
The Grand Palace is a wonderful place to visit while in the city whether you want to understand the importance of the kings in local history and the city of Bangkok itself, or simply marvel at the architectural complexity. It has been the official residence of the Kings of Siam (and later Thailand) since 1782. Rather than being a single structure, the Grand Palace is made up of numerous buildings, wonderful halls and rich pavilions set around open lawns, gardens and courtyards with a combined total of 218,400 square metres. Its asymmetry and eclectic styles are reflective of its organic development over 200 years of history. Don't miss the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the Phra Thinang Chakri Maha Prasat palace and the museum inside the complex.
Dusit Palace is another interesting royal complex within walking distance of the Grand Palace. It was built over a large area north of Rattanakosin Island between 1897 and 1901 by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). Time after time it has become the primary (but not official) place of residence of the King of Thailand. King Rama V was inspired by the royal residences with spacious gardens throughout Europe during his trip in 1897. When he returned to Bangkok he began to build a new royal compound, calling the beautiful garden filled with trees, streams and orchids the "Celestial Garden". Currently several museums and exhibitions are displayed inside the various buildings, one of which is the Vimanmek Mansion, built in 1900. The palace has 72 rooms, with interiors designed to be the perfect fusion of European neoclassical style and traditional Thai motifs and architecture. Due to the importance of the mansion, and its high-class decor, be aware that visitors must be appropriately dressed to enter.
Chitralada Royal Villa
The Chitralada Palace is another royal villa in the Dusit complex. It is the official Bangkok residence of King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) and Queen Sirikit. King Bhumibol was the first king in the Chakri dynasty to live in the Chitralda Palace. He moved there after the death of his older brother, King Rama VIII. The palace grounds, which are surrounded by a moat and guarded by the Thai Royal Guard, also contain the Chitralada School which was initially established for the children of the royal family. The school is the most exclusive school in Thailand.
If you are interested in the archeological sites of old Siam and Khmer empire, consider stopping at Bang Pa-In, the official royal Summer Palace. It was first used by the royal court as a summer retreat in the 17th century. Most of the buildings that exist today date from the reign of King Rama V. The structures represent a variety of architectural styles, and are set in a large park around ponds and waterways.