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Serenity in Bangkok

The Royal Palace, an unparalleled example of Thai architecture, is just one of Bangkok’s many wonders. Every imaginable part of the complex is decorated. The detail on the tens of thousands of roof tiles, gilded woodcarvings and the mythical guards is simply incredible. As the complex consists of dozens of buildings, one visit is simply not enough.

It’s always busy in the old centre of Bangkok. Tuk-tuks and city buses tear along the roads while children play with kites on the grass next to the walled palace. The glistening rooftops are visible from the street but the true beauty of the complex can only be fully appreciated inside its walls. Here the atmosphere is one of tranquil calm, with the sounds of the streets outside barely noticeable.

A heavenly place

The Royal Palace was built in 1782 after King Rama I assumed power from his predecessor, Taksin. The latter had a palace on the western bank of the river but Rama I wanted his own seat of power and built his palace on the eastern bank. This palace was constructed from wood and the Thai people were convinced that the king was the personification of their supreme deity, Narayana. Because gods live in heaven, carpenters and artists from all over the country made sure that the palace complex became a heavenly place.

Today the complex comprises galleries, lawns, a mausoleum, a library, chapels, auditoriums and royal apartments. The greatest imaginable decorative opulence can be found everywhere. The Chakri Maha Prasat (Throne Room) is a magnificent example and features a special blend of Thai and European architecture. Rama V, who was king from 1868-1910, originally wanted a European-style palace, complete with domes, and commissioned 2 British architects for the purpose. His chief minister advised him to integrate Thai elements into the design; hence the typical Thai roofs in green and gold.

A mythical guard protects the palace

On holy ground

For many Thai people, the main reason to visit is not for the palace itself but the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The temple’s exterior is just as impressive as its interior. Golden stupas and statues of mythical guards frame the temple, and surrounding this collection of Buddhist artworks is a wall depicting Thailand’s national story. Metres of murals portray the Ramakien, the Thai epic poem, in which Hanuman and his monkey army and idealistic kings play the leading roles.

Every day, the temple receives a procession of Thai worshippers who kneel, pray and offer their devotion to the Emerald Buddha statue. This special attention is partly due to the statue’s history. For centuries, it travelled with the king from city to city, and was said to bring good fortune to all who prayed to it. Whether this is true or not, many Thai people make time to visit the Emerald Buddha. You just never know…

The mural

The Ramakien comes to life

Passages from the epic poem Ramakien are performed in various Bangkok theatres. Actors dance to traditional Thai music together with mythical puppets which are difficult to control. It is an art that requires years of practice. In some theatres, the actors themselves don costumes and play the leading roles. Among others, shows can be seen at the Joe Louis Puppet Theatre, Siam Niramit Theatre, and at the National Theatre.

Ramakien puppet performance

Photo credits

  • Ramakien puppet performance: Duron123, Shutter