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Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Bangkok

Bangkok has over 400 temples, a big part of the numerous cultural sites that make it a popular tourist destination as well as Thailand's major tourist gateway. The design of many of the wats was influenced by buildings in other parts of Thailand; for the visitor this means an insight into differing styles of temple architecture, not simply the Bangkok (or Rattanakosin) style. There are a number of palaces, some still used by the Royal family. The Grand Palace is the King's official residence.

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Grand Palace

Grand PalaceGrand Palace View slideshow
One of the most famous tourist attractions in Bangkok is the Grand Palace. The associated Wat Phra Kaeo houses the Jade statue of Buddha.
Highlights:

Marble Temple

Marble TempleMarble Temple View slideshow
Benchama-bo-bitr, popularly called the Marble Temple, is one of the loveliest wats in Bangkok. It was erected in about 1899 by King Rama V (Chulalongkorn), the snow-white marble being shipped to Thailand from Tuscany in Italy. Thais also refer to the wat as "The Wat of the Fifth King", Rama V, crowned soon after his 20th birthday, having spent part of 1873 as a "bikkhu" (monk) in the old monastery south of the temple.
Most unusually the compound is entered neither through a gate in a wall nor a wiharn, being separated from the street only by ornamental railings and an expanse of lawn. The boundary on the south side, between the temple and the monks' quarters, is also unusual, taking the form of a moat.
The temple has a triple-tiered roof of Chinese glazed tiles. The little pavilions, matching the temple in color and style, the red and gold curved bridges, and the green of the many trees, all play their part in creating a modern building perfectly in keeping with Thai tradition and style. King Chulalongkorn took a personal interest in many of the details while his half-brother Prince Naris, the accomplished architect, was on site for almost the entire period of construction.

Wat Pho

Situated immediately south of the Grand Palace precinct, Wat Pho (or Wat Chetuphon), built by King Rama I, is the oldest and also the largest temple in Bangkok. In the 16th c. the site is said to have been occupied by a small residence belonging to a prince of Ayutthaya, with a wat called the "Temple of the Sacred Bhodi-Tree" (hence "pho", i.e. bhodi).

Wat Pho was renowned as a place of healing even in the olden days and famous for its pharmacy established at the time of Rama III. The same king turned the wat into Thailand's first "university", a seat of learning to which all had access. Today Wat Pho boasts a widely respected school which teaches the art of foot reflex massage.

Among the 91 prangs and chedis adorning the courtyard around the bot, two of the larger ones deserve special mention. One is the green chedi, erected by Rama I over the remains of a statue of Buddha desecrated by the Burmese in Ayutthaya in 1767. The other is the blue-tiled chedi, finest of them all, built by Rama IV (Mongkut) in memory of Queen Suriyochai who, in order to save her husband's life, sacrificed her own.

The lions at the entrance to the bot are Burmese in design. Note too the marble bas-reliefs from Ayutthaya depicting scenes from the "Ramakien". The lofty, rectangular interior, divided into three by teak columns, is immensely impressive, with the red and gold of the ceiling reflected in the marble floor.

The main entrance to Wat Pho is on Chetuphon Road, on the opposite side of which are the monks' living quarters. Although open to the public, only those with a serious interest in Buddhism are likely to find the visit rewarding. Anyone who does venture in is assured of a willing audience and eager interlocutors - at any time of the day or night.

Temple of the Reclining Buddha

The intricately inlaid 1.5m-high feet of the reclining Buddha in Wat Pho, Bangkok.
The Temple of the Reclining Buddha (as it is known in English) occupies the north-west corner of the compound. Inside the specially constructed wiharn lies an enormous reclining figure of the Buddha, 45 m (148 ft) long and 15 m (48 ft) high. Because the wiharn is narrow, it is quite impossible to take in the statue as a whole, attention having to be focused more on its detail, e.g. the finely curved lines of the face. The soles of the feet, inlaid with a myriad of precious stones, are particularly interesting, being decorated with the 108 signs of true faith. Also noteworthy are the long earlobes signifying noble birth and the lotus-bud configuration of the hand, a recurring symbol of purity and beauty.

National Museum & Wang Na Palace

National Museum & Wang Na PalaceNational Museum & Wang Na Palace
Bangkok's National Museum provides a splendidly comprehensive introduction to the history of Thailand, at least half a day being required to do it anything like justice. The extraordinary size of the collection is explained by the fact that, until the mid seventies, this was Thailand's only museum.
Since then the Thai Department of Fine Arts has established additional branches throughout the country. The Department's policy is for archaeological and art historic finds to be put on display as near as possible to their place of origin, so there are plans for even more museums in the future.
An excellent catalogue is available at the entrance. There are guided tours in English and virtually all exhibits are labeled in English as well as in Thai.
The old Wang Na Palace built by Rama I remains essentially as it was, as does the original nucleus of the collection made up of King Chulalongkorn's bequest and household effects from Wang Na: regalia, religious and ceremonial artifacts, ceramics, games, weaponry, musical instruments and the Viceroy's throne.
The older buildings in the museum contain some particularly interesting exhibits. They include a collection of presentation gifts to the king, a collection of curiosities, the royal barges and state coaches and hearses, etc. Principal attraction in the new wings is the fine collection of Buddha figures, arranged according to period.
Address: Na Phra That Road, Bangkok, Bangkok 10200, Thailand

Wat Traimit (Golden Buddha)

Wat Traimit (Golden Buddha)Wat Traimit (Golden Buddha)
Wat Traimit (Temple of the Golden Buddha) owes its fame and its attraction to an accident, prior to which it was just one of the many hundreds of very ordinary temples scattered throughout Bangkok.
During the 1950s the land around it was purchased by the East Asiatic Company, a condition of the sale being the removal of a plaster statue of Buddha. The statue proved too heavy for the crane being used to lift it; the cable parted and the figure was dropped, being left overnight where it fell. This happened to be in the rainy season, and when next morning some monks walked past, they noticed a glint of gold shining through in one place. The plaster was removed, revealing a 3.5 m (12 ft) Buddha cast from 5.5 tons of solid gold. All attempts to trace the origin of this priceless statue have so far failed. It is assumed however to date from the Sukhothai period, when marauding invaders threatened the country and its treasures, and it became common practice to conceal valuable Buddha figures such as this beneath a coating of plaster. Nor is it known how the statue came to Bangkok.
The Golden Buddha can be seen on the upper floor of a two-story building access to which is by an external staircase next to the bot.

Wat Arun

When, having fallen to the Burmese, Ayutthaya was reduced to rubble and ashes, General Taksin and the remaining survivors vowed to march "until the sun rose again", and there to build a temple. Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn, stands on the spot to which they came and where later the new king built his royal palace and with it a private chapel.
The wat, with its 79-m (259-ft) high central prang surrounded by four smaller ones, has become a symbol of Bangkok despite the fact that it adorns the Thonburi embankment on the far side of the river. The plastered brick exterior is decorated with countless fragments of porcelain. It is possible to climb up the prang, the effort being rewarded by an excellent view of Bangkok. Seen from the Bangkok side of the Menam Chao Phraya, sunset over Wat Arun is an unforgettable experience.

Giant Swing

Giant SwingGiant Swing

In the center of the busy square in front of Wat Suthat stands one of Bangkok's most eye-catching sights, the 27m (88-ft) high teak frame of the so-called Giant Swing. This used to be the focus of a religious ceremony held every year in December after the rice harvest. Teams of three took turns to balance on a dangerously narrow board and be swung 25 m (82 ft) or more off the ground "up to Heaven", at which point they would attempt to catch a bag of silver coins in their teeth. Following a number of fatal accidents, the contest was banned by King Rama VII in 1932.

Wat Suthat

Wat SuthatWat Suthat
Wat Suthat, adjacent to the Great Swing, is one of the oldest and most beautiful of Bangkok's Buddhist temples. Three kings had a hand in its construction: it was begun soon after his coronation in 1782 by Rama I, founder of the Chakri dynasty, continued by Rama II, and completed, ten years later by Rama III. Apart from its delightful architecture the temple boasts some exceptionally interesting wall paintings. The compound as a whole covers an area of 4.08 ha (10 acres). It is rectangular in plan (being roughly half as long again as it is wide) with a perimeter wall 949 m (3114 ft) in length. The area is divided between the temple complex itself and the monk's living quarters.

Markets

MarketsMarkets

Every day between sunrise and sunset, and in some cases long into the night, numerous markets are held in Bangkok and on its outskirts. Between them they supply most of the inhabitants' daily needs in the way of fresh vegetables, livestock (e.g. chickens and fish), clothing, textiles and other goods. Especially on Fridays and Saturdays when housewives shop for the weekend, these daily markets are every bit as colorful, bustling and full of interest and atmosphere as the big weekend market.

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