Royal Palace and Wat Phra Kaew are located next to each other and you buy one ticket for both. The Royal Palace was the residence of the kings of Siam and then Thailand. It currently is no longer a place, where the royal family lives, but is occasionally used for ceremonies, hence, it is open to the public to visit.
Overall, this is the single most popular attraction in Bangkok, so adjust your expectations accordingly. The price is 500 baht for foreigners, while Thais can visit for free. This and the numerous tour groups make for a very crowded experience.
Keep in mind, that the place is open from 8.30 until 3.30 pm according to the official website. It may close at noon some days of the year, because of ceremonies, so check here https://www.royalgrandpalace.th/en/schedules before you visit. I read on some websites that generally the last tickets are issued at 3.30, but the palace remains open until 4.30. But again, the official website says the closing time is 3.30, so I wouldn’t risk it.
There is only one entrance for tourists at the North East side near the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, so if you are coming from the South, you will have to walk the whole perimeter to get to the entrance. Unfortunately, as a tourist, you won’t be allowed through other gates, they are only for Thais. So you have to walk northwards to enter and you can only exit from one place, also on North East side.
Here is the official map, which may help you prepare for what to see https://www.royalgrandpalace.th/en/discover/architecture . You will also get a free hard copy map together with your ticket at the entrance.
You can get here either by MRT by alighting at the station Sanam Chai or (a more complicated option) take BTS to Saphan Takin and switch to a ferry at the Sathorn pier. You should get off the ferry at Tha Thien or Tha Chang pier.
You will need to allocate at least two hours, as the grounds are huge and, with all the crowds, difficult to navigate. We did spend a little over 2 hours here. We could have spent even more time and explore everything better, but the crowds didn’t allow for full and nice experience.
I have heard from many people, that there are a lot of scammers around here. Don’t listen to anybody outside the palace telling you that it’s closed (that apparently happens in the afternoons, if you end up at a wrong part of the Palace). Many people fell victim to this scam and went with the “tour guides” to “explore the city” ending up paying a lot and risking their safety. Unless it’s after 3.30, the palace is open and you can get tickets after you enter the gates.
Another thing is all the guides shouting at you, telling that you need to buy tickets in advance and offering all sorts of “help”. Just pass them and follow the crowds to the entrance. There are clear signs. After getting inside the gates, you will see the signs directing you to the ticket office. Queue for the tickets and don’t pay to anyone else outside the ticket booth.
The guards here are very strict about the clothes, so come prepared. As per usual requirement in Wats, you must have your shoulders and knees covered. But most wats in Thailand are pretty lenient about this, but not the Royal Palace. They changed the dress code in 2019 and you now no longer are allowed to just put a scarf around you or wear tight clothes.
I was wearing a sleeveless top and covered myself with a scarf, but after we passed several queues, the guards told me that a scarf is unacceptable, and I should buy a t-shirt. As I read it used to be possible to rent sarongs around here, but nowadays, you can only buy overpriced t-shirts for 200 baht. That is a money-making move, as everywhere else in Thailand and the region, you are allowed to cover yourself with a scarf. Plus, they did this when we already walked quite a lot through the queues, so if you are not prepared, you will either have to buy their t-shirt, or go all the way back and find some vendor to rent or buy clothes.
It was good that I anticipated this and had a jacket with (although it wasn’t very color-coordinated with what I was wearing 😀 ), otherwise I would have to buy their extremely overpriced t-shirt or go out to find other clothes.
I have also heard from some other people that wearing tight clothes is not allowed and they may force you to buy baggy pants. They also didn’t allow some people with shorts covering their knees. Surprisingly, I saw some people inside the palace grounds with scarves around them, but they looked like locals, so either they are not strict with locals or the guards are lenient with some people. They probably thought I was rich and they could make more money off me 😀
Either way, to be on the safe side, be careful with what to wear to avoid losing your money. A t-shirt and not tight pants or long skirt seem like the best option.
The palace is always extremely crowded, there is just no way of avoiding crowds whether you get here for the opening time or leave by the closing time. I believe it was the single most crowded sightseeing spot I have ever visited. Not even Forbidden Palace with all the local tourists was this crowded, but, of course, this last covers much bigger territory and is able to hold more people.
These photos can’t really show the extent of it. We felt suffocated and exhausted. The people were very loud, shouting at each other, bumping into you and simply not respecting anyone around them. Do keep an eye on your belongings, as with all this mass, it would be really easy for the thieves to do their job. Also, keep in mind to bring water, inside the small bottle costs 20 baht.
Wat Phra Kaew
When you enter the grounds, you will first visit the many wats, including the Wat Phra Kaew – the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. All gates are guarded by giant colorful demons.
The Wat Phra Kaew is the royal temple. As the Wat Sanphet in Ayutthaya, it was used for royal ceremonies and is located next to the Royal Palace. The place is eeeextremely crowded, you have to queue (well, it’s not a queue per se, just people crowding at the entrance) to somehow get inside the temple and see the emerald Buddha.
While queuing, you can marvel at the smaller demon guardians all around the temple.
Once you end up inside after a long wait, you might feel suffocated with the smell of sweat and feet. This place hardly can fit all the people wanting to enter and there is no air inside. We entered peeked and tried to get out, but that took a while as well. We needed to catch air and were disoriented a while after this craziness.
The emerald Buddha is famous, because it’s carved from a single piece of jade (jade is a semi-precious mineral and it’s not the same as emerald, do I am not sure, why did they call it emerald Buddha really).
In addition to this temple, there are a number of other temples nearby. You find so many beautiful carvings and different colours all around. There is the beautiful golden stupa, a library with Buddhist scriptures inside (unfortunately, you can’t enter it).
There’s also the royal pantheon, which is apparently open only one day a year (April 6), but I wouldn’t try to visit on this day, as it’s a national holiday and I can’t imagine, it would be even possible to enter with all the crowds.
If you leave the grounds of the Wat and enter the Royal Palace grounds, you can’t go back. So make sure to explore all parts here before you proceed to follow the arrows directing you to the Palace.
The Grand Palace
The Palace itself also consists of a number of different buildings. The Phra Thinang Chakri Maha Prasat is the building standing in the middle and built in a mixed style with Thai and 19th century European style. It really doesn’t look like any of the other buildings around. This building was the actual residence of the kings. Now, it serves for royal banquets.
After entering, on your left is the Phra Maha Montian group. You can get nice photos with the view to these buildings, as they create a pretty view.
None of the buildings in this section were open for visits, when we visited on Sunday. This information is nowhere to be found on their official website. Post factum, I tried to find out, if this is the case in general, or we were unlucky. Some websites said that during weekdays the main hall may be open, but I couldn’t verify this information anywhere. You may be lucky and be allowed in, if you visit on a weekday. I would be interested to hear about your experience.
Your ticket also includes the visit to Khon – Thai masked dance. If you are interested, performances are at 10.30am and 2.30 pm every day. Apparently, there is a free shuttle that will bring you to the theatre for the performance. We didn’t have enough time to do this.
Overall, despite the crowding, the heat and not very nice treatment, this place is worth visiting once.