Monday, February 15, 2010

Grand Palace: Gold, Gold and More Gold

Grand Palace Entrance

I know now why it is said that you have not really been to Thailand until you have seen the Grand Palace.

Built in 1782, the Grand Palace is a sixty-eight acre walled compound in the heart of Bangkok where generations of Thailand's kings have been crowned, ruled, lived out their lives, died, were laid out in high pomp and ceremony and then cremated.

Only the current King, Rama IX, has not lived here, although his coronation was held here. After his brother, the heir to the throne, died in the early 1940's, he was urged to accept the crown. The Grand Palace held such sad memories for him (his brother died there in a shooting accident), that he refused to live there himself. Instead, he gave the Grand Palace and all its riches to the Thai people who proudly and lovingly maintain it.

It is the repository for the wealth of an entire nation. The opulence to be found here must be seen to be believed. Every speck of gold is genuine--and hand-fashioned into mosaic pieces painstakingly cut and placed to create masterpieces. (See next post for more info about gold in Thailand.)

"Don't think that Thailand is a rich country because of what you see here," our guide told us. "The country is poor. But in the olden days, it was rich in gold. The mines are all depleted now."

I can believe it. The gold is all here in the Grand Palace.

Walls, ceilings, spires, entire buildings are covered or ornamented with pure gold. Hand-cut, jewel-colored glass forms fantastic shapes and art works. What you think must be wall paper inside the buildings is actually painted by hand, every fantastic inch of it--and then embellished with gold.

Photos are forbidden inside the buildings. Temple guards watch carefully to make certain everyone is properly dressed and the rules are respected. The interiors were even more ornate than the exteriors. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, a fantastic image carved of green jade that has survived many near disasters, is like something out of a fairy tale.

All this gold held a message for visiting dignitaries from other countries who might be tempted to invade the Kingdom of Siam. Gold spelled power and unlimited resources. An enemy would think twice about invading so rich a country.

The ploy must have worked because alone of all its Asian neighbors, Thailand has never been colonized. The word "Thailand" means "Land of the Free."

It is no wonder that Thai people love their ailing, 83 year old king so much. He walked away from all this grandeur. (Later, on the way home, we passed the present royal compound of 158 acres and far more modest buildings.)

Sunlight bouncing off this gold chedi is practically blinding. If you look closely, you can see the mosaic pieces of solid gold.

Marvelous paintings telling the history of the Kingdom line the outer galleries of many buildings.

These fat round things--and many of the tall turret-type structures--are reliquaries, containing the ashes of members of the royal family.

Temple of the Emerald Buddha

Detail on outside of Temple of the Emerald Buddha shows the mosaic style used for both glass and gold.

Thai temples are built to curve inwards as they rise up--but this is more of an optical illusion that the real thing.

Guard outside one of the government buildings.

Couldn't resist posing with the guard--proof that I was actually here!

Royal guards conduct the "changing of the guard."


  1. Glad you have that photo of yourself with the guard, otherwise we would think these photos truly were from a fairy tale! At the current prices of gold, these buildings are worth a fortune!

  2. I can't believe all the beautiful buildings and temples! The workmanship is superior and I love all the color. It sure makes our buildings look so generic. judy

  3. im still in shock with all that GOLD!!! i never knew it was all actually GOLD!!! i feel like i know a little secret now...