The spiritual heart of the Kingdom of Thailand, the Grand Palace is located on the bank of the Chao Phraya River and is an enormous complex enclosed by a white crenellated wall wherein are many classic architectural treasures, including the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, housing the revered Buddha image that represents the soul of the nation.
Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn, is on the far Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya River, and is one of the best known of Bangkok’s landmarks. The temple has existed from at least the 17th century, but its high and distinctive prang, or spire, was built in the early 19th century, when it was clad with ceramic fragments that glow and twinkle with a pearly iridescence in the early light of dawn.
Wat Pho is located directly south of the Grand Palace and is also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, from the enormous reclining image that is another of Bangkok’s most famous sights. Within the grounds too is the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand. The temple is considered the earliest centre for public education in Thailand, and the marble illustrations and inscriptions placed here have been recognised by UNESCO in its Memory of the World programme. Wat Pho houses a school of Thai medicine, and is also known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage, which is still taught here.
Standing beside what was the city’s Inner Moat, Wat Ratchabophit was built early in the reign of King Rama V, when Thailand was becoming more closely involved with the countries of the West, and this is reflected in the blending of traditional Thai and European architecture. Cartoon-like Western guards adorn the gates, and the exterior cladding is five-coloured benjarong porcelain. The interior of the ordination hall is remarkable for the patterning on its gilded black lacquer door and window frames, culturally significant artwork that is reproduced and hangs framed in the hotel guestrooms, for study at leisure.