For just about 150 years, Bangkok's Grand Palace was not only the home of the King and his court, but also the entire administrative seat of government. Within the crenelated walls were the country's war ministry, state departments, and even the mint. Thai Kings stopped living in the palace full time around the turn of the twentieth century, but the complex remains the seat of power and spiritual heart of the Thai kingdom.
You can click on the labels to see detailed information about the buildings. Arrows show the route through the complex.
The palace complex, like the rest of Ratanakosin Island, is laid out following the general outline of Ayutthaya palaces. The Outer Court, near where you enter the complex today, housed the government departments in which the king was directly involved, such as civil administration, including the army, and the treasury. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha takes up one corner of the complex next to the outer court.
In the middle is the Central Court, where the residence of the king and the halls for conducting state business were located. You are allowed to look at the fronts of the buildings in the central court, but only two of the throne halls are open to the public, and only on weekdays.
Behind the central court was the inner court. This was where the king's royal consorts and daughters lived. The inner court was like a small city entirely populated by women and boys under the age of puberty. Even though no royalty currently reside in the inner court, it is still completely closed off to the public.
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Whether you take a guided tour or not, the route through the palace complex is more or less fixed. This guide provides a step-by-step tour of the temple and palace buildings. Start with the buildings of the outer court.
Admission to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Central Court of the Grand Palace is 500 Baht (12.99 USD). Note that the admission fee also includes an admission ticket to Vimanmek Mansion and some other sights around Bangkok (the exact list varies from time to time) that can be used within seven days of your Grand Palace visit.
Hours: The Grand Palace is open every day from 8:30 to 3:30, unless it's being used for a state function, which is quite rare. Be careful of touts working outside the palace area who tell you its closed, and suggest their own guided tour instead. They're most likely lying, and their 'tour' will be to several shops where they get commissions on your purchases. Free guided tours in English are available at 10:00, 10:30, 1:30 and 2:00. You can also rent an audio guide for 100 Baht (2.60 USD) plus passport or credit card to secure return.
While the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and Grand Palace grounds are open every day when not being used for state functions, the audience halls in the Grand Palace are closed on weekends. You can only gain entrance to see the magnificent thrones on weekdays. The Royal Pantheon in Temple of the Emerald Buddha is only open one day a year, on 6 April.
Getting to the Grand Palace is quite easy by boat. Take the Chaophraya Express Boat to the Chang Pier (Tha Chang). Walk through the market around the pier and out onto the plaza flanked by old shop-houses. The long white wall of the Grand Palace is across the street on your right. You can't really miss it. The entrance is the second gate in the wall.
If you'd rather leave the hassle of getting there to someone else, then you can book a half or full day tour to the Grand Palace in advance through our partner Viator. See the link for a list of the tours available.
In compiling this guide, we made extensive use of the book Palaces of Bangkok by Naengnoi Suksri and Michael Freeman. This 'coffee table' picture book has nearly 100 pages of photographs of the Grand Palace alone, including many buildings of the inner court that the public never sees. In addition there are pictures and text of 28 other palaces, many of which are generally closed to the public.