The Outer Court of the Grand Palace

On passing through the gate in the outer wall of the grand palace, you find yourself on a wide stone path that leads up to the grand Phimanchaisri gateway into the middle court. However, at this point you're in the outer court.

During the time of the absolute monarchy, from Bangkok's founding in 1782 until the 1932 revolution, the Grand Palace was the complete center of government. The king acted as prime minister, and thus had many royal scribes, jurists and other government officials around him. The ranks of the civil service were invariably men, so their offices had to be located in the Outer Court. Thus, while the Inner Court was a city entirely of women, the Outer Court was very much a city entirely of men.

The entry walkway
The entry walkway through the outer palace.

Although there were buildings in the outer court from the palace's very beginnings, all of the buildings you see today date from the times of King Rama V (Chulalongkorn) and Rama VI. It was King Rama V that reorganized the government on modern functional grounds, creating Ministries of Finance, Interior, Defence, etc. necessitating the construction of many new buildings.

Today, the only government departments which still have offices in the Outer Palace are departments of the Bureau of the Royal Household.

Trivia: One of the original royal services housed in the Outer Court was the 'elephant department' charged with taking care of the King's elephants used for war and traveling around the country. Elephants have to be bathed frequently to keep happy, so the King's elephants were regularly lead down to the river for their baths. Today, if you travel to the Grand Palace by express boat, you alight at the Chang Pier. 'Chang' is the Thai word for elephant. The pier gets its name because the king's elephants used to bathe on the spot!

Immediately on your right as you pass through the outer gate is a booth where you can rent clothing if you're not properly dressed. The 'fashion police' on duty near the entrance will direct you to the shop if your outfit doesn't pass muster.

Further on, to your left is a large lawn lined with neatly trimmed conical fir trees. Beyond the lawn you can see the spires of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha peaking above its walls. On your left is one of nineteenth century buildings built by King Rama V, Sala Lukkhunnai.

Walking further down the wide walkway, as you pass the large grassy field, where many people stop for a photograph backed by the temple, you'll see another European styled building bordering the lawn. This is the Sala Sahathai Samakhom.

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Beyond Sala Sahathai Samakhom is the Phimanchaisri Gate, but before you reach the gate, which is now an exit only, you turn left just beyond the Sala and purchase your ticket, then continue down the alley to enter the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. However, before that, stop in to see the small museum displaying a collection of royal regalia and coins.

Next: Temple of the Emerald Buddha »