Na Phra Lan Rd.
pier: Chang Pier
HOURS: Daily 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Ko Rattanakosin is dominated by the sparkling, gilded Grand Palace compound, surrounded by fortified whitewashed walls on all sides. Although the palace is only open to visitors during the day, try to at least pass by once the sun has gone down, when all of the buildings are lit up and the steep carved wooden roofs with chofas rising up from the sides and the exotic gilded pagodas are that much more breathtaking.
Begun in 1782 when King Rama I moved the capital across the river from Thonburi, the buildings’ architecture, with their golden pagodas and red-and-green-tiled roofs, reflects the layout of Ayutthaya-period palaces. When the palace was built, it was meant not only to serve as a home for the king and his family, but as the center of all government activity in Thailand.
More like a small city than a palace, it currently comprises more than 100 buildings, including Wat Phra Kaew  and the former royal residence. Although not all buildings are open to the public, you can tour Wat Phra Kaew and many major palace buildings.
As you enter the compound’s white-walled perimeter from Na Phra Lan Road, it’s easy to imagine a time when elephants were the main source of land transport and Bangkok  was not the bustling metropolis that it is today. Once inside, you’ll find Wat Phra Kaew on your left and, in the center of the compound, the Phra Maha Monthain buildings, which were built by Rama I as his personal residence and for coronations.
Even though the royal family moved their residence to Chitralada Palace in Dusit at the beginning of the 20th century, the interiors of these buildings are closed—but the ornate exterior architecture is worth a look nonetheless.
To the left of the Phra Maha Monthain group of buildings is the Chakri Maha Prasat building. A mix of Thai and European architecture (it was designed by British architects in the neo-French Renaissance style but has a traditional Thai roof), this building is the most modern on the compound and was built in the late 19th century by King Rama V. Within it is the grand audience hall, where the king still occasionally receives visitors, and the European-styled Throne Room. These buildings are not open for public viewing.
To the left is a group of buildings called the Dusit Maha Prasat, which includes the Throne Hall. On this cross-shaped building the simple white stone walls give way to impressive gilded multitiered roofs with a pagoda rising up from the center. This building is open to the public.
To the right of the Phra Maha Monthain buildings in the middle of the compound are the Boromphiman Mansion and Siwalai Garden buildings. This area was originally used as a garden area, but during the reigns of King Rama III and Rama IV the old gardens were replaced with temples, pavilions, and the strangely out of place Boromphiman Mansion.
King Rama V had the European-style mansion (it’s the only building on the compound without a Thai-style roof) commissioned as a gift to his son Prince Maha Vajirunahis. It’s now used to house visiting royalty and heads of state.
Visitors will be denied entry to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew if they are wearing tank tops, shorts, flip-flops, or are otherwise immodestly dressed. Just inside the compound is a small building where you can borrow appropriate clothing so long as you leave your ID in exchange.