Grand Palace compound, Na Phra Lan Rd.
pier: Chang Pier
HOURS: Daily 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
COST: Included in admission to the Grand Palace (250B)
Within the Grand Palace  compound is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Phra Kaew, the most sacred Buddhist sight in the country. Unlike most wats, there are no resident monks here. The main purpose of the temple is to house a sacred artifact—the Emerald Buddha.
Made of either jade or green jasper (emerald refers to the color, not the material), the Buddha figure sits on a grand golden throne under a golden canopy. The throne, more than three meters high, with golden tiles and surrounded by carved images depicting the life of the Buddha, is a sight to behold. Atop it sits the barely half-meter-tall Buddha, draped in clothing made of gold.
The provenance of the image is debated, with the prevailing legend asserting that the Emerald Buddha was originally made in India at some point before the turn of the first millennium. Religious lore is difficult to dispute, but most art historians say it was probably made sometime around the 15th century in northern Thailand.
Considering historical writings referencing the Buddha image, most do agree that it was at least discovered around the 15th century. There are various tales of how it was found, the most prominent being that lightning struck a pagoda in Chiang Rai and the Emerald Buddha was found inside (you can visit this wat, also called Wat Phra Kaew, if you head up north).
When found, the Buddha was covered in white stucco, certainly less impressive than it is today. Its beauty wasn’t revealed until the abbot who discovered it noticed that some of the stucco on the Buddha’s nose was flaking off.
After its discovery more than 500 years ago, the Buddha began a complicated journey that took it from Chiang Mai to Luang Phrabang, then the capital of the Lao Kingdom of Lan Xang, in 1552. It remained in Laos until 1779, when General Chao Phraya Chakri (who later became King Rama I) took it as a spoil of war in a battle in Vientiane.
Five years later—after Rama I had taken power, moved the capital to Bangkok , and completed Wat Phra Kaew—he brought the Emerald Buddha to its current home.
The interior walls of the wat are covered in murals depicting the life of the Buddha (the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Ramayana) and worth more than a casual look.