Explore the grandeur of Bangkok’s Grand Palace
History and culture fans really are spoilt for choice in Bangkok. In fact, the bustling Thai capital has enough temples, markets, museums and galleries to keep even the keenest culture vulture occupied for several weeks.
For those with a limited amount of time in Bangkok, however, then the Grand Palace is rightly at the top of the ‘must-see’ list. A complex of historic buildings rather than a single royal residence, the Grand Palace has been home to Thailand’s monarchy for centuries (though the current king lives at the nearby Chitralada Palace).
While you are free to wander the complex alone, it is best viewed in the company of an expert tour guide. With the help of a guide, visitors learn the fascinating history of the four inner courts, including the stunning Temple of the Emerald Buddha, as well as the rich stories behind the state apartments, such as those that were used to house the king’s harem. Modern-day Thailand is also showcased, with the daily Changing of the Guard among the biggest tourist attractions in the country.
Go Back in Time at Ayutthaya Historical Park
In all, 35 kings made the old city of Ayutthaya their home between the years 1350 and 1767, and all of them made their mark on what was for centuries the Thai capital.
A World Heritage Site, the old city is home to dozens of historic residences, palaces and temples, many of them sufficiently well-preserved to give visitors the chance to feel like they have stepped back in time. Just some of the historic highlights of this man-made wonder include Wat Kudi Da, a Buddhist temple dating back to 1711 and the premier example of late Ayutthaya style, and the imposing Phra Chedi Sisuriyothai, a golden-topped memorial to one of Thailand’s most-celebrated queens.
Prepare to be Dazzled by the White Temple
Few places in Thailand divides visitors quite like Wat Rong Khun, otherwise known as the White Temple. Unlike the numerous historic places of worship for which the Chiang Rai Province is famous, this temple is a contemporary work of art, which visitors either love or hate.
Certainly, it’s impossible to not have an opinion on the White Temple, which only opened its doors to the public in 1997. Free to visit, tourists are able to wander across the symbolic ‘bridge of the cycle of rebirth’ before passing through the ‘Gate of Heaven’ and then finally entering a functioning Buddhist temple. As well as living quarters for the monks, the bright white temple complex is also home to a fascinating contemporary art gallery, as well as an intricate ‘Golden Building’, designed to upset the mind and force viewers to question their views on life, and on money and wealth in particular.
Discover the Historic Culture of the Mon People
Thailand, and South-East Asia in general, is home to numerous ethnic groups, almost all of them with their own distinct history and rich culture. The Mon people, who live along the southern border of Thailand and Burma are no exception. Indeed, they are arguably among the most influential of all ethnic groups in the whole region, having been responsible for the spread of Theravada Buddhism throughout this part of Asia and boasting one of the most fascinating languages on the whole planet.
Unsurprisingly, then, a visit to a traditional Mon Village, complete with local cuisine and, of course, music and dancing, is, for many travellers, a real highlight of exploring Northern Thailand. Visitors to such intimate ceremonies get to hear curious instruments like the ‘crocodile xylophone’, along with tuned drums, gongs and flutes, with villagers of all ages dancing along to the music while dressed in traditional folk costumes of red scarves and long skirts.
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