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Na Phra Lan Road, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200, Thailand

GPS: 13.752343993981, 100.49333304752

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The Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew or, of its full name, Wat Phra Si Rattana Satsadaram) is one of the most venerated Buddhist temples in Thailand. Located in the historic centre of Bangkok, on the ancient island of Rattanakosin, this sacred site is part of a vast royal estate called the Grand Palace. It symbolizes the seat of power of the nation and Thailand’s spiritual attachment to Buddhism.

After the destruction of the Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya by the Third Burmese Empire in 1767, Taksin the Great succeeded in reunifying Thailand in the space of only 15 years through several military conquests. During his reign (1767-1782), he moved the capital of Siam (the former name of Thailand) to Thonburi, on the right bank of the Chao Phraya River. Declared insane, he was overthrown by one of his generals, Chao Phraya Chakri, who succeeded him on the throne (he took the name of Rama I posthumously). The new monarch founded the Chakri dynasty, which is still in power today, and began to build the new capital across the river in Bangkok (Thonburi remained an independent city and province until it was merged with Bangkok in 1971). In 1782, Rama I decided to build a splendidly decorated architectural complex built for himself, consisting of the Grand Palace of Bangkok (his new royal residence) and the Buddhist temple Wat Phra Kaeo (the Temple of the Emerald Buddha).

Additions and extensions continued for more than two centuries by successive rulers of the Chakri dynasty, notably during the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) in the second half of the 19th century. A place of coronation, former residence of the kings of Thailand and administrative seat of government, the Grand Palace hosts royal ceremonies and receptions of heads of state. Within its walls are Wat Phra Kaew and a building called Ubosot, specially designed to house the statue of the Emerald Buddha on a large promontory. Sculpted from a single block of green jade in the 15th century, this 76 cm high representation of Buddha is said to have been discovered in 1431 in Chiang Rai (a city in the north of Thailand in Wat Pa Yier temple meaning the “bamboo forest temple”). It was the future king Rama I who took possession of statue of the Emerald Buddha and brought it back to Thonburi after the conquest of the independent kingdom of Vientiane (present-day Laos) in 1778. It is still today the religious and iconic emblem of the Kingdom of Thailand.

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  • The plethora of buildings, statues, sculptures, stupas and pagodas; the monuments richly decorated with gold; the central and privileged location of the complex on the banks of the Chao Phraya River
  • The glittering façades of the various sacred monuments and temples of the great royal complex
  • The mosaic columns, coloured porcelain and murals in the Ubosot of Wat Phra Kaew (royal chapel)
  • The refined and sparkling architecture of the Grand Palace or Chakri Maha Prasat (with Thai and Western influences as it was designed by British architects); the Throne Room, the Reception Hall and the pavilions of the sanctuary
  • The Library (Phra Mondop, containing sacred books of Buddhism called Tripitaka); the Golden Pagoda (Phra Si Rattana Chedi, a place of worship which is said to house Buddha’s sternum)
  • The imposing statues of bronze lions; the statues of giant demons called Yaksha (temple guardians supposed to repel the evil spirits of the Ubosot); the series of 112 statuettes of Garuda (bird men) and Naga (snakes) protecting the Ubosot ; the many other representations of deities or mystical creatures decorating the doors, inner rooms and portals of the various buildings of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Tantima, Dvarapala, Kinnara…)
  • Scenes from Ramayana mythology painted on the walls of the cloister during the reign of Rama I (they illustrate in the form of frescoes mythological accounts of the “Journey of Rama” in a Thai version)
  • The Royal Pantheon (Prasat Phra Thep Bidon) where life-size statues of the kings of the Chakri dynasty are exhibited, which are only visible to the public on 6 April each year
  • The model of Angkor Wat (a miniature replica of an immense sanctuary located in neighbouring Cambodia that King Rama IV wanted to dismantle stone by stone in order to rebuild it in Bangkok); the Pavilion of Regalia, Royal Decorations and Coins; the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles
  • The Emerald Buddha is surrounded by many legends. Its name can be confusing because “emerald” only refers to the green colour of the statue. According to the most common version, it was lightning that was behind its fortuitous discovery after it struck the stupa (or chedi) of Wat Pa Yier temple in Chiang Rai. Originally, the statue was covered with a golden stucco that hid a Buddha carved from a block of jadeite and made of semi-precious stone. Other beliefs hold that the stone has been around for over 2,000 years and comes from India or Sri Lanka.
  • The sacred figure of the Emerald Buddha, known locally as Phra Kaew Morakot, is constantly dressed in a different costume according to the season (summer, rainy season and winter). It is the King of Thailand himself who changes the statue’s decorations three times a year, in a ritual ceremony that is supposed to bring prosperity to the country. This finely carved Buddha sculpture gave the temple its name.
  • Unlike other “Wat” (Buddhist temple or monastery in the country), no monks reside within the Wat Phra Kaew compound, as it is a royal estate.
  • The current King of Thailand, Rama X, ascended the throne in 2016 after the death of his father Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) who ruled the country for 70 years. The monarch’s residence is in the royal residence of Dusit (Chitralada Royal Villa) in Bangkok, the seat of the Thailand’s constitutional monarchy.
  • Rattanakosin Island, now the historic and cultural district of Bangkok, was once criss-crossed by numerous canals (khlong) that formed ditches around the fortified city (late 18th century). Some of these traditional canals still exist in Thonburi on the right bank (western part) of the Chao Phraya River.
  • Buddhism is a state religion in Thailand (almost 95% of the 64 million inhabitants declare themselves Buddhists). In total, there are about 40,000 Buddhist temples in the country, the vast majority of which are open to the public (only 1% of them are located in the capital, Bangkok).
  • It is best to visit Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace in the morning as soon as they open (8.30 am) as the Royal Palace complex closes relatively early in the afternoon (3.30 pm). Exceptionally, it may be closed to the public from midday onwards in the case of royal ceremonies.
  • The Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha can be reached by tuk-tuk or by using Bangkok’s public transport: the underground metro (MRT) at Sanam Chai station, the overground metro (BTS) at Saphan Taksin station or the Chao Phraya Express boat service at Ta Chang stop.
  • A strict dress code is required to visit this sacred place (cover your shoulders, legs and feet rigorously). Stands located near the main entrance can provide you with extra clothing if necessary, in exchange for a deposit. Furthermore, it is strictly forbidden to take pictures of the Emerald Buddha. A copy of this statue is stored in another temple for visitors to photograph.
  • The entrance ticket to the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha also provides access to Vimanmek Mansion (a former royal palace built of golden teak wood located in Dusit District).
  • Right next to Wat Phra Kaew stands the Wat Pho Temple, a monument of great historical importance (it is one of the largest and oldest Buddhist temples in Bangkok). It contains a large reclining Buddha (45 metres long and 15 metres high), relics and a school of Thai massage and traditional medicine.

Where to eat

  • Ama Art & Eatery
    (pad thai is delicious)
  • PEEPS Thai Eatery
    (fine and tasty dishes)
  • Sala Rattanakosin Eatery And Bar
    (riverside setting)

Where to go out

  • Ancient Siam
    (architectural jewellery replica)
  • Bangkok National Museum
    (the splendour of Thai art)
  • Queen Saovabha Memorial...
    (reptile show)

Where to sleep

  • The Oasis Hostel
    (friendly youth hostel)
  • Tara Place
    (very good compromise)
  • Mandarin Oriental Bangkok
    (unbeatable services)

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