Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is located within the Grand Palace and is revered as the most valuable temple in Bangkok. It was completed in 1784 and has been attracting crowds since then.
1. Guardians of the Wat Phra Kaew:
The first sights you'll see upon entering Wat Phra Kaew are two 5 meters high yaksha, or giants with origins in Hindu/Buddhist mythology. These two giants are known as Suriya-phop and Inthroachit, and they are the guardians to the temple.
Within the compound you will see other famous mythological creatures, snakes lining the steps leading to the temple, the sacred half-human-half/half bird Garuda, and lions sitting on gateposts.
2. Garuda and Nagas lining the outside wall:
Here you see the mythical garuda, a part human, part bird species and the naga, or snake, lining the outside wall of the ordination Hall of the Emerald Buddha. The Garudas are huge and powerful but benevolent beings. They have been used as a symbol of royalty since King Rama the VI. You will see the powerful, omnipresent Garuda perched on official buildings, on banknotes, passports and all official documents.
The Kinnaree are believed to belong to a group of perfectly beautiful sisters who have wings and tails and can fly between the human and mystical worlds. Throughout Thai history, the kinnaree has always been an ideal of thai beauty and quality. It is often used as a symbol of femininity.
If you go to see a traditional thai dance show, you may see them performing a popular myth regarding the kinnaree named Manora who was kidnapped from the Himaphan forest to marry a prince.
4. Giant Demon (Yaksha):
There are 12 yaksha, or demons, protecting the Wat Phra Kaew. In spite of their fierce appearance, they are charged with taking care of precious things.
The Yaksha are not always given demon faces; they can be quite beautiful. There are guardian Yaksha but also evil Yaksha who haunt wild places and devour travelers.
5. The Hermit:
As you enter the Wat Phra Kaew, you see a stone statue of a hermit. He is seated, with a mortar and pestle set before him. The Thai believe that he has special healing powers. He is considered a patron of medicine. Visitors with ill family and friends pay homage and make offerings.
Behind the hermit is a consecrated tower holding a ringed chedi that Rama IV brought back from one of his journeys to the north.
6. Two Chapels:
On either side of the Hermit statue are two small chapels. The one to the left contains Buddha images dedicated to the present dynasty.
And the one to the right contains Buddha images dedicated to the past Kings of Ayuthaya.
It also has some noteworthy murals. The murals are faded with age but this makes them all the more aesthetic.
7. Temple of the Emerald Buddha:
This magnificent temple has all of the typical architectural features of a Buddhist monastery, but without the residential quarters. That’s because no monks actually reside here. The most important building inside the monastery is the ubosot, which is a chapel or ordination hall. The Emerald Buddha rests inside.
The eaves in the temple are lined with bronze bells which tinkle when a breeze passes, creating a beautiful and serene atmosphere in the temple.
8. Wall Murals Inside Temple:
The walls of the ordination hall are decorated with mural paintings above the window frames. The murals are a series of paintings depicting selected events of the Lord Buddha's life including scenes from his birth, childhood, youth, and the Great Renunciation. The murals on the east wall facing the high altar portray scenes of Temptation and Enlightenment, with a picture of the earth goddess underneath the Buddha's seat. The murals along the north wall demonstrate the Lord Buddha's preaching his Dharma and his Entering Nirvana, and those behind the main altar represent the Buddhist Cosmology. Those behind the window panels illustrate various scenes from Jataka stories and Thai proverbs.
9. Phra Si Ratana Chedi (Golden Chedi):
The Phra Si Ratana Chedi, a 19th century style Sri Lankan Stupa, anchors the west end of the upper terrace. It was built by Rama 4 in the mid nineteenth century at the same time as the Royal Pantheon. The chedi essentially balances the structures on the upper terrace, but it also recalls the monumental pagodas of the old capital in Ayutthaya. The chedi is faced with small gold mirrored tiles, making it a bit shinier than other pagodas that are 'just' gilded. The chedi houses Buddha's ashes.
10. Phra Mondop (The Library):
The center monument on the upper terrace is the Phra Mondop, a library. Rama 1 built it in the Thai style to replace the original building that was destroyed by fire. The original Canonical Library was surrounded by water which was customary at the time to prevent damage to the manuscripts by fire and termites. Ironically, fireworks destroyed the original building on the day of its inauguration. However, the manuscripts and the mother-of-pearl inlaid cabinet that contained them were miraculously saved. The King had the pond filled in and built a high platform to house the first fully revised edition of the Buddhist Canon of the Rattanakosin Era known as the "Royal Golden Edition". The revision of the scriptures was one of the first tasks undertaken by King Rama I on his accession to the throne.