The most venerated holy site in Thailand is Wat Phra Kaeo, also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It is located on the grounds of the Royal Palace in Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand. The Emerald Buddha is a statue that stands about 2 feet tall. Only the King of Thailand is allowed to go near it when he conducts rituals in honor of Buddha at certain times of the year. Historians in Thailand believed that the statue was made during the 14th century. Records say that it was once hidden in plaster in Chiang Rai. But a lightning strike uncovered it in 1934.
The king of Chiang Mai tried to transport the statue but the elephant carrying it stopped at the crossroads in Lampang. This happened on three separate occasions forcing the king to put the statue in a specially-built temple. This temple became the repository of the statue for 32 years. The next king was successful in bringing it to his city and stayed there until it was taken by Laotian invaders in 1552. It stayed in Laos for 214 years until General Chakri (who became King Rama I) brought it back to Thailand at his capital Thonburi. King Rama I placed the statue in its present shrine in 1784. There is a belief that removal of this statue in Bangkok will signal the end of the Chakri Dynasty.
The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is surrounded by walls that are over a mile long. Here you will find Thailand’s various forms of Buddhist architecture, paintings, sculptures and artful objects. At the center of the temple, on top of a huge gold star sits the Emerald Buddha. The emerald refers to the bright green color and not the stone itself because the statue is actually made of jade or green jasper. Depending on the season, you will see the Buddha covered in different costumes. It wears gilt robe and headdress during the rainy season. When it is summer, you will see the image covered in crown and jewelry, and in golden shawl comes winter time. It is the responsibility of the King of Thailand to change the costume at the onset of each season.
A central shrine called bot houses the Emerald Buddha. Important religious rituals are performed here by monks. Murals portraying the life of the Buddha, and Buddhist cosmology decorate the inner walls of this shrine. There is a porch surrounding the shrine where there are 12 open pavilions built during the time of Rama I.
Other monuments are inside the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. One of them is the Phra Si Ratana Chedi which is a 19th century structure with Sri-Lankan style. Another monument is the Royal Pantheon also built in the 19th century with a Khmer style. The public is allowed entry in this place only for one day in October in commemoration of the Chakri Dynasty founding. The Phra Mondop is another monument which is actually a library built in Thai style by Rama I. This building is well known for its magnificent mother-of-pearl doors, statues of Chakri Kings, snakes with human and dragon heads and bookcases that holds sacred Buddhist manuscripts.
There is also a model of Angkor Wat, a Cambodian shrine. It serves to remind that Cambodia in the past was under the dominion of Thailand. All over the temple grounds are statues of elephants, which symbolize power and independence. Entrance fee is 250 baht, which includes a tour of the Grand Palace. It’s open daily from 08:30-15:30.