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I don’t know why I’m so ambivalent about the Grand Palace in Bangkok. It really is quite grand. That it makes every Must-See list for touri isn’t surprising. It encompasses a multitude of traditional Thai architecture styles, serves as both a museum and a temple, features every mythical creature known to Buddha . . . for the non-culturally inclined and/or those short on time a visit to the Grand Palace provides a one-stop opportunity to see examples of the country’s historical, religious, and cultural facets. Provided the Grand Palace isn’t closed on the day of your visit, of course.

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As worthy of a visit as the Grand Palace is, I often suggest touri go to Wat Pho, next door, instead. Wat Pho is more manageable in size, is just as impressive to a first-time visitor, and offers a more interactive experience than the Grand Palace. It is my default choice of attractions when the suggestion of visiting both sites in a single day is made. Most touri plan on doing the two in one visit, but that means rushing through one to get to the other and then neither can be fully appreciated. Returning to the area later during your trip and spending the better part of a day at the Grand Palace, however, is a great idea. To give the site the justice it is due requires a minimum of three hours. To see everything there is to see at the Grand Palace takes at least five.

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You can’t help but be in awe of all the gold on display, the soaring stupas, towering columns, sweeping roof lines, and imposing Buddhas. The Grand Palace is a massive display of Thai architecture and Buddhist imagery. For a first time visitor to Thailand, it can easily be too much. Which is probably part of the palace’s intent. Not surprisingly then, many touri scale down the spectacle to details more manageable in size. And nothing seems to capture their attention quicker than the massive number of demons and monsters on display throughout the palace’s grounds. Thanks to the guardians of the Grand Palace, its Buddhas don’t stand a chance.

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From the half woman/ half bird Kinnari statue that greets you, to the imposing yak guarding the gates, to their smaller version lining the base of the Golden Pagoda, the grand Palace’s celestial beings, gods, and guardians capture the imagination of every visitor. Garuda are everywhere, Naga – with your choice in number of heads – flank the steps of every temple building, strange and beautiful mythical creatures and demons seem to jump from every corner. Those familiar with Buddhist mythology can probably identify most of them, the average visitor from the West usually hasn’t a clue but can’t resist having a picture taken of themselves mimicking one of the Golden Stupa’s colorful yak anyway.

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Every architectural detail within the palace’s grounds seems to include one or more creatures, often in gold. There are more Naga on the roof gables, mythical bird-like creatures serving as cho fa at their apexes, murals adorning the walls filled with gods, goddesses, and who-in-the-hell knows what those are. Some are meant to protect, some in inspire, most serve as a warning against the more debase aspects of human nature. In a town known for offering a wide range of earthly delights, the symbol of the country’s monarchy and cultural heritage pays a lot of tribute to the Buddhist version of sin.

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Maybe I’d suggest a visit to the Grand Palace more often if instead of thinking of it as a whole, I too only focused on its demons and monsters. Kind of as a predecessor to meeting your first mamasan. Or aggressively ugly ladyboy. Not that the mythological creatures of the palace can hold a candle to the creatures you’ll experience in Patpong, but a tour of the Grand Palace’s demons before perhaps meeting a few of your own inner ones might just be the right call for the full Bangkok experience.

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