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The Jade Buddha Temple (Wat Phra Kaew) is located in the north east corner of Grand Palace in Bangkok. It is Thailand’s most famous Buddhist temple and one of Thailand’s three national treasures. But the Jade Buddha didn’t always live in the Grand Palace in Bangkok. It has variously appeared in Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai and Ayutthaya, Thonburi, Vientiane in Laos and even took a trip to Angkor Wat in Cambodia at one point. It came to Bangkok at the time the city became the national capital and the Grand Palace was built to house the royal family.

Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok
Exterior of Wat Phra Kaew is a popular photo spot

Built in 1784, the Jade Buddha Temple is the site of may of the royal and religious ceremonies dedicated to the palace, because the temple houses the Jade Buddha (also known as the Emerald Buddha). The centre of the shrine hall is declared as a national treasure of jade Buddha statues in Thailand. The Emerald Buddha itself is 66 cm high, 48 cm wide and is carved from a single piece of jade. The Emerald Buddha sits on a throne flanked by two other buddhas representing former kings of Thailand.

One of the entrances to Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok
One of the entrances to Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok

The compound now housing the Jade Budda Bangkok has turned the tables of history. Where once the statue was claimed by many different kingdoms, now the treasures of those kingdoms sit inside 12 small treasure houses (called salas) that surround the main temple. These contain treasures mostly from Cambodia and Java (Indonesia).

A statue of a mythical "kinnara" at Wat Phra Kaew
A statue of a mythical “kinnara” at Wat Phra Kaew

During the festival season, the King of Thailand personally changes the cloth of the Emerald Buddha in order to maintain peace and prosperity. When a new Thai cabinet is created after national elections, the new government is sworn in to the King at the Jade Buddha Temple. Once the Emerald Buddha itself would have been paraded through the streets during these festivals, but not any more.

Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok
The main temple courtyard of Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok

During the Farming Festival each May, the king also holds religious ceremonies here with prayers for good harvests. The temple itself is surrounded by about one kilometer of corridor murals depicting Indian classical literature, the “Ramayana” epic theme and Thai classical poetry.

The Jade Buddha Temple is so famous that it is depicted on some of the large porcelain pieces of China, telling the “Three Kingdoms” story.