No single structure within the Grand Palace elicits such awe as this, the most sacred temple in the kingdom. You may prefer the simplicity of some other wats, but you'll never quite get over Wat Phra Kaew's opulence—no other wat in Thailand is so ornate or so embellished with glittering gold. As you enter the compound, take note of the 20-foot-tall statues of fearsome creatures in traditional battle attire standing guard. Turn right as you enter the compound, because on the inner walls are lively murals depicting the whole epic tale of the Ramakien.
Several aponsis (mythical half-woman, half-lion creatures) stand guard outside the main chapel, which has a gilded three-tier roof. Inside sits the Emerald Buddha. This most venerated image of Lord Buddha is carved from one piece of jade 31 inches high. No one knows its origin, but history places it in Chiang Rai in 1464. From there it traveled first to Chiang Mai, then to Lamphun, and finally back to Chiang Rai, where
as the story goes the Laotians stole it and took it home with them. The Thais sent an army to get it back; it reached its final resting place when King Rama I built this temple. The statue is high above the altar, so you can see it only from afar. Behind the altar and above the window frames are murals depicting the life and eventual enlightenment of the Buddha. At the back of the royal chapel you can find a detailed scale model of Cambodia's Angkor Wat.