Monday, October 12, 2009

Destination - Bang Pa In Palace


Approximately 60 kilometers north of Bangkok, near the ancient capital city of Ayutthaya, lies Bang Pa In, the summer palace of the King of Thailand.

Nestled on the banks of the Chao Praya River, the original palace complex dates back to the 17th century and the reign of King Prasat Thong, although many of the buildings you see today were built during the palace’s revival under Rama IV (King Mongkut) during the latter part of the 19th century.

When you first enter the magnificent grounds of Bang Pa In you will be greeted by beautifully rendered gardens set around a vast ornamental pond.

The Outer Palace grounds

The main path will first take you through the Outer Palace grounds, past Ho Hem Monthian Thewarat (The Golden Palace of the God King). Built in the shade of a Banyan tree, this small stone shrine was constructed in 1879 in the form of a Khmer-style prang (a residence of a king or god with a shape reminiscent of an ear of corn). Dedicated to King Prasat Thong, the shrine houses a small alter and the image of a deity.

Standing on the opposite shores of the ornamental pond is Saphakhan Ratchaprayun (The Assembly Hall for Royal Relatives). This colonial-style two-story building was built in 1879 for use by King Chulalongkorn's brothers. The building is now home to a small exhibition detailing the history of the palace complex.

From here you will also be able to see a truly wonderful Thai-style building that sits on an island in the center of the lake. Glistening in sumptuous gold, Phra Thinang (Royal residence) Aisawan Thiphya-Art (The Divine Seat of Personal Freedom) is considered to be the finest example of a Thai pavilion (sala Thai) and has been designated a national symbol. The pavilion houses a statue of Rama V (King Chulalongkorn).

As you journey further along the pathway you will begin to approach the Inner Palace area. Ahead you will see the graceful arches of the main entrance to the Inner Palace, the Thewarat Khanlai Gate (The God Goes Forth). Leading from the gate is a covered bridge which has a louvered wall so that the ladies of the court could look out onto the Outer Palace area without being seen. This bridge connects the gate to the Warophat Phiman (Excellent and Shining Heavenly Abode) located on the opposite river bank.

Warophat Phiman was once a two-story wooden villa, which was used as both royal living quarters and a throne hall, however in 1876, Rama V (King Chulalongkorn) ordered the original building demolished and replaced by a single story European style mansion. King Chulalongkorn's throne hall is open to visitors and well worth a visit, as it is richly decorated and houses many fine paintings and historical records.

The Inner Palace grounds


Within the Inner Palace area are the royal residential buildings. The main royal residence Phra Thinang Uthayan Phumisathian (Garden of the secured land) was originally a two-story building built in the style of a Swiss chalet painted in tones of green, however during some repair work in 1938, the building was destroyed by fire. The current building was constructed in 1966 at the expressed wish of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit. The only part of the original building which still stands is the water tank, disguised as a Neo-Gothic tower.

Situated behind Phra Thinang Uthayan Phumisathian, standing proud on its own island is the rather quirky looking Ho Withun Thasana (The Sages’ Lookout). This brightly colored three-story tower has a spiral staircase leading to a lookout platform, which provides a wonderful view over the surrounding area.

Another interesting building in the inner complex is Phra Thinang Wehart Chamrun (Heavenly Light) the Chinese-style residence was gifted to King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) by the equivalent of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in 1889. This building is open to the public and visitors here will not fail to be impressed by the sumptuous d├ęcor. The palace interior has ornamented tiled floors, impressive ebony furniture and is richly decorated in red, gold and silver. The palace is also home to a very impressive sculpture of a dragon which was hand carved from camel bone.

Today, the palace buildings are used infrequently and then mostly for state occasions rather than as a Royal summer residence. Please note that visitors to Bang Pa In must adhere to a strict dress code. No one is allowed to enter wearing sleeveless shirts or shorts/skirts that fall above the knee, but don’t worry as tourists can borrow the appropriate items from the main entrance.

Getting there

You can reach Bang Pa In by bus from the Northern Bus Terminal in Bangkok or by train from Hualampong train station. The Ayutthaya train station is located approximately two kilometers from the palace grounds, but you can grab a taxi or tuk-tuk from the station. There are also river tours available directly from Bangkok.

Article by Christine Oatley, copyright 2008 Asia Products LLC. All Rights Reserved. Christopher Snyder is the Founder and Managing Director of Asia Products LLC and currently is living in Bangkok, Thailand. He writes on a variety of topics including current events, politics, and travel ideas. He manages an e-commerce store buying products to sell on AsiaProductsLLC.com. He is documenting some of his more interesting travels in his Thailand Travel Pages website.

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