Bang Pa-In Palace, Ayuthaya, Thailand
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Bang Pa-In Palace

 Bang Pa-In Palace

As architecturally fascinating as the palace building is the Wat Niwet Thamaprawat, which is opposite the Palace on an island between the two banks of river Chao Phraya

During the hot season, Bangkok can be little more than a stuffy and polluted sauna. At weekends the urge can be over powering for Bangkok residents to make a break for the cool of the countryside. But where do you go that isn't a major undertaking or has the potential of being an unpleasant experience of fraught travel on a sweltering day-off ?

Faced with just such a dilemma a friend suggested a trip to Ayuthaya, the site of one of Thailand's past capitals before being sacked by the Burmese and birthplace of the Ayuthaya roof design so popular in expatriate homes in Thailand. About sixteen kilometres down the road from this famous historical city is a jewel in the treasure chest of Thailand's royal buildings. For here is the place King. Rama V, the father of modern Thailand, decided to build an out-of-town palace.

Those familiar with this most special of Kings will know he kept the country from creeping colonization, which at that time was rampant throughout Asia. He took much from the style of foreigners who visited him and with whom he was a notorious negotiator. This palace is in some ways a reflection of his character. As soon as you walk through the gates you are met with "Capability Brown,' English country manor grounds that roll around lakes, follies and tree-lined horse-and-carriage driveways.

The buildings themselves are to say the least eclectic. They are scattered about the walled in gardens and include a central palace that is now Georgian in design. This recently replaced the old palace, which was reportedly a Swiss chalet-style wooden constr uction that burned down.

Only a few buildings are open to the public and one is the Chinese Wehat Chamr um Palace. Constr ucted of wood it is a brilliant and colourful edifice, a blaze of red and gold and ador ned throughout with ancient Chinese scripts. The main vestibule can be viewed through glass walls where mother-of-pearl-inlay dark-wood craved fur nit ure sits on marble floors.

To one side of this gift to the King from China is the Withun Thasana building. It looks like a lighthouse with balconies, a cross bet ween a fairground slide and Moorish steeple without the building. Inside, spiral stair ways lead to checkered black and white marble-floored verandas, f rom where one can sur vey the entire palatial area. To me the building is reminiscent of a set f rom the TV series "the Prisoner.' What really took it over the top were the 60's style golf buggies that gently hummed about the grounds, available for rent to anyone too exhausted to handle the walks between the buildings.

As architect urally fascinating as the palace buildings is the Wat Niwet Thamaprawat, which is opposite the Palace on an island between the two banks of the river Chao Phraya. Reached by cable cars that hoist you across the river, operated by the monaster y 's monks, this temple has, for Thailand, a t r uly unique building. Within the Wat compound is a perfect reproduction of a gothic stone church, complete with slate steeple, butt resses and stained-glass leaded windows. Entering the arched door way any Christian will be thrown into confusion for instead of being greeted by the nor mal lines of wooden pews, pulpit and altar the church is empty except for a simple shrine to Buddha. Nuns sit against the walls dressed in traditional white garb offering lucky gifts to visitors and notes for their fut ure success. Bang Pa-In is an int riguing historical site. It is well-preser ved and benefits from recent and careful renovations. The drive to get there is not arduous if you know the way. For the uninitiated it may be wiser to book a tour. The Chao Phraya River Express Boat Company runs a boat t rip ever y Sunday from Tha Maharat in Bangkok to the palace, stopping off at a few other places along the way. Alter natively, you could take a bus from the Norther n bus ter minal or even go on an organised minibus tour. Coming the other way you may like to tack on a visit to the palace after a trip to Ayuthaya city, by catching the boat from Ayuthaya's Chao Phrom Market on Naresuan road. Either way a perfect end to the day would be an evening meal by the river, at any of the nearby seafood restaurants, as the sun sets on the Mae Nam Chao Phraya.


- May Issue, 2002

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