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
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
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
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.