July 20, 2018
Just like our second day, our third day in Thailand started relatively early. Despite our two days in Bangkok, we are still quite unfamiliar with the city. It was also a Friday, which meant that the streets were already teeming with activities as workers scramble to reach their destinations before they get drowned in the early morning traffic. It was also our goal and had we left later, we would have missed our meeting time because of the traffic. Thankfully, it was not as bad as Manila’s but it was still a hustle. I did note something about Thai drivers. They rarely honk their horns, even when they get frustrated because of reckless drivers. It was disconcerting as Filipino drivers will blast their horns every opportunity they get.
For our second full day in Thailand, we have opted to tour away from the bustling metropolis of Bangkok. Again for convenience, we have opted to avail of a group tour instead of organizing our own itinerary. Our destination for the days is one of the most popular destinations in Thailand: Ayutthaya. When we were picking places to go to for our Thailand tour, everyone agreed that Ayutthaya is a must-see and must-experience destination. I couldn’t agree more as it was also high on my priority list.
On the way to Ayutthaya, we stopped by Bang Pa-in, one of the districts of Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya Province. Our first stop for the day was the Bang Pa-In Royal Palace. Also referred to as the Summer Palace, it is one of the official royal palace complexes owned and managed by the Thai Royal family. Whilst Bangkok’s Grand Palace was their official residence, Bang Pa-in was referred to as their unofficial summer residence. Approximately 60 kilometers north of Bangkok, the royal grounds lies on the shores of the Chao Phraya River. The idyllic complex provided respite for members of the royal family longing to escape the tediousness of royal duties.
A bit of history. The construction of the Bang Pa-In Royal Palace was commissioned by King Prasat Thong during his reign from 1629 to 1656. The original building in the complex is the Aisawan Thiphaya-art Royal Residence. Construction of the residential hall began in 1632, following the birth of King Prasat Thong’s son, the future King Narai (1656-1688). Unfortunately, following the fall of Ayutthaya in mid-18th century, the palace fell into disuse and neglect. The revival of the palace begun in the mid-19th century, during the reign of King Rama IV of the Chakri Dynasty, better known in the West as King Mongkut (1851-1868). Most of the present-day structures, however, were built during the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V, 1868-1910). It is still currently being used by the current royal family, both as residence and a place to hold receptions and banquets.
Entering the complex, what greets visitors is a man-made pond. Perhaps due to its proximity to the Chao Phraya River, waterways and ponds were essential to the overall architecture of the complex. This was also a feature prominent I noted in Korean royal complexes, such as the Gyeongbokgung and the Changdeokgung. Some of the royal ground’s major structures were built around these ponds and waterways. The incorporation of bodies of water, I surmise, was not only for aesthetic purposes but also to establish harmony with nature. It does work for it provided breathing spaces in the vast royal complex.
Despite the heat, Ziv, Joy, and I enjoyed scouring every nook and cranny of the vast royal complex. One of the prominent structures in the complex is the Aisawan Thiphya-Art Sala , or “the divine seat of personal freedom”. Located at the middle of the pond, the pavilion was one of the structures commissioned by King Chulalongkorn. Even from afar, it can be noted that the pavilion is a replica of the Phra Thinang Aphonphimok Pavilion in the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Ho Withun Thasana, or The Sages Lookout, towers above the landscape. Built in 1881, the observatory provides a great vantage point to view the complex and the landscape of the countryside.
Adjacent to the observatory is the Phra Thinang Uthayan Phumisathian, or “Garden of the Secured Land”. It is a residential hall built also during King Chulalongkorn’s reign in 1877. What makes it stand out is its architecture. It was designed in the style of a Swiss Chalet, which I have learned from our guide, was an influence of the royal family’s ventures into Europe. The original wooden structure was burned down in 1938. Queen Sirikit, the mother of the current Thai monarch, commissioned the residential hall’s reconstruction. When we visited in 2018, parts of hall was under remodeling. However, its western influences were unmistakable.
Apart from Uthayan Phumisathian, the Phra Thinang Warophat Phiman or “Excellent and Shining Heavenly Abode”, is another residential hall built by King Chulalongkorn. The one-storey mansion bore yet again Western influences as it was built in the European neo-classical style. King Chulalongkorn was, after all, the first Siamese king to travel to Europe and he carried with him the European influences. He built Phra Thinang Warophat Phiman to be his official residence and throne hall.
There are other structures within the complex but we were, unfortunately, unable to visit them all due to time constraints. What was impressive about these structures are the different architectural influences. Some were built in traditional Thai while some had Chinese and European influences. These confluence of different styles make Bang Pa-in Summer Palace a haven for those who love architecture and designs. One would think that the hodgepodge of influences would result to a discordant complex but it was not the case. The spaces between the structures somehow negated this idea. In one part, there were topiaries where my friends and I enjoyed having some puerile fun. The royal grounds were also propped with pockets of gardens and gazebos.
Covering an area of about 46 acres, one never runs out of area to explore. However, we only allotted less than two hours for the place and it was too short to explore every part of the vast complex. There were parts of the complex that were off-limits to visitors, I know that there were more places to explore. The brief escapade did, however, provide more insight into the lavish lifestyle of the Thai monarchs. The next part of our tour took us deeper into Siamese history.