April 20, 2007

The Summer Palace

Aisawan Thiphya-At ; the only Thai style building on the estate
Our day trip to the Ayutthaya, the old capital of Thailand (Siam, then),was the highlight of my trip. It was either a day trip to Ayutthaya or to Kanchanaburi. And while crossing the historic Bridge over the River Kwai would have been interesting, it could not have been as beautiful and awe-inspiring as Ayutthaya turned out to be.

Let me first share what I learned to give you a bit of a background:
From the fourteenth to the eighteenth century, the kingdom of Ayutthaya was ruled by thirty three kings of different dynasties and eventually evolved as the strongest power in Southeast Asia. This magnificent city on the banks of the Chao Phraya River was a patchwork of palaces, canals and about 400 temples in contrasting Khmer and Sukhothai architecture. Today though, all that's left are the haunting ruins of that once-mighty empire.

I was beside myself with excitement. While everyone was trying to catch a few more zzz's in the minivan (we had quite the interesting time in Patpong the night before), my mind whirled with a kind of preview or 'trailer' of what we were about to see. A product of months of browsing the internet and reading the guide books in preparation for the trip. But before we even made it there, we had an unexpected stopover.

Bang Pa In

We arrived at Bang Pa In, or the Summer Palace, bright and early so we were the first ones there. This allowed us to explore the estate in relative peace, without a throng of tourists ahead of us marring the scenery. Though only 60 kms north of Bangkok it may as well have been a hundred thousand miles away in Europe,Versailles perhaps?

Bang Pa-In was constructed during the reign of King Prasat Thong (1629-1656) but the present-day royal palace and most of the buildings in the grounds were restored by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) in the late nineteenth century. We hopped on golf carts and scooted around admiring the manicured lawns, elephant and rabbit topiaries, majestic mansions and neo-classical buildings all of which are surrounded by a large lake and interconnected by bridges.

We stopped before each building where the guide would proceed to do his job, eagerly regaling us with tales about the royalty and friends of royalty who strolled through the front doors. Most of the buildings, however, are off-limits to the public and those that aren't prohibit the use of cameras inside.

We continued across another bridge and our guide asked us to pull over next to a small lake with an orange-striped look-out tower in the middle. He led us away from the water and towards Wehart Chamrun. We stepped out of our flip-flops and into an opulent Chinese-style palace. The structure is supported by massive red pillars with beams intricately decorated in gold leaf. We padded up carpeted steps to an exterior hallway that wrapped around the palace, peering into the various chambers and marvelling at the lavish use of ebony, ivory, mother of pearl, gold, and porcelain for decorative purposes.
Sage's Lookout & Wehart Chamrun
The only other building we were allowed to enter was the Phra Thinang Warophat Phiman, the royal residence with the tongue twister for a name. When we hopped out of the cart, we were asked not to move while our guide went off towards the direction of the mansion. He came back with six bright silk sarongs, each of a different color and helped us wrap them around ourselves. I must say we looked quite spiffy as we walked up those marble steps!

Phra Thinang Warophat Phiman

Once again discarding our flip-flops, we stepped into a Victorian ante-room dominated by a large throne. Here we watched our guide drop to his knees and touch his forehead to the carpet a couple of times before he told us more stories. I drifted off into my own world as I gazed at the oil paintings which depicted significant events in Thai history. Within minutes, the room was crowded with hordes of other tourists and it was time to go. It was just as well, I needed another bottle of water to rehydrate myself. The heat had started to intensify at this point. Thank goodness our guide had rolled up stacks of iced towels waiting for us in the minivan. :)

Rapunzel! Rapunzel!

Bang Pa In is open daily from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm and admission is 50 Baht for adults.


Senor Enrique said...

Beautiful, beautiful pictures, Christine!

You should really consider writing travel and lifestyle articles for one of our broadsheets; you're that good!

christine said...

Aww Eric, you are too kind and I am extremely flattered! Thank you very much for the compliment, a huge one coming from you. You definitely made my day! :)

Anonymous said...

I found your site while doing some research for my trip to Asia and I want to say THANK YOU!! You have some of the best articles here. I'm so glad I found you!

christine said...

Thank you, anonymous! It's always nice to know when your posts help others. Have a great trip! :)

rica said...

hi! :) what van/tour did you get that took you to bang pa in and ayutthaya? can you please give me the details, ill be in bangkok next week :) thanks!