If you get the opportunity to travel to Ayutthaya, you certainly cannot take your eyes off the Bang Pa-In Royal Palace. Today, the palace is only used infrequently, and then mostly for state occasions rather than as a royal summer residence.
Coming all the way from Bangkok just for the palace might not be worth the trip but it is a great stop on the way to Ayutthaya.
Originally created by King Prasat Thong in 1632, it is not known whether it was in use at the time of the Burmese raid. But in 1807, when Sunthon Phu, the kingdom's best known poet sailed past, it was a shadow of what Bang Pa-In once was, abandoned and overgrown. According to Dutch chronicler Jeremias Van Vliet, King Ekathotsarot (1605 - 1610) was once shipwrecked on an island while sailing on the Chao Phraya River.
On the island, he was befriended by a woman, who bore his (illegitimate) child. The child grew up to ascend the throne. This boy was later to become known as King Prasat Thong (1632 - 1656). He founded a monastery on his mother's land and had a pond dug and built a palace to the south of the monastery. The only building mentioned in the chronicle was the Aisawan Thiphya, created in 1632, the year of birth of his son, the future King Narai (1656 - 1688).
After the Burmese raids in 1767, the Palace complex of Bang Pa-In was laid to waste and left abandoned for a long time. King Mongkut (Rama IV), who reigned from 1851 to 1868, started a revival of the palace. Most of the buildings as they stand today were created by his successor King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), who also expanded the area into the magnificent sprawling Versaillesque gardens between 1874 and 1899 with features of European-style architecture.
Highlights of Bang Pa-In
Phra Thinang Wehart Chamrun, the only building open to commoners, is a Chinese-style palace and throne room, with marvellous ornamental tiles, heavy ebony furnishings, gold, silver and porcelain delicate fretwork and a red lacquer interior. One of the highlights is an intricately carved camel bone dragon. As pretty is Ho Withun Thasana, or Sages Look-Out, a tower used by royal parties as an observatory to view the heavens or surrounding countryside. The Aisawan Thiphya, the iconic Divine Seat of Personal Freedom, or 'floating' pavilion, is an archetypal Thai pavilion set in the middle of the ornamental pond. It is said to have been a favourite afternoon spot for young Royals to read poetry.
The Memorial to Queen Sunanda Kumariratana is a marble obelisk shrine set in a garden dedicated to the Queen. At the time, a Thai law told that commoners were forbidden to touch royalty by punishment of death. One day in 1881, a royal barge carrying the queen capsized on the Chao Phraya River. Onlookers were forced to watch their beloved queen drown, while nobody made any attempt to rescue her. Moreover, they were instructed to do so by an officer. King Chulalongkorn was horrified the vizier could carry out the law to the letter. The memorial contains a poem written by the heart-broken widower King himself. The Memorial to Princess Saovabhark and Three Royal Children is a marble cenotaph to consort Princess Saovabhark Nariratana and their three children who died in the same year in 1887.
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