UNESCO World Heritage : Historic City of Ayutthaya, Thailand – Part 1

Ayutthaya, the old capital of Thailand is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Known as one of the most impressive ruined cities in Asia, we decided to check out this must-see historic site during this short trip to Bangkok. Ayutthaya was strategically located on an island surrounded by three rivers connecting the city to the sea.

Founded in 1350, this second capital of the Siamese Kingdom flourished from the 14th to the 185h centuries when it was once the world’s largest and most cosmopolitan urban areas within the centre of global diplomacy and commerce. Now, it is an archaeological ruin that characterise the remains of tall prang (reliquary towers) and Buddhist monasteries, giving it splendid architecture sight.

The day start with the 1.30 hour journey by our private van from Bangkok to Ayutthaya. Upon arriving in Ayutthaya, we head to Bang Pa-In Palace, also known as Summer Palace. This is the royal residence that features a combination of Thai, Chinese & Victorian architectural structures.

Bang Pa-In Palace, a 46 acre Palace ground, was The Royal Palace with a history back to the 17th century. According to the chronicles of Ayutthaya, King Prasat Thong (1629 – 1656) had a palace constructed on Bang Pa-In Island along Chao Phraya River. Jeremias van Viet, reported as an illegitimate son of King Ekathotsarot (1605 – 1610/11) was a Dutch merchant whom was shipwrecked on the island and had a son whom later grew up to the Chief Minister.

After taking on the throne, he was then known as King Prasat Thong. He founded a monastery, Wat Chumphon Nikayaram, on the land belonging to his mother. He then had the pond dug and a Palace was built to the south of the monastery. Aisawan Thiphaya-art Royal Residence that was constructed in 1632 was then became a site that was neglected when the Kingdom fall in 1767.

Bang Pa-In Palace was then revived by King Rama IV (1851 – 1868) and a temporary residence was constructed on the outer island of Neo-Gothic style monastery, Wat Niwet Thammaprawat. One of the most unusual Buddhist Temples in Thailand, Wat Nivet Thamaprawat looks like an English Gothic church. Unfortunately, located a short cable car ride across Chaphraya River, we did not had time to explore this beautiful place.

Admission Fees to the grounds of Bang Pa-In Palace, is chargeable at THB100 per person (price as of August 2017) for foreigner. The temple is open from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm. Note that there is a dressing codes where single / sleeveless as well as shorts (men, kids and women) are not allowed. However, should one forget (as what happen to us where we were all wearing shorts), long pants / skirts are available for sale in the gift shop at the entrance.

As we started the exploration of the grounds of Bang Pa-In Palace, our first stop were Ho Hem Monthian Thewarat (The Shine of Golden Palace, King of the Gods). This is a small stone Khmer-style prasat structure which brings the meaning of the residence of King or God with a corncob-shaped super structure). It is said that this were build by King Chulalongkorn in 1880 and was dedicated to King Prasat Thong.

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Just across the beautiful river, stands the Saphakhan Ratchaprayun (Assembly Hall for royal relative). This colonial-style two storey structured was build back in 1876 for the purpose of housing King Chulalongkorns brothers and their family.

At the end of the promenade, stood the ‘signature piece’ of Bang Pa-In, an elegant Thai-style pavilion in the middle of the pond, Phra Thinang (Royal Residence) Aisawan Thiphya-Art (The divine seat of personal freedom). This classic Thai architecture was build by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). This is a copy of the Phra Thinang Aphonphimok Prasat build by his father, King Mongkut in the Grand Palace for the purpose of changing regalia before mounting a palanquin. A bronze status of King Chulalongkorn in the uniform of a Field Marshal are house here.

The bridge leading to the Royal Residence is beautiful decorates with statues with Victorian / European people.

Phra Thinang (Royal Residence) Warophat Phiman (Excellent and shining heavenly abode) is the main residence for the King and Queen that has a very Victorian / European design. It is a Neo-Classic one-storey mansion build by King Chulalongkorn in 1876. Here is his main residence and throne hall. The audience chambers and anterooms are beautifully decorates with oil paintings depicting significant events in Thai history and scenes from Thai literature. Behind of this building in The Inner Palace sections, is the section that being used by the royalties whenever they reside in the Palace.

Located along the southern wall, stood Devaraj-Kunlai Gate. A single storey building in a a semi-circle structure. This was used as the passage by the king to access the inner court. Today, this building house exhibitions that changes every 4 months.

Phra Thinang (Royal Residence) Wehart Chamrun (Heavenly Light) is a beautiful two storey mansion built by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in 1889 as a gift to King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). This beautiful Chinese style residence is decorated with ebony and red lacquer interior, symbolising a palace of romance with ornamented tiled floors, massive ebony furniture, gold, silver and porcelain with delicate fretwork on the columns and windows.

The ground floor contains Chinese-style throne while the upper storey house an altar enshrining the name plates of King Mongkut and King Chuilalongkorn with their respective Queens.

It is said that Phra Thinang Wehart Chamrun was the favourite residence of King Vajiravudh (1910 – 1925) when he visited Bang Pa-In Palace.

Located just next to Phra Thinang Wehart Chamrun, stood Ho (Tower) Withun Thasana (The sages lookout). This observatory was built by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) in 1881 as a lookout tower for viewing the surrounding countryside.

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Due to the gloomy weather (it started to drizzle a little), we skip the section to check out, Phra Tamnak Fai Nai (Royal Housing in the Inner Section) where only a few of these Western-Style buildings of one or two storeys for the ladies of the court remains today.

In 1881, Queen Sunandakumariratana drowned when her boat sank in the Chao Phraya River while on her way to Bang Pa-In Palace. King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) was overcome with grief as he does not only lose his beloved Queen, but the fetus that she was carrying, a prince. So, a marble obelisk as a cenotaph to her memory and the little unborn prince where he composed the dedication himself in both Thai and English.

In 1887, Princess Saovabhark Nariratana, a consort to King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) and three of his children died due to an outbreak. So the King had marble cenotaph bearing their portraits built for them near the Memorial to Queen Sunandakumariratana.

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A truly beautiful place, I wished we had more time in exploring the grounds of Bang Pa-In Palace. Should there are opportunities in the near future, I would definitely love to be back to explore Bang Pa-In Palace again.

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Stay tune for the next exploration of Ayutthaya.


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