The bridge before me was no ordinary bridge. I slowed my pace to
take in the details of the intricately tiled walkway design with
its Thai and Greco-Roman overtones. Catfish finned lazily in the
pond below and on both sides of me were marbled statues that served
as silent vanguards to nobility. The far bank enticed me to cross
over to immerse myself in its vibrant natural green, a welcome
change from the neon glow of Bangkok traffic. There was no man-made
noise, only a sedating harmony of Thai songbirds. Like paint on an
artist’s palette, flowers of all types and varieties splashed their
colors over the landscape, tempting the gardener in me as honey
attracts bees. I was mesmerized.
While Bangkok’s Grand Palace attracts many tourists with its
massive size, decor and history, Bang Pa-In is my favorite palace
tour. Thailand’s many kings made Bang Pa-In their summer residence
for good reason. The palace is surrounded by a river and lush
gardens, and its many buildings are filled with Thai history and
culture, making for a delightful escape from the hectic pace of the
Bang Pa-In lies 36 miles north of Bangkok by rail, 38 miles by
road and can be enjoyed on a separate tour, or as a great side trip
on any Ayutthaya tour. It’s a must-see attraction because it isn’t
duplicitous with any other Thailand tour.
The best way for clients to enjoy the palace is by optional boat
ride to Bang Pa-In, which provides a snapshot of life along the
I observed tons of salt being loaded onto freighters, novice
monks taking a dip in the river and shrimpers pursuing freshwater
prawns. Refreshments are not served, so remind your clients to pack
water or soft drinks.
I kept a zoom lens on my camera at all times, because it’s a
prerequisite to capture the klong lifestyle that invariably zips by
The Bang Pa-In Royal Palace dates back to the 17th century, but
meticulous maintenance makes it appear as if it was built just
yesterday. While most tourists complete the tour in one to two
hours, I recommend several hours touring the various side
buildings, gardens and residences.
One of Thailand’s former monarchs, King Chulalongkorn, was
especially fond of gardening, and he built numerous pavilions and
gazebos laid out in a lush natural setting. One of the highlights
of this tour is the intricately manicured plants and shrubs in the
shapes of deer, rabbits and elephants.
The Ho Tower offers a fabulous, 360-degree look at the entire
grounds and countryside and is an easy climb up a long, spiral
staircase. Also called the Sages Lookout, this observatory is
located high enough to capture the breezes that allow a nice
cool-down during midday heat. Because there are few refreshment
stands on Palace grounds, upon arrival I restocked with water and
carried it in a small daypack.
The Phra Thinang and Wehart Chamrun form an intricately
decorated Chinese-style mansion that has ornamented, tiled floors,
exquisite furniture, delicate fretwork on the columns and windows
and a throne room.
The palace was presented as a gift to King Chulalongkorn in 1889
by the equivalent entity of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. Prince
Ookhtomsky once said that the emperor of China himself can scarcely
have a palace much finer than this.
No photos are allowed to be taken inside the palace rooms, so
look long and remember for always.
Phra Thinang which translates to “excellent and shining heavenly
abode” is lavishly decorated in oil paintings that depict
significant events in Thai history and literature. When Thailand’s
royalty visit Bang Pa-In, they reside in apartments located in the
While Thai military armed guards are scattered throughout the
grounds, there’s no need to take alarm. The palace is a national
treasure, and the guards are tolerant of visitors taking a rest on
the steps or on benches, sitting on the grounds or watching the
events unfold. However, littering and climbing onto the statues
will result in severe reprimand and fines.
An official government-licensed tour guide offers a historical
overview that is worth the slight extra cost when compared to
do-it-yourself tours. Mr. Ohn from Ricco Tours was a perfect guide,
giving us the history and details in either an air-conditioned
building or in the shade.
While the palace is attractive on any day, the colors and
magnificence of the paintings, artwork, flowers and multi-colored
mini-tiles are especially vibrant on sunny days. Early morning
offers the best viewing, with the awakening countryside and
flowers. Plan on touring until midday, before returning to your
hotel or taking in local attractions of Ayutthaya. Take plenty of
film or memory cards.
Bang Pa-In may not be the largest palace in Thailand, but as is
often the case, the best things come in small packages.