Bang Pa-In is a small town around 50km north of Bangkok, and 20km south of the ancient capital of Ayutthaya. The town was established in the early 1630’s by King Prasat Thong of Ayutthaya as a second home for him and his family members during the summer months.
After the sacking of Ayutthaya by the Burmese army in 1767, the royal palace was left abandoned and unused while the new capital of Bangkok was being established.
Not until the reign of King Mongkut (King Rama IV), was the Summer Palace re-occupied and renovated. This work was continued by his son, the Great King Chulalongkorn (King Rama V), and it is his version of the Royal Palace that you can see today.
What to see inside the Summer Palace?
1. Divine Seat of Personal Freedom
This unmistakable icon of the Bang Pa-In summer palace can be seen on all the brochures, all the postcards, and everyone stops to take a photo of the beautiful golden pavilion, but the only true way to appreciate it’s beauty is to see it in person.
The pavilion is situated in the very centre of the palace complex, and in the middle of a lake. It is the only structure in the entire palace complex that is built in the traditional Thai style, and is a tribute to one of Thailand’s most revered King Rama V.
He was the first King to bring western technology and influence to Siam in the 19th Century, really started the modernisation of Siam into the country we know call Thailand. The statue was erected by his son after the death of this great King.
2. Excellent and Shining Heavenly Abode
Like all the of the main mansions in the royal palace, this building is full of western influence that will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has visited the classically designed buildings of central Europe.
This building contains the golden throne and throne hall of King Chulalongkorn (King Rama V). This is where he would receive his guests and the ambassadors of visiting nations.
The rooms within are richly decorated in fine silks, thick carpets, and elegant furnishing, which all contain exquisite details and are perfectly suited matched by the architecture of the building.
3. Heavenly Light
Possibly the most beautiful and richly adorned building in the Summer Palace complex. The architectural style of the palace is instantly recognizable as Chinese, and was constructed as a gift to King Rama VI in 1889 by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.
The rich colours, dark woods, and golden designs of the building are a completely hand built and a testament to the craftsmen that designed and built this beautiful palace. The animal carvings inside the palace contain elaborates designs, and can only be admired in their quality.
4. Sages Lookout
There is nothing particularly architectural stunning about this lookout tower, however the views that it offers around the summer palace complex are unmatched from anywhere else within the palace.
A particularly beautiful view is looking back at the Heavenly Light palace from the top of the lookout tower.
5. Memorial to Queen Sunanda Kumariratana
This series of memorial statues are a tribute to many royal family members, but the most appreciated and tragic story belongs to Queen Sunanda Kumariratana and her daughter. Who both drowned after their boat sank whilst sailing from Ayutthaya to the Bang Pa-In Summer Palace. Here is their tragic story in brief…
By law, no-one in Siam was allowed to touch the Royal family. Meaning that even though there were was another boat just metres away, full of guards and servants accompanying them down the river. No-one on that boat was allowed to save the Queen and Princess from drowning. So with hundreds of onlookers powerless to help, they both drowned just metres away from safety.
6. Wat Niwet Thamprawat
Outside of the Summer Palace, there is a marvelous and unique Buddhist temple that is a great little adventure to end your visit to Bang Pa-In. In order to get to the Wat (Temple) you will have to cross the river using a cable car, which is a perfectly good excuse to go and see the Wat.
Once you have arrived on this small island, you may have trouble finding the Wat. There doesn’t appear to be any type of Buddhist buildings on this island, just more great examples of western architecture, and a small church.
Wait! a church, that doesn’t sound right? What would a catholic church be doing in the middle of a Buddhist monastery? Time to investigate…
From the outside, it is completely recognizable as a typical small church that can be found on any street in central Europe, but on the inside it is most definitely an active Buddhist temple.
Built by King Rama V in 1878, in the style of late 17th century European Gothic style. It has all the features you would expect to find in your local church. A clock tower, stain glass windows, and a small courtyard. It is definitely worth to effort to investigate.