Saturday, February 2, 2008

Bang Pa-in Royal Palace and Wat Niwet Thamprawat, Province of Ayutthaya, Thailand

Bang Pa-In Royal Palace (Thai: พระราชวังบางปะอิน), also known as the Summer Palace, a palace complex formerly used by the Thai kings as a summer dwelling. The palace is located on the Chao Phraya River bank in Bang Pa-In district, Ayutthaya Province.

This huge palace complex was constructed by King Prasat Thong in the 1600s as a Summer Palace. The facilities include vast gardens and landscaping, Wehart Chamrunt (Heavenly Light), a Chinese-style royal palace and throne room; the Warophat Phiman (Excellent and Shining Heavenly Abode), a royal residence; Ho Withun Thasana (Sages' Lookout), a brightly-painted lookout tower; and the Aisawan Thiphya-Art (Divine Seat of Personal Freedom), a pavilion constructed in the middle of a pond.

Floating Pavilion

The palace remains mostly open to visitors, as King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his family use it only rarely for banquets and special occasions.

Bang Pa-in Palace is some 40 minutes from the Ayutthaya Temples. From Bangkok, it is 1 ½ hours away by train from the Hualamphong station, which leaves the platform at 7AM. From the station, tuktuks can be hired for just 30 bahts to visit Bang Pa-in.

This Royal Palace is awe-inspiring. The different structures are an adorable hybrid of colonial and Thai architecture, and there is no mistaking that a royalty owns the complex. There are buggy rides available at the entrance, but I prefer to navigate by foot. Many of the structures, (like the bridges) are painted in immaculate white. Although the main palace isn’t open to tourists, many other structures are. In one area, women are required to wear a sarong so they could enter the building premises. It makes for a fun afternoon seeing all the women get excited as they don their sarongs. Photography is prohibited inside.

I was particularly amused with one British lady who was filming a movie starring herself. Earlier that day, I'd see her running around the grounds like a rabid lunatic. She would shout as though she lost something, frantically running after someone who just wasn't there; shaking her wild mop of curly blond hair, waving across the lakes, and around pagodas. I caught up with her later by the orangery (for my Coca cola fix). She was explaining to everyone who cared to listen. She was doing a film about a girl running all over Asia for the man she loves. Such a sweet and novel concept, if you ask me. Reminds me of Oleta Adams', "Get Here". Trouble was, she was making a spectacle, calling attention to herself.

Bang Pa-in Palace

The Orangery (where drinks can be bought).

Ladies are required to wear sarongs to get inside.

Chao Phraya River

Across the Chao Phraya River from the Palace is Wat Niwet Thamprawat, another European-inspired brainchild of King Chulalongkorn. It was built in 1878. It is also a Buddhist temple cleverly disguised as a Gothic church, from the spiky eaves to the stained glass windows. Getting there is half the fun, as a basic motorized cable car takes visitors across the river! The cable car station is hidden behind the Bang Pa-In parking lot, which explains why the temple doesn't get many Western visitors. Entry is free, but donations are encouraged.

This area around Wat Niwet Thamprawat is a Buddhist community, with novice monks walking around. It is interesting to point out that women aren’t allowed to speak to them - especially not a hand shake - as this would render them “unpure”.

A buddhist community in the grounds of Wat Niwet Thamprawat.

I went inside the temple and sat on the floor to observe. Within minutes, a small group of the faithful came in to join me. A charming old monk made his way to the front of the temple, then started to bless everyone, including me. He flicked some liquid - like a holy water - towards us so I just bowed down. It was a nice ritual. Quite moving in its solemnity.

Wat Niwet Thamprawat

Gothic and Catholic church-inspired Buddhist wat.

Novice monks at work.

A charming old monk accepting guests (myself included).

The ride on the mechanized cable car is pretty exciting. There was no electricity involved, but some turning wheel and a rope that pulls the carriage across the river. For my ride, there were 4 of us, and as it crossed the river, you would feel the gentle swaying like on a hammock. I was concerned of its safety, but someone assured me. No incidents of a fall has been reported. But you wonder anyway, as the “car” is made of wood, and it is seemingly hangs "on air” as it glides across the river. Pretty amazing experience!

Street food in the heart of Chatuchak Market, Bangkok, Thailand.

"Bili kayo riyan! Mura lang! Gastroenteritis-free, BFAD approved!" she shouts.

This is the Eye in the Sky!


Anonymous said...

do you ever go home? or do you travel non-stop? great thematic blogsite. keep up the great work.

eye in the sky said...

Thanks, K. I do go home. ;-> Meanwhile, am leaving this weekend for a long haul trip all over Thailand and - drum roll- Myanmar. I doubt I could blog in Burma though, considering the political situation there (read recently that they imprisoned some local blogger). Thanks for "dropping by".