My mom’s second foray into Thai culture was at the Suan Phakkad Palace Museum. This is a hidden gem in Bangkok offering beautiful green gardens, traditional Thai stilted homes and a rich look into Thai culture. Where we unfortunately had an abbreviated tour of 30 minutes, there is much to explore over multiple hours.
As the name suggests, the museum was once the home to Prince Chumbhotpong Paripatra, son of King Chulalongkorn, Rama V, and his wife. The grounds were a beautiful collection of traditional Thai homes that they’d imported and rebuilt. As the traditional Thai home is on stilts, four of the houses were connected by wooden walkways which made it feel like being in a treehouse. The palace was converted to a museum in 1952 so there are many tall trees shading the grounds.
While it was called a palace, the grounds have an intimate feel further enhanced by being off the typical tourist circuit. I’ve visited twice and yet to see this wonderful museum crowded. They do, however, have an unfortunate (for me) rule of no pictures inside the rooms so I can’t share all of the beauty I saw. Their website does have some images though.
The eight homes are packed full of items from the royal family, gifts from different nations, cultural masks, musical instruments, and ancient pottery and other artifacts. There is also a more traditional museum room (which I saw on my first visit) with cord-marked pottery, antique Thai weapons, traditionally decorated porcelain, bronze jewelry, and beaded jewelry. That room is one of the few air-conditioned rooms at the palace, so a nice place to emerge yourself with a bit of history.
This visit, we started in the music room, displaying a collection of traditional Thai instruments used in their ensembles. Behind glass were multiple examples of their ranat (xylophone), lutes, and drums. My favorite were the enormous khong won yai. This instrument was about 3 feet wide, open, circular frame with small gongs set into it. Huge drums and gongs also dominated part of the room but signs instructed not to touch. The Prince was a gifted composer and his music could be heard in that room.
Upstairs we removed our shoes and followed through rooms with household items of the royal family and religious icons from various periods in history. They had a very large collection of expensive crystal, china and gifts from other visiting royalty.
The homes had the traditional Thai doorway that sits about a foot off the ground requiring a big step over. We gingerly entered one room displaying very old pottery and jewelry. Bronze bracelets and bells had a green patina and were very rough around the edges, indented by time. The room was packed full of these glass cases so that we were a tiny bit nervous to bump into one.
Another room held the fine masks of Khon, a Thai traditional dance. The masks were characters from the Ramakien, Thailand’s national epic. They had masks for the heroes and villains, my favorite being Hanuman and Tosakan.
Hanuman is a hero and monkey-god, with a white face, sharp teeth and crown of jewel encircling his head. The evil arch-demon is Tosakan, with 3 sets of heads creating a long pyramid shape and ending with a golden spire at the top. The detailed masks were fun to look at and learn a bit about their history.
A curious collection, amongst all the fine items, were two small downstairs rooms dedicated to a collection of various stones and shells. Two small rooms had an impressive collection of raw gemstones and shells unlike I’d ever seen before.
Outside in the garden was the royal barge and small model to give an example of what it would look like with all of its ceremonial decorations. Next to that was the ornate Lacquer Pavilion. The structure is over 450 years old and a combination of two structures from Ayutthaya rebuilt to be a curious room within a room. It was a gift by the prince to his wife on her fiftieth birthday.
The outside was ornately carved in different floral and swirls with small arched windows. This design was repeated inside the, outside wall, of the center inner room with more leaves, spirals and animals highlighted in gold. Both sets of inner walls were decorated with images in gold on black lacquer showing the life of the Buddha. It was beautiful inside and truly shined.
While less well-known, I would recommend a stop here. Unlike the Vimanmek Mansion, another former palace, with it’s big (overwhelming) tourist draw, this palace is actually enjoyable to visit. There are no huge crowds to deal with and plenty still to see and enjoy.
Visitor tips –
- I’d recommend 2 hours for a visit, but 1 would give you a sufficient view of everything.
- I spent 3 hours my first visit but I like to read everything.
- No pictures are allowed inside the rooms so sear favorite views into your memory or take notes.
- You will need to leave large bags in their lockers.
- Like most Thai homes you will remove your shoes before entering.
- A complimentary souvenir fan is given with your ticket and helpful for most rooms are open-air and can be a bit warm.
- Open daily from 9-4 PM.
- Price is 100 Baht for foreigners and 50 Baht for Thais.
- Easiest to access via the BTS Skytrain to “Phaya Thai”. Use Exit 4 and curve with the road to the right onto Sri Ayudhaya Road. The museum is a few blocks down on the right.
Web resources –
- Museum website – http://www.suanpakkad.com/main_eng.php
- Map to museum – http://www.suanpakkad.com/map-e.html
Connect with me in the comments –
Do you have a favorite museum?
If you’re too busy, leave me a thumbs up or down!