While in Bangkok, a couple of months ago, John and I toured the Thai Grand Palace, which is the official residence of the Thai king and, although it is no longer where the Thai royalty live, it is still used for many official ceremonies. The Grand Palace is, not surprisingly, one of the top tourist attractions in Bangkok and is a tour group infested compound of over 100 buildings walled within 2 million square feet. None of the buildings are open to the public, except the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
When we reached Ayutthaya (prounounced eye-YOU-tie-uh) we learned that there is a summer palace for the royalty close by, known as Bang Pa-In. The original complex was built in 1632, fell into disuse, and was then rebuilt by King Chulalongkorn in starting in 1872. Unlike its neighbors Vietnam and Cambodia, Thailand was never a French colony, however the palace is an interesting mixture of Asian and 19th century European architecture.
We took a train from Ayutthaya to see the palace, which was part of the experience itself. I don’t know if the train we rode is representative of train travel in the country, but the cars seemed pretty antique – passenger cars include flat wooden seats and small fans attached to the ceiling – no air conditioning. Our ride was short, but busy, with people up and down the aisles selling snacks and drinks.
We took a short tuk-tuk ride from the train station to the Palace and bought tickets. An option for getting around the complex, which is a pretty large place, is a golf cart rental. There are no other motorized vehicles allowed and I suspect that the golf carts are mostly used by people with mobility issues. We rented one for ease of getting around quickly and because, who doesn’t enjoy driving a golf cart?
Honestly, the place is so reminiscent of a Disney theme park, with its lagoons and fountains, wide pristine walkways, and beautiful, meticulously clean buildings. There are even topiaries! We were a little disappointed, but not so surprised, that the buildings are not open to the public to tour inside.
There is a sad story about King Chulalongkorn and his wife, Queen Sunanda. In 1881, the queen and her daughter, the princess, were enroute to Bang Pa-In on the Royal Barge, when the barge capsized. Neither the queen nor her daughter could swim and the law at the time forbade commoners to touch royalty, leaving onlookers to watch helplessly as the queen and princess drowned. There is a memorial to the queen and the princess on the grounds of the palace.