All I remember from the Sanam Chandra Palace was the flowers swaying in the slight breeze of the day, the roosters clucking about and the castle-like building—with its bridge drawing over the small river meandering through the neatly manicured and sharply-shaped gardens.
I was there on a university funded trip, and as I strode through the Bhimarn Prathom Residence, I found my mind wandering away from the fine china, stoic statues and various medals and honours and settling on a simple question.
What would a child think of these grand hallways? Would this vast patio, those vaulted curtains and the maze of rooms be a youthful wonderland—fit for long games of tag and hide-and-seek? Or would the collection of antiques invite a strict policy of care in the household? Would even a hurried step lead to a speech?
The building was completed in 1911 for a crown prince named Vajiravundh, later known as King Rama VI, who decided he wanted a royal retreat in the area for when he visited the Phra Pathom Chedi. You can actually see the world’s tallest stupa from the central terrace.
The building contains everything from a prayer room to private quarters to an audience hall (so many opportunities for lovely photos but they made me lock my camera away before I could go in unfortunately (insert grumbling)).
The palace’s best-known feature is its central and most castle-like building, the Chaleemongkolasana Residence. Designed with the French Renaissance architectural style in mind, the building invokes an odd feeling.
Indeed the design of the building and its companion buildings had to be altered to suit the hot climate of Thailand. From what I could see that meant larger windows and higher ceilings.
Gazing past the statue dedicated to a dog favoured by the king, and tragically shot by accident, I found myself scratching my head in puzzlement.
Aside from being a rest and relaxation retreat for the royals, this was meant to be a stronghold in case of a national crisis after all.
King Rama VI would even stay in this building when he came to attend frequent practices with a para-military group named the “Wild Tiger Corps”.
The architecture and surrounding lawns didn’t seem that strategically advantageous. Then again, I’m not much of a battle expert. Maybe the roosters are secretly killer robots.
At that moment I felt like I was standing within my grandmother’s dream garden. In fact I was thinking about how much my grandmother would love to stroll around these grounds and palace halls.
Again, not exactly the most combat oriented thoughts.
Maybe the palace’s secret weapon was its innocent appearance? There could have been an entire underground network of tunnels and bunkers underneath my feet for all I know.
But now that I’ve re-read the history I’m beginning to suspect the advantage of the spot was its general location.
If anyone reading this is a strategist please let me know how this palace would be useful to the Thai King. It would be an interesting topic!
For everyone else out there, if you are tired of the hustle and bustle of Bangkok and the peaked, gilded halls of Buddhist temples—I recommend this palace as a retreat. It’s a great place to let your mind recover from the glamour and it houses an exhibit dedicated to displaying the royal family’s contributions to Thai society, war and infrastructure.
After living in Thailand for 10 months I’d argue that you can’t fully understand Thai culture unless you’ve explored the role of the royal family in the country’s history.
So get out there and have some slow fun!