Three stops up the BTS (towards Mo Chit) is Phaya Thai station which is on the junction of Thanon Sri Ayudyha and Thanon Phayathai. If you take exit 2 out of the BTS and walk about 150m up the road you’ll find, just past a brand spanking new Honda car showroom, the Palace Museum of Suan Pakkad.
Suan Pakkad means a cabbage garden. This is exactly what the land was – owned by a Chinese gardener – before it became the residence of Prince Chumbhot Paribatra of Nagor Svarga (a grandson of King Rama V). The property comprises a central architectural masterpiece of four traditional Thai houses located between the front of the Palace and the main garden. Moved from their former location, these houses were reconstructed in 1952 to be used both as a reception hall and a place to display an extensive collection of artifacts hailing from all over Thailand (see left) and especially from Ban Chiang. Since these four houses opened, another four have been added to the premises on its West side, plus a Lacquer Pavilion and a Chumbhot-Pantip Centre of Arts – which houses the Banchiang collection and the Marsi Gallery.
Having wandered up the road from Phaya Thai BTS I found myself, as usual, alone in the museum (save the dozens of helpful curators and staff) for the price of 100Baht. The first room on your left is the Ban Chiang artifact collection which dated fro around 400B.C to 200.A.D. The usual collection of pottery, bronze weapons, vases, glass bead necklaces that come from all prehistoric and classical civilizations were housed in informative and well lit glass cases. A few steps further on the Marsi gallery hove into view. It carousels works of art along its four walls. The abstract expressionism artwork on display today was reminiscent of Jackson Pollock. From there I made my way around the edge of the central lawn to the Royal Barge (named Kai Kung Bayam) which was owned by Prince Paribatra and used by him for the royal river processions of King Rama V. The body of the barge is made of odorata hopea wood, the roof and cabin of teak. 19m long, the barge is a masterpiece of Thai cultural heritage. Historically, royal barges were also used as battleships, private travel, and state ceremonies. The current Royal Barge Suphannahong was built in the reign of King Rama VI in 1911. Made from a single teak trunk with carvings patterning the surface, it is lacquered, inlaid with glass mosaics and gilded. The prow is of a swan’s neck and head. There is atier roofed pavilion midships to shelter the royal throne.(I’ve put a photo of a scaled replica in the gallery below).
Moving on, I climbed a short set of stairs (after removing my shoes) to enter the lacquer pavilion. Now, of everything to see, this is worth the entry price alone. It dates from the later Ayutthaya period (17th century A.D.) and was previously located at a temple near the City of Ayudyha on the Chao Praya. Restored and relocated to Suan Pakkad in 1959 it contains some magnificent gold on black lacquer murals of the Life of Lord Buddha and stories from the Ramayana – the Indian Epic. At this point I lost my bearings a trifle and found myself at House 5 where there was a display of rocks, minerals and a collection of shells and fossils. On the ceiling was seashell mirror, about 2m long. From there I skipped slowly round to House 1 where, on the ground floor was the Prince Paribatra Music Room.
This was fascinating. A bit like the music collection I mention in the Jakarta blog there was a wide range of Thai traditional instruments. Prince Paribatra is considered one of Thailand’s most famous composers. Drums, gongs, xylophones, three string fiddles were on careful display. For example, there was a jakeh which is a three-string plucked zither. A body of hardwood is hollowed out from the bottom over which a flat soundboard is placed. This instrument has been in use in Thailand since the 14th century A.D. and is either played solo or in accompaniment with the Krachab Pi or as part of an ensemble such as the Mahori ensemble.
As I left a few tourists, who looked like they hailed from Japan, came in and, not being able to read a word of Thai or English, cheerfully ignored the Do Not Touch signs, grabbed a couple of the sticks and started bonging on the drums. The sound was impressive but I skedaddled sharpish. Accusations by irate Museum staff of being an accessory to a crime was not on my list of plans that day.
At this point I was able to head upstairs as all eight houses have a first storey which is the bulk of the Museum. House 5 had some more Banchiang artifacts, House 6 housed the Khon Museum. A khon is a masked dance telling stories from the Ramayana. There were several art forms from full-sized masks of the main heroes and villains, to puppets, clay figurines and a model battle. (see below in the gallery). House 7 had prehistoric artifacts from Kanchanaburi Province. A lot of ceramic ware was on display, green glazed friezes, Khmer pottery and terracotta. House 8 had exquisite crystal glassware, silverware and porcelain. House 4 (which is occasionally used for receptions and dinners) has a private chapel and a collection of Buddha images from all periods of Thai history. House 3 was mainly pentachromatic porcelain made in China with Thai designs, gold and silver nielloware and a few European and Thai drawings from the 17th century. Finally, I got to House 2 which contains Princess Chumbhot’s collections of rare rocks and minerals. I noted it was called “The Cave of Ali Baba”.
In all I was there about 90minutes, but you could easily spend much longer examining every piece of art, every artifact, every design and piece of architecture. Unlike Jim Thompson’s houses (where the design and layout has similarities) I was given a plastic fan to attempt a cooling breeze. It was a pleasant amble, just me and a few tourists whose paths barely crossed (save the gong bonging); I do like that that in Thailand I seem able to find myself able to appreciate art, culture, history, ethnography without that lingering sense of “move on” you get in the packed cultural sites in the rest of the world. Being able to stand in a room all by yourself and just allow the sense of it to wash over you gives a visit an entirely novel perspective.
Anyway, here’s a gallery for you. It’s worth the 100Baht fee and easy to get to on the BTS.
oh….before I do that. here’s a photo of a grand old Mercedes. Nothing to do with the Museum, it was just parked by one of the Houses.
The gallery 😉
Is this what diplomacy is all about?