First off, let me commence by saying that this place is stupendous. I should have gone here a year ago. It’s about 21km from central Bangkok – a 30minute ride in the traffic on the Sukhumvit Road, the entrance tucked away amongst the usual glut of rundown town and advertising hoardings – so much so that you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in the wrong place right up to the last second. Anyway, I pulled the car into a pretty empty car park, located a large clean tourist ticket office (where English is well spoken) and hired a golf cart for 150Baht/hour. Or, in this case, as the children hilariously fell about giggling: 150 Bath(s) per hour. As any parent knows, bathing isn’t high on kids’ priority list so on that basis they were never going to gain access to this place.
Having been here a year now I was able to secure the non-foreign price of 375Baht per adult, 175Baht per child to visit the park and off we zoomed in our golf cart. Now, I have to say, that idea is perfect and not just for the fact it is a 1sqkm park. The kids might be dragging their heels at seeing more boorrriiinnnggg culture, Dad but stick them behind the wheel of a cart and they’ll happily go see anything. Off we zoomed. As you can see from the first photo the park is shaped like Thailand itself and each folly (I’ll call them that after the English Capability Brown 17th-19th Century landscape garden concept) is placed in the park almost exactly where you’d expect to find it in Thailand. They are grouped into three types: Replica, Reconstruction, Creative Design. So, most of the buildings are replicas (almost to exact size in some cases – which means huge), a few have been carted down from their ruined home to be preserved here (mainly the Old Market Town) and the creative design is usually collections of statues in manicured garden plots.
You start at the bottom of what I’ll describe as the “tail” of the map, reach the top of it to branch in to the main “body” after a trip through the reconstructed Old Market Town. It is a mixture of walk in and view buildings – like opium den, brothel, goldsmith, theatre, pharmacy…all mingling with a few tourist souvenir shops and a couple of corner vendors frying up oyster eggs for you take have at a low 20Baht/six. What’s nice about it is these vendors aren’t in your face trying to sell you plastic. You’re invited in, their english is pretty good, but you feel no pressure to buy. Given the dearth of people in the place (barring a few school trips) it makes for a relaxing saunter. In the heartland of the place is the Floating Market. This is more geared to eating…tom yum, pad thai is the offering, but you get to buy from moored canoe boats, get to snaffle some fruit if you wish. Of course, there are a couple of tourist-tat shops with plastic swords and figurines but you can easily blow past them without a glance.
What struck me about the place is the overall peace of it. One of my favourite places in the world is Painshill Park, Cobham, England. Set over a similar space, with far fewer follies, it’s a place that doesn’t pull i vast reams of people; if you pick the right time you can visit and find yourself in places alone, able to breathe the air, look at the objects on display and not have to endure the harsh braying of an excited tourist, snapping away with a camera. At least, I didn’t have to as I was the one fulfilling that role on this day. The kids and I climbed everything with abandon; I had to warn them that H&S in Thailand is pretty much non-existent; that yes, if you go to close to the edge you will fall off it; yet this freedom for them to clamber and scramble, to run over stones to cross streams, to take mazy routes through gardens and parks, to climb to the top of a bell tower, stand on the rainbow bridge, go to the prow of the vast junk and pretend to be either Rose or Jack in Titanic…this freedom was exhilarating for them. As I mentioned earlier, add to it the fun of driving a golf cart round and you’ve got a perfect day out for everyone. A crucial bonus of the golf cart is the small breeze you get when driving and the sun roof over your head.
Oddly, we came across two huge cows, both having snapped their rope tethers and deciding to venture into a folly, masticating contentedly on youthful saplings. They were regarding us with a bored eye surrounded by massive eyelashes. We carefully drove round one, but took his photo…
There are dozens of small huts selling drinks and cream and other food items; places where you can be more contemplative, more adult in your worship at shrines. The architecture will satiate any enthusiast, the peace of the gardens fulfills the craving for solitude. In a country that is renowned for its noise levels, this is a place of quiet, of peace, of chirping birds, the odd low of a cow, the warmth of the Siam sun. We ended the day parking at the staircase of the largest of all the follies. Somehow I have not taken a note of the name, but suffice it to say you climb up, squeezing yourselves through smaller and smaller door-frames which forces obeisance and struggle on you as you get closer to Enlightenment at the top. At the pinnacle you can see over the entire park, see for miles across the vast plain that Bangkok sits in. Somehow, it is a fitting end to a four hour visit that could easily have been 6 hours if we saw absolutely everything.
Here’s a few pictures:
I’d encourage you to take a look at the website – it has a gallery beyond even the photos I took and I encourage people to go visit it. You will not be disappointed.
More photos? Well, for a change I’ll point you at my Facebook page 😉 – https://www.facebook.com/travelswithadiplomat
Is this what diplomacy is all about?