The Death of Queen Sunanda
In 1881, Queen Sunanda Kumariratana and her only daughter Princess Karnabhorn Bejraratana were on their way to the palace when the royal barge carrying them capsized. According to Thai law at the time, touching a royal was punishable by death, so onlookers could do nothing but watch them drown. An officious guardian on another boat even ordered help not to be given. King Chulalongkorn, shocked by the events, demoted and jailed the vizier who obeyed the letter of the law at such cost and erected a memorial to her in Bang Pa-In.
Air-con 2nd class buses depart from stall 99 of Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit) every 30 minutes or so, no advance ticket needed. You may also be able to board along the way outside MRT Phayon Yothin station. Being a second-class bus, it stops at every bus stop, shopping mall and grilled chicken stand along the way, so the journey takes the better part of two hours.
Bang Pa-In is the stop before Ayutthaya on the northern line, which runs to Chiang Mai. Several trains per day in each direction stop at Bang Pa-In, and the journey from Bangkok's Hualamphong station takes 1½ hours. Early birds may appreciate the 07:00 departure but the 09:25 departure is also convenient. The train ride to Ayutthaya is only 15 min.
There are no scheduled services, but many of the tourist cruises to Ayutthaya stop at Bang Pa-In on the way.
A taxi from Bang Pa-In to Ayutthaya costs a fixed 150 baht.
Tuk-tuks of various interesting shapes and sizes shuttle between the bus station, the train station, and the Palace.
- 1 Bang Pa-In Palace (Summer Palace). Daily 08:00-16:00. Bang Pa-In's number one sight. It was built by Ayutthayan King Prasat Thong in 1632 but abandoned after the sack of Ayutthaya in 1767. The site was partially restored by King Mongkut (Rama IV) in the 1850s. The site as it stands today, however, is largely the work of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). For 17 years from 1872, the grounds were expanded and the more traditional Thai architecture was complemented with buildings in a variety of styles—mainly European but also Chinese. Last restored in 2001, the palace and its immaculate grounds are well worth a visit. The grounds are not too large to be covered on foot, but you can also rent a golf cart to scoot around in for 400 baht for the first hour and 100 baht per hour after that. As at all royal sites, proper dress is required, but you can buy a 100 baht wraparound skirt from the stall in front of the entrance if needed. 100 baht.
- Divine Seat of Personal Freedom (Aisawan Thiphya-At). The only Thai-style building in the palace, this beautiful pavilion sitting in the middle of a lake has been designated as the archetype of the Thai pavilion (sala Thai), a national symbol of Thailand. The statue standing in the middle represents Rama V and was erected by his son.
- Excellent and Shining Heavenly Abode (Warophat Phiman). A one-story mansion containing Chulalongkorn's throne hall. Open to visitors and well worth a visit, as it is richly decorated in turn-of-the-century European aristocratic style, only with quirky Thai touches.
- Exhibition Hall (Saphakhan Ratchaprayun). A colonial-style two-floor building built for the king's brothers, it now houses a small museum covering the history of the palace. It makes a good first stop.
- Heavenly Light (Wehart Chamrun). Built by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in 1889, this opulent Chinese-style palace is also another stand-out, full of red, gold, dark woods and inlaid mother of pearl. Also open to visitors, be sure to catch the stupendous dragon sculpture inside carved from camel bone.
- Memorial to Queen Sunanda Kumariratana. Built in 1881 in memory of the drowned Queen Sunanda (see box), this simple marble monument has a slightly ungrammatical, but touching, English dedication by King Chulalongkorn.
- Sages' Lookout (Ho Withun Thasana). A merrily painted lighthouse-lookalike that gives sweeping views of the countryside.
- Wat Niwet Thamprawat (Across the river from the palace). Another of King Chulalongkorn's European follies, built in 1878. This is an active Buddhist temple cleverly disguised as a Gothic church, down to the spiky eaves and stained glass windows. Getting there is half the fun, as a basic motorized cable car swings visitors across the river. The cable car station is hidden behind the Bang Pa-In car park, which explains why the temple doesn't get many Western visitors. Free entry but donations welcome. The museum adjacent to the church-cum-temple has an unremarkable collection of Buddhist paraphernalia, but is worth a peek for the exquisite stained glass windows inside, showcasing scenes from Thai myths.
Exit from Bang Pa-In palace is through a giftshop selling touristy junk like fluorescent baseball caps emblazoned with "Phuket" in large letters.
Eat and drinkEdit
The palace grounds have a number of simple cafes selling soft drinks and snacks (10-20 baht). The best views are from the one inside the Tevaraj-Kanlai Gate, right opposite the Thai pavilion.
There are basic but rather unappetizing food stalls just outside the entrance to the palace grounds. Central Bang Pa-In near the bus station has more of the same, as well as the obligatory 7-Eleven across the road.