Wehart Chamrunt Hall at the Summer palace in Bang Pa-in (click to enlarge)
[This is Part 2 of a series. If you found this via a search or just happened upon it some other way you can find part 1 here.]
It was just past dawn when my alarm went off, but I'd already been up and made a cup of coffee before it started beeping at me from across the room. I was excited about the road trip that would begin in just a few hours and had been arranging things in my suitcase for our 08:00 departure. Not really knowing what I'd need and how I'd do any laundry I'd packed more than necessary and was now taking things back out in an effort to be realistic. There were also gifts and things for my friend, his family and his friends, so it wasn't all my junk.
I showered, dressed and went down to breakfast, scribbling notes and questions for Suphot, my friend/guide/driver for the next week. It was quiet in the dining room, and I sat staring out the window at a normal frenzied Bangkok morning commute. Being far from this madding crowd for a week sounded just fine to me.
My friend and guide for the week, Khun Suphot (at Bang Pa-in)
Just before 08:00 my room phone rang - Pot had arrived. Suitcase and satchel in hand I went down to meet him, and after settling into the passenger's seat and buckling up he turned and asked "Ready to go?" and I replied "Yes, indeed... let's move!" He pulled out into the commute traffic, and as we got onto the tollway we began to move along much better, and by the time we'd stopped three times to pay tolls (40Bt/45Bt/10Bt) we were out of the city and truly on our way.
Heading North through Pathum Thani we drove around 60KM (37 miles) and into the Province of Ayutthaya, where we made our first official stop a ways south of the city of Ayutthaya itself at the Royal Summer Palace, in the Bang Pa-in district. Sitting grand, lush and majestic by the bank of the Chao Phraya River, it was a fitting first stop.
Wehart Chamrunt Hall and grounds at the Summer palace (click to enlarge)
There's a wealth of information available online for this beautiful spot already, so we won't go into a long, detailed history of the place. Briefly, though, it was originally built during the reign of King Prasat Thong in the early 1600s, restored by King Rama IV in the mid-1800s (it had been trashed by an invasion in 1767) and finished to its present state (including the structures you see) by King Chulalongkorn between 1872 and 1889.
Panorama - click to enlarge
The different styles throughout the grounds show a variety of European (above) as well as Asian influences; some saying the grounds have a look similar to Versailles. While it's still officially a "Royal" residence, I was told the current King (Bhumibol Adulyadej's) family hasn't used it much for years other than for the occasional event.
Laudi (Plumeria) bloom at a peaceful spot in the Summer Palace, Bang Pa-in
Admission is 100Bt, and for those who aren't as able to walk distances as others there are carts for rent at a rate of (I believe) 400Bt per hour. As you can see in the aerial view below there's a lot of ground to cover, so take your time and stay hydrated - especially in warmer months. We were there in March, and it was already pretty warm to be out in the sun as much as we were.
The palace grounds, with the Chao Phraya to the left
Being a weekday there naturally were school groups on field excursions - like the group below, entering one of the formal European reception and dining halls - the last one even said "hello". Notice also that not one of them pointed at me and said "KFC!" ...I was pleased.
Next up in Part 3 - More photos of the Summer Palace at Bang Pa-in