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Published: January 15th 2018
I like small museums, the more off-beat and quirky the better. Small museums are easier to navigate and usually aren’t very crowded. I visited a couple of museums like this in Bangkok, but first, the boat ride.
I had taken the commuter ferry up the Chao Phraya River when I visited Wat Arun and Wat Pho. The commuter ferny is undoubtedly the quickest, easiest and least expensive way of going up-river. But I hadn’t taken one of the water taxis that ply the canals, or khlongs, of the city. One of the other bloggers on this site suggested I check it out (thanks, Siewch!) and it sounded like a fun experience.
Make no mistake; taking a water taxi is most definitely not a leisurely boat ride down a lazy river. This is a fast, efficient way for people to get to work without dealing with the horrendous Bangkok traffic. And since the boat never actually stops, just pulls over next to the dock, you need to be pretty sure of foot to leap from the bobbing boat to the floating dock. The water taxi cost between 10 and 20 Thai baht, or between 30 and 60 US cents. It’s
fun, but you have to pay attention, and not be afraid to ask for help. Bangkokian Museum
The Bangkokian Museum definitely falls under the category of quirky. It’s in a residential neighborhood, and there are no signs pointing to it. As I walked up to the front gate, I saw it was firmly shut. Knowing my penchant for showing up to museums when they are closed, a few less than polite words crossed my lips.
I kept walking, hoping to find another way it, and came upon a drive that led to the front door. The staff here was very attentive, and I got the impression that they do not see many visitors. Make that NO other visitors, at least while I was there. They asked for me to pose for pictures in several parts of the house, maybe to show that people actually did come to the museum. And while they were very attentive, their English was almost as bad as my Thai. And my grasp of Thai is almost non-existent.
There are two buildings here; the first and bigger one was originally built in 1937 to be the home of the Suravadee family.
The second building was meant to be the home and clinic of Dr. Francis Christian, the stepfather of the owner. Sadly, Christian died before he could move in.
Many of the rooms have been kept exactly as they were when the family lived there, including the makeup boxes of the lady of the house. Dr. Christian’s cigar collection is on display in the second building, as is a collection of various kitchen pots and pans. Suan Pakkad Palace
The original owner of the palace was a grandson of King Rama V – King Chulalongkorn. King Rama V was not only a modern thinker and reformer, he was also very, shall we say, vigorous. He fathered 97 children, 75 of whom lived into childhood. Obviously, not all of these children were from the same wife. He had three official wives, plus a number of consorts. Needless to say, with this many children running around, not every son was going to become king, though he would still be a royal prince. One of those royal sons, Prince Paribatra, became the father of Prince Chumphotphong, the original owner of the palace.
So, here we have a royal prince, the
son of royal prince, who is pretty far down the line of succession, but a royal nonetheless. And a royal prince needs a palace. He wanted one that was outside the city, and the Suan Pakkad Palace came into being. Suan Pakkad means “cabbage patch, which was what this land was before the Prince built his residence here.
The palace has become a repository of some very unique items. One of the first exhibits you come across is an exhibit of painted pots, pretty cool in and of themselves. But the story behind them is even cooler. In 1966, Stephen Young, an American sociology student, was on a trip to Ban Chiang. While there he literally tripped over a pot. Turns out this pot, and many other finds in the area, are from about 1500 BCE. The Ban Chiang site was designated a UN World Heritage site in 1992.
Other buildings on the grounds include an art gallery showing art works from the Prince’s only daughter, the mineral collection of his wife, a royal barge that had belonged to the Prince’s father, plus displays of glassware and porcelain. There is also a rather bizarre display of the Prince’s
collection of old shellac 78 rpm records.
But the real jewel here is the Lacquer Pavilion. It came from a temple near the city of Ayudhya, where it was languishing in a state of disrepair. The Prince brought it to Suan Pakkad and had it restored as a 50th
birthday present for his wife. Sadly, he died before it could be completed, but it remains as a glorious and historically important piece of Thai art. Possibly Useful Information
- The khlong water taxis cost between 10 and 20 Thai baht (about USD 33 cents to 65 cents) and are bought on board. The service runs between 5:30 am and 8:30 pm, except on weekends when it stops at 7:00 pm. You can find a list of piers here: https://www.transitbangkok.com/khlong_boats.html
- The Bangkokian Museum is open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is free.
- The Suan Pakkad Palace Museum is open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm daily, admission for foreigners is THB 100. The closest BTS Skytrain station is Phaya Thai station, take exit 4.
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