Exploring Rattanakosin: Bangkok walks 1

Thammasat University and Pridi Statue

Thammasat University and Pridi Statue

Rattanakosin is an island and comprises the area of the old walled city created in 1782 by King Rama 1. A few of the old building of various eras since then remain, together with a sample of the defensive works and canals which were built by slave labour to protect this new capital, replacing the city of Thonburi  on the west side of the Chao Phraya river as the capital of Siam. Thonburi was deemed to be less easily defended. Many visitors to Bangkok visit the Grand Palace,  the very centre of Rattanakosin, and we have arranged a few walks surrounding the palace which describe the buildings and their history, which are often missed. One of the best ways to arrive at the Grand Palace is the old way – by the river, and so our walk will start at the commercial jetty where the river taxis arrive.Movie All Is Lost (2013)

The Tha Rong Mo pier, the Chang Wang Luang and old shop houses

This is a popular pier for visitors visiting the Grand palace from the river. Chang Wang means elephant pier – this is where royal elephants were brought to wash in the river in former times. It was also referred to as “Tha Phra” to commemorate the Buddha image Phra Sri Sakayamuni, the main image within Wat Suthat which is located within the city walls to the east, which was landed here after being brought down river from the ancient capital of Sukhothai – then under threat of Burmese invasion.

Tha Chang Area

Just outside the ferry landing is the Tha Chang – now a busy market selling food and souvenirs, and it is easy to miss the jewel of the area so look up and you will see some of the 33 well preserved shop houses controlled and leased out by the Royal Property Bureau. They were built during the reign of King Chulalongkorn in the early 20th century. This monarch was the first to travel abroad, and he was much influenced by several tips to the Straights Settlements (Malaya) and Singapore – where he was much impressed by the concept of the shop house – the business on the ground floor and the family rooms above.
We will cross the road and to the right are the battlements and gates of

The Grand Palace

Prior to 1782 this was the site of an army camp, the Chinese settlement and the family estate of Phraya Chadeuk, a prominent noble, but King Rama I decided this area was a more easily defendable position than the then existing capital of Siam at Thonburi and ordered the construction of the palace and the city.

The camp, the Chinese and the family were removed, and the royal residence and temples built to face the north in the traditional Ayutthaya manner. The original buildings were wooden, except for a concrete base which would become the ordination hall of the present temple of the Emerald Buddha. The other concrete temples and fortresses were constructed during the reign of King Rama III, including the final installations of the walls and the battlements.
We will continue along the road.

The Fine Arts Department and Silipakorn University.

Originally this was the palace of Prince Barmrapporapak and was later used as workshops for artisans of the ten classic Thai handicrafts.

Now the palace buildings house offices and the Silip Bhairasi National Museum which is located between the Fine Arts Department and Silapakorn University. The museum was founded in the memory of Professor Bhirasri , who pioneered modern art in the country. Originally an Italian national, he became a Thai national and was responsible for many of the most famous monuments in the city, such as Democracy Monument and the statues of Rama VI in front of Lumpini Park.
We will pass

Shophouses on the Na Phta Lan Road

Shop Houses

Shop Houses

During the first reign of the Rattanakosin Era this was the site of three palaces and remained royal residences until well into the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). Eventually the walls of the palaces were demolished and the present shop houses were constructed following designs seen by King Chulalongkorn in Singapore.
At the end of the road we will see

Sanam Luang

Sanam Luang from the Grand Palace

Sanam Luang from the Grand Palace

This open space was established following the pattern of the city of Ayutthaya where open land next to the palace was used for royal ceremonies. Originally the royal field was smaller than today, but it was expanded during the reign of King Chulalongkorn (1868-1910). It is surrounded by Tamarind trees, planted in 1900. The royal ceremonies include the Royal Ploughing Ceremony and the cremation rites of senior royal family members. It was also originally the site of the weekend market, which was eventually transferred to Chatuchak. At the end of World War 2 Bangkok was occupied by British troops until 1948, and they installed a landing strip on Sanam Luang, until it was removed after protests from the palace, as the aeroplanes when taking off “buzzed” the royal and religious structures within the palace.

We turn left and walk past a long brown coloured building

Wachirayan ( Vajirannana) Library

King Rana V ordered the building constructed to assist the monks of Wat Mahathat ( at the rear of the building), who lacked an adequate area for study.

 Tragically in 1894 the Prince Chaofa Maha Wacharunna, the Crown Prince, died and the King ordered this to be a permanent building  rather than a temporary wooden structure – to act as the cremation viewing platform. However  tradition maintained that such buildings should be temporary and taken down following the ceremony (due to the possibility of carrying forward bad luck) and thus this building, which was eventually completed in 1916 during the reign o Rama VI, became the National Library. The library was relocated when the storage and display areas in this building proved inadequate.  Today it is a venue for exhibitions.

We keep walking along and pass

The statue of the Deputy King Surasinghanart

The Statue of the Second King

The Statue of the Second King

This was unveiled as recently as 1979 and commemorates the younger brother of King Rama I who fought with great distinction against the Burmese in the famous Nine Armies War campaign, as well as other actions. He also secured the southern Muslim kingdom of Pattani as a tributes state for Siam. Underneath the statue is the soil of 28 city states where he commanded his armies in action. In those days the cities were really cty states, walled towns controlled by their own rulers. It was therefore necessary for the King of Siam to show then who was actually in control, which sometimes necessitated force. The half life sized statue is of blacken bronze fashioned with the figure holding a sword in a respect posture to the Lord Buddha, of whom the Prince was a strict adherent. He had many temples built including Wat Mahathat, which we shall see on this walk. The Prince predeceased his brother King Rama 1.

Keep walking along the road and we cross

Tha Phra Chan Area and Phra Chan Road

The Phra Chan Road

The Phra Chan Road

This was the site of the former palace of Prince Silpakom which sees much foot traffic heading to the ferry landing taking students and others across the river to the Siriraj Hospital area on the west bank of the river. Access to the river from the Sanam Luang is via the Phra Chan Road, which is usually busy with people selling religious amulets. On the northern side of the road is the wall of the former Front palace, and on te south the wall of the Mahathat temple
Keep walking north and we shall pass the entrance to Thammasat Universiy. We shall see this later in the walk so keep going north and we shall pass what used to be

The Front Palace or Phra Ratchawong Boven Sathan Monghol

Built in 1782 at the foundation of Rattanakosin, the palace grounds included the northern end of Sanam Luang and what is now Thammasat University, where the remains of the palace walls can still be seen. In 1873 the young King Chulalongkorn gained his majority and became monarch without the assistance of the Regent Suriyawong, a conservatives at odds with the young monarch’s plans for reform. The Second King shared Suriyawong’s opinions (” the Second King” is  a traditional title from Siam’s past) – an alternative  to a Crown Prince, who could take over if the monarch died, but who was not necessarily the first choice as replacement. His residence was the “Front Palace”. During the night of December 28, 1874,a fire was set near the gunpowder storehouse and gasworks in the main palace. Fully armed Front Palace troops quickly arrived but were denied access, It was an attempted coup. The Second King died the following year, and Prince Suriyawong retired from politics, after which the King abolished the post of deputy king and introduced the position of Crown Prince.
There was need to do something with the Front Palace, and it became

The National Museum

The first museum in the kingdom was the private collection of King Rama IV, who was a renowned intellectual with wide ranging interest from the sciences to social improvements, and kept his exhibits in two rooms with the grand palace. The first public museum was also located within the Grand Palace in 1874, and was moved to the former Front Palace once the position was abolished in 1875.
On the Sanam Luang diagonally across from the National Museum is

Memorial to the Expeditionary Force

Memorial to the Expeditionary Force

Memorial to the Expeditionary Force

In 1917 Siam declared war on the central powers and sent an expeditionary force to assist the allies, consisting mainly of airmen and ambulance crews. They arrive too late to see action as an armistice was signed in November 1918, but the allies rewarded Siam by removing the unequal treaties which had been imposed on the kingdom beginning with the Bowring treaty during the reign of King Rama IV. The expeditionary force lost 19 out of a compliment of 1,200, and the ashes of the deceased servicemen are housed within this monument, which is honoured by a service of commemoration each year.
On the other side of the busy road behind the memorial you will see

The National Gallery


The National Galary

The National Galary

This was opened in 1974 to exhibit traditional Thai art, but also includes contemporary art including painting by H.M. the King. There are several art exhibitions each year to compliment the extensive central collection.
Keep walking north and then turn left. This corner is the site of

The National Theatre

The National Theatre

The National Theatre

Built on land which was part of the Front Palace of the Second King, the present national theatre was completed in 1966. The building incorporates Thai and western motifs, although the former dominates especially expressed in the roof of the complex.

In the eastern entrance yard is a statue to the second king during the reign of Rama VI, the Prince Pinklao, the monarch’s younger brother. He spoke unaccented English, his favourite expression of surprise being “Wow”. He played a great part in the negotiation of the Bowring and others treaties, and in the gradual modernization of Siam. He was a student of the military arts, possessed steam warships and was an exponent of artillery science. His statue is flanked by the cannons “Maha Ruek” and “Maha Chai” He died in 1866 at the age of 57.
Keep walking along the road west and we shall pass

Wat Bovon Sathan Sutthawas (not shown)

A temple was built during the reign of King Rama III and became the temple of the second King. Upon the abolishing of the title in 1875, this temple remains the only structure within the former palace still operating in it’s original role. The access to the main hall is via the entrance of the Chang Silp ( Dramatic Arts college) which is next to the National Theatre but it is often closed.

We shall turn left once we pass the Chang Silp. This short road is th approach to the rear of Thammasat University

Thammasat University

Established in 1934 as the University of Moral and Political Sciences by the politician Pridi Banomyong, it became the second university in Thailand after Chulalongkorn.

Always a centre of political protests to military rule and corruption in Thailand the site of the Multi Purpose Hall was the location of the civilian internment camp during World War 2, and the main building became the secret headquarters of the British Force 136 who were fighting the Japanese (who were ignorant of the allied presence) aided by the Free Thai,under the leadership of Pridi, who acted as the regent to the young King Ananda, who spent the war years in Switzerland.
We shall leave the Universiy at the south end, cross the Phra Chan road and keep walking straight ahead. On the left is the

The Mahathat temple

It is the name sake of a temple from the city of Ayutthata  (1350-1767) and was constructed on the orders of the Second King during the reign of King Rama I.

It was originally the residence of the patriarch of Thai Buddhism, and now it is famous for being the location of the famous Maha Chulanongkorn University, the main Buddhist University and the centre of the Pali language training for monks from all over the world. It was also the place in which Japanese soldiers hid from the allies at the end of the war, many of whom were member of the Kempei-tai ( Japanese military police) and wanted for war crimes. They remained disguised as monks for many months until they were spirited away to Japan in 1947-48.

Keep walking straight ahead and we shall come to the Grand palace once again.

This is the end of Exploring Rattanakosin Walk 1

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