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Bang Pa-In

12 miles south of Ayutthaya is the Bang Pa-In Summer Palace - a sprawling ensemble of royal buildings, built in contrasting architectural styles: Chinese, Swiss, classical European and Thai, all set in a large park around ponds and waterways.

The site was first used by the royal court as a summer retreat in the 17th century. However, the Palace was destroyed with the fall of Kingdom of Ayutthaya and was restored by King Rama IV in the mid-19th century. Most of the buildings that exist today date from the reign of King Rama V, who regularly spent his summers there. The100ft tower was built so the King of Siam could watch herds of roaming elephants.

The only royal residence open to the public is the Chinese-style Wehat Chamroon Palace, constructed entirely of materials imported from China. In addition, there is an Italian-style palace, a circular pavilion with steps leading down to a pool, a graceful Thai-style Aisawan Tippaya Asna Pavilion in the middle of a lake, and, across one of the waterways, and a Buddhist chapel in the neo-Gothic style with stained-glass windows. Scattered around the extensive gardens are many European statues and topiary animals.

There’s a museum of vintage English-built King’s carriages, introduced by King Rama V, who visited Europe and was so impressed by the way of life that he set out to ‘modernise’ his country. He was responsible for changes such as the abolition of slavery, the first railway, the first museum, introduction of knife, fork and spoon (previously fingers), shirts and trousers for men.
Sadly, there’s a memorial of the King Rama V’s much loved Consort and three royal children who passed away at different times of the same year, 1887. His Consort drowned in a boating accident nearby as none of her servants lifted a finger to save her, because, to lay a finger on her, as Royalty, would have resulted in a death sentence. That law was subsequently changed.

King Rama V was born on September 20, 1853 and was crowned King on October 1, 1868, following the death of his father. As King Chulalongkorn, he is perhaps the most revered of all the Kings-- during his long reign of just over 42 years great advances were achieved for the country.