The magnificence of Vimanmek Palace

This all-teak palace is a remarkable tourist site

This all-teak palace is a remarkable tourist site

By Steve Harris

Standing unique among the many stunning palaces and temples of Bangkok, Vimanmek Palace is the world's largest teakwood mansion, a study in Southeast Asian splendour and a must-visit Bangkok attraction. Vimanmek Palace provides a welcome contrast to the typical ornate Thai temple and also a pleasant escape from Bangkok's hectic streets.

Formerly a royal palace used by King Rama V of Thailand, the king had the palace dismantled and transported to Bangkok from its original home in Chonburi province. In 1982 the palace was renovated by King Rama IX at the request of his wife, Queen Sirikit, to turn it into the museum to King Rama V and showcase for Thai royal history that it is today. The palace gives visitors a chance to enjoy peace and tranquillity amid the normal hustle and bustle of Bangkok.

As with much of Bangkok's architectural heritage, Vimanmek Palace is replete with fascinating history and offers a fascinating insight into the background of the Thai royal family. The grounds in which the palace stands today, once composed of paddy fields and orchards and nestled between the Padung Krungkasem Canal and the Samsen Canal, were bought by King Rama V upon his return from travelling in Europe in 1897. His Majesty decreed that the land would be turned into a royal garden named Dusit Garden.

The king subsequently decided that the grounds would be home to a permanent residence for himself and the royal family, and he set about dismantling and transporting the fabulous teak palace from the island of Koh Sri Chang in Chonburi province. Following the successful rebuilding of the palace within the new gardens, the royal family took up residence in the palace for five years before moving back to the Grand Palace.

During the time of royal residence under King Rama V, the king had installed within the palace gardens and an enormous greenhouse complete with sprinklers powered by the four canals framing Dusit Gardens. The king's intent was that the nursery would provide plants for the gardens and it is said that the king himself planted many of the trees and shrubs by hand to create lush, verdant surroundings for the palace to stand in.

The architecture has European and exotic influences

The architecture has European and exotic influences

The Thais are justifiably proud of Vimanmek Palace, as arrival at the mansion proves. It is the biggest building in Dusit Gardens and its ornate style reflects western influence. Vimanmek Palace was designed by the brother of the then king, Prince Narisaranuwatiwong, who designed the palace in the shape of the letter L. The palace has two wings, one pointing north and one west, which meet each other at a 90 degree angle. Each of the wings is 60 metres in length and 25 metres tall.

The peak of the palace is the octagonal residence which made up the king's rooms, and is a stunning example of teakwood architecture, featuring not one single metal nail in its construction. Among the other 31 display rooms within the palace are bedrooms, bathrooms and an audience chamber, all of which maintain their original decorations, while also within the palace are exhibition rooms housing fabulous collections of art, glassware, ceramics, silverware and even ivory.

The story of Vimanmek Palace continued through the 20th century, when in 1925 King Rama VI consented to his wife, Queen Indharasaksaji, to allow her to utilise part of Vimanmek Palace as her royal residence. Upon the death of King Rama VI, the queen moved out of Vimanmek and the palace has not been used as a royal residence since. Since 1930 the palace has been used as a storage house for royal artefacts and antiques, making it possibly the most extravagant and opulent storage facility in the world.

Later came the introduction of technology to the building, with King Rama VII decreeing that the palace be fitted with electrical wiring throughout. This installation formed part of an ongoing renovation process under King Rama VII, including repairs to the main pier on the Dusit Gardens' lake.

Vimanmek Palace sits proudly alongside the other major palaces and temples of Thailand's capital, though its stunning teakwood construction provides a contrast to the imposing gold and stone of most other architecture. The palace is open to visitors from 08:30 to 16:30 daily including public holidays and weekends, entrance is 100 baht for all. Visitors are advised that as with many of Thailand's tourist attractions, modest attire is required. This means covered shoulders for women and trousers below the knee for men, and shoes must be left at the entrance.

Vinmanmek Palace is located in Dusit, besides the Zoo and is best reached by taxi.

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