The Suan Pakkad Palace is less known among the museums in Bangkok. Only a handful of visitors seem to come here at a time. But those who stumble upon it will be pleasantly surprised. The hidden oasis is home to a stunning collection of Thai antiquities and artifacts.
Suan Pakkad: History
“Suan pakkad” translates to “cabbage garden” and describes the land that became the current site of the Suan Pakkad Palace. It was originally the residence of Prince Chumbhot Paribatra of Navor Svarga, a descendant of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), and his wife, M.R. Pantip Paribatra. They owned an extensive collection of Thai artifacts which they partly inherited and partly acquired themselves. Realizing that artifacts are a common property of cultural heritage, they opened the collection to the public. Four traditional Thai houses from distant places were reconstructed on the grounds of the palace in 1952 to serve as both a reception hall and an exhibition space for the precious collection.
The royal residence eventually became an official museum under the patronage of the Chumbhot-Pantip Foundation. The current exhibition complex comprises four additional Thai houses, the Lacquer Pavillon, and the Chumbhot-Pantip Centre of Arts. The latter hosts a significant collection of Ban Chiang antiquities. The Marsi Gallery in the same building occasionally displays temporary exhibitions.
Suan Pakkad: Exhibition highlights
While the individual structures of the Suan Pakkad Palace are themselves architectural masterpieces, they hold a vast range of rare and often unique artifacts ranging from pottery and glassware, furnishings and musical instruments, murals and Buddhist drawings to shells and minerals. The following are just some of the highlights that you shouldn’t miss during your visit.
Ban Chiang antiquities
The museum opens with a collection of pottery and bronze artifacts from the Ban Chiang culture. Ban Chiang is a small village situated in Udon Thani Province and is home to farmers since the reign of Rama III. The village has become famous when discoveries of prehistoric settlements were made in the 1960s. An important excavation site today, Ban Chiang has revealed human skeletons, ornaments and utensils which point to the existence of prehistoric agricultural communities (5600-1800 BC). The exhibition centers on their social development, their agricultural and technological advancement, as well as trade links with distant communities.
Step into the lush garden of the Suan Pakkad Palace and you will notice an elevated structure in the Southwest corner. This is the Lacquer Pavillon, a very fine example of traditional Thai architecture. It dates back to the 17th century and was originally located near the city of Ayutthaya. The interior walls show intricate paintings in the Ayutthaya style with gold on black lacquer. Those in the upper part depict the life of the Buddha while those in the lower part represent scenes from the Ramakian epic.
The excellent condition of these murals is the result of a long and painstaking restoration under Prince Chumbhot and his wife. In fact, the pavillon was in a state of great disrepair when the prince decided to bring it to his residence and restore it. Though he did not live to see the finished work, Princess Pantip continued his efforts. Today, the pavillon has regained its beauty and is an important legacy of the royal couple.
House 4 is part of the architectural centerpiece in the Suan Pakkad Palace and still occasionally functions as a reception hall. The highlight is the small chapel which contains very fine and rare Buddhist paintings and statues. In front of the chapel is an old Buddhist scroll.
Suan Pakkad: Opening hours and entrance fee
The Suan Pakkad Palace is open every day from 9 am to 4 pm. Foreign visitors need to prepare a small fee of 100 Baht to enter the museum.
Make sure you pick up a visitor brochure at the reception. It has a good map and provides an overview of each exhibition room. You will also find descriptions in English next to the various displayed items. Feel free to visit the different galleries in any order you wish. In contrast to the Jim Thompson House and Museum, which has a similar style, there is no mandatory tour. A complete visit of the Suan Pakkad Palace can easily take two hours.
Photos are not allowed inside the exhibition rooms.
When you access the second floor of one of the traditional Thai houses, please take off your shoes. You can carry them with you in a plastic bag that is provided or leave them and come back later.
Suan Pakkad: Location and how to get there
The museum is on Sri Ayutthaya Road right off from the BTS station Phaya Thai. From the Phaya Thai junction, head eastwards and the palace will be on your right side.