A museum and the former residence of a royal family, the Suan Pakkad Palace is a true gem in the midst of 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 has become 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. Through their inheritance and private acquisitions, they were in possession of an extensive collection of Thai artifacts. Realizing that artifacts are a cultural heritage to humanity, they decided to make them open to the public. Four traditional Thai houses from distant places were dismantled and reconstructed on the grounds of the palace in 1952 to serve as an exhibition hall for the royal couple’s 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 Pavilion, 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 home to a community of farmers. 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 (3600-250 BC). The exhibition provides insight into their social development and their technological advancement.
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 Pavilion, 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 process under Prince Chumbhot and his wife. In fact, the pavilion was in a state of great disrepair when the prince decided to bring it to his residence. Though he did not live to see the finished work, Princess Pantip continued his efforts. Today, the pavilion 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. The entrance fee is 100 Baht ( as of January 2019).
Make sure to pick up a visitor brochure at the reception. It provides a good map and 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 is similar in style, there is no mandatory tour. A complete visit of the Suan Pakkad Palace can easily take two hours.
Pictures 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 located 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.