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Out in Bangkok’s eastern fringes, Suan Luang Rama IX is a public park, botanical garden, memorial and museum all rolled into one. All of the standard park features can be found here, including extensive playgrounds, swan boats, well groomed gardens and tree-lined lanes, but Rama IX Park’s many surprises are what make it worth the trip.
The park was created in 1987 to commemorate the 60th birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, also known as Rama IX, who remains Thailand’s reigning monarch. At 80 hectares, it’s the largest park in Bangkok.
Almost immediately after entering the expansive grounds, it’s impossible to miss the park’s centrepiece: a huge gold-and-white round structure with a towering pointed spire that appears to float on a human-made lake. The official name of this memorial to King Bhumibol is ‘Garden of the Great King’.
Nine displays found on all sides of the building spotlight various aspects of the King’s personality and official role. From “man” to “monarch” to “philanthropist”, “sportsman” and “musician”, the rather sparse exhibits include old photos, personal requisites of the royal family and anecdotes from the King’s life. A fair amount of info is provided in Thai and English. For example, did you know that King Bhumibol created a radio station while still in his teens and later played saxophone in a jazz band whose live performances were aired weekly on said station?
The monument may be the most striking feature, but many more interesting attractions are dotted amid walkways that lazily loop through the park’s northern sections. There’s a Japanese garden where carefully placed stones, sand, water and bonzai trees are cared for by groundskeepers in long sleeves and hats, and nearby a circular English garden, with a vine-roofed footpath that left us kicking ourselves for leaving tea and crumpets at home.
French and Italian gardens have some lovely fountains, colonnades and statues, though the American garden’s domed cactus house tends to steal the show.
Hovering over a wide water lily pond, Thai-style Thakon Phrakia Pavilion makes for some pretty pictures.
Nearby, orchids and other rare plants are housed in a string of botanical gardens, some covered and some open to the elements. We passed moss-covered brick walls adorned with multiple tiers of hanging orchids and Golden Leaf Bauhinia, finally stumbling onto a field of treasured pink Siamese tulips, or dok kra jiao. Visit in early December for a brilliant flower festival.
We then detoured for a few snaps of the swan boats from the lake’s northern bank. Somehow, we snapped a snapping turtle instead.
Beyond the lake in the park’s northwestern confines, the grass gives way to swampy forest. Shimmering over a lotus pond and caressed by bamboo groves, we found the Chinese garden to be the park’s most impressive attraction. With such exquisite wood and glass work, it’s hard to believe that this elegant Chinese pavilion is a child of the ’80s.
A little imagination is all that’s needed to feel like a prince or princess wandering the pathways, gazebos and gates of some ancient Chinese palace.
Refreshment stands, bathrooms, benches, minor gardens, pavilions and shady patches of lawn are plentiful throughout the park. A generous section of land near the northern parking area is filled with exercise equipment and plenty of playthings for the kids. Arrive during early morning or late afternoon to join the locals for tai chi and aerobics.
Suan Luang Rama IX takes some effort to reach, but it’s worth it (see map). To get here, head almost to the southern end of the Sukhumvit BTS skytrain line and disembark at Udom Suk station. Take the stairs down to the street at exit 3, then an immediate left onto Udom Suk Road (aka Sukhumvit Soi 103). From there, a taxi can take you the remaining nine kilometres to the park for around 80 baht, or you can wait for buses #135 or 145.
How to get there
To get here, head almost to the southern end of the Sukhumvit BTS skytrain line and disembark at Udom Suk station. Take the stairs down to the street at exit 3, then an immediate left onto Udom Suk Road (aka Sukhumvit Soi 103). From there, a taxi can take you the remaining nine kilometres to the park for around 80 baht, or you can wait for buses #135 or 145.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 29th September, 2013.