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Sanam Luang (Royal Field) is a 30-acre flat oval of grass rimmed by several important shrines and buildings, including the Grand Palace to the north. When not occupied by ceremonies or royal funerals, it’s simply a public park hosting picnics and joggers at sundown.
The space was used to grow rice for nearly a century following the founding of Bangkok in 1782, and it’s still the venue for the Royal Ploughing Ceremony. Held annually in early May, this holiday officially marks the beginning of rice growing season and is presided over by the king or crowned prince. Also hosting elaborate royal funerals, the field is alternately known as Thung Phra Men (“Cremation Ground”). For months after King Bhumibol died in late 2016, a streams of black-clad mourners waited here to pay their respects.
Sanam Luang also draws revellers for holidays such as King Bhumibol’s birthday on December 5 and the Western New Year. On evenings like these you’ll find loads of food and traditional Thai performances that attract travellers, working-class Thais and government officials showing off their uniforms. From mid-February to April, the field hosts hundreds of kites flown competitively and for leisure.
While the heat can be unbearable on the shade-less field at midday, dawn and dusk are great times to relax on the grass while gazing at the ornate spires and chedis of Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace. Important buildings to the west of Sanam Luang include the National Museum, Wat Mahathat and Thammasat University, while Thailand’s Supreme Court convenes to the east.
Across from the southeast corner of Sanam Luang is Lak Muang, the sacred City Pillar Shrine, which in fact houses two pillars along with guardian representations under an ornate pavilion. King Rama I enshrined the slender original pillar near the southwest corner of the field, which was replaced by a wider pillar when King Rama IV moved the shrine to avert the negative predictions of a fortuneteller concerned about some dead snakes. A Brahman ceremony is held here annually on 21 April to mark the anniversary of Bangkok’s founding.
Another shrine near the northeast corner of Sanam Luang depicts Phra Mae Kongkha, the water goddess that helped the Buddha repel temptations during his run to enlightenment, as told in Buddhist scriptures. Also known by the unflattering English name of “Hair Washing Shrine,” it depicts the goddess running water through her long black lock of hair. Locals come to pray for bad fortune to be washed away.
How to get there
The northern side of Sanam Luang is located at the west end of Ratchadamnoen Avenue and the giant field is impossible to miss while exploring Bangkok’s historic district. The closest express boat piers are Tha Chang and Maharaj.
By David Luekens.
Last updated on 18th January, 2017.