One of the most fascinating facets of Lopburi’s history involves the Greek merchant, Constantine Phaulkon, who rose to become one of King Narai’s most trusted aids before meeting a bloody end. The ruins of a complex built for foreign dignitaries, Ban Wichayen, bares his official Siamese title.
After working for the English East India Company and then rising through the ranks of the Royal Trading Department of Siam, Phaulkon went to Ayutthayain 1680 and impressed King Narai with his language skills and business acumen. When Narai moved part-time to Lopburi, he brought his trusted foreign aid and had a complex built for him and other foreigners, including the French envoys that occasionally passed through town.
Within seven years Phaulkon became an official representative of the Siamese court and granted the title, Ok-Ya Wichayen, making him the first and only Westerner to ever receive such a powerful position. When King Narai fell ill a year later, resentful Siamese ministers accused Phaulkon of attempting to seize the throne. In 1688, the Greek was beheaded.
Today Ban Wichayen is an unusual collection of brick-and-mortar ruins with broad stairways, baths and the walls of European Renaissance-style buildings -- with some imagination you can picture it as a lavish palace where European traders and ambassadors collected exotic goods. Otherwise the complex may look like the bombed-out remnants of Warsaw or Berlin after World War II.
At the centre stands what’s left of a Christian church built in a European style but with elongated lotus-shaped columns, making it the first church in history with a Thai/European design. You’ll also notice original stucco decorations above doorways along with lots of pigeons amid the grounds, which can be fully explored in around 20 minutes.
How to get there
Ban Wichayen is located on Wichayen Rd, a five-minute walk west of Phra Prang Sam Yod (Prang Sam Yod Rd turns into Wichayen Rd at the Prang Khaek intersection).
By David Luekens
Last updated on 7th September, 2016.