Early 20th-century grandeur
Published/Last edited or updated: 24th June, 2017
Phra Ram Ratchaniwet is a grandiose European-style palace built by order of King Rama V in the early 20th century.
Better known locally as Ban Pun Palace, the extravagant building with wide arched windows and doors was loosely modeled after Kaiser Willhelm’s summer palace in Germany and designed by German architect, Karl Dohring. We wonder how Dohring felt about working in this distant corner of the globe as his country was embroiled in the First World War—and the fact that his employer, Siam, sided with the Allies rather than the Germans.
Inside, glazed yellow tiles with protruding shell and fish designs adorn a rich marble-floored dining room. Smooth teak banisters line spiral staircases ascending a rotunda. Surreal porcelain statues of Caucasian babies are portrayed strumming harps next to porcelain monkeys. A central courtyard is thought to have hosted the first-ever badminton game in Siam/Thailand, and a regal statue of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) stands out front.
The palace displays art nouveau and baroque styles that were considered “modern” at the time, hinting at King Chulalongkorn’s taste for European designs. Construction began in 1909 and the king died a year later, so he was never able to enjoy the palace. It seems to have gotten minimal use thereafter, and by 1918, Rama VI had built his own summer palace out on the seacoast. Through the mid-20th century, Phra Ram Ratchaniwet was used as a public school.
A neglected feel still permeates the leaky and dusty halls, sparsely furnished with only a handful of antiques and faded information signs explaining the palace’s history in English and Thai. It’s set in the middle of a Thai military base and the presence of soldiers adds to the sense that you’ve stepped into a dystopian period film. You certainly won’t find another place quite like this in Thailand.
Phra Ram Ratchaniwet is set on the west bank of the Phetchaburi River, 1.5 km south of Wat Mahathat Worawihan. There are two entrances: one to the south off Ratchadamri Rd and a more widely used one to the north off Damrong Rak Rd. Neither is marked in English—just look for the military police guards with their freaky red-and-white domed helmets at the gates. They may ask you to leave an ID at the gate, and photography is prohibited inside the palace.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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