The three-story golden teak Vimanmek Mansion in Bangkok is much a work of art as is the treasures it holds within its walls. Apart from all the teak used here, one of the most striking features upon arriving, is that it appears to be more like that of a Victorian Mansion than your typical Thai Palace.
It's a reminder to the very extent in which the royal family was influenced by European culture. This is very evident in the western-style design of its verandas and high ceilings.
It may well be billed as the largest golden teak building of its kind in the world, but what makes it even more remarkable is the fact that this particular palace was constructed entirely without the use of any nails, that is the regular steel kind that is all too familiar. Instead, wooden pegs were subsequently substituted.
Cloud Mansion, as the building was also known, was built by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) in 1901 in what was then a suburb of the Dusit District in Bangkok. Not only was it a home for the king and his family while waiting for the nearby Chitrlada Palace to be completed but it was also the king's favourite residence.
After being moved from its original location on the small island of Ko Si Chang off the coast of Si Racha in the Chon Buri Province near Pattaya, the mansion was reassembled on its present site. Ko Si Chang was the king's former haunt.
Apparently, this was where only women were allowed and if some of the stories are to be actually believed, the mansion was also home to a number of the king's concubines. In 1935, after falling into disrepair the celestial residence closed. However, in 1982 at the request of Queen Sirikit, it was magnificently restored.
The short but otherwise compulsory guided tour inside the mansion takes in only 30 of the 81 rooms via circuitous corridors. The sweeping staircases guide you to some of the highlights which include the audience chambers, the music room and the king's private quarters seen within the octagonal tower of the building.
Apparently, the palace was the first building in Thailand to have electricity as was an indoor bathroom. Two of the most unlikely items on display here are an early light bulb and a shower-head. All the very things we take for granted now.
Treasures on display include porcelain furniture, betel-nut sets, hunting trophies, some royal photographs and the first alphabet typewriter from Rattanakosin era. Faberge jewellery, crystal and other objets d'art were brought in from Europe.
After the tour (free for Grand Palace ticket holders) you can wander around the grounds or watch one of the twice daily Classical Thai Dance Performances staged at the lakeside porch. The two principal forms of dance are known as khon and lakhon. If monkey acrobatics are your scene, you'll find that here too.
Not many visitors are actually aware of this, but should you have gone to see the Grand Palace earlier in the day, included in the price of your ticket, is an entry to the Vimanmek Golden Teak Mansion. Both the attractions are within a few kilometres of each other so it may well be worth your while to spend the whole day wandering around these fascinating architectural wonders.
In between, you can pause for lunch and a rest from the heat of the day. Just remember that as with the Grand Palace, you are required to dress appropriately. That is to make sure you're not wearing shorts or sleeveless shirts as you may be refused entry.
The mansion and grounds are open every day from 9:00 am until 4:00 pm.
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