Rent a golf cart or bicycle to tour the Ancient Siam
A tourist attraction that is not featured in every guidebook, but is only a stone’s throw from Bangkok, is the Ancient Siam in Samut Prakan. As many of you know, this is my home province and one of my tasks is to help promote tourism in my area. I think this has become even more important now because the new airport at Suvarnabhumi is in our province. So, many of our tourist attractions are only 45 minutes or so away and quite possible to be done by people who are in transit and have four or five hours to spare. The Ancient Siam is not that far from the new airport and you can easily spend an enjoyable two or three hours exploring this open air museum.
Thailand guidebooks like the Lonely Planet say that this park is full of important monuments and buildings that have been “scaled down”. This gives the misconception that everything is in miniature. That is far from the truth. Everything is big. When they say scaled down, they mean a third or quarter of the original size. However, a number of the buildings are not only full sized but some of them are the real building that have been rescued from demolition. And that is one of the best features of the Ancient City. The park was the dream of Khun Lek who owned the Mercedez Benz dealership in Thailand. With so much money he could have chosen to squander it on luxuries of life. However, he chose a different path of preserving the national heritage for future generations. That is how the Ancient City came about.
Sanphet Prasat Palace from Ayutthaya
For people who don’t have time to visit the whole of Thailand then this open air museum is an excellent introduction to the wealth of architectural styles, important figures in Thai literature and the shops in an 100 year old market. If you are feeling fit, you can even try out some of the 80 or so yoga positions that are on display. I love going to the Ancient City to take pictures as it is a photographer’s paradise. I have been there literally a hundred times. But, it is also fascinating from a historical viewpoint. Take the Sanphet Prasat Palace from Ayutthaya as an example. This building was burned to the ground in 1767 when the Burmese ransacked the ancient capital of Thailand. Khun Lek then reconstructed this building based on contemporary records made by foreigners living in Ayutthaya at the time.
Another charming story I have heard is that there was another building that Khun Lek painstakingly copied and then built at the Ancient City. Then a few years later, the original building was badly damaged by a fire. Local government officials then sent their restoration team to the Ancient Siam in order to make detailed notes of the copy! This then helped them restore the original building. Khun Lek was also instrumental in preserving many of the ancient crafts and methods of building. If you look closely at the buildings, you will see that many of them weren’t built with nails or any modern tools at all. I think one of the most amazing engineering success stories is the temple that is on top of the artificial mountain (see top picture). During my first few visits I thought this was a real mountain as you could climb to the top and it seemed very solid. However, one day when I was exploring the base of the mountain, I discovered a little door that revealed that in fact the mountain was hollow!
Wat Mahathat in Sukhothai
My last trip to the park was on Sunday. I had a couple of visitors that I was showing around some of the tourist attractions in Samut Prakan. This park is always on the top of the list of places to visit. I took them around the park in air-conditioned comfort in my car. You can also do this in a taxi if you like. However, you could get a taxi to drop you off here and then hire a bicycle or golf cart for a few hours. There are even tram tours you can join if you are short of time. When I take people on car tours I call them highlight tours. This is because you cannot keep stopping and getting out to see all of the hundred or so exhibits. Going on bicycle you will see a lot more though of course you will get very hot and sweaty! The minimum amount of time I take people on the tour is two hours. At the weekend we were there for nearly four hours and we really only scraped the surface.
We had our lunch at the floating market area. There are a number of places to eat here. You can order noodles from someone on a boat, try some som tam if you like it spicey, or choose from pre-cooked meals on rice. There is something for everyone and the prices are reasonable. Talking of prices, the souvenirs and handicrafts on sale in the shops are also a good price and they will nearly always knock the price down for you. The park is open every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you are feeling energetic you can easily spend all day here. The cost is 300 baht for adults and 200 baht for children. The Ancient City is one of those places that have a two price system. Unfortunately, Khun Lek passed away and his family are more business minded. However, having said that, I have been impressed that they used the extra income (it is 100 baht for Thais) to renovate and build new exhibits. They even paved the red dirt roads which now saves me a trip to the car wash after every visit. I think 300 baht is not a bad price for what you are getting. However, if you have a work permit you can get in for Thai price.
To reach the Ancient Siam from Bangkok, catch bus number 511 or 145 to Samut Prakan. Then change to the local 36 songtaew.