Last week, a fellow alumnus of U of D Jesuit High School was visiting Bangkok on business, and we spent Saturday together on a whirlwind tour of some interesting but less popular local sights. From my apartment (point A on map below), I walked to Sala Daeng where I got on the SkyTrain for a short ride to National Stadium. I met my new friend at the Siam Nissan dealership on Rama I, close to where he was staying and a short walk from the BTS station. After a brief visit at the dealership to look at both Nissan’s latest models as well as some cars dating back to the mid 1950s and mid 1960s, we strolled down the block to the Jim Thompson House and Museum (point B.)
Although this was my third visit to the Jim Thompson House, I am still quite enthralled with the artistic sensibilities, creative instincts, and entrepreneurial spirit of Thompson, who is credited with establishing the Thai silk industry post-WWII. His house and gardens are beautiful and the story of his disappearance in Malaysia’s Cameroon Highlands adds a certain mystery to his life and legend.
After touring the museum and grounds, we met my driver who took us over to the Ananda Samakhom Throne Hall, a former reception hall in the Dusit Palace (point C.) I have no idea why this place isn’t completely jammed with tourists — it is perhaps the most stunning building that I have seen in Thailand from both an architectural and display perspectives. One website has referred to it as “one part Crown Jewels, one part Sistine Chapel, one part Asia” and this is dead-on.
While it is difficult to do justice to the building and exhibits with a simple narrative, this will have to do since pictures cannot be taken inside the building. This seems to be one of the few rules that I have run into in Thailand for which there are no exceptions. The facility provides lockers at the entrance where all cell phones and cameras must be left, and then you need to go through a metal detector to enter the building.
This Italian Renaissance structure was commissioned by Rama V in 1906 but it was not completed until 1915, five years after his death. The building was designed by two Italian architects and is constructed of Carrara marble from Italy. The two-story structure is 160 feet wide and 370 feet long, its main dome is 155 feet high, and it contains six smaller domes.
The history of the first six reigns of the Chakri dynasty were painted on the domes by two Italian artists. On the vaulted ceiling north of the main throne hall is a picture of Rama I returning from battle astride an elephant. Another dome shows Rama II being carried through the city on a Royal palanquin with the Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun) in the background. A third dome depicts Rama III astride his Royal palanquin with several royal buildings behind him. The western dome is interesting because it shows Rama IV seated in front of a large Buddha image but with clergy and religious figures from many religions on the left and right; this picture depicts Thailand’s commitment to religious liberty. To the south of the main throne hall is a depiction of Rama V freeing the slaves and abolishing slavery in Thailand. The coronation of Rama VI is shown on the eastern dome.
Inside the Throne Hall are beautiful gold and silver treasures many of which were created by artisan’s from the SUPPORT Training center established by Queen Sirikit. The artists work in teams of thirty or more for up to a year to create these treasures, none of which are small. Among them are a howdah (a carriage placed on the back of an elephant to carry the king into battle), palanquins, several thrones, models of the Royal Barge Suphannahongse and of a Chinese Junk under full sail, large carved wooden screens, and several large embroidered screens.
While the gold and silver work are fabulous, perhaps the most interesting part of several of the works was the use of beetle wings that have a shimmering, emerald iridescence. The wings come from metallic wood-boring beetles of the genus Sternocera and were used both in the tapestries as well as in the gold work. Since I have no pictures from inside the Throne Hall, all I can do is encourage you to come to Thailand to see this amazing site for yourself.
After our visit to the Throne Hall, we drove over to the Royal Barge Museum (point D) to see the barges. When we arrived, we found out that the barges were no longer there since the navy was practicing for a Royal Barge Procession that will be held on November 9. My driver spoke to one of the guards and he was told that the barges were at the nearby Royal Navy Dockyard (point E). We drove over to the dockyard and my driver convinced the guard on the gate to let his foreign visitors in to see the barges.
Back in May, I saw the barges, but they were all in a covered building suspended above the water. At the dockyard, all four Royal Barges were sitting in the water in the bright sunlight just off the Chao Phraya close to Wat Arun. Here are some pictures of these stunning craft at the Naval Dockyard right off the Chao Phraya.
We ended the day at the Erawan Museum in nearby Samut Prakhan (point F), and I will fill you in on that next week.
On Friday night, I joined several friends at a wine dinner that featured French wines from two châteaus owned by Jean-Michel Cazes, the owner of Lynch Bages. The night began with crispy wild mushroom spring rolls, braised lamb meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce, and crunchy calamari accompanied by a Cruse sparkling Blanc de Blancs. The Cruse family has been producing wine for almost 200 years, but the name became infamous in the mid 1970s when Château Pontet-Canet, a fifth-growth in Pauillac, was caught falsifying records and selling simple table wine as Appellation Contrôlée Bordeaux.
The meal began with river prawns served in a garlic butter sauce and served with a 2011 Domaine L’Ostal Cazes Eclipse Blanc, a blend of Viognier and Marsanne grapes. The small vineyard in the Rhone river valley grows white varietals on just 6 acres. The second course was duck breast served with a wild mushroom sauce and sautéed quinoa along with a 2009 Bordeaux Superior from Château Le Peuy Saincrit, a drinkable but not remarkable claret. For the main course, I chose Kurobuta pork tenderloin in a Merlot sauce served with roast spring vegetables. This meat comes from the Black Berkshire pig and is the best tasting pork I have eaten — very juicy, richly flavored, and melt-in-your-mouth tender. With this course, we drank a 2009 Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Domaine des Sénéchaux, another Rhone valley property owned Cazes. Made primarily from Grenache grapes, this young wine had been decanted for over two hours by the time it was served and this full-bodied wine had opened up nicely. For dessert, we enjoyed a chocolate créme brulée with fresh berries and an almond biscuit accompanied by a 2006 Château Dereszla Aszú Tokaji 3 Puttonyos. Among sweet dessert wines, I very much enjoy these topaz-hued Hungarian wines.
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2012 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.