The Former Palace (affectionately nicknamed Wang Doem) is situated on the banks of the Chao Phraya River at the mouth of Bangkok Yai Canal, next to Wat Arun (The Temple of The Dawn). Sitting on the opposite bank from Bangkok’s Grand Palace, Wang Doem represents a crucial period in the history of the Kingdom of Siam.
It was the ruling palace of the City of Thonburi, which was established by King Taksin the Great in 1768, after he recaptured Siam’s independence from Burma. Since Ayutthaya (the previous Siamese capital) had been totally razed by the Burmese invaders, King Taksin established Thonburi as his capital city instead.
Though the reign of King Taksin the Great lasted just 12 years (1770-1782), he set the Kingdom firmly back on the path to independence and national pride, having restored both the country itself and the spirit of the people. Thonburi remained the capital of Siam for 15 years, until it was decided to move across the river for reasons of strategic defense. The location of the old city of Bangkok is nestled by the Chao Phraya on three sides, making it easier to defend.
Even after the move, the Former Palace retained its crucial importance because of its ‘Wichai Prasit’ Fort. Also called ‘Wichai Yen’, this fort was built during the reign of King Narai the Great of Ayutthaya Kingdom. Wichai Prasit Fort was an essential line of defense to protect Bangkok from invaders.
Besides its administrative and military glories, the Former Palace was the place where Kings Rama III and IV of the Chakri Dynasty were born. In 1910, King Rama V donated the palace to the Royal Thai Navy School. It still serves as the headquarters of the Royal Thai Navy.
Buildings of the Former Palace:
The Principal Audience Hall is a Thai-style building, its roof adorned with magnificent Naga and swan stuccos. Formerly, this was the audience hall in which visiting officials were received in state. In front of the hall is an open pillared verandah covered by a saddle roof containing a throne from which the king would grant audiences.
The Royal Residence contained the Royal Bedchamber and living quarters.
The twin buildings were built in a blend of Chinese and Thai architectural styles. At present, the big building exhibits King Taksin’s great works for the Nation, as well as paintings, utensils and maps, while the small building displays information concerning warfare, exhibited through maps and paintings.
Phrabat Somdej Phra Pinklao’s Royal Residence was built according to Western-style architecture. The upper floor was formerly the residence of King Rama IV’s younger brother, the beloved Phrabat Somdej Phra Pinklao. In fact he was so well loved that he was considered to be the 2nd King of Siam. The ground floor served as the dwellings of royal servants and court officers.
At present, the building’s upstairs exhibits Phrabat Somdej Phra Pinklao’s work, as well as serving as a library, while the downstairs displays coin and currency exhibits, exquisite nielloware, and ancient Thai pottery.
King Taksin’s Shrine and Wichai Prasit Fort are two other amazing buildings located on the palace grounds. They have both been renovated and are well-maintained.
For further information contact the Foundation for Conserving the Former Palace (Phra Ratchawang Doem), Royal Thai Navy Headquarters, tel. 0 2475 4117. Admission is 60 baht for the public and 20 baht for students. The palace is open from 8.30am – 4pm everyday, except public holidays.