Stroll around all of Thailand in just a few hours
Imagine jumping from the enigmatic figure of the seated Buddha of Sukhothai, to the Chedi Chet Yod (the seven-spired pagoda in Chiang Mai), to the Dusit Maha Prasat Palace in Bangkok—all within a matter of minutes. Something so seemingly impossible is, in fact, quite possible for visitors of Muang Boran, also known as Ancient Siam, a theme park dedicated to the cultural and architectural glories of the Kingdom.
The visionary behind this park was late Lek Viriyaphant, a successful businessman who initially wanted to build a golf course in the shape of a map of Thailand with miniatures of famed Thai sites placed at certain spots along the course. However, saddened by the decay of many ancient sites within Thailand, he changed his mind and instead created an open air museum dedicated to both the extraordinary variety of Thailand’s local architecture, and to the nation’s most famous sites and landmarks. In the guide material Viriyaphant explains that his open air museum would help to remedy the existing moral deterioration of human society by promoting arts and culture as a national heritage for all the world to see.
Construction began in 1963 and was completed in 1972, making Muang Boran—located Samut Prakan, just south of Bangkok—the oldest theme park in Thailand. Unfortunately, this attraction does not make headlines anymore these days compared to newer theme park opening up all over, which is a shame as Muang Boran lets visitors discover the variety of architecture and cultural heritage throughout Thailand, via over a hundred exceedingly well-made reproductions of the country’s most famous sites and monuments. And despite its 50-year existence, it remains a beautiful, well maintained property.
It’s no secret that the park has an educational purpose. It not only shows the various architectural styles from the North to the South, and from the East to the West of Thailand, but also the various periods in the history of the country. By showing the monuments in chronological order, the park covers periods such as Dvaravati, Srivichai, Lopburi, Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, and Rattanakosin (among others).
Visitors stroll from one stupa to another. There are probably some 30 to 40 stupas from Thailand’s most famous Wat and Shrines, including illustrious monuments such as Nakhon Si Thammarat’s famed Phra Maha That stupa, the Chedi of Cham Thewi in Lamphun with its 60 niches containing a statue of Buddha, the graceful Khmer style Prang of Phimai sanctuary tower, or the Phanom Rung temples in Isaan.
Between stupas and palaces are villages from various regions of Thailand showing the distinctive architectures from the South, Isaan, Central Thailand, and the North. A favourite picture taking area is the Floating Market where a central canal is surrounded by traditional Thai wooden houses—many of them being authentic houses saved from destruction. There’s even a traditional Thai mosque preserved here, which is over 100 years old.
For most visitors the park’s pièce de résistance is the Prasat Sanphet Palace of Ayutthaya. While the real palace is a historic ruin, the structure in Muang Boran is a faithful reconstitution of the palace, which was built by King Phra Baromatrai Lokanat in the middle of the 15th century. With its intricate roofs, its reconstituted wall paintings, and its golden stuccos, the palace is itself a masterpiece of Thai craftsmanship and architectural skill. It served as a reception hall to Queen Elizabeth II during her state visit in 1972. Today, however, there is no need to be part of Britain’s Royal Family to enjoy what can be considered part of the national heritage of Thailand.
Words by Luc Citrinot
Photos by Bruce Scott
NOTE: Ancient City is located 30 minutes from Bangkok city centre (Tel: 02 709 1644-8). The BTS extension to Samut Prakan will soon provide a station near to the Erawan Museum. Until then a shuttle bus is offered on weekends leaving from BTS station Bearing. The price is B600 for adults (B350 for Thai nationals).