Christmas is upon us, with memories of pine trees, presents, and bedtime tales. Classic movies and fairy tales are part of the Christmas tradition that doesn’t always translate to Thailand. Yet there is one magical place close to Bangkok where memories of enchantment evoke the spirit of the holiday.
About 50 kilometres west of Bangkok, in Nakhon Pathom, sits a castle seemingly swiped from Snow White. Before ascending to the throne, then-Crown Prince Vajiravudh was a regular visitor to the area, coming often for pilgrimage to Phra Pathommachedi. In 1907, he bought about 135 hectares of land so that he could build a place to stay. And so Sanam Chandra Palace was built for the young King Rama VI.
Like most castles owned by Thailand’s royal family, Sanam Chandra Palace is a collection of small mansions and castles surrounded by opulent gardens. Some of the villas were granted to Silpakorn University to support its growing enrolment, but the three most beautiful structures remain in their original form, including the most imposing—and the most classical—the Bhimarn Prathom Residence, which was King Rama VI’s personal abode.
Itthithepsan Kritdakorn, a minor member of the royal family bearing the title of Mom Chao, constructed the other two surviving structures. Europe was the obvious source of inspiration for the architect, who studied at Harrow in England, visited the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and was a founding member of the Association of Siamese Architects. Commissioned sometime around 1916, his Mareerajaratabulung Residence was built with golden teak in European neo-classical style. The dark orange and pink structure is a curious coming together of an English manor and Thai details, such as the tiled roof and the open galleries. It is connected by a delicate wooden walkway passing a moat to Chaleemongkolasana Residence, the second stunning building designed by the young royal.
The tiny medieval-style castle resembles the palaces project in popular media, with its half-timber façade, arcades, and turrets. Built around 1908, it is said to be influenced by both the French Renaissance and Tudor England. However, its shape is more reminiscent of the structures built during the reign of King Louis II, or the Bavarian castles in Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau.
Their reflections shimmering off the moat, both castles look perfect, almost unreal, as if they belonged to a movie set. Fitting, then, that Chaleemongkolasana Residence used to play host to a number of stage plays. And one of the most famous actors in those plays just so happened to be King Rama VI himself.
To get to Sanam Chandra, follow the signage to Nakhon Pathom, 56 kilometres west of Bangkok. It is about a 70-minute drive from the city. The castle is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 4pm.