Constructed entirely without nails, the world’s largest golden teak building was reassembled on this site in 1901, after being moved from its original location on Ko Sichang. It soon became a favored retreat of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) and his family and concubines while they were waiting for nearby Chitrlada Palace (see p110) to be completed. Apart from the king, the mansion was for women only. After closing in 1935 and falling into disrepair, this “celestial residence” was magnificently restored in 1982 at the request of Queen Sirikit for Bangkok’s bicentennial celebrations.
The guided tour takes in 30 of the 81 rooms via circuitous corridors. Highlights include the audience chambers, the music room, sweeping staircases, and the king’s apartments, which are contained within an octagonal tower. The palace was the first building in Thailand to have electricity and an indoor bathroom; an early light bulb and a showerhead are two of the items on display.
Treasures from the Rattanakosin era include porcelain, furniture, betel-nut sets, the first Thai alphabet typewriter, hunting trophies, and royal photographs. King Chulalongkorn was known for his taste in Western-style design, and the palace, with its verandas and high ceilings, is reminiscent of a Victorian mansion.
Although the tour allows little time inside, visitors can walk around outside or sit in a lakeside porch, where Thai dancing and disquieting monkey acrobatics are staged twice daily.