The world’s largest golden teak building, the Vimanmek Palace is another of Bangkok’s big sights. A gorgeously mellow gold in colour, the mansion- for that’s what it really is- sits amidst an expanse of green lawns and flower beds- very pretty indeed. We came here straight after seeing the Grand Palace (the ticket to the Grand Palace, for 200 baht per person, is valid for entry to Vimanmek too), and arrived at just a few minutes after 2 pm- just in time to see the daily programme of traditional Thai dances which is held at Vimanmek at 2 every afternoon. The dances go on for about half an hour, and are pretty entertaining- and great photo material too.
Down to what there is to see at Vimanmek: right at the beginning is the Palace Museum, a modest-sized collection which is nevertheless interesting enough- it has some stunning artefacts crafted from gold and silver, nielloware, beetleware (this is something I hadn’t seen before: little statuettes- of peacocks, roosters, other colourful birds, etc- all decorated with the bright blue-green chitinous covering of a local beetle); ceramics, basketry, Thai silk, and stuff like that- very good.
The Vimanmek Palace (built in 1901 by King Rama V) can only be seen as part of a guided tour group. The mansion is interesting enough, historic and fairly imposing, but the guides- if the one who led our group was anything to go by- are abysmal. Barring the fact that his English left a lot to be desired, he seemed to have memorised the script so thoroughly that just one question would throw him totally offtrack).
Anyway, more about the mansion itself: as I’d mentioned, Vimanmek is the world’s largest golden teak building, constructed just over 100 years ago in a Thai-European (more European, really) style, without using a single nail. It has 72 rooms, of which less than half are open to visitors. These include bathrooms, bedrooms, staterooms, libraries, and more all of them still furnished with original upholstery, furniture and fittings used by the former royal families of Thailand. Among the many treasures are a huge collection of photographs and paintings of various kings, queens, princesses, princes, etc; clothing, jewellery, books, weapons, typewriters, musical instruments and other objects owned by them- including carriages, the world’s largest blue topaz; a chamberpot used by King Rama V (!) and more.
All fairly interesting, including the unrepaired hole in the roof (well, partly unrepaired) caused by a Japanese bombing in World War II- the Thais believe that the benevolent wraith of King Rama V protected Vimanmek from complete destruction!