What is Dusit?
When King Rama V returned from his visit to Europe in 1897, he moved the royal palace, the throne hall and the royal family palaces from the Rattanakosin Grand Palace to Dusit.
If arriving from Ratchadamnoen Road, beyond the 9 Gems Gate the visitor sees a huge plaza featuring a large statue of King Rama V on a horse. Behind it is the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall. Out of sight and northwest of there are the Vimanmek Mansion and the Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall.
This order is a good one for a visit. If beginning early, the day can be end at the Dusit Zoo – just east of the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall.
However, this is a shortlist. The complex includes 16 halls presently available to visit and another four that are closed to the public. Those with a deep interest in Thailand at the beginning of the 20th Century would probably spend a few days exploring this huge museum.
East of the sites described here is the Chitlada Palace, the king's formal residence. The palace is beyond a moat and a wall, and is not open to the public.
Seldom is the arrival direction relevant to our experience of an attraction. That’s not so in Royal Bangkok. The Dusit Palaces are best seen if arriving from the Grand Palace along Ratchadamnoen Road. This can be accomplished by foot, taxi or tuk-tuk; I recommend beginning early in the morning and walking through this easy, but glorious path.
Despite the Western style of parts of it, Ratchadamnoen Road is intrinsically Thai. Few Westerners would recognize it as a single conceptual unit since it is technically divided into three parts, namely Ratchadamnoen Nok (outer), Ratchadamnoen Klang (middle), and Ratchadamnoen Nai (inner). The last starts from the Grand Palace and lies along Sanam Luang. Ratchadamnoen Klang starts from Sanam Luang and reaches the Golden Mount. Ratchadamnoen Nok connects the Golden Mount with the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall and the Dusit area.
The road symbolizes the transition from the old Siamese absolute monarchy area of the Grand Palace to the new Thai modern constitutional monarchy at the Dusit Palace. The symbol has also architectural representation; the Grand Palace is traditional Thai in style, while the parts near the Dusit Palace were built mainly in European style.
In 1900 the King had the Munthaturattanaroj Residence – his Summer Palace in Chuthathujrachathan at Koh Sri Chang, Chonburi – dismantled and rebuilt in the Dusit Garden, after that the structure became known as the Vimanmek Mansion; it was inaugurated in Bangkok on 1901. Certain Thai consonant is usually transliterated as "v" despite its sound being "w;" thus the correct pronunciation of the mansion’s name is "Wimanmek;" it means "celestial mansion."
The three-storey royal mansion has 81 rooms built in 19th Century European style. The building has two right-angled wings, sixty meters long each. At their meeting point is the four-storied, octagonal structure where the king lived. The widest point is 35 meters long, while the building’s height is 28 meters; all the teakwood parts were connected without nails. Nowadays it includes 31 exhibition rooms. Items related to the Thai culture of the time are in display in them.
Other buildings in the same compound include an exhibition of H.M. King Bhumibol’s photography, H.M. Queen Sirikit’s collection of handicraft masterpieces created by rural people, the Paraphernalia of Rank and Portraits Museum, the Old Clocks Museum, Royal Carriages, the Royal Ceremonial Photographic Museum, the Suan Si Ruedo Residential Hall Museum, the Suan Bua Residential Hall Museum, the Ancient Cloth and Silk and others.
Most of the structures hosting these institutions have a long history, dating back to King Rama V decision to allocate plots of land for the construction of residences for his consort, princesses, and other wives.
The mansion has been transformed into a museum dedicated to King Rama V. It is open daily from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM, including weekends and public holidays; the ticketing and guided tours stop roughly an hour before closure. Proper attire is observed (sarongs, pants and shirts can be rented), shoes must be left by the entrance at a special place, and cameras must be submitted to the guards by the entrance (they are kept in lockers for a small fee). The entrance to the mansion is exclusively as part of a guided tour (given also in English and included in the admission fee). Moreover, the site serves official functions, so despite it being open every day, it may close unexpectedly due to an official ceremony. A point to keep in mind are the two traditional Thai dancing shows taking place daily at 10:30 AM and 2 PM.
Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall
This palace was built between 1907 and 1915 in Italian Renaissance style; cherubim adorn its gates. It is hard to find any Thai touches in the whole structure. After the 1932 coup which ended the absolute monarchy, it housed the Thai parliament. After a new parliament was constructed nearby, this building has been kept for royal and important state ceremonies.
The palace can be visited after buying tickets at an office awkwardly placed behind it (so that the view of the palace from the plaza would not be obstructed). The throne hall is constructed of Italian Carrara marble and is almost fifty meters wide, over 110 meters long and almost fifty meters high. The large central dome is surrounded by six smaller ones; in their interior, murals depict the Chakri Dynasty history. The building is open to visitors daily from 9:30 AM to 3:15 PM.
Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall
Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall is east of Vimanmek Mansion and facing the Elephant Museum and Local Textile Exhibition Hall. This single story building is an awesome example of Thai architecture, featuring carved floral motifs on panels adorning the gables and eaves and a mix of Victorian lines with Moorish porticoes.
The throne hall became in 1993 a center for the SUPPORT Foundation, which attempts to preserve traditional Thai art and handicraft and to assist rural people in marketing their traditional products. Its main hall contains Thai handicrafts, though the throne still stands at the far end under an elaborate high ceiling. The collection includes silverware with complex Thai designs as well as Krueng Thom. The last is a form of art where thin sheets of silver coated with gold are cut, bent, twisted and then molded into various shapes, following that, designs are engraved on the surface and filled with a black amalgam. Additional items include Khram floral designs, where fine pieces of gold and silver are beaten and stamped onto boxes or vases. Precious stones necklaces and brooches presented by northern hill tribes to the king during his visits to their villages are also in display.
Another room displays Thai silk in its different styles and textures, traditional northern hill tribe embroidery and vine-woven baskets. Carvings from soap and wood and Talung buffalo hides puppets used in a shadow drama from Southern Thailand are also shown.
Chang Ton - Royal Elephant Museum
Near the U-Thong Nai entrance of the Dusit compound, at the exit of the Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall, is the Royal Elephant Museum. Elephants are an important part of the Thai culture, having been used as war machines and working force. White elephants are considered as auspicious and presented to the king.
In the past, the museum grounds were the royal stable; nowadays, the living items are kept at the nearby Chitlada Palace. The museum includes two structures which display exhibits – tusks, skins and items produced with them – as well as displays explaining the history of elephants and white elephants, the methods of capturing them, various rituals and Thai beliefs relating to them.
Dusit Zoo was created in 1938 on a premium location donated by the king; before that it was the Royal Private Garden within the Dusit Royal Garden of King Rama V. King Rama VIII donated the garden to as a public zoo. Nowadays it is one of the largest zoos in Southeast Asia, and one of the most pleasant green spaces in the metropolis.