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Royal heritage

Mrigadayavan Palace was King Vajiravudh's summer residence in Cha Am.

There is more to the sleepy town of Cha-am than meets the eye. International golf courses and beaches aside - the elegant Mrigadayavan Palace and its surrounding mangrove nature trail has become increasingly popular among visitors.

The Mrigadayavan, King Vajiravudh's summer palace was built in 1924, offers guests a rare insight - through a photo exhibition - into the king's love and care for Queen Indrasakdi Sachi while she was pregnant. Expecting an heir to the throne, he is said to have taken good care of her during her pregnancy which unfortunately ended in a miscarriage.

The king nevertheless had a daughter, Princess Bejaratana, through his royal consort Phra Nang Chao Suvadhana just one day before his death.

Soon afterwards it became known as palace of love and hope. The palace takes its name from its location: there is a stream that attracts wild animals, especially deer. Mrigadayavan means deer forest. It's the same name as the forest where Buddha preached his first sermon.

Documents adorning the walls tell how the king himself designed the palace. Later he assigned an Italian architect, Ercole Manfredi who at the time was an employee of the Civil Works Department, to put the final touches to his initial blueprint. Still, the architecture is distinctly Western. King Rama V ruled from 1868-1910.

One of the many photos gracing the royal gallery at the former summer palace.
  A modest catch, but enough for a meal, this fisherman seems to be hinting.
This wooden walkway leads visitors through a lush mangrove forest.
The stylish `Merchant of Venice Garden' is an excellent spot to unwind.

Walking through the mammoth property is no easy feat as it constitutes of 16 golden teak buildings divided into three groups, each connected by verandas built on stilts. It is worth noting that the high ceilings and fretwork on all walls facilitate ventilation so visitors can enjoy the sea breeze.

The palace is a two-storeyed wooden edifice arranged in a rectangular layout. It features a hall for organising meetings, events, and performances.A spiral staircase takes visitors to the upper floor. In the southern part of the compound, there is a balcony with a stage. A stroll through this area made me think of the times when it was used to regale the monarch with music and classical dance.

The actual residence of King Vajiravudh is linked with a cluster of buildings called Samudrabiman. It has a bed chamber, a bathroom, working rooms, a dining room, and quarters for senior court officials. The residence of Queen Indrasakdi was in a building close by so that the King could look after her during her pregnancy. It is interesting to observe that these buildings were connected to beachfront bathing pavilions via corridors.

In the compound's south was the residence of another royal consort - Phra Sucharitsuda. Called the Bisansagara zone, this area was restricted to women. It has a living room, a bedroom, a dressing room, a bathroom and a verandah, with a corridor leading to another beachfront bathing pavilion parallel to those already mentioned.

Mrigadayavan Palace is indeed a masterpiece left by King Vajiravudh to his people.

A short walk from the palace is a mangrove nature trail that has lately become popular among bikers and trekkers. The best time for the twin activities is morning or in the evening. While the mangrove is large, there is a section where Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn planted tress on August 17, 1994. They have grown to full size and helped restore the ecosystem and deteriorating soil in the forest. This section also serves as a recreation ground for visiting tourists.

Mrigadayavan Palace sits in the compound of Special Training Division, Rama VI Camp. It is open daily from 8:30am to 4pm. The camp's phone number is 66-03-247-1388. For further information, call the Tourism Authority of Thailand's Central Region IV office at 66-03-247-1005/6. Bangkok Post

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