Phya Thai Palace isn’t one of Bangkok’s must-see attractions, but if you have an interest in architecture or just want to get off the main tourist trail, the palace and grounds are worth a look. Constructed in the early 1900s by King Rama V (King Chulalongkorn) the former royal residence has had a multitude of uses during its history ranging from hospital to hotel to radio station, but it is now a museum featuring exhibits and photos from the time of King Rama V.
Located next to a busy hospital and set back slightly from the main Ratchawithi Road, visitors to modern-day Bangkok may need to use a bit of imagination to picture the palace in its heyday when it provided a peaceful rural retreat for the Siamese monarch. Crossing the footbridge over the main road to the front entrance provides a good overview of the European-style palace with its distinctive spire. Part of the palace buildings are now used by the hospital and nursing college and the sight of doctors and nurses walking between the connecting walkways is something that probably isn’t replicated in too many other royal palaces around the world.
There are a number of Thai food stalls within the grounds to the rear of the palace which is also home to a shrine and a small park providing shaded seating areas. With an array of vendors selling food, drinks and flower garlands, it’s a colourful scene and a good spot to unwind for a while and just watch the world go by. An excellent coffee shop at the front of the palace provides another cool place to sit and enjoy the sort of peace and quiet than can be difficult to find at some of Bangkok’s better-known attractions. At the time of writing there is renovation work going on around the back of the palace, but even that didn’t distract from the generally serene atmosphere when I visited.
Phra Mongkut Klao Hopsital
The large gardens and the shrine at the back of the palace are a popular spot for visitors and patients attending the adjacent Phra Mongkut Klao Hopsital. This hospital is associated with the army and if you look closely enough you will see small shrines that have been set up to the side of the small access road that runs between the palace and the hospital. Look even closer and should see the miniature military figures, but they are wearing camouflage so are easy to miss at first glance!
The nearest Skytrain station is Victory Monument (use the exit marked Ratchawithi Hopsital) and Phaya Thai Palace is a 10-minute walk along Ratchawithi Road. Just beyond the Faculty of Tropical Medicine you will see a foot-bridge and the palace on the opposite side of the road.
The palace is open Monday-Friday from 08.30 to 16.30 with free entry. Guided tours (where a fee is charged) are only available on Saturdays in specified time slots so it may be easier to just arrange your own tour guide at your own convenience. There are information boards at the palace but these are all in Thai language only. You don’t have to use a tour guide and if the history doesn’t worry you too much you can still enjoy the gardens and the general ambience free of charge.