Despite its proximity to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo, the public park at Saranrom Royal Garden doesn’t usually merit a visit from the tourists who flock to the other more celebrated sights nearby. But the loss of those on whistle-stop tours of the Thai capital is very much the gain of visitors who like to travel independently and get off the well-worn tourist track every once in a while. Take a small detour from the Grand Palace or Wat Pho and within a few minutes you will be rewarded with a peaceful and secluded green space in the heart of old Bangkok. Grab a snack and a drink from the nearby food vendors, take the weight off your feet and enjoy the solitude for an hour before emerging refreshed to take on the attractions of Bangkok once more.
Shady trees, manicured gardens, immaculate flowerbeds, park benches and gazebos all combine to make this intimate little park one of my personal favourite locations in Bangkok. And I’m in good company too because it has also been a favourite spot to relax for Thai royals and dignitaries over the years. When the park was first opened during the reign of King Rama IV it was used solely by royalty and the upper echelons of Thai society. In 1960, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej decreed that the royal park be handed over to the people of Bangkok so that everybody could enjoy the gardens and tranquil environment. One of the main features of the park is a memorial to a tragic accident that took place more than a century ago. In a mark of respect to one of Thailand’s most-loved monarchs, King Rama V (King Chulalongkorn), fresh flowers and wreaths are still laid here today.
Boat Accident Bang Pa-in, 1880
On May 31, 1880, a royal barge capsized on the Chao Phraya River at Bang Phut, Nonthaburi province whilst en route to the Summer Palace at Bang Pa-in. On board the boat was the first wife of His Majesty King Chulalongkorn and his young daughter. The law in Siam at that time forbade any commoner to touch royalty; if they did they would be executed and the same fate could also apply to all of their immediate family. When the boat capsized, nobody dared touch the queen and her daughter directly and consequently they both drowned. Princess Kannabhorn Bejraratana was not yet 2 years old. Her mother HRH Queen Sunanda was just 19 years old and expecting another baby. King Chulalongkorn was devastated by the tragedy and the circumstances that allowed it to take place. Soon after the incident the law was changed so that commoners were allowed to touch royalty if it meant saving a royal life.
King Chulalongkorn ordered the construction of a memorial at Bang Pa-in Palace near Ayutthaya. He also commissioned another memorial at Saranrom Royal Garden because this was Queen Sunanda’s favourite place to visit.
Royal memorial at Saranrom Garden, Bangkok
The plaque in the foreground of the photo above reads:
“The Monument of Her Majesty Queen Sunanda Kumaritrarana
and Her Royal Highness Princess Kannabhorn Bejraratana
This monument was erected by His Majesty King Chulalongkorn’s command to commemorate His Majesty’s consort and daughter. Accompanying His Majesty the King to Bang Pa-in both the Queen and the Princess were drowned together in the capsized boat accident at Bang Phut, Nonthaburi province in 1880. Saranrom Royal Garden was chosen as a site for the monument of the Queen and her daughter because it was their favourite place. There are descriptions on four sides of the monument; an epitaph written in Thai the other one in English, a poem composed in memory of the Queen and the other one for the Princess were on its northern, southern western and eastern sides respectively.”
Saranrom Royal Garden is located just to the south of the Grand Palace complex. It is almost directly opposite Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) sandwiched in between the roads Thanon Sanam Chai and Thanon Rachini. The park is free to enter and is open daily from 05.00 to 20.00.