It’s not every day that you get the chance to look around a former prime minister’s residence, so if you are interested in traditional Thai culture and looking for somewhere off the main Bangkok tourist trail, head over to M.R. Kukrit’s Heritage Home (also known as Baan Suan Phlu). And what a beautiful place it is with the pavilions, open verandas and gardens standing out as an oasis of tradition amidst the very modern environs of Bangkok. This collection of traditional Thai buildings has been registered by the Department of Fine Arts as a site of historic significance and is described as a ‘House of Important Person’. Despite this lofty title the house still retains the feel and intimacy of a family home rather than a museum. Although the owner passed away in 1995, the residence has been deliberately kept just as if M.R. Kukrit Pramoj was still alive and living here.
There are some similarities to Jim Thompson’s House, but far fewer visitors make it out to M.R. Kukrit’s Home which in itself is a good reason to visit. Unlike Jim Thompson’s House, there is no compulsory guided tour so visitors are free to wander around at leisure. If you are lucky (as I was recently) you may even get to meet the owner’s son who will welcome you into his father’s home.
The Gardens and Buildings
The home is actually a collection of pavilions and buildings set out on 5 rai (2 acres) of land which Kukrit originally purchased in 1942. He commissioned an architect in 1946 and began to source the traditional houses and materials from different communities in Bangkok, Ayutthaya and central Thailand. Over the course of 20 years, these structures were dismantled and transported to their present site for reassembly. The buildings, some of which are over 100 years old, showcase traditional Thai architecture, but it’s also clear that this was a much-loved home and it’s easy to imagine the owner writing at his table near the pond or gazing out on the gardens or miniature trees (mai dat) from the bird-watching pavilion.
The buildings include a library, prayer room and bedroom. Such was Kukrit’s reputation that it was once said that all roads in Bangkok led to this house and there was a separate reception room where the owner welcomed the movers and shakers from Thai society with politicians, journalists and foreign dignitaries all making social visits to Baan Suan Phlu. There were also less friendly visitors to the house during the time when Kukrit was the Thai prime minister with groups of students and police both holding separate protests there during Kukrit’s tenure as Thai leader.
M.R. Kukrit Pramoj
The ‘M.R.’ in the title stands for ‘Mom Rajawongse‘, an aristocratic Thai title. Born in 1911 in what was then called Siam, Kukrit had royal and political connections through his parents and his formative years saw him experiencing life in Bangkok’s Grand Palace during a period which would see huge change in the land with the end of the absolute monarchy. As a teenager he went to England to complete his studies and graduated at Oxford.
Kukrit was a man of many talents and his life in Thailand saw him work as a writer, a lecturer and a politician. He set up the Siam Rath newspaper and in 1945 he formed Thailand’s first political party before going on to serve as Thailand’s prime minister in the mid-1970s. In 1985, Kukrit was awarded the title of National Artist of Thailand to acknowledge his work and achievements in the field of literature.
Kukrit established himself as a leading authority on traditional Thai art and culture and some of his collections can still be seen on display at his home with ceramics from Sukhothai, Ban Chiang potteries and Lanna wood carvings. Visitors will also notice the collection of khon masks which were worn during performances of khon dance, the highest form of Thai classical dance drama which depicts scenes from the epic Ramayana. In the 1960s, Western culture and influences were spreading to Thailand and some of the older generation feared that aspects of traditional Thai culture could be lost with the younger generation seemingly apathetic to their heritage. To help preserve Thai traditions, Kukrit formed the Khon Thammasat Troupe in 1966 with students from Thammasat University where he was a lecturer. Kukrit died in 1995 at the age of 84, but his legacy continues with the Khon Thammasat Troupe continuing to promote the Thai arts with the knowledge and tradition of khon dance being passed on to each subsequent generation.
Location and Opening Times
M.R. Kukrit’s Heritage Home is situated at 19 Soi Phra Pinit, Bangkok. The nearest Skytrain station is Chong Nonsi. If you walk from Chong Nonsi BTS station head south along Narathiwat Road and turn left into Soi 7 which is also marked as Soi Phra Phinit. The walk takes approximately 7 minutes from Chong Nonsi BTS to M.R. Kukrit’s Home. The house can also be reached from Sathorn Tai (South Sathorn Road) by turning into Soi 3 (Soi Baan Phlu) and then turning into Soi Phra Phinit.
The entrance fee is the same for Thais and non-Thais; 50 Baht for adults and 20 Baht for children and includes a plan of the house and background information (available in English or Thai). I had previously been advised that the house was only open at the weekends so I visited on a Saturday, but according to the information on the website and the display board at the entrance, the house is open every day from 10.00 – 16.00. The grounds do sometimes host private functions and weddings so it’s worth checking beforehand to ensure the house is open to visitors.
Please respect the areas of the house where you need to remove your shoes (there are signs in Thai and English). I visited independently, but English-speaking guides are available on request (contact the website in advance).