The Royal Ground
Sanam Luang, also known as the Royal Ground or the Field of Kings is a circular-shaped lawn directly north of the Grand Palace and one of the largest open spaces in the city of Bangkok. It is the traditional site for royal ceremonies such as the annual Royal Plowing Ceremony and the Kite Flying Festival. See Thai Festivals for this.
Sanam Luang provides desperately needed space for impromptu soccer matches, children’s games and those of you who love to go jogging. It’s also the preferred public protest venue for locals to vent their grievances as were the cases during the massacres of the pro-democracy demonstrations of 1973, 1976 and 1992.
Sites and Sounds
Thai people are naturally superstitious and have for many generations worn some form of protective fetish such as a lucky talisman to help create fortunes, pass a difficult exam, finding the right love partner, induce potency or fertility (for practical purposes, some amulets are designed as phalluses to ensure sexual potency) and perhaps even to keep bugs out of rice crops.
On the other hand, some new and antique amulets are thought to help protect against evil spirits, fend off a knife and bullet attacks, or ward off mother-in-laws. The amulet market is big business and comes in a myriad of forms. There are even some magazines dedicated to them.
One of the best ways to get to Sanam Luang is to take a leisurely riverboat ride on the Chao Phraya Express. Ask to disembark at the Tha Prachan/Wat Mahathat river-taxi dock and then take a short walk up narrow Phra Chan street. At the end or the road, turn left into Na Phra That street where you’ll find the entrance to the royal ground and the cheering crowds it attracts. If you’re visiting the Grand Palace for part of the day, then take a short taxi ride.
Among the neighbouring streets and sidewalks, you’ll find the Amulet Market and its salesmen selling an array of trinkets featuring all sorts of tiny religious Buddhas, famous monks, sacred statues as well as some weird and wonderful occult objects. Hawkers here also trade in traditional herbal medicine, love lotions and potions and lucky charms.
Spiritually speaking, this region of Bangkok is thought to be the luckiest in the city. Astrologers and fortune tellers can also be seen all over the place, especially around Wat Phra Kaew eagerly waiting for potential customers like you so as to chart your stars and read your palms. The Amulet Market is open daily from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm. Try not to miss this special place.
Places of Interest
Wat Mahathat Temple
The trail here will eventually lead you to the entrance of Wat Mahathat Temple situated on the western side of the royal ground on Manathat Road. This large and busy complex originally dates back to the 18th century. Later between the years of 1844 and 1855 both the wihan and bot here were completely rebuilt.
The Wat is the national centre for the Mahanikai monastic sect and houses one of two Buddhist universities. Its name is Maha Chulalongkorn Rajavidyalaya. The Vipassana Meditation Centre here is where you are welcome to attend some classes practising both sitting and standing meditations. There is also a daily traditional herbal medicine market and should you be here on weekends, you will find there are numerous stalls selling a wide range of goods.
One of the highlights around the royal ground is the National Museum situated close to the northwestern corner of Sanam Luang. The entrance is on Na Phra That Road. Note that the museum is only open from Wednesday to Sunday from 9:00 am until 4:00 pm. The last time I was here, the admission fee was 40 Baht and included a free leaflet with a map of all the buildings on the grounds.
This enormous museum has one of the largest and most magnificent collections of the countries chief artistic riches. The museum provides an excellent introduction to the arts and crafts as well as the immense history of Thailand. The artifacts seen here range from diverse centuries old sculptures, khon masks, some very strange and bizarre gold and ceramic decorative objects, outlandish funeral chariots and even an elephant riding-seat made out of ivory. It’s well worth spending time here.
The star attraction is the Buddhaisawan Chapel built in 1787 and houses some of the best Rattanakosin period murals in Thailand.
Another would be the Royal Funeral Chariot Gallery where you’ll get to see several lavishly decorated gilded teak chariots used in royal funeral processions.
The graceful 14th-century bronze Sukhothai Buddha Image finished in gold and red lacquer is another good find as is the 18th-century Dvaravati Wheel of Law, a stone wheel symbolising Buddha’s first sermon in a deer park in Sarnath, India.
The best days to go to the museum is on a Wednesday or a Thursday, as you can join the free guided tours in English. Tours start at 9:30 am and can be somewhat entertaining as the guides explication of the choicest exhibits provides a good introduction to Thai religion and culture. You can easily spend a good part of the day here.
There is a restaurant inside the museum grounds near the Royal Funeral Chariots Gallery serving decent and inexpensive Thai food. There’s also an air-conditioned cafe serving cold drinks, sandwiches and cakes.