Muang Boran, the ancient city, is one fascinating sight that is missing from every traveller’s guidebook and website. After a day trip to this amazing park/outdoor museum, it feels as though we have toured the whole country. Honestly — and I’m not exaggerating here — Muang Boran is hands-down the best place I’ve ever visited in Thailand.
First of all, the place is so huge, it is a city in its own right! You can explore more than 100 historic landmarks all in one place! Not only is the park in the shape of Thailand, the landmarks are placed according to their actual location. This meticulously-designed museum is literally a miniature Thailand!
The ancient city is located in Samut Prakan province outside Bangkok. We hired a cab to take us there and back to our hotel. It was an hour’s drive to get there. And — I can’t stress this enough — it was so totally worthwhile!
The sheer size of the park makes it practically impossible to explore on foot. But you can drive your car in (for a fee), rent bicycles and even buggies! Boy do we love the buggies. It sure brings back memories of Bintan Lagoon Resort!
With that, we’re ready to begin our journey back to the past!
Most of the landmarks here are replicas that have been painstakingly constructed to accurately match the originals. The bell-shaped stupa is a third smaller than the actual monument at Nakhon Si Thammarat. Do they deliberately give it a faded paint job? Because it sure looks every bit as aged as the original that was built in 555 A.D.! In fact, it looks just like the stupas from the ruins of Ayutthaya!
The masterpiece of ancient city is the beautiful Sanphet Prasat Palace from the early Ayutthaya period. What’s incredible is that the palace was completely destroyed in 1767 when Ayutthaya fell to Burma. But through extensive study of archaeological and historical evidence, plus sheer determination, the palace has been rebuilt in Muang Boran.
Isn’t it remarkable how Muang Boran has made it possible for us to walk amongst the buildings from centuries ago, even the ones that have been completely destroyed? Centuries from now, would anyone build a miniature Singapore?
One particularly famous Buddha head at Wat Mahathat in Ayutthaya has tree roots growing around it but, strangely, never quite covering the face. Similarly, this image of a Hindu deity also has tree roots growing around it. (Gotta say that the Buddha head is more intriguing though.) Doesn’t he look like he’s waving?
The original statues are kept at the Nakhon Si Thammarat National Museum.
The Phra Mahathat of Chaiya is one of the most sacred and important monasteries in the South of Thailand. The design of the mud-red stupa was inspired by the most ancient form of stupa found in Java, Indonesia.
This model of the Stupa of Phra Mahathat in Ratchaburi province is duplicated to scale at three quarters the original size. “Mahathat” sure is a popular name for temples! There seems to be a “Wat Mahathat” in every province!
The Buddha’s posture, seated with his feet resting on the floor, so called the teaching posture, is a distinct artistic style of the Dvaravati kingdom that existed from the 6th to 11th centuries.
Religious structures and Buddha images constructed during the Dvaravati period tend to be large. With only broken pillars left standing, the wihan (assembly hall) above is not much of a hall anymore. The Muang Boran architects have certainly done a great job in making the monument replicas look as realistic as possible.
If you have seen the Grand Palace, you should probably recognise this landmark. The Dusit Maha Prasat Palace is the most easily identified structure on the palace grounds. The replica in Muang Boran is meant to recreate the original state of the palace when it was first built in 1806, so it is not exactly identical to the one in the present day, which has seen some modifications over the decades.
As we’ve already learned from the trip to the Bangkok National Museum, King Naresuan was an outstanding warrior. This monument commemorates the Great Battle of Yuthahathi, in which he defeated the son of the Burmese king in 1592. Kings that can physically fight and win a war simply make my knees go weak.
The pair of feet at the foot of the staircase offers a clue as to what this place is. Climb up the steps and you would get closer to the footprint of… Lord Buddha. Considered one of the most sacred places of Thailand, the original structure is on the top of a hill in Saraburi province. As the legend goes…
A hunter named Phran Boon followed a deer that he had shot to the ridge of a low hill. There, he saw the wounded deer drinking water from a small pond. Astonishingly, the wounds on the creature’s body suddenly disappeared. When the deer fled, the hunter came to look at the pond and found that in fact the pond was the footprint of the Buddha. Being reported and investigating the site himself, Phra Chao Song Tham (1620-1628) found the ancient Buddha footprint of which its appearance in Siam was foretold by Ceylonese monks in a Ceylonese scripture.
If you’re wondering whether this replica actually houses any footprint, the answer is yes. It belongs to an Indian president.
Speaking of deer, we spotted some of them grazing in a barricaded area. They were so adorable!
This monument represents the courage of the people of Bang Rachan from the late Ayutthaya period. They were a group of villagers that fought bravely and eventually sacrificed themselves to defend their community from a Burmese siege.
It kind of reminds me of the Heineken Christmas tree.
The Grand Hall of Wat Mahathat in sukhothai province now lays in ruins. Imagine what it was like, back in its heyday when the pillars belonged to a whole building. This replica is smaller than the original hall by three quarters.
Standing behind the Buddha image is the main chedi (stupa in Thai) of the temple.
Notice that its square base is accented with little motifs of walking Buddha images.
Along the way, we spotted some big birds by a lake. Those are geese right? Anyway I got off our buggy to get their pictures. When I squatted down, they looked about the same height as me. And then those darn birds came after me! If I wasn’t quick enough I would have been pecked!
This fruit-shaped tower is modelled after Wat Mahathat, Sankhaburi in Chai Nat (there, another Mahathat!). If you were to ask me what fruit it is, cucumber immediately comes to mind. The actual fruit that gave it its name is actually starfruit (!!!).
The tower goes way back to the pre-Ayutthaya periods, around the 13th century. The unusual thing about this 20 metre tall, 12 metre wide structure is that no plaster was used to hold the bricks together. So how does the whole thing not collapse?
Even older than the fruit-shaped tower is the Chedi of Cham Thewi at Wat Ku Kud, dating back to the 9th and 10th centuries. Quick math question: the stupa bears a pyramidal shape that is divided into 5 levels. On each level there are Buddha images, 3 on each of the 4 sides. How many Buddha images are there altogether?
Although most of the monuments here are replicas, some are actually originals that were obtained and refurbished for the park. This bell tower came from Wat Yai, Bang Khonthi in Samut Songkhram province.
Another original is Wat Chong Kham, a temple-monastery that came from Lampang province. Much care was taken to preserve all the details of the teak building, modelled after pagan architecture.
Chedi Chet Yod, the seven-spired pagoda, is currently situated at Wat Photaram Mahawihan in Chiang Mai. The stone arch opening on the main chedi leads to a rectangular hall 10 metres wide and 22 metres deep, with a seated Buddha image. It was built sometime in the 15th century.
Stucco motifs of Indian celestial beings adorn the base walls.
The Reclining Buddha. He has kind of a curvy figure.
This group of stupas above are replicas of the Sikhoraphum stone sanctuary of Surin province, dating back to the 12th century. They were originally Hinduism stupas, but were eventually converted to Buddhism stupas in the 15th century.
The Phimai stone sanctuary, located in Nakhon Ratchasima province, is the largest Buddhist monument in Thailand.
You recognise her, don’t you? Kuan-Yin, the Goddess of Compassion, used to be male until after the Tang dynasty! I didn’t know that!
Many locals were spotted praying around kuan-yin. Hanging from the trees around the statue were these red cards with little bells, written with prayers and wishes.
Besides replicas and restored originals, creative designs of the Muang Boran architects can be found here too. Take for instance the Phra Kaew Pavilion above. The octagonal structure was built in the Ayutthayan style to represent Ayutthaya as a centre of Buddhism in the past.
The Pavilion of the Enlightened is very popular with the Thais. As these elaborate pavilions and temples with their green roofs and gold fringes are built upon a lake, they can only be accessed via a bridge.
Spot the jolly laughing Buddha!
Look, this beautiful ship has eyes! In the past, Bangkok and Ayutthaya benefited from their strategic locations along the Chao Phraya River, the same way Singapore benefited from the Singapore river.
Back then, traders would bring Thai goods overseas using such ships, called Thai junks. They gradually disappeared some 50 years ago.
Altogether there are 116 monuments in Muang Boran so this is just a small sampling of them. Eateries and drinks stalls are littered around the park. There are also a couple of markets selling souvenirs.
It’s hard to believe that this incredible place is really the creation of just one man who had a deep passion for Thai culture and architecture. Today, his heirs continue his legacy. I heard that this magnificent project isn’t even financed by the government. Labor of love indeed! I encourage everyone to go visit it if you can. It would be an experience of a lifetime.
296/1 Sukhumvit Road
Samut Prakan 10280
Tel: +66 0 2709 1644
Opening hours: 9am – 5pm
Admission: Adults 300 baht; Children 200 baht
Back to Bangkok, we had our lunch/dinner at a nice Japanese restaurant in MBK Center, above the Tokyu department store.
Some of the set meals were extremely value-for-money.
The set meal I had came with the unadon, udon, salad and tofu.
The curry katsu don wasn’t too shabby either. This is one of those places I would return for a meal if I was to visit Bangkok again.
We end the day with drinks at Sirocco, one of the highest bars in the world.