Bangkok is known the world over for its outstanding shopping and hedonistic nightlife. But look closer, and you’ll discover a rich heritage well worth exploring. Join Petra O’Neill as she examines a remarkable personal residence cum museum, now the enduring legacy of a true Thai luminary.
M.R. Kukrit Pramoj led an exemplary life. To say he was remarkable would be to understate his many talents. He came from a privileged background, was a descendant of King Rama II and spent part of his childhood in the Grand Palace. After graduating from Oxford University, M.R.Kukrit returned to Thailand. A university lecturer, he was also a prolific author, writing numerous short stories, novels, plays and poems. He was an accomplished Thai classical dancer, an actor (appearing with Marlon Brando in The Ugly American), and a leading authority on Thai culture. He was awarded the title of National Artist in the field of literature by the National Culture Commission in 1985.
His political career was no less significant. He started the Siam Rath newspaper, entered politics, establishing the first political party in Thailand in 1945 and became the 13th Prime Minister of Thailand during the politically turbulent years of 1974-75.
From Home to Museum
In 1995 M.R. Kukrit passed away at the age of 84, leaving instructions that his home be opened to the public. From the moment you pass beyond the gates into the lush tropical two-acre garden oasis, you enter a space that is at once serene and intimate. Filled with fragrant trees of guava and tamarind, rare and exotic fragrant plants, including many varieties of flowering ginger, his beloved Thai bonsai, lily ponds, wooden bridges, fountains and Buddha statues, you are surrounded by a garden that forms an integral part of the overall design and decor that is characteristic of traditional Thai homes.
The five open-air teak pavilions, that were painstakingly disassembled and brought here from different parts of central Thailand, some more than 100 years old, are connected by a series of open verandas. Each pavilion is filled with Asian antiques, woven silk fabrics, memorabilia and an eclectic array of knick knacks reflecting the life of a man who had exquisite taste and who recognised the importance of preserving Thailand’s rich cultural and architectural heritage.
As I entered the library containing many books including books in English from his days at Oxford University, a small white cat greeted me and for the remainder of my visit, followed close behind me while the caretaker’s young daughter engaged in a game of hide and seek. I was the only visitor.
The residence is significant, since it represents a way of life of a man who was wealthy, highly influential, and cultured and yet has been left just as it was when he lived here. M. R. Kukrit’s Heritage Home reflects his deep interest in Thai culture and his own efforts at preserving it. The home is the culmination of over 20 years’ work. In one pavilion is an old wooden bed thought to have been the royal bed of King Rama II, M.R. Kukrit’s great-grandfather and while there are many paintings, my favourite is the portrait with the two dogs he adored, Sua Bai and Sam Si.
While the Jim Thompson Museum and Kamthieng House Museum are quite splendid, the lesser known M.R. Kukrit’s Heritage Home is lovingly preserved and feels more like a home than a museum and therein lies its charm. Surrounded by highrise buildings, it offers a welcome respite. Although you can take tours, I prefer just to wander, absorb, and linger for an hour or two. This is an outstanding example of responsible tourism, and should be visited by all those who appreciate heritage conservation and the adaptive reuse of traditional Thai architecture.
Where: M.R. Kukrit’s Heritage Home is located at 19 Soi Prapinit, a quiet soi off busy South Sathorn Road, near BTS Skytrain Chong Nonsi. Entry: Adults 50 Baht. Open on weekends but check first since it is also used for private functions.
Getting There: From Chong Nonsi Station Exit 2, use the elevated walkway to cross South Sathorn Road. Soi Prapinit is in a pleasant neighbourhood with many homes set in beautiful gardens.
Read This: Bangkok, A City for Everyone
Source: The Expat Magazine February 2015
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