Thailand may be famed for its beautiful temples and age-old traditions, but one of the things that make its capital Bangkok interesting from a historical perspective is how rapidly it has modernised and developed. It transformed from a small trading post on a jungle-covered swamp to a thriving metropolis in just a few centuries. A school trip to this incredible city is a chance to explore some of its most impressive old buildings, while learning how Bangkok was developing and innovating at the time they were constructed. As a starting point for discovering the city’s past on a school trip, two of the city’s old palaces provide some interesting insights.
The Grand Palace
Built by King Rama I in the 18th century, and serving as the residential royal palace through several succeeding generations of his dynasty, the Grand Palace complex remains perhaps the most awe-inspiring of all Bangkok’s buildings – it is bound to impress students on a school trip. Before its construction, the city was one of temporary wooden structures and floating houses, necessitated by the marshy ground, which would not have supported many large stone or brick buildings. However, since the old capital at Ayutthaya had been devastated in conflict with the Burmese, Thailand’s new rulers saw the need to establish a capital that could recapture Ayutthaya’s fame and glory. To this end, a number of ingenious methods of building a grand city with reliable foundations were employed, including the sinking of large upturned ceramic jars into the mud – the trapped air inside these jars kept them in place and allowed solid foundations to be built over them. Having stabilised the ground with this and other methods, a palace complex befitting the legacy of Ayutthaya could be built.
The National Museum
As well as offering a comprehensive overview of the history of Thailand, the National Museum is of interest to school trip groups as an important historic building in its own right. It was originally a palace built for the king’s brother, who held the title of second or ‘deputy’ king, and was called the Wang Na or Palace of the Front – so named for its strategic position between the Grand Palace and the northern boundary of the city. The museum is laid out in such a way that the original rooms and gardens of the palace can still be seen, as well as the residential temple. After the title of second king was abolished, the palace became a museum. A notable part of the museum’s collection is the Red House, a former queen’s residence, a graceful wooden house built without any nails, which could be easily dismantled and reassembled. It was an interesting solution to the way the city was, at one time, moving from a place of temporary structures to permanent ones.