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December 14, 2017
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The King's Pavilion in Mrigadayavan Palace extends to the waters edge. Source: onlychaam.com
Mrigadayavan Palace features over
one kilometre of walkways joining an
impressive assortment of sixteen buildings.
Photograph by Terry Donohue.

Mrigadayavan Palace (known to locals as "the Palace of Love and Hope") is one of the most unusual summer palaces in the world. Built upon sacred ground, the former royal getaway is a golden teakwood labyrinth of covered walkways that connect the three sections of the palace. Each walkway is elevated atop cement pillars; an architectural design that maximises the benefits of the Cha Am coastal breezes. The longest walkway is 399 metres long and extends all the way to the seaside, ending at the King's personal pavilion, a commanding structure boasting unparalleled ocean views. The regal residence also encompasses an impressive assortment of sixteen buildings, including separate ladies quarters, royal rooms and entertainment areas. All the walls are covered in fretwork, which allows air to flow freely through the palace and corridors. 

The palace was built in 1923 for King Rama VI, an enthusiastic author and playwright with a keen interest in numerous creative pursuits. The King hired Italian architect Ercole Manfredi to help realise his ambitions for the palaced, inspired by both local culture and Western influences. Combining classic Thai elements and Victorian architecture, the result is an impressive building that is as beautiful as it is clever.

To prevent animals from sneaking into the palace (and to further increase air flow), the whole structure was built on top of 1,080 concrete pillars tall enough to allow workers and servants to walk underneath. Then, small ditches were built around each pillar and filled with water to create a natural barrier preventing ants from invading the palace. 

Mrigadayavan does not boast the conspicuous opulence you expect to find in a palace. There are no ornately decorated doorways, frescos on the walls or marble staircases.

Mrigadayavan does not boast the conspicuous opulence you expect to find in a palace. There are no ornately decorated doorways, frescos on the walls or marble staircases. Instead of expensive paintings, the walls are decorated with simple black and white photos of the royal family. And instead of antique furniture and gilded statues, there are simple bronze Buddhas peeking from around the corners and plenty of verandas to make the place look like a living theatre. 

The beauty of Mrigadayavan lies in its simplicity: the long and airy walkways and corridors that total over one kilometre of teakwood floors; the amazing use of interlaced wood patterns and exquisite angles on the walls and windows to provide an effective ventilation system that still provides shelter from rain; and, the clever use of connecting corridors to keep certain buildings - such as the Samudabiman pavilion, where no man other than the King could enter - near, but inaccessible. 

The interior of the palace is just as striking as the building itself. Although much of the original furniture has been removed, the palace is still breathtaking. One of the most impressive rooms is the Samosorn Sewakamart Hall. Once used to stage plays commissioned by His Majesty, the hall is best known as the place where the king met actress Tew Abhaiwongse. The couple would later marry and Abhaiwongse would provide King Rama VI with his sole heir - a daughter - to continue the royal legacy. 

The design of the teakwood walkways serves
as an effective ventilation system.
Photograph by Terry Donohue.

Artifacts and photographs spread throughout the building help bring to life the exuberance of the Thai royal family - reportedly the richest monarchy in the world - and give a peek into times gone by. Visitors are able to stand in what was once the King's office, where he loved to sit and write poetry or view a number of musical instruments, including gong chimes and khim (hammered dulcimer), which seem to echo melodies of the past in the warm afternoons. 

Today, Cha Am (and the bustling neighboring town of Hua Hin) is a popular resort destination and a far cry from the quiet escape it was when the king built his summer palace. But Mrigadayavan, which was decommissioned as a royal residence after King Rama's death in 1925, has been restored to its former glory and once again welcomes visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of summer days gone by. 

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