Dear Mom and Dad,
How are you doing? Hope you're fine. I'm having a great time in Bangkok, Thailand. Nim and her family are taking good care of me. I'm writing this letter in accordance with your wish to report what I've done during my vacation.
Yesterday, Nim and I paid an impressive visit to a traditional Thai house in Bangkok which is designated by the Department of Fine Arts as a Home of Important Person. You know I like this style of old house a lot. And this one was a home once occupied by a VIP, not Thai houses displayed in exhibitions. I was kind of excited to get inside it. This house, in Soi Suan Phlu (Betel trees), formerly belonged to M.R.* Kukrit Pramoj, the 13th Prime Minister of Thailand (1974-1975). Before I go into details of the home, I'll briefly tell you his background.
M.R. Kukrit Pramoj was born in 1911 as a member of a princely family on his father's side (Brigadier General Prince Khamrob) and one of the most prominent families (Bunnag) on his mother's side. When he was fifteen years old, M.R. Kukrit went to study in England. He graduated with an honours degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) from Oxford. M.R. Kukrit, was a man of many talents. He used to be a lance corporal in the Thai army in WWII. In 1988, he was promoted to major-general. He changed his career from banking, university lecturing, writing to politics. In 1950, he established and was the sole owner of the Siam Rath, a Thai evening newspaper most influential for decades. Also, the once powerful political party, Social Action, now defunct, was set up by him in 1974.
That's not all, Mom. M.R. Kukrit was also excellent in many kinds of art such as writing and khon performing. Khon is the highest form of dance drama in Thai classical dramatic arts. It was him who set up Khon performing troupe at Thammasat University, one of the leading higher educational institutions of Thailand. He also co-starred with Marlon Brando in a Hollywood film The Ugly American.
Another accomplishment that marked his genius was the fact that he was awarded the title of National Artist in the field of literature by the National Culture Commission in 1985. When M.R. Kukrit became very ill in 1987, his Siam Rath readers and his former students showed concerns about his health. And they lost this great statesman when he passed away in 1995 at the age of 84.
The Kukrit 80 Foundation has opened the house to the public in order to offer a glimpse into a traditional Thai life, as well as the simplicity of M.R. Kukrit's way of life. During his heyday, journalists would crowd his house every time the national politics became turbulent because many political crises were solved here. Moreover, a number of Thammasat students came here to practise khon. Indeed, this residence always welcomed all comers since M.R. Kukrit himself was always open to new challenges.
Situated on a five-rai (nearly two acres) parcel of land, M.R. Kukrit's home consists of a cluster of five separate traditional Thai houses on stilts. They were bought from different places, taken down to pieces, and then put together at the present site. All houses are connected to each other by an open platform at the centre. A large Thai-style pavilion used for public functions is connected to the living cluster by a naturally-arranged garden which boasts famous collections of trained trees or Mai Dat in Thai. Their appearances are similar to but larger than the Japanese bonsai.
On the ground floor of the cluster, which is paved with ceramic tiles, is a dining table which was used not only to have meals but also to receive guests. There is also a wooden desk where M.R. Kukrit sat to write his articles and novels. Many biting traces on the chairs show how much he loved his dogs. A Chinese painting depicting him and his two dogs, Sua Bai and Sam Si is hung not far from the dining table.
The upstairs is divided into a bedroom, a living room, a library, a room for recreation and a room for Buddha images. Each room, actually, is a small house (ruen in Thai). Walking up the stairs, on the right-hand side is the principal house named Ruen Khun Ya (Grandmother's House), serving as the official reception room.
This is the largest and was the first house among the five that M.R. Kukrit bought. Here, I noticed three pieces of gold leaf on one of the door. The guide explained that, during the time M.R. Kukrit was the Prime Minister, there once was a police invasion because of some misunderstanding in his policies.
They not only destroyed his properties, but also fired into the house and the bullets hit this door. After that, oil oozed from it. No matter how often the maids cleaned it, there still was oil. Therefore, everybody assumed that this happened because the spirit of the old lady who was the previous owner of the house got shocked from the shot. Finally, the phenomenon ceased when M.R. Kukrit invited monks to the house to chant auspicious verses and to receive a meal as well as other offerings.
Dad, have you ever heard about this? Oil oozes from wood! How strange! Nim must have read my mind. She told me this was one of Thai superstitious beliefs. No one can prove it but no one totally denies it. So, Thai people do whatever makes them feel comfortable, like having monks chanting sutras in the house as it is a way to make merit as well. Many precious items are kept in this house. The most interesting objects is the lion-leg bed assumed to have been used by King Rama II for taking a rest in daytime. The King used to sit here directing his dancing troupe. (King Rama II was a performing art genius. The dramatic performances directed by him were regarded the most harmonious ones.)
Next, I walked to the smaller house on the left called Ho Khwang where M.R. Kukrit used as a private place for relaxation.
Collections of ceramics are on display. And oh! I almost forgot, the room for Buddha images is on the right of Ruen Khun Ya. Although I don't know much about Buddha images except for the one in the meditation posture, I do admire their serene beauty. Nim elaborated on the meanings of each attitude to me, so I got a clearer understanding about Buddhism. Anyway, I'm not going to explain the details in this letter as it would surely make the story too long.
Let me get back to the residence. Now comes the turn of my favourite room, the library. The guide told me that the books on the shelves were only part of the whole. Many kinds of books, ranging from fictions to philosophy are the sound evidence of his wide interests.
Opposite the library is the bedroom which is very ordinary, so anyone expecting to see luxurious furniture must be disappointed. The guide said that the bathroom was inside too but it couldn't be seen from the door.
Greenery is the definition of the residence's surroundings. A lot of Thai plants, flowers and trees of which I couldn't remember the names are around the house, even on the upstairs. Nim and I lingered in the garden for some time, strolling, chatting and admiring the oriental flowers. It is quite hard to believe that this peaceful house is situated in the heart of Bangkok.
Well, I hope you will like this home too. I also enclose photos so that you will see how magnificent the home is. Anyway, I feel so tired now, I'd better go to bed. I'll tell you more in my next letter.
3 May 2003
*The king's children are titled Chaofa (or Chaofachai for a prince and Chaofaying for a princess). A Chaofa's children are Phra-ong Chao (which is also used for a king's son from a mother who has no royal blood). A Phra-ong Chao's children are Mom Chao, whose children are Mom Ratchawong (M.R.), whose children are Mom Luang, whose children become commoners, who then use such family names as "na Ayutthaya" as a sign of their royal ancestry. Actually, M.R.Kukrit was a great-grandson of King Rama II and an uncle of the present King
The home can be reached from Soi Sathon 3 or Soi Narathiwat 7. For skytrain riders, please get off at Chong Nonsi Station.
Open to the public on Saturdays, Sundays, and official holidays. Special visits on weekdays can be arranged by making appointment in advance.
Admission fee : 50 baht per person, 20 baht for pupils and students in uniform
For more information, Tel : 0 2286 8185 Fax : 0 2679 3630.
For the correct pronunciation of romanized Thai words, see Romanization System of the Thai Language.