Visiting the Ancient City, also known as Muang Boran, was one of my favorite things to do in Bangkok. The Ancient City is an outdoor museum filled with recreations of some of Thailand’s most famous historical monuments, temples, and artifacts. Getting to explore such range and depth of Thai heritage was a memorable experience.
This post covers what to expect when visiting The Ancient City (Muang Boran).
Impressions of The Ancient City, Muang Boran
I can’t even make it halfway across the wooden bridge without stopping. On one side there’s dazzling white Palace with the intricate, carved roof. The stark black roof would almost look frightening if it weren’t so beautiful. Through the slots in the bridge, I can see a few koi fish lazily swimming under huge green lily pads.
Some of the lily pads are as large as car tires. On my other side, I see a stately family home built in traditional Thai style. Wooden beams lift the home skyward, providing flood security and lovely breezes.
I basically stand there twirling in a circle with a huge smile on my face, not even caring that I’m blocking traffic on the small footbridge. I feel like a kid in Disney World, or more accurately, an anthropology major in a park devoted to Thai history and culture.
I slip my shoes off at the entrance to the 15th century Palace and carefully step over the threshold. In Thai culture, it is bad luck to step directly on the raised doorstep.
If it’s possible, the inside of the temple is even more exquisite than the outside. Almost every surface is painted in vibrant colors or covered in gold or draped in jewels. Photos aren’t allowed inside, unfortunately, but imagine stepping inside a queens jewelry box. That’s what it looks like.
Just a few minutes earlier, before my twirl on the bridge moment, I wandered down a path, through a thicket – yes, it was actually a thicket. The path led to a peaceful Buddha statue that was almost invisible in the dense greenery. Minutes before that, I enjoyed a bowl of Pad Thai at a traditional floating market while boats bobbed happily in the creek.
No, I’m not a time traveler, nor do I have the ability to teleport. (But a girl can dream, right?)
I’m in the Ancient City, a massive outdoor history museum filled with recreations of Thailand’s most impressive archaeological and cultural monuments.
Visiting The Ancient City, (Muang Boran)
When some friends suggested a day trip from Bangkok to the Ancient City, I assumed they were talking about Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya is the former capital of the Kingdom of Siam and a famous UNESCO site located about an hour and a half north of Bangkok. And Ayutthaya is not, I learned, the same thing as the Ancient City.
It wasn’t until we arrived at the Ancient City that I realized I was completely wrong and apparently I have no idea what’s going on ever. It wasn’t Ayutthaya, but the Ancient City still turned out to be pretty spectacular.
The Ancient City immediately dips visitors back in time. The huge park is shaped like Thailand. It’s filled with salvaged Thai historical monuments and recreations of Thai sites and artifacts that would otherwise be lost to history.
There is an incredible amount of love and detail that went into each of the over 100 pieces in the park. Each monument is more intricate than the last. Together, they show visitors a comprehensive look at Thai culture across time and geography.
The signs that stand beside each piece tell the story of how the work was recreated and its significance to Thai culture.
I loved exploring the Salas, or over-water pavilions. Historically, Salas were built over open water for air circulation. Since the Salas were often places where people would congregate, the water kept the air cooler and fresher.
Water is believed to have cleansing powers. It washes things clean, and you sense that as you walk through these structures the way people would have years ago.
It’s quiet in the Ancient City. I walk down the long pathway to a white and purple Sala in the middle of the lake and I’m completely alone. Because of the sheer size of the park, the monuments aren’t overrun with tourists.
Water has more uses than natural air-conditioning. Ancient buildings were placed on stilts over water to protect their contents. Years ago, these buildings housed important texts and spiritual objects. The water prevented crawling insects from ruining the building and its contents.
In the afternoon, my friends and I hike up the stone steps of a man-made mountain to the recreation of Prasat Phra Wihan. The real version of this 9th century Hindu temple is located right on the Cambodia – Thailand border. Lush landscaping lines the stairs to the top and butterflies dart across the path. From the top, I can see all the way to the sea.
Teams of people work across the grounds to keep the monuments and gardens in beautiful condition. It is clear that a lot of love goes into making the Ancient City a special place to visit.
Traveling for Authenticity
Many of us, myself included, travel in search of real, authentic experiences.
This search leads us to choose street food over hotel restaurants and take local songthaew trucks instead of hop-on-hop-off buses. We forgo chain hotels in favor of Airbnbs in local neighborhoods and at night, when we’re looking for something to do, we follow the music instead of checking trip advisor.
The travel world is shifting in favor of the authentic and I think that’s a good thing. For many travelers, stepping outside of curated tourist experiences is where it’s at.
This is why the Ancient City poses an interesting dilemma. Most of the exhibits in this park, while beautifully replicated, aren’t the “real thing.”
I wasn’t sure if I should feel guilty for enjoying it as much as I did. Shouldn’t I be looking for only the most untouched, off the beaten path temples that only locals know about? Shouldn’t I be packing my itineraries with pure, unspoiled shrines in places no guidebook has gone before?
After spending the day exploring this park and learning so much about Thai history and culture, I decided I shouldn’t feel guilty. Enjoying these recreations is a good thing.
Even in an ideal world with no time limits and no budget concerns, it would be impossible to experience many of these places in their authentic state simply because they no longer exist.
I understand the importance of authenticity. I also think it’s important to be realistic.
We have a choice. Do we want to see beautiful, delicate, lovingly constructed recreations? Or do we want to see nothing at all?
Coming to the Ancient City is a way to see the powerful history of one of the most culturally rich places I’ve ever visited. And you can do it in one afternoon. The creators of the park built all this so visitors could experience pieces of history that otherwise would have been lost to time and humanity.
Without places like this, my fear is that we would forget.
When in Bangkok, devote a day to the Ancient City. Not only is it one of the most beautiful and well-maintained parks I’ve been to, it’s also packed full of fascinating cultural and archeological history.
And amazing things like this…
How to get to the Ancient City Bangkok
The Ancient City is located about an hour south of Bangkok so you have a few options for how you can get there. You could hire a cab or rent a car and drive yourself there from Bangkok. You could also take the BTS Skytrain to Kheka Station which is the closest station to Muang Boran. From there, you can get to the park by cab or songthaew.
What to expect at The Ancient City
The best way to explore the park is by bike or golf cart. You can rent both of these when you buy your tickets at the entrance gate.
The cost for tourists is 700 THB ($21 USD). For Thai nationals, the price is reduced. Renting a bike or golf cart is a few hundred baht more based on how long you rent them for.
When you enter, you are given a map of everything to see in the park. Every monument is marked to say if it’s real or replicated. Pick up an audio guide to listen to while you explore. The detailed guide explains the history of each piece and how it was created.
You move through the park at your own pace, there are plenty of restrooms and restaurants. I enjoyed eating lunch in the floating markets right on the water.
You’ll have the best time if you don’t rush and plan to explore at a leisurely pace. Get a little lost and allow yourself to wander among the fascinating history of Thailand in The Ancient City.
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