A Thai Pavilion in the Swedish Birch Forest |Ragunda and the travels of King Rama V

Why is there a beautiful pavilion dedicated to Rama V – King Chulalongkorn in the small town of Ragunda in Jämtland in northern Sweden? This pavilion is completely in Thai style with a 26-meter golden gilded spire on top. There is a bronze statue of the Great Thai King inside. It was built with Swedish local construction materials. The place was chosen by Thai people and blessed by Thai Monks. It was a very challenging place to build since the foundation had to be dug very deep in an area covered with unpredictable “blue clay”.

The Thai King came to Sweden in 1897 invited by the Swedish King Oscar II to an exposition of art and industry. At the time, Sweden and Norway were united as one kingdom.

The event marked the 25th anniversary of King Oscar’s reign. Construction of the pavilion began in 1895 and the Exposition was finally opened on May 15, 1897, by King Oscar II. The king wanted to showcase the new technologies of the time. The Thai King is seen on film when he arrives in Stockholm and walks up on Logårdstrappan. In addition, the film shows King Oscar II greeting him. On occasions, this is considered the first film recorded in Sweden. It was filmed by Ernest Floman on July the 13th 1897.

There was an honour gate in Siamese architectural style built to pay respect to the Thai Kings visit. In each corner of the gate, the old Siamese flag with a red background and the white elephant was draped.

The Elephant Anecdote

There is a quite legendary anecdote that I heard in Bangkok in the late 1990s. It is a story that alleges that King Rama V had an elephant (maybe even a holy white one) as a gift for the Swedish king. After that, the Swedish king overwhelmed had no appropriate gift to counter with. One idea to give an elk was quickly put to rest. Considering the Swedish king of the forest, the elk is a lot smaller. But the story says that the king turned to his adviser. In his service he had a general nicknamed “Sven in Hell” famous for being hot-tempered. In addition to that, Sven had a sharp mind and directly advised Oscar that there was something huge and completely unnecessary that was under Swedish control.

Let’s give him Norway, Sven busted out.

However, there is no evidence of an elephant given to Sweden. I don’t know where the story originated from. But anyhow, I can’t avoid flirting with the thought. Anachronistic and ridiculous for sure, but what if Norway would have become a Siamese colony? As we all know Thailand is proud never to have been colonised.

Chulalongkorn’s Road in Sweden

First of all, the road was there before the pavilion. The Thai King travelled in a horse carriage from Bispgården and a place called Edset on his journey through this part of Sweden. It is said that quite a crowd gathered to see the King on what was supposed to be one of these magical Swedish summer days. The trip took place on a slightly dusty road, despite that the timing was amazing since rain was avoided. Later, in the city of Sundsvall his yacht, the Maha Chakri, would bring the king further North to Norrland. The kingdom of Sweden – Norway, had a similar industry as Siam at the time, the forest industry. And the Thai King was interested in the Swedish sawmills. The Thai Kings journey on this particular road was recognized already in the 1940s when the old road was modernized and got the name Chulalongkorn’s Road.

During the 1980s some Thai students at Uppsala University were very interested to find the location of the King Chulalongkorn Road in Sweden and after some investigation they found it. The first secretary at the Thai embassy Mr Sanit Chomchan was also very interested in the road and proposed to add a road sign with the name written in the Thai language. Furthermore, he also had the idea that the 100 years jubilee of the Kings visit to Sweden should be observed.

Chulalongskorns Väg, The road of King Chulalongkorn. Sign in Swedish and Thai.
Photo credit Ragunda Kommun

The Thai Pavilion

Mr Sommai Pongruthai, a Thai man that lived and studied in Uppsala, gave a lot of support and help to the idea of a sign in the Thai language. Later on, when he brought two monks on a roadtrip to North Cape in Norway, they stopped at Bispgården in Utanede and an idea of a pavilion was born. In 1992, after a Thai traditional dance group from Kampangpaet came here out of curiosity and support of the anniversary, a foundation for the memory of Chulalongkorn’s visit to Sweden was founded.

The Thai pavilion in Ragunda, Utanede, Jämtland.
Photo credit: Roger Strandberg

The construction cost amounted to approximately seven million Swedish Crowns, to which are added decorations of approximately three million Swedish Crowns for, among other things, the gilded spire.

The pavilion was financed through fundraisers and sponsors in Thailand and Sweden. Rama IX -the Thai king of that time had his own craftsmen make the decorations. Swedish companies were behind the main building.

The pavilion has 75 m2 of floor space. A stone wall of heavy 20 kg stones of Jämtland limestone frames the white pavilion.

14.05, on 19 July 1897, King Chulalongkorn of Siam passed the brook in Utanede. About a hundred years later construction started and the Thai Pavilion was inaugurated in 1998. From then on, every year a flower-laying ceremony is held to honour the Thai Kings memory.

The pavilion in Ragunda is a very popular tourist sight in Sweden. Around 8000 to 10 000 people visit the pavilion during the summer months. This is the only pavilion of its kind outside of Thailand and it stands out in the landscape of the northern region of Jämtland.

Here is a link to the Thai Pavilion in Ragunda for information about events and opening hours:

Thaipaviljongen.se

Information and inspiration from Thaipaviljongen.se, Mats Borners Historien om Thailand and Föreningen för Chulalongkorn’s Minne(FCM).

As of the information today the pavilion is open from the 24th of May until the 5th of September.

Monday to Friday from 10 am to 3 pm.

Saturday and Sunday from 10 pm until 4 pm.

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