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

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

One can wonder, 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 Thai-style architecture with a 26-meter golden gilded spire on top. There is a bronze statue of the Great Thai King inside, and it was built with Swedish local construction materials. The location was chosen by Thai people and blessed by Thai monks. Also, not to forget, it was challenging to make the idea come true since the foundation had to be dug very deep in an area covered with unpredictable “blue clay”. The answer to why it was built has to do with Chulalongkorn visiting Sweden. So, 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.

Rama V’s visit to Sweden

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 Swedish king wanted to showcase the new technologies of the time.

Chulalongkorn is seen on film when he arrives in Stockholm and walks up on Logårdstrappan. In addition, the film shows King Oscar II greeting him. This is considered the first documentary film recorded in Sweden. Ernest Floman filmed it on July the 13th, 1897.

Furthermore, there was an honour gate in Siamese architectural style assembled to respect the Thai King’s visit. In each corner of the gate, the former Siamese flag with a red background and the white elephant, was draped.

The Elephant Anecdote

There is a legendary anecdote that I heard in Bangkok in the late 1990s. It is a story alleging that King Rama V brought an elephant (maybe even a holy white one) as a gift for the Swedish king. Moreover, receiving the gift, the Swedish king, overwhelmed, had no appropriate gift to counter with. The idea of giving an elk was quickly put to rest.

Apparently, it was because, “the Swedish king of the woods”, the elk is smaller. But the story says that the king turned to his adviser for help. In the king’s service, there was a general nicknamed “Sven in Hell”.

In addition, General Sven Lagerberg was a colourful figure, member of parliament and chairman of the Court of War. He is also said to have been very popular for his good mood and agility but with a hot temper. There are lots of stories about Sven in Hell’s quick remarks.

He got the nickname after his younger soldier brother; by mistake impolitely called him by his first name.

– Sven?!! What the hell do you mean by using my first name!

In addition, Sven had a sharp mind and directly advised Oscar that there was something enormous and completely unnecessary that was under Swedish custody.

“- Let’s give him Norway”. Sven burst out convincingly.

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

Chulalongkorn’s Road in Sweden

To make it 100% clear, 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 terrific 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 and Norway, had a related industry to Siam at the time, the forest industry. And the Thai King was interested in the Swedish sawmills. The Thai Kings journey on this road was recognised in the 1940s when the old road was modernised and named Chulalongkorn’s Road.

Chulalongkorn’s interest in Sweden and Norway

During the 1980s, some Thai students at Uppsala University were very interested in finding 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 believed that the 100 years jubilee of the King’s 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 in Uppsala, gave a lot of support and helped realise 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 for 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

Funding the Thai Pavilion

The construction expenditure for the pavilion amounted to approximately seven million Swedish Crowns, to which are added decorations of roughly 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 artisans 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 gazebo.

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. Every year, a flower-laying ceremony is held to honour the Thai King’s memory of the visit here.

The pavilion in Ragunda is a popular tourist sight in Sweden. Around 8000 to 10 000 people visit the pavilion during the summer months. The only Thai pavilion outside of Thailand really stands out in the northern region of Jämtland.

Visit the Thai Pavilion

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).

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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