Bangkok Post reviews
A museum of land
- Writer: Bangkok Post Editorial
- Published: April 3, 2014 at 8:37 am
A less-known museum in the heart of Bangkok unveils the history of land development in Thailand
Nestled in an old wooden building on Phra Phiphit Road near Wat Pho is the Department of Lands Museum, a hidden gem for Thais, let alone tourists. Opened on Sept 29, 2001, the museum is a place for gathering and displaying old objects and important documents relating to the Department of Lands since its establishment in 1901 on the order of King Rama V.
Stepping into the museum, which consists of four zones, on the first floor of the building you will enter the first zone with a large painting of King Rama V. On the side walls of this room are copies of some old maps. This room is also equipped with a touch-screen system showing the history, development and leading persons of the department. The second room enshrines a Buddha statue named Phra Gandhararaj and boasts an old table used by some former agriculture ministers, as well as a few old cabinets containing land-related documents.
A highlight here is Phra Gandhararaj. This Buddha statue is in the standing pose, looking at the sky. The right hand is positioned over its chest with the palm facing outwards and the left hand is in the requesting posture. Made of bronze, this statue is 28cm high with a 5cm base. It belonged to the Department of Rice Farming, which was later dissolved. There is a belief that worshipping Phra Gandhararaj regularly will bring prosperity, fertility, plenty rainfalls and productive farming. Another interesting object in the same room is the table used by former agriculture ministers who were princes because this style of table was specially reserved for royals only as it has lion’s foot-shaped legs, according to Department of Lands official Chaiwat Chaiprasert, who oversees the museum.
The museum is located at the site of the old palace of Princess Ubolratana Nareenak Krom Khun Akkharavorarajakanya, a consort of King Rama V.
The third zone of the museum displays old objects, tools, documents and land title deeds reflecting the development of land ownership issuance, land rights registration, land measurement and mapping. In this room, the visitors will see the seals and logos of the Department of Lands, which changed over time. The current seal applied to all title deeds and official documents portrays the Garuda representing the carrier of Hindu god Vishnu because a king is believed to be an avatar of this deity. In the same room there are a lot of old land measurement and mapping tools. Among them is what is called Rawang Pha Kaeo (organdy or organdie), the sheerest and crispest cotton cloth used for making maps and plans before the existence of blueprint. The visitors can also see a few theodolites, a kind of camera used in measuring land and producing maps.
History buffs will be mesmerised by several old title deeds and documents dating to over a century ago. One of the highlights is Thailand’s first land title deed for an 89 rai plot in Amphoe Phra Ratchawang, now Bang Pa-In, Ayutthaya. This land title deed was issued on Oct 1, 1901, for King Rama V. It was signed by Prince Marupongsiripat and Phraya Prachacheep Boriban (Phung Xuto) of the Ministry of Agriculture and district chief Phra Ratchaphopborihan. This plot of land was owned by King Rama V and later inherited by His Majesty the King, who later allowed rice farming there on condition that the land must be used for agriculture only and cannot be sold. This plot was transferred to the Agricultural Land Reform Office on Oct 3, 1990.
Another must-see in this section is the title deed for the smallest land plot in Thailand covering only 0.1 square wa. Located in Soi Wat Trairattanaram on Rarm Intra Road, Soi 8, in Bang Khen district, this plot was given to Srisak Wongsongsarn by his mother. The land was measured by Lands Department officials on Sept 15, 2007. The officially estimated value of the land was 1,700 baht.
The last zone of this museum consists of a library, a meeting room and storage rooms. Even the location of this museum itself holds historical significance for being the former palace of Princess Ubolratana Nareenak Krom Khun Akkharavorarajakanya, a consort of King Rama V. The princess was born Mom Chao Bua, a daughter of Prince Ladawan who was a son of King Rama III. She had a daughter — Somdej Chaofah Yaowamarn Naruemol Krom Khun Sawankhalok Laksanawadee. After the death of Princess Ubolratana Nareenak, the palace was turned into the office of the Ministry of Agriculture. The building was built from teak wood at the same time as the famous Vimanmek Royal Mansion. It has a beautiful door and window frames, and an attic.
The Department of Lands Museum has been in operation for more than 13 years. It is waiting for more people to explore and learn about the history of land registration and development in Thailand.
The museum is open on weekdays from 9am-4pm. Admission is free. No advance reservation is required except for group visits. Email Chaiwat Chaiprasert at Chaiwat_bird1@yahoo.com or call 02-622-3490 ext 23 or 24.