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Kick-boxing and elephants in a rose gardenJames Shrimpton

eTN  Dec 23, 2008

Rose Garden Riverside sounds like a destination for flower lovers, but there's a whole lot more to it than that.

Kick-boxing, sword-fighting, singing, music and dancing by 150 performers - including seven elephants - are among a full day's activities, set over 28.35 hectares at Sampran in Nakorn Pathom province, on the Ta Chine river,

It's one of two attractions, each about 35km from central Bangkok, where visitors can both be entertained and learn much about Thailand's colourful history and the evolution of its culture.

The other is The Ancient City (Muang Boran in the Thai language), where the country's story is told through a series of reconstructed palaces, temples, traditional houses and statues set out over 129.5 hectares.

There is indeed a rose garden (and others for orchids, more flowers and herbs) at Rose Garden Riverside, but visitors also stroll through a traditional village and each afternoon the action's on in a cultural extravaganza.

The 50-minute show comprises a year's events in the lives of villagers from Thailand's four main regions: the north, south, central plains and northeastern plateau.

It starts with a mother singing a lullaby to her baby at dawn, a ceremony for a man's entry into the Buddhist monkhood and farmers planting rice and other crops.

The latter involves a 1,000-year-old dance involving a water spirit and male and female serpents.

Another dance celebrates the harvest after which young men beat "victory drums" while others train for various forms of self-defence: kick-boxing, sword-fighting and pole-fighting.

The vigorous action stops for a Thai wedding ceremony, with a young couple exchanging vows before their families and friends, followed by dances from the Thailand's four regions.

Finally, all performers join in a flag dance - with the Australian flag prominent.

Elsewhere in the Rose Garden, visitors watch elephants perform, walk through the flower and vegetable gardens, see a demonstration of Thai cooking and craftsmen working on handicrafts, carving and painting.

Not to be missed is Thailand's tallest pagoda, the 120m-high Phra Pathom Chedi, which contains some remains of the Lord Buddha.

Cruises by rice barge are available along the Ta Chine river.

The Rose Garden also offers accommodation including six Thai antique houses, conference facilities, a spa, golf course, seven restaurants and cafes, and souvenir stands.

An hour's drive away, the Ancient City at Bangpoo in the province of Samut Prakan, is likened to "an open book of history and an open door to the real Thailand".

A guide lists 116 places of interest, among them gardens and buildings from religious and royal sites around the nation together with old one-room homes on stilts, and scores of Buddhas and other statues.

Muang Boran has reproductions of important buildings, mostly on a smaller scale, from Thai history - influenced by Burmese, Cambodian and other invaders over past centuries.

The magnificent Sanphet Prasat Palace reproduces, half-size, that destroyed by the Burmese in 1767 when they captured the old Siamese capital of Ayutthaya. It is notable for its murals and ornamental decorations.

Queen Elizabeth II (in 1972) is one of the many notable past international visitors to the palace.

Many life-size sculptures illustrate old Siamese legends.

Another, believed to have been taken from Indonesian literature, is of a man and woman who triumphed over many obstacles to their love affair and eventually "lived happily ever after".

The Folk Museum at Muang Boran, including some major anthropological finds from all over Thailand, is one of the country's largest with every kind of artefact from farm tools to porcelain, fishing traps and musical instruments.

The Ancient City also has restaurants, snack bars and souvenir stands - even an old-fashioned barber's shop.


Rose Garden Riverside is open daily from 8am to 6pm with the cultural show scheduled for 2.45pm.

Details: visit Admission including the cultural show is about $A9.

The Ancient City is open daily from 8.30am to 6pm. Admission is less than $A2 and it's another $A2 if you bring your car.

Both the Rose Garden and the Ancient City are included in day trips from Bangkok available through hotel tour desks and travel stores.

Kick-boxing and elephants in a rose gardenJames Shrimpton

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