About Sanam Luang, Bangkok

North of Wat Phra Kaeo is a large oval lawn known as Sanam Luang (Royal Field), and, more formally, as Phramane Ground (Royal Cremation Ground).

Originally, the palace (now the National Museum) of Wang Na, the so-called Prince Successor - a deputy king of sorts - occupied the northen half.

In the early Rattanakosin period, rice was grown in the field. In more recent times, the ground has been used for state ceremonies. It has also served as the cremation site for high royalty, most recently the 1996 funeral for King Bhumibol's mother.

Sanam Luang Bangkok

Sanam Luang, Bangkok

In a significant departure from tradition, the bodies of those killed in the 1973 revolution were given a royal-sponsored cremation in the field. Stately tamarind trees, which have been standing for more than a century surround Sanam Luang, which is also a place for recreation.

Thais come here to pai dern len ( take a leisurely stroll). Impromptu soccer games are played and children chase each other around trees. From around mid-February through to April, vendors set up racks decorated with dozens of styles and sizes of kites.

The annual kite-flying competition organised here attracts contestants from all around the country and abroad. Sanam Luang is also the place where people head to on festive occasions such as royal birthdays and New Year's Eve.

Off in the northeast corner of Sanam Luang is the intriguing statue of Mae Toranee. A key figure from the Buddha's life, Mae Toranee's image was erected by King Chulalongkorn at the turn of the 20th century as a public water fountain.

In the stories of Buddha, the goddess wrings torrents of water out of her hair to wash away evil sprits threatening the meditating Buddha. It is an apt symbol, perhaps, in a city that is still sometimes flooded by the monsoon-swollen Chao Phraya's overflowing waters.

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