years, visitors wandering through the Bangkok’s Monk’s
Hospital gardens were surprised to stumble on a miniature city seemingly
transported from the 19th century. Beneath sheltering boughs, streets
a hands-breadth wide and lit by tiny lamps wound past dozens of
exquisitely-crafted houses. Or crossed bridges spanning canals filled
with sampans and barges. This tiny city appeared to be a collection
of doll houses, but why here in the grounds of a hospital for Buddhist
From its rather regal appearance, few would have guessed that
the purpose of this city called Dusit Thani was to show that no
matter the class into which one had been born, all citizens were
equal before the law in a democratic society.
creator was King Vajiravudh who ruled Siam (or Thailand as it
would be known after World War II) from 1910 to 1925. As a student
in England while his father, King Chualongkorn (1868-1910) still
reigned, the young prince became imbued with democratic ideals.
Soon after he assumed the throne in 1911, King Vajiravudh turned
to the West for ideas with which to carry on the modernizations
begun by his father and grandfather, Mongkut, regarded as the
most advanced Asian monarchs of the age.
He was especially enthusiastic about innovations in transportation
and communications. In 1912 he sent several Thai men to France
to learn how to build and fly airplanes. In 1914, they returned
to Thailand to establish one of Asia's first air forces. In support
of the Allied cause, he sent Thai troops to shiver in European
trenches during World War I. Inspired by England’s Boy Scouts,
he formed the Wild Tigers Corps to instill in young Thai boys
the ideals of loyalty, duty, and service to one's country.
also sought to introduce democracy ideals, an initiative which
would have far-reaching consequences. In his newspaper, the "Siam
Observer", he encouraged Thais to criticize government policy
and to participate in governing the country, writing many of the
critical articles himself.
One of his most unusual initiatives was the creation in 1918
of Dusit Thani in 1918. Named after the fourth of the six levels
of the Buddhist heaven, it was designed as an exercise in model
city planning and administration.
Sited on one acre of the royal Amporn Gardens near the present
Parliament building, its buildings were scaled to one-fifteenth
life size. Within its walls were palaces, hospitals, hotels, parks,
flying bridges, a clocktower, 12-story buildings, a fire brigade,
a newspaper, trade centers, a bank, canal locks, and all the advanced
technology of a modern city of the day.
Bangkok’s noble families were encouraged to hire carpenters
to reproduce their homes in miniature. Materials and labor costs
a tiny stone or wooden mansions 80 to 100 centimeters tall and
decorated with delicate filigree often came to 500 baht, a fabulous
sum in those days.
Thani's primary purpose was to demonstrate how a democratic government
functioned. According to a constitution written by the King, it
was administered by a two-party electoral system with representatives
selected by general elections. Unfortunately, Vajiravudh’s
death in 1925 halted his endeavors and the project never reached
Yet Vajiravudh’s liberal attitudes remained strong, so
much so that Thai students returning from Europe where democratic
and socialistic ferment was at its height took the ideals to their
logical conclusion. Seven years after Vajiravudh's death, the
students (many of whose education had been financed by Privy Purse
scholarships), staged a revolution to topple Vajiravudh’s
successor, King Prajadipok, and established a new government that
replaced 700 years of absolute monarchy. Henceforth, Thai kings
would serve as constitutional monarchs, a play the roles of figureheads
rather than political leaders.
Dusit Thani suffered a different fate. Poorly maintained after
the king's death, it fell into disrepair. The few surviving buildings
were eventually moved to the gardens of the Monk’s Hospital.
Ultimatelyt, even they fell to dust and were swept into the trashbin.
Today, nothing remains of it except a tiny bandstand.