6 June 2024

Government House has served as the office of Thai prime ministers since March 1942, but Srettha Thavisin will be the first to make the place his home.

The country’s 30th prime minister said in September that he planned to spend three or four nights a week at Government House, especially on days he has to work late.

He explained that this would help relieve the burden of his security detail and ease Bangkok’s traffic jams by removing the prime minister’s daily commute from the equation.

A section of Government House’s Phakdibodin Building, constructed for Bt137 million during the tenure of Srettha’s immediate predecessor, General Prayut Chan-o-cha, has been turned into the prime minister’s bedroom.

A religious ceremony held at the building last month saw Srettha offer alms to 10 senior monks from Bangkok temples. A source close to the PM said the merit-making ceremony was held to bless the prime minister’s move once the accommodation upgrade is completed. One senior monk sprinkled holy water inside the PM’s bedroom at the complex.

Former vice justice minister Samart Jenchaijitwanit noted recently that no prime minister had lived long-term in the compound since Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram’s government bought it for 1 million baht from the previous owner in 1942.

Samart, who is now spokesman for Prawit Wongsuwan, leader of the coalition’s Palang Pracharath Party, said he had heard “strange stories” about the Government House compound. He recounted a tale that Plaek once fell asleep after a long day at work and woke to be confronted by the sight of a ghostly figure wearing traditional Thai clothes.

Before it became seat of power

Government House occupies a plot spanning almost 28 rai (44,500 square meters) at 1 Phitsanulok Road, Dusit district, Bangkok.

The PM’s office is located in the main building, Thai Khu Fah, whose neo-Venetian Gothic architecture was designed by two Italian architects. The building’s façade is inspired by the Palazzo Santa Sofia in Venice.

The compound was known as Baan Norasingh under its previous owner, Chao Phraya Ram Rakop, aka ML Fua Puengboon, a senior palace official during the reign of King Rama VI (1881-1925). The mansion was a gift from the king to his trusted aide.

In March 1941, almost nine years after the Siamese Revolution had ended absolute monarchy in Thailand, the mansion’s owner wrote to then-finance minister Pridi Banomyong, offering to sell his property to the government for 2 million baht as he could no longer afford the maintenance costs. The Finance Ministry turned down his offer, however.

The price was halved to 1 million baht just a few months later, and then-PM Plaek decided to buy the mansion to accommodate state visitors.

The following year, Plaek moved his office from Suan Kularb Palace to Baan Norasingh, which was renamed Thamniab Samakkhi Chai (House of Victorious Unity), before eventually becoming the Government House we know today.

PM’s official residence nearby

Just a few blocks from Government House lies the official residence of the Thai prime minister. Phitsanulok Mansion, also known as Thailand’s White House, is located about 800 meters from the PM’s office.

This imposing Venetian Gothic building was designed by Italian architect Mario Tamagno, who was also behind the construction of the majestic Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall.

The Thai government bought the mansion from its previous owner in June 1942 for 500,000 baht. However, since 1979 when it became the prime minister’s official residence, only two heads of government have actually resided there.

The first was General Prem Tinsulanonda, who moved in after renovation work was completed in 1981. But he moved out after a week. The second was Chuan Leekpai, who lived there for about six months while his own house was under repair. Chuan reportedly slept on a sofa in the study, not in the bedroom.

There are rumors that the house is haunted, though the previous owner’s son maintains he never encountered any ghosts during his childhood years in the house.

PM Srettha chose Phitsanulok Mansion for a meeting with anti-narcotics officials in September and reportedly plans to use it as an office for his advisers and for state receptions. But he opted for Government House as a residence.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk