Thailand Celebrates 500 Years of the Arrival of the Portuguese with a New Attraction in Lisbon

Belem, LisbonMost people remember that the Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach Japan and have colonies in China and India, but what’s often forgotten is that they were also the first ones to reach another Asian location — Thailand. That happened exactly 500 years ago this month and until late 2011 there will be a permanent reminder of that in Lisbon’s Belém district.
That will be a Thai pavilion made of teak (hard timber), built in Bangkok to be shipped and assembled in Lisbon. The exact location will be the gardens by the Jeronimos Monastery, it will be 22 feet high (close to seven meters), and will have Portuguese and Thai motifs. It will present exhibitions and musical shows throughout the year, and may also include a tea room. The name of the monument will be “Sala Thai,” using a word that arrived in Thailand with the Portuguese (in both countries “sala” is a living space within a building).
It will be open to the public before the end of this year but the official inauguration will be in early 2012. Although the king of Thailand apparently won’t be able to attend, he’ll send one of his daughters. The princess will therefore be the guest of honor for an event that will not only unveil a new attraction in Lisbon but also remember the first contact Thailand made with Westerners. Among the interesting results of this cultural exchange was the introduction of sweets, pastries and desserts in Thai cuisine, using eggs for the first time and incorporating sugary traditions from Portugal.
In the meantime, those interested in the Europe-meets-Asia art and culture can visit the Orient Museum in Lisbon.