Lek Viriyaphan

Possible spelling of surname: Wiriyaphan. Pronounced like vi-ri-ya-pan, “a” in last syllable is similar to sound in word “march”. Wrong spellings that I’ve seen across the web: Viriyaphand, Viriyaphant, Wiriyaphand.


Mr. Viriyaphan, businessman and millionaire, is famous by his amazing projects – unique sights that are known all over the world:

  • Mueang Boran or Ancient City (world’s largest outdoor museum of Thai heritage).
  • Sanctuary of Truth (the highest wooden building in the world decorated with numerous wooden sculptures and carvings).
  • Erawan museum (unusual building with huge three-headed elephant on the top of it).


Lek Viriyaphan was born in Chinatown (Bangkok). In 1931 he went to China to study. Traveling in China during his studies Mr. Viriyaphan was getting in touch with oriental arts, cultures, religions and philosophies, he became very interested with this area.

In 1934 his father fell ill, and Lek had to return to Bangkok to help to manage the family business. He started with pharmacy and Chinese-language newspaper. Work played a huge role in his wife – through work relationships he met his future wife Prapai (they got married in 1934).

Lek and Prapai Viriyaphant
Lifelong marriage: Lek Viriyaphan and his wife Prapai

Khun Viriyaphan established:

  • Monton bank in 1942 (in 1966 it has merged with Kaset bank resulting today’s Krungthai bank).
  • Viriya insurance company in 1947.
Krungthai bank logo
I’m sure you’ll see this logo during your trip to Thailand

Automotive business

In 1941 Mr. Viriyaphan had bought “Thonburi Panich” Co, Ltd. In 1957 the company got the right to distribute and service Mercedes Benz vehicles (both, commercial and passenger). In 1961 he established «TAAP» – Thonburi Automotive Assembly Plant. In 1979 the assembly of Mercedes cars (W123) was started in Samut Prakan province.

Training center (that was open in 1987 with assistance of German Agency for Technical Cooperation and King Mongkut Institute of Technology) remains one of the most modern facilities of German brand in Southeast Asia.

Mr. Viriyaphan has left his descendants thriving group of companies that is still developing: besides expansion of a plant in 2017, the construction of the first factory producing batteries for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles in Southeast Asia was announced (Mercedes-Benz had invested 100 million Euro).

Automotive business
1 row, to the right – the first assembly plant, established in 1979.
2 row, to the left – the second assembly plant for Mercedes cars of S, C and E classes, established in 1996.
2 row to the right – 2016: Mercedes-Benz and Thonburi group celebrate assembling 100 000 Mercedes cars in Thailand.

The way Thonburi group managed to gain the trust of picky Germans, made Korean Hyundai to pay attention at potential partner – in 2005 new joint plant started production of Hyundai vehicles in Thailand.

Thai soul

All these years Lek Viriyaphan along with his passion to arts and his understanding of life’s philosophy was obsessed with thoughts. During the years of his active participation in business, he began to create his own collection of antiques. The more he learned about the value of each item, the more he desired to preserve it. It seamed to Lek that Thai culture is about to disappear.

“I realized that Thai culture is deteriorating because no one makes an effort to promote its best traditions. If people do not have the chance to know and understand their own culture, how can they like and accept it”

This conclusion became the basis for “Ancient City” – to give the opportunity to people to learn about Thai cultural heritage by gathering the most amazing historical sights across Thailand in one park. The start of this project was given in 1963. Lek Viriyaphan was extensively involved in construction – he thoroughly studied details, design and meaning behind each mural and artwork that are today in the Ancient City. Because his mission was to create the educational project.

King Rama 9
King Rama IX and Queen Sirikit visiting Mueang Boran in the beginning of construction

The size of outdoor museum is really big – you’ll need at least 1 day to see everything. The next project that was intended to represent visitors the unity of oriental religions was the Sanctuary of Truth, the creation started in 1981. And in 1994 was started construction of unusual 3-storeyed museum with 3-headed elephant on its roof.

Lek Viriyaphan passed away on 17th of November in 2000. But still we can see all of things that remind of his passion, talent and soul – from cars driving in Thai highways to unique educational sights.

Sanctuary of Truth at sunset
Sanctuary of Truth in Pattaya

Pictures without FalkTime watermark were borrowed from official websites of Ancient City and Sanctuary of Truth.

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