Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A glimpse of Thailand in Madison, Wisconsin June 7, 2018

This 40 x 22-foot and 30-foot high pavilion was built in Thailand, disassembled and shipped to the U.S. and then rebuilt by nine Thai artisans in Madison.


YOU WOULD NEVER EXPECT this in Wisconsin, this ornate Thai pavilion. It seems so out of place in a state that brings to mind beer, brats, cheese and the Green Bay Packers.


Underside details of the roofline.


Yet, in the Olbrich Botanical Gardens in the capital city of Madison, a Thai pavilion centers a space of water features and tropical gardens. It is the only Thai pavilion in the U.S. and only one of four built outside Thailand. The Olbrich pavilion was a gift from the Thai government and the Thai Chapter of the Wisconsin Alumni Association to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. UW-Madison has one of the largest Thai student populations in the country.


Posing for quinceañera photos.


One of many water features in the Thai garden. Water represents good health and prosperity to the Thai people.


The quinceañera  group gathers inside the pavilion for photos. Thus, I couldn’t get a closer look at the pavilion.


On the Saturday afternoon I visited the gardens, the cultural mix of pavilion and peoples reminded me that we truly are a diverse country. Here I was, an American of German ethnicity, viewing this Thai structure while simultaneously delighting in observing youth celebrating quinceañera in Wisconsin.



I appreciate any opportunity to grow my cultural awareness, whether through art, music, food, customs, gardens or simply observing.


Members of the quinceañera party cross the bridge spanning Starkweather Creek and leading to the Thai pavilion and gardens.


We are, at our most basic, individuals who desire food, shelter, security, health, happiness, love and joy. Or so I see it.



In Thailand, common roadside pavilions provide shelter from weather. The Madison pavilion is a work of art, a place of serenity, a structure fitting a palace or temple grounds. In that it differs from the simpler of Thai shelters.


A volunteer watches to assure visitors don’t touch the gold leaf on the pavilion. Touching destroys it.


Most of us never live such lives of gold leaf opulence. I certainly don’t.



But I appreciate the opportunity to glimpse the untouchable wealth of a world beyond beer and brats.


PLEASE CHECK BACK next week as I take you into downtown Madison and conclude this series from Wisconsin.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


14 Responses to “A glimpse of Thailand in Madison, Wisconsin”

  1. Amazing! Looks like many people love it! Thank you

  2. Murphy's Law Says:

    The Thai Pavilion is magnificent. Can’t imagine the hours and fine craftsmanship involved in reassembling it. A Latin American girl celebrating her 15th birthday in a Thai pavilion here in America, can’t get more
    American than that!!

    Like you, I’ve never lived a life of gold leaf opulence, but it is nice to get a peek at it through your photos Audrey.
    🔹 Ginger 🔹

  3. valeriebollinger Says:

    What a wonderful mixture of cultures in such a beautiful space.

  4. Bernadette Says:

    This is fascinating. I love the mix of cultures with the quinceanera photos in a Thai pavilion. We’ve only explored Madison once; looks like we need to go back.

  5. Becky Spitzack Says:

    Who would have thought?

  6. Bella Says:

    what a fascinating diversion in the town of Madison this ornate pavilion. Who knew they had the largest Thai population. Do you know why this is?

  7. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    That is absolutely stunning! “Look with your eyes not your hands”

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