Author Archives: Richard Barrow

Bangsaen Beach and Monkey Hill

My Bangkok Day Trip for this week is to Bangsaen Beach in Chonburi Province. This is the closest seaside resort to Bangkok which has sand and water clean enough for you to swim. Chonburi City is just over 60 minutes from Bangkok and you can get there by using the Bang Na-Trad Highway. Most people by-pass the city on their way to Pattaya. But, they are missing out on some good tourist attractions which are worth at least a day if not longer. There are buses from Bangkok to Chonburi and the nearby Bangsaen beach. There are also songtaews running up and down the beach front. However, to explore the area properly, it is better to have your own transport. You will find motels, hotels and guesthouses along the beach. If you are able, best to visit during the week when it is less crowded.

The first stop on my tour is the fishing village of Ang Sila. This is about five kilometers to the south of Chonburi city. Apart from fishing, the main occupation of the local people is making things out of granite. The most famous examples are a mortar and pestle which you can find in various sizes. There are also figurines of different animals. You will find many stalls along the road in front of Wat Ang Sila, so make sure that you shop around to get a good price. Further along this road you will reach the fishing pier which has a fish market. There are plenty of stalls selling snacks here such as dried squid. Not too far away from here is the The Mangrove Forest Conservation Center. It isn’t that easy to find but is a good place to see the mangroves up close as you walk along the 2.3 km board walk. If you are with young children you might want to skip this as it is a hot and tiring walk in the sun with not much shade.

On the road between Ang Sila and Khao Sam Muk you will pass the colourful Chinese temple called Wihan Thep Sathit Phra Kiti Chaloem. The four storey high building is beautifully decorated with many figurines and Chinese deities. You are allowed to take pictures in the compound but no photos are allowed to be taken inside. However, it is worth climbing to the top for the wonderful views of the bay. In the distance you can see the hill called Khao Sam Muk. The Chinese shrine is open daily. On weekdays it is open 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. At the weekend it is open a bit later until 6 p.m. on Saturdays and 8 p.m. on Sundays. As you are passing this way on your way to the next destination it is definitely worth your time to visit the shrine even if you are not Chinese. It is certainly very beautiful.

Continue driving south with the sea to your right. There are plenty of restaurants along this route which sell delicious seafood. If you are hungry then stop at any place. Personally I prefer to wait for lunch at Bangsaen Beach. The next stop is Khao Sam Muk. The main attraction at this small hill are the hundreds of monkeys that are really naughty. Be careful if you have a bag as they will most likely snatch it from you thinking there is food inside. I stopped briefly to take some pictures of some monkeys and as I drove on further up the road I suddenly realized I had some stowaways on the roof of my car. At the top of the hill there is a great lookout place and a small car park where there are some vendors selling food for the monkeys. At the foot of the hill, there is a Chinese shrine for two lovers who apparently jumped to their death when their parents objected to their marriage.

Continue driving south following the coastline and you will reach the cape at Laem Thaen. This area has been developed by the local authority as a place to come and relax. They have also set up a “walking street” here. This is the point where the beach becomes sandy for the first time though at the cape it is mainly rocky. From this point onwards there is an umbrella city with deckchairs. This end is quieter if you want to sit and eat your lunch in the shade. However, if you have come with children then best to keep driving until you reach Bangsaen Beach. On your left you will see plenty of places to stay the night. On the beach the kids can rent inner tubes for swimming and also go on a banana boat ride. You won’t find many Europeans here as it is mainly a beach resort for Thai people. If you go swimming here then please don’t walk around in speedos! Thai people swim in their clothes and most are shocked by how little Europeans wear in the local shops.

Once you have finished at the beach, you might want to check out Wang Saen Suk which has models showing what will happen to you in hell if you have been naughty. Little kids might be scared of some scenes but you might want to take this opportunity to show your children what will happen if they lie to you! You can reach the temple by going down Sai 2 which runs parallel to the beach road. Then look for Soi 19 on your left. The temple is at the end of the road. The Buddha Park is open every day from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Before you head back to Bangkok, you should stop at Nong Mon Market to buy some souvenirs. For Thai people, a souvenir usually means something that you can eat. The market along Sukhumwit Road has a lot of well-known local food and various dried seafood. To reach the market, drive out to Sukhumwit Road and turn right heading away from Bangkok. A short distance away, you will see many market stalls along the road on your right.

Klong Suan 100 Year Market

In the modern age, the hypermarkets and corner convenience stores are quickly taking over from the older traditional markets in Thailand. Many of these markets have closed down. What is interesting to see now in Thailand is a re-emergence of old floating markets and canal side markets. Amphawa Floating Market is a good example of this and has become a popular destination for local tourists. In Samut Prakan we also have a number of old and traditional markets that have been revitalized for the tourist sector. A good example of this is Bang Phli Market and Klong Suan Market where I went today.

Klong Suan Market straddles Prawetburirom Canal which, back in the reign of King Rama V, was a kind of super highway linking Chachoengsao with Bangkok. For over 100 years, local people have been meeting at Klong Suan Market to sell and buy produce while on their way to or from Bangkok. However, with the building of the road system, the popularity of the market started to decline. There were no longer so many boats on the canals and the condition of these waterways quickly deteriorated. Fortunately for us, the local government saw the importance of preserving not only the old buildings but also the traditional way of life.

Some markets, that focus just on the tourist trade, seem mainly to sell tacky souvenirs. However, at Klong Suan 100 Year Market, you have a chance to experience a living museum which will satisfy any culture junkies. This isn’t just a market for tourists. During the week, it is still popular with local who come here to buy products that they need for their every-day lives. You will find shops selling kitchen utensils, fishing accessories, hardware store, clothes, traditional toys for children and a lot more. What I liked are the coffee shops where you can sit and drink traditional coffee whether its is hot or cold. Then, if you need a trim, you could get your hair cut by this barber.

The highlight, of course, in any Thai market is the food that it sells. Boiled duck seemed to be a popular choice for many. However there was a large selection of traditional Thai food and desserts that you could choose from. You could either eat as you walked along or sit at the many canal side restaurants. Don’t go expecting air-conditioned comfort. This is the real thing and a slice of life in olden days Thailand. If you come here you will certainly be spoiled for choice. It is best not to eat before you go. Also, don’t fill up too much at one shop as you will undoubtedly spot a favourite dessert as you walk further down the market.

I drove over to this market at the weekend. It is fast becoming popular with Thai tourists from Bangkok. If you come at the weekend or late in the morning then expect a very crowded market. It is best to come early in the morning before 9 a.m. or during the week when there are not so many tourists. As we left, we spotted a couple of foreign tourists arriving by tuk tuk which was a bit surprising. I think it would be better by air-conditioned taxi. You could catch the sky train to On Nut. From there it would be about 28 kms along Soi On Nut and Lat Krabang. It is basically the same road all the way. We drove up from Bang Na-Trad Highway. I have marked the location on the map at Paknam.com and also posted road sign pictures on the Samut Prakan Forums.

MAP:

Latitude: 13.662199 (13° 39′ 43.92” N)
Longitude: 100.954088 (100° 57′ 14.72” E)

Pasak Jolasid Dam

The largest reservoir in Central Thailand is Pasak Jolasid Dam. Is it 4.8 kms long and stretches across Lopburi and Saraburi Provinces. It has a storage capacity of up to 960 million cubic meters. The project was initiated by H.M. The King in the early 1990’s and was officially opened in 1999. Pasak Jolasid Dam is a source of water for households, factories and farms in the Pasak Valley. It has also helped greatly with water management in the Chao Phraya Valley which often suffered from flooding during the rainy season. The Pasak River is a major tributary of the Chao Phraya River, flowing eastwards through Phetchaboon, Lop Buri and Saraburi Provinces, and joining the Chao Phraya River in Ayutthaya Province. Before the building of the dam, this river was one of the main sources of flooding in Bangkok.

Pasak Jolasid Dam is now a major tourist attraction for people travelling in Lopburi Province. For us, we went there for lunch before heading on towards Lopburi city to see the monkeys. It is possible to do this loop as a day-trip from Bangkok. Though, to make it a more worthwhile day, it is a good idea to do it between November and January when the sunflower fields are blooming with bright yellow colours. A recreational park has been created at the southern end near the dam. There are plenty of food vendors here and you can buy some food to eat as a picnic along the waterfront. There is often a cool breeze here and it is a great place to come to escape the heat of the day, There is also an interesting museum with free entry which details the history of the reservoir as well as the social history of the local inhabitants.

You can join tractor and trailer tours of the dam for a very cheap price. The commentary during the tour is only in Thai language but fortunately the tour price is the same for Thai people and foreigners. Really they should offer us a discount but it was so cheap anyway. It was a very windy trip across the dam. On the other side there is a giant seated Buddha image. I thought that was our destination but the tractor did a u-turn and took us straight back without stopping. There wasn’t really that much to see on the journey across so I am not sure whether it was really worth it. But, each trip was always full with Thai tourists. No foreigners here at all. Nearby there is a railway station, and it is possible to take a train ride across the lake. I haven’t done it yet but judging by satellite pictures the train crosses some of the longest bridges in Thailand. Instead of going around the lake, the train tracks go over the water for much of the way.

Wat Bang Kaphom in Samut Songkhram

I was on my way to the floating market at Amphawa the other week when I came across this interesting temple. On the outside it was deserted and very undistinguishable from any other temple that I had been to in Thailand. I almost passed it by but then a coach load of Thai tourists pulled into the small parking lot. They left their coach in single file and were led to a small wihan off to one side. My curiosity got the better of me and I decided to follow them. I am so glad that I did. Wat Bang Kaphom is located off Highway 325 between Samut Songkram and the Amphawa Floating Market. It is an old temple dating back to the Ayutthaya period. It is one of those places that should be in the Lonely Planet but isn’t.

The old building is dominated by a large Buddha Footprint in the center. It is unusual in that it has four distinct layers. There are four different footprints superimposed on each other. They are believed to date back to the Thonburi period and were once said to be covered in silver plating. The footprint at the lowest level is made from mother-of-pearl inlaid wood. What makes this room outstanding are the stucco reliefs found on the walls. Normally, temple walls are covered with mural paintings depicting episodes from the Buddha’s life. It is unusual to see this 3-D effect in a Thai temple, though I have seen many in India.

Bang Pu Seaside Resort

If you are sick and tired of the traffic and pollution of Bangkok, then you might want to consider heading down to Bang Pu Seaside Resort in Samut Prakan for a bit of bird watching and a sunset dinner. As you enjoy the fresh sea breeze at the end of a lazy afternoon you won’t believe that you are in one of the most densely populated provinces in Thailand with many factories nearby. The Sukta Pier is a popular places for families to go at the weekend during the late afternoon. They go there not only to enjoy the sea breeze but also to feed the literally thousands of migratory seagulls that come there between November and July.

I have been to this pier many times over the years. When I first came here it was just a wooden structure. Now it is a concrete pier with a large seafood restaurant at the end. This area is also of historical importance as Japanese forces landed here less than two hours after their attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. According to a plaque at the site, “A small group of brave local forces rushed to form a defensive position just two kilometres north-west of this landmark. This group consisted of police, the army youth corps and civilian volunteers all from Samut Prakarn. Just before the two sides clashed, a last minute accord was reached between the Thai government and Japanese which permitted Japanese military forces to pass through Thai territory unmolested.”

The Bang Poo Seaside Resort is actually owned by the army and is used for a R & R facility for their soldiers. However, the general public can use their grounds and even rent the bungalows along the seafront for as little as 500 baht. The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) also has an education centre there for mangrove forest conservation and birdwatching. Schools often send their students to the center to learn first-hand about conservation. Local bird watchers have spotted 66 species of resident birds and 124 species of migrant birds. The most common migratory birds are the brown-headed gulls from Russia and Mongolia. You can also see pained stork, grey heron and purple heron. Other animals include the mudskippers and crabs. They have also spotted 58 species of fish. At peak times of year, an estimated 20,000 birds can be seen here!

The best time to come is about 4.30 p.m. when the hot day starts to cool down. As well as feeding the birds and walking along the pier, you can eat a meal at several of the restaurants. It is worth hanging around for a spectacular sunset. There are also a couple of walks that you can go on along the coastline. Going east you can walk for about 45 minutes to a fishing community at Tum Ru. Going west you can walk for about 90 minutes to Wat Asokaram. Bang Poo Seaside Resort is on Sukhumwit Road. You can come here by taxi from Bangkok which would cost you about 250 baht. There is no need for your taxi to wait for you. By public transport, you need to catch a bus to Samut Prakan then change to a large songtaew heading to Tum Ru or a blue bus heading to Klong Dan. You could take a 36 Songtaew to Ancient City or the Crocodile earlier in the day and then take a larger songtaew or the blue bus to go a few kilometres more to the pier. I have marked Bang Poo Seaside Resort on Google Maps as well as the two walks I have been on there.

Wat Lampaya Floating Market

There are quite a few floating markets around Bangkok these days. It is becoming more popular among the Thai general public. Most of the new ones I have been to recently are aimed at the domestic market. Wat Lampaya Floating Market in Nakhon Pathom Province is another classic example of this. When I was there recently I didn’t see any other foreigners despite the fact that it was quite popular with tourists and local people. I think I should be clear here that Wat Lampaya Floating Market is more of a riverside market. It is true that the restaurants are floating and that there are some vendors selling food on boats. However, all of these are permanently moored. It is not like the picture postcards that you might have seen of Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. But, this one is more practical as everything is in the shade away from the harsh sun.

The floating market is situated on the Tha Cheen River next to Wat Lampaya. This is the same river as at Don Wai Riverside Floating Market. In fact there are very similar markets. They both offer good food. They are both open at the weekends from 6 a.m. to late afternoon. They also both offer boat tours along the river. On the bank of the river they are selling a lot of fruit and vegetables. There are also stalls selling plants, handicraft, clothes and other OTOP products. On the floating platforms there are restaurants and many food stalls. As well as feeding yourself you can feed some of the fat fish in the river. I found everyone to be very friendly and they were keen to chat with me. We were there shortly after 10 a.m. It wasn’t too crowded at that time so it was easy to move around. Most people came here for lunch. So, if you want to avoid the crowds then come early.

Without the boat tours, I don’t think it is really worth your trouble coming here. It is just another food market albeit one with a good view of the river. I like the way the boat tours are set up. They are more like the dining tours that they have on the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok but a lot cheaper. What you do here is wander around the market and buy any food that you want to eat on the boat. We bought a variety of food that we could share including fried chicken, fish cakes, hoi tod, pad thai, satay pork and minced pork in an omelette. We also bought some drinks. Then we chose our boat tour. They have three different tours. The first one is at 10 a.m. and the last goes at 2.30 p.m. It doesn’t really matter which one you go on as the journey is more important than the destination.

It is best to buy your ticket at least half an hour before the boat is due to leave. This gives you a chance to reserve the seats and table that you want and then to go and do your food shopping. The tours are 60-70 baht for adults and 20-30 baht for children. The tours go to Wat Sukwattanaram (10 a.m., 12.30 p.m. and 2.30 p.m.), Wat Bang Phasi (11 a.m. and 1.30 p.m.) and Wat Bang Phra (11.30 a.m. and 2 p.m.). They have pictures of each tour which will help you decide. But for us, we just chose the most convenient tour which was the one for Wat Bang Phasi. Wat Bang Phra is the famous one where they have the annual tattoo festival in March. We had in fact just been there. The trip to Wat Sukwattanaram looked interesting as the pictures showed a Thai Farmers Museum. Maybe I will do that one on my next trip here.

Our boat trip along the Tha Cheen River took about 90 minutes. We cruised north up the river for about 30 minutes. We then had a 30 minute break at the temple and then another 30 minutes to come back. It was nice to have that break though the temple itself wasn’t that interesting. I guess the highlight of the temple were the wild animals in cages. But I just felt sorry for them. I like doing boat tours and it is a good way to relax and enjoy some natural air-conditioning. It was an extra bonus that we could eat and drink as well. As it was a weekend, we were able to observe river life along the banks. There were some people in small boats and young children splashing in the water. Others were sleeping outside their wooden houses or doing some fishing for their mid-day meal.

I expect I will come here again. Though it would be best if you have something else planned for the rest of the day. It took me about 115 minutes to drive there from Samut Prakan. We drove on Highway 4 towards Nakhon Pathom. We turned right at Nakhon Chaisi and then left onto Highway 3223. The journey there is signposted in Thai and English. If you live further north in Bangkok you could try Highway 346. I have marked the location on Google Maps. I also suggest that you buy the map book “Bangkok & Vicinity: A to Z Atlas” published by PN Map as the floating market is marked. Your other options are to rent a taxi for the day for about 1,200 baht (it cost me 400 baht in petrol alone) or take a local bus from either Nakhon Pathom market to Lampaya or a mini bus from the Southern Bus Terminal near Kung Luang Restaurant.

Journey to the Jungle

Today we went back to Khao Kheow Open Zoo in Chonburi Province. I was there last year with Nong Grace and as she liked it so much she kept asking me to go again. It is the school summer holidays in Thailand now so we thought we would drive down there today. The zoo is not well-known among foreigners as it is not in any of the guidebooks. But it is an easy day trip from either Bangkok or Pattaya. There isn’t any direct public transport to get there but you can either rent a taxi for the day or join a tour. From Bangkok it took us less than 90 minutes to drive there.

Compared to Safari World, we found Khao Kheow Open Zoo good value for money. Although there is a two price system, they are very open about it and the difference is marginal. In fact, without really asking, they just gave me the Thai price and Nong Grace got in for free again. Thai people are 70 baht and foreigners 100 baht. The full ticket price for Safari World is something like 700 baht. The cost of buying the food for the animals was also reasonable compared to Safari World. And at the restaurant they gave us a large plate of food for only 25 baht. I felt we were well looked after. Though, at the elephant enclosure, I saw them charging three Russian tourists 800 baht for an elephant ride when they had only charged us 150 baht for two people.

Since our last visit, they have opened a new show called “Journey to the Jungle”. As usual in Thailand, they labelled this a world class exhibit. You have to pay extra for this. It is 50 baht for Thai people and 100 baht for foreigners. They show Arabic numbers for both prices so you know that you are paying more. But they gave me Thai price without an argument after I politely asked. The aim of the show is to give you an impression of jungle life without actually going to Africa. The commentary was in both Thai and English. That was nice of them to do that, however, I had a hard time understanding much of it. It was also very stage managed, with different animals coming on to do an “act” and then left as if on cue.

The highlight of the show were the tigers who clambered up a tree to grab some meat and then later dived into the pool to have a swim. If you go to this show, I would advise you to sit on the lefthand side facing the stage. Your view won’t be blocked so much by the gates. If you sit more at the back then you can look over the gates a bit better. Though you won’t see the tigers swimming in the water tank at the bottom. I took the above picture after the show was over. I went down to the bottom to get a closer view. The admission price of 50 baht wasn’t bad, but I think 100 baht would be pushing it a bit. The ending was a bit of an anti-climax. As usual, I have marked this on Google Maps. Come back to blog.bangkok-daytrips.com soon for more ideas of places to go with Kids in Bangkok and the surrounding area.

Swimming Monkeys in Samut Songkhram

Over the years, at blog.bangkok-daytrips.com, I have written about many of the day trips that I have been on in the Bangkok area. I have long since been to all of the major tourist attractions and now I spend most of my time looking for new attractions within driving distance of Bangkok. The other day I found a new one just 90 minutes away from Bangkok in Samut Songkhram Province. Along the coastline, at a small community called Klong Khone, I found a group of homestays which provide various activities for mainly Thai visitors from Bangkok. These include boat tours where people could see up close the life and work of local fishermen. However, the highlight of these tours is the visit to see the so called sea monkeys who live along the coastline.

Samut Songkhram Province is fast becoming a popular eco-tourism destination for people living in Bangkok. I first went there on the Maeklong Railway trip where the train passes through the market on the tracks. Then on another visit I went to the emerging floating market at Amphawa. When I went back again last year I discovered literally dozens of new places around the market that were advertising homestay and various activities such as giving alms to the monks who passed the homestay early in the morning paddling a boat. It is possible to also join boat tours here and along the coastline at Don Hoi Lot. This is a popular destination for families to come to eat seafood and relax in the shade of the trees. If you continue on Highway 35 for about another 8 kms then you will reach the turn-off for Tambon Klong Khone.

Although this area is relatively unknown to independent foreign travellers, it has become popular with Thai people who come here with their university or company to take part in various activities such as planting mangrove saplings. At the main turn-off, there was a large bilingual sign pointing out places such as the Conservation Mangrove Center and various homestays. However, apart from that, there was very little in the way of English signs to show you where to go. The only clues we had were colourful signs advertising numerous homestays. Hardly any of them had any English, but many had pictures of the sea monkeys swimming in the water. We decided to follow the sign for “Baan Khlong Clone Resort” mainly because it also advertised their own dot com website.

On our arrival we were greeted by the resort manager. He ushered us to a large dining area over a pond where he showed us various photo albums of people who had already enjoyed their stay at the resort. He told me that about 60% of them were students from universities. The resort has a number of bungalow type buildings where you can sleep four people comfortably for 2,000 baht. He said that they would put in an extra mattress for 300 baht per person. For bigger groups he also had the options of renting out a large dormitory for 4,000 baht or people could sleep in tents. I have posted more pictures of this resort over at our ThailandQA.com Forums. Although I was tempted to stay the night, what we had mainly come to do was to join a boat tour to see the sea monkeys.

The manager told us that it would cost us about 700 baht to rent a boat for a trip that would last one or two hours. He seemed quite vague when he was giving me prices of the accommodation and various activities. It wasn’t like he was trying to cheat me, but rather he wasn’t sure how much he could get away with charging. While we were looking through the photo albums a Thai couple came and he told them the same price of 700 baht for the boat trip. It did seem to be on the expensive side but as you can get up to five people in one boat it could be good value for money if you take advantage of that. So, we agreed to rent a boat straight away. We were given a lifejacket, a large farmers style hat with a wide brim, and a cold bottle of water. Before we set off, I double checked that we would indeed see the monkeys. The other side trips of “jet skiing” and observing fishermen activities were of incidental value to me. We were assured that we would indeed see monkeys. And as it turned out, we saw literally hundreds.

I have said many times before that I really like doing boat trips as it is a great way to experience natural air-conditioning as you whizz down rivers and canals. The boat wasn’t too comfortable as we were basically sitting on a low stool with no backs to lean onto. The boat also didn’t have a canopy so make sure that you put on sunscreen and a hat. About ten minutes after we had left the homestay resort the boatman slowed down and then cut the engine. As we drifted towards the bank we quickly spotted the monkeys that were racing to greet us. I counted about 30 monkeys. Some were young babies being carried by their mothers. Many were on the banks while others were in the trees. Then we heard a splash as one had jumped down into the water to swim out to us.

It is a funny, I had always thought that monkeys were scared of water. But, here we were watching monkeys swimming in the canal. Not only that, but they were diving too. One of them had spotted some fruit floating on the water, and then after grabbing it, the monkey dived under the water and swam for 2 or 3 meters before coming back up for air close to the bank. Our boatman told us that on hot days that the monkeys would play in the water in order to cool off. They would hang from the branches of the trees and dive bomb into the water. As there were only the two of us on the boat, there was no pressure to move on and the boatman said that we could stay as long as we liked. However, as we didn’t have any food to give the monkeys they quickly grew bored of us and just sat still on the banks.

After a while, we continued on with our boat tour. We soon left behind us the mangrove forest and we were taken out to sea. He showed us some of the many fishermen huts that were built on stilts over the water. In Thai these are apparently called “krateng”. He then took us further down the coast and then up another estuary to a small fishing community. Along the way we stopped at a few spots to observe the monkeys. We passed about 4 or 5 other tour boats though for most of the time we were alone. Some of these tourists had come prepared with bananas for the monkeys. In other boats I could see that they had mangrove saplings so I presumed that they were going to help replant the mangrove forests. Many of these had been cut down to make way for shrimp farms. They now realized that this was causing land erosion so the community were desperately replanting. But, it takes time.

Our boat went up as far as Wat Klong Khone before turning around for the return trip the same way. We stopped again to see the monkeys on the way back. By the time we had returned to the homestay resort nearly two hours had passed. We hadn’t seen much about the way of life of fishermen. They were probably sleeping inside to escape the midday heat. However, seeing the monkeys swimming in the water was alone worth the trip. If you are feeling adventurous, there is an opportunity to do the local version of “jet skiing”. This involved a wooden plank shaped a bit like a surfboard and a long piece of rope tied to the end of the boat. The boatman then offered to pull us along at high speed. We declined. This surfboard is really used by the local people at low tide to skim across the surface of the mud as they look for sea creatures. They knelt on these boards and then pushed themselves along with the feet.

Before we left, we decided to check out another homestay in order to compare prices and activities. We next decided to follow the signs for Home Krateng. I had seen a report about this one on a Thai language blog. On arrival we were again greeted by the manager and then showed around. The homestay here seemed cheaper at 1,200 baht but I soon realized that this price was per person and not for the room! However, it was a package price. If you arrived at noon, you would be given, lunch, dinner and breakfast. You could also have one of the meals on their krateng out in the sea. Some people also opt to sleep here at night. This price also includes the boat tour similar to the one we had already been on. You would need to have a minimum of four people sharing the room. If there was only two of you then you would need to pay more per person. Like the other resort, these people also seemed to be unsure of prices as I grilled them. They kept saying “about”. When I asked about children they had to have a discussion between themselves first on how much the discount should be.

Home Krateng also offer boat tours if you don’t want to stay the night. However, at 1,000 baht for the boat it was more expensive than Baan Khlong Clone Resort. But, the seats looked more comfortable with backs and there was also a canopy shading you from the sun. The pictures of the tour that they showed me also looked a bit more interesting than our own tour as they took you to a mussel farm where you can see various shellfish stuck to poles in the sea. Some of the pictures also showed foreigners. Apparently a popular Thai tour guide called Tong has been bringing groups of foreigners to this location for the last few years. However, the homestay manager told me that it was very rare for foreign independent travellers to come here. I really want to come back here again. Maybe bring Nong Grace as well as she would love to see the monkeys. However, to make it economical you would need at least four or five people in your group. Nothing I had seen so far was for independent travellers.

Tambon Klong Khone is not easy to reach by public transport. On the way out I did see some songtaews that had come from the nearby town of Samut Songkhram. But the sign on the front was only in Thai. As the place is also spread out then you would need to choose a homestay before you arrive if you don’t have the luxury of a car. During the weekend and on public holidays you would need to book in advance if you intend to stay the night. Like I said before, there are hardly any road signs in English and no-one seemed to be able to speak English. It is a bit adventurous but certainly worth the effort. Follow this link to our forums at ThailandQA.com where I have posted pictures of road signs and more instructions on how to find this location. Don’t forget to also post your experiences if you go to see the monkeys.

Giant Dragon Temple at Wat Samphran

When you are travelling around Thailand and you use guidebooks such as Lonely Planet, you should never make the mistake of using it as a bible. Just because the guidebook lists five temples for a city, it doesn’t mean that other temples are not worth visiting. Sometimes you can find hidden gems that turn out to be the highlight. This temple called Wat Samphran that I discovered by accident is a classic example. You won’t find it in any guidebooks but the sight of this massive dragon wrapped around a building that is something like 17 storeys high is really mind blowing.

The other week I was driving along a familiar route to Nakhon Pathom. At Samphran, not long after the entrance to the Rose Garden, there is a statue for the Thai Police Force. A sign on the left said that this road leads down to the Police Academy close to the Nakhon Chaisi River. So, I thought I would go and do something different. I didn’t notice this dragon temple on the way down. I ended up at the Samphran District Office alongside the river. I made a note of the floating restaurants here. There weren’t many people there when I visited, but I thought it would be a nice place to eat towards the end of the day. Other than that, not much going on. So, I drove back up towards Highway 4. That was when I spotted this large building with a giant dragon wrapped around the outside.

I was compelled to go and take a look. However, if you want to take a picture like the first one, then you need to do so from afar. When I arrived I was greeted by some friendly nuns who excitedly gestured for me to go and take a closer look at the building. Inside there was a lift which was closed but I decided it would be worth climbing the stairs to the top. About a few floors up there was an entrance way which took us into the actual body of the dragon. I was tempted to climb to the top this way but it was dark and there were no signs of any lights. So, I continued climbing up the stairs. I think I got as far as the tenth floor when my way was blocked by a padlocked door. The place was pretty dirty on the inside and so I am not sure if many people actually use the inside of this building. On a couple of floors though it looked like some monks were living there. But there was an odour of something that smelled like bat droppings.

If you go to visit this temple then make sure that you also explore the grounds. There are also many other giant sculptures of various animals like an elephant, rabbit, dolphins and another large building in the shape of a tortoise! There are many hidden treasure here so explore the place thoroughly both upstairs and downstairs! To find the temple, take Highway 4 from Bangkok. Go past the Samphran Elephant Ground and the Rose Garden. You will soon go over a large bridge that crosses the river. A short while later you need to turn left where you will see a sign that says Police Academy. There is a statue here too. The small entrance to Wat Samphran is less than halfway down this road on the right. I have marked it for you on google maps. The next time you are exploring in Thailand, throw away the guidebook and get off the beaten track!

Farm Chokchai Farm Tours

One of the best agro-tourism projects in Thailand is undoubtedly Farm Chokchai in Nakhon Ratchasima Province. In fact it has won many awards. Farm Chokchai is situated on the Friendship Highway in cowboy country and is only 159 km from Bangkok. You can either come here as a day trip from Bangkok or as a stopover on your way to Khorat. The highlight is undoubtedly the farm tours. Farm Chokchai was started by Chokchai Bulakul back in 1957. The farm began with beef cattle but later turned their attention to a dairy heard. Today the farm covers an area of 8,000 acres and has 5,000 head of cattle. In recent years, the farm started their agro tours where people can learn about the running of a dairy farm which also includes hands on experience of milking a cow, making ice cream, petting farm animals and watching a cowboy show.

You can join farm tours from Tuesday to Sunday. During the week they only have two scheduled tours at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. However, at the weekend they have six rounds starting at 9 a.m. and the last one at 3 p.m. The tours start off with a short movie. Then you are taken outside to see the Machinery Museum where you can see the original vehicles used at the farm. Our guide only spoke Thai but there were signs in English. Our next stop was the Milking Parlor. Apparently, the Friesian cows have a high yield of milk and so they are milked three times a day. On my father’s farm, we only milked the cows twice a day. The milking procedure is fully automated with enough room for 192 cows to be milked at the same time. Our tour guide gave us a demonstration on how the machines work and also how to milk the cows by hand. If you are keen, you can change into some Wellington boosts and have a go at milking the cows.

We were next taken into the Dairy Plant. This is where they produce four milk products: milk, yoghurt, ice cream and milk toffee. Interestingly, the brand name “Farm Chokchai” was sold some years ago so they call their milk products “Umm…milk”! In the dairy plant we watched a movie which showed us how the milk is pasteurized. We were then taken on a tractor and trailer ride to tour the rest of the farm. Each tour is limited to 80 people due to the size of these trailers. This part of the tour doesn’t have any English subtitles so you just have to admire the views of cows grazing in the fields and farmhands working the land. At least there is no two price system and so foreign tourists enjoy the tour for the same price of 250 baht for adults and 125 baht for children. We also passed a sunflowerfield though strangely they didn’t pause for us to take any pictures. A short while later, we reached our first destination. A kind of Wild West Town.

At this first stop, you basically have some free time to wander around. There are souvenir shops and shooting games to play. These cost 30 baht a game. For older children, there is a chance to ride a horse for 40 baht or to take your whole family on a horse and cart ride for only 100 baht. I went for a walkaround to take a closer look at a dragon fruit plantation. I have eaten this fruit before but have never seen the cactus like plant growing on a farm. Next to this there is an ATV Track where for 180 baht you can take a ride along their course. When you arrive at this stop on the tour, your tour guide will tell you how long you have to hang around here. If you don’t speak Thai, make sure that you ask her how long you have.

When we arrived, there was already one tour group that had been there for a while. They were waiting for us to arrive so that the two groups could see the cowboy show together. We had about 15 minutes to wait before the show started. This was of course the highlight. In a small arena, we were treated with some stunts where a horseback cowboy lassoed a cow and then showed how they would then brand it. Another cowboy showed us tricks with a lasso and then one more impressed us with his dexterity with a gun. Well, it would have been impressive if he didn’t drop it at one stage. After the show, the first group left straight away but our group stayed around longer so that everyone had a chance to try all the activities.

After another half an hour, we were back on the trailer to continue our tour. A short while later we paused by the side of the track to see a demonstration of how a sheep dog can successfully heard sheep into a pen and then up into a truck. We then moved on to our last and final stop. This was the petting zoo and animal show. This is a great place for the younger family members. They have smaller ponies here for the younger kids to try their hand at riding. In the petting zoo you can buy food to feed the animals. Here they have some camels as well some deer and rabbits. You can also give some milk to the baby calves. We had about 15 minutes here before the animal show started. This had the usual acts like a parrot doing simple arithmetic and dogs jumping through hoops. I guess I am a bit jaded as I have seen this kind of thing quite a few times but the audience loved it. Once this was over we were ushered back onto the trailer to finish our tour.

I did enjoy this tour even though I was brought up on a dairy farm. I am not sure if foreign tourists would find Farm Chokchai of interest as it isn’t what you see as “traditional Thai”. However, the highlight of any stop here is the Chokchai Steakhouse which had the best steaks I have had in a long time. Whenever I drive to Khorat for a holiday, I always stop here on the way home. I think the tour itself is more of interest to Thai families and expats living in Bangkok. However, if you are on your way to Khorat then it might be worth a small stopover. They even have a boutique camp where you can stay the night in “tents”. If you do this then there are more activities that you can take part in including ice cream making. I will go again as I think Nong Grace will enjoy the farm tour and the petting zoo. However, she might not like the idea of being rushed around as I think she would want to spend more time with the animals.

Many thanks to the management of Farm Chokchai for showing us around for free. Thanks also to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) for taking us there. They also paid for our delicious steak and hotel accommodation. If anyone has a tourist attraction or a hotel that they would like us to do a site inspection of, then please contact us through the www.paknamweb.com website.

Siam Park City

There are a number of amusement parks around Bangkok that are ideal for families of all ages. These include Safari World and Dream World which I have recently visited. Another large amusement park that I went to this week is Siam Park City (Suan Siam in Thai), a short distance north-east of Bangkok. It is very similar to Dream World with its rollercoasters and other rides. However, a large part of the 120 acre park is taken up with a water park. I went there with young Nong Grace to do a site inspection. I haven’t been here for about ten years and I must say that I was impressed with the large variety of things to do to keep everyone amused for the whole day.

We arrived at the park shortly before 10 a.m. when it was just opening its doors for the day. If you go at the weekend then it will open earlier at 9 a.m. The entrance to the park is through a large recreation of a Disney-like castle. At the ticket office they give you a bilingual map of the park where you have to make a decision of where to go first. Even if you stay all day until the park closes at 6 p.m. you will probably find it difficult to experience everything. However, as many of the rides weren’t open when we arrived, we decided to catch a ride on a golf cart for 10 baht each to the large water park on the other side of the park.

There is no doubt that for many families, that the water park is the highlight of any day at Siam Park City. In fact, you can easily laze around here all day. You don’t even need to feel pressurized to get your money’s worth by playing the other rides. This is because you can buy an admission ticket that includes only the water park. This is 200 baht for adults and 100 baht for children. When we arrived we weren’t planning on doing any swimming. However, when Nong Grace saw how much fun people were having splashing in the water we had to go to the shop to buy her some swimming gear. Apparently you can also rent. There are a number of different areas to the water park. Some were ideal for younger children who cannot swim as the water wasn’t that deep. However, it is advisable to keep an eye on young children as there are some rock pools and they could slip and hurt themselves if they get too excited.

The water park has three main features. First is the action river which flows around the park like a real river. Nearby is a giant waterslide with several levels depending on how brave you are feeling. The largest area is taken up by the artificial sea which even has waves. One area has shallow water with water fountains and waterfalls for the youngsters to play. The artificial sea section starts shallow but gets deep quite quickly by several meters. This area isn’t safe for young children to play alone. There were quite a few lifeguards on duty and one kept calling out in Thai to young kids who tried to play there alone. If your children are competent swimmers then you shouldn’t have too much to worry about. But, I fretted a little with Nong Grace as she is only five years old. She kept running off. There is actually a fourth feature which is the 3-storey high spiral slide. However, this was still closed after an accident earlier this year when 28 children were hurt, four of them badly, when a section of the slide broke and they fell two metres to the ground.

We spent nearly three hours at the water park. There were plenty of places to eat and buy food. You can even rent a deckchair for the day for only 10 baht. I think it is nice to come here for the day just for the swimming. However, there is also the theme park and amusement rides. If you bought an entrance ticket for the water park then you can pay as you go with each ride. The prices for these ranges from 30 baht for a boat ride for kids up to a whopping 300 baht for the Vortex rollercoaster where you are hanging beneath the tracks. The boomerang rollercoaster is 150 baht and Giant Drop is 120 baht. These are all new rides from 2007 and weren’t here during my last visit. If you are planning on doing a lot of rides you can buy a Silver or Gold combo ticket for 350 baht and 500 baht respectively. These give you discounts on many of the rides. However, the best value ticket is the Day Pass for 600 baht which gives you access to the Water Park and unlimited rides at all attractions. If you want to play everything then you should go for this one. However, if you are planning on coming more often then you should consider a Year Pass which is only 1,000 baht which gives you unlimited access for the whole year.

A new section that has just been opened this month is Africa Adventure. Nong Grace was really excited to go and see this one as she liked the drawings on the map. However, once on the boat ride, she kept saying, “They are not real”. But, she still enjoyed the boat ride through the jungles of Africa. The highlight was the waterfalls with the hippos and elephants. The most puzzling section was the African village where a white man was being burned alive over a fire. I am not sure what the story there was. At the end of the boat ride, we then switched to the train which took us around the jungle again. However, this time we had an unobstructed view of everything which made it easier to take pictures. The problem of the boat is that it has a low canopy and it was difficult to see anything high up. From my side of the boat I only saw the feet of elephants.

Near Africa Adventure there is a large building called Dinotopia. This is a kind of a dinosaur museum but it was a bit poorly maintained and really not worth a visit. We also felt let down by the Jurassic Adventure. Here we took a jeep ride through a park much like the movie of the same name. However, the dinosaurs were a bit pathetic. There was a commentary but only in Thai. The nearby Big Double Shock is a bit like a Ghost House. But, as Nong Grace was scared stiff of the one at Dream World we didn’t go in this one. However, she enjoyed the rides for kiddies in Small World. The park has two rollercoasters, a Viking Ship, a swinging Flying Carpet and 75 meter Giant Drop. We didn’t go on any of those but we did go up the 109 meter high Siam Tower which gave us some grand views of the park and surrounding countryside. We could also see a new area of the park which apparently will open in 2009. Grace also enjoyed the two-storey high Merry-go-round and feeding the fish on the lake.

We finally left the park six hours after first arriving. I think she wanted to stay longer but I was exhausted. We did have a great day and I am sure we will return again next year. Nong Grace certainly wants to play in the water park again. You can go to the park by public transport such as Buses no. 60, 71, 96, 115, Air-conditioned buses no. 168, 519, and Micro Buses no. 8, 17. We drove there easily via the outer-ring road and turned off for Serithai Road and headed towards Minburi. The signs were easy to follow for the park. From the new airport, I reckon it is only 30 minutes or less. So, if you have a day to waste then you might consider going to Siam Park City for a swim while you are waiting for your flight. Just take a taxi to the park. It is easy to find one to take you back.

We wish to thank the management of Siam Park City for sponsoring our visit for the day at the park. If anyone reading this runs a tourist attraction or a tour in Thailand and would like to invite us on a site inspection, then please contact us through www.PaknamWeb.com.

Dream World, Bangkok

One of the major theme parks in Thailand is Dream World in Pathum Thani Province, just north of Bangkok. If you are on holiday in Thailand with your kids and are looking for an entertaining day out, then I would seriously consider Dream World. It is a bit out of the way but there is certainly a lot there to entertain kids and adults of all ages. However, if you are expecting something of the standard of Disney World, then you will surely be disappointed. It really depends a lot on what you have seen and experienced before. I have been to many theme parks on four continents and I would say that this one is good value for money. I took Nong Grace there last week. As she was only five I thought that there wouldn’t be much for her to do. But, that was far from the truth. She was kept busy literally all day exploring the park and going on some of the kiddie rides.

The highlight for Nong Grace was definitely Snow Town. Of course, for Europeans, this might not be such a big deal, but Nong Grace has never seen snow before and was really thrilled to play in the snow. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have appropriate clothes to enter Snow Town as you can borrow for free Wellington boots and a parka jacket. However, they don’t give you any gloves and I think the next time we go we might bring some along. Nong Grace wanted to throw some snow balls but her hands were so frozen. The temperature in this giant freezer was a very chilly -3 degrees Celsius. A drop in temperature of about thirty degrees. Really, the snow was more like frozen water and it wasn’t that easy to make snow balls. But, they did have fluffy flakes at Snow Town and you should have seen her face when it started to fall from above. It was a priceless picture moment seeing a child experience their first “snow” fall. For bigger kids there is also a sledge ride down an artificial hill. We spent about 40 minutes there and I think we were lucky that there weren’t that many people during our visit. I could imagine that there would be long queues for the sledging.

Some of the bigger rides include “Sky Coaster”, a rollercoaster where you are flying through the air, “Super Splash”, a boat ride where you will definitely get wet, “Grand Canyon”, where you go on a trip down some rapids, “Hurricane” which does somersaults and flips, and an old favourite “Viking”, which swings round and round. Most queues I saw for these only had a dozen or so people waiting. Most visitors seemed to be school kids. At weekends and holidays you will probably see more families. Other great rides include “Bump Boat” and the more traditional “Bumper Car”. There are even go karts. Nong Grace had plenty of gentler rides that she could play on. If you are bored with rides then there are more traditional fairground games where you can win teddy bears and other stuffed toys. Also for young families, there are plenty of photo opportunities in the Dream Garden and also Fantasy Land where you can see the Gingerbread House and the old lady who lived in a shoe. Nong Grace’s favourite building was the Giant House from the story Jack and the Beanstalk. Everything was extra big which included not only the chairs and table but also things like a box of matches and a spoon and fork.

When we first arrived at Dream World, we first took the cable car ride which gave a great bird’s eye view of the park. This took us more than halfway. We then went straight to nearby Snow Town which turned out to be a good idea as most people were still playing the rides. Afterwards, Nong Grace played on some of the gentler rides and also the Bump Boat. For lunch she wanted to eat at KFC. But there are also other food venues at the park. We spent the early part of the afternoon looking around that area. She tried the Haunted House but closed her eyes for the majority of the time. She also played a fishing game and won a small teddy bear. At 2.00 p.m. we went to watch an Animal Show. Nothing that unique as we had seen it all before many times, but she loved the performing dogs. Straight after this we had to go to the main arena to watch the Stunt Show at 2.30 p.m. At the weekend there are extra shows. It was worth watching but it was all in Thai. We then slowly walked back to the front gates, stopping here and there to take pictures. We had hoped to watch the Parade but it started to pour with rain.

Nong Grace had a great time and said she definitely wanted to go again. The park has a two price system; however, the foreigner’s ticket is actually better value for money if you play everything. The Thais have a choice of paying an entry fee of 150 baht and then pay for the rides as they go. These range from 20 baht to 80 baht. They can also buy a saver ticket for 365 baht which allows them to play everything once. There are several tickets for foreign tourists. The super value one is 450 baht and gives you unlimited rides on all the attractions. The price is the same for kids. I think that is good value for people who are planning on doing everything more than once. You buy your ticket from the Information Office instead of the normal ticket window. They speak excellent English and they will clearly tell you what is included or excluded for each kind of ticket. The park is open daily from 10 a.m. You can reach there by bus numbers 523 from northern bus terminal and 538 from the Victory Monument. You can also join tours to go there for about 1,000 baht each. Alternatively, take a taxi.

Click here to see pictures of Nong Grace at Dream World.

We would like to thank the Public Relations Department at Dream World for sending us a VIP Pass. We genuinely had a great day out and we will be going back again in the future. If you are a manager of a tourist attraction, then please feel free to contact us to arrange a site inspection. We are also interested in tours and homestays. However, we reserve the right to print negative reviews if we feel that the public won’t get good value for money.

Wat Boromracha Kanchanapisek Anusorn

Undoubtedly the most spectacular Chinese temple I have seen in Thailand is Wat Boromracha Kanchanapisek Anusorn in Nonthaburi Province just north-west of Bangkok. I would say it also rivals anything I saw even in China during my three month trip around the country. Parts of the temple reminded me of the Forbidden Palace. This temple, in Bang Bua Thong District, took over ten years to construct and cost hundreds of millions of baht. It was built to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the King’s reign. And it certainly lived up to its promise.

The temple is a photographer’s paradise with so much detail in the engravings on the walls, floors and ceilings. I was there for over two hours and could easily have spent longer. I will be going back for sure and I reckon that I will find things that I didn’t spot during my first visit. You really have to keep looking all around you as there is so much to see. I was there early in the morning when the sun was behind the main building. The entrance faces south-west and I reckon if I go next time at the end of the day, I should have some good colours from the sunset. At the weekend, the temple closes at 6 p.m.

It is quite a large complex with various interconnected buildings with three or four levels. Make sure that you explore everywhere so that you don’t miss any of the highlights. For me I think it was this room which had at least 12,000 little Buddha images covering all of the walls. There could be more but I lost count after a while. The advantage I found in going early (I arrived before 9 a.m.) was that it was easy for me to park and there weren’t people blocking my photographs. By the time I left, shortly before noon, there were literally thousands of people there and no more parking spaces. People had to park on the street outside. However, despite the crowds, I didn’t see any other foreigners there at all.

The main hall contains three very large Buddha statues made of brass and weighing 18 tonnes each. When I was there, there were several dozen novices and monks who were taking part in a ceremony. I should have taken along my sound recorder as the sound was mesmerizing and so different to chanting at Thai Buddhist temples. On each side of this building there were statues of 18 Buddhist saints. On the walls were large wood carvings. On the third floor is the Goddess of Mercy which was carved with Burmese teakwood (see picture above).

The fourth floor is the Meun Buddhasukkhavadi Buddhakset Hall with the thousands of small Buddha images. There was a great breeze from the hallways outside this room. Make sure you take a close look at the roof tiles as you will spot little monk images and mystical animals on the roof ridges. From here I went down several floors where they were doing another ceremony for the Vegetarian Festival. They were also preparing krathongs for the Loy Krathong Jay ceremony which they did later this afternoon. To enter this area you need to wear white clothing which luckily I was. However, you won’t miss much if you don’t want to dress in white. However, if you go there during the “gin jay” festival, then you will be able to have free vegetarian food for lunch.

I drove to Wat Boromracha Kanchanapisek Anusorn this morning. From Samut Prakan it was quite simple. It only took about 40 minutes driving along the Outer Ring-Road. I turned off for Bang Bua Thong and just followed the sign for the temple which was also in English. I understand you can catch bus 177 from Victory Monument which can take up to two hours. When I drove back it only took 30 minutes to reach Sanam Luang via the Phra Pinklao Bridge. So, if you don’t have your own transport then I would suggest you go by taxi.

Boat Trip at Bang Phli

At Wat Bang Phli Yai Nai in Amphoe Bang Phli in Samut Prakan Province, you can join boat tours at the weekend along the Samrong Canal. The name “Bang Phli” dates back to the Ayutthaya period. In 1498, King Ramathibodi II commanded for Klong Samrong and Klong Thao Nang to be built. At the point where the two canals intersected, two images of deities were discovered. The king organized a ceremony to make offerings to these images. In Thai, “phli” means “offering” and so Bang Phli can translate as The Village of Offerings. Also during this period, legend says that a famous Buddha image, Luang Pho To, was seen floating down Samrong Canal. The legend says it was one of three brothers who were escaping the wars during the Ayutthaya period. Many villagers along the canal tried to entice the Buddha image to come ashore. None of them were successful until the image reached Bang Phli. Every year now, two days before the end of the Buddhist Retreat, the locals pay homage to this famous image.

My boat tour started at Wat Bang Phli Yai Nai. There are two trips you can take. Either “3 Temples” or “9 Temples”. The most common trip is the first one which lasts for two hours and costs only 40 baht per adult and 20 baht per child. They told me that they have 3-4 trips per day though on busier days they will put on more trips. The first boat leaves at 10 a.m. The tours only go at the weekend and during public holidays. However, you can rent a boat yourself for 1,200 baht. My tour guides were two junior high students. They only speak Thai so you will just have to make do with the scenary and fresh air. We passed quite a few lotus fields on the water. Literally thousands of these are needed for the pilgrims who come for the “rub bua” festival in October. We also saw a lot of waterside activity such as fishing and boating.

Strictly speaking, we only visited two temples as the first one was our starting point. The first stop was supposed to be Wat Bang Chalong Nok. However, as they were rebuilding the waterfront they took us up another canal to the nearby Wat Bang Chalong Nai. Nothing too impressive as temples go, but a good opportunity for me to stretch my legs. The Thai tour boats are not designed for the long legs of foreign tourists. I asked my tour guides if they have many foreigners on their tours and they said hardly at all. Usually they came with Thai girlfriends. We stayed at this temple for twenty minutes and then came back the same way. We stopped briefly by Wat Bang Chalong Nok where we were allowed to buy loaves of bread for 20 baht to feed some really massive fish.

We then came all the way back to our starting point then continued further up the canal the other way. Here we passed the Old Bang Phli Market which dates back more than 150 years to 1857. After your boat trip, you can eat your lunch here at the many restaurants along the canal. Our final destination was Wat Bang Phli Yai Klang. This is the home for the fabulous Reclining Buddha which is the longest in the country at 53 metres. Not only is it bigger than the one all the tourists go to in Bangkok, this one you can go inside. The highlight is the shrine for the heart of the Buddha. This is something unique which I have never seen before.

Bang Phli is very close to Suvarnabhumi Airport. In fact, they are both in the same district. If you are at the airport with some time to kill, why don’t you take a trip to Bang Phli. But be warned, it is unlikely that you will meet any other foreigner despite being so close to the entry point to millions of foreigners each year.

Bang Phli Floating Market

There seems to be quite a few communities around Thailand now that are trying to replicate the success of Damnoen Saduak Market. I think Amphawa Floating Market in Samut Songkram have been doing a good job. Bang Nampheung Floating Market in Samut Prakan have also been trying to have a weekend market along the canal. Strictly speaking, these new markets shouldn’t really use the word “floating” as they are firmly on the bank of the canal. But they do have water activities. Now comes the news that the Old Bang Phli Market in Samut Prakan wants to develop a kind of floating market. They actually have one of the longest running markets in Thailand as this one was established just over a hundred and fifty years ago in 1857 by Chinese traders.

The market runs alongside Samrong Canal. Today they kicked off a series of activities that will be organized for every weekend from now until the Rub Bua festival in mid-October. They had quite a few vendors today selling their wares on boats. They are hoping to keep this going throughout the year but that really depends on the interest of the general public. There were certainly quite a few people there today. Though, as expected, I was the only foreigner there. It is the kind of place you go to where the local people are surprised to see you speak Thai. If you like to get off the beaten track away from the other foreign tourists then Bang Phli is an excellent choice. But, don’t expect any English to be spoken and you will hear people calling out “farang” a lot. In addition to the market, there are also boat tours which I will tell you about later.

The old Bang Phli Market starts at Wat Bang Phli Yai Nai. It is basically a series of wooden shophouses with one long covered roof. It stretches for about 500 metres or so. I have been here several times before and I could see today that there are more shops for tourists. Before they just had household goods, only of interest to local people. Now they have a wider selection of food, as well as a small museum of old photos. There is still room for improvement but they are going the right direction. I think it is a nice place to eat a meal alongside the canal. At the end of the market, there is a bridge which you can climb over (see top picture) and then you arrive at another stretch of shophouses. This section is more open and so easier to take pictures.

There are quite a few alleyways running off from the market and if you have time it is worth exploring. At the temple, there is the famed Luang Pho To image which, according to legend, was spotted floating down the canal and was rescued by local people. During October every year they have a lotus throwing festival where a copy of this image is paraded up and down the river on a boat. People in their thousands line the banks and throw lotuses onto the boat. I will be going there for the festival next month and so will tell you more about that later. If you have any questions about this market or any other tourist attraction in this area, then please visit our Samut Prakan Forums.

4 Day Holiday Plan for Central Thailand

DAY ONE – DAMNOEN SADUAK FLOATING MARKET

My sister and her family will soon be coming to Thailand for their “once-in-a-lifetime” holiday. Well, maybe not quite true, but this is certainly their first holiday abroad as a family. They have been saving up for years to pay the air fares for their family of five. I have been put in charge of planning their short stay in Thailand. To be clear here, this is really only the stopover. The main event is the beautiful beaches of Queensland, Australia. They will be arriving late Monday afternoon and I will be taking them back to the airport on Friday afternoon of the same week. So, we basically have three and a half days to play with. What I thought I would do here is work out a rough schedule. Naturally, nothing is set in stone. Any holiday should be as flexible as possible. Even more so at the moment as we are in the middle of the rainy season. So, we could re-arrange the order of these days or even change things completely.

At the moment, the first day involves waking up at 5.30 a.m. in order to travel to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. It is true this place is a bit touristy, but if you arrive early then you can easily experience an “authentic” floating market from yesteryear. At least it will be possible to get some picture perfect postcard shots. We will rent a boat here and be paddled around the canals. Then a fine Thai style breakfast. From here we would probably head to Nakhon Pathom to visit Phra Pathom Chedi, the largest Buddhist stupa in the world. There is also a fine collection of Buddha images here. In the market surrounding the stupa we will sample some of the delicious Thai desserts such as sticky rice in a bamboo tube.

The road back to Bangkok from here passes three major tourist attractions. We won’t have the time or energy to visit them all. These are The Human Imagery Museum, The Rose Garden and Samphran Elephant Ground. I think we will skip the first one as it is basically a wax museum of notable Thai and world leaders. The Rose Garden is good for the cultural show where you can see traditional Thai dancing, an ordination ceremony, a Muay Thai boxing match and a wedding ceremony. This costs 480 baht each. The nearby Samphran Elephant Ground has a crocodile wrestling show and a spectacular elephant battle show. This costs 500 baht each. It is possible to do both but it would be rushed. The tour groups do it but I think we should choose one.

DAY TWO – THE GRAND PALACE, THONBURI CANALS AND RECLINING BUDDHA

Our second day would be spent in Bangkok. The highlight of any trip here is of course The Grand Palace and the neighbouring Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Hopefully we will get a bit of sunshine for this as the sparkling colours should be fantastic for photos. Very difficult to take bad pictures here. A tip if you are coming here by yourself, ignore anyone that tells you that the palace is closed for a ceremony until 3 p.m. If he says the code word “lucky buddha” or “big buddha” then you will know he is a con-man. Just ignore him. The police certainly do.

After the palace, we will probably head to the nearby pier at Tha Chang. This is where they used to take the palace elephants to bathe in the river. The plan will be to rent a long-tailed boat for a one hour tour of the Thonburi canals. Even before you reach the pier you will be approached by people who will try and tell you that it costs 1,000 baht each. Ignore them and keep walking. If we are lucky, we should get a boat for about 700 baht. The plan would be to stop briefly at the Royal Barge Museum and end up at Wat Arun a.k.a. the Temple of Dawn. After exploring here we will cross the river to Wat Pho a.k.a. the Reclining Buddha. If we made an early start then we should be very hungry by now. I think we would then head to one of the air-conditioned shopping malls at Siam Square for a late lunch. We could stop at the Erawan Shrine near Central World for some free Thai dancing. I think by this time they will be really tired so I won’t plan anything else other than shopping. I was thinking of taking them to Siam Ocean World. But as they are going to Queensland, I would suggest they visit the aquarium there instead as it is not only better but it is also cheaper.

DAY THREE – BANG SAI ARTS & CRAFT CENTER and AYUTTHAYA HISTORICAL PARK

This is a full day so hopefully they are over jet lag and they have plenty of energy. The historical park at Ayutthaya will be the main destination. There are about four or five different temple ruins to visit here. We will have our own transport so it will be easy to get around town. If you go there by train or bus then you can rent a bicycle for the day. There is also the option to do a boat trip if we don’t do the Thonburi canal trip the day before. I really like Ayutthaya and it is only about 90 minutes from Bangkok.

There are a couple of major tourist attractions that can be visited on the way to Ayutthaya. These are Bang Sai Arts and Craft Center and Bang Pa-In Summer Palace. You could do both but you would have to cut down on the number of places that you will visit in Ayutthaya. So, I would pick Bang Sai. The Thai village here has buildings from all regions of Thailand. A great place to compare architecture and way of living. You can also visit the factory buildings where you can see people doing traditional forms of handicraft as well as silverwork and bamboo weaving. It is quite a fascinating place to wander. There is also a large shop where you can buy their work. This place is supported by the royal family. It was set up to help people in rural areas of Thailand to gain valuable skills in order to help support themselves and their community.

DAY FOUR – ANCIENT CITY and ERAWAN MUSEUM

The final day is a short one, but as I live in Samut Prakan, visiting the Three Headed Elephant at the Erawan Museum and the nearby Ancient City shouldn’t take us too long. If you are in Bangkok, then you would need to have a full day to come here. Both of these are highlights and you need to spend as much time as you can. We will go to the Erawan Museum first as you have to join a tour. The three-headed elephant is massive. There is a lift in the rear leg and it takes you up into the belly of the elephant. The Ancient City is a great place to go if you don’t have time to visit all of Thailand. Basically you can see replicas of all the most important buildings and monuments from around Thailand. It is a massive 300 acre park that you can explore on foot or by bicycle. If you drive around in a car, it would take you at least two hours to see the highlights. Really you need all day to do it justice. It is a great place to take photos of yourself and pretend to your friends how much you traveled!

Bang Pakong River Tour

One of the major rivers in the eastern part of Thailand is the Bang Pakong River which drains into the Gulf of Thailand. At the estuary, you can go on boat tours that take you out to see the Irrwaddy dolphins. Their visit is seasonal and you can only join these dolphin watch tours between November and February. I went to see them about three years ago and wrote a story about it for Bangkok Day Trips. I went back to Chachoengsao Province last weekend for another boat trip on the river. Though this time I started further upriver in the city of Chachoengsao. The boat trips run seven days a week. Monday to Friday there are only two rounds per day at 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. At the weekend, there are seven trips leaving on the hour starting at 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Each trip lasts about two hours.

The river tour starts at the pier behind Wat Sothorn, which is a gigantic landmark in Chachoengsao and very hard not to miss. People from all over the area make a pilgrimage to this temple to pay respect to the Luang Pho Sothorn image. If you are driving there by car you will find plenty of free parking space around the temple. It is best to come early as the place gets very crowded at the weekend. I was hoping to go on the boat tour straight away, but the next round was fully booked. So I had just over an hour to wait. But, it didn’t matter, there was plenty to see around the temple grounds.

The ticket price for the boat tour is only 100 baht for adults and 60 baht for children. There is no two price system. However, you will find that the commentary during the tour is only in Thai language. I asked the tour guide about this and she said by far the majority of tourists here are Thai people. Out of the handful of foreigners that come to Chachoengsao, the majority are with Thai wives or Thai friends. So, virtually no independent travellers at all. Which is not surprising as the province is no longer featured in the Lonely Planet.

The river tour itself was enjoyable. It was a hot day and the breeze created by travelling up river by boat was refreshing. On one side of the river was the city with some waterfront buildings that were more than 100 years old. I also spotted a couple of Christian churches, the oldest being St. Paul’s. Near the city hall, we passed an old section of the foritified wall that used to protect the city. On the other side of the river it was mainly isolated wooden houses and a great deal of nipa palm trees. One of the famous local food is “khanom jaak” which uses products from this tree. The boat trip itself was only 30 minutes. It would have been good to have gone on for longer, but the place they brought us to turned out to be the highlight of the tour. This was the 100 year old Ban Mai Market. We basically had an hour to explore this area before boarding the boat for the return journey.

The last time I had been to Ban Mai Market was more than five years ago. And what a difference. Back then the place was deserted with only a handful of tourists. Most of the houses had their front shutters closed. Now it was difficult to move in some sections. There were so many tourists wandering around. Either browsing the shops or sitting down to eat some authentic Thai food. Nearly every house was open and having some interaction with the public. Either selling food or souvenirs. There was even an old barber shop. I enjoyed myself with some great snacks and a so-called “original recipe” for iced coffee. None of the wooden houses have changed much since the reign of King Rama V. In fact, this market is a popular location for filmmakers doing period dramas.

An hour wasn’t really enough time to sit and eat. Particularly as the tour guide also took us to a nearby Chinese shrine. Well, I should say that she took me alone. There were 40 people who disembarked from the boat at the market pier. However, along the way she managed to lose them all. Maybe they were more interested in sampling the Thai snacks and desserts. But, there was time to do both. To her credit, she took me through the market to the far end to reach Wat Chin Pracha Samosorn. On the outside of the shrine it loked much the same as any other. However, inside there were a number of interesting images. One was a set of three Chinese Buddha images that were incredibly made of paper. You can see them in the above picture. Another shrine there was popular with people who wanted to make a lot of money or win the Thai lottery. I will tell you more about that another day.

Chachoengsao is to the east of Bangkok and there is plenty to keep you busy all day. Disregard the fact that not many guidebooks cover this area. If you want to go by bus, you can catch one at either Mor Chit 2 Bus Terminal or Eastern Bus Terminal (at Ekkamai). There are also regular trains leaving Hua Lamphong station throughout the day. I went there by car and it took me just over one hour. I drove along the Bang Na Trad Highway and turned left at Highway 314. You can also go by Highway 7 which is the Bangkok-Chonburi Motorway. You won’t need a map as it is well sign-posted.

Rose Garden in Thailand

One of the major tourist attractions that can be done as a day trip from Bangkok, is the Rose Garden Riverside in Nakhon Pathom Province. Located along the Tachin River, the 70 acre resort is only an hour’s drive from Bangkok. But don’t be fooled by the name. It is not just a botanical garden. Although it started as a Rose Garden and restaurant over 40 years ago, over the years it has evolved and developed into a cultural center, together with a hotel, restaurants and a spa. Today, foreign tourists mainly go to the Rose Garden to watch the internationally acclaimed Thai Village Cultural Show as part of a day long tour that includes a visit to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. We went there a couple days ago and had a really enjoyable time. We also had a delicious lunch in a restaurant with grand views of the fast flowing river.

Tourists who turn up on the tour buses usually arrive at 2 p.m. just in time for the elephant and cultural shows. However, there is plenty of activities at the Rose Garden to keep you busy all day long. We were there for about six hours and the time went by very fast. In the morning we took part in the art and craft activities in a program called “Living the Thai Culture”. This takes place between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. and costs 480 baht per person. Situated around the Thai Village, there are about twelve different bases where you can learn more about every day traditional life in Thailand. These include: Dancing and Musical Instrument, Garland Making & Fruit Carving, Traditional Pottery, Thai Martial Arts, Silk Processing, Traditional Weaving, Umbrella Painting, Thai Country Kitchen, Orchid Nursery, Thai Herbal Pavilion, Bamboo Dancing and Rice Farming.

Although this new attraction has been going on for three years, not so many people seem to know about it. So we nearly had the Thai Village to ourselves which actually worked to our advantage. At each base, we were given a personal demonstration. We were then actively encouraged to try these for ourselves which is almost a unique experience amongst tourist attractions in Thailand. How often do you get a chance to plant rice?. If you didn’t want to get your feet wet in the rice paddy, you could have a go at grinding the rice. If you are feeling artistic you could try making a fish mobile from palm leaves or carving a flower out of a carrot! Or if you feel a bit more energetic, you could have a go at the bamboo dancing or the sword fights called krabi krabong. At other bases we learned how Thai herbs are used in traditional medicine and also how to look after orchids. Seeing the silkweaving process was also fascinating and a learning experience for all of us. Although you can turn up at any time, it is best to arrive before 10 a.m. as you will need the full two hours to experience all the activities.

After our busy schedule during the morning, we were now hungry for a good lunch. The resort has seven different venues that cater for people of all budgets. From the basic 40 baht a meal to the more lavish international buffet of 460 baht per person. We chose the Inn-Chan Restaurant which provided fine views of the river. I remember seeing this restaurant the other month when I was on a boat tour from the Don Wai Market. We came as far as the Rose Garden before turning around. The Rose Garden also have their own converted rice barge which you can join for a tour up the river to a local temple. After our delicious lunch, we set off to explore the grounds. We walked around, but you can rent a bicycle for 60 baht per hour or even hire a boat to go on the lake for 40 baht for 30 minutes. As well as the large variety of exotic flowers in the garden, there are also many traditional Thai houses. One of them is used for wedding receptions. Another for a spa. The other seven houses can be rented out by hotel guests. The attention to detail every where is really impressive and something you don’t often see in Thailand. I particularly liked what they did with their interpretation of a floating market. Unlike Damnoern Saduak, the surroundings helped make our pictures more beautiful.

The highlight of any visit to the Rose Garden is of course the Thai Village Cultural Show. Most tourists turn up just for this event. Gates to the Thai Village open at 1 p.m. This is the same place which we explored in the morning. So we didn’t go in until later. This afternoon session costs 480 baht and so you have to pay again if you want to do both. However, many of the activities are not available in the afternoon as the people are getting ready for the performance. But there is still a lot to see, so it is worth going in as soon as you can. For example, you can ride an elephant for as little as 50 baht per person. Then there are the shops and interesting displays. There is a short elephant show at 2.15 p.m. and then the main cultural show is at 2.45 p.m. Then straight after the cultural show, there is a second chance to see the elephants in action. A small tip, some people skip the first round of the elephant show and go straight to the auditorium in order to make sure that they get a good seat. A sign says rows nearer the stage can get hot due to the spotlights. The best seats are obviously the ones in the central block.

The Thai Cultural Show is certainly impressive and gives you a long lasting memory. I was last here about seven years ago and I could remember it all. There is a cast of over 120 people who very cleverly tell you about many different aspects of Thai culture and the Thai way of living through a series of performances. For example, a Harvest Dance, Bamboo Dance, and a Thai Mythical Dance. We are also introduced to the different traditional clothes and dancing methods of all regions of Thailand. Then there are demonstrations of Thai sports such as short pole fighting and Thai boxing. There is even a grand procession for a young man who is about to be ordained. He rides in the procession on the back of an elephant. Another highlight is the Thai wedding ceremony. There is certainly a lot to take in during this 40 minute show. If you haven’t witnessed anything like this before in Thailand, then you will find that the Rose Garden offers an easy introduction to Thai culture.

You can easily book tours to the Rose Garden from your hotel. Or, you can go independently. If there is a small group of you, then you can rent a taxi from Bangkok for not much more than 1,000 baht. You can visit the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in the morning, then either Nakhon Pathom or the Thai Human Imagery Museum before finishing at the Rose Garden. The tours are good, but some members of our ThailandQA.com forum reported that they were dropped off at the Rose Garden a bit late and missed the start of the show. They will also take you to a gem factory on the way back which is not advertised. You can also go by bus. Any bus leaving Bangkok for Nakhon Pathom can drop you off at the Rose Garden. Or you can do this on the way back from a trip to Kanchanaburi.

Do you need help in planning this trip? Visit the Paknam Web Thailand Forums for free advice 24/7.

MAP:

Latitude: 13.733851 (13° 44′ 1.86” N)
Longitude: 100.243729 (100° 14′ 37.42” E)

Khao Kheow Open Zoo

There are a number of zoos in and around Bangkok that are ideal destinations for people on holiday in Thailand with their children. One of the better zoos is Khao Kheow Open Zoo in Chonburi Province. It is about half way between Bangkok and Pattaya. The journey took us about 90 minutes and so it makes it an ideal day trip from either Bangkok or Pattaya. However, it is not easy to reach there by public transport so you might have to rent a car or hire a taxi for the day. But it is certainly worth the effort. I went there yesterday with Nong Grace and she had a really great time. She certainly wants to go back again.

In some ways Khao Kheow (sometimes spelled Khao Khiew) is similar to Safari World in Bangkok. It has all the regular animals that you would want to see such as giraffe, elephant, tiger, lion, chimpanzee, camel etc. It also allows you to get up close to these animals. There were many opportunities where you can feed the animals. Food was available for the animals at a very reasonable 20 baht a bunch. Like Safari World you can also drive through the park. However, at Khao Kheow you can get out of the car at most places and get quite close to the animals. You wouldn’t want to walk around the whole park as the animal exhibits alone cover an area of 400 acres.

If you don’t have a car you can always take a guided tram ride or rent a bicycle or even hire a golf cart for 300 baht for two hours. When we go again we might just do that. There are several places within the park where you can rent golf carts. We spent most of our time feeding the giraffes so next time we could park the car there first. Then when ready to explore more, we could go and rent a golf cart. The advantage of a golf cart is that you will see a lot more. Also, we were sometimes a bit lazy to keep getting out of the car to see all of the animals. Having said that, we did spend an incredible six hours at this zoo!

In the afternoon we went to see a Bird Show which was quite good but the parrot named “James Bond” didn’t always want to perform on cue. But, it was an enjoyable show for the youngsters. At the end of the show, Nong Grace wanted her picture taken with a parrot which only cost 20 baht. Nearby there was an adventure playground and a Children’s Zoo. Nong Grace spent several hours here playing and feeding the animals such as rabbits and goats. In fact I think we probably fed most of the animals at the zoo several times over. Luckily this wasn’t as expensive as at Safari World. Nong Grace wanted her picture taken with some of the animals such as tiger like she did at Sriracha Tiger Zoo. But, we didn’t see any opportunities for that which was a shame.

When we went to Safari World, the price of the tickets for foreigners was a really expensive 700 baht. This was mainly due to the shows. Nong Grace said she wants to go there again but I have told her it is too expensive. In contrast, Khao Kheow Open Zoo is far cheaper though obviously more challenging to get there. They have a two price system but the difference is very minimal. Thai adults are 70 baht and foreign adults 100 baht. Thai children 15 baht and foreign children 50 baht. Nong Grace is only four and they let her in for free. I then had to pay another 50 baht for taking my car into the zoo which was also very reasonable. As there wasn’t much difference between foreign and Thai price I didn’t bother to ask for local price. But they gave it to me anyway. It is nice when they do that without asking.

If you are a parent with children, you will probably find Khao Kheow Open Zoo much better if you have your own transport. This meant that Nong Grace didn’t have to walk around so much and we had a mobile base where we were able to keep drinks and snacks. The reason we ended up staying there six hours was probably because we drove around the zoo twice! Which is something you cannot do at Safari World. On the first round we skipped a few places which were too near to each other. Then saw these animals on the second round. We also went back to see some of her favourites like the giraffes and elephants. She also liked throwing cucumbers into the open mouth of the hippos. They apparently have a night safari here which might be worth investigating. I also noticed that they have a camping ground though I am not sure if that is mainly for schools.

Sriracha Tiger Zoo

People often ask us for family friendly tourist attractions in Thailand where they can take their kids to have some fun. Sriracha Tiger Zoo is a great place for kids on holiday in Thailand. It can be done as either a day trip from Bangkok or as an excursion from Pattaya which is slightly closer. We drove down there this week to visit the zoo and it took us only 80 minutes from the Bangkok area. I took Nong Grace again as she enjoys visiting zoos and animal parks. Up to now, she has been quite nervous about getting close to any of the animals. However, for the first time, she wanted her picture taken with a tiger cub. This cost 150 baht for an instant picture in a nice frame. You can also take as many pictures as you like with your own camera. She even posed again later with two baby crocodiles for another 150 baht. She could have also posed with an orangutan, kangaroo, snake and even scorpions. But you have to draw the line when it costs 150 baht per picture.

The main feature of the zoo are the 200 Bengal tigers which can be seen at various locations. To their credit, the zoo has been able to maintain a successful breeding program for these tigers and so many of them were born at the zoo. In the Tiger Tunnel you can get quite close to the tigers. This picture was taken through the perspex glass and it came out quite well. Strangely, in this same enclosure was this African guy dressed in classic Tarzan gear. I am not sure what his purpose was as he was just sitting there smoking a cigarette. I guess when coach parties pass through he will get up and wrestle the tigers or something. In the same building there is a nursery where you can see one of the most remarkable sights at the zoo. This is the tiger cubs drinking the milk of a large mother pig. And then, in the neighbouring cage, there were piglets dressed in tiger skin shirts running around with a full grown tiger!

As well as observing the animals, there are also a number of shows that you can watch for no extra charge. Our first show was “Amazing Circus” which was a kind of Big Top show. It started with an act by an intelligent pig that was able to successfully sort coloured pegs into the correct coloured boxes. I guess this proves that pigs are not colour blind. Next came the highlight of the show with a performance by the large Bengal tigers. A word of warning before I continue. The tigers sat in a semi-circle with their backs to the audience at the start of the show. I would strongly suggest that you don’t sit in the front row as when they go to the toilet they can squirt backwards a couple of meters. The tigers did all the usual tricks such as jumping through hoops of fire and walking on their hind legs. It was certainly entertaining for the youngsters in the audience, but honestly, I am never that impressed with performances done with animals in Thailand. There are three of these shows per day at 11 a.m., 1.30 p.m. and 3.30 p.m.

From here we followed the crowds to the Elephant Show. This one wasn’t actually too bad. The tempo was quite fast and the elephants with their trainers kept running on from stage left and stage right. Although many of the tricks were the usual fare, the fast tempo managed to keep our attention and Nong Grace enjoyed the show. The highlight for her was the basketball match between two elephants. Take a look at this picture of one of the elephants doing a slam dunk! I have seen them playing football before but this was a first for basketball. The trainers also asked for two volunteers from the audience. They then laid down on the ground while two elephants walked over them several times. One of the elephants did the usual trick with its trunk by prodding the male volunteer in places he didn’t really want to be prodded. However, the young female elephant was the funniest. When it stepped over the volunteers, it lifted its hind leg as if it was just about to take a leak. There are three elephant shows per day at 11.40 a.m., 2.30 p.m. and 4.30 p.m.

Our next show was the pig racing which I was actually looking forward to. I had heard about it before and just wanted to see what it was all about. This show started with an amazing pig that could do some really cool party tricks. Believe it or not, the pig could do simple arithmetic sums. To prove it wasn’t fixed, the audience were invited to call out numbers. The equation was then read out aloud in Thai, English and Chinese. The pig then picked up a marker with the correct number. After this came the pig racing. These were piglets that basically just ran from one end to the other. The second race was then their return trip. Not as exciting as I thought it would be. The show certainly has more potential. These shows are every half hour from 9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.

In the building next to the pig racing is a place where you can feed the baby tiger cubs. A bottle of milk was a little expensive at 50 baht. However, Nong Grace really loved feeding the tiger cubs and I think it was her highlight. In fact, after we had finished walking around the zoo, we had to come back here for a second round. Nearby here we also saw deer, giraffes and a few other wild animals. There was also a section with dozens of rabbit that seemed to be suffering a bit from the heat. Again, Nong Grace enjoyed feeding them which fortunately only cost 10 baht this time for a bunch of long green beans. Nearby we went into an artificial cave to see the advertised Scorpion Queen who apparently is comfortable with scorpions covering her whole body. Though we didn’t see any action as she didn’t want to perform for just the two of us. But she said she would if we paid 150 baht. I declined her offer. On the map, there were a couple of places marked that Nong Grace wanted to visit. First was the pig swimming and second the ducks that apparently swam with the crocodiles. But, unfortunately both of these shows have been discontinued. Nong Grace said that maybe the crocodile ate the duck!

Our last show was the Crocodile Show. Our third in three weeks. All of these crocodile shows are much the same as each other. It usually involves sticking limbs – either hands or heads, into the mouth of a crocodile. What makes or breaks these shows is the personality of the performers. Our show had one lady and one man. The guy actually looked quite young and he hammed it up a bit which made his performance a bit funny. He slipped over a few times while trying to pull the crocodile out of the water which earned him some nervous laughter and applause from the audience. The show was alright if you haven’t seen that kind of thing before. It ended when an obvious stage plant came down and threw them a 20 baht note as a tip. No-one picked up on the hint so the cleaning lady was then told to throw some money too. Then other people started to tip them. There are seven crocodile shows per day.

Our last stop was the crocodile nursery. Here we saw hundreds of crocodile eggs in the incubators. Apparently they have an egg breaking festival in May where the public can help with the hatching of the eggs. Nong Grace then surprised me when she said she wanted to have her photograph taken with a baby crocodile. She was very nervous at first but was determined to do it. She had seen a photograph of her father posing with a big tiger and I guess she wanted to outdo him. So, she now had two framed pictures of her holding animals. Something to show her friends at school. On the way to the exit, we passed one more pen where we saw a tiger that seemed to be living happily with some dogs. Pretty unusual so it excited Nong Grace. But she was still disappointed that she hadn’t seen the duck with the crocodile.

As usual, there is a two price ticket system at the zoo. The foreigners price is 300 baht for adults and 200 baht for children. No sign of the Thai price which makes me presume that they are embarrassed about having two prices. I managed to get the Thai price of 120 baht by asking politely in Thai. Someone also told me that a work permit also does the trick. Nong Grace was free as she is less than 140 cms. But that sign is written in Thai and so I am not sure if that includes foreign children. The price for Thai children is 60 baht. To reach the zoo, just take the main highway from Bangkok towards Chonburi and then Pattaya. The zoo is in the Sriracha district. Big signs tell you when to turn off so it is quite simple.