Tag Archives: Samut Prakan

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.

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.

A Thai Temple in the Sea

As each year passes it becomes increasingly more difficult to find new and interesting tourist attractions not far from Bangkok. I have been on some really good day trips for thai-blogs.com that included renting a boat to go dolphin watching, riding a train that literally passes through a market, and the Reclining Buddha image where you can go inside to see the heart. I didn’t think that there would be much more of interest which hadn’t been discovered already. Then I saw a television programme about Wat Khun Samut on the Gulf of Thailand. I first heard about this Thai temple surrounded by the sea in a newspaper article in the Bangkok Post about four years ago. I wanted to go there back then, but there are no roads in that area and the only mode of transport is by boat. It seemed incredibly difficult. So, I just put the name of this temple up on my whiteboard with the other destinations I wanted to visit. Seeing the temple on television last month and then also newspaper reports about land erosion statistics released by the World Bank, prompted me into renewed efforts in finding out how to reach this small community on the coast.

Through some research, I discovered that there was a public boat to Ban Khun Samut Chin leaving the pier at the Paknam Market at about 9.15 a.m. every day. Apparently there is only one boat going and one returning at 3 p.m. I had been warned to take my own food and drinks and to be careful not to miss the only boat to return. There are no hotels or restaurants there so I would have to be self-sufficient. My first two attempts of catching this boat failed miserably. On each occasion the boat left earlier then the scheduled time. On the second time I was there extra early at 8.40 a.m. but had just missed it. Talking to some of the locals there, they suggested that I should catch the passenger ferry to the other side and try and rent a boat from there. They said it would be a lot cheaper than renting one from Paknam Pier. So, that is what I decided to do the following weekend. Though, instead of catching the ferry across the river, I decided it would be easier if we drove over as then we could drive around looking for a place to rent a boat.

The temple is on the spit of land at the bottom of the picture

Looking on the Google Earth satellite pictures of this area, I could see that Wat Khun Samut was directly south of Ban Sakhla which I had visited the other year. The road to this town, in the middle of no-where, had only been paved a couple of years ago. We decided we would take the car there in order to find a boat. But, we only got half-way down this road when we suddenly spotted a sign advertising boats for rent. As there are no roads south of here, local people can only get around by renting a boat. Unless of course, they have their own boat. We were informed that the cost would be 110 baht one way for the boat. This wasn’t bad considering that there were four of us and that the public boat from Paknam Pier would have cost us 40 baht each. We were soon off heading south down a canal lined with short stumpy nipa palms. Here and there we passed isolated houses with their own private jettys. There were also a number of long-tailed boats ferrying people back and forth to various destinations. But overall, not much sign of any kind of activity.

A fisherman on the canal

During our journey they were several sharp turns both left and right. After about ten minutes we reached a small jetty where our boatman told us that we would have to disembark. He said that we would have to continue the remainder of the way on foot. He gave us his mobile phone number and said that we should ring him when we were ready to return. We then scrambled up onto the bank to see our first view of the surrounding countryside. What I had seen earlier on Google Earth made me think that this whole area was covered by neatly laid out rice fields. But, in fact, they were all shrimp “fields”! Basically, long narrow manmade ponds with embankments in-between each of them. There must have been at least a thousand shrimp farms as far as they eye could see in all directions. Greenpeace had conveniently blamed Global Warming for the land erosion along this coastline. I am not an expert in these matters, but I would say that the erosion is probably more to do with the local farmers cutting down the mangrove forests and then inviting the sea to come and fill up their fields!

Locals in ban Khun Samut Chin

After walking for about ten minutes we reached the first house of Ban Khun Samut Chin. This belonged to Khun Samron Kengsamut, who is the head of this community. She wasn’t in at the time but her son kindly opened up the museum for us so that we could see some of the broken crockery and other artifacts that had been discovered in this area. He also showed us some pictures and maps and told us that over the last 20 years or so the sea had encroached on the land by about one kilometer. As we were about to leave, he asked whether he could take our picture. As this was a little strange, because we weren’t celebrities, I asked him exactly how many tourists came this way. He replied that they get at least two or three a week! I guess taking pictures of every visitor will only discontinue once the idea of tourists coming here is no longer a novelty.

Walking down the track, we next passed a building painted in a bright red colour. This houses a Chinese Shrine called Noom Noi Loi Chai which the local fishermen worship. Apparently, this had already been moved once due to land erosion. Walking further we passed a number of wooden shacks. Some of them looked deserted. There were of course no 7-Eleven’s but there were also no shops of any kind. We felt like that we were intruding on this community and we wanted to give something back by buying something. Even if just a bottle of water. But, there just wasn’t anything. Of course, I can see this changing as soon as this location gets into the guidebooks. If I come back here in a year or two, I can just imagine that this dirt track will be paved and every other house will be restaurants and souvenir shops. Much like Koh Kret in northern Bangkok has become today.

A Boardwalk through the Mangroves

We walked along the outskirts of several shrimp fields and then walked on a rickety wooden walkway through a mangrove forest. After about twenty minutes of walking we finally emerged at the edge of the Gulf of Thailand. Straight ahead of us was a new concrete raised walkway with the temple in the distance surrounded by trees. To our right I could see where the locals had planted saplings as part of their reforestation plan. Evidence of the land erosion could be clearly seen by looking out into the Gulf of Thailand. A line of electricity pylons stood testament that there was once a thriving community under these waters. A bit further I spotted the remains of a concrete water tank that used to belong to the local school. I am also told that out there somewhere are the remains of the local clinic.

Wat Khun Samut where the floor has been raised half way

Wat Khun Samut 

The total distance from the boat jetty where we started our walk to the temple was 1,644 metres. As we arrived at the temple the first structures we passed were the kutis, the accommodation for the five resident monks. These were built on stilts in order to stay above high tide. A bit further I spotted the crematorium on our left and then the open sala where the local people would come to meet the monks. We were met by the village chief. Her son had phoned ahead to say that we were on our way. They had apparently just finished eating and invited us to sit down and have some food. We weren’t really that hungry as we had a late breakfast not that long ago. But, they were insistent and started spreading out food on the floor in front of us. As it would have been rude to refuse, we sat down to tuck into a very delicious meal.

While we were eating, I asked Khun Samron about the local community. She told us that due to the land erosion, there were now only 400 people left in Ban Khun Samut Chin. A reduction of about 30% compared to about 20 years ago. There are now only 70 houses. She said that she herself had moved her house three times. Her mother had moved five times in the last thirty years. Many people had given up and had now moved away. This has led to limited human resources for the community such as doctors and dentists. The local school now only has 30 students which shows that most of the young families have moved away. Their other problem is that many of them have a title deed to land that no longer exists. Their future is looking bleak.

The breakwater and the pylons in the distance

After eating, Khun Samron then invited us to go and take a look at the temple. They have now built a raised walkway that took us to the temple. In that Bangkok Post article, I had seen a photo of people jumping from water jar to water jar in order to reach the temple. Shame in some ways that they are no longer here. But it is understandable that the most convenient method is used now. During our visit it was low tide and so there was only mud around the temple. Nothing like the dramatic pictures I had seen on the poster for Global Warning. I am told it is only like that during the monsoon season and only at high tide. The day we went it wasn’t high tide until 8 p.m. So, I don’t really have any “dramatic” pictures to show you. However, their story is dramatic enough.

We decided to save the temple to last and walked straight past it to the jetty. Here we could see the concrete pillars that had been drilled into the soft mud in order to provide a breakwater. The sea wall seemed to be working to an extent as sediment had built up on the far side resulting in the water level on that side being higher. But, more is needed to make it more effective. We could also see evidence of where the monks and other local people had been planting saplings. Mangrove forests are nature’s way of stopping land erosion. In the distance we could see many more of the telephone and electricity poles. Also we could see concrete structures that were probably the remains of community buildings.

Surfing on the mud

I had said earlier that most people around here seemed to be shrimp farmers. But, looking out to sea, I could see quite a few people out on surfboards. No, I don’t mean that they were surfing on the waves. They were using flat boards to skim over the surface of the mud in order to look for cockles. This is a traditional method that goes back hundreds of years. Some modern versions use boats which kind of ploughs the sea bed digging up the cockles. But these have been accused of ecological damage and I am glad that they are not being used here. I could see small boats further out, but I was told that they were looking for plankton to be used to make a shrimp paste.

There had been a heavy storm earlier in the day. Now there was a clear blue sky and a refreshing sea breeze. It was extremely pleasant and we decided to just sit there for a while and enjoy the sea air. I can see why the locals were keen to stay here. Before, when I was thinking about catching the public boat here, I was worried that I wouldn’t have anything to do all day. I would have to stay here for nearly five hours waiting for the public boat to return. But, as it turned out, we were there for over four hours anyway just hanging around. I think I will come again soon so that I can spend the day exploring the area a bit more. And I could always bring a book to read.

Inside the temple

After resting, we decided to take a closer look at the temple. Really, it is an ordinary looking temple though with an extraordinary history. It has developed from a religious symbol for the local community to one for their fight against the threat of land erosion. While all other buildings, both private and government, have moved further inland, it is the temple alone that has refused to relocate. Though, of course, compromises had to be made. The kutis where the monks slept were rebuilt on stilts. The temple building itself couldn’t be raised. However, what they did do was raise the level of the floor by about a meter. They have also blocked the lower half of the windows. So, to look out of the window, you have to sit down on the floor.

To enter the temple from the front, there is a gangplank that we used to safely cross without getting our feet muddy. During high tide, there would be a moat of water around the building. As the once grand entrance had now been halved, I had to dip my head as I entered. I was almost hesitant to take off my shoes because of the condition of the building and floor. But, the Buddha images were all arranged close to the floor and tradition dictates that we should humble ourselves by bringing ourselves as close to the physical floor as possible. We could see straight away that there must have been a fair amount of damage to the interior design. The whole inside of the building had been whitewashed. Though, with gaps everywhere, it looked like someone was either in a rush or ran out of paint. Leaning against the wall behind the Buddha statues were the original hand carved wooden doors that could no longer hang from the smaller doorframes.

At high tide the water is almost as high as the floor

At the back I jumped down from the raised floor to the ground to take a closer look at a Buddha image that was standing guard there. Despite the battering it had received from the monsoon weather, it was still in relatively good condition. Looking under the raised floor boards, I could only see mud in the dim light. However, at the far end, I could just make out the pedestal for a large Buddha image. This was probably made from concrete and couldn’t be moved up. So they just raised the Buddha image up onto the new wooden floor. Around the temple I could see where they had planted saplings over the years as the mangrove forest was of varying ages. At least they were doing their best to stop the waves eroding the foundations of the temple. But, it might all be too little too late.

Before we left we went to say a farewell to the village chief. She was only too happy that we had come to visit her community. She got her camera out and took a picture of our group. Before I parted I gave her a print out from Google Earth showing this area. She seemed pleased because it was far greater quality than what she had seen before. She excitedly picked out individual houses saying who lived where. It would be interesting to see satellite pictures of this same location five years ago. Then we could clearly see the rate of progress of the land erosion. Some experts put it at least 5 meters of erosion per year in this year. Others say more.

As we parted, I promised that I would help spread the message of the plight of the villagers and their fight against land erosion. I also said that I would be back later this month in order to explore the area more thoroughly.

To find out more details, please visit our sister site at www.KhunSamut.com. You will find more pictures and videos as well as detailed instructions on how to reach the temple. Much more to come later this month when I return.

Ancient Siam in Samut Prakan

Ancient City

Rent a golf cart or bicycle to tour the Ancient City

A tourist attraction that is not featured in every guidebook, but is only a stone’s throw from Bangkok, is the Ancient Siam in Samut Prakan. As many of you know, this is my home province and one of my tasks is to help promote tourism in my area. I think this has become even more important now because the new airport at Suvarnabhumi is in our province. So, many of our tourist attractions are only 45 minutes or so away and quite possible to be done by people who are in transit and have four or five hours to spare. The Ancient City is not that far from the new airport and you can easily spend an enjoyable two or three hours exploring this open air museum.

Thailand guidebooks like the Lonely Planet say that this park is full of important monuments and buildings that have been “scaled down”. This gives the misconception that everything is in miniature. That is far from the truth. Everything is big. When they say scaled down, they mean a third or quarter of the original size. However, a number of the buildings are not only full sized but some of them are the real building that have been rescued from demolition. And that is one of the best features of the Ancient City. The park was the dream of Khun Lek who owned the Mercedez Benz dealership in Thailand. With so much money he could have chosen to squander it on luxuries of life. However, he chose a different path of preserving the national heritage for future generations. That is how the Ancient City came about.

Ancient City

Sanphet Prasat Palace from Ayutthaya

For people who don’t have time to visit the whole of Thailand then this open air museum is an excellent introduction to the wealth of architectural styles, important figures in Thai literature and the shops in an 100 year old market. If you are feeling fit, you can even try out some of the 80 or so yoga positions that are on display. I love going to the Ancient City to take pictures as it is a photographer’s paradise. I have been there literally a hundred times. But, it is also fascinating from a historical viewpoint. Take the Sanphet Prasat Palace from Ayutthaya as an example. This building was burned to the ground in 1767 when the Burmese ransacked the ancient capital of Thailand. Khun Lek then reconstructed this building based on contemporary records made by foreigners living in Ayutthaya at the time.

Another charming story I have heard is that there was another building that Khun Lek painstakenly copied and then built at the Ancient City. Then a few years later, the original building was badly damaged by a fire. Local government officials then sent their restoration team to the Ancient City in order to make detailed notes of the copy! This then helped them restore the original building. Khun Lek was also instrumental in preserving many of the ancient crafts and methods of building. If you look closely at the buildings, you will see that many of them weren’t built with nails or any modern tools at all. I think one of the most amazing engineering success stories is the temple that is on top of the artificial mountain (see top picture). During my first few visits I thought this was a real mountain as you could climb to the top and it seemed very solid. However, one day when I was exploring the base of the mountain, I discovered a little door that revealed that in fact the mountain was hollow!

Ancient City

Wat Mahathat in Sukhothai

My last trip to the park was on Sunday. I had a couple of visitors that I was showing around some of  the tourist attractions in Samut Prakan. This park is always on the top of the list of places to visit. I took them around the park in air-conditioned comfort in my car. You can also do this in a taxi if you like. However, you could get a taxi to drop you off here and then hire a bicycle or golf cart for a few hours. There are even tram tours you can join if you are short of time. When I take people on car tours I call them highlight tours. This is because you cannot keep stopping and getting out to see all of the hundred or so exhibits. Going on bicycle you will see a lot more though of course you will get very hot and sweaty! The minimum amount of time I take people on the tour is two hours. At the weekend we were there for nearly four hours and we really only scraped the surface.

We had our lunch at the floating market area. There are a number of places to eat here. You can order noodles from someone on a boat, try some som tam if you like it spicey, or choose from pre-cooked meals on rice. There is something for everyone and the prices are reasonable. Talking of prices, the souvenirs and handicrafts on sale in the shops are also a good price and they will nearly always knock the price down for you. The park is open every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you are feeling energetic you can easily spend all day here. The cost is 300 baht for adults and 200 baht for children. The Ancient City is one of those places that have a two price system. Unfortunately, Khun Lek passed away and his family are more business minded. However, having said that, I have been impressed that they used the extra income (it is 100 baht for Thais) to renovate and build new exhibits. They even paved the red dirt roads which now saves me a trip to the car wash after every visit. I think 300 baht is not a bad price for what you are getting. However, if you have a work permit you can get in for Thai price.

To reach the Ancient City from Bangkok, catch bus number 511 or 145 to Samut Prakan. Then change to the local 36 songtaew. If you visit my website at www.paknam.com you will find complete instructions, maps and satellite pictures of the region. Click here to locate the park on Paknam Google Earth.

Getting there: by car, take the Samrong – Samut Prakan Road to Samut Prakan T-junction and turn left going along the old Sukhumvit road (road to Bang Pu), then at approximately Km. 33 you will see the Ancient City on your left. To get there by bus, take the air-conditioned bus Line No. 511 (Pin Klao – Pak Nam) to the end of the Line and take the local Songtaew No. 36 to Ancient City (8 baht).

The museum is open daily from 8.00 a.m.-5.00 p.m. Admission: Adult 300 baht, Child 200 baht. Fees for taking a car or van in is 100 Baht. Thai adults are 100 baht. If you can show a work permit you can then get in for this price. For more information call 0-2323-9253 or 0-2224-1058-7, 0-2226-1936-7

Three-Headed Elephant

The biggest tourist attraction in Samut Prakan now is undoubtedly the Erawan Museum (Chang Erawan). This giant three-headed elephant is an incredible 29 metres high and 39 metres long. If you count the building it stands on, then the height is 43.6 metres. A small window in the belly of the elephant gives you some fine views of the surrounding area. They started work on the structure back in 1994 and it has only recently been completed. You can’t fail to notice this elephant as you drive along Sukhumwit Road on your way to Samut Prakan. It is truly an amazing structure. In fact, I think it is probably the only museum in the world where the building itself is far more interesting than the artifacts that it houses.

The inspiration behind the Erawan Museum came from the late Khun Lek. This successful businessman became rich as the owner of a dealership for Mercedes Benz. Instead of squandering his money, he decided to take an active part in preserving past cultures and handicrafts for future generations. Khun Lek was the man behind two other inspiring projects which are the Ancient City and the Sanctuary of Truth. More about these later. The three-headed elephant is the mount for the Hindu God Indra. Actually, the elephant is supposed to have thirty-three heads but as this isn’t easy for artists to duplicate it is often abbreviated to only three heads. One of the original clay models, that they made before building the elephant, showed the God Indra mounted up on top. But, I believe this proved to be too impractical. So, they just built the elephant.

During the construction, about 3 years ago, a rumour started spreading about a woman that had made a wish to the elephant that if he helped her win the lottery then she would have his baby. Well, a short while later she did in fact win over a million baht in the lottery. She also became pregnant. By the time the national newspapers came to hear of it she was already in hiding. Not sure if it is true or not. Probably just an urban legend. But, enough Thai people did believe and a shrine outside the walls of the park soon became packed with worshippers. Lottery sellers do good business here on the 1st and 16th of every month when the winning numbers are announced.

There is another story that Khun Lek built the elephant in this location on purpose to block the way for a proposed outer ring road. While it was still being built, I heard from one of the family members that they were planning on donating the elephant to the King. A bit like the villagers that ordained trees to stop the loggers cutting them down. However, the outer ring road is now being built just north of the elephant. The ironical fact is that the family home was pulled down instead to make room for the road!

The museum is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. The price is 150 baht for adults and 50 baht for children. If you just want to walk around the garden and not go inside the elephant then it will cost you only 50 baht. There is no two priced system here. However, if you wish to have an English speaking tour guide you need to pay an extra 300 baht. The guide we had actually decided to speak English with us though he didn’t really want to say too much. It didn’t really matter as I have been coming here since the early days of construction. I used to teach the grandchildren of Khun Lek and they used to let me in with my visitors. I took Joe Cummings here once when he came to stay with us. He has a new edition of Lonely planet Thailand coming out soon so hopefully he will update the Samut Prakan section.

The tours leave every half hour. If you are a little early then explore the grounds first. Make a wish at the shrine. Don’t forget to offer something if your wish comes true. Popular offerings include sugar cane and bananas. Just don’t forget to come back if your wish comes true as there might be consequences! The tour takes you first into the basement where many of the antiquities are stored. All of the information signs are bilingual so it doesn’t really matter too much if you didn’t pay extra for the English speaking guide. In this area you are not allowed to take pictures.

You next go upstairs which is truly amazing. This is the stairway to heaven with a beautiful stained glass window in the ceiling. The attention to details is astounding. Much of the walls and art work is covered with broken pieces of Benjarong pottery. These create a colourful mosaic effect. Some of these broken bowls are quite expensive ranging from 150 baht to 1000 baht. The whole place must have cost them millions. As you walk around the ground floor you will see four pillars with tin plated designs. Each pillar represents one of the four major religions of the world: Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. The latter is not finished yet.

After completing the circle you are then taken up the stairs to the first landing. From here you have a better view of the stained glass window. Now you have a choice of walking up the stairs which go up the back right-hand leg of the elephant. Or the lift that goes up the back left-hand leg of the elephant. I suggest you go up in the lift and walk down the stairs. As you come out of the lift you are in a small chamber which has a small window which you can use to look at the view. Mind your head! From here you go up some more stairs to the final room. This is like entering a temple with the celestial stars painted on the ceiling. You are now in the upper body of the elephant.

I strongly recommend you visit the Erawan Museum. Maybe do it as part of a trip to the Ancient City too. You won’t be disappointed.

The Loop in the River

Last weekend, I went on a trip to a unique area close to Bangkok that seemed to be stuck in time. A large loop in the Chao Phraya River and a shortcut canal has virtually made this area an island. Indeed you can only enter it by bridge or by boat. Despite its closeness to Bangkok the area has hardly been developed at all. There are still many isolated communities surrounded by palm trees and banana plantations. There are no high-raised buildings. There are no factories. More importantly, 7–Eleven hasn’t arrived. Well, not yet. They are starting to creep in from the opening in the loop. However, you won’t find this area in the Lonely Planet.

The first place I wanted to find was the Bangnamphung Floating Market (figure 1). I first heard about this floating market back in April when I crossed the river to see the Songkran Parade in Phra Pradaeng. I noticed some billboards advertising this new place. I made a mental note to try and locate it another time. I had forgotten all about it but then on Saturday I bought a new guidebook in Thai which covers the top part of the Gulf of Thailand. The book had a map which gave me a rough idea of where to find the floating market. So, on Sunday I decided to go off exploring.

As it turned out it was quite easy to find the floating market as there were a number of bilingual signs along the way. I parked my car in Bangnamphungnai Temple and followed the crowd to what looked like a newly constructed canal. Or at least one where the banks had been recently reinforced with concrete slabs. I am not sure what I was expecting. I suppose I was thinking it would be a bit like the famous floating market at Damnoen Saduak. I thought there would be dozens of vendors paddling up and down the canal selling their produce to locals and tourists. Well, it wasn’t quite like that. Most of the vendors were on the river bank or were selling from boats which were firmly moored. The only people I saw on boats were some tourists who had rented them out.

There were the usual number of food stalls which was to be expected. But, there was also many OTOP stalls. If you don’t know, this stands for One Tambon One Product. It is a scheme started by Thaksin to encourage each district in the country to produce and sell at least one unique product. This alone made the trip worthwhile. It was interesting to see and buy some local products. There must have been over 100 stalls which provided quite a nice atmosphere. In addition to hiring boats, it looked like you could also hire bicycles. I walked along the canal for a while until the path stopped alongside a road about a ten minute walk away.

I think this is a place I would certainly come back to. The floating market is open every weekend between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. I came a bit late this time so if I bring some visitors next time I will try to go earlier in the morning. A nice touch for me was that there were no foreigners at all. Obviously it isn’t in any English guidebooks yet as it has been open less than a year.

My next task was to find Sri Nakhon Khuankun Park (figure 2 on the map). This was alot harder as the map wasn’t very clear and the roads were very narrow and winding. This whole area is hardly built up at all. It is very much like a jungle in places. I eventually found the park which was in the middle of no-where. Literally. At the entrance there were about a dozen cars parked. If you don’t have your own transport then I am not sure how yo uwould get to this place. Entrance to the park is free of charge which is nice but not surprising because of its remote location.

On walking inside I was amazed about the size and neatness of the place. Again I wondered about the remoteness and location of the park. How many people would come here? How many people know about it? In the middle of the park there is a large lake. Scattered around were a few salas, open planned buildings, and bridges crossing streams. Some people were lying on the grass eating a picnic and others were feeding the fish in the lake.

I decided to walk north to where I presumed I might find the Chao Phraya River. I actually had no idea where I was on the map but I was hoping I might be able to see a glimpse of the river. After walking for about 15 minutes or so I came across a watch tower which was about seven metres high. What was puzzling was that surrounding the watch tower was a wooden boardwalk which had fallen into disrepair. It was strange because the park looked new. Anyway, the view from the top didn’t give me any clues about which direction I should go. I was surrounded by palm trees and nipa palms.

I decided to keep walking north. The path became more overgrown. I then discovered another area which had some buildings and seating areas that had fallen to pieces. This looked like it had been a park in the past with maybe some shops and boardwalks out into the jungle. But now the jungle had taken over. I wasn’t sure whether to continue walking or not. I knew it must only be a hop skip and jump to the heart of Bangkok but it was starting to feel like I was in that DiCaprio movie The Beach. You know, that scene where the backpackers stumble across a field with drugs growing and they are gunned down by the farmers. The place was dead quiet and there was not a single person in sight.

I decided to head back but first I needed to relieve myself. As I walked behind a tree, a loud noise startled me. It sounded like an animal moving fast through some water. But this wasn’t a small animal. It sounded as big as a human but was moving much quicker. It crossed my mind that it might be a wild crocodile! I then decided I had done enough exploring in the jungle and decided to walk back to the new part of the park. I didn’t want to be eaten by crocodiles. If there were crocodiles these wouldn’t be doped like the ones that perform in the wrestling matches in Paknam.

Walking back to the lake I spotted some more wildlife. Apart from butterflies and birds, I could see something swimming in the river. It wasn’t fish. I went to take a closer look. A few minutes later I spotted a monitor lizard running across the grass and jumping into the water. It must have been about two metres long. It looked like it was quite powerful the way it was swimming. I wonder if this is what startled me earlier. Maybe there was a much larger one out in the bushes.

I decided to cut my walk in the park short when the wind started to pick up and it looked like it was going to rain. I probably would come back here again to do a bit more exploring. There certainly seemed to be plenty of flora and fauna. Again it would be a nice place to bring visitors. The park is open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The Loop in the River – Two months later

The loop in the Cho Phraya River

I had been meaning to go back to explore the area more thoroughly, so I was really excited last week to receive an invitation from Steve and his wife Jit to come and visit them in Bangkrachao. Steve has been a regular reader of our Thai Blogs for a while and he knew of my interest in this area. Steve and Jit are on a six month sabbatical from their work in Alaska. They have been building a house on her family’s property and it was now ready to move in. Their house borders the Sri Nakhon Khuankun Park which I visited last time. In the first picture, you can just make out the large green area of the park towards the top.

Sri Nakhon Khuankun Park

When I arrived at the park, I gave Steve a call as arranged. He told me to wait by the inner gate and not the one by the road. I was curious about this as I thought we were going to his house first. Then a few minutes later he came walking out of the park with his wife. Apparently there isn’t any road access to his community yet and they have to enter through the park. However, this is not such a bad thing. How many people do you know who have a large beautiful park on their doorstep? Not that they need it. As you can see in the picture above, their community, to the north of the park, is surrounded by palm trees and banana plantations. There are interesting and quiet walk along the narrow paths in just about every direction.

One of the paths around the community

This picture shows one of the main paths through this community. Jit told me that there were about 50 families living here. Some houses were next door to each other and some were more isolated as they were surrounded by small banana plantations. Steve told me to be careful of falling coconuts. Outside one of the houses, a group of people were busy making some candy. Jit explained to me that the whole community had been helping for the last few days to make this dessert. They were planning on using the candy to make merit to mark the end of the Rains Retreat early next month. Jit introduced me to her uncle who was busy ripping open a coconut. She then introduced me to various other relations including her father. At this point I decided to ask her what percent of the villagers were related to her. She didn’t seem to understand my question. So I asked her, how many people in the community were related to her. She replied, everyone!

Making candy

It was really nice having Jit show me around as she was very knowledgeable about what was going on. She told me that the chewy candy they were making was made from peanuts, popped corn, sesame seeds, sugar cane juice and plain white sugar. It tasted really nice. True to Thai tradition, as soon as I had said how good it was, she gave me a whole bag full! Nearby, a steamer was busy cooking another delicious dessert which I will tell you about another day! After a brief stop for a delicious meal, we then set off on foot to the local jetty to explore the river by boat.

On the River in Bangkok

Bangkok and Bangkrachao

I was telling you about my visit to Bangkrachao in Samut Prakan. This is an area that, despite being so close to Bangkok, hasn’t been developed at all. Look at the satellite picture above. The northern side of the river is Bangkok. This is the busy port area of Klong Toey. On the southern side is nothing but palm trees and banana plants. You can clearly see the lake in the middle of Sri Nakhon Khuankun Park (bottom middle of picture). Steve and his wife Jit live just north of the park. From here we walked along a narrow path to the river. After about ten minutes of waking we came out at a private jetty. Steve told me that you ring the bell here and someone would dash out of a nearby house and jump into a boat. Normal cross-river passenger ferries would cost you only a few baht but this one costs 10 baht. Not bad when you consider that sometimes you are the only passenger.

Boat on the Chao Phraya River

Jit suggested that we hire the boat for a while and just explore up and down the river. I jumped at the chance. I love exploring rivers. She then proceeded to negotiate a price of 200 baht to go down the river about 3–4 kms and back again. The boatman agreed and we jumped into his long-tailed boat (the propeller is at the end of a long shaft). The first picture above shows you the view looking across to the high-raised buildings in Bangkok. The buildings the opposite direction were very different in comparison.

Floating house

Here is one of the first examples. The little girl and her dog live on this floating house which goes up and down with the tide. Well, I hope it does as she will soon be flooded out at the next high tide!

House on stilts

This house on stilts is more typical. Notice the sala-like jetty where they can get into boats or just lie down in the shade. At dusk members of the household would go down the steps to take a bath and wash their hair. On the left is a lean-to for their boat. You can see that they have electricity because of the electrical pole in the water. Looks like they also get television. On some houses I saw red post boxes. I wonder if the postman approaches from the river or land. I suspect by the river is easier.

Ship on the river

I took several hundred pictures on this boat trip. Too many to show here. I will finish with this last picture showing the wake being produced by a big container ship. Ironically the name of the ship is “Smooth Sea”. Luckily this ship was on the other side of the river as it could have given us a pretty rough ride.

I wish to thank Steve and Jit for showing me around their area. It was a wonderful day out.

Exploring the River in Paknam

It has been one of my ambitions for some time now to go by boat all the way from Paknam to Bangkok. This is actually easier said than done because there are no commercial boat services that cover the entire length of the Chao Phraya River and out to the Gulf of Thailand. However, there are some local express boat services that use long-tailed boats (see picture above). My idea was to utilize these boats to leap frog my way to Bangkok. Well, that was the plan.

I left my house just after noon. I was originally going to walk to the jetty which is only about a 15 minute walk away. But, I was feeling Thai so I decided to take the car instead. It is a well-known fact that Thai people just don’t like walking. They will catch a samlor or tuk tuk to go around the corner. I remember one time I walked to one of the local banks to use the ATM. It was only ten minutes away. But when I came back, all the Thai people were saying “geng, geng” for being so clever! None of them believe that I used to go on hikes that lasted three or four days. They just thought the idea was crazy. Didn’t I have any money for transport?

Anyway, back to the story. When you walk into Paknam Market, you go straight ahead for the cross-river ferry or turn left for 10 metres and then right to the jetty for the long-tailed boats. When I arrived I could see that there were a lot of people sitting around waiting for a boat. There were actually two boats there already but no sign of the driver. There was a mother there with her two young children. I asked her if this was the boat for Phra Pradaeng. She said no. I had to catch the cross-river ferry and then take a songtaew to Phra Pradaeng. I told her I wanted to go by boat. She said I was daft and that it was quicker and cheaper by songtaew. I insisted I wanted to go by boat as I had my own car and I had been many times by road. She then said that the boat service had discontinued for over a year now! Well, there goes that plan. Failed before I even started.

As I was still eager to go on a boat ride to somewhere I asked her where this boat was going. I should explain at this point that most Thai people I have met just don’t understand the concept of going out somewhere for pleasure. They want to know where you are going. I say I don’t know. I just want to enjoy the experience of going somewhere new! Well, it was the same with this woman. She didn’t really understand why I would now want to catch a boat that was going the opposite direction. But, I asked again, where it was going. “It is going to my home in Sakla,” she replied. “But why would you want to go there? You might get stranded and won’t be able to catch a boat back.” I said I didn’t mind as I wanted to explore. I asked her what time the boat would go. She shrugged her shoulders and pointed to a guy fast asleep on the table. “He will shout out when it is time to go.”

So, I waited. And waited. And waited. After about 45 minutes the woman I was talking to before got up to go and get something to eat. A man then sat down in her place. Now, here is a small tip for when you are traveling in Thailand. Always ask directions or information from at least three different people. You will probably get at least three different replies but at least you would know enough now to make an educated guess. So, I asked this man what time the boat left. He just said “2 o’clock”. I looked at the clock on the wall. I had another hour to go! No wonder the driver was sleeping so soundly! OK, time to change plans again.

A little while ago, Sripan told me about a stretch of sandy beach that could be seen on the other side of the river. She said it might not be there any more but it was worth looking for as most coastal areas around here were mudflats. I was intrigued, so I walked back to the jetty for the cross-river ferry. Now, this was much simpler. These boats run all day and all night. As soon as one leaves another one arrives. The ten minute trip across the river only costs two baht. In comparison, the boat trip to Sakla would have cost about 40 baht.

On the other side, Sripan said I should look out for the motorcycle taxis and ask them to take me to Soi Thanakorn. When I arrived, I couldn’t see any motorcycles waiting around so I decided to walk instead. I am not really that lazy! I do like some exercise sometimes. And anyway, I am English. Do you know that old song, “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun”? Well, it was a bit like that today. As I walked along the road, the people were trying to get me to take a songtaew or a tuk tuk. I said no and just kept on walking. As I passed I could hear them commenting about the crazy foreigner. They were probably right. It was hot. Very hot. I later found out that it was 41 degrees Celsius and the hottest day of the year so far! That must be well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

After about ten minutes I reached the top of Soi Thankorn (or the “mouth” as they say in Thai). There was a motorcycle taxi stand here too but I decided that as I was already halfway I might as well carry on walking. Which I did. According to my map (I had photocopied some pages for this adventure) this was a dead-end road that led to the river. At the end there should be a vegetable oil factory. Walking down this road was like walking into the middle of no-where. All of the concrete houses had disappeared. On either side it was swampy with palm trees. Every now and then there was the odd tin-roofed house with a raised board walk leading to it. Hard to imagine that just ten minutes ago I was in a city which is apparently the most densely populated area in Thailand.

Another ten minutes or so I reached the gates of the factory. A big sign said “no photography” so I tucked away my camera and walked up to the guardhouse. I asked them if I could pass through to go to the river. “You have gone the wrong way”, they said. “You need to go back to the main road and walk to the jetty.” Yes, I know that. I said. I just want to see the river here. “It is the same river. Anyway, you cannot come in here.” That was it. End of discussion. Back at the factory gates I looked left and right to see if I could skirt around the walls of the factory. But, it was very swampy. So, I had failed again.

As I started to walk back a motorcycle taxi overtook me and stopped. He asked me where I was going. By this time I was feeling really hot so I said “ta reua” which is Thai for jetty. I asked him how much it would be. He said “10 baht”. You know, I have always liked the honesty of motorcycle taxi riders. If that had been a tuk tuk driver he would have said 60 baht without hesitation. Feeling that my adventure was finished, I rode the motorcycle back to the jetty and caught the boat back home. I was badly in need of an ice cold drink and some air-conditioning!

Sakla Fishing Village

I really like it when new people come to visit me. Especially when they say to you “Let’s go somewhere you haven’t been to before. Let’s go somewhere that’s off the map!” So, that is what we did today. We got into the car, just after lunch-time, and crossed the river by car ferry. We then drove down south towards Chulalongkorn Fort (point 1 on map below) which is on the Gulf of Thailand. I wasn’t going to the fort today as I had been there many times.

What I wanted to do was to try and hire a boat (point 2) and head along a canal and out to the coast (point 3). As you can see on this map, there is a large area with no road access at all. In some areas, the tide has started to come in and some temples are now completely surrounded by the sea. You can only get to these villages by boat. I found someone who would rent us a boat for 500 baht but he said we wouldn’t be able to get all the way to the coast as it was low tide. We should have come in the morning. So, we changed our plans and decided to visit Sakla Village instead (point 4). I will do the boat trip another day.

On the map book in my car, the road is marked as only going half way. So, obviously it has only recently been paved. This fishing village is in the middle of no-where. Literally. I don’t think you would find many tourists coming this way. It is a shame because they would miss out on witnessing a lifestyle which is rapidly disappearing in urban Thailand. The main occupation of these people is fishing and the selling of produce such as shrimp paste and dried shrimp. Families have been living here for hundreds of years, since before the Ayutthaya period. Their dialect is similar to the Mons and they have their own unique culture and customs.

The shops and houses are built close to each other on the banks of the river and its branches. We walked down the narrow paths alongside the rivers for a while before crossing a bridge to visit Wat Sakhla. This temple has a unique looking prang which leans alarmingly to the left. A bit like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It is supposed to be several hundreds years old and built of wood. The main Buddha image is very highly revered. They apparently have a festival celebrating it at the end of the year. Maybe I will try and come back for that.

That was a good trip today. I think I should try and make an effort to visit one or two new places every month. I am sure there is a lot more to see in Samut Prakan. The Tourist Authority is presently running a campaign for Unseen Thailand. Let’s see if I can find some more places that tourists don’t often get to see.

Longest Reclining Buddha

Many guidebooks say that the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho in Bangkok is the longest in Thailand. Even though it is 46 metres long, it isn’t the longest. Others claim that the Reclining Buddha at Wat Khun Inthra Pramun in Ang Thong is the longest at 50 metres. They are also wrong. I can understand why they are mistaken. I have visited both of these temples and these Buddha images are gigantic.

The longest Reclining Buddha in Thailand is in fact here in my home province of Samut Prakan at Wat Bang Phli Yai Klang! Not many people know that. In fact, probably not many people have seen it. I took my visitors there today and they were completely bowled over by its size. It is not only 53 metres long, but it is also as tall as a four storey building! On top of that, you can also go inside. Pretty amazing. But, I think the neatest thing was the shrine for the Buddha’s heart. I have heard about this kind of thing before. Sometimes they put a heart through a hole in the back of a Buddha image and then fill it in with cement. But, this one was huge and also had veins!

I suppose my only disappointment was that you couldn’t take a picture like the one at the top which I had to scan. It looks like when the Reclining Buddha was originally built, there was no building surrounding it. Now they have built a temple around it which makes it difficult to take a picture of the whole image – as you can tell from my photo above. But, nevertheless, it is still impressive.