Daily Archives: June 24, 2005

Paknam Railway

The first railway in Thailand was a private line connecting Bangkok with Paknam at the mouth of the Chao Phraya River, a distance of 21 kms. Paknam at the time was the anchorage for sea-going ships that could not reach Bangkok. Work on the line was begun in 1887 and it was opened to traffic by the king on 11 April 1893. Besides the two terminals in Bangkok and Paknam it had ten intermediate stations (Saladaeng, Klong Toi, Ban Kruay, Phrakhanong, Bang Chak, Bang Na, Samrong, Chorakhe, Bang Nangkreng and Mahawongse.) The terminals had 40 metre long wooden roofs, covering two lines as well as the main buildings and offices. The manager was a European who had his office at Paknam.

The metre-gauge line was intended for both goods and passenger traffic, passenger trains consisting of four coaches plus a brake van and offering second and third class accommodation. The distance was covered in one hour and the line crossed the many klongs and other waterways on its route on wooden bridges, some of which were of mixed wood/iron construction. The line clearly met an existing need and within a few years it showed a handsome rate of return upon the capital invested.

When traffic volumes ultimately did develop to a higher level, after World War I, the Paknam railway was converted to electric traction. Streetcar-type railcars then became the predominant traffic vehicles, the light steam locomotives being disposed of. During World War II, the Paknam tram was damaged when its cables were cut at Bang Chak. But the tram still ran. A tram conductor would climb up on the roof to guide the trolley across the cut section, and would reconnect it to make the tram continue.

The line was nationalised after World War II and then finally closed in 1959. This brought to an end the history of Thailand first railway and first full-length electric railway.

Today there is little evidence left of the railway apart from a road called Old Railway Line Road (tanon tang rotfai sai gao). Paknam Station was near the present day City Hall. The line then ran up past the Navy Academy, turned left at the present site of the Erawan Museum, behind Imperial World Samrong, past the port, along Rama IV Road, past Lumphini Park and finishing opposite Hua Lamphong train station. It makes you wonder if this railway line was still operating today whether it would help solve some of the commuter problems facing people living south of Bangkok. The space used by the railway are now extra lanes for cars and trucks.

Main Source of information: ‘The Railways of Thailand’ by R. Ramer and published by White Lotus.

If you are going to Chiangmai

The Monk Chat at Wat Suan Dok is a must-try. Initially, things started off lukewarm for me as I was paired up with monks who aren’t quite adept at speaking English yet. Hence, I spent a lot of time smiling encouragingly at them and thinking of simple conversational phrases so that they could understand me and practice their English.

Fortunately, the system in place was implemented pretty well as they would ensure that at least one senior monk (typically a year 4 English major student at the nearby Buddhist university) would be around to moderate the discussion. It was rather heartwarming to watch the display of camaraderie as the senior monk would patiently act as the go-between and encourage his juniors to speak up.

There was a flurry of exchange of people at my table as some monks had to return to their wats. Things started to pick up when two fresh participants sat down and our conversation somehow digressed to their extra-curricular activity as DJs. Apparently, the Buddhist University had set up their very own radio station to improve their students’ speaking skills and exchange ideas about Buddhism. This radio station was established in early 2005 and its programmes can be broadcast to listeners who live within 15km from Wat Suan Dok!

Intrigued and excited, I asked them if I could have a look around their radio station. They readily obliged and brought me to the building across the room where Monk Chat was held. The DJs on that day welcomed me sincerely and before I knew it, I was declared as their “special guest” for their Easy Talk programme, which was scheduled between 6 to 7pm.

What I found most impressive was that the group of monks assembled before me came from various countries such as Laos, Cambodia, India, Bangladesh and of course, Thailand. Talk about a myriad of nationalities! It was then that I really appreciated how Chiangmai was a centre for aspiring Buddhists from Southeast Asia and beyond.

Because I am currently serving my national service [all singaporean males have to be conscripted into the military forces for two years], the programme started with a lively discussion on whether conscription exists in one’s country. Later on, I was asked to share my thoughts on how to increase the number of believers in Buddhism and about Singapore culture, among other things.

It was initially nerve-wracking for me, for i was afraid of sounding silly on air. But the friendly monks were so enthusiastic about finding out about Singapore that my inhibitions disappeared. I felt proud to be an unofficial ambassador for my nation and have this engaging exhange of ideas. All in all, one of the highlights of my trip.

So, to Thai-blogs readers, ask whether you can drop by the radio station when you are doing the Monk Chat. It will be an experience that you won’t forget.

Thai influence everywhere

Here in Sydney, there is a very multicultural theme. Everywhere there’s a Chinese restaurant or an Italian restaurant. Lately, there have been a lot of Thai restaurants popping up in Sydney suburbs.

As for myself, I love to go and eat Thai food and this also gives me the opportunity to practise my Thai. My favourite Thai food is Pad Thai and sweet sticky rice.

There are little Thai sweet shops also. They are always good.
Well that’s all for now.. More later!

Bye ka!