Daily Archives: July 5, 2005

19th Century Travel Advisory

Tourists exploring the ruins of Ayutthaya

I thought we would have a bit of fun today and let you read what it was like to be preparing for a trip to Thailand in the late 19th Century. The following is advice which was first published in a guidebook of the time. I have paraphrased it a bit and changed the language to make it easier to read for a modern audience.

When to Visit

April is the unhealthiest month of the year as well as the hottest, and February is the healthiest. The line of sickness closely corresponds with the range of highest mean temperature and the period of the rains. If possible, then, no arrival should be made during any of these hot, wet, and most unhealthy months. Not only is it very hot during March and April, but the sanitary conditions of Bangkok are then at their worst. The level of the river is at its lowest, cholera is often epidemic, and experience has proven that typhoid fever takes on its severest aspects at this time of the year. The nights, too, are hot, and the combination of mosquitoes and sleepless nights leaves you weakened and open to sickness.

Fevers in general are more common during May, June and July, while typhoid fever is most prevalent during May and June when the rains are setting in, and again in December, when they have ceased. Owing to the sudden changes of temperature during these months, chills on the liver and digestive organs are frequent, and more so in the persons of new arrivals who do not yet thoroughly understand how to guard against such accidents.

Local trams – forerunner of the sky train

It is better, then, not to arrive before the end of August, preferably not until the beginning of October. The mean temperature for the latter month is about 82 degrees Fahrenheit, and the nights are already beginning to cool. During November, December, and January there are frequent spells of delightful weather, when the minimum may fall as low as 56 degrees Fahrenheit. Arriving therefore in October, one gets accustomed to the heat and so undergoes somewhat of an acclimatization before the hot weather sets in.

What to Wear

During the day, clothing should be light and loose fitting. The material should be light thin flannel or one of the light Indian silks. For underwear, perhaps the best material is Indian gauze. It is a good old rule to dress with the sun – i.e. to wear light, thin clothing during the day, but to change into somewhat warmer clothing at sundown. The cholera belt should always be worn when asleep in order to protect the abdominal organs from chill.

What to Eat

This is one thing which one should never exert false economy. At its best, the beef is not of the same nutritive value as meat killed in Western countries, owing to the habit of bleeding the cattle in the slaughter-house. The fowls, too, are poor in quality, and generally very tough, owing to the careless methods of preparation adopted by the Chinese cooks. Above all, things for the table must be of the freshest. There is no more fruitful source of bowel complaints than tainted meat or fish eaten in the tropics. No meat or fish should be eaten which is the least soft, and such things as crab, unless the animal can do at least one march across the kitchen floor, should be avoided.

In the 19th Century, most houses in Bangkok were built over the river and canals

Fresh salad, unless made of potato, cucumber, beetroot, or the like, are to be guarded against. Owing to the filthy methods of fertilization employed by the Chinese market gardeners, lettuce and other green salads are harbourers of all sorts of disease-bringing germs. Tin foods are to be avoided, and as a rule are not required in Bangkok, where fresh food can so easily be obtained. A few Europeans have adopted a Siamese diet entirely, and seem to thrive upon it. As an experiment this may be interesting, but the majority of Europeans would soon find it a mistake.

What to Drink

One of the best and least dangerous beverages in this country is hot Chinese tea. In other countries, water is the best beverage. In Bangkok, however, one is greatly handicapped by the absence of a pure water supply. Until the government has taken in hand a municipal water scheme, it is necessary for all Bangkok residents to personally superintend their own water supply. This naturally entails the collection of rain water from the roofs of houses and its subsequent storage in tanks.

In all cases, it is best to filter the water before use. The best form of filter is the Pasteur-Chamberland system, of which the filtering medium consists of candles made of compressed infusorial earth, through which even the typhoid germ fails to grow. Extra careful people boil the water as well after filtering.

Source: “Twentieth Century Impressions of Siam” by Arnold Wright and Oliver T. Breakspear. Published by White Lotus. First edition printed in 1908.

Is Thai culture at risk of western influence?

A Thai teenager takes his one month old baby to a monk for her hair to be shaved for the “fire hair” ceremony.

This is a frequent question that popped up in forums and discussion groups. I have no qualifications on humanity and anthropology to comment scientifically on this issue but I am forming my opinions, rightly or otherwise, based on my experience traveling around some of the countries in Asia and also from my leisure readings.

Thailand, like Korea and Japan is a monolithic country with a single major race, culture and religion. Except for the population in the 4 states in the South, minority races especially the Chinese in Thailand assimilated very well in Thai society and culture. Unlike Malaysia and Singapore where there are NO national culture per se, the Thais holds dearly to their culture, language and race.

I am of the opinion that the Thai culture will survive till eternity based on Korea and Japan as example. Both countries have been under western, primarily US influence for so long and yet able to hold on to their culture and language. These countries are also monolithic societies where the influence of the society structure and hierarchy are deeply rooted. It would be difficult for the younger generation to tear down the society structure save a revolution.

I would like to mention that even though mainland China is also roughly a monolithic society, however, much damaged was done under the Cultural Revolution, resulting in the Chinese culture being dismantled. A generation or two have also been brainwashed with communism. The damaged is permanent.

I think education will be the key to preserving the Thai Culture and the teachers will be the champion to this noble task.

Wishes that come true

There is a Buddha on the corner of an intersection in Bangkok, next to a posh hotel. The hotel made the shrine to appease bad Karma. I do not, unfortunately, remember the whole story on how this shrine came to be.

This place has become famous for wishing. An urban legend. If you go and pray at this shrine, and ask for a wish. Your wish will shall come true. An offering for this wish is made at this time. If your wish does come true. On your next visit to Thailand, you must go to the shrine to give your thanks and the offering promised.

I have gone to this shrine and prayed. I wished to Marry the girl I was dating at the time. I got my wish. The next time I went to Thailand, I went with my wife and my offering.

If you do not go back and pay your respects and fulfill the bargain. The promise shall go back on you ten fold.

I am not sure if I believe in all the urban legends, or scary stories that adult tell us. Though what does it hurt to believe in some.