Monthly Archives: August 2005

A Trip to Chachoengsao

Wat Sothon Wararam Worawihan

In my library, I probably have just about every guidebook that has ever been published about Thailand. My rough rule of thumb to judge a good guidebook is to look up my home province of Samut Prakan. If the guidebook has it, then I consider it to be a comprehensive guide. Another place to look up in the index is Chachoengsao, a province about 100 kms east of Bangkok. Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, Moon, Footprint, National Geographic and many others don’t feature this province. To the credit of Lonely Planet, they did give it half a page about ten years ago. But, not any longer. Joe Cummings did tell me once that he was under pressure from the publishers to cut out little visited provinces as the guidebook had reached its limit in number of pages.

In the old days, it was the foreign guidebooks that were leading the way in Thailand. However, things have changed. Spurred on by the Tourist Authority of Thailand’s “Unseen Thailand” campaign, Thai people have now taken a greater interest in exploring their own country. As a consequence, over the last year or so, we have started to see some good quality, Thai language, guidebooks. One of them on my desk at the moment is “Unseen Thailand” and this book has several pages of places to see in Chachoengsao. This is where I went today. I strongly suggest, that any guidebook writers reading this, should take time out to visit some of these lesser known provinces.

Life along the Bang Pakong River

For most people, it is easy to reach Chachoengsao from Bangkok by train or bus. However, I drove there via the Bang Na-Trad tollway and the 304 highway. It took just over an hour to travel the 80 kms or so. I was actually going today to visit the Thai Food Festival in Phanom Sarakham District. But, as this wasn’t due to start until late afternoon I decided to visit the township first. The main attraction in Chachoengsao is Wat Sothon Wararam Worawihan. This lies alongside the Bang Pakong River. The new ordination hall is massive. It has only recently been completed. The spire is an amazing 84 metres high and is probably the tallest ordination hall in Thailand.

Behind the temple you can join boat tours of the local area. During the weekend and holidays, tours leave hourly and only cost 100 baht for adults and 60 baht for children. The scenery on both sides of the river is very beautiful. During the tour you will be able to witness people going about their normal daily life. You will see humble wooden shacks and exquisite teak houses. You can catch a glimpse of the old city wall and many temples. One of the stops takes you to the hundred year old Ban Mai Market and the Chinese temple at Wat Leng Hok Yee.

Luang Pho Sothon

Back at Wat Sothon, I went inside the newly opened ordination hall to pay respect to the sacred image of Luang Pho Sothon. You are not actually allowed to take a photo anymore, but I managed to take this one on my previous visit while construction was still going on. Like other important and royal temples, you need to cover up if you are wearing sleeveless shirts. A gown is provided free of charge. There is an interesting legend behind Luang Pho Sothon. Apparently, he was one of three brothers who were Buddha images. During one of the conflicts, towards the end of the Ayutthaya period, the three brothers just got up one day and walked down to the river. The strong current took them downstream. One of them ended up at Samut Songkram. Another ended up in Samut Prakan on my doorstep. The third arrived in Chachoengsao.

There is a lot more to see in this area but I didn’t have enough time today. Maybe next time. I will share my photos with you of the Food Festival another day.

More pictures can be found at our sister site:

Of dogs and men

My Thai friends have been continuously teasing me saying that I could apply for a position as an “accidental expert”. Not that I ever wanted to apply, it was rather by karmic appointment I guess. I do believe in karma to some extent, that there must be a reason why anything happens to us, that there is a list of lessons to be learnt and feelings to be experienced, which cannot be escaped – many Hungarians consider this approach as a comfortable way of not taking the responsibility for your life and basically an “easy way out” for cowards…. and it is a lot of trouble trying to explain how it is meant to be…. Anyway. I have never had to spend a minute in a hospital outside Thailand…. but once I’m there…. I don’t dare to set foot in the land of smiles without an insurance.

It was my last day in Thailand before leaving for a new life and job in Taiwan, and I went to Wat Po to pray – might be a commonplace tourist “trap” again, but I do love the place – , and then wandered around the abandoned parts of the complex – there is a school, with a pingpong table and basketball court, and there were some renovations going on, with heaps of rubble. And there was this furious dog near the entrance that charged straight at me, for no reason whatsoever. I collapsed immediately after the bite, later it turned out to be a two-centimeter deep wound, which took months to heal. My leg was bleeding like a fountain and I was in shock. I don’t know how much time passed before there was a crowd of about thirty people around me, all Thai. They collected my bag and bandanna. A man gave me a mobile phone to call someone, a guesthouse, or anybody I know, and then realising I was unable to push the buttons or speak, he just took the piece of paper with my Thai friend’s phone number from my hand and called her. A monk turned up and gave a preaching (or tell-off) to the dog, one of the temple dogs, and apologised about a hundred times, he was almost in a more miserable shape than me. A woman got me by the arm, pulled me outside the gate, flagged a tuktuk, and ordered it to drive to the nearest pharmacy at breakneck speed, where I got a generous dose of iodine or some other disinfectant on the wound and fainted for the second time. The woman paid for the tuktuk, I remember she was yelling at the driver, who was trying to overcharge the farang. But she refused to accept a single baht from me in the end, and I didn’t have the strength to insist. Then my friend arrived at Wat Po – we were about to meet anyway for a farewell dinner – and she took care of me. I was taken to a hospital, where I got some more rinsing, lots of penicillin, and the first of five rabies shots (the remaining four turned into an adventure tour in Taiwan, a country where rabies is unheard of, so it took the authorities and my new boss a lot of trouble to track down the vaccine.). Since then, I have been panic-stricken if a stray dog looks at me. If it heads for me, I just start screaming, I cannot help it, whether it works or not. It’s a lousy, sneaky bunch of beasts, lying seemingly helplessly during the heat of the day, but coming to life as the sun sets, when they can scare the hell out of innocent passers-by in the gloomy streets….

And then I had the case of being hit by a motorcycle on a subsequent visit. And then getting some rashes and a horrible sunburn after elephant riding, being unable to walk for a day . And then severe dehydration caused by a pizza in a horribly expensive Italian restaurant where I took a Thai friend because he had never eaten a pizza in his life – well, he had quite an experience at the first try, he’ll never forget it for sure. (I got a bed in the hospital with a magnificent view over Doi Suthep, he got away more lightly and wasn’t hospitalised.) And every time, strangers helped me, took care of me, took care of my belongings, visited me in the hospital, brought a dinner for me. It was never the other farangs around, but always the Thais. A guy who brought some lotion for my sunburn and rashes after that elephant ride even fell in love with me, apparently, and proposed to me after two days, which I had to turn down “reluctantly” 🙂 First I thought it was just some practical joke, it turned out he really meant it….

Just “try” any of these accidents over here and see what happens. Consider yourself lucky if after a simple fainting in the street due to a sudden drop in blood pressure you still have your bag when you recover more or less, sitting on the pavement, with all the indifferent people passing you by or remarking that you shouldn’t drink so much so early in the morning. Ok, maybe one in ten would ask if you’re fine…. but they would expect yes for an answer so that they can walk away feeling relieved. That’s kind of what I was trying to refer to when I was talking about the fabric of society in Thailand. It’s not just a bunch of indifferent people who turn a blind eye to each other if anything unexpected happens. They are humans.

Or is it, again, just a facade for the farang? I have no way of being certain, but I don’t think so.

Tattos and Lychee fruit

Let me just say that totally by accident I found out that a restaurant (that I LOVE) has Lychee fruit. Granted, they aren’t fresh I think they are canned but that was my very first taste of things to come in Thailand. They taste like a cross between a tart orange (or if you’ve had it, and ugli fruit) and a coconut. It was so good! It looked like a little white olive but was sweet and tart at the same time. I am a big fruit eater and now I CAN”T WAIT to try all the fruits I see pictures of – rambutans, fresh lychee, jackfruit, and yes I might even try a durian. My ears even perked up a little when I saw a blog pic (I can’t remember who’s sorry) of a dragon fruit. I wanted to lick my computer screen, it made me so hungry. That and the fact that tom yam gung is only my favoritest soup EVER! I am raring to go eat some street vendor food!

Do I really need to say how much I am chomping at the bit to shop the Chatuchak Market?

In other news- I made a comment in an earlier post (yesterday) about a tattoo and was surpised by the amount of attention it got. I didn’t think anyone would comment on it. I guess that’s because I underestimate constantly the amount of affection many have for their ink. I was greatly disappointed to learn that as a woman there was really no way for me to get a sacred tattoo as monks would not be able to touch me in anyway BUT that doesn’t mean I can’t still get one. Once I get it I will post a pic of it too!

I want to go to one of Jimmy Wong’s studios but as of yet I am not sure which one. I am certainly going to try and go to the tattoo festival in Bangkok if I can find out when and where it is. I just hope I am there for it. Until then…

The doctor prince of Thailand

The reason for the quick follow-up is that today is… Mahidol’s Day! I doubt that many are aware of this, as even in Thailand it’s not a nationally celebrated holiday. He is remembered only by those in the field of medical and health-related sciences. Nevertheless, I’d like to introduce to you the life story of this important royal figure, one whose deeds impressed me the most.

Prince Mahidol Adulyadej – does that last name sound familiar? Mahidol Although he never became king, he gave not one, but two kings to the Thai nation. He was the father of the late Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII), and the current monarch HRH King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX). Prince Mahidol is also regarded as the father of modern medicine and public health in Thailand. You’ll see why, if you read his fascinating life story.

Royal Heritage
Prince Mahidol was born in 1892, first day of the year. He was the 69th child of the famous King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). He started his education in the Grand Palace, along with his half-brothers and sisters. Here he got the title “Prince of Songkla”.

In the Farang Military
He continued his studies in England at Harrow for one and a half years, then started a military career in Germany, thanks to the close relations of his Royal father with the Emperor William II. He was transferred from Potsdam to Berlin, on the orders of his Royal brother, Rama VI.

In 1914, when the first World War broke out, Prince Mahidol was ordered back from Germany, because Thailand declared neutrality at that time. (A side note: he gave the Germans a submarine design, for which he won a competition).

Back home, the Prince of Songkla was assinged a teaching post at the Royal Thai Navy. Here he continued designing small miliatry vessels: submarines and torpedo boats, which led to a conflict in a meeting: he was overruled by british-educated military seniors. He resigned from the Navy after only nine months of joining, giving the reason that his expertise would never be put to use there. No one knew that this was a turning point of national proportion…

Continue reading

I have my ticket!

For those of you that have been following my (recently infrequent) blog. I have my ticket to Bangkok in my hand right this second (yes it is harder to type with a plane ticket in your hand) I haven’t been able to let it out of my sight since I got it. (Is it wrong to fondle a paper ticket?)
I am extremely excited and still working on my Thai, I am a little more than a little intimidated by the tonal languages. Wish me luck! Will keep you posted!