Just go to any old forum or website about travelling and you’ll come across a plentitude of questions, stories and reports concerning ‘getting off the beaten track’. But, at the end of the day however, most tourists/travellers do nothing of the sort. They are instead, found eating a banana pancake and watching a guesthouse DVD/Movie or walking around some backpacker ghetto studying their Lonely Planet like a missionary. While nearly every single backpacker ‘claims’ to be ‘getting off the beaten track’ the closest they get to such a thing are the same old haunts of Khao Sarn Road, Koh Samui and Krabi. A few of the so-called adventurous even make it up to the country’s north-east (Isarn), the least visited region of Thailand, but contrary to rumour you will still come across whole platoons of foreigners – mostly living there.
Our webmaster here, Mr Richard, has written loadsa blogs on his adopted province of Samut Prakarn, but as for me however, my almost one year of Thai blogs has seen me fail to write a single story about the place I live at, Suphanburi. Even Richard’s province of Samut Prakarn, though it is kinda off the beaten track it still attracts a lotta foreign tourists to the likes of The Ancient City and Crocodile Farm etc… As for Suphanburi, 99% of the tourists here are Thai and I can count on my fingers the number of backpackers I have spotted during my couple of years here. So, if you are really thinking about ‘getting off the beaten track’, then coming to a place like Suphanburi is doing just that. So, let me take the opportunity this week to give you a bitta insight into….. the province of…. Suphanburi.
The first thing you will notice when arriving in the province is the state of the roads. Unlike the rest of the country with badly paved 2 lane pot-holed cut-ups, Suphanburi prouds itself with state of the art 8 lane highways lined with meticulously planted shrubs and flowers with hardly a sign of garbage or garland vendor in sight. Then on top of that, these highways are home to a whole flurry of brand-new government buildings and schools built with a flavoursome Thai-style theme. The PM Thaksin just last year called Suphanburi ‘a model province’ and claimed it’s the country’s ‘most developed’ outside of Bangkok.
All the thanks can go to one man and a native of Suphanburi Town himself, a certain… Mr Banharn Silpa-archa, former PM of Thailand and still, til this day, one of the country’s most influential politicians. Thankfully, during his reign as PM he concentrated mostly on developing his home province and nearly every ‘new’ infrastructure in the province has a Banharn theme. There are something like seven brand new schools adequately named ‘Banharn-Jaemsai 1’, Banharn-Jaemsai 2’ (Jaemsai is his wife’s name). Then smack bang in the middle of town you can go up the 123 metre Banharn Tower, visit the Banharn Clocktower and if you are in town with your old granny and needing her to get safely across the road, there are hundreds of over-head walkways named ….. Banharn-Jaemsai bridge.
Poor old Mr. Banharn used to get a right old slamming by the foreign media during his time as PM who they claimed was spending 90% of the national budget on Suphanburi province alone. But one good note about Banharn and unknown to them – Banharn was and still is the only politician who came up with this ‘Farangs in Thailand ought to have rights’ ie.. he was the first to pass the idea that Farangs had the right to Thai citizenship, purchase small plots of land and spoke out against any two-tiering price system! Unlike the rest of the country, where the government dictates that foreigners have to pay ten times the price what a Thai pays, Banharn dictates that foreigners pay the Thai price! Kind old man, just visit any of the Banharn run tourist attractions in the province and you will see big signs reading ‘Thai people 30 Baht’, ‘Farang 30 Baht’. Once, when asked by the Thai media to why Farangs shouldn’t pay more, he replied ‘When I go to Farangland I don’t see the locals there charging us Thais ten times the price as the locals, so, I think it’s only fair!’
Just mention the name Suphanburi the next time you are in the country and besides just its politicians cropping to mind, the word ‘Singer’ is synonymous with Suphanburi. The province’s most famous singer of all time, just has to be Phumpuang Duangchan (Pheung). For you foreigners who haven’t the faintest knowledge about her, well.. she is nicknamed ‘The Queen of Luk Thung’ (Thai country music) and the next time you get fed up with seeing a myriad of sexy scad-looking dancers and singers bopping across your TV screen 24 hours a day, you have only one person to blame and that is.. Ms Phumphuang herself – she started the whole thing off. Funnily enough, Phumphuang wasn’t a Suphan native at all, but instead she was born in Isarn before moving here as a child. Unfortunately, Pheung wasn’t around for long and passed away at the tender age of 31. The temple which houses her remains is til this day a mecca for folks to go, make merit, and pray that they win the governemnt lottery! And i’m not joking! Besides just Phumphuang, the province has been the breeding ground for a whole host of Thai Country Music singers, no other province can beat Suphan in that aspect. Second to Phumpuang in terms of musical success has to be Suphan’s very own ‘Ad Carabao’ leading singer of Carabao, who are a kind of legend themselves these days in the League of ‘Songs for Life (Thai Folk Music)
So, what is there to do in Suphanburi? Well, since the provincial town is run by Mr.Banharn, if it is groovy naughty night-life you’re after then just do not come here! Banharn has made Suphanburi, the only provincial town in Thailand free of ‘lady-of-the-night’ activity and after he originally became PM he closed down all the ‘rub-a-dub’ massage parlours etc…. Of course, I witness with my own eyes a bit of activity around but it’s very ‘hush-hush’ as the forces in power here, unlike the rest of the country, are in the habit of enforcing the law! Rather ironic though, in that it was Banharn that brought the popular, yet infamous businessman/politician Mr Chuwit (The former…Massage Parlour Tycoon) into his very own.. Chart Thai Party!
Believe it or not, Suphanburi is older than both Sukhothai and Ayutthaya and was the major meeting point for battles between the Thais and Burmese as the province kinda lies half way between Ayutthaya and Burma. The province’s major attraction is Don Chedi and each year there is a funky ten-day festival held every January to celebrate King Naresuan’s victory over the Burmese King which led to the Burmese being booted out of the country. Definetly, in my opinion, one Thailand’s most impressive festivals. Then, we have Beung Chawak, straight out of Banharn’s book. It’s a huge articial dam/lake thingy, that’s just been turned into a wildlife sanctuary, with a great aquarium, crocodile shows and home to flocks of rare birds. Pretty good value for money at something like 30 baht all in!
Then in the middle of town we have the wonderfully named Banharn Tower surrounded by one of the country’s cleanest and tidiest public parks which plays host to a swimming pool/funpark etc…. again great value for money at – 10baht! Then, 20km out of town, is Suphan’s one and only ‘Buffalo Village’ that prides itself on the ‘preservation of the buffalo’ and even puts on ‘Buffalo shows’. Sadly though, as this place is privately owned, foreigners are charged the Farang price.
So, if you are interested in coming to Suphan, the province is just a hundred odd km from Bangkok and it takes about an hour and a half to get here by bus or passenger van (75 mins). There is even the groovy Suphanburi – Bangkok Noi train that goes once a day, travels at a maximum speed of 31km/hr and takes something like 3 and a half hours to reach it’s destination. But well worth the ride, if you are wishing to…’Get off the beaten track!’
The province’s website is at www.suphanburi.go.th
Welcome to Suphan