Monthly Archives: January 2008

‘Our Tha Cheen River’

Just last week, I was invited by a good friend of mine here in Suphan, on behalf of a few organizations including the Japanese Fund for Global Environment, to attend the release of a new booklet ‘Our Tha Cheen River’ at arguably Thailand’s finest educational institution – Mahidol University, Salaya, Nakhorn Pathom. Knowing I got this blog of mine up and running mind you, I was expected to write about it! So, here it is.

Last Thursday afternoon, after finishing off my last article for The Nation, I jumped in a Suphanburi-Bangkok passenger van and went to catch up with Mr Nicky (Ajarn Nimit Somboonwit, the booklet’s editor). Now, I knew where to get out all right, not far past Bang Yai on the edge of Bangkok, but I had no idea how far away the university actually was. I checked the details and I realized that geez…. I was gonna have to take a taxi to Nakhorn Pathom province – how much it was going to cost was frightening. No worries, Mahidol University, located in Salaya, is just outside Bangkok and I was there in a jiffy costing less than a hundred baht for the 10km journey.

My accommodation paid for courtesy of the Japanese was basic enough, it wasn’t even a proper hotel, it was a flat style hotel room with a university regulated 1am curfew. For dinner, we were invited out to one of the groovy restaurants in the Phutthamonthon Sai 4 area, an area renowned for its excellent Thai-style eateries, by Asst Prof. Ophat of Mahidol Uni. In fact, he is also the Head of Greenpeace, South-east Asia. I mean, this teacher certainly knew his stuff all right and we were soon joined by another lecturer, Asst Prof Solot, who specializes in anthropology and linguistics. As you could well imagine, the conversation that night definitely was not boring and was I surprised to meet Thais who spoke English as well as myself. By the way, the food was scrumptious, and also the beer for that matter.

Up nice and early for the book seminar’s opening ceremony, we were joined by 400 kids from various schools from the 4 provinces located on the Tha Cheen River, they are; Chainat, Suphanburi, Nakhorn Pathom and Samut Sakhorn. Also there, to get things started was the Permanent Secretary to Environment. We had a really fun half day, with Mr Nicky up there doing his teacher bit, showing the kids how to use the booklet and spread word of the needed improvement of the standard of the Tha Cheen River – infamous for being the dirtiest, most polluted river in Thailand. After this, he had a bunch of students up there on stage giving their thoughts on the booklet, and what they could do personally to make sure the river quality was gonna be improved during the allocated 4 year time-span, before 2012. Nervous at the thought of being pulled on the stage also to give a speech, the idea came to light and there I was talking about a subject I really didn’t know much about. Nevermind though, all the kids were more puzzled at this Farang speaking Thai, than paying attention to what I had to say.

Unfortunately, the education system in Thailand doesn’t teach much about the preservation of the environment and when it does, it only uses the same old unflattering black and white photocopies which simply bore the reader. The objective of this free booklet therefore, is to get the message across in a clear, bright and easy-going way, laid out for the kids to take notice – the language in it is basic, simple for the kids to understand. The booklet is aimed at those in Grade 4 – 8. Nicky said that even the rural farmers could learn a thing or two from it!

Nicky assured me that even though a lot of Thais are born on riverbanks, they have no idea on how to look after the actual river, a thing which main purpose is to serve as a place to chuck out the contents of your rubbish bin. This is mentioned in the book, a good reminder for kids and what they ought not to do with their endless supply of 7-11 plastic bags. The worst offenders of all are the countless amount of factories, which after being given the boot out of Bangkok a few decades ago, resettled upcountry along the Tha Cheen River. For them, the river is an ideal spot to toss their annual load of hundreds of tones of waste, both toxic and chemical. Next up are the farmers and their fervent use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The banks of the Tha Cheen are also home to innumerable pig farms – yes, all that pig waste also gets thrown in the river, the farmers completely indifferent to the villagers down stream who use the river to bathe and brush their teeth. Images which spring to mind are pretty repulsive to say the least. All this is explained clearly in the booklet.

((Ajarn Nimit, the editor (guy with the grey hair!) presenting a copy of the booklet to the Permanent Secretary of the Environment))

The Tha Cheen River was once famous for its huge variety of fish, some very rare. Unfortunately though, the fish population has severely dwindled and some species are now extinct. Here is a good example of how the fish have been affected. One of Suphanburi’s districts is named after one of the fish which once lived in abundance, ‘Pla Ma’ (horse fish / Sodier Croaker). Until this day, Suphanburi’s restaurants are full of Bangkokians who have specifically come to Suphanburi to taste this delicious fish. But however, there are no more ‘horse fish’ left in Bang Pla Ma, what is served on dishes is horse fish imported from Burma! Again, the booklet states all the different fish which once swum around happily in droves and what we have to do to save the remaining ones.

Besides all of this, the booklet affords an insight into all the work of the numerous organizations and their efforts to clampdown on this severe abuse of mother nature. And on a bright side, there is far more being down now than in the days of yesteryear. The booklet also gives an interesting summary of the history of the Tha Cheen River and all the places of interest in the areas 4 provinces. I’m sure a lotta kids are really gonna enjoy this book

Altogether, I had a fun and extremely interesting time – I certainly learned a lot. Not forgetting lunch at the university, wow…that’s top notch. And finally, I hope that this blog helps bring a little bit more public awareness to the plight of the Tha Cheen.

Anyway, on behalf of the organizations involved, I have 3 copies to give away for free. Just answer the easy question below and send it by email to steveblogs(at)gmail (Readers in Thailand only) First 3 correct answers i get, will get a copy.

1.What is the name of the longest river in Thailand?

**Just for the sake of Google’s search engine, the Tha Cheen river is also spelt ‘Ta Chin River’, ‘Tha Chin River’, ‘Tha Jeen River’ and ‘Ta Jeen River**

Children’s Day Farce

(The following blog/article was published in The Nation newspaper on January 19. Here below, however, is the originally un-edited submission)

(Leading Thai Language Newspaper Headlines – Just After Children’s Day – “Students Chained To Tree By Teacher”)

Let’s first have a look at last week’s government motto for Children’s Day ‘To be united, well-disciplined, virtuous and always in search of knowledge’. Now, compare that to a leading Thai language newspaper’s report a few days after, which went “ School Assistant Director in Buriram chains pupils by the waist to a tree in front of the school and encourages all the other whipper-snappers to go and view the ‘strange animals’ and feed them water from a plastic dipping bowl”. As you can imagine, perhaps the government ought to start first with advising teachers on what is orderly behaviour instead of the kids!

Well, the media was full of groovy reports last week on all the Children’s Day activities and how morally decent such a time of the year is. Let me take the opportunity however, to have a look at the other side of the coin and tell you what a bit of a farce it actually is.

There is no other day of the year comparable to this one for local leaders, politicians and other influential people to get their propaganda machine into top gear. To really show just how much they care for young kids, these virtuous people lay on countless shows, exhibitions, games and free hotdogs in their local areas. The highlight of such events are the opening and closing ceremonies where these sponsors can get on stage and lecture all the youngsters on ethics and morals and explain that if they do ‘good’ and create positive Khamma, they might one day be as fortunate and important as them. Just the same old-fashioned nonsense they’ve been saying for the past 20 years. After receiving a standing ovation and getting the thumbs-up, the children can admire him walking out to his latest top of the range luxury car – an incredible man indeed who only earns 30,000 baht a month and adheres to the self-suffiency theory.

(Visit the army on Children’s Day – play on a tank, hold a machine gun and listen to nationalistic propraganda)

What a huge farce a lot of these scenarios are! A time for the kids to learn that it doesn’t matter where you get all your wealth; just make lots of cash, dress-well, speak politely and you will be a well respected person. Even the well-known local drug baron or local leader out on bail on a murder charge can get up there and preach righteousness. I mean, at the end of the day they must have been nice people once – the land’s Dhamma teachers say “Those who are super-rich in this life, must have created lots of positive Khamma in a previous one”.

Children’s Day events held in local areas are also fantastic places for schools to show how great their institution and kids are. I have even witnessed myself, at one school I was at for a while, the length the teachers went to proudly put on a show which was quite obviously orchestrated to show how superior they were to their local schooling competitors. Showing no empathy to the actual entertainers – the toddlers, the teachers had them up there, with the sun beating down, dancing away kitted out in cute dainty customs for two hours. You could call it child labour, but the kids are taught that if they do as they are told they will get better grades. Same goes for flamboyant nightly events such as re-union parties held at the actual schools – what’s the point in hiring any proper staff to wait on hundreds of tables when you may as well just ‘use’ your students!

Let’s have a quick look at some of the other wonderful events this year (as every year) arranged by the glorious armed forces. Wow! The kids had the superb chance to experience first-hand just how much the country needs an army with a budget comparable to that of North Korea’s. With memorable visions of the early post-coup days, the kids could climb inside tanks, hold machine guns and have their photos taken with the country’s hard-working protectors. Next up, they could also visit air-force and naval bases to have fun and listen to all the other nationalistic propaganda under the sun.

(A farce – just once a year, on national Children’s Day, governments pretend to care for hill-tribe kids)

Not forgetting the police of course, ‘well-disciplined and virtuous’, they also put on their own extravaganzas (pity though, they don’t have any tours of their squalid station cells) Ironic though, as it is the police who constantly turn a blind eye to child abuse – then again, when they ignore a drunken father who beats his kids day in day out, it is because they don’t want to interfere with ‘private family matters’. Same goes when negligent parents send there kids out to hawk garlands at traffic lights during the day and peddle chewing gum to foreign tourists until the early hours in the morning. Even though the cops know that this is now illegal, they just don’t care less – same goes for their attitude to road-side vendors who intentionally stock rubber solvents to knock off to homeless glue-sniffing kids.

Governments are no different went it comes to a bit of hypocrisy. Instead of it happening all the time, Children’s Day is the only time of the year when they can at least pretend they care for the needy. Take this year, the golden-oldies arranged events for the less fortunate (those who need far more attention), the likes of the Burmese, hill-tribes and stateless. The latter of event of which always receives very few attendants due to the fear of being arrested and incarcerated with their mothers. Reminds me, I didn’t read about event held by the government for all those very young kids who are behind bars in maximum security prisons as there is no other immediate relative who wants to take responsibility. It’s a shame that their plights weren’t shown on any TV Channel, but then again – who cares, they must have created bad Khamma in a previous life to deserve it.

(Some roadside vendors deliberately stock rubber solvents to sell to glue sniffing slum kids – the cops don’t care less)

Back to the education system, perhaps the bosses within that ought to ‘search for knowledge’ and realize that when it comes to children’s rights they are still living in the past. Here in the provinces, there is very little in the way of policies for the disabled or those with learning difficulties. The first of which can’t even attend school and as for any kid in the second group, even though he may only have the learning capabilities of a five year-old, he is tossed into any old class in Grade 6 and told to sit at the back and copy his friends work. Just for today, one other thing which needs to be seriously changed is the policy of booting out of school, high school girls who are found to be pregnant, even though the father of the child may be her step-dad. And believe it or not, the land’s girls’ schools can in theory, still throw out any female students who has been found to have engaged in an extra-marital rendezvous with some bloke down the road.

With that said, it is beyond doubt, that the first group of folk who ought to listen to any strategic Children’s Day motto directed towards the kids are the adults themselves. ‘United’, well everyone with bias tendencies, can start by learning that all people are the same, regardless to whether they are poor, uneducated, stateless or Muslim. ‘Well-disciplined’ a lot of wayward parents really ought to adhere to that one. ‘Virtuous’ well, the politicians who thought that word up, really ought themselves, to be the first to realize the meaning of that word. And finally ‘search for knowledge’, take notice teachers, school children don’t learn any such thing if you kick them out the door or chain them to trees.

Bangkok Canal Tour

A great way to explore the old Bangkok is to take a canal tour. In the past, Bangkok was known as the “Venice of the East” as there were so many canals. People used to live on floating rafts and they got around town by boat. Over the years, many of these canals were filled in to make way for new roads. Fortunately, many of these old canals still remain on the Thonbui side of the Chao Phraya River. A boat tour here is an excellent way to see close up how Thai people used to live along the canals. Even today, many of these residents are visited by postmen who come by boat. Even the monks have to do alms rounds by boat. Every now and then you can also see boat vendors selling not only food but essentials for householders. I have rented longtailed boats several times at the Tha Chang pier near the Grand Palace. They usually ask for 1,000 baht per boat though if you try hard you can knock the price down. While on these personal boat trips, I had often seen boats tours with Thai people. As that seemed like a cheaper way to explore the canals I set off last weekend to find where I could join a Thai tour.

Last weekend I was at Taling Chan Floating Market. From the pier under the railway bridge you can join a boat tour at the weekend of the local canals. The price for this has just gone up to 90 baht for adults and 50 baht for children. This includes free water and a fan to keep yourself cool. Though I used it more to shade my face from the sun like all the other Thai people. Although the price is obviously good for foreign tourists, (there is no two price system and no need to haggle over the price), there are of course disadvantages. The tour guide only speaks Thai and there is very little leg room. When I first got into the boat I was hoping that it wouldn’t fill up. I made sure I sat behind a seat where the back could be removed to make more room for this long-legged foreigners. That is what they do for tours for farang. They use the same boat but every other seat has the back removed. Unfortunately, the boat was packed to capacity so I was a little uncomfortable to say the least. But we had several stops on this two hour tour so I was at least able to stretch my legs.

My tour left at 9.45 a.m. They run all day but it is best to go as early as you can as it can get quite hot in the middle of the river. Fortunately, whizzing along on a boat provides you with some natural air-conditioning. A tip for photographers. If you sit in the middle and towards the front of the long-tailed boat you will find that you don’t have a clear due to the spray from the river. Sitting at the back gives you a clearer view though you are closer to the noisy engine! We started on the busy Chak Phra Canal where we passed many other boats with foreigners riding in pairs. But, we soon found ourselves on smaller canals and away from the crowds. Our first stop was at an indistinct temple. To be honest, as it wasn’t really an impressive looking temple I got the feeling that this was more of a commercial break as we were urged to make merit by donating money to the temple. It was a shame as we passed some really fascinating looking temples. Some were very old. We also passed Wat Paknam which is a famous temple that I haven’t had the chance to visit yet.

The highlight of the tour was undoubtedly the orchards where we stopped to wander around to look at the orchids. So many different species and so many different colours. I was tempted to buy some for my house as the prices were good, but the trouble would have been too great. But, other people bought some orchids. The canals in this area are much narrower and there was only just enough room for two boats to pass. It was a truly unique experience to see up close how people lived alongside the canal. We even passed another floating market and I made a quick note of the name of the temple so that I could come back and visit in my car. On the way back, we paused outside one temple where they had a fish sanctuary. We were encouraged to buy bread to feed the fish. As you can see from the top picture, the fish were desperate to eat. a word of warning, don’t throw the bread too near the boat as you will get splashed by the frantic fish for sure.

I did enjoy my boat trip though I don’t think I will do it again due to the cramped conditions. I am sure there are other local boat tours around here and I will continue looking for better ones. You can get to Taling Chan Floating Market by bus 79. I believe the sky train is being extended this direction which will then make it easier for you.

Lunchtime Thai Menu 03

Hot and Sour Chicken Soup (tom yum gai)

This is now our third week of the Friday Lunchtime Thai Menu blog. Every Friday, we will be bringing you pictures of our meal in the Paknam Web office. Our budget is around 100 baht which is about $3 for all of us. The first dish was tom yum gai. This is a hot and sour soup with chicken. The famous one is with shrimp which I often order when taking guests to restaurants. The recipe is also similar to another of my favourite soups, tom kha gai. Though the one today doesn’t have any galangal (kha). Basically, you bring some chicken stock to the boil and add lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves. Then add the chicken and mushrooms. You season to taste with fish sauce, sugar and lime juice. At the end, add cherry tomatoes and the chilies. When you order tom yum at restaurants, you need to say what kind you want. The choice is either “nam sai” which is transparent soup or “nam kon” which is thick soup. I prefer the latter because they add coconut milk to thicken the soup. That is the version we had today. Very delicious and one of my favourites. At the roadside foodstall near my house, this cost only 20 baht. Down the market it might be 30-35 baht.

Deep Fried Spring Rolls (por pia tod)

This next one is really an appetizer. It cost only 20 baht for six rolls. The dip you can see is one of my favourites. It is hot and sweet and is the same one we use for fried chicken. There are so many dips (nam jim) that you have to be careful that you use the right one. The spring rolls we ate today had minced pork, shredded cabbage, shredded carrot, mushroom and mun bean noodle (woon sen).

Glutinous Rice Fingers (khanom niaw)

Our dessert today was sticky rice flour with shredded coconut. It is sweet as it has palm sugar and caramel. The topping is popped rice.

Som Tam Fruit Salad (som tam polamai)

I have saved the best for last. Off all the varieties of som tam, this is most definitely my favourite after som tam tai. Most som tam stalls will make this for you as long as they have fruit. Actually, I am not sure why they call it “tam” as it is not pounded in the bowl like its cousin. Anyway, this one contains apple, guava, rose apple, shredded unripe mango, shredded carrot and cherry tomato. And whole roasted peanuts. When you do takeaway, they put the fruit in one bag and the sauce in another. Then you just mix together when ready. This cost 50 baht which is more expensive than the regular som tam. The sauce was very sweet but sour at the same time. It contains, water, sugar, lime, salt, garlic and chili. Normally I find one chili is enough for fruit salad. This sauce also had some dried shrimp. I love this very much. It can be a meal in itself. You can either eat it by itself or with sticky rice.

So, what should we eat next week? We could go back to the som tam shop as they have 15 different versions. We could almost do one per week for the next few months! If you are in Paknam, go to “Som Tam Dontree”. They have two branches. One opposite the courthouse and the other on Sailuad Road near Krungthep Bank. Both are very large shops with several floors. They are good for variety. However, I like my som tam seller at the top of my soi for eating som tam thai. We have three sellers in our soi but he is the best. If you have any suggetions for next week’s lunchtime menu, then please post them as a comment. If y

Taling Chan Floating Market

In the olden days, people in Thailand didn’t go to markets like we do today. The markets came to them. This is because most people either lived on canals or along the banks. The canals were the road system of the past and anything you needed would pass your front door. In addition, there were sometimes gatherings of vendors on boats which is their version of our land based markets. Today, floating markets are few and far between. Probably the most picturesque, at Damnoern Saduak, is now almost exclusively run for foreign tourists. Recently I have been visiting some alternative floating markets. On Sunday I went to Taling Chan Floating Market on the Chak Phra Canal on the Thonburi side of Bangkok. I have passed here before several times when I rented a long-tailed boat to tour the Thonburi canals.

If you go to Taling Chan Floating Market and expect to see hundreds of vendors on boats selling fruit and delicious things to eat then you will be disappointed. Damnoern Saduak is like a floating market on steroids so everything else, including the genuine article, will be a disappointment. However, Taling Chan does have its charm and it also has the advantage that it is open all day, though only at the weekends. I arrived there before 9 a.m. which is a good idea if you are coming by car. They have limited parking space. It also helps to beat the heat of the day. The road leading to the canal is lined with market vendors selling plants as well as a large variety of freshly cooked food and sweets.

The main attraction of the market seems to be the floating restaurants on the canal. Moored alongside the platform were a number of boats where vendors were cooking up a variety of mouth watering dishes. The floating restaurant has groups of low tables and you sit on the floor to eat. The food is cooked for you on the smaller boats. There are also traditional tables and chairs if you have long legs like myself. The size of the market isn’t that large. It is nothing compared to Don Wai Market which I visited the other week. There were also more foreign tourists at this one. Though most of them turned out to be on a boat tour of the Thonburi canals and this was one stop for them.

Although I enjoyed wandering around and sampling the food on offer, I don’t think it is worth a special trip to come all the way out here just to visit this floating market. Maybe do a brief stop here when you rent a boat on the Bangkok side of the river. Alternatively, you can catch bus number 79 to the market and then join a boat tour that starts by the floating restaurant. As this tour is mainly for Thai tourists it will work out cheaper for you. I went on this boat trip and I will tell you about that soon. When I came back, the market was very crowded. There was no space to eat on the floating rafts so I ended up having lunch at one of the land based restaurants. I probably would come back here though I think I prefer Don Wai Market more. Even though Don Wai is further away in Nakhon Pathom Province, it was a lot simpler for me to driver there. Plus there is a greater variety of Thai food on offer there.

Keep checking back to as I will be writing more about Bangkok day trips you can do from Bangkok as well as some more alternative floating markets.

I have put a placemarker for the floating market at