Monthly Archives: August 2008

Back in Endearing Bangkok

Image075 by you.

The above image is quintessentially Thai for me. The desire to import a lotus from a lake, a pond or a water-body close to the river; and put it in a container in the courtyard or terrace, is the most serene effort to bring the heavens home. Not much of a traveller myself, I was delighted to land in Bangkok along with my consort in the sleek geodesic airport of Suvarnabhumi, which resembles the Paris Airport quite a lot. On the way to the city I passed through Ramindra Road ( The Central Ramindra is very conspicuous), Chaengwattana Road (The Siam Jusco is closed and deserted) and the much-fly-overed Laksi Intersection. The twin-cubes of Laksi Plaza, however, are still there. It is now called the IT Plaza.

Strange how familiar places attract us. With excellent hospitality all around, it has been the best time I have spent in my life along with my wife. The very first day me and my wife moved over to MBK where I showed the familiar places that I used to frequent in 1989. The same ambiance, the same food courts and virtually the same shops. The light, the glitter and the movement of people continues to be as enchanting. The same place in the ground floor has the artist making sketches. The only change seemed to be the parking lot by the Hotel Pratmuan Princess. Yes, I had come back to where I once belonged, with my better-half around with me. So to say, there won’t be any homesickness, like it was in 1989. I sign off by posting another beautiful photograph, snapped from a branch of Tesco Lotus.

Image076 by you.

National Science Day in Thailand

In 1868, H.M. King Rama IV invited Sir Harry Ord, the Governor of the British Straits Setllements, as well as a party of French astronomers, and scientists, to observe a total solar eclipse, which he predicted would be on 18th August at 12:13 p.m. He also calculated the precise location in Thailand where it would be best to observe. The party travelled to Wa Ko, a small village in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province, about 300 kms south of Bangkok, for the event, where the King’s calculations proved to be correct. This was just another example that showed both his loyal subjects and foreign dignitaries how much of an intellectual he really was. Even more impressive was the fact that he had predicted this eclipse himself two years before it actually happened. It is unfortunate that King Rama IV is more known to the modern world as the dancing and singing king in the Broadway stage production and the movie “The King and I”.

Tragically, during the expedition, King Rama IV and H.R.H. Prince Chulalongkorn both contracted malaria. The kind died the following month in Bangkok. In 1982, the Thai government designated King Rama IV as the “Father of Science in Thailand”. In addition, they declared that henceforth, August 18th would be known as National Science Day. In 1989, the King Mongkut Memorial Park of Science and Technology was established to commemorate King Rama IV. The park is located at Km.335 of Highway No. 4, about 12 kilometres from Prachuap Khiri Khan and 4 kilometres along a branch road.

Main source: Century of Growth: The First Hundred years of Siam Commercial Bank

Not Just Thaksin: Other Famous Thais Who Have Fled (Part 1)

(As you will read, Thaksin is certainly not the first former PM to flee the country. In fact, he is one of many well-known Thais who have done a runner) Above pic courtesy of

Well, former prime minister Thaksin has finally left us and done a runner to London with his lovely wife. And as you will read, London has become the second home to many of the Thailand’s most famous over the years!

Unknown to most folk on the street, a plentitude of well-known Thais have fled their homeland for a variety of reasons, both positive and negative. Here, in this 2 part series, is a run-down on the most well-known cases.

Yantra (Phra Yantra)

Born in Nakhorn Sri Thammarat Province in 1951 as Winai Laongsuwan, he ordained in 1974 and became known as Phra Yantra Amaro Bhikkhu. What happened next during the next 2 decades is enough for a Hollywood remake. His immediate appeal to the Thai public, besides his handsome good looks, was his ability to meditate for days on end and teach the Dhamma with such flair and wisdom. During the 1980’s, he took the Dhamma abroad and taught all around the world; he was transformed into Thailnd’s most loved monk and became simply known as Phra Yantra.

Yantra, with tens of millions of baht worth of donations coming in, established what could be called the country’s most naturally beautiful temples, the massive Sunnataram Forest Monstery in Kanchanburi Province. Sunnataram turned into an oasis for foreigners wishing to practice the Dhamma and meditation.

In the early 1990’s however, the country was startled by reports that Yantra had been having sexual relations with several followers including foreign women. Charges of sexual abuse against Yantra also surfaced with news of Yantra’s rape of 6 under-age hill-tribe girls. Most of Kingdom refused to believe the charges; that was until, the Daily News Newspaper uncovered photographic evidence that Yantra had been a regular in discotheques in Australia (no robes on). Other evidence which sufficed, included copies of Yantra’s credit card receipts which showed that he had been using the services of brothels in New Zealand. In 1995, he was disgracefully de-robed.

Yantra, still claiming a biggish following, self-robed himself in green robes and continually taught the Dhamma to the infuriation of the masses. Criminal charges of ‘impersonating a monk’ were filed against Yantra and before he could be arrested, Yantra fled the country for The US, and it was there that he was successfully awarded asylum. The Thai government has been unable to have Yantra extradited to Thailand to face charges. Until this day, Yantra resides in California.

(Yantra: Undoubtedly Thailand’s most infamous and loathed former monk in modern Thai history!)

Field Marshall Plaek Phibulsongkram

Jom Phon Por as he was popularly called goes down as one of Thailand’s most influential leaders in history. Shortly after the overthrow of absolute monarchy in 1932, he dictated social and economic trends through nationalistic policy for two super powerful eras of dictatorship 1938-44 and 1948-57. The people were obliged to adhere to his slogan “Trust your leader and the country is saved!” With this in order, he issued 12 Rattha Niyom (cultural mandates) between 1939-42. Jom Phon Por’s mandates changed the name of Siam to Thailand and brought in the Western Calender (New Year used to begin on 1 April). He ordered Thais to salute the flag twice a day, learn the national anthem by heart and sing it at school, refrain from speaking any dialects (especially Chinese!) in public and to use only Standard Thai. It was asked that the people speak a politer form of Thai by using words such as Chan (I), Than (You) and Jah (show politeness). He was said to have ‘absolute power’.

FM Plaek Phibulsongkram certainly had his political enemies and miraculously survived at least 3 assassination attempts including the infamous Manhatten Coup Attempt when the Royal Thai Navy blew-up the ship he was on in the middle of the Chao Phraya River, opposite the Grand Palace. The ship had just that day been given to Thailand as a present from The US.

FM Plaek Pibulsongkram was finally deposed in 1957 by another powerful dictator Sarit Thanarat, and Phibulsongkram fled to Penang, Malaysia. Before his death in 1964, he entered the monkhood in Bodhgaya, India. His ashes were returned and laid to rest at a temple he had built for the 1932 victors – Wat Phra Sri Mahathat, in the Bang Khen district of Bangkok. In fact, Penang had been before that become the new home of another person who was forced to flee the then Siam, Prince Damrong Rajananuphap (The Father of Modern Education).

Yuvadhida Polpraserth

Yuvadhida, once a popular actress, is however, more well-known for being a former wife of Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. The Crown Prince began his relationship with Yuvadhida in the late 1970s even though he was still officially married to his first wife Princess Soamsavali (though they had already split up). It was only in 1993, that the Crown Prince was finally able to win the extremely lengthy divorce battle. Yuvadhida and the Crown Prince had 5 children all together, they are: His Special Highnesses Princes (HSH) Juthawachara, Vacharaeson, Chakriwat and Vacharawee and Princess Busya.

They were finally married in 1994 but the marriage took a swift down-turn when the Crown Prince claimed that Yuvadhida was having an affair with an elderly Royal Air-force Chief Marshall. The Air-marshall was stripped of his rank by the then Prime Minister Banharn Silpa-archa. Very soon thereafter, Yuvadhida (and the Air-marshall) fled to London with her 5 children. After the reported advice of a revered monk, the Crown Prince, believing it was vital to the future of the Chakri Dynasty, went to London and retrieved his daughter to that marriage, Princess Busya. Until this day, Busya, resides in Thailand. Yuvathida and her 4 sons later moved to The US. Until this day, HSH Juthawachara and his 3 younger brothers are, respectively, 3rd-6th in line to the throne.

Rakeesh Saxena
Even though, Rakeesh isn’t even a real Thai (he is Indian) he goes down as one of Thailand’s most wanted criminals in self-imposed exile. Ironically calling himself a self-confessed communist, Rakeesh transformed himself during the 1970s and 1980s into one of Asia’s most reputed dealers in foreign currencies (Forex). After the Thai’s government opened up dealing on foreign exchange in 1985, Rakeesh moved to Bangkok with his Thai wife and quickly became a financial star and a top columnist for the Bangkok Post Newspaper. In 1989, he was named as Vice-President of the now defunct Bangkok Bank of Commerce and had a multitude of close-buddies in the government. Many of whom it was reported, were only cuddling up to Rakeesh due to personal financial favours and business dealings abroad in shady countries known for their lack of financial law enforcement.

The collapse of the Bangkok Bank of Commerce in 1996 does down as one of the major factors which triggered the Asian Economic Collapse of 1997 and the severe devaluation of the Thai Baht. What happened next is history). Rakeesh in Europe at the time of the economic collapse, knew he was in trouble with the government and never did return to Thailand, he went instead to Canada. Rakeesh along with his financial buddies were charged with the embezzlement, in the early 1990s, of at least USD$2 billion.

In exile in Canada since 1997, Rakeesh has continually and successfully fought off extradition to Thailand to face charges of corruption and embezzlement. After the Thai military coup of 2006, the case of extradition was again put on hold. Rakeesh has always claimed that if he were deported back to Thailand he would be tortured in a Thai prison (same to what Yantra above claimed).

Puey Ungpakorn

Puey Ungpakorn is still known today as one of the most respected and influential Thai nationals of the 20th century. Born a Thai-Chinese, Puey as the nationalist he was, joined the anti-government Free Thai Movement during World War II. Unfortunately, he was caught by the Japanese and made a prisoner of war till the end of the war in 1945.

After receiving his Doctorate in Economics from London in 1949, Puey rose to fame in the world of finance and eventually became the Governor of the Bank of Thailand before being named the Dean of Economics at the prestigious Thammasart University. Due to his prominence in the fight for rural equalities and productivity in Thailand’s countryside, Puey was one of the people’s favourites for premiership after the bloody coup of 1973. And it was in 1973, that Puey changed from being loved by the country’s all-powerful into one of the most loathed. Puey had turned his back to the military and openly confessed that he wanted nothing to do whatsoever with helping to run the country.

After the atrocities of 1973, Puey was branded a communist.

The historic student uprising of 6 October 1976 where tens of students were murdered in the compounds of Thammasart University and Sanam Luang in broad daylight by those supposedly against communists, forced Puey to resign from Thammasart and flee.

On the way to the airport on the day after the uprising, Puey was almost lynched by an anti-communist pro-monarchy hate mob, and it was only after the King’s Privy Council intervened, that Puey was allowed to leave the country safely. Puey fled to London and lived there for the rest of his life.

In exile in London, Puey continually fought for human rights in Thailand and was regarded as one of the country’s leading intellectuals (still to this day, in fact). He has been succeeded by his 2 Eurasian sons Giles and John. Giles has continually attempted to determine the truth of the 1976 massacre and been a thorn in the side for Thailand’s all-powerful including the military. A professor at Chulalongkorn University, his hard-hitting politically charged book of 2006 ‘A Coup for the Rich’ was banned. He is currently fighting charges of lese-majeste. John Ungpakorn has been a respected Bangkok senator and presently revered as one of the country’s most well-known intellectuals. He also runs the popular controversially correct

A 10-Day Goenka Meditation Course

A few weeks back, I decided that it was finally time to get away from this escapist world and return to ‘myself’ via a silent 10-Day meditation course (the usual amount of time for a decent course). It was to be my first in 3 years but one of many which I have struggled through during all my time in Thailand. While chatting with a good buddy of mine in Bangkok, he advised the same one which he had attended a couple of years ago in Prachinburi Province not too far from the capital. After deciding that was the place for me, I thought it wise to tell minimal folk of my ‘spiritual’ intention as I just didn’t wanted to be bombarded with the usual questions along the lines of ‘Why the heck are you going on a meditation retreat?!’ So, if you are one of those I told a ‘white lie’ too about my location a week or so, then my apologies, but here follows is the truth!

The course I chose was none other than a S.N Goenka 10-Day Meditation Course. In case you haven’t the foggiest to who S.N Goenka is, then let me advise you that he is one of the most internationally renowned Vipassana meditation masters and teachers in modern times. Goenka, a Burmese-Indian in origin, is also famed for running one of the strictest meditation courses the world over. And I was to find out just how tough it was!

Out of the 4 Goenka meditation centers located in Thailand, the one I secured a place on was at Dhamma Kamala in Prachinburi, the original Goenka retreat in the country. So, on the first day, the 30th July, I made my way to the well-known Wat Phra Sri Mahathat in Bangkok and took one of the center’s passenger vans to the place which was to be my silent dwelling for the next week and a half. Arriving at the center 2 hours later, I was well-chuffed to see that my room had a nice semi-comfortable bed instead of a mat on a stone floor which is the norm at meditation retreats at temples. I was also thrilled at the prospect of jam sandwiches for tea time; at temples, again, meditators/monks get nothing in the evening besides the likes of a carton of milk. But, as is usual at most such retreats in Thailand the twice daily meals were to be nothing but pure vegan. Around about 30% of the meditators in attendance were ‘old students’ (ie…. meditators who had done the Geonka course at least once before) and the rest ‘new students’ (ie…. The likes of me who didn’t have a glue what the heck he was getting himself in for)

So, in the early evening of Day 0, I thought that this meditation would be a walk-over ‘piece of cake’ absolutely no problem to survive. I am certain that the other 20 or so foreigners (and about 80 Thais) thought more or less the same. That was of course till Day 1.

After a pathetic first nights sleep (my mind must have been wondering where the heck I was) I was awoken at 4am by the bell. We all made our way to the main hall for 4:30 meditation session. On that first day alone, we were literally forced to sit out an unprecedented 8 hours worth of meditation. And that was sitting meditation! Absolutely no walking meditation whatsoever. I use the word ‘forced’ cause anyone who couldn’t last was kindly asked to leave and go home. This I thought must be the world’s only self-desired prison! The teacher in charge was sat on a podium at the front of the room and did little else but turn on Goenka recordings on how to meditate etc….. She was a decidedly elderly woman and I found out later that she held the honourable title of ThanYing, the highest possible title for a commoner, and to acquire such a title like that you gotta be well-liked by the person who bestows it, the one and only Queen of Thailand. Well, she was well respected by former students who were attending the course (they made up about a third of the meditators) and they always bowed to her three times. An action I had never seen use for a woman before; it is normally used only for high-ranking monks; not even the higher echelons of royalty get such a welcome.

That first day, I am positively sure that every one of us foreigners there were truly suffering, I mean our legs must have been killing all of us. My legs were, and I am even used to sitting on the floor in a half-lotus position at home. The second day was the real test and we were again literally forced to sit in meditation for up to 9 hours! As you can imagine, that kinda workload is just a bit too much for some folk, and by midday of the following day, I guessed that 20% of the meditators had done a runner and fled! And I am not joking! We were soon to learn, however, that this kind of absolute tolerance and determination was all part of Goenka’s technique ie… if you can’t survive the first couple of days then the teachings aren’t gonna do ya much good. As has always been said though, the first 2-3 days of a meditation course are always the hardest.

This kind of retreat doesn’t only expect noble silence (no communication whatsoever ie.. eye-contact etc..) but also absolutely no mobile phone messages, reading or writing, it is pure Vipassana meditation. The only person you are allowed to talk to on Goenka’s courses is the supervisor in charge and only if you have a health problem or forgot your toothpaste etc.. Men and women are also totally segregated. Every evening us foreigners were separated from the Thais in that we had to had to watch Goenka’s discourse for the day and perhaps instructions on the meditation for the following day. We all found Goenka’s video discourses to be great; unlike any other Buddhist/meditation teacher I had heard before, he was petty hilarious and got his messages across in such an easily understandable matter. His daily video was one of the highlights of the day, second only – of course – to meal times.

After an awesome first two days, the vigorous schedule was finally eased on Day 3 and the morning class (4:30-6:30am) was no longer compulsory. Half of us foreign guys did however, still turn up every day – but as for the every single one of the ‘new student’ Thai guys though, they spent the next 7 days getting a lie in. That is because, most of the Thai blokes were real young and were not on the course due their own wise decision, they had been sent there by their parents! This was verified later by one of the Thai guys and the male supervisor. Altogether, the women way out-numbered the men, about 4 to 1 and, in general, they adhered to the schedule much more obediently than us men. That said however, a higher percentage of women did drop out of the course before it ended. If you want an idea on how tough this course really is, I counted a total of around almost 30% of the ‘new student’ females who did not last the ten days.

From the second day on, here is a rough idea of the schedule at Goenka meditation retreats:

(Not Fixed & Varies)

04:00 – 04:30 Get Up & Taka a Shower
04:30 – 06:30 Meditation in the Main Hall (not compulsory)
06:30 – 08:00 Breakfast & Rest
08:00 – 10:00 Group Meditation in Hall (compulsory)
10:00 – 11:00 Meditation in Hall (usually compulsory)
11:00 – 13:00 Lunch & Rest
13:00 – 14:30 Meditation in Hall (not compulsory)
14:30 – 17:00 Meditation in Hall (compulsory)
17:00 – 18:00 Tea-time
18:00 – 19:00 Meditation in Hall (compulsory)
19:00 – 20:20 Goenka Discourse Video
20:30 – 21:00 Meditation in Hall (compulsory)
21:00 – 22:00 Shower & Rest
22:00 Lights Out

As you can see from the above, you are expected to complete a minimum of 7 hours sat-on-yer-bum meditation a day.
Now, after 4 days of this, my legs were totally falling apart and I my recurring groin injury suddenly surfaced again to add even more to the pain. It was at around this time when I seriously wondered whether I would be able to survive the 10 days.

On the evening of the 4th with my groin injury really kicking in (first time in months I had felt it) Goenka informed us that from now on we were expected, for 4 separate hours day, to sit completely still for the entire hour! That is, to not move whatsoever, not even our hands – this is where I thought this course was ‘madness’! Just at that time, however, Goenka taught us a meditation technique based on sensations which miraculously eased the suffering in our joints (I had however, learnt a similar technique on my last meditation retreat 3 years back – but we weren’t allowed to mix any other meditation technique with Goenka’s)

As is usual, again, on meditation retreats, days 5,6 and 7 flowed along all right; and I was beginning to feel at least a little at home. It was around this time though, that I became to get a bit pished-off with the amount noise in our residence. Our rooms were in a wooded landing where you can literally hear everything that goes on in the room next-door. So, if someone slightly slams the door, then that noise reverberates throughout the corridor. This led to my only complaint about the course, as at some times in the day you were expected to do meditation in your room if you didn’t go to the main hall (see above schedule under ‘not compulsory’). What a joke! At least one of the young whipper-snapper young Thais spent all their time in their rooms, instead of supposedly meditating, banging away, slamming their doors and running in and out every 5 minutes. I brought it up with the supervisor and it was then that he admitted that a lot of these guys were only on the course because of their mums.

Getting into the 8th day, and instead of going to sleep at night thinking ‘Buddha Buddha’ it had suddenly changed to ‘Burger Burger’ – I was seriously beginning to count down the hours before my return to civilization! And so, even though the last couple of days went by with me more or less tired of the regime, I was feeling fresh in the head and my meditation was going well. Every thing very much changed on Day 10 when Noble Silence was ended and everyone was allowed to speak again. This offered a pleasing opportunity to get to know the other meditators you had been physically close to but hadn’t even looked in the eye for the past 10 days. As you can imagine however, it did feel a bit freaky finally speaking after that extensive amount of time in silence. After breakfast on Day 11, we boarded the bus and to our relief, were on the way home.

Altogether, the experience was a truly uplifting one and I have been on a high ever since. I would certainly recommended the course but I wouldn’t be too certain of advising the place to someone who had never done any kind of proper meditation before. And for sure, I would only suggest the course to those who feel absolute certain that they are up to it!

As for the technique you learn, I deliberately left the contents out in this blog. That’s to say, if you wanna find out what it’s all about, then it is much better to find out all by yourself!

For more info on Goenka meditation courses see

Related Blog: A Meditation Retreat in Thailand

Lunchtime Thai Menu 31

Red Curry with Roasted Duck

The red curry with roasted duck (kaeng pet bet yang) is my favourite version of the red curry. I don’t often get a chance to eat it outside of restaurants. The downside of street food is that there is usually more bones than meat. But this dish was all duck and only cost 40 baht. Pretty good value for money. What you can see in the picture is the roasted duck, plum tomatoes, eggplant peas, basil leaves and kaffir lime leaves. It also has coconut milk and is seasoned with fish sauce and palm sugar. It is actually quite easy to make as long as someone else has prepared your curry paste. You can buy this down the market or even at supermarkets like Big C and Tesco Lotus. This curry paste has ground galangal, lemon grass, red shallots and garlic amongst other ingredients. Make sure you don’t miss this highlight. It is also nice with pineapple chunks.

Stems of Waterlily (tom kati sai bua)

Fish lovers might like this healthy dish. It consists of sai bua (the stems of the waterlily) cooked in coconut milk with shallots. The fish is usually a mackerel like pla tu that is seasoned with fish sauce, tamarind paste and sugar. I am afraid it is not a favourite of mine though it only cost 34 baht. A little over $1.

Stir fried chicken and chinese chives

This is a tasty dish that looks simple to cook. I might give it a go this weekend. The two main ingredients are the chicken pieces and Chinese chives. It is cooked in a seasoning of fish sauce, light soy sauce and oyster sauce. All good kitchens should have these ingredients. Add some water if it drys out during cooking. This was only 35 baht.

Red Glutinous Rice (khao niew daeng)

This is a popular dish popular during the Songkran festival. The main ingredients are sticky rice, palm sugar and sesame seeds. It is a bit tough to eat and is a bit like caramel. It reminds me of another Thai dessert called kalamae. This one was only 20 baht.

Flower Shaped Candy (khanom dowk lamduan)

This is like a cross between a cookie and candy. It is very sweet so don’t eat too many at once. The dough is made from wheat flour, egg yolk, castor sugar and vegetable oil. You knead this mixture into small balls which you then shape into flowers. It is then baked in an oven for about 15 minutes. This cost us 35 baht.