Monthly Archives: December 2009

Siam Niramit Cultural Show in Bangkok

One of the most spectacular cultural shows in Bangkok is undoubtedly at Siam Niramit: Journey to the Enchanted Kingdom of Siam. So many people had been talking about it on the Paknam Web Forums that I thought that I should make an effort to go and see it for myself. It is a big show in every sense. Even the stage is listed in the Guinness Book of Records. There are over 150 performers and more than 500 different costumes.

Everything is on a grand scale and there is even an elephant that walks through the auditorium past your seats. The price of 1,500 baht has always put me off but I can now say that this is a performance of world standard and you would be a fool to miss it during a visit to Bangkok.

The show itself doesn’t start until 8 p.m. but it is advisable to go early as there are plenty of other things that you can do while waiting. There is an optional buffet for 350 baht which has mixed reviews about value for money. But, if you book through a travel agent you should get both the performance and the buffet together with hotel transfers for only 1,500 baht. So, that is a bit like getting the food for free.

Siam Niramit opens as early as 5.30 p.m. which is the time we turned up. It was a bit early but there is quite a lot to see in the 10 acre grounds. In the courtyard, some of the performers are there so that you can have your picture taken with them.

In another area they have a Thai Village where you can see traditional houses from the four regions of Thailand. You can visit each house where you can see demonstrations of traditional arts, crafts and Thai food. There is even a canal where you can enjoy a boat ride.

These are some of the performers wearing hilltribe clothes. At other houses you can see people wearing the clothes for that region. Everyone is very friendly and keen for you to take their picture.

Back in the courtyard, some of the tourists were taking elephant rides or were paying to be picked up in the trunk of the elephant. You can also feed the elephants sugar cane.

There are also a number of performances going on in the courtyard which are all worth watching. So, don’t go into the auditorium too early or turn up here too late. However, once you are ready to watch the main show, you need to be aware that you are not allowed to take cameras or any recording devices into the auditorium. They have secure lockers to keep these safe.

The main show itself lasts for 80 minutes and is split into three acts. “Journey Back into History” where you see the magnificent civilisations of the north, south, Isaan and the Central Plains. Act Two is “Journey Beyond Imagination: The Three Worlds: Hell, Himapaan Forest and Heaven”. Here you will see what happens to you if you lie to your parents or cheat on your lover.

The final act is “Journey Through Joyous Festivals”. Here you will witness some of the major festivals and events such as a Buddhist ordination, Songkran and Loy Krathong. In you are sitting in an aisle seat you might be asked to float a krathong on the canal on the stage.

The production value of the show was really good and we had an enjoyable evening out. It rivals anything put on in Western countries. The price may seem a little high for a country like Thailand, but I think you will find it value for money. Most people go here on group tours as they seem to have good prices available. If you want to go by yourself you can catch the underground MRT train to the Thailand Cultural Center where they have free shuttle buses.

Many thanks to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) for arranging this trip for us.

Samut Prakan Observation Tower

One of the most ambitious plans for a tourist attraction in Samut Prakan Province is the 139 meter high tower that will give fine views of the Gulf of Thailand. The plan for the tower has been around for a while and for the past few years it seems it had been put on hold. About three years ago we attended the foundation stone ceremony. Work was to have been started straight away. However, the only thing that has been completed so far is the car park and surrounding fence. Now it looks like work on the tower will be moving forward in early 2010 with a finishing date of 2012. Mr. Amnuay Rassamitat, the Chief Executive of the PAO, recently told the media that the delay was partly due to structural reasons as they wanted to revise the plans to make the tower more earthquake proof.

The Samut Prakan Observation Tower is being built in the grounds of the old prison in Amphoe Muang. The location, on Sukhumwit Road, is close to the City Hall and the Chao Phraya River. The tower will house museums and a library and will be surrounded by a park. There will be a museum about Samut Prakan and also a discovery museum for children. Mr. Amnuay Rassamitat said that the tower was originally a joint project between the administration of the provincial office and the city office. However, he said that the tower would now be built under the responsibility of the city mayor. A budget of 415 million baht has already been approved with a further 62.2 million baht coming from the local municipality. It is expected to take two years to build.

This is a satellite image showing Paknam Prison in 2002 and the present site of the Samut Prakan Tower. The prisoners had already been moved out by this time to a new prison in Klong Dan sub-district.

This shows the old prison in 2003. At this stage the buildings inside had already been bulldozed leaving only the surrounding wall.

This is now the old prison in 2005. The area has mainly been cleared leaving only the watchtowers and short stretches of wall.

In 2007, Khun Watana, amongst other dignitaries, attended a ceremony for the blessing of the foundation stone. Everyone thought that the tower would now be built.

This is the site in 2009. The front entrance, a monument and a car park are the only things that have been built so far. The tower was never started.

This is how the site of the prison looks in 2009 in a satellite image. Sukhumwit road is to the top. You can clearly see the entrance at the top and the white footpaths. You should also be able to work out the round area where the tower should eventually be built. We will bring you updates next year but obviously we are not holding our breath on this.

Prachuap Khiri Khan

View from Mirror Cave Mountain

Just four hours outside Bangkok lays a haven of old Thailand, Prachuap Kiri Khan. Just beyond the development wave that swept up Cha am and Hua Hin, sleepy little Prachuap is just snoozing on unnoticed.

Prachuap was one of the first places I ever visited in Thailand back in 1991 and one of the few that has changed little. It also enjoys the great distinction of officially being my favourite place in Thailand.

The town sits in the middle of Ao Noi bay, a beautiful crescent of sands stretching kilometres without a bather on the whole length and offering a stunning view of several islands spilling off either end. Small and quite untainted by tourism, lacking even one tourist restaurant, the few guesthouses in town are basic and cheap, only one ever seems to regularly have tourists in (rooms starting from 160 baht per night.)

Ao Noi Beach

This lack of tourists in the town has left the locals with an incredibly friendly disposition and price hikes are simply an alien concept.

The town is so small it can easily be walked around, though there are two bicycle hire shops and one motor scooter hire place run by the local policeman. With plenty to see around and outside the town these can prove more fun and economic that Tuks Tuks. The night market in the middle of town from 6pm onwards is so good even by Thai standards offering an eating experience to be savoured each day.

One of the joys of Pracheup is it is not just a beach but is literally packed with interesting things to do.

On the northern outskirts is Mirror Cave Mountain with the obligatory temple on top providing a stunning view. The hill itself a monkey sanctuary and literally hundreds of Macaques live there, covering the steps on the way up and temple ready to rob the unwary tourist of anything even vaguely edible.

Fishing Fleet

On the outskirts of the town is a traditional fishing village with the colourful fleet and just beyond that in a huge new modern temple is Khao Kham Kradi cave, its subterranean network used as a retirement home for old Buddha statues from around the country(bring a torch.) The deserted temple’s lakes are full of giant catfish with bags of food (leave a donation) freely available and a fish feeding platform.

The main reason most people visit Pracheup is because it neighbours Aoi Manao Bay, the place where the Japanese first landed in Thailand in WWII. The Japanese couldn’t have chosen a more sceninc place to invade, in this little bay is some of the best mainland beaches in the country and usually quite deserted.

Ao Manao lays within Wing 53 Airbase freely enterable by the public complete with beach resort and boasting Historic Park, really just a few old aircraft and statues. Part of the airbase is a Dusky Langur conservation area and these friendly monkeys wander around providing world class wildlife photography opportunities.

Neighbouring Prachuap are several beachside villages all worth a visit and trying to boast at least one tourist attraction. Klongwan to the south, barely a hundreds metres long, consisting of a few shops and local houses has opened a Sea World Aquarium.

For nightlife there is a bar in town and another Biker Bar just out of town, complete with live band and pool table, about as wild as it gets. However the real reason to go there as with anywhere in Thailand is meeting the locals. Prachuap allows the traveller to stay in true Thai town getting on with its own business despite the tourist not for them, the antithesis of an artificial backpacker simulation such as Pai or Pang Ngan. Prachuap is one of the few places travellers can still encounter that genuine simple friendliness that made Thailand the major destination it is today.

Ao Manao Beach

Candles for H.M. The King

Millions of people from all around Thailand came together on the evening of the 5th December 2009 to celebrate H.M. The King’s 82nd birthday. In Samut Prakan we also had a ceremony in the City Hall Plaza alongside the river. This was attended by the Governor, Mr. Surachai Kanasa, and the City Mayor as well hundreds of local people. They represented schools, government departments and private organizations.

From 6 p.m. onwards, each group took turns in paying homage to a portrait of H.M. The King by presenting two “phan phums”. This is a lotus bud shaped floral design. They are presented on a small tray. They are not easy to make and it can be time-consuming. Traditionally a mould is made using clay mixed with sawdust. But these days special dry floral foam is cut into the shape of a lotus bud. The stem of the dried flower is cut off and a sharp pointed slither of bamboo is used to pin it into the dry foam.

It took over an hour for all of the organizations to present their “phan phum”. Everything had to be finished before 7.19 p.m. as this was the auspicious time chosen to start the main ceremony that would take place simultaneously around the country. The main event in Bangkok at Sanam Luang was televised and broadcast live around the country. Millions of candles were lit at exactly 7.19 p.m. and the Thai people then sang songs to praise H.M. The King.

The sea of candle light was a beautiful scene but the grand finale of the event was of course the magnificent firework display. We actually had two shows as a district across the river started theirs a little early while we were still singing. At the completion of the songs the sky behind the giant portrait of H.M. The King was lit up with colourful fireworks. A beautiful finish to a wonderful evening.

Making Merit for H.M. The King’s Birthday

Today, people from all around the country are coming together to celebrate the 82nd birthday of H.M. The King. Many of them are wearing pink which is an auspicious colour believed to help make the King better. The Thai monarch has been in Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok since 19th September for treatment for inflammation of his lungs. Several thousand well-wishers gathered at the City Hall Plaza in Samut Prakan to give alms to 99 monks in honour of His Majesty.

The ceremony was opened by Mr. Surachai Kanasa, the Governor of Samut Prakan. He first paid homage to a Buddha image and then took part in chanting. Attending the event were many local government officials who all came together to pay homage to His Majesty. A similar event was being held at the same time in Bangkok at Sanam Luang. H.M. The King is regarded as a father to all Thai people as they love him so much. This day is also celebrated as National Father’s Day.

After the chanting had finished, the Governor led the local people in giving alms to several hundred monks. Tables had been set up around the parade ground and local people had gathered behind them since early morning. They did this to make merit on behalf of H.M. The King. To make the most merit, the food should have been prepared by themselves before they arrived and not bought at a food stall. Leftovers from the night before must never be given to monks.

The local people stood behind the tables as the monks slowly made their way down the row. People were giving fresh food as well as pre-prepared packages such as pot noodles that you can see in this picture. As some of these items were too big for the alms bowls, each of the monks were assisted by temple boys who carried big sacks. The monk then emptied their bowls into these sacks. By the end of the alms giving event, the pick-up trucks from the temples were full with sacks of food. Local people also gave the monks purple orchid flowers and also envelopes containing money.

After the alms giving had finished, Mr. Surachai Kanasa and local people made merit for H.M. The King by releasing 1,000,000 sea creatures into the Chao Phraya River. This is a common event done to make merit for birthdays. People usually release birds or fish. I thought that 1,000,000 was a staggering number to release in one go, but it turned out to be very small shrimps. These were in plastic bags which people emptied out into a large tub of water. From this there was a pipe which washed the shrimps out into the river below. This evening, Mr. Surachai Kanasa will lead the local people to light candles to wish the monarch a happy birthday.

More pictures can be seen at and also a video at