Monthly Archives: February 2010

Makha Bucha Day 2010

One of the most important events in the Thai Buddhist calendar is Makha Bucha Day (sometimes spelled Magha Puja). It takes place on the full moon day of the third lunar month which is usually late February or early March. This year it was today, 28th February 2010. Like many Thai people, I was up early this morning before the sun rose to go and visit my local temple. I took my first picture at Wat Klang in Paknam shortly before 7 a.m. There was already hundreds of local people there making merit.

There were many food stalls outside the temple selling various food such as curries and Thai desserts. However, these weren’t for the lay people to buy to take home and eat. These were pre-cooked food to give to the monks in order to make merit. Strictly speaking, to make the most merit you need to prepare the food yourself, but who has time for that these days? After choosing the food that they wanted to offer, the vendor then worked out the cost.

Once they had bought a tray load of food, they then usually squatted down, held the tray up to the level of their forehead and then said a small prayer. There was also a small Buddha shrine there which people paid respect to. Next they then added the rice and bags of curries to a long line of alms bowls. The monks weren’t actually sitting there which always seems a bit strange to me. But, I guess the Thai people felt they were still making the merit.

I have been to a number of different temples on days like this one and it is quite often the same set-up. There is often a line of beggars or local poor people who are hoping that the Buddhists will also want to make merit by giving some spare change to them. Not everyone did this but considering there were hundreds of people at this one temple, they should have made some decent money. In addition, many temples often hand out excess food to poor people on days like this when they are overwhelmed.

Once the people had made merit they made their way to an open area in front of a long narrow platform. This is where the monks from the temple were sitting waiting to start the chanting. It was a good turnout this morning. Very impressive. The chanting went on for about an hour. There was also a sermon from the abbot. People also had an opportunity to make a personal offering of essential items or food to their favourite monk. Most people would then go home though others might stay the whole day and practice meditation.

In the late afternoon or evening, people headed back to their local temples for “wien tien” which is a kind of candlelight procession around the ordination hall or chedi. I decided to go to Wat Asokaram in Samut Prakan which is a very famous meditation temple in Thailand. Many people had been staying here over the long weekend. They wore white clothes and practised meditation. The real “wien tien” is with candles in the evening after the chanting which usually starts at about 7.30 p.m. But many people went earlier to walk around the temple three times in a clockwise direction.

I have posted many more pictures over at I also posted live pictures today on my twitter account @RichardBarrow from each location.

Klong Suan Market Fair 2010

This morning I drove over to the 100 Year Market at Klong Suan on the border between Samut Prakan and Chachoengsao. They were having their second annual market fair which will take place this long weekend during the Makha Bucha holiday. Mr. Surachai Kanasa, the Governor of Samut Prakan, was there for the grand opening. If you have never been to this riverside market yet then I strongly suggest you head out that way this weekend. The market fair runs from today until 1st March 2010. It is a great place to go to relax and enjoy a meal.

Klong Suan 100 Year Market dates back to the reign of King Rama V. The market was conveniently located on the canal that ran between Chachoengsao and Pratunam in Bangkok. With the coming of land transport and the building of highways, the importance of the market dwindled. However, during recent years, the market has been revitalised and is now firmly on the tourist trail for Bangkokians who are looking for a day out from the capital.

The market in Klong Suan is worth going during any weekend. However, as they have special activities going on at the moment it makes sense to go. It is also a good place for keen photographers as there are a number of old traditional shops with their original facades and shop signs. Of particular interest is the coffee shop and the old barbers shop. There are also some old characters there who have been running their shops for numerous decades. I think it is great that the market is a blend of the old and new. Something for everyone. Not just for tourists as local people come here to shop, much like their grandparents used to do.

Some guidebooks and tourist agencies, like the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), place this tourist attraction in Chachoengsao Province. Though really, the main stretch is in Samut Prakan Province. This is the part that I visited today. I was taking pictures of the Governor of Samut Prakan as he toured the market to meet the shopkeepers and to see the activities being arranged. However, he stopped once we reached the bridge that crossed a small canal to the next stretch of the market. This part is in Chachoengsao and he couldn’t cross-over even if he wanted to, due to the fact that he was there on an official visit. He would need to be welcomed by the Governor of Chachoengsao. But, he didn’t miss much!

I have been to Klong Suan a few times. I have previously blogged about this place at I think it would take you only 45 minutes by taxi from On Nut Sky Train station. The market is on Soi On Nut just before it reaches Chachoengsao. You can see more of my pictures from the opening ceremony today at You can find more local tourist attractions for Samut Prakan at our site. You can now follow me live on Twitter @RichardBarrow. I am microblogging there and you will be able find out where I go each day and links to see some live pictures.

Erawan & Sai Yok Noi, Kanchanaburi. On the Beaten Track, Part 2


Erawan National Park
Often more resembling a bank holiday weekend at the public swimming pool than a tranquil beauty spot, Erawan is still one of most stunning places in Thailand. Each of the seven tiers of the waterfall are quite swimmable, complete with carnivorous fish, cooling turquoise colour waters and thronging masses of local sightseers. Avoiding going there on a bank holiday or weekend can be a good strategy.

The waterfall itself is well worth dedicating a whole day to, each tier of the waterfall is impressive in its own right and completely different giving the experience of seeing 7 waterfalls in a day. Roughly its a couple of hours walk to the top and back down plus stopping time.


Plan to spend a day here as you have a dip in each of the tiers, Som Tum shops are thoughtfully placed at convenient pits stops to fulfil all your culinary needs or bring a picnic.

Getting here is easy as a bus goes every hour from Kanchanaburi bus station and takes 40 mins. If you leave around 5-6pm just hitch a ride back to town on top of one of the numerous pickups you see leaving as the park exodus occurs. Entrance to the Park is B200 for adults and B100 for children.


If you got drunk enough on your way to Kanchanaburi and missed your train stop, you would have had the serendipity to end up here. Located in just about the most convenient place of any waterfall in the whole history of the world, a 2 min walk from the train station slap bang in the middle of a tiny custom built park, Sai Yok Noi can be an impressive waterfall. Impressive is always a relative word when visiting Thai waterfalls as seasons come into play. In the hot season Thai waterfalls tend to dry up to a trickle but in the wet season become mini Niagaras.

The ‘Noi’ in Sai Yok means ‘little’. A few kilometres away and much harder to get to is Sai Yok Yai, ‘Yai’ meaning ‘large’. Don’t let this fool you as ‘Noi is the more impressive of the two and strangely much larger. Never really got that, then again the big guy in Robin Hood is called Little John, so perhaps it all makes sense somewhere.

Sai Yok Noi is located at Nam Tok, which means waterfall, and is the next station along from Kanchanaburi. It is best visited on the way back to Bangkok, picking up the train there instead of from Kanchanaburi. Nam Tok can be reached by local bus from the Kanchanaburi bus station. Get there an hour or so before the train departs and have the most scenic wait for a train of your life.

Sai Yok Noi

Bridge on the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi. On the Beaten Track, Part 1

Bridge on the River Kwai

Travellers always seem to score points off one another by comparing how remote the places they have been are, the further away from the crowd the more you can lord it over other travellers you meet in the bar. In any travellers bar when you hear someone mention they went to Ankor Wat sure enough a pretentious voice will put them down for going to a tourist mecca and proudly proclaiming they gave Ankor a miss and went to Two Bricks in a pile of Buffalo Dung Temple instead located in the middle of nowhere and without another tourist in sight.

Occasionally being guilty of this myself one thing I’ve noticed is there’s a reason tourists go to the popular sites, because the remote ones you visit as an alternative are often pretty crap compared to them. So over the last few years I’ve increasingly become a blip amongst the crowd of package tourists on the beaten track once again.

Bridge on the River Kwai

Kanchanaburi is the beaten track, well the bulldozed, tarred, luxury hotels built and a Bazillion package tourists already visited track to be more precise. It was also the first place in Thailand outside Bangkok I ever visited so holds fond memories. Back then they were still bussing in Japanese tourists in on day trips by the sushi cart load, so there’s never exactly been an unspoilt image for me to get spoilt, hence the fact on all my subsequent visits I’ve never done anything else but continued to like the place.

Think of Kanchanaburi and what most people think of first is The Bridge on the River Kwai made famous by the film. What tourists don’t realise is just about everything they know of the place is not true.

For starters the name of the river is River Kwai, Erm no……… River Kwai, meaning Water Buffalo River is a fine name for any river in Thailand, and there are many throughout the country, unfortunately it isn’t the name of the one that flows through Kanchanaburi. The Kanchanburi river is called the River Khwae, and pronounced like the English word “Square” but with the “S” taken off “quare”.

So the bridge that crosses over the River Khwae not Kwai, Um no…………. In fact no WWII bridge crosses the River Khwae at all. The bridge actually crosses a different river, the River Maeklong which is the main river and the River Khwae is just a tributary of it and doesn’t even do that for a few kilometres upstream.

So the river the bridge goes over is the famous River Mekong! Uh no!…………. The Kanchanaburi River Maeklong shouldn’t be confused with the famous River Mekong that flows between Lao and Thailand and in fact isn’t called Mekong at all but the Namkong.

So when lots of tourists started turning up in the sixties looking to see the Bridge on the River Kwai, the Thai authorities quickly realised the movie’s blunder and publicised the real name was Bridge on the River Maeklong! Oh No………. The authorities instead decided to change the name of the stretch of the Maeklong near the bridge.

So they changed the name of the stretch of the Maeklong to the mistaken name of River Kwai all tourists thought it was called to avoid confusion! Duh no!………. They changed it to Khwae Yai.

So the bridge the prisoners built crosses the River Maeklong which isn’t the famous river Mekong and which actually isn’t called the Mekong at all but the Namkong but instead another river Maeklong which actually is called the Maeklong, which had a small section of its name changed near the bridge to Khwae Yai because tourists mistakenly thought it to be the river Kwai which actually isn’t called the River Kwai but River Khwae and is several kilometres away and doesn’t have a WWII bridge over it! Erm kind of………. There were actually two bridges built, a wooden one that doesn’t exist now and the current one. The current one already spanned a river in Java and was shipped to Thailand. Only the curved spans of the bridge are WWII originals the rest are repairs made to the bridge after the war.

The Wooden and Steel Bridges during WWII

At the bridge these days it is a tourist plaza, restaurants, ice cream shops, tacky souvenir market, boat hire and everything you’ve seen in all the other tourist places. But the bridge still does offer some stunning views of the river and a lengthy stroll on the other bank amongst the locals who will try and frighten you with tales of crocodiles in the water is still possible. Actually there are plenty of 4 foot long Water Monitor Lizards if you keep your eyes peeled.

The town of Kanchanaburi has some excellent value floating guest houses, remarkably few good eats for any Thai town I’ve been to and plenty of attractions from elephant rides and rafting, to Death Railway history and waterfalls all in a pleasant laid back provincial town where the policemen don’t often kill the tourists.

Getting There

The bridges were part of the Death Railway which was built to supply the war in Burma by the Japanese and is still in use today. 90,000 civilian forced labourers and 16,000 POWs died building the railway. The trains still runs today from Thonburi train station in Bangkok and actually goes across the bridge. Trains run twice a day 7:15 and 13:45 taking around two and half hours offering a stunning view for the last 30min as the train hugs cliffs while winding through the jungle. A pricy steam train makes the journey on weekends for the full on authentic experience.

The curved spans are the originals

The Giant Krabak Tree

I’ve been a way for a while, but here I am with a new travel report. I planned for several months to visit Taksin Maharat National Park (named after a former king of Thailand) in Tak province where the Giant Krabak Tree is growing. Some previous research told me that the Giant Krabak tree (anisoptera costata) is a species of plant of the  dipterocarpacease family. It’ s the largest  tree  growing in South East Asia – Costata in Latin (costatus) means  ribbed and describes the venation of the leaf blades. Krabak trees grow in lowland evergreen and semi evergreen forests.

Enough talking for now…. let’s hit the road to one of northern Thailand’s lesser known national parks.

Taksin Maharat National Park is located in the Mae Sot district of Tak province, about 3 kilometers off the main road. It’s a well paved winding mountain road. I was surprised to the park’s access road which was in real good condition, and so I was cherishing the hope that all the park would be just as clean. And yes, after entering the park’s main entrance, I was taken-aback by a well maintained park where there was no litter to be found, amazing. This is very rare in Thailand. The Head Office is about 500m from the  main  entrance and I was welcomed by the ever-friendly ranger. The ranger told me that the krabak tree was  approximately  2,5 kms  away  from the office – the first 1,700 meters could be done by vehicle and  the rest  on foot. The ranger told me that the krabak tree in this  park, towering 58 meters high  above the ground with a circumference of  approx. 16 meters, is the  largest of its kind  in Thailand. I couldn’t figure out  the age of the tree but it is probably more than 100 years old.

Stage 2  of my visit  was a quick visit to the  longest natural rock bridge  (saphan hin) in Thailand. I wasn’t aware that there were natural stone bridges of this size in Thailand. The  bridge is about 10 km away from the  headquarters, but again a couple of hundred meters have to be done on foot. The natural rock bridge is a massive rock bar  spanning  a gap  between two cliffs . The huge  rock bridge  measures about  30 meters in length and about 25 m wide. A stream flows  around 25 meters  beneath the huge rock structure. Heading towards the hot season, the riverbed was nearly dried out. The beautiful surroundings are ideal for picnicking and enjoying your day out.

There are several waterfalls  to explore too,  The Pang-an – Noi Waterfall is only 1 km away from the Giant Krabak Tree and certainly worth a visit. Several species of bird can be seen in the park. There is also an interpretive trail for hikers available with the  path starting at the Visitor Center. It descends gradually into a savanna forest and then eventually into a Dry Evergreen Forest  until it reaches the krabak tree 2,5 kilometers later. The trail then climbs up  the road  and follows the back to the head quarters .

The  park  has  9 lodges  available for rent and also  a canteen campground. As the campground is at the top of a mountain you can enjoy the view of amazing surroundings. I would really recommend a visit to this park.

The park  is about  480  km away from Bangkok  towards the  north. Take  the high road to  Nakhon Sawan then  turn left in the direction of  Tak. Upon arrival in Tak, follow the road signs to Mea Sot.  At  about  45 km from Mae Sot  you’ll see several signs pointing to the park .

If, after this park, you are interested in seeing more of the north, you can carry  on to Chiang Mai following high Road 105  to Mae Sariang in Chiang Mai province. This is a breathtaking  mountain ride and a perfect alternative route to going to Chiang Mai. A truly relaxing  outing for tourists who want to go off the beaten track. See  you again in a next episode of  UNSEEN THAILAND