Monthly Archives: June 2010

Smile at Ratchaprasong Festival

A major event is being planned for this weekend in front of Central World at the Ratchaprasong Intersection. This is the heart of the shopping district in Bangkok and many of the traders here were hard hit during the recent red shirt protests. The most affected, of course, were the shops in the ZEN department store which were completely destroyed in a fire. In order to bring the smiles back to the Ratchaprasong community, the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Central Pattana Public Co., Ltd., and Ratchaprasong Square Trade Association are organizing the “Smile at Ratchaprasong” this weekend. This extravaganza will feature three styles of activities representing the unique symbols of this shopping street: Music, Arts, and Shopping attractions will be featured for three consecutive days at the Central World square in front of Central World on Ratchaprasong Road from July 2 to 4, 2010.

Shopping with a Smile (10am to Midnight): Nothing does it better. Shopping brings you the happiest smile ever. Featuring the Big 4 of the shopping mall paradise around Ratchaprasong Square: Isetan, Amarin Plaza, Erawan Bangkok and Gaysorn Plaza. Irresistible discounts: Up to 80% off! Every purchase of ?1,000 gets you a lucky draw coupon to win a travel package worth ?20,000 – (100 prizes!). Don’t miss this event or your chance to shop and win a travel package.

Creative Performances, Workshops and Artistic Displays (3pm to Midnight): Good news for those who miss the creative products available at the handmade crafts market in front of the Central World. Come on down to the SMILE Market: the market for creative handmade products. For those who crave for inspiration, come join the brilliant “SMILE Live” artistic drawing event. Watch a graphic drawing battle between The Spanky’s vs Smile Street performers, including awesome B-Boy & B-Girl dancing shows from AKA gang!

3 Smiles Music Festival: Over the three evenings, there will be numerous top acts entertaining the crowd with three distinct flavours. Starting on Friday with “Smile Chill”, on Saturday night there is “Smile Indie” and finally on Sunday night there is “Smile Dance”. You can find more information about this event at the Smile at Ratchaprasong website. Also check out the photo contests on the website where you have an opportunity to win some great prizes. I will be going on Saturday so maybe see you there!

Bangkok Day Trips: Bangsaen Beach

My Bangkok Day Trip for this week is to Bangsaen Beach in Chonburi Province. This is the closest seaside resort to Bangkok which has sand and water clean enough for you to swim. Chonburi City is just over 60 minutes from Bangkok and you can get there by using the Bang Na-Trad Highway. Most people by-pass the city on their way to Pattaya. But, they are missing out on some good tourist attractions which are worth at least a day if not longer. There are buses from Bangkok to Chonburi and the nearby Bangsaen beach. There are also songtaews running up and down the beach front. However, to explore the area properly, it is better to have your own transport. You will find motels, hotels and guesthouses along the beach. If you are able, best to visit during the week when it is less crowded. Click here for my map of the area.

The first stop on my tour is the fishing village of Ang Sila. This is about five kilometers to the south of Chonburi city. Apart from fishing, the main occupation of the local people is making things out of granite. The most famous examples are a mortar and pestle which you can find in various sizes. There are also figurines of different animals. You will find many stalls along the road in front of Wat Ang Sila, so make sure that you shop around to get a good price. Further along this road you will reach the fishing pier which has a fish market. There are plenty of stalls selling snacks here such as dried squid. Not too far away from here is the The Mangrove Forest Conservation Center. It isn’t that easy to find but is a good place to see the mangroves up close as you walk along the 2.3 km board walk. If you are with young children you might want to skip this as it is a hot and tiring walk in the sun with not much shade.

On the road between Ang Sila and Khao Sam Muk you will pass the colourful Chinese temple called Wihan Thep Sathit Phra Kiti Chaloem. The four storey high building is beautifully decorated with many figurines and Chinese deities. You are allowed to take pictures in the compound but no photos are allowed to be taken inside. However, it is worth climbing to the top for the wonderful views of the bay. In the distance you can see the hill called Khao Sam Muk. The Chinese shrine is open daily. On weekdays it is open 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. At the weekend it is open a bit later until 6 p.m. on Saturdays and 8 p.m. on Sundays. As you are passing this way on your way to the next destination it is definitely worth your time to visit the shrine even if you are not Chinese. It is certainly very beautiful.

Continue driving south with the sea to your right. There are plenty of restaurants along this route which sell delicious seafood. If you are hungry then stop at any place. Personally I prefer to wait for lunch at Bangsaen Beach. The next stop is Khao Sam Muk. The main attraction at this small hill are the hundreds of monkeys that are really naughty. Be careful if you have a bag as they will most likely snatch it from you thinking there is food inside. I stopped briefly to take some pictures of some monkeys and as I drove on further up the road I suddenly realized I had some stowaways on the roof of my car. At the top of the hill there is a great lookout place and a small car park where there are some vendors selling food for the monkeys. At the foot of the hill, there is a Chinese shrine for two lovers who apparently jumped to their death when their parents objected to their marriage.

Continue driving south following the coastline and you will reach the cape at Laem Thaen. This area has been developed by the local authority as a place to come and relax. They have also set up a “walking street” here. This is the point where the beach becomes sandy for the first time though at the cape it is mainly rocky. From this point onwards there is an umbrella city with deckchairs. This end is quieter if you want to sit and eat your lunch in the shade. However, if you have come with children then best to keep driving until you reach Bangsaen Beach. On your left you will see plenty of places to stay the night. On the beach the kids can rent inner tubes for swimming and also go on a banana boat ride. You won’t find many Europeans here as it is mainly a beach resort for Thai people. If you go swimming here then please don’t walk around in speedos! Thai people swim in their clothes and most are shocked by how little Europeans wear in the local shops.

Once you have finished at the beach, you might want to check out Wang Saen Suk which has models showing what will happen to you in hell if you have been naughty. Little kids might be scared of some scenes but you might want to take this opportunity to show your children what will happen if they lie to you! You can reach the temple by going down Sai 2 which runs parallel to the beach road. Then look for Soi 19 on your left. The temple is at the end of the road. The Buddha Park is open every day from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Before you head back to Bangkok, you should stop at Nong Mon Market to buy some souvenirs. For Thai people, a souvenir usually means something that you can eat. The market along Sukhumwit Road has a lot of well-known local food and various dried seafood. To reach the market, drive out to Sukhumwit Road and turn right heading away from Bangkok. A short distance away, you will see many market stalls along the road on your right.

I hope you enjoyed this Bangkok Day Trip. I am out every weekend looking for new attractions. You can follow me live on Twitter @RichardBarrow where I post pictures as I travel. Also check out my moblog at which I post from my iPhone as I travel. You will find news and links about my next trip on my website at

Baby Ghosts in Thailand

If you want any proof that superstition and black magic is alive and well in Thailand then you don’t need to go further than the front page of the Thai Rath. This is the most popular newspaper for Thai people and its front pages are often filled with colour pictures of road accidents and murder victims. On the front page of yesterday’s newspaper was this photo of a policeman looking at 14 jars containing the pickled remains of foetuses. Yes, you heard right. The foetuses all come from illegal abortions. Once they are dried out, a black magic ceremony is performed to turn this into a Kumong Tong or Golden Boy. Some people believe that the spirit of the un-born child will protect them and keep them safe from danger. They are often worn in an amulet around the neck or close to the body. It is believed the kumong tong can warn of approaching danger. Some people also believe it will bring you good luck as in revealing the lottery numbers. You can read more background information about it on our Paknam Web Forums.

Thailand Wins Best Beach Awards

Some great news was announced by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) recently regarding four locations inside Thailand being awarded Top Asian Beach Destinations by the website Tripadvisor. This is obviously great news and something to be proud of in reaching this achievement. However, I think the spin doctors over at TAT were working a bit too hard with their press release.

For the record, here are the full Travelers’ Choice Awards 2010 as chosen by visitors to Tripadvisor. The words in bold are from the TAT press release but the Top 10 charts I took from the Tripadvisor website. I wanted to see who beat us so that we could see what is needed to regain the crown.

The results of the TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice 2010 awards are in, and the beautiful islands of Thailand brought home four out of 10 awards for beach destinations in Asia. The islands of Ko Lanta, Khao Lak, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui were ranked #3, #4, #5 and #6, respectively, on the list of “Top 10 Beach & Sun Destinations in Asia.” With these honors, Thailand became the most-awarded Asian country in the category, besting Vietnam, the Maldives and the Philippines.

Top 10 Beach & Sun Destinations in the World

1. Providenciales
2. Tulum, Mexico
3. Byron Bay, Australia
4. Cook Islands
5. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
6. Huatulco, Mexico
7. Negril, Jamaica
8. Culebra, Puerto Rico
9. Boracay, Philippines
10. San Diego, California

As you can see, no beaches in Thailand were featured in the Top 10 for the World. We have to click through to the list for Asia to find Thailand.

Top 10 Beach & Sun Destinations in Asia

1. Boracay, Philippines
2. Maldives
3. Ko Lanta, Thailand
4. Khao Lak, Thailand
5. Ko Phangan, Thailand
6. Koh Samui, Thailand

7. Miyakojima, Japan
8. El Nido, Philippines
9. Ishigaki, Japan
10. Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam

In other award categories voted on by TripAdvisor users, Thailand fared equally well. In “Top 10 Culture & Sightseeing Destinations in Asia,” the Thai cities of Chiang Mai, Bangkok and Ayutthaya all made the list-with Bangkok also being named to the “Top 10 Food & Wine Destinations in Asia.” And the islands of Koh Lanta and Koh Samui were both named the “Top 10 Romance Destinations in Asia” and the “Top 10 Relaxation & Spa Destinations in Asia,” with Chiang Mai also awarded the latter.

As before, we are not in the lists for Top 10 World but only in the category for Asia. We really should be number one here.

Top 10 Culture & Sightseeing Destinations in Asia

1. Siem Reap, Cambodia
2. Kyoto, Japan
3. Luang Prabang, Laos
4. Beijing, China
5. Chiang Mai, Thailand
6. Ubud, Indonesia
7. Yangshuo County, China
8. Xi’an, China
9. Bangkok, Thailand
10. Ayutthaya, Thailand

See what I mean about our neighbours not only catching us up, but also overtaking us. Sometimes we forget that other countries have strong cultures too. The next one is for food which I think we would all agree is our number one strength. But, our positioning here is very embarrassing.

Top 10 Food & Wine Destinations in Asia

1. Sapporo, Japan
2. Hakodate, Japan
3. Seminyak, Indonesia
4. Hong Kong, China
5. Hoi An, Vietnam
6. Taipei, Taiwan
7. Kyoto, Japan
8. Fukuoka, Japan
9. Bangkok, Thailand
10. Singapore, Singapore

Top 10 Romance Destinations in Asia

1. Maldives
2. Jimbaran, Indonesia
3. Hakodate, Japan
4. Ko Lanta, Thailand
5. Ubud, Indonesia
6. Kyoto, Japan
7. Koh Samui, Thailand
8. Boracay, Philippines
9. Hoi An, Vietnam
10. Langkawi, Malaysia

Top 10 Relaxation & Spa Destinations in Asia

1. Ubud, Indonesia
2. Koh Samui, Thailand
3. Maldives
4. Miyakojima, Japan
5. Seminyak, Indonesia
6. Ko Lanta, Thailand
7. Chiang Mai, Thailand

8. Ishigaki, Japan
9. Boracay, Philippines
10. Nusa Dua, Indonesia

“We are immensely proud to have Thailand recognized so extensively in such diverse categories by the members of the TripAdvisor community,” says Srisuda Wanapinyosak, Director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) – New York. “It is particularly gratifying for Thailand to be awarded for its many facets, including beaches, cultural sites, food and spas.”

Although this and the other awards are good news, they are not as good as they should be or have been in the past. Our standards are slipping which is something we cannot afford at this present time. I think many of us are guilty of resting on our laurels when we receive these awards. The plaques look good on the wall, but unless we actually do something to protect and correctly develop these tourist destinations, then we are going to find that our neighbouring countries will quickly catch us up.

Having Bad Luck? Blame it on the Plants!

After a string of bad luck, the Thai government has decided that the best way to bring about national reconciliation in Thailand is to move around some furniture and potted plants at Government House. I don’t want to belittle the beliefs of the people in government, but wouldn’t it be better if they paid a little less attention to feng shui and more to the hard work of solving the problems that the country is and has been facing for the last four years or so?

Here is the news according to MCOT:

“The Thai government has readjusted its feng shui at Government House according to Chinese cosmological understandings to enhance luck and prosperity as well as to create peacefulness. Six potted plants of one species were placed on the lawn in front of the Thai Ku Fah Building, opposite its entrance, where Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva enters the Government House compound. The placement of plants there is believed to avoid and drive away bad luck. It is also believed the bright colours of the plants, yellow and green, are to enhance luck and prosperity and to create unity as well as bringing out the honest and boost charisma. The feng shui at Government House had previously been adjusted once, according to the government’s past problems. A Happy Buddha was invited on the rooftop above the prime minister’s office and round marbles were decorated at several spots of the Thai Ku Fah building to fend off bad luck and enhance good luck and prosperity.”

I know a lot of Thai people believe in feng shui. I have had first hand experience of some of them paying a lot of money to an expert who gave advice on how to improve their life and well-being and also how to drive out any bad luck. I remember once coming back to my school office after the summer holidays to find that all of the tables in our computer office had been ripped away from the partition. This was done so that we could all sit at our computers facing north. Apparently we would be more productive workers. I am not sure about that but our office certainly looks a mess now. The partitions had hidden compartments that had the electricity sockets and wiring for the networks. Now all our wires run across the floor. Another teacher gets leg ache because he is no longer facing head-in to his cubicle. He has to sit from left to right with his chair up against the partition. But, this is Thailand and no-one dared complain about this to the school admin. They just had to suffer in silence. Actually, this particular teacher no longer spends so much time working at his computer.

Last year one of the 6th Grade students committed suicide by jumping from the 6th floor of the school building. Apparently when he had arrived in the morning, he had calmly gone up to his classroom on the 5th floor and put his bag on his chair. He then went up to the computer center on the 6th floor and jumped from the balcony. He actually survived the fall and one of the teachers on duty in the playground picked him up, put him on the back of a samlor (three-wheeled bicycle) and took him to the hospital. Sadly he died in intensive care later. The speculation at the time was that he killed himself after having an argument with his father about video games. Naturally, his teachers also felt a bit guilty as he could have been reacting to any one of them if they had scolded him the day before. I think if this had happened in the West the school probably would have put up higher barriers to stop the students climbing out to the balcony. In Thailand, the normal solution to problems like this is to remove any potted plants that are deemed unlucky. The feng shui expert also told the admin that we needed to have some large shiny marbles around the school in order to ward off any further bad luck.

I know I sound cynical but I feel that other methods are needed in order to keep away any bad luck. Like practical methods. But, I guess I have turned Thai myself and no longer fuss so much about safety. I remember when I first came here to Thailand I kept going on about the need to have fire extinguishers and a real evacuation plan in case of emergency at the school. No-one wanted to talk about it. Do you know why? If we did, then it would invite this bad luck to the school. So, if there was a fire in the future, I would then be blamed for the bad luck that brought it about. I guess I should be thankful that I didn’t mention anything about my worry of the balconies on each floor in the school building. But then again, maybe if I had said something and kicked up a fuss, maybe that student wouldn’t have been able to jump to his death. Sometimes just moving plants around in a certain order is not enough. We need to look at the underlying causes of these problems and then take practical steps to prevent any catastrophe before it happens.