Monthly Archives: November 2010

Chiang Mai’s Yee Peng Festival

One of the most beautiful festivals in Thailand takes place on the full moon night of the 12th lunar month. It is known in Thai as Loy Krathong, but is sometimes referred to as the Festival of Lights. The next one will take place nationwide on 10th November 2011. For many years I have been floating my krathong, a kind of bowl made from banana plants, on my local river in Samut Prakan. This year I was really happy to get an invitation to take part in the “Yee Peng Festival” in Chiang Mai.

Yee Peng (sometimes written as Yi Peng), is Northern Thailand’s version of the Festival of Lights in the 12th lunar month. Like the rest of Thailand, they do float krathongs on the rivers and canals, but they are increasingly more famous for their floating lanterns called “Khome Yee Peng”. This is what you can see in the pictures on this page. The idea is much the same. You say a prayer and make a wish and watch as your “krathong” or “khome” floats away.

I am sure Loy Krathong used to be just a one day affair, if not just one night during the full moon in November. However, in recent years it seems to be a much longer festival lasting three to five days. I don’t think any where else in Thailand do they celebrate the Festival of Lights more passionately than in Chiang Mai. The whole of the city was beautifully decorated with lanterns and flags. But, it is the sound of firecrackers and fireworks exploding that amazed me the most. Even when I woke up at 7 a.m. I could still hear them celebrating.

In Chiang Mai they had parades and cultural demonstrations every day with the biggest and most impressive reserved for the last day. At first I thought people would be setting off the lanterns only on the night of the full moon but they were doing it every night. On the evening of Loy Krathong we ate our dinner in a restaurant along the Mae Ping River. The sound of firecrackers was constant and up in the sky there were countless floating lanterns. And more were going up all the time.

It was such an emotional sight seeing so many happy people taking part in this event. I took quite a few pictures and then decided it was time to float my own “khome” up into the sky. It is not that difficult and they only cost about 35 baht each. You stand in a circle with friends holding onto the edge and as the flame fills the lantern up with hot air you can feel it starting to rise. I made a quick wish and then we all let go and watched the lantern float up into the sky. Many people believe that the lantern will carry your troubles away with it.

The biggest launch of lanterns takes place outside of Chiang Mai City and I would love to go again to spend more time enjoying this wonderful and unique festival. Many thanks to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) for inviting me on this trip. Please visit our Thai Festival Blogs for all the latest news and dates for festivals and events in Thailand. You can also follow me on Twitter @RichardBarrow where you will be able to see live pictures from these festivals.

Steam Train Trips in Thailand

If you are a steam train enthusiast then you will be happy to hear that the State Railway of Thailand are organizing their annual steam train trip this weekend to mark the birthday of H.M. The King. However, unlike previous years, there are three separate programmes on offer going three different directions over the long holiday weekend. On Sunday 5th December 2010 there will be the normal train trip that will go from Bangkok to Ayutthaya. These are some pictures that I took of the steam train over the last few years. It is a very popular trip so if you are planning on going then you are advised to try and book as soon as you can. For myself, I bought my ticket in advance at Hua Lamphong Station. Their ticket hotline is 1690. In addition to the Ayutthaya trip, there are also two more. One on Saturday and the other on holiday Monday.

Saturday 4th December 2010: On this day there will be a steam train trip from Bangkok to Chachoengsao, a province East of Bangkok. The journey there will take about two hours where you will transfer to a coach for a tour of the city. Highlights will be Wat Sothon Wararam Worawihan (largest temple building in Thailand), Chinese golden Buddha images made from paper, the largest reclining image of Lord Ganesh which is 16 meters high and 22 meters long, and a sand sculpture exhibition. After shopping, the steam train will depart at 4.30 p.m. and arrive back in Bangkok at 6.30 p.m. The cost of this trip is 499 baht. Children under 4 years of age are free. Fee includes coach, tour guide, entrance fees, lunch and travel insurance.

Monday 6th December 2010: On this day the steam train will head West to Nakhon Pathom Province. It will leave Bangkok at 8 a.m. and will reach its first destination at the Samphran Elephant Ground two hours later. Lunch will be here and then they will take you to Don Wai Riverside Market. From here you will go to the Thai Human Imagery Museum. Then Sanam Chan Palace and finally the giant chedi in Nakhon Pathom. The train will depart for Bangkok at 5 p.m. and arrive about two hours later. Again, the cost is 499 baht and includes all admission fees and lunch. However, it should be noted that three of these attractions have a two price system and it is not clear whether you will have to pay extra or not. I hope not.

You can find full information and a schedule on the website of the State Railway of Thailand. However, it is only in Thai.

Ferry Boat from Hua Hin to Pattaya

Tourists arriving in Bangkok usually have the choice of two beach resorts less than two hours from the capital. On the Western peninsular there is the seaside resort of Hua Hin. On the Eastern seaboard is Pattaya. You would normally have to choose between the two as it is quite time-consuming to drive back up to the capital before heading back down to the other beach resort. But, not any more with the opening of a new ferry service which will take tourists straight across the Gulf of Thailand between Hua Hin and Pattaya. Now you can easily do a loop without backtracking at all.

The high speed Catamaran was put into service only this month and will initially operate three times a week on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. The trip takes about three hours and fifteen minutes. It departs from Ocean Marina in Pattaya at 8.30 a.m. and the return trip from Paknam Pran in Hua Hin is at 1.30 p.m. At each end there is mini bus transfer service. The one way ticket is 1,600 baht and a return ticket is 2,950 baht. During December 2010 this price is dicounted to 1,200 baht and 2,400 baht. For more information, please visit their website.

If you are planning on using this ferry boat or have done it already then please let us know in the comments. It is the kind of thing that I would like to try at least once, though I probably won’t go for the return trip on the same day!


Darkest Isan (where decent thais fear to tread), Part Six

I first hit Mukdahan 12 years ago, arrived at the bus station, took a tuk tuk through the town along Mekong road past the Indo-Chinese market, thought this looks interesting I must really visit this place someday, arrived at the ferry port and got on a boat to Savannaket in Lao. I’m sure on some planets in the cosmos 12 years counts as soon, so I’m back as promised.

Barely large enough to warrant the title town, this ragged little hamlet is best described as feeling like a seaside resort in the winter, the riverside markets and shops outnumbering the customers. Mukdahan is culturally and ethnically unique from the rest of Thailand and feels like a bordertown, which in my experience is very rare amongst bordertowns.  Unlike many small Thai towns Mukdahan still has a lot of character and has not yet succumbed to the grid of concrete building formula, especially near the banks of the Mekong where a lot the original wooden buildings survive.

The town is on a hub of trade a trade route between Lao, Thailand and Vietnam. Traditionally ferry boats from the town centre sedately shipped people back and forth across the Mekong, now they speed across the newly built Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge 2, 6 km upstream. which seems as if anything to make trade pass the town by, rather than help it, many traders complaining the place is nowadays is quieter if anything. since the bridge.

The town’s main draw is the Indochina market on the banks of the Mekong attracting legions of Thai bargain hunters to buy an amazing variety of goods at prices that would make a Chatuchak shopper cry. In fact you could buy here and resell on your stall at JJ and make a damn good profit, as I guess many are. Also if you listen carefully you can hear Thai, Lao, Vietnamese and several ancient dialects of Thai spoken as you wander through the Indochina Market.

For the non-shopper the town offers a host of act ivies, after pigging out in one of the town’s numerous Vietnamese restaurants, the only restaurants in town which don’t seem to a have a six page long insect section in their menu, the Mekongside road offers a rare experience. The road leaves the town to the north and just goes on for hundreds of kilometres, hugging the banks all the way. The road is old narrow and in poor repair and a brand new highways runs the same route nearby, so the old road is devoid of cars, offering an opportunity for tranquil cycling. Hiring a bicycle or motorcycle and taking a day trip up the road will offer the tourist about as good a trip into real Thailand as it is possible to get, as the road passes through farms, villages and spectacular scenery.

Ho Kaeo Mukdahan

Whoever thought of combining a viewing tower and ethnological museum obviously wasn’t thought a little weird by the people who let him build it and we should be grateful he wasn’t. Laying just a kilometre outside Muang Mukdahan, Ho Kaeo Mukdahan turned out to be something of a revelation and worth every moment of the lengthy time I spent there.

The tower is split into four levels. The ball at the top a shrine housing many Buddha images. Below a viewing tower offers a panarithic view of the lanscape around. To the to the east quite the best view of the Mekong there is anywhere in Thailand, to the north the town of Mukdahan, looking south the forestsand mountains of the national park and looking west the working paddyfields. Around the tower are comprehensive photomaps in English explaining every site you see as you look in that direction in detail

The first two floors are an ethnological museum of the unique people who make up the population of Mukdahan, who are Thai tribal rather than hill tribal. The museum houses tradional objects and displays of the tribes national costumes. A large wall display tells the history of the region, the unique local customs of the 8 Thai tribal groups and gives fascinating insights into the unique versions of Thai they each speak. A huge collection of original photos dating back from over century show just how unique Mukdahan is culturally from other Thais as they were still living a tribal lifestyle akin to what other Thai would have lived in the distant past. However most amazing of all the Museum houses all the original official documents from Mukdahan’s history which the visitor is free to handle and examine.

It took me 12 years to get back to Mukdahan, but it was really worth the wait.

Cave at Hup Pat Tat

Uthai Thani is in the Lower North of Thailand and is blessed with many forests and mountains. The most famous wildlife sanctuary here is Huai Kha Khaeng which I was lucky to visit about 15 years ago. Today it is listed as a World Heritage Site. In the same district of  Lan Sek, I recently went to visit Hup Pat Tat which is surrounded by limestone hills and lush vegetation. It is about 50 kilometres from Uthai Thani City.

A cave here was discovered by a monk called Luangpho Thongyot in 1979. From here he climbed down into a hidden valley which later turned out to have many ancient and rarely found plants. In 1984 he drilled through the cave to further open it up to give better access. Fortunately, the Department of Forestry later recognized the uniqueness and importance of the valley and declared it a conservation area. It is open to the public today but you need to walk through this cave for about 60 meters in the pitch dark.

The rewards on the other side are worth the effort. You will see a lot of Tat trees which are ancient trees similar to palm trees. There are also rarely seen plants such as Tao Rang (fish tail palm), Plao and Khatkhao Lek. From this vantage point there are steps that take us down to the floor of the valley. As it is surrounded by steep limestone cliffs on each side, light rarely penetrates this evergreen forest.

In many ways it is like stepping back in time and you could almost imagine that you were walking in a place that hadn’t changed for thousands of years. In particular this photogenic cave with its natural rock formations.  Of course, the illusion is shattered a bit by the crowds of Thai tourists with their transistor radios. For some reason, many of them don’t like silence. So, if you go to visit Hup Pa Tat then you might want to avoid public holidays.

Although I found the hidden valley in Hup Pa Tat to be very beautiful and worth a visit, I think the entrance price for foreigners at 200 baht is a bit steep for such a small attraction. Thai adults only pay 20 baht. To be honest, I have seen better national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in Australia and many were free. The Department of Forestry really do need to re-think their two price system. How can they charge the same price for a national park and also this small area?