Monthly Archives: December 2010

Smile Checkpoint at Suvarnabhumi Airport

Ask anyone about their first impressions of arriving in Thailand at Suvarnabhumi Airport and I am sure that many of them will comment about grumpy immigration staff. Thailand is supposed to be world famous for being the “Land of Smiles”. So, why don’t the airport staff live up to that promise? They say that there are hundreds of different kinds of Thai smiles. So, why can’t they use just one of them when welcoming tourists to Thailand? Can’t they at least pretend that they are pleased to welcome you to the Kingdom of Thailand?

The AOT have already tried to promote themselves as the “Airport of Smiles”. But, many people have commented that they have seen little change. Now comes their latest campaign. Passengers at the airport can now rate the smiles of employees in departments such as: Security, Information, Passport Check and Check in. All very well, but unless they follow up on this survey, it will just be a publicity stunt. What do you think about the smiles at the airport? Should they do more or is it good enough as it is now?

International Tennis Stars in Thailand

Kim Clijsters of Belgium and Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark

This afternoon, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) invited two of the world’s leading tennis players, Ms. Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark and Ms. Kim Clijsters of Belgium, to enjoy a cruise on the Chao Phraya River before they take part in the 84 World Tennis Invitation Hua Hin 2011. I was happy to be invited along, with about a hundred or so other members of the Thai media, to go with them on this river cruise.

Kim Clijsters

The afternoon cruise gave the two tennis stars a unique perspective on famous Bangkok landmarks such as the Grand Palace and the Temple of Dawn.  Ms. Wozniacki and Ms. Clijsters travelled on the Horizon Cruise II, departing from the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok Hotel Pier.  On the cruise, the tennis superstars were joined by Mr. Suraphon Svetasreni, TAT Governor; Mr. Prakit Piriyakiet, Deputy Governor for Marketing Communications of TAT; and Mr. Suwat Lipatapanlop, President of the Lawn Tennis Association of Thailand.

Mr. Suraphon Svetasreni, TAT Governor, with Caroline Wozniacki

“Highlighting visits by sports celebrities is part of TAT’s strategy to engage potential visitors from international markets,” said Mr. Suraphon.  “The ‘PTT Thailand Open 2010’ tournament this past August, which featured number one-ranked tennis player Rafael Nadal of Spain, generated great publicity for Thailand while reinforcing our country’s position as one of the world’s favourite tourist destinations.  We expect similar exposure in Denmark and Belgium as Ms. Wozniacki and Ms. Clijsters enjoy their Thailand experience.”

Caroline Wozniacki and a friend enjoy the river cruise

The “84 World Tennis Invitation Hua Hin 2011” tournament is the first major event of the new year to celebrate the King’s 84th birthday.  It starts on 01 January, 2011, at the Centennial Park tennis court.  While in Hua Hin, TAT has also invited Ms. Wozniacki and Ms. Clijsters to learn about Thai cooking , experience the night market, join in family activities at the beach, pamper themselves at a spa and enjoy the many other attractions that Hua Hin offers. Tickets for the match can be bought online at Thai Ticket Major. You can also watch it live on Channel 9 starting from 5 p.m. this Saturday.

The Media Scrum - Not easy getting the pictures

invited two of the world’s leading tennis players, Ms. Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark and Ms. Kim Clijsters of Belgium, to enjoy a cruise on the Chaopraya River before they take part in the 84 World Tennis Invitation Hua Hin 2011.

Ayutthaya Klong Sa Bua Floating Market

I have been to Ayutthaya a number of times. Sometimes by myself and sometimes taking friends. Every time, I go to the same old places; temples, ruins and a museum. It is an historical city and very different to other holiday destinations such as Pattaya and Chiang Mai. It is only an hour or so away from Bangkok and so it is an easy day trip. You can go there by bus or train and once there you can rent a bicycle. I was back there at the weekend with a friend, but this time to see two new attractions.

The first attraction was Ayutthaya Klong Sa Bua Floating Market and Water Theater [MAP]. In Thai it is called ตลาดน้ำอยุธยาคลองสระบัว. This is found just north of the old city not too far from Wat Na Phra Men. It is not your traditional kind of floating market. The name is a bit misleading. It is more of a “Dinner Theatre” experience that you sometimes get in Bangkok. There are some food vendors on boats like you can see in this picture, but most have set up normal stalls.

Despite it being the weekend, there weren’t that many people here. When you arrive you have two choices. First choice is to buy a ticket just to watch the Water Theatre. Adults are 50 baht and children 30 baht. The second choice is Dinner Theatre and the buffet. Regular price is 199/119 Baht or 119/99 Baht if you turn up after 2:30 p.m. This is excellent value for money as you are allowed to eat all day.  All prices are the same for Thais and foreigners.

In this picture you can see why they call it Water Theatre. It is basically a large pond surrounded on three sides by bamboo buildings on stilts. When you arrive, you are told where to sit depending on which ticket you bought. We decided not to go for the buffet meal as it was too early for lunch. But, we still had an opportunity to buy some of the Thai food on offer. We sat at tables and watched the show while we ate some snacks. The actors walk on pathways just below the surface making it look like they are walking on water. Signs by the edge warn you that the water is really 3 meters deep.

The floating market is only open at the weekend and on public holidays. It is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. There are five scheduled shows in one day. What I didn’t realize at first is that each show is different. The first one is at 11 a.m. and this is followed by four more shows at 12 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. So, if you like, you can stay all day to watch as many shows as you like. Not only that, they have a rotation of about a dozen different shows so if you come back again, the chances are high that you will see something new.

We enjoyed the two shows that we watched. We had about half an hour between them but we spent that time buying and eating some more snacks. I would have liked to stay for a third show but we had a few more stops to go on this trip. I think the floating market makes a nice break from the ancient ruins and I highly recommend for you to come here. Maybe it would work out well if you saw a few temples first thing in the morning and then come here for a buffet lunch and a couple of shows and then back to more temples and ruins in the afternoon.

A couple of things that I want to mention about this place is that firstly it is wheelchair friendly. Secondly, the staff seem to be very honest. As well as some snacks, I bought an ice coffee. A little while later, one of the staff came over and said that they had forgotten to give us a coupon for a free iced coffee. As I had bought one already she just gave me my 20 baht back. That honesty was unexpected. And it also made the Water Theatre even more good value as the show was then 30 baht as I got a free ice coffee.

The Ban Song Khan Catholic Massacre Monument

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

If I had a baht for every time, back home and in the far east, I’ve been told or read how Buddhism is different, it’s a religion of tolerance and enlightenment, I’d almost have the daily wage of a red shirt by now. The Shrine of the Seven Martyrs show that at times Buddhism is more than capable of lining up alongside its Abrahamic counterparts in the prejudice, fanaticism and murder department.

The small village of Ban Song Khan lies in the far north of Mukdahan Province near the Nakhon Phanom Border, better described as the middle of bloody nowhere, look Ray Mears would think twice about going there.  Deep in rice growing territory surrounded kilometres of paddy fields and scatterings small wooden villages, what made this tiny un-outstanding village different was at sometime in its history it had been visited by French missionaries from just across the river in Lao and many people in the area were Catholics.


In 1932 Thailand had a coup de tate and absolute monarchy ended. The coupers however fell out on how to run the country, and ultimately  the army seized control under a Mussolini admiring dictator. Thailand was a very devolved country of many cultures and languages with little sense of being a single people. The fascist government began to address this and using techniques that had worked for Mussolini in Italy, a program a centralisation and nationalism was initiated along with anti foreign propaganda. Though aimed mostly at Japanese and Chinese, all foreign ideas came under suspicion and one of these were the Catholic residents of  Ban Song Khan.

Xenophobia of foreign influences reached a height in 1940 as the imminent threat of Japanese invasion emerged and the government concerned with stamping out everything foreign tasked the police with the job of dealing with Ban Song Khan. The demand was simple; to show their loyalty the whole village was to convert from Catholicism to Buddhism immediately. To enforce this order police in September 1940  fell upon the village knocking on each door and firing their guns in the air and running the catholic priest out of town. Believing this shock to the system would be enough they departed. Anyone who had the misfortune of attending Catholic school such as I did will know just how dumb that last part is. Catholics just don’t see intimidation (they also don’t see reason, common sense or the other person’s point of view either, as a matter of fact) as a reason to back down.

Leaderless and frightened the villagers turned to a Philip Siphong who took on the role of headman and encouraged the villages to resist the demand. On the 16th of September he became the first of the Martyrs after receiving a letter inviting him to visit the local sheriff, as he was travelling through the forest; he was ambushed and murdered by the police.

Village leadership now fell on two nuns who ran the village convent Agnes Phila and Lucia Khambang. Police made more visits to the village firing guns in the air, but the villages would still not capitulate. On December the 25th Police Chief Lue of Songram visited the village personally meeting the nuns in the local church, where he quite categorically ordered them to convert to Buddhism or they would be killed. The nuns apparently refused on the spot and the next day he returned with a number of policemen. The police ordered the nuns and several children to the convent cemetery and lined them up in front of the gathered villagers. The line consisted of 3 nuns and 5 children, the father of one of the children interveined and was able to carry his daughter away despite protests. The rest were given a final offer by police Chief Lue at gunpoint to convert or die which they refused and the police opened fire. The 3 nuns and 3 of the children were killed, however a fourth child Sorn apparently covered in blood but not hit crawled out from under the bodies when the police had gone. She lived to the 1990’s  and retold the story frequently.

Eventually an investigation was called and Police Chief Lue found responsible and received transfer to another station as punishment.

Shrine of the Seven Martyrs

Done with typical Catholic hyperbole, the monument resides on the site of the now vanished Ban Song Khan or swamps it more like. I guess when the Catholic Church budgeted for it, they didn’t quite realise how cheap building is in this country, expecting a reasonable size statue they got a mini Mecca. Also the Catholic church doesn’t seem to understand the notion of overkill, as every inch of the postmodern glass church at the heart of the monument is filled by images, references, mock tombs and stories of the martyrs. It’s surrounded by a complex which then tells the story in stone murual. Beside the monument is the massive convent and school site again knee deep in statues, monuments graves and references to the martyrs.

I guess the moral of the story is if you’re a dictator of a backward third world country with low labour and building material costs, try to avoid massacres at small insignificant catholic convents, otherwise the Catholic Church will go completely mental and build a humungous monument on a pyramidic scale to embarrass you about to for centuries to come. But if this doesn’t discourage you from doing it, make sure you do it in the middle of bloody nowhere where even catholic overkill of this proportion can go unnoticed.

The place is well worth a visit. Not only for the stunning scenary around but just for the shock of finding something on this scale built in such an out the way place and the fact you know if this happened in the UK  it would simply get a plaque on the wall.

The monument got me thinking, if you build something on this scale for just 7 people who were murdered for their Catholic beliefs by the police. How big must the monument for many who were murdered by the police for their Communist beliefs? I guess Isan better start saving.

Thailand Creative and Design Center (TCDC)

Anyone interested in art and design would surely benefit from visiting the TCDC (Thailand Creative & Design Center) in Bangkok. Although they have been around now for five years, I don’t think they are very well known which is a pity as they have many resources, as well exhibits, that should prove to be of interest to many people. The TCDC is located conveniently on the 6th floor of The Emporium shopping mall. There is easy access from the sky train station at BTS Phrom Phong. They are open every day, apart from Mondays, from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. The most popular day is Saturday with the quietest being Friday. Peak time is 3-6 p.m.

This is the library which has nearly 30,000 books on design related subjects such as art history, interior design, architecture, fashion, graphic design, photography and film. The majority of the books are in English. As you can see most desks have a computer and there are plenty of power sockets for you to plug in your own laptop. WiFi is also available. In addition you can make free use of talking dictionaries and also iPods. To use this library you need to be a member, but you are allowed one free trial visit. Just bring your passport or i.d. card. In addition there is a ten day tourist pass for 200 baht. Yearly membership packages start at 1,200 baht. Non-residents have to pay a higher price for membership, however just show your work permit to get Thai price.

As well as the normal book library, there is also a section for movies and audio. There is even a multimedia room where you sit and watch movies by yourself or with a group of friends. The aim of the center is to help designers and students to develop their design skills and creativity to an international level. With this in mind, there is also this Material library where you can actually see and touch many different kinds of products and designs. Information panels inform you of what it is made from and a little about how it was made. There are over 4,500 items here so practically everything is covered. Very fascinating to learn about what things are made from.

In addition to the library, there are also exhibits which are open free of charge to the general public. So, if you have a passing interest in design then you have nothing to lose in coming to take a look. This first one is called “What is Design?” and is a permanent exhibition. It explores how ten countries: England, Germany, Italy, France, USA, Spain, Netherlands, Finland, Japan and Brazil, have each interpreted their cultural uniqueness into 20th Century industrial design classics. The exhibit also explores design in modern Thailand.

A temporary exhibition on at the moment is called “Spirits: Creativities from beyond” and it is worth coming just for this. Again, this exhibition is free but it runs only until 9th January 2011. It is a kind of a Ghost house that you might see at fun fairs. However, it is more than that as it explores the reasons for our fears and talks about the spirits and ghosts that inhabit our world. Descriptions for all of the exhibits are in English and Thai and go a long way into explaining why Thai people are so superstitious. I certainly learned a lot and intend to go back again before this exhibit finishes.