Monthly Archives: December 2010

Madame Tussaud’s in Bangkok

Madame Tussaud's in Bangkok

The latest world-class tourist attraction to open in Bangkok is Madame Tussaud’s. They already have one in Hong Kong and Shanghai but this is the first Madame Tussaud’s to open in South East Asia. I think it is also the first branch to open in a shopping mall. It can be found on the 6th floor of Siam Discovery in the heart of Bangkok’s shopping district. The concept is much the same as at other branches around the world with a blend of local and international figures. At the moment 30% of the wax figures are from Thailand and the rest are from abroad.

The Royal Parents of HM The King

Madame Tussaud’s Bangkok, the tenth in the world, has over 70 wax figures which are arranged in ten distinct zones: The Royal Room (where you can meet the royal parents of H.M. The King), History (people that shaped and influenced Asia and beyond), Leaders (from all around the world including a replica of the Oval Office), Arts and Science (with Sunthon Phu and Beethoven), Sports (both local and international), Music (go on stage with Madonna or moonwalk with Michael Jackson), Film (meet famous figures from Thai movies), T.V. (sit on the couch with Oprah), A-List Party (walk on the red carpet with Hollywood stars) and Authentic History (learn about Madame Tussaud).

Thai Pop Singer Tata Young

I do believe that Madame Tussaud’s Bangkok will be a big hit. All the Thai people that I know love having their pictures taken with anyone remotely famous. At Madame Tussaud’s they can take snaps with some of the biggest names in the world. Not only that, there are many opportunities to get up close and touch the wax figures. Looks like this young man’s dream came true as he was able to hug Thai pop sensation Tata Young. There are also props that you can use or wear.  So you can stand alongside the Queen of England wearing your own crown or sit at the desk in the Oval Office and pretend to sign some papers.

Princess Diana

Madame Tussaud’s is one of the oldest tourist attractions in the world as they first opened their doors 200 years ago. I think the reason that it has remained popular for so long is the natural curiosity of people about the lives of the rich and famous. Here you can get up close and personal and stare them right in the eye. Or, like this young lady found out, someone you admired is actually a lot taller than you! Another good thing about Madame Tussaud’s, compared to the waxworks in Pattaya, is that the attention to detail here is a lot better. When I tweeted a picture of Princess Diana in Pattaya no-one recognized who she was. Here they spend a lot more time. They even sometimes have original items of clothing.

At the White House with the President

Madame Tussaud’s is not a traditional type of museum as there is plenty of interaction. Throughout the exhibit there are bilingual signs with further information about each wax figure. There are also puzzles to solve and interactive games. For example you can play basketball or have a go at shooting some goals. There should be something here for people of all ages to keep them occupied for an hour or two. During my visit I was there for an hour. I would advise that you go during the week if possible as there will be a lot more Thai people here at the weekend. You then might have to wait a while if you want to sit in the Oval Office to have your picture taken or shoot some hoops with a basketball star.

Silpa Bhirasri

Famous Thai figures include Field Marshal P. Pibulsonggram, M.R. Seni Pramoj, M.R. Kukrit Pramoj, Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, Sunthon Phu, Luang Vichit Vadakan, Dr. Porntip Rojanasunan, Pawina Thongsuk, Khaosai Galaxy, Tata Young, Ad Carabao, Pumpuang Duangjan, Yodrak Salakjai, Mitr Chaibancha, Phetchara Chaowarat, Sombat Metanee, Tony Jaa, Ken-Theeradej Wongpuapan, Pancake-Khemanit Jamikorn and Anne Thongprason. There are no statistics yet about which figures are the most popular. However, the maintenance crew say they have to wash Einstein’s hair nearly every day and Brad Pitt’s cheeks need touching up often.

Prem Tinsulanonda

The full admission price for Madame Tussaud’s is 700 baht for adults and 500 baht for children. Family tickets are 3 people for 1,500 baht, 4 = 2,000 baht, 5 = 2,500 baht and 6 = 3,000 baht.  There is only one price for Thai people and foreigners. This seems quite high for Thailand but it is cheaper than Madame Tussauds in London. However, there will be special promotions every now and then to make it cheaper and more attractive. At the moment, on their website, you can buy tickets in advance and get a 15% discount. So, this makes it 595/425 baht. They did have a deal earlier where you could buy one get one free but that has stopped now. At the moment, there is a special deal for Thai people for only 300 baht until 26 December 2010.

Tony Jaa

UPDATE JANUARY 2011: Madame Tussauds now has a two price system. Foreigners are 800 baht and Thais 350 baht. See here for full story.

If you have any questions or need help in planning your holiday in Thailand then please visit our Thailand Forums. You can also follow me on Twitter @RichardBarrow for all the latest news of festivals, events and new tourist attractions in Thailand. You can also connect with me on Facebook.

Trip to the Beach in Bangkok

Boat Ride to the Seaside in Bangkok

People often ask where is the nearest beach to Bangkok. Usually I reply Bangsaen and Pattaya to the East or Cha-am and Hua Hin to the South. However, the answer is nearer than expected as Bangkok itself has its own coastline. Though, to be honest, it is only about 5 kilometers wide and it is mainly mangroves and shrimp farms. The Bangkok district of Bang Khun Thian is sandwiched between the provinces of Samut Sakhon and Samut Prakan. Linguists believe that it’s name “Thian” comes from a word meaning a wagon pulled by an oxen. Bang Khun Thian used to be a rich and fertile land with vegetable farms, rice fields and orchards. But a combination of being used as drainage for the city, pollution from new factories and land erosion along the coastline, the area today resembles more of a water world than the Garden of Bangkok.

Wat Hua Krabeu - Buffalo Head Temple

At the weekend I decided to go to Bang Khun Thian in order to try and find some new destinations for Bangkok day trips. My first stop was Wat Hua Krabeu which has become famous as the Buffalo Head Temple [MAP]. According to newspaper reports, it was the aim of the abbot to use these skulls to build a giant shrine. Although it is believed that he has now amassed 8,000 skulls, this isn’t apparently enough to start building. I also remember this temple from another newspaper story about the abbot’s large collection of luxurious cars. The Buddhist Council didn’t take kindly to monks keeping a collection of  Mercedes Benz cars. He argued that they were being used for novice monks to learn a skill while they stayed temporarily at the temple. The matter was later dropped. However, judging by the poor condition they are now in, there is no-one to look after the classic cars. The temple was quiet the day that I went there, but I was told that there is a small floating market on Sundays and it is possible to rent boats to explore the nearby canals.

Shrine for Prince Chumphon - Father of the Thai Navy

From this temple I drove back out to the main road that runs between Rama II Road and the coast. A short distance south I spotted something strange that looked like a large ship with what looked like a temple on top of it. I decided to stop to take a closer look. It turned out to be a shrine for Prince Chumphon who is regarded as the Father of the Thai Navy [MAP]. The shrine is in the shape of a warship. It is based on the ship Phra Ruang which is now berthed as a permanent memorial at Sairee Beach in Chumphon Province. The replica is 79 meters long and 19 meters wide. On the deck is a replica of a building in Prince Chumphon’s palace. Here there is a museum showing pictures of his life and on the floor above there is a shrine which has a statue of Prince Chumphon and a copy of his naval uniform. I have seen his statue in many coastal areas as I believe it is good luck for fisherman and any seafarers to prayer in front of his statue before going out to sea.

Bang Khun Thian Museum

From the shrine I continued driving south down the main road. I must say they have done a good job of beautifying this road. There is even a dedicated bicycle lane for much of the way with some special bridges too to take cyclists over the canals. At the end of the road I turned right at the intersection and a short distanced later I pulled over to visit the Bang Khun Thian Local Museum [MAP]. This is in the grounds of Klong Phitthayalongkorn School. It is open daily from 8.30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. but is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. It is located in two old classrooms towards the back of the school but it will be moved to a new building next to the road soon. The museum was actually a lot better than expected. It details the history of the local community as well as showcasing its unique culture. The labels are all bilingual though the English font was a little small. There is a lot to learn here and it is popular with visiting school parties.

Bike Ride to the Seaside in Bangkok

While I was looking around the museum, one of the office staff suggested that I rent a bicycle in order to explore the nearby shrimp farms and mangrove forests. This sounded like a great idea. It only cost 20 baht for the day though I did have difficulty finding one big enough for me. They obviously don’t get many foreigners here.  The Bicycle Trip [MAP] starts at a small soi on the other side of the road from the school. There is a mini mart here and it is advisable to buy some water first. The path is easy though it sometimes goes over steep bridges that cross canals. Along the way you will pass many shrimp farms before going through a stretch of mangrove forest. After about 45 minutes I came out onto a wooden pier that stretched out into the Gulf of Thailand. There was a wonderful sea breeze here and was really great to have the place to myself even though it was a weekend. There are a couple of shelters here if you want to stop to have a picnic. Some concrete structures in the water reminded me that this area used to be dry land and in the past there were houses and roads here.

Bangkok Seaview Restaurant

A short distance from the school, and back towards the intersection, you will find the Bangkok Seaview Restaurant [MAP]. Though, to be precise, this is the car park and the actual restaurant is some distance away! This district doesn’t have that many roads and most people get around on boats. If they don’t have their own then they will take a taxi boat. From this car park you can take a shuttle boat to the restaurant which is at a location surrounded by the sea [MAP]. You can’t get a better view and sea breeze than that. The return boat ride costs 50 baht and lasts about 15 minutes. They run every day apart from Mondays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. You are not obliged to eat anything and can walk around enjoying the sea breeze until the boat returns 30 minutes later. If you decide to eat there is no rush as there are regular boats. Looking out to sea you should spot the demarcation marker for the boundary between Samut Prakan and Bangkok. Another reminder that this used to be on land. You won’t find much English spoken here and the menus are only in Thai. But, a nice spot to enjoy a meal.

Eat a meal in a restaurant on stilts

Access from Bangkok is via the Rama II Road. There are a number of buses running along this road heading towards Samut Sakhon and beyond. Get off at the first intersection after Big C on your left. From here there are blue songtaews that go up and down the road to the coast. I also saw some empty taxis here but best to arrange your own transport. From Samut Prakan the main road along the coast isn’t finished yet but they have finished the stretch to Samut Sakhon. From Bangkok it is an excellent day out if you like doing boat rides and eating seafood. I last came here five years ago and so was happy to come exploring here again at the weekend. I will certainly be going back again soon to find new attractions in this area. You can follow me live on Twitter @RichardBarrow. The archives for these blogs can be found at the Bangkok Day Trips website. Also check out the Map for Bangkok Day Trips. I go on trips in Thailand most weeks, so do come back for new updates.

Thailand International Balloon Festival

I recently attended the Thailand International Balloon and Adventure Sports Festival 2010 which this year was being held in Nakhon Nayok. This is the fourth time that the Balloon Festival has been held in Thailand. The first two years it took place in the area of the Khao Yai National Park. Then last year it was held at the historical park in Ayutthaya. We don’t know where they will hold the Balloon Festival in 2011, but I suspect after the success of this years activities that they will hold it in Nakhon Nayok again. I certainly want to come back and explore this province more. It is only about 90 minutes from Bangkok but this was the first time that I had been here.

The opening ceremony of the festival took place on Thursday 2nd December 2010. Guest of honour was Mrs. Pensuda Priaram, the Deputy Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). During her opening address, she commented that that the balloon festival not only gives Thailand a new kind of event but it also showcases the area where it takes place each year. She said that Nakhon Nayok has a “rich natural and cultural heritage which people can come to appreciate and enjoy by taking part in the many outdoor activities that the province offers”. This is the first time that they have added Adventure Sports which is rather apt as Nakyon Nayok is often seen as a province where outdoor activities such as white water rafting and hiking in forests are the most popular.

Also at the opening ceremony was Mr. Yut Wanichanond, who is widely regarded as the first hot air balloon pilot in Thailand. He has been flying in Thailand and around the world for about 20 years. He recently collaborated on a book called “Balloon Over Thailand” which has some excellent photographs of different regions of the Kingdom. He certainly has many experience to talk about as when I met him he quickly told me one story after another. He said one thing about flying a balloon is that you don’t always have control of where you land. He said that one time they were nearing a jungle and had to quickly find a safe place to land. The only open space that they could find big enough was on an island in a lake. There were no roads but they were fortunate that nearby villagers all came out to help them and row them back to the mainland.

During his opening address, Mr. Yut Wanichanond said that “Thailand will witness the international balloon fleet from eight countries: Austria, Belgium, Italy, The Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States and Thailand”. In all there were 20 balloons taking part in the festival. There were also 30 types of outdoor and extreme sports. The main event took place at the foot of Khundan Prakanchon Dam. Here they did their daily “Balloon Night Glow” at dusk throughout the five day festival. For this they used special burners to light the interior of the balloons like you can see in my first photograph. Some lucky members of the public were also able to go on tethered balloon flights.

The highlight for many people was the “Mass Launch” which took place early each day just after dawn. This is apparently the best time for flying. They also moved the location away from the Dam which is surrounded by hills to a less windy area around the Nakhon Nayok Football Stadium. This is surrounded by flat lands and rice fields. A lot of people went to the stadium at 6:30 a.m. to watch the launch. However, ballooning is never a guaranteed event. If there is no wind at all then it can only go up and down. If there is too much wind then the balloon could be blown into trees or power lines. I was grateful to be given the opportunity to go up in one of the balloons on Friday. However, due to the strong winds, many of the pilots wisely decided not to go up.

The launch itself is not really a problem. It is the landing. The rice fields are not that big and the wind could do a lot of damage to the basket and balloon if it is dragged along the field. I was of course very disappointed but I knew the pilots were right in deciding not to go up. It wouldn’t be an enjoyable flight if we were being constantly pushed around by the wind. However, I was really fortunate to be invited back again the next day for a second attempt. When I woke up at 5 a.m. I could see that the trees outside my hotel room were blowing around quite a bit but by the time we reached the football stadium an hour later the wind had died down. Everyone was now saying that it was near perfect conditions for ballooning.

This is the first picture that I took as my balloon quickly ascended into the sky. I was very surprised how quickly it went up and we were soon looking down onto the football pitch. Some balloons were already higher up in the sky and were moving fast away from us on a slipstream. Other pilots were still blowing up their balloons with powerful fans and then a gas burner. It is a wonderful feeling to be flying in a contraption that has no engine. It is very quiet apart from every time the pilot turned on the burner to help us go up in order to find a better wind. I am really glad that I went on this trip as ballooning is such an amazing outdoor activity.

I have always loved studying the satellite images on Google Earth. Ballooning is much the same though you are closer to the earth. Unlike an airplane, you are also moving much slower so there is more time to take everything in from the vast expanse of rice fields to the small communities where people were going about their normal morning activities. Though I think the sight of up to twenty hot air balloons flying over their house must have been the highlight of their week. Many people stopped what they were doing to look up in amazement. Everyone was so friendly and waved at us as we passed over them. Others didn’t spot us at first as we crept quietly up to them. I am sure they were shocked to see so many balloons in the sky. It is something you don’t often see in Thailand.

Our average height for the flight was about 65 feet. Some balloons went much higher but we were slightly overloaded. At one point we dropped quickly into this very wet rice field but then bounced straight back up. However, as the basket is not exactly waterproof we did get a little muddy. But, at least I got some good reflections from the balloons as we descended again. I think I am just as scared of heights as the next person, but I never really thought about it at all during the flight. I was in such awe and wonder for the entire one hour flight. As we were overloaded we were getting through the gas quite quickly and it wasn’t long before our pilot started to look for a safe place to land.

I think we were lucky that we had a skilled pilot. He found a rice field that was both dry and also not far from the road. Our landing was really soft. The co-pilot jumped out and helped push the hovering balloon closer to the road. Somehow the support team, that had been following us in the pick-up truck, soon caught up with us and were there on hand to help deflate the balloon. But, before they did that, the pilot even managed to fly the balloon’s basket onto the back of the pick-up truck. Such an amazing experience and something that I would love to do again if I ever get the opportunity. Hopefully I will be able to go again for the next festival which should be around December 2011. In the meantime, I think I will be heading back to Nakhon Nayok to explore this province a bit more.

Many thanks to the TAT for taking me on this media trip and also to the event organizers for being such kind hosts.