Monthly Archives: January 2011

Where to Celebrate Chinese New Year

On Thursday 3rd February 2011 we will see the start of the Chinese New Year. This time it is the Year of the Rabbit. Already I have started to hear the crash of cymbals and the occasional firecracker. I was in Chinatown yesterday where I took these pictures. There were many people there buying decorations and festival sweets. As you can see, the colours red, yellow and gold are very popular. On Wednesday we will see a lot of activity outside many homes belonging to people who have Chinese ancestors. They will be offering food to their dead ancestors and burning paper. They will also set off firecrackers. However, Thursday is the real start of the new year.

In Bangkok, they will be closing a section of Yaowarat Road near Odeon Circle for three days, 3-5 February 2011. This is obviously the best place to go if you are in Bangkok as there will be cultural performances and lots of delicious Chinese festival food. However, they will also be having big celebrations on this day at Central World. Although there will be celebrations for Chinese New Year all over Thailand, the following are the main locations: Suphan Buri, Ayutthaya, Chon Buri (Pattaya district) and Ratchaburi in Central Thailand, Nakhon Ratchasima in Northeastern Thailand, Nakhon Sawan (Pak Nam Pho) and Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, Songkhla (Hat Yai district) and Phuket in Southern Thailand.

Nakhon Sawan: “Amazing Nakhon Sawan Chinese New Year, Celebrate H.M. the King’s 84th Birthday”, 27 January – 7 February 2011. The activities will highlight Chinese culture from various parts of Nakhon Sawan like writing auspicious Chinese characters, fortune tellers, and Chinese food festival.

Nakhon Ratchasima: “Chinese New Year Korat 54 “Amazing Shanghai”, February 3 – 5, 2011, at the Thao Suranaree Monument courtyard and memorial park. The activities will highlight the decoration of Chumphol Road to make it look the same as Shanghai city, golden lion parade, Chinese food, souvenir shops, ‘Ung-Pao’ (money-envelopes), and lucky draws.

Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya: “5th Chinese New Year Celebration 2011 in the Ancient City, Ayutthaya”, February 4 – 8, 2011, 17.00-23.00 hrs, in front of Chao Prom Market, Naresuan Road and in front of the Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya Municipal Office. The activities include the opening ceremony, the contest of Miss Chinese New Year and kids and Chinese costume.

Suphan Buri: “Chinese New Year in Suphan Buri, Amazing 3 years of the Dragon Descendants Museum”, February 3 – 7, 2011, at the Descendants Dragon Museum. Activities include the opening ceremony, fireworks, performances of folk music, and Chinese dance.

Ratchaburi: “Ratchaburi China Town 2011”, February 2 – 6, 2011 at the Ratchaburi National Museum. Activities include the Ratchaburi China Town parade, water curtain show, fireworks, light and sound show, Mister and Miss Chinese New Year contest.

Phuket: “Chinese New Year Festival – Back to the Past of Phuket Town”, February 8 – 10, 2011, at the Chalermprakiat Park and Thalang Road. Activities will highlight the lifestyle of the Phuket people in the old days, local people wearing traditional Phuket apparel, the show from Suining city of the People Republic of China, signing the MOU for Twin cities between Suining city and Phuket.

Chiang Mai: “China Town in Chiang Mai”, February 4 – 6, 2011, 09.00-24.00 hrs at Trok Lao Cho. The outstanding activities will be the exhibition of the giant oranges basket, Kung Fu from Guangxi, fire dragon show and lion dance.

Chonburi (Pattaya): “Chinese New Year Festival in Pattaya City”, February 3 – 5, 2011, Pho Na Klue Courtyard, Banglamung district. For further information on activities, please contact the TAT Pattaya Office, Tel: 038-427667, 038-428750.

Songkhla (Hat Yai): “Chinese New Year Festival in Hat Yai”, February 2011 at Srinakorn School courtyard. For further information on activities, please contact the TAT Hat Yai office, Tel: 074-231055, 074-238518.

Although we have a large Chinese community here in Samut Prakan, we don’t really have any major celebrations. So, this weekend, I will be heading to Nakhon Sawan for their Chinese New Year festivities. Are you planning on going somewhere?

Monks at the Marble Temple

One of the most beautiful of the daily Thai traditions is the early morning alms round. If you have been reading my blogs for a while now then you would know that I have written about and also taken part in quite a few different alms rounds over the years. I have even acted as a “temple boy” at one time carrying the bag of food for the monks. Most alms rounds involve monks setting off barefoot from their temple even before the sun has started to rise. I have also witnessed a number of times monks going on alms round by boat. But, today at the Wat Benchamabopit in Bangkok, I saw something completely different.

Wat Benchamabopit is more commonly known by tourists and tour guides as the Marble Temple because it was built with marble from Carrera, Italy. It is one of the most beautiful temples that can be found in Bangkok. It is certainly unusual with its blend of Western and Thai architectural styles. The Marble Temple is located on the corner of Si Ayutthaya Road and Phra Rama V Road in the Dusit area of the city. It is very close to the King’s residence at Chitralada Palace. It was built by King Rama V towards the end of the 19th Century.

I had heard that monks at this temple don’t go out on alms rounds like monks at other temples. Instead, they stand in groups in front of the temple and wait for people to come to them. So, I got up at 5 a.m. this morning and drove into Bangkok to go and see for myself. As it was a Sunday morning there wasn’t much traffic and so I was there by 6.15 a.m. Even though it was still dark, there were already quite a few monks standing in the car park in front of the temple. As I drove up and parked my car, a group of monks quickly came over to my car thinking that I had come to make merit!

At this time it was still too dark to take pictures so I sat in my car and just observed the activity. The way it worked is that a car would pull into the car park and the monks would walk quickly over to the vehicle where they would quietly form a line. This is even before the driver had turned off the engine. Usually there were about 9 or 10 monks in the line even though they didn’t know how much food was going to be offered. If another car came, some of the monks might leave this line to form another. The people making merit were giving food, flowers and incense sticks, and sometimes money in an envelope.

At first it felt a bit like vultures swarming around the people as they arrived. But, after watching for a while I decided it wasn’t as bad as that. It was actually a very practical situation for a modern society. These days, many people, particularly ones who live in condos or housing estates, aren’t on the route of the morning alms round. So, for them, it makes more sense to drive to the temple where monks are waiting patiently for them. The monks also weren’t taking more than they needed. As soon as their alms bowl was full, they would quietly leave.

A number of Westerners mistakenly think that the monks are begging. But, this is not true. Thai Buddhists are happily helping to support the monks by giving them food and at the same time they receive merit for doing this. However, there are strict rules on how monks should behave on alms rounds. A good monk should never go seeking for alms. He walks slowly and with purpose and only stops if he is beckoned or called. Then he stands there quietly, with the lid of his bowl open, while the local Buddhists give him rice. There is a worry that the monks at the Marble Temple may seem too eager to collect alms.

What do you think? Should the old rules of Buddhist monks be adapted for the modern lifestyle?

[cetsEmbedGmap src=,100.514656&spn=0.004481,0.010504&z=17 width=500 height=300 marginwidth=0 marginheight=0 frameborder=0 scrolling=no]

Ho Chi Mihn’s House in Thailand

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

For the Americans reading is this blog, Ho Chi Minh is that damn pinko “grrr!” who as TV and Hollywood have proven on celluloid really didn’t kick the arse of the US army after all. For people in the rest of the world he was leader who fought to free his country from French, Japanese and US oppression. For we Londoners he’s a local boy done good. It’s not often a snow sweeper from Ealing goes on to found a country. This man lead a remarkable life , between 1923 and 1933 living in Hong Kong, Milan, Switzerland, Boston, New York, London, France, Russia and China, working as a cook’s assistant, waiter, pastry chef, co-founding the French Communist Party and writing for French magazines.

Ban Na Jok or the Thai Vietnam Friendship Village lies west of Meung Nakhon Phanong along the Sakhon Nakhon highway and was the residence of Ho Chi Mihn, or as the locals call him, Uncle Ho. Located a 30 minute bicycle ride from town centre, it’s an unmissable attraction, Uncle Ho himself walked from there to Sakhon Nakhon and then onto Udon Thani, so the so no excuses for not doing the short bike ride.

The Vietnamese and now Thai speaking as well village is a beautiful throwback into times of old, a devolved mixture of farmhouses, small freeholds and old wooden villas in their own grounds sprawling across erratic paddy fields, so different in style to Thai farmland you get a real sense of being in another country. Founded over 110 years ago with  most of the resident’s still today being Vietnamese,  it was an obvious place for Vietnamese migrants to settle in and Uncle Ho did for a time as he was building his movement to free Vietnam from colonialism back in ………. Well, there’s the first stumbling block. Exactly when Ho Chi Mihn lived in there is problematic, the high quality glossy brochure I got from the Ho Chi Mihn Museum tells us that Uncle Ho arrived at the house in 1923 and stayed for 7 years. However all biographies of Ho Chi Mihn I found say he only lived in the village between 1928 and 1929.

Whatever the real timing the house where Ho Chi Minh lived during the twenties gathering support for his campaign to free Vietnam is owned today by Mr Tiew and his energetic daughter Miss Kornkanok who speaks four languages and does her upmost to make you feel welcome, she lives in the house next to Uncle Ho’s and if your lucky may invite you in to chat to for ages.

While living in the house, Lung Ho(Thai) or Jin (Vietnamese) learnt Thai and supported himself by teaching  fishing to the locals, he also had a hand at forming the land around the village being a prolific gardener planting several coconut and areca tress that are still there today

The house has been changed little from when Uncle Ho lived there. I’ve seen a lot of old houses in Thailand preserved but they have been mansions and a lot of old peasant wooden houses not preserved, this is the first peasant house I’ve seen kept as it was in the early 20thcentury and apart from a collection of photos and memorabilia decorating the walls it gives a better experience at what a peasant’s life may have been like back then than anywhere else I have been in Thailand and is worth a visit for this alone. Also at the heart of the village is a new modern museum built with Vietnamese money celebrating the life of their former president. In the Communist spirit both Uncle Ho’s house and the museum are free to enter, donations appreciated.

2 Price System at Madame Tussauds Bangkok

One of the latest tourist attractions to open in Thailand is Madame Tussauds Bangkok. This is a world-class attraction in the heart of Bangkok’s shopping district on the 6th floor of Siam Discovery. I went to visit this place back in December 2010 shortly after its grand opening. I have already written my review of Madame Tussauds Bangkok. I found many of the 70 wax figures very lifelike and thought it was great that the exhibits were very interactive. This means you were able to stand with and even touch many of the wax figures while having your picture taken.

The full price at the opening was 700 baht, the same for Thai and foreigner. I remember thinking at the time that this was a little high for an attraction inside a shopping mall. However, they do have special promotions at times which gives you better value for your money. For example, last month they had a buy one get one free offer.  Today I just spotted on the Amazing Thailand Facebook page that they have a coupon which gives you a 25% discount. All you need to do is print out this coupon and take it with you when you visit Madame Tussauds. At the moment I am not sure when this offer closes. Now I am not sure if the offer is for foreigners. Keep reading….

The original title for this blog was going to be “25% Coupon for Madame Tussauds Bangkok”. However, while researching this article I spotted that the prices of Madame Tussauds Bangkok have already increased after only one month. As already noted, they were originally 700/500 Baht. The price has now gone up to 800/600 Baht, though you apparently  get a “free” guidebook and photo. However, what is a shame is that they are now operating a two price system. According to the Thai version of their website, admission prices for Madame Tussauds Bangkok is only 350 Baht for adults and 250 Baht for children. It doesn’t actually say that this price is only for Thai people but they use Thai numerals so that foreigners cannot see the conflicting prices. I called their Bangkok office and they confirm that 350/250 Baht is only for Thai people. In addition, Thai people get a further 25% discount if they pay with their Bangkok Bank credit card.

My policy on dual pricing has always been that tourist attractions are welcome to have two prices as long as they give us the right to choose. This means clearly stating the admission prices in Arabic numbers. You only see Thai numerals when they are ashamed to show that they have two prices. Everywhere else uses the more common Arabic system. What is even more of a shame here is that Paul Williams, the General Manager for Madame Tussauds Bangkok clearly said in an interview with that there wouldn’t be two prices: “We won’t be operating a dual pricing policy”, he said. “We found that was rather strange and decided not to go down that road.”  I bet he is regretting saying that now. Anyway, now that I have revealed the two sets of prices, it is up to you whether you think that the admission price is worth it.

Bang Nok Kwaek 100 Year Market

After the success of Amphawa Floating Market in Samut Songkhram, other communities in the area decided to try their hand at a weekend market. One such example is Bang Nok Kwaek Market which is alongside the Mae Klong River north of Amphawa [MAP]. The buildings and market here are actually over one hundred years old, but after the roads were built and less people travelled by boat, the market was practically abandoned.

Then a few years back, the local community decided to revive the old market. Although it doesn’t have the hustle and bustle of its younger cousin at Amphawa, it certainly makes up for it with its old time charm and friendly shopkeepers. If you want to experience an old Thai riverside market without the crowds of tourists then its worth spending an hour or so at Bang Nok Kwaek Market. Incidentally, the name comes from the Black-crowned Night Heron which is common along the river banks here.

I arrived at Bang Nok Kwaek in time for lunch. There was a decent variety of food worth trying out. There were crab noodles, khao haeng (rice soup without the soup) and pad thai kung maenam. It is the last one which I opted for and what you can see in this picture. I am sure many of you have had pad thai with fresh shrimp before, but this version has a large river shrimp. It tasted very good and cost 40 baht. My other snack was krathong tong which was equally delicious.

A visit to a riverside market wouldn’t be complete without a boat ride. That was why I was happy to spot this boat moored at one of the piers. I quickly finished my iced coffee and headed for the pier. Another surprise was a sign in Thai on the pier that said that the boat trips were free. I asked the boatmen about this later as we cruised along the Mae Klong river. He told me that the intention was to help promote the market but also the house of a local man who sells plants and herbal drinks. It was this house which was our destination. It was only a 30 minute trip but certainly worth doing.

You can reach Bang Nok Kwaek from Amphawa by travelling north on Highway 6006. You can also catch local transport from Samut Songkhram or from Amphawa. Just before the market on your left is the large white cathedral called The Church of the Virgin Mary. Here you go over a bridge and the market is then on your left. Interestingly, this canal is the Western end of Damnoen Saduak Canal which has a famous floating market at the other end. The market and river tours only operate at the weekends from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The following is a map showing the location of the market and other attractions nearby.

[cetsEmbedGmap src=,99.923744&spn=0.027626,0.038581&z=15 width=500 height=325 marginwidth=0 marginheight=0 frameborder=0 scrolling=no]

Scroll down to leave a comment about this article. Thanks.