Author Archives: Richard Barrow

Merry Christmas from Thailand

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There are many festivals in Thailand throughout the year, but not all of them have their origin in this mainly Buddhist country. For example, Valentine’s Day, Halloween and Christmas. It has been said before that Thais love celebrating and so they will adopt any event that looks like fun. With Christmas, it is more of an end of year festivity. Just because the shopping malls have Christmas Trees and carols are being sung across the nation, it doesn’t mean that they are celebrating Christmas.

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During a recent ABAC Poll, 94% of Thai people said that they knew of Christmas. 44% of them said that Christmas is a festive season, one of happiness and family gathering. 26.5% said that they felt nothing special about Christmas. What would have been more interesting was if they had asked them what Christmas is all about. I bet many of them would have said that it is Santa’s birthday.

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As Thailand is a Buddhist country, Christmas Day in Thailand is not a holiday. So, unless the Thai children go to an international school, all of them, including foreign teachers, were at school today. Quite a few schools put on some kind of activity and took this opportunity to tell the students the meaning behind the day.

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At Sriwittayapaknam school, students dressed up as Santa Claus and little angels and they handed out candies to the kids as they arrived at school this morning. Then during assembly, everyone was entertained with Christmas carols and dancing around the tree. In the school, about 98% are Buddhists and the rest are Muslims and Christians. Only a handful really, but at least they can share an important part of their religion with their friends.

Photo Guide to the Royal Barge Procession

A spectacular procession of royal barges will be on show in Bangkok  on 9th November 2012, as part of the Royal Kathin Ceremony. Representing His Majesty the King, HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn will preside over the ceremony at Wat Arun, or the Temple of Dawn, in Bangkok. He will travel to the temple in a royal barge procession along the Chao Phraya River. The procession consists of 52 traditional style barges arranged in five columns, based on battle formation from ancient times. This is made up of four major royal barges, eight barges with animal figureheads and 40 smaller vessels. The five-column flotilla stretches 1,200 meters in length and 90 across. A total of 2,311 sailors serve as oarsmen.

PHOTO GALLERY 01: Royal Barge Procession >>>
PHOTO GALLERY 02: Behind the Scenes in the Navy Dockyard >>>

The bow of the Royal Barge Suphannahong is made into a head of a Royal Swan or Hamsa, painted with gold lacquer and richly decorated with glass ornaments.

The Royal Barge Narai Song Suban H.M. King Rama IX has a figurehead of the god Narai with four arms bearing a trident, a scepter, a discus, and a conch shell on his celestial transport, a Garuda.

The bow of the Royal Barge Anantananakkharat is made into the seven heads of a Naga, gold-lacquered and richly decorated with glass ornaments.

The graceful prow of the Royal Barge Anekkachatphuchong is intricately carved and gilded in a delicate pattern of small Naga figures.

Ekachai Hern How Barge and Ekachai Lao Thong Barge are Reua Ku Chak to lead and tow the Royal Barge Suphannahong in case it demands extra driving power. Both barges are gold-lacquered with the tapering column figureheads of a cross between a crocodile and Naga known as Hera.

Krut Hern Het and Krut Tret Traichak are Garuda barges with a painted and gilded figurehead of a Garuda holding a Naga, one in each of his hands and feet. A red body is Krut Hern Het and a pink body is Krut Tret Traichak.

Pali Rang Thawip and Sukrip Khrong Mueang are Krabi Barges with crown figureheads of Monkey Warlords, carved and gilded with a green body of Pali and a red body of Sukrip, respectively.

Krabi Ran Ron Rap and Krabi Prao Mueang Man are Krabi Barges with uncrowned figureheads of Monkey Warriors, carved and gilded with a black body of Nilaphat and a white body of Hanuman, respectively.

Asura Vayuphak and Asura Paksi are Asura Barges with carved and gilded figureheads of Ogre-faced birds. Asura Vayuphak’s face, hands and feet are indigo in colour with a purple coat. Asura Paksi’s face, hand and feet are green in colour with a coat of a purple front and green back.

Seua Thayan Chon and Seua Kamron Sin are tiger barges of the Reua Phiket class. The hull is ungilded but painted in the colour and style of a tiger’s body and with a tiger’s head painted on the bow.

Map of where to watch the Royal Barge Procession >>>

Watching the Rehearsals for the Royal Barge Procession

If you are in Thailand at the moment then you are in for a treat. During October 2012 they are conducting a series of rehearsals for the Royal Barge Procession along the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok. I took these pictures during the rehearsal last Friday. There will be three more this month on 19th, 25th and 29th October. There will then be two full dress rehearsals on 2nd and 6th November. The real event is then on 9th November. If you want to watch, then you are advised to attend one of the rehearsals as it will be very crowded on the final day. Click here to see my map of places to watch the procession.

Once you have found a place to watch, you need to make sure that you can be there before they close the river down. After 11 a.m., you won’t be able to cross the river by boat. In fact, you won’t even be allowed to stand on any of the public piers. They also stop the Chao Phraya Expres boats. They are very strict about this. So, don’t get the idea of watching the procession from a boat. The picture above shows some of the security forces that patrol the river all day between Rama VIII Bridge and Wat Arun. I took this picture at about 1 p.m.

The reason that they close the river so early is that the barges have to be towed up river to the starting point beyond Rama VIII Bridge. This has to be done slowly as these boats are very old and are national treasures. I have been on the river before when the express boats pass and they do produce quite a high wake. There would be a danger of one of these boats getting swamped and sinking. They start towing shortly after the river closes at 11:00 a.m. I spotted the last boat passing the bridge at about 2 p.m.

The smaller boats were already moored at the pier near Wat Racha at Soi Samsen 9. These are towed upriver straight away after the rehearsals have finished. Only these more beautiful boats were being towed upriver on the day of the rehearsal. I presume this is because they are stored at the Royal Barge Museum while not being used. My first set of pictures were taken at Rama VIII Bridge. I could see that all of the boats were waiting between Wat Racha and the bridge. Some of the sailors had been on the boat all day and speedboats were going up and down doing toilet runs.

The procession then started at about 3 p.m. Everything was synchronised in order to make sure that all of the boats kept in their correct positions. Each boat had flagmen to help with this. As they rowed, royal boat songs were played over loudspeakers with the oarsmen joining in with the chorus. There are 52 boats taking part in the procession. Out of these, there are eight animal masthead barges like the one above, 22 lesser escort barges, and 18 other vessels. In total, 2,200 oarsmen take part in the procession.

I am told that the journey to Wat Arun, commonly known as the Temple of Dawn, takes nearly an hour. There are a number of vantage points along the river where you can watch the procession. For example, at the riverside park for Phra Sumen Fortress. I took most of my pictures from Praya Palazzo Boutique Hotel which is directly opposite the fort. The smaller vessels past us so close that we could almost reach out and touch them. However, the more beautiful barges with animal mastheads kept to the middle of the river.

The last royal barge passed us at 3:30 p.m. and so that means it took only 30 minutes. You would think that they would then re-open the river but they didn’t do this until about 6 p.m. This is because the last boat wouldn’t have reached Wat Arun until about 4:30 p.m. and then they had to be towed back upriver to Wat Racha. Like I said before, I presume the animal masthead barges were towed to the nearby Royal Barge Museum. I am planning on going to another rehearsal and hopefully will have some more information for you.

Cycling Along Saen Saeb Canal in Bangkok

One of the canals that I haven’t explored much yet is Khlong Saen Saeb. This canal dates back to 1840 and connects the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok to the Bang Pakong River in Chaochoengsao. Unfortunately you cannot take a boat ride along the entire length any more due to various water gates. You cannot even go out into the Chao Phraya river. In Bangkok, there is a boat service that goes from Pratunam (which means watergate) and Phan Fah Bridge all the way east to Wat Sri Bunruang on Ramkhamhaeng Road. If you don’t mind the smell, then this is a quick way to visit some of Bangkok’s main attractions. It is a kind of hidden artery of Bangkok as not all tourists know about it. To ride the entire length only costs about 20 Baht.

They have been talking for years about extending the boat service further out of Bangkok from Wat Sri Bunruang (see map) all the way to Minburi. In fact, it was in the newspaper earlier this year that the boat service would open from August 2012. So, at the weekend, I decided to go and take a look for myself. What I found was perhaps a dozen new piers along the canal. All of them finished, though some looked like that they needed a new coat of paint. Between Wat Sri Bunruang and the Outer Ring Road bridge, they had also finished a concrete walkway on both sides of the canal. The budget for this was hundreds of millions of Baht. To me it looked like it had been finished for along time. Some stretches were overgrown and badly neglected.

This stretch of the canal is about 4 km long. I first cycled along on the southern side and then came back on the other side. If you plan to cycle here yourself, I would suggest that you use the northern side. There are less of these bridges and your way won’t be blocked by long grass or overhanging branches. Can you see the runner on the right of these steps? This is for pushing your bike up on. However, it is too steep and too close to the side to be much use.  A local that I spoke to said that they like this new walkway as they can come out here in the evening to exercise and enjoy the cool air. However, she said that the steps were too steep for the elderly and so they couldn’t walk too far. At one bridge, I came across some locals who were using a slab of concrete to make a gentle slope up and over. Obviously they were doing this for their motorbikes.

The second section of the canal, from the Outer Ring Road bridge to Minburi already has piers but they haven’t started on the concrete walkways. These are the old ones which are dangerous in some places and non-existent in others. I asked a number of different local people along the canal when they thought that the boat service would start. They all gave me different answers from a few months to next year. But all of them made it clear that they do no want the boats to start running until the BMA have finished the concrete walkways on both sides. They also said it needs to have lighting all the way. The budget for this is estimated to be about 500 million Baht. If they do it, then it would be great for both commuters and cyclists. However, they also need to allocate a budget for maintenance. Sadly this has been neglected.

Click here for my map of the route that I took. I will be continuing to explore the canal in coming weeks. This picture is at Wat Sri Bunruang and this boat is about to depart for Pratunam in Bangkok. I will start my next journey by bicycle from this point. I want to see how easily I can get into Bangkok from here.

Samut Prakan Observation Tower & Knowledge Park

Samut Prakan will soon find themselves with a new tourist attraction which will tower over all others that we have now. Literally. The Samut Prakan Observation Tower will be 179.55 meters tall and there should be quite a view from the top floor. The tower is expected to be opened to the public by 2015 with free admission.

The other day, Samut Prakan Governor and the Chairman of the Provincial Administration Organization presided over a blessing ceremony of the foundation stone. This was done at an auspicious time by monks and Brahmin priests in order to make sure that the building of the tower goes ahead with no hitches.

The Samut Prakan Observation Tower is being built on the site of the Old Paknam prison. It’s not far from the City Hall and the Chao Phraya River. In total there will be four levels: a Children’s Museum, Samut Prakan Museum, Educational Library and a Viewing Platform. From the top we should be able to see north towards Bangkok and south towards the Gulf of Thailand.

Visit my other blogs at www.RichardBarrow.com for some pictures of what the view will be like. I have also posted some more pictures in the Samut Prakan Facebook page.