Author Archives: Richard Barrow

Not in the Lonely Planet

For many years my favourite guidebook has been the Lonely Planet. This has always been my first choice for its comprehensive look at tourist attractions in just about any country in the world. In Thailand, the person who is most associated with guidebooks is Joe Cummings whose name is well-known among backpackers. Although Joe no longer writes the Thailand edition, he still loves Thailand so much that he lives here in Northern Thailand. He wrote the first Lonely Planet Thailand edition back in 1982. We have now just seen the release of the 13th edition written by China Williams. However, although the book is now more than double in size, they have decided for the first time to remove Samut Prakan Province from its contents.

These days, there at least half a dozen major guidebooks about Thailand. We are spoiled for choice. It is not always easy deciding which ones to buy for your trip. One of the best things I have liked about the Lonely Planet books are the maps. This is often invaluable when you visit places that are not on the usual tourist trails. And that is where the strength of this franchise lies. They didn’t just give you the mainstream tourist attractions. They helped you discover new places. Joe Cummings is well-known for doing this for Thailand. My personal benchmark for choosing a good guidebook for Thailand is to see whether it had any content for Samut Prakan. This is a small province near Bangkok with a number of worthwhile attractions. If a guidebook covered this province then I knew that it would be comprehensive and well worth buying.

Lonely Planet used to have two full pages on Samut Prakan Province. It covered about four or five major attractions and had information such as getting there and away, hotels and places to eat. Over the years this was reduced down to less than a page. But, there was still a chapter on our province. The only other guidebook that came anywhere close to this was the Moon Handbook for Thailand by Carl Parkes. In August 2009, Lonely Planet finally decided to remove Samut Prakan as a chapter. They now list only two of its major attractions in the Bangkok section. These are The Erawan Museum and Ancient Siam (although they still call it Ancient City despite the name change a year ago). There is no longer any mention of the Crocodile Farm which is not only the largest of its kind in Thailand, but it is also in the Guinness Book of Records for the largest captive crocodile in the world.

I can understand why they had to cut down. Joe Cummings once told me that the Lonely Planet book had reached its limit. Any new attractions would be included at the expense of other locations that would have to be removed. The 8th edition had a staggering 1,030 pages and was pretty heavy too. It wasn’t the kind of thing that you would be happy to carry around in your backpack. These days they are averaging about 800 or so pages per edition. The paper that they use also seems to be a lot lighter. Another major change for them is the release of regional guidebooks such as for Bangkok and Chiang Mai and also for specialist subjects such as Beaches and Islands and Scuba Diving. This allowed them to give us more comprehensive information. Another exciting innovation from them was the release of the e-books. This allows you to “pick and mix” and just buy the chapters that you wanted for as little as $2 each.

I personally feel that Samut Prakan Province deserves a place in the guidebooks. I know that we are very close to Bangkok and to many people we just look like a sprawling extension. However, as we are often overlooked, you will find that if you come here you will hardly see any other foreigner. The festivals and other events are more authentic and haven’t been created just for foreign tourists. You will also find the local people to be very friendly as they don’t often meet foreigners. If you attend an event you might find yourself being treated as a visiting VIP. Maybe even as an ambassador from your country. You will be urged to go to the front to take pictures and maybe even invited to sit next to the governor or city mayor. It has happened to me a number of times over the years. However, you need to come sooner rather than later. I have been writing about Samut Prakan on www.paknam.com for over ten years now and partially as a consequence, the number of independent visitors has started to pick up. This situation will change even more once the Sky Train reaches us in about ten years.

If you are interested in learning more about Samut Prakan Province then visit our weekly online news magazine at www.paknam.com. Next week, at www.thai-blogs.com, I will be bringing you different ideas for tours of Samut Prakan. All of these will be easy day trips from both Bangkok and Suvarnabhumi Airport. I will also be bringing you news of some of the major festivals that we have here during October. Don’t forget to also visit our www.Bangkok-Daytrips.com where we describe some of the best day trips we have been on around Bangkok. Many of these are not in the Lonely Planet!

How to cook… Salty Fried Prawns

This is a simple dish of salty fried prawns, or “kung tod khem” in Thai. You can see the salty prawns in the picture below.

Preparation is simple for this dish. Wash the prawns and then place them in a bowl where you need to rub them with salt. While you are heating up the oil, let them sit for a few minutes. Once the oil is hot enough, deep fry them until they are a rich golden red colour. Come back to www.thai-blogs.com next week for another Thai Food Blog.

Big Trouble in Thailand: Jet Ski Scam

Thailand is in big trouble again. Its tourism industry was already facing disaster last year with the prolonged airport closure. Things looked like it was starting to get better but the situation has just been going from bad to worse. This year Thailand has received a lot of negative press from the international media. Everything seems to be going wrong from unexplained tourist deaths to scams and corrupt officials. The British Home Office amongst other countries issued a travel warning about using shops at the airport as you could be accused of stealing if you crossed over an invisible boundary. Tourists have been telling their local newspapers that they were threatened and forced to pay large bribes to keep them out of prisons.

Now comes another nail in the coffin for the tourism industry. A British production company has just started a series of programmes called “Big Trouble in Thailand”. Part one aired on television a few days ago in the UK and there has already been major repercussions. One of the stories in the first episode centers around the “jet ski scam” which has been going on in Thailand for many years. Basically, you rent a jet ski for thirty minutes and when you come back they say that you have damaged it and that you have to pay large sums of money in compensation. The tourists are often threatened with knives and guns and they are surrounded by big thugs. Many people said that the police were no help to them.

The film crew managed to film this scam taking place against a marine. The jet ski operator even brought out his gun. He is probably regretting it now as there has been such an outcry over this scene that the police were forced to act. The governor of Phuket saw to it that he was arrested today and that he was also denied bail. The police also showed the first episode to the media today during a press conference. The local newspaper is reporting that a previous governor had promised to have a crackdown on the jet ski operators and reduce their numbers. Apart from the scams, they are also very dangerous as they have killed swimmers in the past. However, instead of the numbers going down, they have actually increased. No wonder if there is so much money to be made from these scams. Some people have also alleged that the police receive a cut.

I am not sure why they are making such a fuss now. We have all known about this for many years. Over at www.BangkokScams.com we receive reports of this scam nearly every day. Each time it is practically the same. It happens in Pattaya, Koh Samui and Phuket and just about any place that they rent jet skis. Here is one typical report that was sent to us this week:

“When me and my friends got a jet ski out in Pattaya on our last two days there, our nightmare began. We gave the jet ski’s back in after initially agreeing a price of 700 THB for 30 minutes each. What followed was a bill of 115,000 THB for “damage” we caused to the carbon fibre on the jet ski’s, etc. We said no, and that’s when things turned violent. Soon we were held captive at the beech and they started pulling knives out on us. They threatened to kill us at the beach if we did not pay. Eventually they let me go, it took 3 separate visits to the police station before an American volunteer came down to the beach, approximately 5 hours after the incident with my two friends held captive by around 12-15 angry Thai’s.

We went to the police station and were threatened to be killed. Eventually we came to an agreement of 50,000 THB in fear for our lives. These guys continued with the death threats, hands in the pockets, etc. It was a horrible experience and it doesn’t surprise me about these stories. We spent all our remaining money and took extra overdrafts out of the bank to pay these crooks. 10 hours later and finally we escaped Pattaya. They had been waiting outside our hotel after initially paying 33,000 THB with the agreement to pay 17,000 THB the day later. We paid the money three hours later after coming to an agreement with the bank, at 3 a.m. in the police station. We got back to the hotel, fled in a taxi to Bangkok (they had even bribed our receptionist with 1,000 THB to tell him if we left). I’m sure these guys are now very satisfied having pulled this scam off.”

Like many other people who have experienced this scam, these people will now think twice about returning to Thailand. It is also doubtful that any of their friends will come too as they would have been told about this scam. Just visit BangkokScams.com and you will see all the reports that have ben sent to us about the jet ski scam. We are also discussing this over at the ThailandQA Forums. It is time the authorities woke up and paid attention to all reports of scams that are being spread around the Internet. Everything from the two price system to the Thai gem scam. They need to act now before it is too late and people start going to other holiday destinations that are cheaper and have less corruption and fewer scams.

If you are still planning on coming to Thailand on holiday then I give you this one piece of good advice. DO NOT RENT A JET SKI!

UPDATE: Click here to see pictures of JJ being arrested by the police.

UPDATE (Sunday): The film-makers have now put the raw footage up on youtube in order to show that the jet ski scene was not staged.

http://www.youtube.com/user/BigTroubleInThailand

09 09 09 Lucky 9 in Thailand

Today is an auspicious day in Thailand for all Thai people. Today is the ninth day of the ninth month of the ninth year in the 21st Century which translates as 09 09 09. The number nine in Thai is “gao” which sounds similar to another word which means to “move forward”. Tata Young has chosen today to launch her new album. A new Thai horror movie will also be released today. Some Thai companies will launch new projects today, couples will get married and pregnant women in hospital will be trying to have their baby delivered today.

The number 9 has always been a lucky number for Thai people with some people spending a lot of money to get lottery tickets with the number 9 or even number plates with a 9. Nine monks are often invited to important ceremonies. It is also an auspicious time to do things or start a new enterprise. Many ceremonies start at 9.09 a.m. or 9.29 a.m. just to get the number nine in the time.

In honour of H.M. The King, all Thai people across the kingdom, came together today at exactly 9:09 a.m. to sing the Royal Anthem and other songs dedicated to H.M. The King. At Sriwittayapaknam School, all classes were suspended in the morning for the students to go down to the playground. There they lined up in rows to wave the yellow royal flag and to sing songs to praise his name. If you missed it this morning then I guess you get a second chance tonight at 9.09 p.m.

The only thing that I don’t really understand is why the whole country had to come to a standstill today when it is not really 2009 in Thailand. This is the Christian calendar and in Thailand they use the Buddhist calendar. It is actually 2552 which is widely used by everyone in Thailand. You rarely see “2009” being used apart from when naming the “Big Flu of 2009”. Not long ago, this wasn’t even the ninth month of the year as the Thai government only declared January to be the first month in 1941. But that doesn’t seem to worry them.

Monks on Alms Round by Boat

In the olden days in Thailand, most people lived along canals and the only way they could travel around was by boat. At major intersections farmers would come together to create floating markets. With the building of roads and modern houses, many of these markets and riverside villages fell into a state of disrepair. People would drive their cars to supermarkets and monks would walk along roads on their alms round.

I took these pictures recently at the Old Bang Phli Market in Samut Prakan. They have special activities going on every weekend from now until early October. The idea is to both recreate and preserve the practices and culture of days gone by. Although it is still sometimes possible to see monks going on alms round by boat, it is a rarity. I am glad I was able to witness this at the weekend.

I have also shot a video which you can see in our Paknam Video Blogs. For more information about this market festival, please visit www.paknam.com.