One of the most ambitious plans for a tourist attraction in Samut Prakan Province is the 139 meter high tower that will give fine views of the Gulf of Thailand. The plan for the tower has been around for a while and for the past few years it seems it had been put on hold. About three years ago we attended the foundation stone ceremony. Work was to have been started straight away. However, the only thing that has been completed so far is the car park and surrounding fence. Now it looks like work on the tower will be moving forward in early 2010 with a finishing date of 2012. Mr. Amnuay Rassamitat, the Chief Executive of the PAO, recently told the media that the delay was partly due to structural reasons as they wanted to revise the plans to make the tower more earthquake proof.
The Samut Prakan Observation Tower is being built in the grounds of the old prison in Amphoe Muang. The location, on Sukhumwit Road, is close to the City Hall and the Chao Phraya River. The tower will house museums and a library and will be surrounded by a park. There will be a museum about Samut Prakan and also a discovery museum for children. Mr. Amnuay Rassamitat said that the tower was originally a joint project between the administration of the provincial office and the city office. However, he said that the tower would now be built under the responsibility of the city mayor. A budget of 415 million baht has already been approved with a further 62.2 million baht coming from the local municipality. It is expected to take two years to build.
This is a satellite image showing Paknam Prison in 2002 and the present site of the Samut Prakan Tower. The prisoners had already been moved out by this time to a new prison in Klong Dan sub-district.
This shows the old prison in 2003. At this stage the buildings inside had already been bulldozed leaving only the surrounding wall.
This is now the old prison in 2005. The area has mainly been cleared leaving only the watchtowers and short stretches of wall.
In 2007, Khun Watana, amongst other dignitaries, attended a ceremony for the blessing of the foundation stone. Everyone thought that the tower would now be built.
This is the site in 2009. The front entrance, a monument and a car park are the only things that have been built so far. The tower was never started.
This is how the site of the prison looks in 2009 in a satellite image. Sukhumwit road is to the top. You can clearly see the entrance at the top and the white footpaths. You should also be able to work out the round area where the tower should eventually be built. We will bring you updates next year but obviously we are not holding our breath on this.
Millions of people from all around Thailand came together on the evening of the 5th December 2009 to celebrate H.M. The King’s 82nd birthday. In Samut Prakan we also had a ceremony in the City Hall Plaza alongside the river. This was attended by the Governor, Mr. Surachai Kanasa, and the City Mayor as well hundreds of local people. They represented schools, government departments and private organizations.
From 6 p.m. onwards, each group took turns in paying homage to a portrait of H.M. The King by presenting two “phan phums”. This is a lotus bud shaped floral design. They are presented on a small tray. They are not easy to make and it can be time-consuming. Traditionally a mould is made using clay mixed with sawdust. But these days special dry floral foam is cut into the shape of a lotus bud. The stem of the dried flower is cut off and a sharp pointed slither of bamboo is used to pin it into the dry foam.
It took over an hour for all of the organizations to present their “phan phum”. Everything had to be finished before 7.19 p.m. as this was the auspicious time chosen to start the main ceremony that would take place simultaneously around the country. The main event in Bangkok at Sanam Luang was televised and broadcast live around the country. Millions of candles were lit at exactly 7.19 p.m. and the Thai people then sang songs to praise H.M. The King.
The sea of candle light was a beautiful scene but the grand finale of the event was of course the magnificent firework display. We actually had two shows as a district across the river started theirs a little early while we were still singing. At the completion of the songs the sky behind the giant portrait of H.M. The King was lit up with colourful fireworks. A beautiful finish to a wonderful evening.
Today, people from all around the country are coming together to celebrate the 82nd birthday of H.M. The King. Many of them are wearing pink which is an auspicious colour believed to help make the King better. The Thai monarch has been in Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok since 19th September for treatment for inflammation of his lungs. Several thousand well-wishers gathered at the City Hall Plaza in Samut Prakan to give alms to 99 monks in honour of His Majesty.
The ceremony was opened by Mr. Surachai Kanasa, the Governor of Samut Prakan. He first paid homage to a Buddha image and then took part in chanting. Attending the event were many local government officials who all came together to pay homage to His Majesty. A similar event was being held at the same time in Bangkok at Sanam Luang. H.M. The King is regarded as a father to all Thai people as they love him so much. This day is also celebrated as National Father’s Day.
After the chanting had finished, the Governor led the local people in giving alms to several hundred monks. Tables had been set up around the parade ground and local people had gathered behind them since early morning. They did this to make merit on behalf of H.M. The King. To make the most merit, the food should have been prepared by themselves before they arrived and not bought at a food stall. Leftovers from the night before must never be given to monks.
The local people stood behind the tables as the monks slowly made their way down the row. People were giving fresh food as well as pre-prepared packages such as pot noodles that you can see in this picture. As some of these items were too big for the alms bowls, each of the monks were assisted by temple boys who carried big sacks. The monk then emptied their bowls into these sacks. By the end of the alms giving event, the pick-up trucks from the temples were full with sacks of food. Local people also gave the monks purple orchid flowers and also envelopes containing money.
After the alms giving had finished, Mr. Surachai Kanasa and local people made merit for H.M. The King by releasing 1,000,000 sea creatures into the Chao Phraya River. This is a common event done to make merit for birthdays. People usually release birds or fish. I thought that 1,000,000 was a staggering number to release in one go, but it turned out to be very small shrimps. These were in plastic bags which people emptied out into a large tub of water. From this there was a pipe which washed the shrimps out into the river below. This evening, Mr. Surachai Kanasa will lead the local people to light candles to wish the monarch a happy birthday.
More pictures can be seen at www.PaknamPhotos.com and also a video at www.paknam.com.
Samut Prakan was built as a frontier town to protect the approach to Bangkok upriver. Fortresses were built on both sides of the river from the estuary all the way up to Phra Pradaeng. Not many of these forts are around today. They are either in ruins or the bricks have been removed for construction projects in Bangkok. The most famous fort, which is still in good working order, is probably Phra Chulachomklao Fortress which has been open to the public for a number of years. Now there are plans to open another fort to the public.
This is Phi Sua Samut Fortress which is unique as it is on an island in the Chao Phraya River. It is situated in Samut Prakan between the City Hall and Phra Samut Chedi. It was built at the same time as Phra Chulachomklao Fortress in the 1880’s. During that time, colonial powers such as France and Britain were flexing their muscles and taking over territory in the region. King Rama V saw a need to renovate and build new fortresses along the Chao Phraya River. The two main forts were built at the entrance to the estuary and on an island near Phra Samut Chedi.
King Rama V ordered at great expense the latest guns from W G Armstrong & Co in England. These were ten 6 inch Armstrong Guns which weighed five tons each. They were the first rear-loaded guns in the Thai Navy and they had an interesting characteristic. They were called the “disappearing” guns because they only came out of the pit to fire and then the recoil forced the gun back where it came from. This protected the guns from enemy fire. All of the aiming had to be done while the gun was in the pit. Each shell weighed 45 kilos. The gun was then hauled up be a hydraulic mechanism and the shot fired. The range was about 8 kilometres.
Seven of these guns were installed at the Phra Chulachomklao Fort. The remaining three were set up at Phi Sua Samut Fort. About three months after their completion they saw action for the first and only time. On 13th July 1893, two French gunboats entered the estuary with the intention to blockade Bangkok. Shots were fired and a small boat that was acting as a pilot for the French ships was badly damaged and ran aground. Despite heroic action by the soldiers at the fort and the sailors aboard ships on the river, the two French gunboats managed to slip by. By the time it reached the inner fort it was too dark for anyone to continue the battle. The gunboats were then able to go all the way up the river to Bangkok.
As Phi Sua Samut Fort was on an island, it managed to survive the years in relative good condition. The land is owned by the Royal Thai Navy and there was restricted access. For the last few years, engineers in the navy have been busy renovating the Armstrong guns. They have also built a boardwalk through the mangroves. On the island there are several thousand fruit bats that come out to hunt at dusk. Once it is opened to the public, it will be an interesting place to visit which combines both nature and history.
To make it easier for tourists to visit, the local administration have proposed the building of a bridge between the pier at Phra Samut Chedi and the northern end of the island. The proposed budget is 25 million baht which hasn’t been approved yet. There is no indication yet how long this will take to build once approved. In theory, it is possible to visit the island now. Get on the ferry boat at the pier at Phra Samut Chedi. You will need to ask the captain to drop you off at the island which is only a short distance away. They will only stop for a few seconds so be prepared to jump. To go back, you need to flag down a boat heading to Paknam. Make sure you leave the island before low tide otherwise you will be stranded.
Today marks the anniversary of the death of King Rama VI on November 25, 1925. As this King is regarded as the “Father of Thai Scouting”, schools all over the country took part in a special ceremony to celebrate his life and to remember the day he died. Mr. Surachai Kanasa, the Governor of Samut Prakan, presided over the ceremony at the City Hall Plaza. He is seen here laying a wreath at the foot of a statue of King Rama VI.