Category Archives: Suphanburi

Museum of the Descendants of the Dragon

One of the latest major tourist attractions to open in Thailand is the “Dragon Descendants Museum” in Suphanburi Province. Like the Erawan Museum in Samut Prakan that is shaped like a three-headed elephant, this museum is also a “Wonder of Thailand”. One of those rare places where perhaps the building itself is more interesting and beautiful than the artifacts it holds within. In the case of this museum, the building is in the shape of a giant dragon. It dominates the landscape as you drive towards the city pillar shrine. The brightly coloured dragon, which is made of fiberglass, is 135 meters long and 35 meters high. It is 18 meters wide.

The museum had it official opening on December 24th 2008. However, we were invited up there the day before for a special tour led by Khun Weerasak Kowsurat, the ex-minister of tourism and sports. This has been a special project that he has personally helped with since the initial concept ten years ago. The museum was the brainchild of Banharn Silpa-archa when he was the prime minister of Thailand back in 1996. He decided that he would build a unique museum that would celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations between the People’s Republic of China and Thailand. The museum took ten years to plan and 600 days to build.

Khun Banharn Silpa-archa is a native of Suphanburi. The story goes that he left the city for Bangkok as a youth with only 15 baht in his pocket. Before he left, he stopped at the city pillar shrine to make a wish that he would have a successful life. He also promised that if he became rich that he would come back to Suphanburi and donate money to both beautify the shrine and the city too. As it turned out, Khun Banharn did become a successful businessman and also the 21st prime minister of Thailand. He also kept his promise and did a lot of work in developing Suphanburi as a model city that would be the envy of all Thai citizens. The “Dragon Descendants Museum” is undoubtedly his jewel in the crown.

The museum was designed to showcase the unique history of the Chinese people together with their culture and wisdom. Khun Weerasak told me that they decided to build the museum in the shape of a dragon as it is a symbol of China and recognizable around the world. It is also not the normal kind of museum where you wander around by yourself. You have to join tours that leave on the hour and every hour between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The multimedia experience is unique as it takes you through the history of the Chinese civilization though the use of light and sound shows. We started at the cradle of the creation of the world and then as we walked from room to room, we passed through various dynasties covering a period of 5,000 years. The final room told us of the origins of the Thai-Chinese people and how they have integrated with the people of Thailand. Chatting afterwards, Khun Weerasak told me that he hoped that the museum would inspire people to try and learn a bit more about the Chinese culture.

There is no doubt that the outside of the building is very impressive. It is certainly an important attraction for Suphanburi if not the whole nation. It also serves well the purpose of strengthening ties between the Thai and Chinese nations. The presentation of information in the museum was done in a unique and fascinating way. I was impressed with this though I did have some misgivings. Each round can cater for only about 20-25 people at a time. With seven rounds in one day, then that means it can only cater for a maximum of 175 people per day. Not really a realistic number considering other museums can cope with thousands of people per day. I did bring this point up with Khun Weerasak afterwards. He told me that in theory they could have rounds setting off every ten minutes. But the system hadn’t been tested for that yet.

I think a museum of this kind would be of great interest to young students as the information is presented in a lively and interesting way. However, you cannot really have more than 25 people in one group which is not really practical for school parties. In total there are twenty rooms that we passed through and we had to keep to a strict schedule. We had a tour guide that ushered us through from room to room. She introduced each exhibit and then let the multimedia presentation explain in more detail. Some rooms were quite dark and only lit up certain places as the story progressed. For most of the time I had a good view. However, there were a few times when I wanted to pause to take a picture of an exhibit and I was handicapped either by the tour guide rushing us along or the lights being switched off automatically. The doors behind us were also automatic and we had to be careful not to be left behind!

The whole tour was just under 90 minutes which was surprising. The time flew by quite quickly. Even if you have just a passing interest in Chinese history and culture you will find the museum worthwhile. The presentations were impressive and even interactive at times. At one time we were standing on the deck of a Chinese junk and the floor beneath us swayed with the waves of the sea. My only complaint was the lack of information in English, and surprisingly, Chinese. The tour guide only spoke Thai and all of the video presentations were in Thai too. Unlike the excellent Museum of Siam in Bangkok, there were no subtitles on the video. A missed opportunity. There were a few rooms that had signs in English however I didn’t always get time to read them before the lights were switched off. I brought this point up with Khun Weerasak. He said that foreign visitors would be given audio devices to help them follow the story. They would also train Chinese speaking guides if there were large groups of Chinese people. I am afraid I am a little skeptical on how well this would work.

The “Dragon Descendants Museum” is one of those rare places in Suphanburi that has a two price system. I thought that was a bit of a cheek considering that Thai people would get far more out of the experience than foreigners. I know the building was largely funded by donations from local Thai people. But, when I was in Suphanburi about two years ago, I too made a donation at the city pillar shrine towards the building of the dragon museum. So, I feel a bit of it also belongs to me. The admission price for adults is 299 baht for Thai and 499 baht for foreigners (including Chinese people). For children it is 299 baht for Thai and 149 baht for children. The museum is open from Wednesday to Sunday and also on public holidays. As it is in a public area, you can view the outside of the dragon and also take pictures for free.

I think Suphan Buri is starting to have enough tourist attractions now to warrant a visit. Maybe even an overnight stay. You can find out more information over at our website www.ThailandGuidebook.com where we have a large section on Suphan Buri. If you have any questions about how to visit or where to stay, then please post them in our ThailandQA Forums where we have people waiting to answer your questions 24/7. Many thanks to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) for organizing and sponsoring this trip. Click here for more information and pictures.

The 100 Year Old Market

Following in the foot-steps of Thailand’s champion travel blogger, our very own Mr Richard, I thought that I had better get into the same kinda action this past Monday – a public holiday. My destination – The 100 Year-old Market of Sumchuk district, Suphanburi Province.

I’ve been in Suphanburi for around three years but had failed to venture to this very well-known market located just 30km from Suphanburi’s provincial town. Almost a sin and a once in a year phenomenon, I got up at the hellishly early hour of 7 o’clock on a glorious day-off! Setting off soon after with my flashy new digital camera which the wife has been pampering more than me lately, we jumped on a bus heading in the Samchuk direction (and there are plenty of them, just ask). Half an hour later we were there.

Now, Samchuk’s 100 Year-old market is well-known throughout Central Thailand, and loadsa shops have proudly posted pics of the owners with movie stars, singers, TV presenters and even politicians who have passed through. Well-known it ought to be, the market has been recognized for architectural art by HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindorn and the place has been at the center of ‘cultural preservation’ for quite some time. The market, located on the banks of the ThaChin River, was once a major hub for transportation to and from Bangkok

The first building we came across which really stuck out a mile was the former home of Khun Chamnongjeenarak, a former Opium tax collector. His home, 90 years-old -still in almost perfect original condition, has been turned into a museum (free too!). Some excellent maps, family photos and antiques. There are some young student guides downstairs waiting to show you around and even though I didn’t need much advise such as “This refrigerator is 80 years old” it was pleasing to see school kids actually spending their free holiday time productively. I gave our guide 20baht and he looked pretty chuffed.

The market had some traditional foods on sale that I had never seen before such as baked prawns with rice served in banana leaves. The wife enjoyed the wide variety of traditional Thai-style sweets too. Not exactly one for scoffing too much in the morning, I opted instead for a more politically correct ‘morning coffee’. They have one really big traditional coffee shop which was absolutely packed out with locals and Thai tourists.

The place isn’t huge but it’s certainly worth a good two-three hours, at least an hour of that just munching away on the traditional goodies. Besides the food, coffee and buildings to enjoy, there are traditional antique shops knocking off antiques such as watches and clocks. Then there is a traditional photo studio where you can have black and white photos taken of yourself dressed in a variety very old-fashioned clothes/sarongs/school uniforms/military outfits etc.. There is also a traditional dentists where I heard from an unreliable source, the dentist can extract a teeth with a pair of pliers (if you wish!)

To get there from Suphanburi Town, go to Lotus Department Store and jump on a bus to ‘Samchuk’ and tell the conductor to let you out at ‘Talart Roy Pee’ – as simple as that. On the way back, just ask someone where you can find a passing bus back, plenty of them. From Bangkok there are direct air-conditioned buses to Samchuk leaving from the Northern Bus Terminal. To make a worthwhile day-out, if you travel 30 km past Samchuk you will get to ‘Beung Chawak’, Suphanburi’s most famous tourist attraction, a huge dam with a safari and a big aquarium.

If you are in the Suphanburi area, then do check the place out – definitely worth a visit.

Truly Unseen: Phu Toei National Park

Phu Toei National Park, located in Suphanburi bordering Uthai Thani and Kanchanaburi provinces is one of Thailand’s least visited national parks. So unvisited in fact, that a lot of the locals here in Suphanburi Town don’t even know where it is! Check out these official figures for paying tourists to Phu Toei last year – in October there were 65, November 141 and for December, the peak of the high season – 295.

One of my close friends in town, Khun Nimit (Mr Nicky) President of the Advisory Committee to Phu Toei National Park alongside Mr Tui an Environmental Officer, invited me and the wife, just last weekend, to visit the place. In fact, just a couple of months ago, I translated for the very first time, the official English language guide to the park.

With a great bunch of friends, we left for the park in the morning. The thing that struck me, was that it was so darned far from Suphanburi Town – a hundred kilometers, the same distance to Bangkok! On the way to the park, we had to go stock up on loadsa food and of course the statutory….beer. Then, just before the entrance gates, we stopped off at the groovy Lao refugee village of Ban Pakhee. As one of our friends, Ajarn Kittisak – an artist, wanted to do a quick water-colour for his Bangkok exhibition coming up soon. Anyway, what a chill place that was – I never knew that such a gaff existed in Suphanburi – everyone speaking Lao, listening to Lao music, and the wife just loved the Lao lullabies, blasting away to get the children to sleep!

By the time we arrived at the park it was mid-afternoon, and the officials got straight to work, setting up our tents. There were only two other tourists at the Camp Site – Thais, and I can tell you one thing, and that is – they didn’t look too chuffed when they saw us arriving with three guitars and a crate of beer! Anyway, I had a walk around checking out the environs with a German buddie, while the wife, Mrs Su, got involved with the cooking. Dinner, served up by the park official women wasn’t anything to write home about, but – it was decent enough.

When darkness fell, it got kinda chilly, and by 10PM – the temperature got down to 12C. For the first time ever in Thailand, I was huddled around a fire. What a classic night, Mr Nicky and other friends used to be ‘student activists’ during the 1970’s, so it was great listening to the guitar and Thai-Marxist songs from yesteryear. Could just feel how it used to be, as a Commie living in the Thai jungle.

 

Enjoying a beer around the camp fire 

Up early at 6 in the morning, absolutely freezing me nose off with a bit of a hangover, I checked the thermometer and it read 9C! Couldn’t believe me eyes when I saw one of the park officials taking a shower! As for me however, I decided to spend the next couple of hours sipping hot coffee instead. By 10PM an old-fashioned Thai-style tractor had been arranged, courtesy of the park, to take us up the base of ‘Khao Son’ – which, even though just 7 kilometers away took – 40 minutes. We next had to trek 2km to get up to the viewpoint, and surrounded by Pine Trees, we got a breathtaking view of the national park.

That actual area, 15 years ago, made world-wide news headlines – for a horrific reason. On the fateful night of the 26 May 1991 at 11PM, the engine of a Lauda Airline’s plane, leaving from Bangkok – caught fire. Just after, it exploded, and the jet came down into the jungle of Phu Toei. There is a shrine dedicated, and a plaque showing the precise point of the crash which killed everyone on board – 223 people. To see some of the remains of the aircraft, old bags and even shoes – kinda freaked me out. At night too, just 7km from the crash – it felt eerie, and looking up to the sky, I could just imagine.

Unfortunately, because of the time, we didn’t get to see the other attractions. 30km away, but a 2 and a half hour journey is ‘Khao Thaewada’ (Angel Mountain) Suphanburi’s highest point at 1,200meters. Then just before the mountain is a two hundred year-old ‘Karen’ hill-tribe village, ‘Ta Pheurnkhi’– which must be truly worth visiting. In the vicinity of the Karen are two waterfalls, also called by their Karen names. The park is also home to the Phu Wai caves and plenty of endangered animals and birds like the Horn-bill.

 

(The actual site of the horrific 1991 Lauda Air crash. The numbers on the board tell it all) 

Travel Info:

First and foremost, it essential to have your own transport – just to get to the entrance of the park. If you wish to journey alone, it is highly advised to go by 4-Wheel. Otherwise, you may be smelling your clutch. If you haven’t got a 4-Wheel, the park does have one, including an old-fashioned tractor. You would have to inform in advance however, if you’d like to rent one of them out. At the gates to the park, they are plenty of officials willing to act as a guide – but I doubt they speak English though!

If you’ve got your own tent, then the fee to plant it is something like 30 Baht. Otherwise, they can be rented at 250 Baht a night, which includes sleeping bags, pillows and the officials setting the thing up. If you don’t bring your own cooking utensils, the officials can either cook for you or you can borrow their equipment. Of course, a tip is highly appreciated. If you go deep into the park, up the Karen village, waterfalls or Angel Mountain it is seriously recommended to take a guide.

I found Phu Toei to be a fantastic place, absolutely off the beaten track. If you really fancy a trip into the heart of nature then please feel free to e-mail me for more information. I could also help, with Mr Nicky, to arrange things directly via the national park.

By the way, the Karen Village really need a volunteer English Teacher. I’d love to do it, but the village doesn’t have a shop let alone a darned beer….

Some Suphan Buri Sights

In my last blog I talked about the defeat of the Thai by the Burmese in the 1760s. Conflicts with Burma are a recurring theme in this area. A short distance away, at Don Chedi in Suphan Buri, is a memorial to the 1592 victory over the Burmese.

We spent a pleasant day taking in some of the sights in Suphan Buri, but really just scratched the surface. Writing this blog, I realise that one of the themes for the day was animals.

Our first stop was the complex of attractions at Bueng Chawak. There are many things to see here, an aquarium, various animals, birds, and plants. Of course, we only saw a fraction of it. It would probably take a whole day to do it justice. It was a popular place, full of children, parents, and mini-van loads of monks. Even a talent show. Though it wasn’t the destination I would have picked if I had been on my own (I would have gone for more history) it was a nice feeling: Thai families having a day out.



Our next stop was the Buffalo Village. This has been described as a tourist trap, and it is true that they charge farang prices, even though my Thai friends bought the tickets.

The village contains some pleasant gardens and examples of traditional Thai houses, but the main “attraction” for me was the buffalo show. It occurred to me that this is the sort of thing that we sell to foreign tourists in New Zealand. In our case it is demonstrations of sheep shearing, rounding up sheep with dogs (sheep are big in New Zealand), and ploughing (with tractors). But here the buffalo do the ploughing and I didn’t see any foreign tourists, just local Thai people, including the ever-present monks.

It would be easy to make fun of the show, but, like the shows back in New Zealand, it is always interesting to see real animals at work. And of course we got to feed them in at the end. Feeding animals, especially fish, seems to be a popular pastime in Thailand.



The sun was getting low by the time we got to Don Chedi. It was immediately obvious that this was a popular and important site. To get to it we had to pass a gauntlet of stalls selling everything from electronic equipment to handbags. My friends insisted that I try the fried bugs so I was soon wandering around with a bag full of grasshoppers and various other invertebrates. I’ve eaten bugs at “wild food” festivals back home, so I was a little disappointed that in this case the cooking process had vaporised all of the flesh. Only the exoskeletons remained and the mixture was sprayed with syrup. Not unpleasant, but very sweet and I did not manage to finish the bag.

But on to the monument. There is a lot of detail about King Naresuan, and his 1592 victory over the Burmese in an elephant battle here and in this blog. The impressive pagoda was constructed in the early 20th century, over the remains of a much older monument.



Inside the monument there are many displays, in Thai and English, and some very realistic-looking models of the battle. Almost like being there. Of course, the Burmese are the ones in red in the picture above getting the worst of it.



Outside there were some real elephants, giving a better feel of the scale. And, of course, we got to feed them.

After that it was time to feed ourselves, at yet another excellent roadside restaurant. Another interesting day in Central Thailand. And not another foreigner in sight.

Wat Pai Rong Wua

On the way back home from our trip to Suphanburi, we stopped at a really amazing temple complex called Wat Pai Rong Rua. It is popular with people from Bangkok who drive up here for the day. It is quite easy to find. Just take highway 340 and then look out for the turning on the left for Song Phi Nong. The temple presented itself a long time before we arrived at the front gate. This was because the massive 54 metre high sitting Buddha could be seen miles away. I am pretty sure that this must be the largest Buddha image in Thailand. The only other big one I have seen is in Ayutthaya and that is a measly 19 metres high!

I think Carl Parkes got it right in his guidebook when he described this place as a “surrealistic Buddhist theme park more reminiscent of Disney on acid than Buddha in nirvana”. Scattered around this 200 acre park we discovered literally hundreds and hundreds of Buddha images of all shapes and sizes. It is actually a good place to come for people with an interest in Buddhism as there are also replicas of important Buddhist shrines and buildings. In one section of the park, there is a depiction of Buddhist hell. Here you can see what will happen to you in the afterlife if you perform certain bad deeds. These were very similar to the temple I visited in Bangsaen. However, I think the models here were more explicit and gorey.

There is a lot to do and experience at this temple to keep you busy for several hours at least, if not half a day. We were there at the weekend so it was quite busy with people. If you prefer to avoid the crowds then come during the week. It looks like the monks are continually adding more structures. In this photograph, you can just make out the shoulder of a gigantic Reclining Buddha which will surely be the longest in Thailand once it is completed. Another record breaker at this temple is the largest metal cast Buddha image in the world called “Phra Phutthakhodom”, which has a lap width of 10 metres and a height of 26 metres.

You can visit this temple as a day trip from Bangkok or on your way to Suphanburi. You could also use that city as your base as we saw a songtaew arrive at the temple which had just come from Suphanburi.