Category Archives: Thai Travel News

Koh Tao after the Storm

Much of Southern Thailand has been hit hard by unseasonable storms which have resulted in floods and mudslides. Up to 25 people are believed to have been killed and some villages either engulfed by rising waters or covered by mudslides. Eight provinces in mid-southern Thailand, including Nakhon Si Thammarat, Surat Thani, Chumphon, Phatthalung, Trang, Phang Nga, Songkhla, and Krabi, have been affected by the floods.

At present, Nakhon Si Thammarat Airport remains closed and trains on the Southern Line terminate at Chumphon. Buses are getting through on some roads, but a number of roads, for example in Krabi, are impassable. However, Samui Airport and also the ferry boats between the islands, including to Koh Tao and Koh Phangan, have all resumed services. Firsthand reports on Twitter today say that things are getting back to normal on the islands with foreign tourists already going out on dives.


On Wednesday evening, I talked by telephone with one of the foreign backpackers who was stuck on the island. We had news the day before that ships as well as the aircraft carrier from the Royal Thai Navy were being dispatched to the region. They arrived on Wednesday. News later that day gave us the impression that all of the foreign tourists had been evacuated. That wasn’t really so. From what I learned from Lee, a backpacker from America, was that only about 25% of the tourists were able to be evacuated. He told me that they had been told to report to the pier at 8 a.m. Women and children, as well as the elderly, were evacuated first by helicopter. You can see that happening in the video above shot by and posted on youtube.

Other people were ferried out to the ships by longtailed boats. Lee said that they stayed at the pier until 4:30 p.m. when they were finally told that the ships were leaving without them. He said that no-one seemed to know whether the navy would be coming back. However, the catamaran service, that runs between the islands and Chumphon announced that due to the weather improving that they would be selling tickets for the next day. So, Lee bought a ticket on this boat for 1,000 baht with a connection all the way to Khao San Road in Bangkok. As far as I can work out, this was the normal price. In fact, Lee told me that there didn’t seem to be a hiking of prices on the islands. There was no shortage and they even got some free food from the locals. He said that he was very impressed with the hospitality of the Thai people.

This afternoon I spoke with Ayesha Cantrell (@kohtaodive) via email and twitter. She lives and works on the island and what she had to say mirrors what other “locals” have said about the situation. The picture above and below were posted on her blog today “Koh Tao After the Rain”. This is what she told me in her email:

“The evacuation seemed a little over the top to most residents on Koh Tao but I understand that the situation has been much worse in many places.  We are used to this. Being cut off for a few days is not out of the ordinary and we didn’t loose power and certainly had enough food.  I have been here without ferries for more than 10 days and even then we weren’t down to crumbs, although beer was being rationed. When the boats stop running what we don’t have apart from transport is fresh fruit and veg – but everything else is ok. The worst hit areas are actually residential and will take a little time to put right – again this is quite normal in monsoon.  The problem was the amount of water in a short space of time.

“As far as I am aware there are a few shops and two bar/restaurants closed on the main strip of road (see above).  One resort has had a couple of 15 yr old bungalows fall/slip and has seen damage to their pathways. The main beach path has at the most a couple of metres that has been washed away.  One beach restaurant lost its deck. This is all being fixed as we speak and will rectify itself very quickly. All in all relatively little damage and little that will inconvenience a visitor. The beaches are deserted. Ferries are running normally, dive boats are back out and the multitude of fishing boats hiding in Sairee have left overnight. Today its bright and not raining. The sun is trying its hardest to break through. Once it does the remaining large puddles will be a memory.”


It was certainly a bad storm on Koh Tao which you can see on this video uploaded to youtube by OceansBelowKohTao. But, as Ayesha said, they are used to it on this island and things are quickly getting back to normal. However, there are not many tourists and the people on these islands depends on them for their livelhood. The situation is not being helped by travel warnings posted by various countries that haven’t been updated yet. For example, The British Foreign Office have this to say: “The Foreign Office advise against non essential travel to Koh Tao and Koh Phangan” [source Updated: 31 March 2011].  I am not sure why they single out these two islands.

Most of the emails and tweets that we have received today were about Koh Tao and also Samui. I have been in contact with people there and they are in agreement that much of Samui is habitable now and should be back to normal by mid-April. We also had quite a few questions about Phuket on the West coast. According to firsthand reports from Phuket, although they had continuous rain for four days, they had very little flood damage. Today the sun has even come out. I was supposed to fly down to Phuket on Thursday and I think it was a shame that it was cancelled. It sounds like they have already returned to normal. For the latest travel news for Thailand you can follow me on Twitter @RichardBarrow. I can also suggest two excellent weather blogs for that region: Jamie’s Phuket Weather and Camille’s Samui Info Blog.

Songkran 2011 is More than Just Water Fights

Songkran Water Fights at Ancient Siam in Samut Prakan

It is nearly time for the most popular Thai Festival, Songkran 2011, which takes place all over Thailand in mid April every year. This is the traditional Thai new year which is the most enjoyable of all festivals both for Thai people and foreign tourists. Songkran is widely known as the water festival as people have lots of fun splashing water over each other during the three day festival. However, Songkran is more than just waterfights. I took the following pictures in Samut Prakan Province of some more Songkran activities. Other provinces in Thailand will also have their own festivities similar to this for Songkran.

Merit Making during Songkran

Early on the morning of 13th April, I will be joining hundreds of local people in Samut Prakan to give alms to monks. Thai people do this to make merit which is a good way to start the new year [More Pictures].

Songkran Parades

Many cities around Thailand will have Songkran Parades to mark the start of the festival. I took the picture of this colourful float in a parade at Phra Pradaeng in Samut Prakan [More Pictures].

Miss Songkran Beauty Contest

During Songkran there are also beauty contests to find the most beautiful Thai woman and also the most handsome Thai man. The winners will take part in the parade.

Rod Nam Dam Hua - Pouring Water on Elders

During Songkran, it is traditional for Thai people to return to their ancestral homes and to pour water on the hands of their elders. They will also do this to anyone older than themselves that have been important in their lives like a teacher or other relative.

Song Nam Phra - Pouring Water on Monks

At the temples they also organize ceremonies where you can go and pour rose scented water onto Buddha images and onto the hands of monks. This monk is having some fun pouring cold water onto the backs of some novice monks [More Pictures].

Chedi Sai - Building Sand Pagodas

Another traditional activity for Songkran is making sand pagodas. This is a competition joined by local families to make the most beautiful pagoda made of sand. The original idea was for people to bring sand back to the temple which they may have inadvertently carried away on the sole of their shoes [More Pictures].

Releasing Fish and Birds

Another way of making merit during the Songkran Festival is by releasing fish and birds back into the wild. I took this picture at Wat Prodket in Phra Pradaeng which is probably the most beautiful place to see this [More Pictures].

Water Fights at Songkran

So, as you can see, there is plenty to see and do during Songkran Festival 2011. Although I took all of these pictures in my home province of Samut Prakan, similar events will be taking place all over Thailand. You can follow me on Twitter @RichardBarrow if you want to learn more. I will also be posting live pictures and photo albums on my Facebook page Richard.Thailand. Feel free to add me as a friend.

Where and When to Celebrate Songkran 2011

In less than two weeks we will be celebrating the biggest Thai Festival called Songkran 2011. This takes place all over Thailand in mid-April. The date used to vary but it is now fixed and takes place on 13-15 April every year. Although these are the dates for the public holiday in Thailand, Sonkgran itself will be celebrated over a wider period in different places around Thailand. If you feel up to it, you can play water fights for up to 12 days at various locations. However, in one location, water fights don’t usually go on for more than three days. But, having said that, this year the public holiday is Wednesday to Friday and it is possible some kids will want to continue the water fights over the weekend as well.

You can celebrate Songkran anywhere in Thailand. You don’t have to visit one of the following major events to enjoy the experience of Songkran. I don’t usually travel far during Songkran as I prefer celebrating it locally. Tomorrow I will give you a preview of some of the activities that take place in my home province of Samut Prakan during Songkran each year.


9-17 April 2011: Bangkok Songkran Splendours Festival. This year’s Bangkok Songkran Thai New Year celebrations features a combination of colourful festivities and activities being hosted by the various communities of Khao San Road, the districts of Banglumphu-Wisutkasat and Phra Artit Road under the theme, “Love Songkran in Your Home Town” [MORE].

13 April 2011: Ayutthaya Songkran Festival. Songkran celebrations will be held at various sites around the island city of Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya; the ancient capital of Ayutthaya. Songkran festivities will feature ancient customs and traditions of Songkran that have been observed through the centuries [MORE].

12-14 April 2011: Suphanburi Songkran Festival. The main event is a Songkran procession of the golden Luang Phor Toh Buddha image and also a Miss Songkran Beauty Contest [MORE].

22-24 April 2011: Mon Songkran Festival at Phra Phradaeng. Phra Pradaeng in Samut Prakan Province is one of the few places in Thailand that celebrates the Songkran Festival in the Thai-Mon style, featuring a magnificent parade. Visitors can learn how to play saba, enjoy a Mon folk play, plus many other forms of entertainment, and see a procession of swan and centipede flags [MORE].


13-18 April 2011: Koh Si Chang Songkran Festival. Witness a rarely seen traditional courtship tradition on the island of Koh Kaam Yai, approximately 1 km from the island of Koh Si Chang. The men of the village invite eligible young ladies to join them for water-splashing in the sea. If consent is granted, the man carries the young lady down the beach to the sea and then carries her back to shore again, after which the couples take part in the traditional ram wong circle dance [MORE].

16-17 April 2011: Wan Lai Sand Pagoda Building Festival. With no shortage of sand to build sand-stupas, the stupa building contest on Bangsaen Beach is a predominant element of the Songkran festivities in Chon Buri. [MORE].

18-19 April 2011: Pattaya Na Kleua Songkran Festival. A procession of the Buddha image along the Pattaya beachfront road offering local residents and visitors an opportunity to participate in the ritual bathing of a revered Buddha image [MORE].

19-21 April 2011: Sri Maharaja Songkran Festival in Chonburi Province. The observance of the ‘kong khao’ religious ritual and other customs related to the celebration of the Thai New Year [MORE].

22-23 April 2011: Songkran on Koh Chang. The islanders celebrate Songkran a week later than the rest of the country with alms giving, parades and water splashing [MORE].


7-19 April 2011: Sukhothai Songkran Festival. At Wat Traphang Thong temple in front of the Sukhothai Historical Park, Sukhothai [MORE].

7-19 April 2011: Si Satchanalai Songkran Festival. Journey back in time as local residents of the historic town of Sukhothai turn back the clock and revisit their glorious past as they celebrate the Songkran Thai New Year the traditional Thai way. Most will be dressed in traditional Thai costumes [MORE].

12-15 April 2011: Chiang Mai Songkran Festival. One of the best places to experience Songkran is in Chiang Mai, where it is celebrated on a grand scale with a flavour uniquely and entirely its own, attracting visitors from far and wide [MORE].


12-15 April 2011: Nong Khai I-San Songkran Festival. With the neighbouring country of Lao PDR on the opposite bank of the Mekong River, Songkran celebrations in the northeastern province of Nong Khai is a combined Thai-Lao Songkran festival, with rituals, cultural performances, folk games and cuisine, reflecting a shared heritage [MORE].

8-15 April 2011: Dok Khun Siang Khaen Festival. As part of the traditional Songkran Thai New Year merit-making ceremonies in Khon Kaen province, the locals perform bathing rituals to pay homage to revered Buddha images and shrines, present merit-making offerings to monks and pay respect to elders by making ritual offerings [MORE].

12-15 April 2011: Nakhon Phanom Lao Songkran Festival. Buddhist bathing rituals are performed in accordance with ancient customs and traditions. Scented lustral water is sprinkled over sacred sites such as the 2,000-year old Phra That Phanom stupa — the most sacred and ancient monument of the Northeast and the landmark of Nakhon Phanom, holy footprints of Lord Buddha, temples, Buddha images as well as monks [MORE].


9-15 April 2011: Hat Yai Midnight Songkran Festival. Miss Songkran pageant and Miss Songkran procession and the Midnight Songkran celebrations in Hat Yai [MORE].

10-13 April 2011: The Water Festival on the Beach in Phuket. Visitors to Phuket are invited to join local residents in Thai New Year merit-making activities and experience up close and personal the colourful local culture highlighting traditional Thai ways as well as contemporary pop culture. [MORE]

11-15 April 2011: Songkran Festival in Nakhon Si Thammarat. For hundreds of years, it has been the tradition to pour lustral water onto Phra Buddha Singh image during the fifth month of the Thai calendar. The present day Songkran Festival has evolved from this practice. A procession escorting the Phra Buddha Sihing Buddha image from the Provincial Hall to Tung Tha Lat where it is bathed with lustral waters [MORE].



History of the Tourism Authority of Thailand

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) was established on the 18th March 1960. TAT was the first organization in Thailand to be specifically responsible for the promotion of tourism. Since the inception of the first local office of TAT in Chiang Mai in 1968, there are now 35 regional offices throughout Thailand. TAT has also established many overseas offices the first being in New York, which was opened in 1965. During the past 30 years, TAT has since established 15 more offices in different parts of the world. The headquarters for TAT is on Phetchaburi Road in Bangkok. I was there on Thursday as part of the celebrations for the 51st anniversary of the TAT.

The modern chapter of Thailand’s official tourist promotions began life during the reign of King Rama V when His Royal Highness Prince Purachatra Jayakara, then Commissioner-General of the Royal State Railway of Siam, sent publicity materials on Thailand to the USA. In 1924, a publicity section was formed under the Royal State Railway of Siam; its duty was to help visitors to Siam as well as manage publicity. In 1936, the Ministry of Economic Affairs proposed a tourism promotion plan to the cabinet that aimed at the management and development of publicity, tourist facilitation, and destinations and accommodation. The Department of Commerce was entrusted with the tourism affairs.

The Director-General of the Publicity Department, Luang Sukhumnaiyapradit, pushed for the transfer of the Tourism Promotion Office from the Ministry of Commerce to the Publicity Department.  This came into affect on the 4th August 1947. It was then renamed Office for the Promotion of Tourism. Its operation funds came from the Department’s own budget. The rapid expansion and growing awareness of tourism convinced the Publicity Department to upgrade the office to a regular division called the Tourism Office, following the 1950 Royal Decree on the Publicity Department Arrangement for Official Operations.

The Tourism Office grew into its own independent body for the first time during the administration of Field Marshal Srisdi Dhanarajata. Impressed by the tourism he saw while on a sick-leave in the USA, he announced in 1959 a Royal Decree to re-organize the Publicity Department and the establishment of a national tourist office. The Tourism Office was thus replaced by an independent body called the Tourist Organization. The organization set up its own office for the first time in a building on Si Ayutthaya Road in Sanam Sua Pa on March 18, 1960; its official inauguration date. In 1963 the title was changed slightly to become “Tourist Organization of Thailand” (TOT).

From that moment on, the national tourism rapidly expanded and yet concentrated principally on publicity campaigns. On account of the ever widening scope and importance of tourism activities, it had been recognized of the necessity to institute the development and conservation of the country’s tourism resources and to organize and control travel trade segments. Two bills, a Tourism Authority of Thailand bill and a Travel Trade Regulations Arrangement bill, were submitted for voting to the National Legislative Assembly in its April 20, 1979 session. Only the former was passed into law. The Tourism Authority of Thailand replaced TOT at the written proclamation in the Royal Gazette on May 4, 1979.

Source of Information: TAT

Tattoo Festival at Wat Bang Phra 2011

One of the most bizarre festivals that I have ever attended in Thailand is the Tattoo Festival. This takes place at Wat Bang Phra temple in Nakhon Chaisi, about 50 kms west of Bangkok. This year it is on Saturday 19th March 2011. Wat Bang Phra is famous for its magically charged tattoos and amulets which can protect its wearer against harm and even speeding bullets. The temple was made famous by the late Luang Phor Boon and his devoted followers visit this temple every March to take part in a special “wai khru” ceremony and also to have their tattoos recharged.

The ceremony is scheduled to start at the auspicious time of 9.39 a.m.  However, it is a good idea to come early. We were there just before 7 a.m. At that time it is easier to park and also to find a good place to sit or stand to watch the proceedings. Although we had arrived early, there was already close on a thousand people there. Many of them were sitting on the ground facing the shrine for Luang Poh Pern. Others were making offerings to this former revered abbot of the temple. He was famous for making magical tattoos that could protect their wearer. Now his monks continue this practice.

I have two reports on this festival:

I won’t be able to go this year as I have another trip heading north to Chiang Rai at that time. I have marked the temple on the map below. Near this temple you will find Lampaya Floating Market. You might like to visit afterwards. Please feel free to post any questions in the comments form below.

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