A Riverside Walk

15 12 2012

I don’t like fire ants. I want to make that abundantly clear. But I do like Google’s satellite images. In the absence of anything resembling a good map here in Thailand, the combination of Google maps and their satellite images is wonderful. I often use that to identify something interesting I have passed by. Recently, I was taking a look at a large area of greenery that I pass on my way to work and spotted something that looked interesting on our side of the river. There, along the east bank of the Chao Praya River in Samut Prakan was what appeared to be a path through the jungle running almost on the edge of the river. Even better, it looked easy to get to.

The old ordination hall in front of the new one.

The old ordination hall in front of the new one.

Opposite the Erewan Museum, on old Sukhumvit Road, is a small street called Soi Bang Duan. And, thinking of myself as an ever-intrepid explorer, off I went dragging my wife and a friend with me. We drove all the way to the end of the street where there is a lovely temple supported by the local community. It’s called Wat Bang Duan Nok and I made use of their car park. The original ordination chapel, several hundred years old is still standing but not in the best state of repair. Last year, it was badly flooded and two companies have since helped raise the ground level and the chapel floor but there is no money for urgently needed roof repairs. The hall is protected by a trio of aggressive temple dogs but a very friendly monk did his utmost to assure me that they wouldn’t bite. I waited for my wife and our friend to return from the toilet and sent them in first as a sort of experiment. They didn’t bite and neither did the dogs.

The path seemed to be clear and well maintained.

The path seemed to be clear and well maintained.

The path I had seen was very easy to find and exactly where the satellite image showed it! As you go into the temple car park, look to your left where you will see a water gate. Walk across that and there is the path. For a short while it was easy going and well maintained. But not for long! Very soon, we were hacking our way through jungle using the inevitable stick to bang for snakes and other wee beasties we didn’t want around our ankles. We could just about make out the path but it was getting worse and, pushing through the foliage, more and more fire ants were landing on me and attacking. Not the most pleasant sensation so I whimpered loudly as a way of encouraging my companions to get them off me. Eventually, the path all but disappeared and, reluctantly, we decided it was time to turn back.

Eventually the path all but disappeared.

Eventually the path all but disappeared.

However, I had seen another possibility on Google and, asking the locals, that seemed very likely. So we walked back up the street we had driven down for almost half a kilometre and took the second raised concrete walkway on our right, just before a small shop and with a thing like a memorial to (or housing the spirit of) a dead child on the corner. The people in the shop told us that the path we had originally tried is only passable in the dry season and here we were at the end of the rainy season, trying to get through when it would be at its worst! The walkway provided lovely easy walking with plenty of shade. At a fork in the path, we bore right and were very soon walking through a huge area of nipa palm trees. The Thai name for the nipa palm is ‘jaak’ and it has many uses. The leaf can be used to wrap a local dessert called ‘khanom jaak’, they are stitched together to make roofing material, brooms are made from them, hats, baskets, fish traps and more. The fruit is also edible although I haven’t tried it.

The spirit thingy.

The spirit thingy.

We passed another small community and shortly after that the raised walkway finished, leading us on to the same path we had abandoned earlier. It was in good repair here and we walked eastwards along the river. Mostly it was just out of sight but every now and then we came across a tiny path leading to the water’s edge. Now it was just us, nature and the tankers we could hear on the river! Before long, we reached a large fenced compound blocking the path. This was the Marine Training Centre and we turned right, following a small boardwalk along the edge. At the river bank, this changed to a concrete path leading us around the perimeter of the centre and, eventually a road bridge. We crossed the bridge and followed the road, which was old Sukhumvit Soi 6.

The Chao Praya river was just to our right.

The Chao Praya river was just to our right.

A short distance along on the right is another large compound, this one belonging to the police. We wandered in and, in the far left corner by the riverside is an almost hidden gate. Walking through there, we found ourselves in the kitchen area of a large restaurant which was opportune as we were hungry. We were shown into the restaurant proper and enjoyed the air conditioning. The food wasn’t bad either. After lunch, we retrod our steps back to the car and are now planning to do it again in the dry season when we should be able to make it a circular walk.

Lovely sign in the restaurant we stumbled upon.

Lovely sign in the restaurant we stumbled upon.

 

 





2011 in review

1 01 2012

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 190,000 times in 2011. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 8 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.





A Year in Bangkok – Why Are We Flooded?

16 11 2011

My first real experience of Thailand was 2004 when disaster hit in the shape of the tsunami. Moving here in 2005, I quickly became aware of the many problems in the education system. Then in 2006 there was the military coup. By 2007 I was fully aware of the rampant corruption. In 2008 the yellow shirts occupied the airports then, in 2010 we almost reached a civil war between red and yellow shirts. Now we have the floods and I have come to realise that the average Thai must be as resilient and flexible as my mother’s old handbag.

Watch out for snakes in the water.

Of course, added to the flood issue is the danger of snakes and crocodiles in the water, infection and just the sheer filth of it. Amazingly, there are even fish swimming around in it. On the English language news the other morning the newsreader said: “Residents in northern Bangkok are terrified of the large number of escaped crocodiles in the flood water. Authorities are trying to recapture them but meanwhile they have armed themselves with swords and sticks.” I’d have thought those big mouths and teeth were enough! So when are we going to enjoy some peace and a little prosperity?

The school I work at has got wet!

Loy Kratong, my favourite festival here, was cancelled in many places. That’s when people pay respect to the Goddess of the Water showing gratitude for their plentiful use of water and ask for forgiveness for the ensuing pollution. Well, there is plenty of water to be thankful for – hundreds of millions of cubic metres more of it than we want really. Because my area hasn’t yet been flooded, we still celebrated Loy Kratong. Maybe the Goddess has actually put a curse on Thailand.

Loy Kratong

Now, I don’t want to be harsh but it does seem as though Thailand has, yet again, been let down by its leaders whose main concern seems to be bringing the de facto leader back to the country without him having to face jail for his crimes. The people who desperately need help with evacuation, food, medical supplies and so on take second place to the needs of the rich industrialists who have businesses here. Misinformation is rife. There are allegations of serious corruption. For example, the government-supplied flood relief packs are allegedly seriously over-priced. Further, the two companies providing them to the government allegedly have the same telephone number. And the owner of one of those companies allegedly has the same name as a senior member of the government.

My engine is a little damp.

We have a young and totally inexperienced prime minister in charge of this country of over 60 million souls. That is the farce of this version of democracy, supported of course by the UK and US. The task she faces is monumental, one which seriously experienced politicians would struggle with. There are allegations here of serious incompetence. Allegations have been made that the reservoirs which are normally emptied to take the excessive monsoon waters remained full. I don’t know if that is true or not but you have to question why a country which receives massive rainfall every monsoon season is suddenly overwhelmed by it.

Inside a friend's house.

Then there is tourism and yet another downturn – this time caused by western governments advising their citizens not to come here. Why not? Most of the places tourists go to are nowhere near the floods. Krabi, Phuket, Koh Chang, Samui, Central Bangkok, Hua Hin, Pattaya, Chiang Mai, Kanchanaburi are all as normal and open for business. Contrary to some reports in the west, Bangkok’s international airport is NOT closed and hasn’t been closed by the floods. The chances of that happening are almost nil. So please don’t cancel your holidays, you really don’t need to.

At least the pets are dry.

We did our bit for tourism the other day and went to one of the islands for lunch. It was lovely, even though we were surrounded by water. Of course, that water was clean, a beautiful blue colour and smelt good. After lunch, we sat on a pier built by King Rama V and watched shoals of fish swimming in the water. Not a crocodile in sight!

"Hello.......anybody home? Don't worry, I'm unarmed."





A Year in Bangkok – Green Mamba!

7 11 2011

Sometimes, my brain simply fails to comprehend the stupidity of others. I, of course, never do anything stupid. But here, I’m really talking about beyond stupid. For example, a European guy living in Pattaya decided to keep a pet cobra. Can you imagine anybody with even half a brain deciding to keep a pet whose bite is lethal? Sure enough, the snake bit him and he had to go to hospital for the antidote. Even with the antidote, I understand that it is an extremely painful experience. Now that is gross stupidity but did the guy get rid of the snake? No, he continued to keep it as a pet, even allowing it the run of his apartment. I would have thought the old adage ‘once bitten twice shy’ might apply here but it became twice bitten as the guy’s decomposing body was later found in his apartment.

Green mamba striking.

Last week, we heard of somebody who decided he needed a breeding pair of green mambas. Deadly snakes for which we have no anti-venom as they are not natural to Thailand, but to a relatively small part of East Africa. Being a breeding pair, they did just that and became seventeen green mambas. Unlike the black mamba, it is relatively shy and non-aggressive but a green mamba will bite if threatened and, with no antidote, you can expect a slow and painful death.

It almost looks cute here.

Now this particular idiot’s house has flooded and the snakes have escaped. So far, one has been caught. Watch out for the other sixteen!





A Year in Bangkok – Koh Si Chang

22 05 2011

Colourful fishing boats in Koh Si Chang harbour.

I picked up my new car last weekend. That was quite a big deal as, shortly before leaving England, I gave my car to my son and promised myself that, from then on, I would lead a cleaner, greener life and only use public transport or occasional hire cars. Well, I lasted for about six and a half years but the journey to work has pushed me back into car ownership – and I’m already feeling the benefit! It was the last weekend before school started back so I decided we should go away. Looking at a map, I spotted Koh Sichang, a small island not too far from Bangkok that I have intended visiting for some time. This seemed to be as good a time as any so I spent Friday evening on the internet finding out about the place and booking somewhere to stay and then we set off on Saturday. We made a major detour to pick up a friend who wanted to join us so lunchtime found us at Si Racha rushing to park the car and board a seriously overloaded ferry for the island. It is actually about two hours from our house but had taken us four due to the detour. The ferry had a legal capacity of 154 passengers but there must have been close to three hundred crammed on to it. We were a bit nervous about the dangerous overloading but, hey, this is Thailand!

The local tuk-tuk

This area is a huge deep water harbour and is full of giant cargo ships and tankers, quite a disconcerting sight. They unload out there into barges, which are often seen being towed up the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok. They are so unsightly they could have easily put me off going there had I known about them in advance. I am so glad that I didn’t know about them. Koh Sichang is a small fishing community (population just over 5,000 according to a local guy we were chatting with) which I am arrogantly going to say is part of the real Thailand. I say that because I am not enamoured of the tourist hot-spots or of their complete lack of what I think of as “Thainess’. So, whatever the real Thailand may be, this is part of it! It’s delightful, quaint, old-fashioned, rugged, inexpensive and one of the nicest places I have visited. I’m already looking forward to my next visit.

Beautiful rugged scenery and walks.

As the ferry approaches the island, the first thing you are likely to notice is an old Chinese temple built into the hillside. This is called San Jao Phaw Khao Yai and is believed to date back to China’s Ming dynasty. It is built around a cave-shrine which predates the temple by many centuries, a time when Chinese junks anchored in this vast natural harbor and a proper visit, which I didn’t manage on this trip, is highly recommended.

Lovely wooden school in the island's only town.

The first things I noticed when we landed were the local tuk-tuks which I can only describe as a cross between a chopper and a limousine. These beasts are powered by six cylinder engines and are unique to Si Racha (although I didn’t see any there) and Koh Si Chang. The second thing I noticed was the colourful jumble of fishing boats in the harbour.

All those big ships in the background!

We stayed in what is apparently the only proper hotel on the island, the Sichang Palace, where we had a sea view room for 1,400 baht. The sea view was actually a panorama of ocean going ships between the island and the mainland. Our friend didn’t want to pay so much so found somewhere else but, in asking around, we discovered places as cheap as 200 baht for the night.

A convalescent home for westerners, built by King Rama v.

A late lunch was followed by a tour of the island on one of those amazing tuk-tuks for just 250 baht and that gave us a good flavour of the island. Before we knew it, the afternoon had gone and it was time for dinner. We had already planned to have dinner at a restaurant called Pan and David’s. They are a Thai/Western couple who have set up a useful, informative web-site about the island ( www.ko-sichang.com ) and also promote their restaurant on the site. Here’s a quote from it: Our food’s good because we’ve been putting our heart into our kitchen for a long time, and because we use the best ingredients.” Naturally, I was hoping it would be as good as they claimed.

Pan and David's restaurant.

First impressions were good – it was clean and attractive and we were very quickly shown to a table. I had hoped to meet Pan and David but they weren’t there. Sadly the food, although okay, wasn’t going to win any awards. All the western dishes were served with those tasteless frozen ‘french fries’ beloved by MacDonald’s and other restaurants of similar quality . A pity as real potatoes are easily obtainable here and most, if not all, of their western dishes would be so much better if a little effort was put into what they are served with. I ordered tuna steak and that was fairly good. For dessert, I had a moderately okay cheesecake. The menu claimed they had an extensive wine list and, after struggling to get the attention of one of the staff, I was told there isn’t actually a wine list – just take a walk to the chiller cabinet (which housed both red and white wines!) and choose – the price was clearly marked on all bottles. And that was the real gem of this restaurant. All the wine was very reasonably priced and that alone makes it worth going back to. We had a decent frascati for 750 baht. Just a week earlier, we had paid 1,200 baht for the exact same wine in a Bangkok restaurant. The food was good enough to make a return visit too but, as I said, not wonderful.

The original foundations for what is now called Vimanmek Mansion in Bangkok.

In the 19th century, the island was a getaway for the royal family. Three successive kings used to come here but it was King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) who really seemed to take to it. He initiated the building of a summer palace here, Munthat Rattanarot Mansion. Sadly, western colonialism pushed the royal family into abandoning the island and the mansion was never finished. The French claim to nearby Laos led to their gunships blockading the Chao Phraya river in the late 19th century and their troops occupying Koh Si Cwhite squirrelhang. A treaty was signed in 1893 relinquishing land on the eastern side of the Mekong river to France but they did not pull out their troops for another ten years. In 1901 the king had the almost finished mansion dismantled and moved to Bangkok where it was re-assembled and renamed ‘Vimanmek Mansion’. It is the largest golden teak building in the world and is well worth a visit. Here on the island, you can still see the original foundations of it.

Typical sea view on this rocky island.

Accommodation on the island is fairly limited but reasonably priced. There is no natural source of water on the island, so the people here rely on rain water stored in large cisterns that were built when the island was developed about a century ago. There is now a new water purification centre which a local guy proudly pointed out to us. Next week, I will write about a wonderful temple and meditation centre on the island.

More on this next week!

Next time we go, and there will certainly be a next time, I hope to see the squirrels. The island is home to a unique white squirrel which was hunted almost to extinction. Now, they are protected and are apparently a common sight which I hope to see very soon.

Time to risk getting that ferry back.





A Year in Bangkok – Dolphin Bay and my Favourite Hotel

7 05 2011

Five kilometres of beach.

The first time I went to Khao Sam Roi Yot national park, I drove out of the north gate and almost immediately saw a small road going off to the right. I wondered if that might lead to a coast road so turned down to see. It did. It also took me to a small seaside community and resort which I so liked the look of that I resolved to return. At that time, I didn’t even know the name of the place – just how to find it again.

If you are lucky, you'll see some rare dusky langurs in Khao Sam Roi Yot.

Well, I have now been back several times and it must be one of my favourite places in Thailand. It is called Dolphin Bay and is known to a fairly small number of Thais and expats so it never gets too busy. It is named after a school of the local pink dolphins which inhabits the bay. They are often seen and I have seen plenty of photographs of them but, so far, I haven’t met them myself.

Sunrise in Dolphin Bay.

For me, it is ideally located. It is two to three hours drive from Bangkok so is great for a weekend break. It is just outside a beautiful coastal national park and is very close to two other excellent national parks. It is on the gulf coast, the beach is five kilometers of brilliant white sand and the sea is always warm. Indeed, I like it so much that I sometimes wonder why I bother to go and find new places to visit here. And it is only a short drive to the busy seaside town of Hua Hin if you fancy a night out.

Releasing lanterns on the beach to celebrate the King's birthday.

It is also home to my favourite hotel in Thailand. I am quite fussy about where I stay and this particular hotel was first recommended to me by somebody who lives nearby. It is called the Long Beach Inn and is quaintly described as a boutique hotel. It is owned by Dutchman Bram and his Thai wife, a lovely couple who take really good care of all their guests. There are only eleven rooms so the service is always personal and my experience has been that Bram has an amazing memory concerning his guests and their interests. I am fussy about my food too and the food there is usually good. It is not the cheapest place – rooms start at just under two thousand baht per night including breakfast but it is great value and I would recommend it to anybody.

The Long Beach Inn - my favourite hotel in Thailand.

If you so desire, Bram will lend you a bicycle. You can take a short ride round the delightful local lanes or you can easily spend a day cycling round the nearby Khao Sam Roi Yot. You can take a trip with Bram to one of the other nearby national parks to go wildlife watching. I haven’t done that but, from many conversations with him, I expect a trip with Bram would be very good as he is one of the most knowledgeable people I have come across regarding the wildlife of this wonderful country.

Beachside massage.

You can have a massage at one of the many beachside massage spots or you can arrange with Bram for somebody to come along to the hotel to give you a massage. You can relax on the balcony of your room with a book or you can chill in the outdoor jacuzzi. This is starting to sound like a promotional piece for the hotel so I had better stop – I think you might just be getting an idea of what I think of this place by now!

Crab-eating macaque with crab in hand - quite common round here.

So, if you are in Thailand and want a short break outside Bangkok, you could do much worse than go to Dolphin Bay which also has several other hotels!

That beach again.





A Year in Bangkok – Wildlife Watching

20 02 2011

Entering Kui Buri National Park

There is an article in today’s Bangkok Post informing us that a poacher has been shot dead in Kaeng Krachan national park. Apparently there was a shoot-out between forest rangers and a gang of poachers on Friday. The same gang is suspected of being behind the slaughter of an elephant in Kui Buri national park last October but they were disturbed by visitors to the park. Sedatives, darts and the remains of some dusky langurs were found in their camp.

Slaughtered in Kui Buri 20th October 2010

Some time ago, I read that elephant attacks on humans were on the increase and that this is a world-wide phenomenon. There is no consensus on why this should be although common sense suggests two probable causes to me: poaching and the animal/human conflict over land use.

Elephant in Kui Buri

Kaeng Krachan has long been a good place to see wild elephants but it is becoming quite dangerous now due to elephant attacks and more than one person has died as a result of that. Quite a lot of hotels in the Hua Hin area offer wildlife watching trips to Kaeng Krachan but I’m not too sure how safe they are.

Elephant in Kui Buri

I know a Dutch guy who has a small boutique hotel near Hua Hin and he also takes people on such trips. Not only does he own my favourite hotel in Thailand (The Long Beach Inn in Dolphin Bay), he also knows his animal behaviour and is the only person I would happily go wildlife watching with.

Long Beach Inn, Dolphin Bay

January and February are arguably the best months for seeing some of this country’s magnificent wildlife. The main reason for this is that, as we near the end of the dry season, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the animals to find water thus making it easier for us to predict where we might see them. There is a relatively new national park now at Kui Buri, about an hour further south of Hua Hin and this is probably the best place in Thailand to see elephant as well as all sorts of other wildlife.

Elephants in Kui Buri

There are two safe places to watch from here. One is up a tree with a rickety platform in it and is good for elephant watching. The other is a cliff top and, from there, you can see gaur and other large mammals if you are lucky.

Gaur from the cliff top in Kui Buri

You go to the visitor centre and wait there while park rangers check on animal movements and they then take you to the best place for watching them.   You can see dusky langurs in both of these parks but my favourite place for watching them is Khao Sam Roi Yot national park, very close by and so close to The Long Beach Inn that you can cycle there, using a bike which Bram (the hotel owner) will happily lend to you.

Dusky langur in Khao Sam Roi Yot

There are several big cats in Kui Buri and you can stay there overnight. The first time I went there, it was seriously difficult to find as nobody in Kui Buri city seemed to have heard of it and we ended up getting directions from somebody at the local police station but now it is well signed from the main road.

Leopard in Kui Buri








%d bloggers like this: