A Year in Bangkok – Another Old Market

3 07 2011

Who would like a nice fresh rat?

Yesterday, I took a drive along Lat Krabang Road to the point where Samut Prakan, the province I live in, meets Chachoengsao. Soon after passing Suvarnabhumi Airport, the buildings of the city start to disappear and the road becomes lined with rice fields, many of which are populated by storks at this time of year. Along the roadside are stalls selling barbecued rat, freshly caught in the rice fields. To get here from town is easy, you just take Sukhumvit Soi 77 (On Nut Road) and keep going – it will eventually become Lat Krabang Road.

Looking towards Bangkok. Samut Prakan province is on the left and Chachoengsao is on the right.

I came out here to find another old market I had heard about and it is a real gem. It is called Khlong Suan Roi Pee market and is well signed from the road shortly before you get to the Bang Pakong River. This hundred year old market runs along one bank of the Prawet Burirom canal and, interestingly, straddles two provinces: Samut Prakan and Chachoengsao.

Saphan Aswanij - this wooden bridge is over a hundred years old.

Having passed on the barbecued rats, and it being lunch time, I was ready for a bite to eat when I got here. The choice of food is almost overwhelming and all of it is cooked right there in front of you. I settled for a Vietnamese thing, kind of a stuffed omelet I suppose. It was chock-full of bean sprouts, nuts, pickled radish, bean curd and goodness knows what else served with lightly pickled shallots and cucumber on the side. I have never come across this before and it was delicious.

Lots of wonderful fresh cooked food.

I then spent a couple of hours wandering around both the market and the canal side community here. Everybody was friendly and several people tried to chat with me in English. This market and community goes back to the reign of King Rama the fifth and there are times when you can almost imagine yourself back in those days. It has survived several fires – a remarkable feat as all of the buildings seem to be made of wood and the wooden bridge (Saphan Aswanij) which links the two provinces is apparently the original.

Beautiful old teak shop houses.

In the past, this market was linked to Bangkok by boat and there was a regular passenger service between Chachoengsao city and Bangkok, terminating in Pratunam. In this small area, you will see ethnic Chinese, Thai Buddhists and Thai Muslims all living peacefully together. If you get outside the immediate market area, you will find not only temples and mosques but even a Chinese canteen offering free vegan food to hungry souls in need.

Who will buy my fish?

If you get the chance, go there. You won’t regret it but make it a weekend as I understand that a lot of the stalls and shops are closed during the week. Keep scrolling down for more photos.

Traditional transport.

 

Lovely canal side community.

 

My lunch.

 

Most of the stalls are old wooden (usually teak) shop houses.

 

Another great old bridge.

 

Looking along the backs of the shop houses.

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A Year in Bangkok – Democracy and the Election

30 06 2011

Thailand's Democracy Monument

This Sunday, 3rd July there will be a general election in Thailand. It’s the third one in six years – I know because that is how long I’ve been here. Thailand is a liberal democracy and it seems to feature all the worst bits of liberal democracy U.S style. Lots of spin, strange (and probably empty) promises but no policies of any substance. And, on an unsophisticated electorate, this can work quite well, as it seems to do in the U.S. I get the feeling that this electorate might be getting a little more sophisticated but, of course, all things are relative.

The 2006 coup.

Since the ending of the Kittikachorn dictatorship in the 70’s, there has been a cycle of elections and coups in Thailand. A lot of that seems to be about how democracy fits with other, older institutions like the monarchy, the army and even the civilian bureaucracy and there is something about this election which makes me think it may really be about the country’s inability to agree on what democracy is for them.

The polling booths are starting to appear.

A big difference this time though is the non-presence of an ousted prime minister, currently a wanted and convicted criminal. He was deposed in 2006, was banned from politics and now lives in exile as he was sentenced in absentia, essentially for stealing huge sums of money from the Thai people. He is effectively fighting this election through a surrogate party called Pheu Thai as his own party, Thai Rak Thai was declared illegal and disbanded. He can’t be seen to head up the party so his younger sister Yingluck does and the general feeling here is that he pulls her strings. One of their slogans is “Thaksin thinks, Pheu Thai acts”. The strange thing is that they love him. Huge numbers of people really believe he will give them a better life – a bit like the sheep which liked Farmer Jones better because he fed them more…….and lo and behold, he got a better price for them at market. It is widely believed that if Pheu Thai wins, he will be given an amnesty and that the money which was (allegedly) stolen from the Thai people and then taken back by the courts will go back to the (alleged) perpetrator of the (alleged) crime. Amazing!

I'm sure that's the banned politician/wanted man on this election poster in his northern heartland.

This is a guy who recognized the potential of getting the uneducated poor on his side and, using his vast wealth and charisma, exploited it perfectly. Current populist policies include offering credit cards to farmers and free tablet computers for all school children. Quite how this country’s extremely poor farmers might repay their subsequent credit card debts is, presumably, somebody else’s problem. Financial analysts and academics though have attacked these policies as extravagant and unsustainable in the long term. This man has also been accused, not unjustly, of abusing his power in office for personal gain and of human rights abuses, particularly during his ill-conceived ‘war on drugs’.

And his sister Yingluck, probably going to be Thailand's first woman prime minister.

Then there is the current government. They weren’t really elected by the people but were the result of lots of behind-the-scenes dealing. A bit like the current farce of a government in the U.K I guess. But that is where any similarity ends even though the current prime minister is an old Etonian. Basically, he is viewed by those who oppose him as a front for other, more extreme and conservative interests and, as we saw just over a year ago, he is willing to use violence against demonstrators who oppose him politically.

The current, embattled prime minister, Abhisit.

There are twenty four other parties and I know little or nothing about most of them. One of them, which you can’t really fail to notice here, is the Rak Thailand party headed by a guy called Chuvit. Chuvit is known as the “massage parlour king” because he owned a chain of these dubious establishments, the biggest of which are almost industrial-scale brothels. I’m told he was Bangkok’s biggest massage parlour owner. He has re-packaged himself as a crusader against corruption, exposing the bucket-loads of cash (and maybe other payments in kind) he presumably made to police and politicians to keep his sex businesses running smoothly. Chuvit appears angry in his election posters, which urge the public to let him fight corruption. Think about it, does he sound suitable for fighting corruption? His posters are great though. One shows him carrying a baby with the message: “Politicians are like nappies, the more you change them, the better.” Another one shows him clasping his head. It reads: “Bored with politics but have to vote? Let me be in opposition to fight corruption.”

Chuvit.........would you let him hold your baby?

The other one I’m aware of, thanks to the posters, is the nationalist party which is urging the electorate to reject all of the candidates. Their posters are lizards, dogs, monkeys and other animals dressed as politicians. They read: “Don’t let the animals into Parliament”. But other parties have complained to the election commission that portraying politicians as animals is undemocratic and the Thai Veterinary Medical Association has claimed that the posters are offensive to animals. When the Bangkok Post reported that, their headline was ‘Beastly Posters Vex Vets’.

One of those beastly posters.

In effect, Thailand has two choices. An Abhisit government which has proven itself competent but, in my view, effectively represents ‘old’ money and risks a backlash in the streets from the red shirt faction. In other words, a conservative government. Or (the most likely outcome) a return to a Thaksin-inspired government which, in my view, represents ‘new’ money and which risks the staging of another military coup. In other words, a conservative government which claims to be something else, rather like the U.K’s ‘new’ labour some years ago which successfully convinced the terminally stupid that it was not really conservative.

Are the military awaiting the outcome of this election?

The passions which are aroused here suggests to me that finding a liberal and democratic way forward is going to be fraught with difficulties. Neither major party is really comfortable with the freedoms and compromises associated with liberal democracy but most Thai people themselves are. So where will that leave us? I, for one, really don’t know.

A recent newspaper report described the streets as having forests of election posters.





A Year in Bangkok – Back to School

5 06 2011

Happy to be at school.

This may seem a strange thing to say, but I’m happy to be back at school. I’ve missed the kids during the long holiday but will doubtless be fed up of them by the end of the semester! The school I work in is seventy one years old this year which may not seem too impressive by European standards (the school I went to in England celebrates its 500th anniversary next year) but it is certainly quite old for Thailand. It is now on its third site and during those seventy one years, has produced several heads of government departments and no less than six prime ministers.

The top of primary - literally!

We had a big celebration for the ‘birthday’ last year with a sit down meal and performances by all the students. The meal was really sumptuous and mainly Chinese as Bang Khae, where the school is, is a largely Chinese area.

Let's get serious.

For starters, we had the unusual mixture of prawn crackers, French fries – I suspect the fries might have been for my benefit – and dim sum. This was followed by a rather nice pork and quail egg soup and then spicy spicy squid. Next came roast duck with sweet plums followed by a prawn and glass noodle salad. Finally, for dessert, we had hot beans in sweet syrup. I felt happily bloated.

Preparing for that meal.

I get lots of love and affection from the students, who showered me with hugs and kisses for the first few days but the other teachers and the local people are all delightfully friendly too.

They start to learn about their culture in kindergarten.

People often offer to share food with me (maybe they feel sorry for me because I’m so skinny) and one day, as I was walking down the street, a local beggar sitting on the pavement having what was probably his only meal of the day offered to share his sausage and rice with me. Occasionally, one of the teachers in the school will prepare a Thai dish for me and shyly present me with it at lunch in the canteen.

We get silly at staff parties.

On the first day of this semester, colleagues produced small gifts for me from their holidays, all of which were edible and sweet and the parents of a new student have just provided me with some very tasty sweet coated peanuts. All of which might explain what happened at the tailor’s shop I go to.

A student 'luk thung' singer.

I needed new school trousers and I always get them from the same guy. He provides me with made to measure black trousers made from good quality natural fabric at a remarkably good price. All of my adult life, I have had a thirty two inch waist but when the tailor checked my measurements, he claimed that my waist was thirty six inches. I said he must have got that wrong so he measured again and showed me: thirty six inches. I suggested his tape measure had shrunk in the rains so he got another one out and came up with the same measurement.

Dancin' in the street? Almost!

It was time to gracefully accept the inevitable so, along with school wear, I ordered some new casual trousers too. Now, less than a month later, they are all feeling rather snug and this morning found me in Tesco Lotus buying some cheap off the rack trousers!

Traditional dance.

There are many things I like about the schools here in Thailand and one of those is the way they keep the culture here alive. Traditional dance for instance is taught in all of the schools I have worked in and there are regular performances. Traditional music is also highly regarded within the school system as are other arts.

Drummer boys.

But my favourite moment of the semester so far has to be walking to a nearby organic shop for some strawberries when somebody grabbed me from behind and hustled me down the next sidestreet. Was I being mugged? Was I about to be raped? Of course not. I hadn’t noticed it, but a truck was advancing along the road using a mini water cannon to water the plants along the roadside, regardless of who happened to be walking along. A thoughtful passer-by had just saved me from a soaking!

Modern version of a traditional dance.





A Year in Bangkok – Wat Tham Yai Prik

28 05 2011

Welcome!

In the late sixties, the Venerable Prasit Thavaro had a vision. An old lady called Prik, who was King Chulalongkorn’s (Rama V) nanny, came to the master and invited him to a cave on Koh Si Chang. In 1970, he went there to meditate and he subsequently spent almost ten years meditating there alone.

A monk's room.

In 1983, he went on a pilgrimage to India and Nepal to visit Lumpini Park in Nepal, where the Buddha was born; Bodhgaya in India, where the Buddha became enlightened; Deer Park in Sarnath, India where the Buddha proclaimed his first sermon and Kushinagar in India where the Buddha passed on. He brought back soil and water from those four places, mixed them together into a ball and kept the ball in the cave. Supposedly, a Buddha relic appeared at the base of that ball and then proceeded to multiply of its own accord. In 1996, when a pagoda was built there, the relics were placed above the ceiling to show respect.

A meditation class.

But now I’m getting ahead of myself! For many years, Master Thavaro taught meditation using the cave as his centre. Over time, particularly in the 1990s, several buildings were added to the site. In the year 2000, it was established as a monastery with Master Thavaro as the first abbot. It is a wonderful place which I hope to visit again before too long.

A bodhi tree from India, under which the Buddha found enlightenment.

The atmosphere is calm, what I would expect from such a place, but it is also much truer to what I think of as real Buddhism than most temples are. For example, everything here was built by the monks and nuns rather than by outside contractors. Those monks and nuns live a simple, self-sufficient monastic lifestyle which was normal during the time of the Buddha but is not so now. Also, the abbot was opposed to the commercialisation of Buddhism so, unlike most temples in Thailand, Wat Tham Yai Prik does not offer services such as fortune telling, amulet selling or even the sprinkling of holy water. It is a policy which means the temple doesn’t get much by way of donations.

Everything here has been built by the monks and nuns.

Meditation is still taught here and anybody can go. You can even stay here although the accommodation is basic. If you fancy the idea of learning to meditate, I can’t think of a nicer place to learn. If you’ve practiced meditation before, come and try it here. You can call them on (+66) (0) 3821 6104. At least one of the nuns even speaks English! Surprisingly, the language doesn’t seem to be a barrier. I met a Russian woman here who was on a five day meditation course. She couldn’t speak any Thai or any English but was really pleased she had come for the course.

Part of the vegetable garden - they are not just self-sufficient here, they even give the surplus to members of the local community!

Sadly, Master Thavaro passed on in March 2007. In June 2008, Nopphadon Khunesako was appointed abbot and, although nuns are no longer ordained here, he seems to be continuing to run the monastery in the spirit intended by its founder. He says he is also influenced by the late reformist monk, Phra Buddhadasa of the Suan Mokh forest monastery in Surat Thani and his belief that being mindful in everything we do amounts to the same thing as practicing Dhamma – essentially a path of self imposed discipline which includes the cultivation of mindfulness and a wisdom which comes from understanding the nature of things.

Lunch break for course participants.

Incidentally, during building works in 1998, they found a picture of Prik which is now in the original cave that Master Thavaro meditated in.

In the cave, the black and white picture below and at the right of the Buddha is Prik.





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 – The Royal Ploughing Ceremony

13 05 2011

Lovely old picture of the ceremony.

It was the royal ploughing ceremony today, Friday 13th which seems unfortunate. This ceremony, which is hundreds of years old, takes place inBangkok’s Sanam Luang or the royal field and marks the start of the rice planting season. Sanam Luang is an interesting spot. The big weekend market, now at Chatuchak used to be held here and it is also the traditional site for royal cremations. There is a huge kite flying competition here earlier in the year and it is also a popular site for political demonstrations. Okay, we had a military coup a few years ago and some killings at last year’s demonstrations but Thai people are technically free to express their views. I constantly hear our western leaders bleating about democracy which is a great shame. I never thought I would say such a thing, but I had no problem with the coup. The ousted prime minister (and friend of the west) needed to go and this was the only way the Thai people were going to be free of him along with his alleged vote rigging and human rights abuses. How would you like your teenage son to be shot because he might have a joint on him? And the official line on these shootings? People wouldn’t be shot if they were innocent. I think the west pushing Thailand into a quick return to democracy was a shame because it happened too quickly and we’ll end up with everything being the same as before. However, when did a few human rights abuses ever bother the western governments if no oil or other valuable resource was involved? Unlucky for you though Mr Gadaffi!

Traditional old picture of the ceremony.

The royal ploughing ceremony starts early in the morning. I haven’t got to see it yet as I always seem to be working on that day so have to make do with watching the highlights on the evening news. It is presided over by the king, although due to the king’s health,  it was the heir apparent today, and oxen literally plough the field for the rice to be planted. The oxen are also offered seven kinds of food and their choices help the royal astrologers make predictions for the forthcoming year’s rice harvest. For instance, the oxen chose rice and grass one year which apparently bodes well for good harvests and sufficient water supplies for the year. At the end of the ceremony, people can collect the rice that has been sown. Many people believe this is lucky and will make their own fields flourish so collecting the rice can be a bit of a stampede.

Ploughing the field.

Sometimes, my brain seems to work a bit like a grass hopper. Ploughing and oxen have made me think of directing traffic. What’s the connection? I have no idea. It seems to me that Thai men love to direct traffic, especially if they also have a whistle to blow. Yes,Bangkok is full of the sounds of whistles. Every apartment block, every supermarket, every hotel, indeed almost every building is served by a man with a whistle and very often a smart uniform and ……. wait for it……..black wellington boots. It is the job of this lucky person to guide people into and out of their parking spaces using a series of blasts on the whistle. There is a secret code for these whistle blasts but only the whistle blower understands the code and, to make it more confusing, each whistle blower seems to have his own code. The drivers do their best to ignore the whistle blasts, probably the best thing to do when you don’t understand the code. There is another whistle blower at the entrance or exit to the car park. His job is even more satisfying as he gets to halt the main traffic flow to allow drivers to enter or leave the building. He does this by emitting a series of whistle blasts in his own secret code then leaping into the street, arms flailing as he stops the traffic. This is hugely entertaining when two whistle blowers in neighbouring buildings are at work. With really skilled whistle blowers, it can be almost as good as dueling banjos. But not having a whistle or a smart uniform doesn’t stop a dedicated director of traffic. Motorbike taxi drivers for instance seize any excuse to start directing the traffic and you often see them leave their stands in order to direct a bit of traffic. If there is a traffic policeman already doing it that doesn’t deter them, they just position themselves about a metre away and get busy directing the traffic that the policeman is already directing. I saw a great one the other day. A guy stopped his motorbike near a busy junction, in the middle of one of the two lanes leading into the junction. He turned off the engine and then proceeded to direct the inevitable traffic build-up around the obstacle he had just caused. He looked as happy as a sandboy.

Choosing

Strangely enough, I once saw an advert for one of these guys in one of the English language publications here. It included the lines: “Do you like to blow in a whistle as loud as you can? Do you think you could do it all day, every day? Be a guy that blow in a whistle! The job consists in blowing in a whistle at cars.” Maybe I’m in the wrong job.





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.








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