Monday, November 30, 2009

Don Wai market

A daytrip from Bangkok I have done three times already is the market at Don Wai, close to Phutthamonthon in Nakhon Pathom province. It is a huge market where almost everything is sold - from fresh fruits, herbs, dried and fresh fish, up to all the different kinds of sweet snacks. But also toys, Buddha statues, even plants are on sale there. And of course there are several restaurants. Especially for Thais this market is already the prime attraction, yet what I enjoy most there are the boat trips on Tha Chin river.

Since on our latest visit there I had my GPS tracker with me, I could make a map showing the exact way the boat took - from the pier at Don Wai till the bridge at Wat Rai Khing in Tha Talat, and back. At the turning point it had the standard activity of Thai at water bodies - feeding the fish with bread. Also a small boat with a ice-cream dealer docked to sell a snack.

View Larger Map

From the river one can see all different types of housing, from very plain houses up to villas, mostly on the western shore. On the east shore it has two temples, Wat Rai Khing at the turning point and Wat Tha Phut a bit upriver. But what makes the trip most enjoyable is that we always bought many things to eat before and brought them on the boat - in the first trip, which was at my first trip to Thailand, I even had a complete lunch on the boat.

Though it is mostly used as the parking lot of the market, the temple Wat Don Wai is also worth a short visit. I don't know why, but the photos of that temple looked almost artificial in their colors, and I did nothing like HDR with them.

For the full set of photos see the Don Wai set at flickr.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Wat Phonimit, Surat Thani

BotThe temples within the city Surat Thani did not impress me that much, there are neither really historical ones - maybe except the one building of Wat Pattanaram - nor as lavishly decorated. Slighly outside the city center however is one temple which is worth a short visit just to admire the architecture and handicraft necessary to create it. Of course compared with the temples in Bangkok it is just a normal one, yet for Surat Thani city it is apparently the most interesting one.

Named Wat Phonimit (วัดโพธิ์นิมิต), the temple is located on the road towards Kanchanadit, about 4 kilometer from the city center. I went there together with family, and while they attended a ceremony in the Sala I was free to stroll around in the temple complex and took lots of photos.

Lions in front of BotThe main building is of course the Ubosot, most lavishly decorated and with a small fence around it. The gate inside as well as lion statues, and of course the gable of the building made great photo locations. Note the wasp nest glued on the gable in one side. Sadly the building was locked, so I could not get a view on the Buddha statue inside, or see if it has any interesting murals on the walls inside.

StatuesInteresting were also several statues located around a tree, the hermits in behind I could recognize, yet I don't know about the symbolism of the other figures. Also, several smaller chapels and Salas are spread over the compound, for example the one housing three monk statues.

GraveyardSeparated from the main compound by the street towards Rama IX park is the crematorium and the graveyard - the small chedis house urns of the deceased.

Since I could not add all the photos here I have created a set on Flickr, and when I have the chance to add more photos of the place I will put them there as well.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

House of Museums

A very interesting museum in the western outskirts of Bangkok is the House of Museums (บ้านพิพิธภัณฑ์), where lots of everyday items of the 1950s and 1960s are collected and displayed.

On the ground floor is one corner with lots of toys, mostly tin toys, and since we went to the museum with our small daughter this corner we spend most of the time - she could not get her eyes off from the many toys, all so much different from those she is used to nowadays. There are further two old style shops, though while such a shop layout itself can still be found in Thailand away from the big malls of Bangkok, I could only wonder that so many of the old product packaging was kept by collectors. There also a small shop of old-style toys, though most in plastic already, as well as some treats. Also, directly at the entrance next to the counter are the books by Anake Nawigamune (เอนก นาวิกมูล), the founder of the museum and a very productive writer on many historical topics. Sadly the books are all only in Thai, only the photos inside might be of interest for those living behind the language barrier.

The first floor features a printing press, a barber shop, a photographer shop, and a kitchen, all with the historic utensils. Another room just has many mixed historic items, like a historic playing car, musical instruments, games, dolls. Even more interesting for me was the second floor, especially the office of a district officer as well as an old school room. Finally on the ground floor of the neighboring house is the workplace of a dentist, a Chinese gold shop (still looking much similar to the ubiquitous gold shops of Bangkok).

Though we spend more than an hour in there, we had to hurry through the last rooms since we had another appointment later the day. But as this museum is located close to the home of my brother-in-law, it won't be my last visit there for sure.

The museum is run by a private club and is therefore only open in the weekends when the members don't need to work. It is quite easy to find when driving yourself, from the city center on the highway to Nakhon Pathom (but don't use the elevated one which has only few exits), then right after the intersection with the ring highway change to Phutthamonthon Sai 2 to north, turn left at the end and shortly after at the sign left again.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Baan Rabiang Dao resort near Khao Yai

Normally I don't write about resorts or hotels here, as for me these are mostly the places to spend the night and I prefer to explore the attractions around. So we don't go to the expensive resorts and choose a plain hotel room instead. But since it was a nice and special place we stayed together with the Thai family two years ago I'll give it a try to deviate from the normal contents here this time. Just to make it clear - I wasn't paid for this posting, nor am affiliated in any way with the resort.

The resort is named Baan Rabiang Dao, yet the part we stayed was named Ban Ruea Resort (บ้านเรือรีสอร์ท), literally house boat resort. The name and the photos already explain the theme of the resort - the rooms are inside traditional styled houseboats. As we were traveling with all family we filled a large boat completely - actually we were even more than the 6 persons normally planned for a single home. As it is a relatively expensive resort we only stayed one night, but it was definitely a pleasant stay. Especially the children liked the pool a lot, and luckily we could borrow swimming suits from the resort as not all of us did bring our own.

The resort is located near Khao Yai national park, and it was very quiet around it. Only when I now searched to pinpoint the location exactly I learned that very close to the resort is the Gran Monte winery - we visited a winery next day, but that was the Vin de Ray in neighboring Saraburi.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

District museum Thonburi

One of the local district museums I should mention here is the one of Thonburi. It is relatively easy to reach, has several nice exhibits, but most of all the caretaker was that much concerned about me getting most of the museum it was nearly annoying already. As she did not speak much English, she instead read the text on the plates next to the exhibits.

The museum is located in the 3rd floor of the temple school of Wat Prayurawongsawat, most famous for the replica mountain known as "turtle mountain". It is located right across the river at Memorial Bridge. The temple itself is also worth a visit, but one wouldn't find this museum at all strolling around on the temple grounds. It has a sign on the street outside the temple complex, but not a single hint inside to guide to the school. In the brochure of the temple it has a photo of a sign in front of the school, but I did not notice that one in there. So once I found the school building I asked at the kiosk in front and it quickly had someone guide me upstairs to the rooms occupied by the museum. Felt quite odd to pass the school rooms full with pupils to reach a museum.

The museum itself consists of two rooms, and since it was a very hot day and I was on a walking tour visiting several of these museums the fact one of it was acclimatized was quite comfortable. Since the district shares its name with the historical capital - though the actual palace back then is in Bangkok Yai now - and the former province covering the area west of the Chao Phraya river, these histories are prominently displayed on the posters. It was one of these posters where I learned that the former province hall of Thonburi is located just around the corner of the temple.

Of course the local artisans are featured as well, music instruments from (if I recall correctly) Lao settlers including audio recordings to listen, or the Khon mask shown to the left. Also, photos and descriptions of the main religious sites in the district are shown - apart from the Buddhist temples Wat Kanlayanamit and Wat Prayurawongsawat the Santa Cruz church and the only Mosque built like a Thai temple building are the most prominent ones. These alone already gave me enough ideas of places to visit next time I am out for a walking tour in Thonburi.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Prasat Phanom Wan

Prasat Phanom Wan (ปราสาทหินพนมวัน) is a Khmer temple ruin located between the more famous and big one in Phimai and the city Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat). It consists of a about 50x50 m big area enclosed by a stone wall, with a single shrine in the middle.

I went there on the return way from Phimai, so this much smaller and less reconstructed site failed to impress me that much after seeing Phimai, but the fact that I was the only one exploring there and the more ruined state also has a lot charm. Since I did a lot of photos in Phimai already, I only did very few there, and only one turned out good enough to show here. But on Wikimedia Commons it has several more from other visitors.

I only came to go there because I bought a book on Khmer sites in Thailand in preparation for the visit to Phimai, and noticed that there a second place which nearly on the way. According to that book, this temple was built between the late 9th and late 11th century, and was used for Shiva worship, and at other times Vishnu worship and finally Buddhism was practiced there. It was rediscovered by the French explorer Henri Mouhot in 1861.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

City pillar shrine of Suphanburi

As I am fascinated by the city pillar shrines, which it has in almost every provincial city and also some others, after I saw the photos of the shrine in Suphanburi in the tourismthailand blog this particular site not too far from Bangkok was quite high on my list of places I need to visit. The dragon museum showing an exhibition on the history of the Chinese, located right next to the shrine, made the place even more interesting.

However already when we were underway in Suphanburi I could get a brochure from the museum, and once seeing the entrance fees the interest shrinked a lot. No one of my Thai family was considering it worth the 300 Baht, and as a foreigner I would even have to pay 500 Baht - the infamous Thai double pricing. As a little reality check - the Louvre in Paris is 9 Euro for a normal day ticket, or as of today close to 450 Baht. And I doubt it has anything spectacular like the Mona Lisa in the dragon. So I only took a few views from the outside and will delay the inside until the pricing gets more reasonable. Yet if you're interested in a report on what to expect inside, Richard Barrow was there already.

But even skipping this museum the site definitely was worth the visit, as the city pillar shrine is probably the most lavishly decorated one of all Thailand. But this is also due to the fact that it is one of the few city pillar shrines built like a Chinese temple, which are known for their colorful decorations. The central part are of course the pillars, two gold-covered statuettes. In front of the shrine many people pray, light the incense candles, just like in the Buddhist temples.

But not just the place in front of the shrine and the inside of the building is worth looking at, even on the backside it has paintings. There are also some additional buildings in the behind - the furnace for burning larger gifts to the ancestors is a standard found in every Chinese temple. It further has a large meeting hall, and still partially under construction at my visit a huge tower,

Since I have taken more photo than would fit into this posting, I have created an album in Flickr to show the whole set.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Wat Khao Suwan Pradit, Don Sak

Most tourists only know Don Sak, the easternmost district of Surat Thani province, only because the main ferry from the mainland to Ko Samui leaves near this small town. Though it is not that spectacular, a stop-over in the town is a worth it, not just the sea food restaurant directly at the mouth of the small river into the sea. On the hill overlooking the town is the temple Khao Suwan Pradit (วัดเขาสุวรรณประดิษฐ์) - literally the "hill of artifical gold".

The buildings at the entrance, the area usually used for parking the park, are not much spectacular, the only interesting was a smaller shrine with the mummy of a monk inside. I guess this is Luang Pho Choi (หลวงปู่จ้อย), who founded the temple in 1982. To me it seemed quite strange to have him laid out in that glass shrine.

But the much more interesting place is reached after walking up the long stairs. These lead to the hilltop pagoda, a beautiful white chedi surrounded by a building. This chedi enshrines a Buddha relic, originally from Chiang Mai. But for me as a non-Buddhist, apart from the beautiful building the view from the hill to the sea was much more breathtaking. One can see the Ang Thong archipelago and Ko Samui easily, as well as look down to the town center.

As this temple and especially the chedi is the most important landmark of Don Sak, it is no wonder the municipality Don Sak (เทศบาลตำบลดอนสัก) uses it in their official emblem. Quite nicely to see in the top of the street signs, like the one of the road from the town center to the temple.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Morakot cave, Trang

One of the most impressive trips to Thailand was my second time there back in 2001, which was the first time in Southern Thailand. We went by train from Bangkok till Trang, and the only thing which really impressed me about this provincial town at that time was the delicious cake, a special kind of local soft biscuit. While that cake is still a "must" every time I come to the south, even more impressive was the coast of Trang province.

We did a day trip from the town Trang to the coast, and there entered a small boat for a snorkeling tour. Maybe as it fitting with the tides, the first stop was at Ko Muk (เกาะมุก), where we swam into a cave hardly visible from the outside. The cave, named Morakot cave (ถ้ำมรกต), is partially so narrow we nearly had to dive to avoid hitting our heads on the stone. Clearly nothing for someone scared in dark narrow places. When the cave opens again, one is at a lagoon inside the island surrounded by high cliffs, with a nice sandy beach.Too bad that cheap underwater camera we bought made only very low-quality photos, so all I can show here are the views from the boat.

After that cave the tour continued to two other places which had some nice corals and fish, it had a simple lunch on boat, and I was kind of an attraction since I was the only foreigner among the maybe 20 Thai taking the tour with us. Thus after returning in evening I had to pose with a large Thai family in front of the boat, and I never knew why they needed me on their memory photo. Anyway, the underwater sights together with the impressive steep karst islands made it quite a memorable trip, even though the underwater sight were soon thereafter outshined by those around Ko Tarutao. But that will be another posting.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Surat Thani night market

When I checked through my photos from last year I noticed the one to he right as a quite good one I simply needed to share. It shows the temple Wat Sai (วัดไทร) located in the center of the town Surat Thani. But - actually apart from this view the temple isn't anything special, the large open place is often used as a parking lot, and I haven't been able to check the inside of the bot if it has any special murals or Buddha statues.

So in order to be able to show this photo, I instead write on the night market of Surat Thani, which is held every evening in the small side street in front of the temple. Like all markets it is always busy, and since it has predominately food stalls offering meals as well as diverse snacks every time I am in the town we go there at least once, usually having Pad Thai at the corner to Na Mueang road. Also the book store from where I shot the night view belongs to a distant relative, so we always have to pass there as well to say hello.

It is of course only a small night market, just 200 meter long, nothing compared with the huge one in Chiang Mai, but on the other hand it is much more authentic as there are hardly any foreigners to be seen there.

For some additional photos, take a look at Camille's review of this market on his Samui info and weather blog.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Wat Boromratcha Kanchanaphisek

StairwayWat Boromratcha Kanchanaphik (วัดบรมราชากาญจนาภิเษกอนุสรณ์) is a newly built Chinese temple in Bang Bua Thong district, Nonthaburi, northwest of Bangkok. It is also commonly named Wat Mangkhon 2 (วัดมังกร 2), as it is related to the Wat Mangkhon (Dragon temple) in Chinatown.

It is a huge temple complex, which merges together elements from Chinese, Buddhist and also Hindu temples. It is the most lavishly decorated temple I've visited in Thailand. When entering the temple, one first sees the Chinese parts - lions next to the stairway, several statues which look like monks but unlike the normal ones seen in Buddhist temples. Next come the pavilions with several statues of Chinese gods, and all the wall and even the roof painted with many religious symbols.

Buddhas and MonksThe next building is the main hall, in which it has the three Buddha statues, and when we went there also had monks chanting their sermons.And of course all the things it has in every other Buddhist temple, people lighting incense stick or donating flowers, rubbing gold leaves and placing coins on stone balls spread around this main hall.

In the behind it has a two-stored building, with a small part of it closed since it is used by the monks themselves, probably as their living quarters. But the two main rooms offer even more interesting views. On the ground floor it has some small Buddha statues in middle, but the real attraction is the wall, which is completely covered with thousands of small Buddha statues. In the second floor it has the already mentioned Hindu parts, a multi-handed statue - but I don't know which of the many Hindu gods it shows.

Buddha wallAltogether I strolled around there for one hour, and took lots of photos of the many details within the temple - even simple things like the balconies of the walkways have ornaments, and without repeating each is different from the next. Or small figures on the roofs, simply heaven for a photographer, only sometimes needed more zoom to catch the best views. I have uploaded an album of my photos to flickr because there are simply too many to show them all in this posting.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Phra Nakhon district museum

The most beautifully located district museum (พิพิธภัณฑ์ท้องถิ่น) is the one of Phra Nakhon district, the central district of Bangkok. Prior to its merger with Thonburi, the Bangkok province was named Phra Nakhon after this central district. The museum is located directly next to the district office on Samsen road. It is therefore close to the popular tourist area of Khao San road.

The museum is in a wooden house in traditional Thai style, the former residence of Phraya Borirak Ratcha (พระยาบริรักษ์ราชา), who was a palace guard for King Rama V till Rama VII. In one room in the second floor it has some portrait paintings of the former home-owner.

The other rooms show various exhibits connected with the local history, the traditions of the citizen like local products, like the baskets and other wickerwork as shown in the photo.

When visiting this museum, also take a look at the district office itself located at the other exit of the lot towards Samsen Soi 3. While most of the administrative offices are located within a modern office building, there's also a historic building which probably was the original district office - however in real I don't know anything about this building, it only look worth to take a photo.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Wat Rakang

Wat Rakang Kosittharam Mahawihan (วัดระฆังโฆสิตารามวรมหาวิหาร) is one of the 32 temples in Bangkok Noi district, but one of the most significant. And since I love to explore the city by walking, this temple makes a good target as it's just 3 kilometer away from where I normally stay. I have thus visited there twice, and only lack of time and lots of other targets made me skip this tour the last two times I was in Bangkok.

The main feature of the temple is the bell tower, because those bells gave the temple its name - Rakang (ระฆัง) is the Thai word for bell. The temple got its name when the original bell was moved to Wat Phra Kaeo by King Rama I, and the king sent back five new bells as the replacement. These bells were hanging in the bell tower in the southeast of the compound, but are now in Wat Phra Sri Rattanasattadaram in Bangkhen district, so the bells seen here are replacements of the replacements.

The bot is also well worth to go inside, it not only has a big Buddha statue like most temples, but even more noteworthy are the murals on the walls. Though a bit weathered already they are still worth looking at. Since 1949 they are registered as a national heritage site.

Around the bot are several small and large chedis, and one can see that temple is also a popular place for the final rest - in the walls and chedis it has many urns with the photos of the deceased. I have however only taken one photo of the largest of these chedis.

Another noteworthy building is the library, at first look an inconspicuous wooden building hidden between the trees next to the bot. In my first walk there I hardly noticed it, only to learn later about its significance. Sadly during my second visit the building was under reconstruction, so the photo shows more of the scaffolding than the actual building.

Towards the river is a large temple market, mostly selling those stuff Buddhist need for making merit - incense sticks, flowers, buckets full of items for the monks, animals to set free to gain "tambun", but of course also some small food stalls. But if you are looking for a "normal" market, just walk north next to the historic Patravadi theater towards Sirirat hospital. The last part of this walk then inevitably leads you through that market.

Apart from walking there, the temple is quite easy to reach as it is located very close to the Chao Phraya river. The Wat Rakang pier (photo) itself is only used by ferries or hired boats, but the nearby Phran Nok pier is serviced by the Express boats, and then walk from that pier towards Wat Rakang through the market.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Phra Samut Chedi

The most significant Buddhist temple of Samut Prakan province south of Bangkok is Wat Phra Samut Chedi (วัดพระสมุทรเจดีย์), located on the western bank of the Chao Phraya river not far from its mouth into the Gulf of Thailand. In the past it was surrounded by the river and is still also known as Wat Klang Nam (วัดกลางน้ำ, temple in the middle of the water). The temple was constructed by King Rama II and was finished in 1828. It was then the first significant sight of visitors coming to Bangkok by boat. Anna Leonowens, famous by her fictionalized character in the musical and movie Anna and the King in her travelogue and diary wrote
On the other, which at first I took for a floating shrine of white marble, is perhaps the most unique and graceful object of architecture in Siam; shining like a jewel on the broad bosom of the river, a temple all of purest white, its lofty spire, fantastic and gilded, flashing back the glory of the sun, and duplicated in shifting, quivering shadows in the limpid waters below. Add to these the fitful ripple of the coquettish breeze, the burnished blazonry of the surrounding vegetation, the budding charms of spring joined to the sensuous opulence of autumn, and you have a scene of lovely glamour it were but vain impertinence to describe. Earth seemed to have gathered for her adorning here elements more intellectual, poetic, and inspiring than she commonly displays to pagan eyes.
I have to admit, when I went there I was much less impressed. As you can see in the photo, the chedi was not fully white and had lots of black sprinkles of mold. There's no significant Buddha statue and no lavishly decorated bot like in other temples, the only place which was more interesting was a pavilion containing a statue of King Rama II and with some murals on the walls. I just learned now that in fact this pavilion normally isn't accessible, so we were very lucky to be able to go inside. Sadly I only photographed the statue and did not shot the murals.

For some more information on this temple take a look at Richard Barrow's site, which also has a description on the annual Phra Samut Chedi fair.

Update: Richard has posted several more photos in a new thread at his forum, including photos of the murals.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Wat Kaew, Chaiya

The most important historical building in Surat Thani province is Wat Borom That Chaiya with the chedi in Srivijaya style. Next to the temple is the local branch of the national museum, so when I visited this place several years ago I did not omit the museum. But these two locations are still found in guide books, and there's even talk about it being part of a World Heritage site to be proposed to UNESCO soon.

However these two should not be topic this time, but two minor sites nearby. While walking through the museum I noticed a map of the surroundings of the main site marking the location of two other temples, named Wat Long and Wat Kaeo (วัดแก้ว). So I asked to go to these as well, and it turned out that in fact I had to guide since noone of family knew the way to go there. When I succeeded thanks to memorizing the map well I could impress my mother in law a lot, who is a native of Chaiya but never knew these places.

The first one, Wat Long, isn't that impressive, as only the foundations of the chedi have been preserved, surrounded by a small pond, and found directly next to the road. The top photo might give an idea on how it looks like.

A little further driving comes the second site, which is more impressive since a much larger part of the chedi is preserved, though one can see the weathering of the centuries well. In the niche, the black hole in the above photo, is a Buddha statue. If these two chedi ruins are in fact those referred to in the Thai inscription #23 as labeled by Prince Damrong in his Collected Inscriptions of Siam, then they are more than 1200 years old.

Though I have been in Chaiya again, I haven't been able yet to revisit these sites, which is really a pity as I am quite dissatisfied with the quality of the photos. Redoing them with my digital SLR should give much more presentable photos, and also more than those few I did back in 2003. Hopefully in next trip.