Sunday, January 25, 2009

Wat Pattanaram, Surat Thani

The city of Surat Thani itself has no real touristic attractions, especially when it comes to historical places. But as I come to that town almost every time I am in Thailand, I have looked around in the town a lot already. And temples are one of my favorite places to visit.

One of the temples located close to the center of the city is Wat Pattanaram (วัดพัฒนาราม) - just 500 meter away from the site of the night market. As it's also one of the temples closest to where we stay in Surat Thani, I have been there several times. However the most impressive visit there was when some years ago my brother in law spend a week as monk in there, and I was honored to attend the ceremony. Though I did not understand much of what was happening, it is a special memory related to this temple.

While the temple has its charm, it is not really impressive, and I did not know about it even having some historical significance - I wish my Thai would be better and I could read websites like the one of the Wildlife club of Surat Thani and learn more about it.

So it was just a coincidence I noticed about the significance. As part of my project to process the announcements in the Royal Gazette, I also downloaded the announcements on historical sites (เขตที่ดินโบราณสถาน) quite some time ago. But just now I started to take a look into it, and noticed that in December 2001 one of the buildings within Wat Pattanaram was declared such a protected historical site by the Fine Arts Department (Gazette). The building protected is not the largest, but the giants next to the entrance are something I haven't seen like that in other temples yet. And it was this building where the ordination of my brother in law took place.

That historical building clearly looks a bit weathered, much unlike the larger newer one next to it with the standard colorful pediment. Not sure which one is the Bot and which one the Viharn however. In between the two is a small roofed shrine, which is always busy with people praying and lighting incense or candles. But again I am sadly ignorant of what is the object of worship there.

Now I know more a little bit more about this temple, the next time I will be around I will take more photos and trying to find out more about it.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Chulochomklao Fort

The Chulachomklao Fort (ป้อมพระจุลจอมเกล้า) is located at the mouth of the Chao Phraya River. Though the area is still used by the Royal Thai Navy, the historical fort part is open for visitors.

The site can be divided into three parts. At the center is the statue of King Rama V, in the west usually known as Chulalongkorn, while Chulachomklao is another part of his full royal title.  Around the statue is a small park, and in the pedestal of the statue is a small museum on the history of the site. Sadly I failed to go inside that one as I did not know about it then, though I noticed the door behind the statue opposite to the entrance into the fortified parts.

South of the statue are the fortified parts. Entering at the statue, one directly stand inside on a walkway. The doors lead to the actual purpose of the whole building - hosting the large Armstrong cannons - as well as auxiliary rooms like ammunition storage.

These cannons were installed shortly after the fort was completed in 1892. The King ordered a total of 10 cannons, of which three were planned to this fort. Already the following year they went into action for the first and only time, when the French sloop Inconstant and gunboat Comete entered the Chao Phraya despite not getting allowance for the entrance. However the cannons failed to stop the boats, thus the French could use this incident now know as the Paknam Incident to force Siam to cease modern-day Laos to French Indochina.

Another highlight of the site is the HTMS Maeklong. This former escort vessel and training ship is now permanently moored at the fort, and can also be entered. It is really interesting to climb up and down the ladders, see inside the former crew quarters, the bridge or the cannons on board. All of course quite old - the ship was build in 1936, and decommissioned in 1995.

Another thing I apparently missed during my visit is a boardwalk into the mangrove, which can be used for some bird watching.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Doi Thung royal villa

Doi Thung Royal VillaAnother place related with Somdet Ya, the mother of King Bhumiphol, is her royal villa in the north of Thailand. Located on a hilltop halfway between the town Chiang Rai and the Thai-Burmese border in Mae Sai, this villa was one of the most favorite residence places of the Princess Mother. The hilly landscape reminded her of her long-time home in Switzerland (though the hills there are much lower and it is much warmer), and it was in this area where she worked on helping the villagers to stop growing opium and selling their daughters into prostitution by teaching them to grow vegetables and other crops instead. The area around the royal villa even became a district named "Mae Fa Luang" in 1992 - Mae Fa Luang (mother from the sky) was the name she was know to the hill tribes.

Flags at the entrance of the compoundThe royal villa complex consists of three parts. One is of course the villa instead with a small flower garden around. As with all royal compounds one has to wear "appropriate" clothes to enter, or instead don one of the ugly blue overtrousers at the checkpoint not to show the bare legs. The buildings form a nice mixture of traditional northern Thai (Lanna) architecture with elements known from Switzerland like the flower boxes on the window. Located on the top of the hill, one has a beautiful view over the hills from the veranda.

On the other side of the street is a large flower garden, with small ponds, a circular flower bed, many orchids of course. Though I prefer the natural landscapes, this nicely designed artificial one was also enjoying.

Not far from the villa is another attraction, the temple Wat Phra That Doi Thung, which I will feature another time.