Sunday, May 31, 2009

Wat Bang Kung, Samut Songkhram

A sight which is also in the list of the "official" unseen Thailand sight is the temple Wat Bang Kung (วัดบางกุ้ง) in Amphawa district, Samut Songkhram. The main attraction of the temple is the chapel overgrown by a Banyan tree. Except at the behind, the roots almost completely cover the building so it is hardly recognizable as such. Thus the chapel is normally know as Bot Prok Pho (โบสถ์ปรกโพธิ์), ordination hall covered by Bodhi tree, even though the actual name of it is Bot Luangpho Dam (โบสถ์หลวงพ่อดำ).

Inside the chapel is a large Buddha statue, and of course every visitor is praying and placing incense sticks, rubbing gold leaves and so on.
However this chapel isn't the only important place of the compound. In fact, this temple is an historical significant place, as it was the camp of king Taksin during an attack by the Burmese army in 1768. However after the successful campaign the site was abandoned for almost 200 years, until in 1967 it was redeveloped by the Ministry of Education. However I did not read about the historical significance of the place before, so I focused my photography on the chapel.

The most easy thing to notice are the two rows of muay thai statues, there are also statues of soldiers in the dress of the 18th century amid cannons and bushes cut into the shape of horses, and in the middle a statue of king Taksin. This is all still right next to the chapel, but actually the temple extends on the other side of the street as well till the shore of the Mae Klong river.

There it has the pier to enter the temple on a river tour - which we did not do because for the Thai family it was too hot. The cannon above is next to that pier, protecting the temple in the past. As usual at all sights near a river or lake it has fish food on sale and it has many feeding the fish there. It also has a small zoo there, some birds, a monkey, nothing really spectacular but nevertheless our small daughter liked it a lot. One oddity in my eyes was the fence around this part of the temple - on each of the fence post it has a figure in uniform, mostly soldiers and policemen.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Phra Ram Ratchaniwet Palace

Phra Ram Ratchaniwet Palace (พระราม ราชนิเวศน์), or simply Ban Puen Palace (วังบ้านปืน) is located in the southern part of town Phetchaburi within a military complex - but it is freely accessible, and at least according to the websites I have found it has no entrance fee.

The palace was built in European art deco style designed by the German architect Karl Doering. King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) ordered the construction shortly before his death in 1910, and it was finished in 1916. It was supposed to become his palace for the rainy season, and unlike nearby Khao Wang Palace the King chose an easier accessible location in the flat land.

Sadly we arrived there a bit too late - we did not know the opening times and the stay at Wat Mahathat took a bit long - so the palace was already closed when we came there. So we could only enjoy the view from the outside, and take several photos of the family posing in front of the building or the statue. But of course for the display here I have chosen only the photos without people.

A few photos from the inside I could find here, clearly worth to go again to see the inside as well next time.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

District museum Bangkok Yai

One of several district museums I visited recently is the one of Bangkok Yai district. In fact I went the three times, the first time I was really too late, the second time I was there half hour before the closing time I read at the local museums database. But actually this had its good as well, because when I then returned there with my wife she could talk with the guide who was very talkative. And additionally to the district museum we could listen to a concert by the school orchestra which was preparing for a public performance few days later.

I was a bit cheating with the introductory photo - that one does not show the district museum, but the Rit Narong Ron museum (พิพิธภัณฑ์บ้านคุณหลวงฤทธิณรงค์รอน). This building was the home of Khun Luang Rit Narong Ron, who as being childless donated his land to become the public school which now bears his name. We couldn't see much in there as upstairs was locked, but it is a well-preserved old styled house. The district museum however wasn't built inside there, but in a large school room next to it.

The first exhibit is the mockup of the Vichaiprasit Fort, located at the mouth of Bangkok Yai canal to the Chao Phraya. On the wall it has posters with information on Wang Doem Palace, the palace of King Taksin and later residence of several other royals.This is now located within a Navy complex, so it was new to me that it is possible to visit it - next time in Bangkok it will be quite high on my list. But for me as a technology guy the old printing press and the original Thai types was even more interesting. It was within this district where Dan Bradley started printing in Thailand with the first newspaper Bangkok Recorder.

Further exhibits include a boat loaded with fruits, as the hinterland of the district was filled with orchards and only at the rim of the river and the canal it had actual settlements. Next to the exit it has two shop house facades. Though I don't know from which part of the districts these were supposed to originate, they are to show the style of living in the past - well, of the wealthy. There are also several more posters on the walls, giving the histories of the various temples in the district, most notably of course Wat Arun.

The museum is rather easy to find - when you drive on Phetkasem towards Wong Wian Yai, directly before the bridge over the Khlong (which also marks the beginning of Phetkasem) turn into the narrow sidestreet, Phetkasem Soi 2. This ends on the school yard, and you cannot miss to see the Rit Narong Ron museum depicted above. The museum is located to the right of that one. Though it is possible to walk there from the newly opened Wong Wian Yai Skytrain station, that's still a 30 minute walk.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Wat Tham Singkhon

Wat Tham Singkhon (วัดถ้ำสิงขร) is an ancient temple in Surat Thani Province, in Khiri Rat Nikhom district directly at the Phum Duang river. I had found it listed as one of the attractions of the province, but since all which I could find was in Thai I didn't know much of what would be waiting for me there. I also only saw photos of the dark chedi in Srivijaya style, and I did not realize that the name of the temple actually already gives a hint of what more there is to see - Tham (ถ้ำ) means cave.

After entering the ancient compound through a wooden roofed bridge the first one to see is the set of Buddha statues under an overhang, all the seven days with their specific gesture. Walking up on the cliff one shortly thereafter reaches the above-mentioned chedi, which is located opposite the cave entrance.

Further Buddha statues are located at the entrance, including one large black sitting Buddha. It already got quite difficult to take a photo of these, since they are located in the twilight, and I did not bring a photo tripod. I only succeeded but placing the camera on the rocks on the opposite side of the cave. As it was even more dark inside, only very few photos turned out without blur, which is a pity as there are several further nice views.

The cave is not such the large overhang opposite the chedi, but it continues quite long inside. A bit sparsely illuminated at parts, it is nevertheless easy to go inside as there are concrete steps on the way up into the cave. In a first hall it has several Buddha statues in a row, later another statue on top of a wall which looks like a waterfall from the speleothem covering it. Since it was dry season there was no water on it, but the monk who guided us through confirmed that in the raining season the small pools in this formation is actually filled with water.

At other places inside the cave bats are resting for the day hanging from the roof, one place is known to be the resting place of tigers in the past, and another large hall was used by the monk as a meeting hall. Finally the way ends nearly on top of the cliff, where the roof of the cave has collapsed and allows the daylight to stream in.

As the monk who was our guide only spoke Thai I could not get much of the many things he explained, but even then the natural beauty of the cave mixed with the religious items and the small details like the stucco decorations make it a visit definitely worth the on hour drive from Surat Thani city.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Santa Cruz Church, Bangkok

Santa Cruz Church (Holy Cross Church, โบสถ์ซานตาครูซ) is a small Roman Catholic church located on the east side of the Chao Phraya river, close to Memorial Bridge. It is one of the landmarks of the Portuguese community, at the river coast of Thonburi district.

The church was built in 1916 by two renowned Italian architects Annibale Rigotti and Mario Tamagno. It is however the third church of this name at this location, the first one was built in 1770 on land given to the Portuguese by King Taksin. The wooden church fell in disrepair, and was replaced by a second one in 1835 under Bishop Pallegoix.

Lately I visited the church for the third time, and for the first time was able to see the inside as well. I came there on the Saturday before Easter, and it had several people preparing the church for the most important catholic feast, especially preparing a cart which looked like it was to be used in an Easter procession. The only drawback of the date I went there - the cross at the altar was covered by a black cloth since Good Friday and the Saturday before Easter are the days of mourning before the celebration of the resurrection.

Behind the church are a few tombstone, the graves of past priests in this church. The central and largest one belongs to Father Khulianmokin Dakrut (คุณพ่อ คูเลียลโมกิ้น ดากรู้ส, 1880-1949), who if I read the only website with his name correctly was active in the construction of the church in 1916.

Quite a lot of the information in this posting originates from the great site Tour Bangkok Legacies, which also shows some more photos of the compound. It also includes a guide to the nearby Kuan Yin shrine, however I haven't yet visited that one.