Things to do in or near Bangkok

Tips on things to do and how to get the best out of Bangkok, Thailand.

Crocodile Rockin’ in Samut Prakarn

Crocodile Farm, Samutprakarn, near Bangkok, Thailand
Crocodile Farm, Samutprakarn, near Bangkok, Thailand
Crocodile Farm, Samutprakarn, near Bangkok, Thailand
Crocodile Farm, Samutprakarn, near Bangkok, Thailand
Crocodile Farm, Samutprakarn, near Bangkok, Thailand

Nothing says “you’re not in Canada anymore” quite like an afternoon in the company of 60 000 crocodiles. And so, in the spirit of fearless Thailand travels, I embarked upon a daytrip to Samut Prakarn. Here the reptiles range from newborn to world record-holders, all housed together in the world’s largest crocodile farm.

While organized trips to the Samut Prakarn Crocodile Farm can be purchased through any Bangkok-based travel agency, the independent spirit can make the trek with ease. From Bangkok, the orange 511 bus from Sukhumvit Road will take you into Samut Prakarn, though be warned that commuter traffic can make this ride a lengthy one. From the city centre, the famous farm is a mere 10-minute tuk-tuk ride away.

After paying your 300 baht admission, your first glance of crocodile will be in steak, purse, or shoe form. The main entrance to the farm houses an expansive gift shop of croc meat and leatherware, a darkly funny touch. Once inside, crocodile-enthusiasts have a maze of options. Animal-lovers could easily occupy a whole day here. In addition to a massive crocodile population, this farm has a large zoo and elephant shows, located oddly close to the local shooting range.

There are 60 000 crocodiles lurking inside, including the largest in captivity, the appropriately-named Yai (“large” in Thai), measuring 6 metres in length and weighing a record-breaking 1,114.27 kg (2,465 lb).

While guided tours dish out the reptile facts, visitors are welcome to walk freely around the crocodile tanks. There are rows of cement pens housing baby crocodiles en masse. A more daring crocodile fan can cross the rickety wooden boardwalks over giant tanks, where hundreds of adult crocodiles lurk on the land and water, moving with the eerie stealthiness that makes them so fascinating and also terrifying. For a newcomer to the reptile world, there is something truly menacing in the slow silence of the reptiles. A highlight of the crocodile experience occurs on these boardwalks, where 20 baht will buy a dead chicken that can be thrown into the tank. The result is a heart-racing show of quick lunges, snapping jaws, and deep growls as the meat gets devoured. Graphic, yes. But exciting? Absolutely!

The farm boasts two amphitheatres, each housing the hourly crocodile handling or elephant acrobatic shows. While both spectacles are light and family-friendly, the gimmicky croc show falls short of the “crocodile wrestling” promised on the pamphlets. The elephant acrobatics will amuse all ages in a show where elephants paint pictures with their trunks, and are trained to collect money from audience participants.

Located close to the exit, the farm’s “handicapped crocodile wing” is not to be missed. Like a carnival sideshow, it boasts crocodiles both rare and deformed. Crocodiles that are albino, tiger-patterned, 6-legged, fork-tailed and more are kept in smaller tanks so visitors can easily spot their unusual markings and traits
Since it was founded in 1950, the farm has expanded into a tourist multiplex with a zoo, dinosaur museum, countless foodstalls, and even go-karting, and have received mixed reviews from visitors. Still, the farm is a very worthwhile experience for reptile enthusiasts and curious sightseers alike. An afternoon spent watching, feeding, and fearing the crocodiles is an unforgettable one.

Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.

Surprise in the City

Surprise in the City
Surprise in the City
Surprise in the City
Surprise in the City
Surprise in the City

I have lived in Bangkok for several years and like to think that I’ve sampled most of what the city has to offer. I’m usually among the first to visit a new bar or restaurant and the person my friends turn to for travel advice.

So when my family visited during my birthday and told me they were going to show me a new side of the city, I was more than slightly skeptical. For the past few days I had been playing tour guide to these Thailand newbies, and now it was their turn to take the lead. They were, however, completely right. On the evening of my birthday we took a taxi to River City Pier No.2 next to the Phra Pinklao bridge on the far side of the river.

My father disappeared into the River City Shopping Complex and reappeared a few minutes later with tickets and a triumphant smile on his face. Taking my arm, he ushered me down to the waters edge, where the Chaophraya Princess cruise ship was waiting. I had often seen this boat and others like it gliding along the Chaopraya River in the evenings, but it had never occurred to me to go on a trip. It was just for tourists, surely.

Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I stepped aboard the cruise ship not knowing quite what to expect and was immediately soothed by the light saxophone music playing in the background. This ship was elegantly decorated in oriental and occidental styles and felt slick and sophisticated.

We were led to the top deck, which was large and had a large number of tables and chairs placed around the edge. After being seated we were each presented with a ‘welcome drink’ fruit cocktail and told that the cruise would start in just a few minutes.

There are many other families and couples on the deck and the air is charged with excitement and expectation.
At 8pm we began our journey, gliding down the Chaophraya River towards Taxin bridge. On the way we pass the famous sites of Wat Arun, The Grand Palace, Bang Khunprom Palace and the Kanlayanamitr temple. Although quite familiar sights for me by now, I have never seen them from the middle of the river at night. All the sites are illuminated, giving them a magical quality.

Cruising serenely down the river has an enchantingly relaxing effect. Gone are the heat and crowds that can make this trip somewhat stressful during the daytime and there is a cool breeze coming from the river.

Before long it is announced that the international buffet is open. Everyone grabs a plate and charges to the center of the deck, where there are dozens of dishes to choose from; anything from fresh seafood and sushi to spicy Thai curries and steaks cooked to order. Everything is presented stylishly in large silver tureens and both looks and tastes wonderful. It’s not often that I get the chance to combine my favorite Thai and western dishes and we all dine happily while a beautiful female vocalist sings in the background.

Just as we are finishing our meal the boat turns around and makes its way back along the river. Now knives and forks are replaced with cameras as people snap away at the unique views of some of Thailand’s most beloved sites.

Once again I am encouraged to play tour guide and reveal some interesting ‘facts’ about the things we pass, although this time it is pure parody. Unless, that is, Wat Arun really is the birthplace of Indiana Jones and also Thailand’s oldest radio tower.

After two hours we return to the River City Pier. Our journey is at an end. My father turns to me, grinning expectantly and I have to admit that he’s done it. For those of us who think we know the city well take note: there is always some wise guy with a guidebook and a fresh perspective ready to make us eat our words. All with the best of intentions, of course.

Information:

Trips on the Chaophraya Princess Cruise cost 1,350 baht for adults and 1,000 baht for children under ten. The fee includes a welcome drink, international buffet, live band and a two hour boat trip.

For more information and booking visit www.thairivercruise.com.

About the author:

Kirsty Turner (Kay) is currently living in Bangkok where she teaches English at Rajabhat Suan Dusit. Kay has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!

Things to Do Under 50 Baht


Things to do under 50 Baht in Bangkok
Things to do under 50 Baht in Bangkok
Things to do under 50 Baht in Bangkok
Things to do under 50 Baht in Bangkok
Things to do under 50 Baht in Bangkok

There are no two ways about it; Bangkok can be a pretty expensive place to hang out. The vibrant night life and tempting food can eat through your budget faster than a mouse through grain.

For those on a tight budget, Bangkok’s diversions can seem out of reach, and becoming confined to whiling away the hours watching movies around Banglampu becomes a disheartening prospect.
 
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Many activities in the city cost less than 50 baht and can be rich and rewarding. Here are some of my favourite ways to spend time in the city
 
Situated just behind Chatuchak, Suan Rotfai, or Railway Park, is one of Bangkok’s best kept secrets. Filled with water lilly ponds, streams and places to relax, this huge park is extremely picturesque. One of my favourite ways to spend an afternoon is to hire a bicycle from the stand at the far side of the park and navigate the specially constructed cycle paths. Just 20 baht will buy you three hours of cycling fun.
 
Whilst exploring the park, don’t forget to visit the Bangkok Butterfly Garden and Insectarium in the Southeastern area. A 15-metre-high glass dome covers an area of 1,100 square meters, abundant with beautiful butterflies. Admission is free and you can watch the butterflies and learn about them in the attached museum. Open 8:30-4:30 Tuesday-Sunday.
 
The easiest way to get to the park is to take the MRT to Chatuchak Park station or the BTS to Mo Chit. You can also take bus 3 from Samsen Road, just around the corner from Khao San. Simply walk through Chatuchak Park, turn right and walk along the back road until you come to the gates to another park.
 
If you are interested in science, the Bangkok Planetarium and Science Museum is a great place to spend a few hours. A combined ticket to the Planetarium and Museum costs just 20 baht and includes an information leaflet. Tracing the history of space travel, the Planetarium show has spectacular visual imagery and sound. Visit on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. for the English language show.
 
The science museum covers everything from dinosaurs to marine biology and has many interesting exhibits. Open 9-4 Sunday to Tuesday, it is located near to the BTS Ekkamai Station and the Eastern Bus Terminal. You can also catch buses 2, 25, 38, 40, 48, 72, 98, 501 and 511.

Few visitors venture across the Chao Phraya River to the Thonburi side, but there are some attractions worth visiting. Take the ferry down the river one afternoon to pier 6, known as Memorial Bridge or Phra Pok Klao. After walking across the bridge, follow the road to your right and you will soon come to a large red gate flanked by two enormous stone turtles. I love to watch the cute baby turtles learning to swim under the watchful guidance of their and feed the older turtles meat and fruit on sticks.
 
Just around the corner, The Princess Mother Memorial Park is another good place to relax. Established in 1993 by His Majesty the King as a tribute to his mother, these beautiful gardens feature a reconstruction of the Princess Mother’s childhood home. These open rooms allow a rare insight into a traditional Thai home and are very interesting to observe.
 
The gardens also include two exhibition rooms, where photographs and text both in Thai and English tell the story of the Princess Mother’s life. Perhaps most revealing is a passage written by the King’s elder sister, HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana:
 
“Mother said once she was living in this house near Wat Anong. It was like a row-house with many rooms, a rented house with only the wall panels and the roof. The tenants had to provide the other parts of the house, such as the floor. It had a balcony with a roof. Inside the house to the right was a raised platform, which served as an image room and Father’s office. Beyond that there were a sleeping chamber and a kitchen. There was no bathroom. They took a bath by the water jar on the front balcony, or in the canal nearby.”     

A sign outside Wat Prayura Wongsuwat illustrates the way to the Princess mother’s memorial Park. Just a five minute walk away, simply follow the green signs.

Just a short boat ride from Thailand’s capital, Koh Kret is like the land that time – and tourism – forgot. Steeped in culture, this is the perfect place to escape from the frantic pace of Bangkok for an afternoon.

No cars are allowed on Koh Kret, and you can walk around the island – which is a little under 4 kms in circumference – undisturbed. The smell of traffic fumes is replaced by a rich, earthy scent. People sit in the shade beside their houses, completing household chores and chatting to pass the time. Koh Kret has an unusual history. The name literally means ‘the land surrounded by water.’ It was artificially created nearly 300 years ago, when a channel was cut through a bend in the Chao Phraya River to make the journey to Ayuthaya shorter.

Thousands of Mon people flocked to Thailand in 1757, when Burmese troops destroyed Pegu, the capital of Monland. King Taksin the Great of Thailand encouraged the Mon People to settle on Koh Kret and they used their skills in pottery to set up kilns, producing pots, jars, plates and bowls for Thai people. Today, more than 6,000 people live in peace on Koh Kret.

Worth a visit is Suan Kret Phutt, or Buddha Park, a beautiful garden in the center of Koh Kret. Secluded from the road, this is a wonderful place to sit and meditate, and I spend an hour or so relaxing and listening to the wind in the trees.

Before you leave, stop at the food market near the ferry pier to sample some Mon delicacies. Especially good are Khao Chae; rice in jasmine water, accompanied by tempura vegetables. This food is refreshing and delicious and sweet tea is served in clay pots, which make great souveniers.

I love to finish the day by taking a ferry down the Chao Phraya River just as the sun sets. Wat Arun looks spectacular lit from behind by the warm rich tones on Bangkok’s sunset.

Other Attractions:

Housing a total of 52 vessels, the Royal Barge National Museum is worth a visit, as are the National Museum and National Gallery. If you are looking for somewhere cheap to eat, check out the vegetarian food section of Chatuchak market, where all dishes range from 12-20 Baht. Situated near the MRT and open daily from 8 a.m-2 p.m.

About the author:

Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!