Travel Articles Bangkok

Daytime vs Nightlife on Khao San Road

The other day I decided to make a daytime (which turned into a daytime vs nightlife) trip down to good old Khaosan Road (Khao San, Khao Sarn, etc). It remains a go-to place for visitors to Thailand. Not at all a part of traditional Thailand, but very much an interesting place to visit with its dynamic mix of backpackers and other travelers getting together to eat, drink, share stories, and get harassed by touts of all sorts. You don't come to Khao San Road to see a part of Thailand so much as you come to spend some time with a unique group of people that have come to the area as a stopping point during their travels in and around Thailand.
Yaek Daytime
Odd giant tending bar (daytime)
During the day (daytime) Khao San is a very different place than at night (nightlife). Early in the day there is mostly a slow sleepy clean-up from the chaos and festivities of the previous night, along with preparations for the coming evening. Trash is swept up and carried away. And there is a steady stream of delivery vehicles (trucks, cars, hand trolleys, rickshaws) replenishing supplies of merchandise, food, and beer to the restaurants, hotels, and street-side entertainment spots. Throughout the afternoon more and more people start to come and walk around the place. The restaurants start to fill up for early dinner as families and older travelers come and check out Khao San Road for themselves. Unfortunately for those folks, they are missing out on the late evening and nighttime hours when Khao San gets even odder and more fun.
Daytime Rambuttri
Sleepy daytime Rambuttri
What started out as a daytime visit to Khao San is quickly turned into a late night visit as time went on. Day and night on Khao San is two very different experiences. Sleepy and slow during the day...
Nighttime
Nightlife on Rambuttri
Chaotic, fun, and crazy at night. The place fills up quickly, the music gets louder, the characters that you see walking along the streets get odder and wilder (and usually drunker), and all this without taking a single step into any of the various indoor clubs that have cropped up in the area alongside the traditional outdoor bars and restaurants.
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Royal Checkup at BNH

arrivalIn late April, 2012 I spent a day at BNH hospital getting a Royal Checkup. This very thorough examination includes x-rays, ultrasound, a physical exam, full blood and fluids analysis, along with a thorough cardiac workup involving an active stress test. BNH offers this comprehensive exam at a special price of 17,900 baht. Other less extensive checkup options are available at prices of 3,900 baht and 6,900 baht.

I arrived at the hospital at 9am. It was surrounded by a construction fence because of all the work being done remodelling the building exterior. The interior was undergoing the same treatment in various spots. The emergency entrance was being used as a general entrance on a temporary basis, but probably by now the construction is finished and things are back to normal. BNH has been in operation since 1898, but has evolved into one of the most advanced modern hospitals operating in Bangkok today.
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A Month in the Floods of Salaya – Part 7

The return - (23/11/11)

A month in the floods of Salaya
A month in the floods of Salaya

When I arrived at Bang Sue station to take the train back to Salaya, it was a much livelier place than it had been two-weeks previously.  The ticket seller sold me a ticket for the 4.08 pm train without a moment’s hesitation.  As we reached the flood-zone on the western side of the Chao Phraya river, the water seemed to have receded slightly in places and the speed of the journey took me by surprise as I suddenly saw the Salaya sign and quickly scrambled off the train less than an hour after departing.  The water appeared slightly lower but the platform community seemed to have grown.  There were also a lot of people waiting for a train to Bangkok.  I was ushered into a wooden boat paddled by a young bare-chested man.  He negotiated the flood waters expertly with his single oar.

I paid him 20 baht and stepped onto the road at the bottom of the bridge.  There was a fleet of motor-bike taxis waiting at the bottom of the bridge in the shade of a tarpaulin roof on a metal frame.   I walked with my bag to Pitchaya Apartments and found Tu and Ter, Ter’s mother, brother and a friend.  They offered me some dinner and I gave Tu the cigarettes she’d ordered from Bangkok. 

I popped in to see U and Pui at the coffee shop.  Their plank walkway was well above the water and I was offered a tot of whiskey. U informed me that my soi was dry.  Their latest estimate was that the water would be down to near-normal levels in about seven days.  As I walked home, I noticed that the roadside dwellers had a few smoky fires lit on the grass verge and guessed they were to fend off the invasive mosquitoes.  As I continued down the traffic-free road followed by some curious dogs, I passed two or three small snakes, their light-coloured bellies squashed on the tarmac.  A man with a torch was cruising the edges of the flood water with a trident-spear.

I arrived at my soi and was relieved to see that U was right and that my soi was dry and dusty with the sediment of the vanished waters.  My front yard was a mess with the debris of the receded water.  My bin on the wall was still full, my plants sat up there too, looking like I’d abandoned them during a drought and  when I opened my fridge it gave off a nauseous odour.  But all-in-all, I could only reflect that I had got off very very lightly .. this year.

Paul Wilson is a some time actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist.

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Paul Wilson is a sometime actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist. Visit Paul's Top Man Tone Facebook Page...

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A Month in the Floods of Salaya – Part 6

A month in the floods of Salaya
A month in the floods of Salaya
Salaya to Bangkok by train (10/11/11)


When I checked the water level at my doorstep, it had receded another centimeter.  I packed my bag for a trip to Bangkok by train.  As I splashed up the soi, one of my neighbour’s, Yui, informed me that she and a couple of other residents were also going to Bangkok by train and that a train was due to leave Salaya station at 2pm.  I thanked her for the information and said I would see her on the platform. 

The 20-baht boat ride from the bridge over khlong Maha Sawat was paddled by an out-of-work office worker.  As we made our way slowly past flooded houses and store-fronts and through trees to the station, she told me that a large crocodile had been spotted further down the flooded railway track.  When I arrived at the station, only the two platforms were above the floodwater. The right hand side platform was a bustling community with the flooded market as a backdrop. There were food sellers, the odd pick-up, tents and tarpaulins accommodating families and dogs as well as a few would-be passengers all sheltering from the afternoon sun.  I was greeted by my neighbours from the soi and was offered a place in the shade.  I was informed that the train was not due to arrive until about 4pm so I had plenty of time to wander up and down the platforms.  I bought some food and drink though there was no drinking water to be found.  I was generously offered whisky as well as a ‘boxing’ by some of the men.  
The train finally arrived making its way slowly through the water covering the track.  People loaded their bags and there was plenty of available space on the wooden bench seats.  I found a spot next to a window facing the front of the train.  We pulled out of the station and were on our way to Bangkok, normally an hour’s journey.
The spray from the wheels of the train gave the impression of being on a boat.  The train made its way gingerly along the submerged tracks.  Birds with striking white V’s swooped down low over the water.  The train slowed to go through slightly deeper water.  A man, chest deep, was coaxing some hens out of a tree.  Some washing was strung on a pole, but the bottoms of the garments were dangling in the water. Two telephone boxes stood three-quarters full.  At the next station, a couple of dozen cars were lined up on the platform, two or three of them having been converted into not-so-temporary homes.  On the opposite platform there was a row of motorbikes.  Some small boats were waiting for passengers from the train.  We passed a big walled estate with nobody home.  At a raised level-crossing, there were stacks of garbage accumulating.  Two majestic herons flapped low against the setting sun, inspecting the damage done.    A shouted salutation from the train startled a man in the water.  Over a dozen people were perched on a stack of girders and scaffolding eating dinner.  Two men on an ice-berg of foam were doing the same as the sun sank lower.  A shouted “Su su” from the train directed at no one in particular was followed by the creepy sound of rattling corrugated iron walls protesting against each other as the wave from the train swept through long-abandoned workers’ hovels.  On an unused siding, a community of tents and wigwams had developed.  A little further, a family was cooking dinner under a canvas awning outside a big house.
Some people were gathered on the steps of an empty up-market condo.  The doors were locked and there was washing hanging from the ground floor window bars.  A small bamboo raft loaded with two big bottles of water and some other provisions was being pushed along.  A woman, being rowed in a small boat, filmed the passing nine-carriage train.  An ‘Everglades’ boat manned by the army was waiting for the train to pass, the officer in charge sitting contentedly up high.  A teenager belly-flopped into the green water as the train floated past a dead-end bridge loaded with bull-dozers and other heavy works vehicles.  We passed a a solitary sentinel spirit house standing defiantly atop its shortened pole.  The full moon low in the east watched malignantly as a man almost up to his neck made his way trying to keep a small plastic bag and bottle of M150 valiantly above water.  The train slowed down as we approached Taling Chan junction, which was under renovation and home to many.  The floodwaters were pink and black in the sunset as we passed homes of blue and white plastic tarpaulin.
The glow of a charcoal burner under a canvas roof silhouetted a group of children with their sparklers.  There was a startling bang from the train as someone let off a firework, joining in the Loy Kratong celebrations.  Suddenly there was a new sound; the clack clack of the train as it found dry tracks.  Crickets joined in as we approached the overflowed Chao Phraya.  There was a welcoming fire-works display, red and yellow, above some buildings not too far away.  The train swayed as it passed a dry level-crossing and dry roads.  The mosquitoes were out in force as we arrived at Bang Sue, where an hour and a half after leaving Salaya I alighted the train.

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Paul Wilson is a sometime actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist. Visit Paul's Top Man Tone Facebook Page...

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A Month in the Floods of Salaya – Part 5

A month in the floods of Salaya
A month in the floods of Salaya

Bangkok – Salaya by lorry (7/11/11)

After three days in a mainly dry Bangkok, I went to Bang Sue train station to find out about trains to Salaya.  The train station was so deserted I was slightly surprised to see two ticket sellers at the ticket counter.  I asked about trains to Salaya, but was informed that there were floods there and therefore no trains.  As I had previously been told that it was possible to go to Salaya by train I decided to persist and told the man at the counter that I knew that Salaya was flooded but that I wanted to go there anyway.  He curtly informed me that there would be a train leaving at 9 o’clock the following morning.

About an hour later, I received a call from Chai.  He told me that a lorry would be leaving Bangkok at 3pm for Salaya.

There were only about a half-dozen of us waiting for the flat-bed truck to depart.  There were boxes of provisions such as soft-drinks already on board. At the last moment, two boats were loaded, taking up nearly half the available space.  However, there was still enough room for everyone to have their own white, plastic chair to sit on.  We left Bangkok on the lorry at just after 5pm.  When we reached the floods it was already dark and the flood waters had a more sinister veneer.  We picked up and dropped off several small groups of waders, laden with bags of groceries, who loomed into view on their way back to their homes. On this return journey in the dark, I did not feel any of the excitement or euphoria I’d felt three days previously going the opposite way.  Perhaps this was partly because I was voluntarily going back to a flood zone and felt a little trepidation and foolhardiness. The other passengers also seemed subdued and there was not much chatter as everyone tried to make themselves comfortable in the limited space.  We arrived in Salaya after about three hours.

I found Tu and gave her the cigarettes she’d ordered.  M was there and informed me that at the Royal Gems Resort and Golf Club, not two kilometers away, a 2.5 metre crocodile had been found in a flooded building.  I popped in to see U and Pui.  U offered me a whisky and then showed me his infected foot.  It was an ugly sight; most of the sole of his foot was covered in angry red spots. He said he’d got the infection from the flood water and the day before he’d been unable to walk.  Today was his second day of anti-biotics and he was feeling a lot better.  The water level had gone down slightly.  They told me that on the TV they said the water would go down in two weeks, but that that really means a month. 

I cycled home and found the flood water at my doorstep had dropped by one or two centimeters.

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Paul Wilson is a sometime actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist. Visit Paul's Top Man Tone Facebook Page...

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A Month in the Floods of Salaya – Part 4

A month in the floods of Salaya
A month in the floods of Salaya

Lorry trip from Salaya to Bangkok (4/11/11)

I popped in to the coffee shop on my way to the pickup place for the lorry to Bangkok.  I asked what ‘ROFE’ written in ink on the cling film of one of the loaves meant.  It quickly became clear that it meant ‘loaf’.  On another was written ‘Made by Italian chef’. While I was drinking my coffee, a customer came in and remarked on the ‘bang mii’ on sale.  She bought a couple of the small buns.  I arrived at the pickup place by 8 am, the agreed time.  Five hours later, it arrived stacked full of stuff and not a few people.  I climbed up and made a place for myself amongst the people, bags and other paraphernalia being transported to Bangkok. 

We turned left in front of Mahidol University and passed the flooded market and a boarded up 7-11 with a broken window.  A dog stood forlorn on a dry patio.  We went over a bridge, part of a network of circular flyovers which was full of cars and red and yellow municipal trucks, ranging from dustcarts to fire engines patiently waiting.  People were being picked up in ones and twos until I was perched on the top of the stack of bags.  We made our way slowly through the floodwaters in the scorching dry heat. 

There was a man sleeping on a foam mat on the roof of a car, itself perched on tyres in a so far successful attempt to keep the engine above water in the limited shade of a roadside tree.  A lone person with a plastic bag sat on a bus stop bench, feet above water.  A trials biker valiantly negotiated the flood, his bike fully loaded.  There were trucks full of people going the opposite way.  At one point I saw a modern townhouse estate partly underwater with workers still building though it was unclear if they were building the complex or flood barriers.

It was starting to get uncomfortably hot on the top of the lorry with no hope of finding any shade.  Everyone wrapped themselves up in long clothes, hats and scarves.  On the right, three young guys were spotted on a float hitching a ride behind a lorry.  We overtook a man wading through the water pulling a cockerel along perched on a black inflated ring.  Seven young men casually pushed a car on a wooden raft.  On the opposite side of the road a boat with a huge fan motor on the back like in the Everglades droned past.  “Bao bao!” shouted a man from the side of the street for the lorry to slow down as it passed his ‘riverside’ dwelling.  Some people filmed us on their phones as we passed by.  There was some friendly banter from sellers in their flooded shop houses and we were even serenaded by a man sitting on his pickup tail gate.   At one point I saw a man casting his fishing net in the middle of a three-lane highway.  A lorry going in the other direction was stacked high with three or four different types of boat.  Cars were triple parked on both sides of a flyover bridge and then I saw my first moving public bus in while; a red 189 ploughing its route through the flood. There were occasionally lots of shouted instructions to the driver as passengers were picked up or dropped off.

All of a sudden, there was a pleasant breeze as we picked up speed on a dry patch.  I saw sand bags being filled but also people picking vegetables in a roadside field.  It was an unexpected relief not to be able to see water for the first time in weeks.  We started dropping off more people than we picked up.  Now we had to hold onto our hats as we were going fast for the first time since leaving two hours before.  There was quite a lot of traffic and when we came up to a traffic light that was working it seemed strange to think how quickly normal things can become quite alien. 

When we arrived in Bangkok, the remaining passengers and I got off.  I asked what time the lorry would be going back to Salaya the next day.  This was met with some derision as the ‘pilot’, who had been directing operations from the top of the lorry just behind the cab, while shaking my hand, asked me where I was from and reminded me that they had just brought me from Salaya where there was flooding.  When they realized I was being serious, they explained that they were in fact headed to Uttaradit and wouldn’t be going back to Salaya until Monday.  Chai, who seemed to be officially in charge, and I swapped phone numbers and it looked like I would have to extend my stay in Bangkok by a couple of days.

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Paul Wilson is a sometime actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist. Visit Paul's Top Man Tone Facebook Page...

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A Month in the Floods of Salaya – Part 3

A month in the floods of Salaya
A month in the floods of Salaya

Bread Day – (3/11/11)

Today was the day I decided not to watch any more news on TV.   After a banana breakfast, I attempted to clean my front yard as there was a worrying amount of small flies accumulating.  I didn’t have any water proof boots so decided to use black plastic bin liners instead.  I put my plants that were on my doorstep, or still in water in the yard, onto the chest-high walls on either side of the yard.  I also put the black bin there too.  So my front step, which is the width of the house, was now empty except for one-storey of sand bags.  I got a hard-brush with a long handle and started to push the dark green sediment slowly out into the soi.  I swept and mopped the front step.  When I took the plastic bin liners off I discovered that they were not as water-proof as I had thought.  After showering, I received a call from Paolo.  He called to say he had successfully baked 11 loaves and some rolls.  I decided to have a second, more substantial breakfast in preparation for the day ahead.  I heated some baked beans and threw in some leftover rice, my anemic pet gecko giving disapproving looks.  While my food was digesting, I jotted down the sounds I could hear from my kitchen.

A passing helicopter
The splutter of a boat’s engine
Distant voices
The boat revs up then fades
As it passes down the klong
Relative peace now
Birds chirruping
The hum of a water pump
The voices and birds barely distinguishable
A scratching on the roof
A bird or a squirrel
A water bird trilling
I made it through my gate without having to put my foot down.  I decided not to stop at U and Pui’s semi-submerged coffee shop as I felt time was pressing.  I left the bike at Pitchaya apartments and saw Tu and a guy at the entrance to the apartment complex selling bottles of water, coke and ice under a big umbrella.  I went to have a chat.  Tu suggested I wait with them in the shade for a lorry.  I suggested we swapped flip-flops as mine rubbed my feet.  She kindly obliged.  I got bored of waiting for a truck and decided to head off on foot.  After five minutes, I arrived at the bridge over klong Maha Sawat.  I arrived at the top of the bridge in time to see a fisherman fire his catapult spear down into the klong below.  His line being pulled in different directions as the fish tried desperately to get away; there was little chance.  As the fish was pulled up from the water, the 10 inch spear dangled on the end of the line having cleanly gone through its body just below its head.  A friend of the fisherman threaded the spear back through the fish and the fish was dropped onto the hot tarmac of the road to flap about in desperation.  I crossed the bridge to the awaiting flood water.  I was hailed by a gaggle of people with boats.  They were offering me a ride through the flood water over the railway to Mahidol University, about 500 metres away.  The price was 10 baht; someone suggested 100.  I got in the designated boat and was pulled along by Ming, a 13-year old school girl who wasn’t at school because it was closed.  I felt a bit uncomfortable sitting in the boat like a mandarin and urged Ming to get in so that we could paddle.  She refused as it was easier to pull the boat than to row it.  In no time, I was at some metal steps up the sandbag wall outside the Mahidol entrance.  I took the dry long-cut through the Mahidol campus.  I rejoined the flooded road in front of the university further up but used the sand bag wall alongside the flooded road as a footpath and made it nearly all the way to Big C without having to go in the water.  I passed the Tesco Lotus, closed because of staff shortages.  I went into Big C but discovered that they’d obviously not had a delivery since I was last there two days ago.  I bought some cream.

I went into the water and got my shorts wet for the first time that day.  I waded towards Poalo’s, passing the Mahidol Arts Faculty on my left, and a bit further up the Royal Thai Navy School with the guard in full uniform inside his sandbagged kiosk.  Four navy cadets were playing in the water, showing off to four girls who were sitting in the floodwater.  “Pai nai?”  I am asked a bit further along the Salaya – Nakhon Chai Si road.  “Durn len” I reply, using one of my stock responses, which hit the target.  On the right was an outside depot of flood goods.  I popped in to see if the price of a boat had come down.  5,500 baht, so the price hadn’t changed.  As I turned to leave I heard ‘4,000 baht’ and was informed that another type of boat was 4,000 baht.  Unfortunately, it was made of metal and weighed 30 kilos which would be too heavy to carry over dry patches alone.

I passed the Ministry of Culture on the left.  The last two hundred metres of the trip were the deepest at chest-level and I was glad to get to Paolo’s restaurant at Rangsee Place without being attacked again.

Paolo poured me a glass of beer while I had a quick shower and put on some dry clothes.  I took my beer into the kitchen of the restaurant and Paolo proudly showed me his bread. It smelt and tasted delicious.  He explained that it had cost him about 300 baht (not including his time) to bake the 7 kilosish of bread.  There were 11 huge loaves weighing almost 700 grammes each as well as eight small buns.  He reckoned the big loaves would cost about 100 baht at a supermarket.  I paid him 500 baht for the lot, though we both agreed we weren’t in it for the money.  Paolo cut one of the loaves in half and then cling filmed all the loaves. I had another beer but said I’d better not stay too long as I didn’t want to get too drunk.  Paolo informed me that it was the last of the beer anyway.  I insisted he keep one of the loaves and we packed some of the bread into my bag and the rest I had to carry in a black plastic bag.

I retreated into the water very carefully as I didn’t want to slip and waterlog the bread and started my journey back home.  Paolo had revised up my previous estimate of the distance and I now realized that I had to cradle the bread above the water line for seven kilometres and not the five I had previously guesstimated.
I hoisted my two bags of precious cargo above the water and felt relieved to get through the initial part of the journey without slipping and the bread still dry. 

I passed the Navy College on the right and then the Faculty of Arts.  I negotiated a couple of fast flowing tributaries and was happy to reach the sandbag wall just after Big C on the right with the bread still safe.  This was the half-way point, or at least psychologically, as I knew that there was a real possibility of not having to go into the water again until I reached my flooded soi. At a bus stop I encountered a couple of women eating.  I offered them one of the two half-loaves.  They were appreciative though one of them did ask if there was anything inside it.  They offered me a couple of bottles of water which I declined.  A hundred metres later, I was at the gas bottle shop and dug out the other half loaf to give to the woman there.  I stepped down into the Mahidol University campus and started along the long-cut.  Immediately, a young guy on a motorbike offered me a lift.  This was much appreciated as it was hot and the bags were getting heavier.  When we got to the exit with the sandbag wall truck pick-up/drop-off point, I delved into my bag looking for a roll to give him.  He waved me away saying he had plenty to eat and then he was off.

I felt greatly encouraged when I realized there was a fire engine about to depart that was going to turn right.  So, without having to wait on the grassy knoll, I was transferred to the fire-engine and clambered up the ladder on the side of the truck.  I got off at the bridge-cum-car park and walked towards Pitchaya Apartments where the school is.  I passed the boat-makers on the left side of the road welding metal panels to the boat frames.  Just ahead on the same side of the road was the closed post-office whose grounds were now home to some families.  When I arrived at the Pitchaya complex, I encountered one of the municipal workers who was camping out in front of the school and gave him a loaf.  He suggested to the security guard that they could share it.  I popped in to see if Tu or any of the gang was about.  I gave a loaf to Ter’s mother. Ter, Ter’s mother, M and one of the cleaners all immediately tasted it and agreed it was delicious.

I retrieved my bike and pedaled to the coffee shop down the road.  I gave U a loaf of bread and then suggested he might like to buy some of the remaining loaves to sell in his coffee shop.  He asked how much I was selling them for.  I told him 70 baht a loaf.  He immediately agreed to buy the remaining five loaves that he could see in the black plastic bag.  I fished around for the buns and pulled out five which I sold to him for ten baht each.  He telephoned Pui who came along and paid me the 400 baht.  I had a can of Leo and after the mandatory tot of whisky I was on my way.  I arrived at my soi and bumped into Thip and her housemate who were out for a stroll in their wellies.  I showed off the bread and told them I’d leave them some on their gate.  I stopped at Oum’s and gave her a loaf.  She gave me a lime that she explained I should use to ward off snakes from my house.  Safely home, I checked the contents of my bags.  There were three small rolls left.  I put two in a small bag and paddled opposite to hang them on their gate.

I came back home and went upstairs to fetch the peanut butter.

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Paul Wilson is a sometime actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist. Visit Paul's Top Man Tone Facebook Page...

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A Month in the Floods of Salaya – Part 2

A month in the floods of Salaya
A month in the floods of Salaya

Notes from the Flood Zone – (1/11/11)

“One month we’ve been waiting for the water” Thip, a neighbor, said as she stood at my gate in her short black wellies in three inches of water.  I was on my doorstep not venturing to put my feet into the perturbingly murky water stagnating in my yard.  Thip then informed me in her near perfect English that there was a possibility they might cut the electricity and water.  We agreed that that would probably be the time to evacuate.  “Anyway,” she said “they will give us two days’ notice.”  My next-door neighbor came out and started sweeping out the floating muck from her front yard which then flowed into mine.  Thip pointed out that I had some mushrooms, indicating a floating stick with some fungus growing on it.  I thought that sweeping the muck out of my front yard could be a sensible thing to do, but maybe not today.

That morning, I had woken up at 7 am in my friend Paolo’s Italian restaurant, Mamma Mia at Rangsee Place on Nakorn Chaisi Road about five kilometers or so from my house.  I felt a bit rough because Paolo had insisted the night before that I drink as much of his keg of beer as possible as it wouldn’t keep much longer.  As soon as I opened my eyes, I inspected my feet which to my relief were not swollen as I had been convinced they were before falling asleep a few hours previously.  This paranoia had been mostly due to the sting or bite I had received from an unidentified water creature while I was wading to the restaurant the previous day but also possibly partly fuelled by the beer.  Mario was already up too, and Paolo made the three of us coffee.  We surveyed the water level around the restaurant and apartment complex island. The level, although high, was not as high as I’d feared it might have been.  Two of the three pumps were working to get rid of the shallow water in the car park and out into the street-cum-canal on the other side of the wall of sandbags.  It was a beautiful morning and it was clear that it was going to be another hot day with clear blue skies.  The usual circular discussion ensued about water levels and whether they would rise or not and for how much longer the water would stay.  As Paolo needed a new gas bottle for the restaurant the plan was that Mario, who was staying at Rangsee Place, and I would leave together with the empty gas bottle by boat.  I was hoping we would take the biggest boat so that we could sit in it and not have to wade through the chest high water on the road in front of the restaurant, especially after my incident the previous afternoon.   My hopes rose as we were allotted the biggest of the three boats, well two really, because the wooden one had obviously seen better days and did not look ‘road’-worthy.  However, my hopes of a dry trip were dashed as the bottle, the size of a small man, took up nearly all the place in the boat, meaning Mario and I had no option but to wade through the water guiding the boat along.

There was little traffic, by which I mean boats and waders.   The going was quite smooth and the bottle reclined magisterially in the bottom of the boat with its neck propped up on the back seat as if to better admire the view. The water became less-deep after a short-while.  We had some bemused looks and some lovely smiles too as we pushed the boat along. A bit further, the canal became very shallow and the road re-emerged for a couple of hundred metres. 

We parked the boat at high and dry Sabai Boutique Apartments where I was relieved to find an ATM that wasn’t flooded and was still working.  We met a guy who lived nearby.  He said he was living on the second floor as his ground floor was flooded.  He also casually mentioned that he’d seen a crocodile that morning and hunters had shot it, which perhaps explained the loud bangs we’d heard earlier at breakfast.  It wasn’t really what we had wanted to hear, though the man explained that there was no danger of there being any crocodiles where we were going and reassured us that any snakes would only be small ones and not big.  When he enquired about a meal at Mamma Mia’s, I generously agreed that he could eat for free, but then forgot his name and didn’t inform Paolo of his unwitting generosity.  We left the boat and bottle attached to a lamppost and continued unencumbered towards the gas-bottle shop.  We thought that perhaps they might have a car or truck big enough to come through the flood waters to pick up the empty gas bottle.  After 200 metres, the road dived back into the flood waters again and we continued through water up to our thighs.  There was a Big C so I went in to see what, if any, food they had left. 

There was lots of instant coffee, whitening cream and shampoo, but nothing that could sustain anyone for very long.  I rang Oum, a neighbor, anyway to see if she might like some sauce or such like: “Mii kanom bang mai?” she enquired. “Mai mii.” was pretty much the extent of our conversation.  I thought I should pass her over to the lecturer of criminology who I’d just met wandering between the bare shelves, but apparently their conversation was as equally straightforward.  I bought some nuts, a chocolate bar and some instant coffee as well as some shampoo, and though my skin was turning an alarming shade of red, forwent the whitening cream.  Mario and I carried on through the flow. 

There were people paddling small boats, sometimes metal, sometimes plastic.  Some boats were being pulled and some had engines though these were rare.  People were being pulled on rafts made from bottles, big black inflatable rings, or even tubs.  Some people were evidently on their way out of the flood zone as they were carrying their most precious or essential belongings; clothes, dogs and the ubiquitous electric fans.  People were floating their dogs along in plastic containers. 

Plastic boats were being sold for 5,500 baht or more.  People hitched rides on the big trucks which came past occasionally trying not to send tidal waves over the sandbag flood barriers on the right-hand side of the road.  Some people were playing in the water.  Sometimes, at a junction or soi entrance on the left, the water flowed quite strongly into the main thoroughfare.  A few men were fishing with trident-like spears at one point where the flow of water cascaded down a short waterfall.  We watched for a while and though we spied a couple of fish, we didn’t see a catch.

We finally found the relatively dry gas-bottle shop on the right-hand side behind the sandbag wall which doubled as a pathway for people who preferred to try and stay out of the water.  The woman who ran the place with her husband said that it would be impossible for them to collect the bottle as the water was too high.  Her eyes lit up as I handed her my shopping.  As Mario pointed out, she had evidently misunderstood my explanation; I was handing her my stuff to look after while we went back to fetch the boat and bottle.  After clearing up the misunderstanding,
Mario and I started to make our way back to Sabai Boutique Apartments.

We soon stopped at a street restaurant and had a quick meal sat at a table in ankle-deep water.  We then continued along and then happened upon a higher som tum restaurant with healthy looking vegetables on display.  We quickly agreed to stop and have some more food.  We asked to use the toilet but ended up washing our hands in the kitchen instead. 

We stopped to watch the trident-fishermen again, and this time we witnessed a catch.  The fish looked like it came from the sea; it was by Mario’s estimation about 5 kilos which he later upgraded to possibly 10.  (It was later explained to me that this fish had probably escaped from a local temple). By now, the sun had reached its zenith and I was worried about getting too sun burnt.  We got back to the boat and took out the gas bottle, rolled it down the dry part of the road to the wet, then went back to fetch the boat.  We carried the boat over the dry stretch of road, put the bottle back in the boat and carried on to the gas-bottle shop. 

The empty bottle was exchanged for a full one and Mario paid the woman the 940 baht Paolo had given him.  I think she was impressed with our efforts as she gave him a discount.  The new bottle loaded into the boat, we turned around and went back the way we had come.  The current was in our favour.  A few people seemed slightly amused to see us passing by for a fourth time.

When we got to the dry part, we stopped and decided to wait for a big orange lorry that was coming our way.  The lorry had a huge winch which the driver expertly manouevred and with the help of a rope hauled the bottle upright and onto the back of the truck.  Mario and I passed the boat up to the people on the back of the lorry and Mario climbed in the cab.  As my help was no longer needed, I bid Mario farewell, thanked the lorry people, turned around and started off in the opposite direction home.

I stopped off at Tesco Lotus as it was open.  It had slightly more food options than Big C.  A bit further along, I took a long-cut through Mahidol University which had been kept dry by a huge wall of sandbags and came out at the exit opposite the Salaya – Bang Len road, the road to my soi.  On the sandbag wall some people had organized an official looking pick-up/drop-off point for people.  I was kindly offered a boat to sit in for the three metres to the waiting truck.  As soon as I had climbed aboard, the lorry pulled away and we passed the flooded police station on the right.  We made our way slowly down to the railway crossing, which although raised, was under shin deep water.  After the lorry had climbed like an amphibian up onto the bridge over the flooded khlong Maha Sawat, everyone disembarked onto the dry road.  I crossed the bridge and made my way on foot.  At Pitchaya apartments, I saw Tu, the manager, outside her office with a couple of guys hauling packs of bottled water.  I told her that I’d slept at Mamma Mia’s and she urged me to go and check my house as she thought it would be flooded after the previous night’s surge.  I picked up my bike and then stopped off a hundred metres down the road to have a coffee at my usual place.  They filled me in on the latest news.  There was another customer in the shop who summed things up by saying nobody knew what was really going to happen because they never tell the truth on TV.  I suggested that it was sometimes stressful, sometimes boring and sometimes sanook.  They agreed that it was sanook.

I rode the short distance to my soi wondering how much worse the flooding in my soi was going to be compared to 24 hours before.  To my relief, the water level had not risen too much and was now about 3 cms deep at my doorstep.

Part 1Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

Paul Wilson is a sometime actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist. Visit Paul's Top Man Tone Facebook Page...

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A Month in the Floods of Salaya – Part 1


A month in the floods of Salaya

A month in the floods of Salaya
Sand bags - (end Oct ‘11)


There had been a continuous crawl of traffic along the Salaya to Bang Len main road for about a week.  Pickups packed with families, their possessions and pets, the usual volume of 10-wheel trucks but also trucks carrying cars out of the flood zone from further up north. 

I walked home past the traffic jam going the other way and as I entered my soi I could sense an atmosphere I’d never felt before.  There were more people out in the street than usual and it was clear something was afoot.  A neighbour came over and explained that they had had an hour’s warning from the police that the flooding was coming.  Before long, a lorry delivered a huge pile of sand.  There was a frenzy of activity as everyone helped fill sandbags and cart them off to their front steps.  A car’s headlights were used to light up the scene as the sun had already gone down.  The mosquitoes were voracious, relentlessly attacking our legs.  After the pile of sand had been devoured, inspecting my now blistered hands and rubbing my sore back, I watched a police car approach slowly.  I did not know the hierarchy of the soi, and perhaps neither did they, but they pointed out that some people had higher levels of sand bags than others.  What is more, some houses, whose owners had the misfortune of not being present, had none. 


An hour later, there was no sign of water coming up through the drains as had been feared.

A few days later, though, water appeared at the bottom of the soi nearest the klong, which is just the other side of the wall at the end of the soi.  Each day, a nervous eye was kept on the size of this puddle.  Some neighbours built knee-high walls in front of their homes. The water, silently, slowly, almost imperceptibly, spread up the sides of the soi, obeying the camber of the road.  I had images of the future, when I would be looking at higher and higher reference points to judge how much the water had risen.

As the days progressed, the traffic jam on the main road became more desperate with more and more families and lorries crawling along.  Some families decided to go no further and simply stopped and set up camp on the grass by the side of the road creating ‘Grapes of Wrath’ type images with homes made from corrugated iron, pieces of tarpaulin or advertising banners, albeit with an opposite foe. 

Back in my soi, the water had crept into my front yard.  To gauge the pace of its advance, I decided to retreat my potted plants away from the water, nearer my doorstep a tile at a time.  Alarmingly, I found myself moving the line of plants more and more frequently until after just a few hours they were sitting on my front step, a penultimate line of resistance in front of the sandbags.  As the water then continued to rise up the step, I thought I’d better take some hitherto neglected emergency measures.  I started boiling water and filling buckets and moved some of my remaining stuff upstairs.   I stocked up on black bin liners as possible substitutes for the toilet. 

My neighbouring sois were not so lucky; they already had substantially more flooding.  To get to my local grocery store two sois away, for example, I had to wade through knee deep water.  The shop was slightly elevated and they had built a low wall, so for the moment they could still operate in relative dryness.  Lots of the residents from canal-side homes were evacuating to higher ground, pushing boats laden with their possessions and children.
I decided to offer space in my dry house to people less fortunate.  I offered a place to stay to some people sitting despondently on the side of the road.  My offer was declined as they said they were waiting to get picked up.  I tried down by the klong, where the exodus of people had gathered together and were already forming systems for food and sleeping.  A lot of families had chosen a huge metal platform with a roof but no walls which sat just above the canal.  Others had occupied an unfinished, two-storey indoor market also without walls adjacent to the canal.  I offered my house to different old couples or people with young children.  They all politely declined my offer explaining that they preferred to stay with their community and that they had free food and toilet facilities.
The next day, a neighbor came to my gate in her black rubber boots shouting frantically.  By the tone of her voice, I imagined we were on a two-minute warning to get out.  I grabbed a bag and shoved in some things.  I rushed out of the house as her shouts seemed to be becoming more agitated.

We got to the end of the soi nearest the main road when I realized I hadn’t needed to bring my bag.  My help was required to help unload a delivery of sandbags to build a wall at a part of the soi which had no wall to stop over-flowing water from the huge pond behind the houses opposite mine coming into the soi.

A short time later, I noticed that there was a buzz of activity at the other end of the dead-end soi by the 6 foot wall.  One or two teenagers had climbed over and were in the waist deep water on the other side.  As the plan became apparent, I volunteered to join them, thinking that being in the water might be a good option in the intense heat.  We started feeling around in the unclear water for submerged sandbags, which had evidently been overwhelmed in their previous job of protecting a wooden canal-side home half under water.  When we had retrieved a couple of sandbags each and hauled them up to people on the wall, a big plastic boat was passed over the wall from the soi.  Thus, we were able to load the sandbags, made heavier by the water, into the boat and then when the boat was full pull it to the wall.  The hardest part was then to pass these sodden, dripping weights up a small ladder and onto the top of the wall where people passed them down onto the bed of a pickup.  It was back-breaking work, but at least we could take pauses lounging in the cool murky water. 

After unloading each boatful, we had to turn the boat over to empty it of water and sand. Underfoot, one’s feet first felt the vegetation and squidgy mud of the small bank from the wall to a small canal side lane, then the comforting feel of tarmac.  We then used our feet to feel for sandbags.  When a sandbag was located, you then felt down with your hand to locate the open end of the sandbag to pull on.  As the locals seemed at ease in the dubiously coloured water and even sometimes dived under, I tried not to think of snakes, crocodiles or water-borne diseases, and tried to keep my head above water.  When, finally, it was deemed that enough bags had been pulled out of the water, we climbed back over the wall. 

It was not until later that evening when us ‘sandbag divers’ were being treated to a meal in one of the neighbour’s houses that I learned that a one and a half metre crocodile had in fact been spotted in the floodwaters on the other side of the canal earlier that day.

Part 1Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

Paul Wilson is a sometime actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist. Visit Paul's Top Man Tone Facebook Page...

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Raising The Standards

thestandards1
thestandards2
The Standards, Bangkok, Thailand
Thankfully, in a world of musical platitudes, Matt and the boys (and girl) are raising the standards. After going it alone, and succeeding, they are taking their sound to the UK on a tour designed to see if a Thailand-based band can “compete with the big boys”. Listen to the sounds on their Facebook page to hear what The Standards are all about. 

The history of popular music in Thailand has been a pretty woeful affair. Twenty-five years ago, it was Asanee Wasan that were credited with bringing Thai music into the modern era. For someone stepping off a plane in what was then the post-punk era, Asanee Wasan’s soaring power chords and painfully slow rock ballads equated more with ancient history than anything contemporary. Fortunately though, things did change – at least for a while. 

Thailand’s ‘New Wave’ happened about 15 years after the fact, but it was worth the wait… Bands like Modern Dog, Clash, Silly Fools and Paradox emerged to offer something a bit different alongside the nation’s usual fare. It got to the point where an ex-member of Suede was in a band in Thailand (Futon). And they were all pretty decent bands… Modern Dog for example opened for Radiohead’s visit to Bangkok, toured extensively world-wide, and in 2006 blew bands like Franz Ferdinand off the stage at Bangkok 100 (even though they were on earlier in the day). Grunge, Indie, Punk, New Wave, Death Metal, Hip Hop, House – whatever the musical style someone, somewhere, was experimenting… But unfortunately the momentum didn’t carry. 

As with elsewhere in the world, Thailand’s music industry adapted and survived. Slowly, but surely, “alternative” was tamed, packaged and brought into the mainstream. Today, the kingdom’s music scene is, to say the least, predictable – a steady and sure product of similar sounds generating an equally steady source of revenue. The time is right for a new ‘Modern Dog’ to shake things up a bit. Perhaps ‘The Standards’ are the band we are looking for.

The Standards are a musical oddity. They have been around for about 4 years and their lineup includes 2 foreigners and 3 Thais. Front man Matt Smith provides the vocals while Nay Voravittayathorn hits the drums, Manasnit Setthawong (nickname Nit) provides keyboards, Paul Smith plays lead guitar and Sithikorn Likitvoarchaui (nickname Mc) plays bass.

A chirpy Cockney from Woolwich in South London, front man Matt certainly has the front man look (ala Damon Albarn). He played in a couple of bands in the UK, most noticeable being Foxtail, a London-based band with ‘Mod’ overtones. Despite lots of concerts and coverage in the NME, nothing ever got to vinyl. After moving to Thailand he missed being in a band and he very quickly helped pull The Standards together. 

Unlike other Thai bands, they don’t have the promotional weight of a mega-corporation behind them, and despite this – perhaps because of this – they are doing the business. Considering the context they are working in, The Standards have a very unique look and sound. They’ve played most major venues in Thailand (including club Culture near Khao San Road, and Immortal, which used to be on Khao San Road until a couple of years ago), their music videos are played on MTV, they've played live on MTV, and they supported megastars “The Charlatans” who played Bangkok in 2010.

"It’s easier to get your music out to an audience these days,” suggested Matt when we spoke to him. “Back in the day it cost 600 or 700 quid an hour to record in a decent studio, but these days you can do everything on a Mac.” That flexibility led to the band putting together “Well, Well, Well”, a three-track EP on CD and “Nations”, a full-blown album which sits nicely amongst the racks of CDs by foreign artists found in record stores around Siam Square. “We tried working with some of the local producers, but it didn’t work out. We wanted more of a live sound. At the time we have a regular event called Popscene at Bangkok Rocks on Sukhumvit 19, and we recorded everything there. The owner just let us use the place afterhours and we did things like record the vocals in the toilet so we could get the right sound.”

The band’s big sound and attention to detail has translated into a powerful live act which soon amassed a solid following of locals (20%) and expats (80%). In the short time they have been together, they have toured extensively – they did an Asian tour with 9 concerts in Singapore, Borneo, Malaysia, and a three day festival in the Philippines. More recently they played CAMA in Hanoi. Quite an achievement in its own right, but all the more impressive when you consider they manage themselves.

 “The fact that we manage ourselves means we can do what we want”, added Matt. “The Thai alternative sound is more like British music in the 80’s, but our sound is more influenced by bands like Kasabian and Arcade Fire. It’s very different from what people are used to here. If we really wanted to make something of ourselves in Thailand we’d have to change our sound and it wouldn't be worth it really. It’s hard work doing everything ourselves, but we just enjoy it.”

Historically, “it’s all about the music” is a sentiment that has been relegated to cliché, but as far as The Standards are concerned, it really does seem to be the case. With a sound that doesn’t fit the local scene and no managerial support, The Standards have created a niche in Thailand’s music scene that allows them to keep doing what they like doing – playing their music. Now, with that under their belt they are taking on what might be considered the ultimate challenge – a tour of the United Kingdom.

Matt has been the focal point in the organization of The Standard’s UK tour. They have organized everything themselves. They’ve contacted the venues, begged to borrow equipment, and apart from promotion by the venues themselves, promoted it themselves. To pay for everything they have organized their own sponsorship. “But we aren’t going to make any money out of it,” points out Matt, “quite the opposite in fact”. 

He’s breaking his neck 24/7 organizing a tour that is going to put the band out of pocket… I guess the question “What’s the effing the point?” would come to anyone’s mind. The answer it seems reinforces the “it’s all about the music” concept.

 “We’ve just got to go there just to see what happens. We aren’t aiming for world domination or anything, but we just have to know. We have to know how we compare against the big boys. If we don’t do it, it will always be on our minds, so, yeah, it’s a pointless exercise. We hope to get people talking but there’s no real objective beyond that”. 

The Standards take their Thai homegrown to the UK in July 2011. Here’s a breakdown of the tour:

The July dates are:

01/07/11 – Camden Rock, London
http://www.camdenrock.co.uk/

03/07/11 – Bull And Gate, London
http://www.bullandgate.co.uk/

04/07/11 – Workshop, London
http://www.theworkshophoxton.com/

05/07/11 – Haymakers, Cambridge
http://www.acousticstage.co.uk/the-haymakers/index.php

06/07/11 – The Shed, Leeds       
http://www.theshedbar.co.uk/

07/07/11 – The Blue Cat, Stockport
http://www.bluecatcafe.co.uk/Main.html

09/07/11 – Alan McGee’s Greasy Lips, Jamm, London
http://www.nme.com/tickets/artist/alan-mcgees-greasy-lips-club

10/07/11 – Rhythms Of The World Festival, Hitchin
http://www.rotw.org.uk/

The tour is sponsored by Wood Street Bar, Smu Guitars, and Popscene.

More info on the Facebook event page.

Pictures Miki Giles

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Meditation in Bangkok

Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
There's no doubt about it, Thailand is a genuine draw for the spiritually inclined. Every year, thousands of people visit the kingdom to step away from the material and gain an insight into themselves and the world around them. While many "spiritual tourists" might envisage gaining enlightenment through fasting and sitting cross-legged under the torrents of one of Thailand's many crystal-clear waterfalls, few might consider a trip to Bangkok's main business/entertainment area a step down a spiritual path. And that just might be a shame… because it just might be what they are looking for.

Sukhumvit Road in the center of Bangkok is more recognized as street of excess than a place of retreat. It's where people work hard, play hard and enjoy the bounty of riding the back of one of Asia's more successful tigers. Yet, like elsewhere in the capital, pockets of spiritual resistance exist providing a ongoing reminder of just what is important in life. Fortunately, for visitors and expats wishing to learn more about the spiritual elements that forge this kingdom's unique identity, there are people around that are willing and able to offer tutelage and guidance in a language many foreigners understand - plain English.

I recently visited a one-day meditation workshop held at Ariyasom Villa Boutique Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 1 in Bangkok. Unlike many of the hotels in the area, Ariyasom is genuinely fetching - built in 1942 as a family home it is still owned by the family that built it, and they really have made the most out of everything they've got. The hotel grounds are not huge, yet their design gives the impression of a vast area that you can wonder through and get lost in. Ariyasom's gardens offer various nooks and crannies that you can walk around and find yourself a bit of personal space - probably one of the reasons this is an ideal location for a mediation workshop.

As a Brit, and a northerner at that, I haven't made too many sorties into the world of the spiritual. Although it's got a few Thai restaurants and Chinese takeaways, there aren't that many temples or the like in mid-Cheshire. So, although I didn't know what to expect from this workshop, I did, to some extent, expect to be a fish out of water. It was then very reassuring then to find out that Pandit Bhikkhu, owner of Littlebang and one of the organizers of the workshop, was in fact not Thai like I thought, but from Altrincham, a small town only a few miles from my home. In addition, David Lees, the broadminded owner of Ariyasom, proved to be a foreigner from Mere, which is even closer to my home than Altrincham! At that point in time, the three of us standing there was probably the only incidence of three Cheshire Cats being in the same room at the same time in the whole of Southeast Asia… well, at least I thought so.

Aside from its splendor, Ariyasom has even more surprises. Whereas most hotels in the area push restaurants and "discos" into every spare inch available, Ariyasom offers a spacious, dedicated meditation area replete with a bedroom for visiting monks... That certainly is a first for me.

"My wife is Thai and has been involved in meditation for a number of years," suggested David Lees. "In fact she runs a blog about meditation. We rebuilt Ariyasom with meditation in mind. With a dedicated facility it's easy for us to run events on a regular basis. There's a decent-sized community of English-speaking Buddhists in Bangkok, and we help cater for them. Our events also extend to visitors to Thailand looking to learn more about Thai-style meditation. We get a good mix of people and I think people enjoy our workshops and benefit from them."

David and his wife obviously talk the talk and walk the walk. While other hotels in the area might squeeze every cent out of their visitors, arriving at 08:30 before the start of the meditation workshop, I was greeted by hot coffee, Pa Thong Ko (the deep fried doughnuts that are a traditional Thai breakfast) and juice - all free of charge. As the day progressed, hot coffee was on tap and a vegetarian lunch was provided, again, free of charge. At the end of the day a variety of Thai fruit was on offer. Alongside offering a huge air-conditioned room for the comfort of meditators, catering for around 30 people in this way was not likely to be a cheap affair.

The workshop itself was also free of charge, and like David said, attracted a mix of backpackers, tourists and well-healed expats, although as the bulk of people seem to know each other, the latter did appear to dominate. The workshop was, not surprisingly, insightful - the Vipassana meditation being taught is better known as "Insight Meditation". The instruction was provided by Aussie Mike Sansom and German Helge Sansom. Both are trainers at Wat Kow Tahm (Mountain Cave Monastery) International Meditation Center on Koh Phangan in southern Thailand. Mike and Helge walked beginners and veterans alike through the techniques and methodology of Vipassana meditation and the instruction proved both accessible and pragmatic.

Basically, mediation offers the opportunity to reflect. We were told to sit, eyes closed and consider the in and out of our breathing. Directing my awareness towards my breathing proved both easy and difficult at the same time. Becoming aware of my breathing generated a stillness that was immediately accessible, but it was also very easy to drift off into a reverie of thought without really noticing where my mind was going. It's was sometimes very hard to pull myself away from thoughts of bills, work, commitments, family, and curiously, the theme music to 1980's British TV program, "Black Beauty" - quite where that came from I dread to think. Obviously some deep and dark place. However, as Mike pointed out, any awareness was beneficial, and as Helge suggested, making a mental note of the mental distractions put them in their place and allowed you to revert to concentrating on breathing. In fact, this for me was the most valuable thing I took away from the day… Just sitting quietly like this, acknowledging the thoughts that entered my head allowed me to really understand exactly what was on my mind. 
    
Later, we were introduced to walking meditation. Although I followed the instruction and understood the technique, the sight of people walking around and meditating at the same time was a little spooky I thought. The technique is intended to be used while you are in motion and with your eyes open. It requires full awareness of your body, its movement, and even the ground beneath your feet and the feeling pressure stepping on the ground creates. I honestly couldn't do it in front of people, not for fear how I looked, but genuine fear of how others looked. To practice this I needed to find a bit of space well away from others, and fortunately this was possible at Ariyasom.

We were also introduced to guided meditation leading to compassion and understanding. Helge introduced the meditation using an everyday scenario: You are in a shop; the check out desk is slow and you are being inconvenienced. This causes anxiety and perhaps even rage. You might even be moved to complain. However, although these emotions appear to be driven by external events, they are, in fact, only your reaction to external events. Changing your perception, through an injection of compassion, will help alleviate YOUR anxiety. Perhaps the checkout girl is having a bad day; perhaps she has financial problems or other problems at home; perhaps even she has just found out she has lost her job and today is her last day. Each of these possible scenarios would account for today, and each, with compassion, would be fully understandable.

At the end of the day's workshop, I can honestly say I felt very refreshed - a similar feeling to that you get after having a weekend away, and yet it was really only a few hours. I really did feel I had been given some tools that would help and enrich my daily life. I felt better for the workshop. Our introduction to compassion and understanding was though immediately put to the test. During the latter stages of the workshop, a freak thunderstorm dumped what appeared to be thousands of tons of water into Soi 1. Not surprisingly, given the downfall, the Soi was completely flooded… and just to be fair - this really is the exception rather than the rule in Bangkok these days.

Even if you are only Bangkok for a couple of days, likelihood is there will be something happening that will provide you with the type of experience I had on Sukhumvit Road. Key places at look for events have already been mentioned - the Littlebang website gives broad details on what's happening in Bangkok while mind.matters.at.ariyasom will provide you with specific details of what's happening at Ariyasom.

I really recommend that you get involved in something while you are here. At the very least, you'll take home with you a greater understanding into what Thais find commonplace, and that in itself, will be much more of an understanding of Thailand than some take home with them.

Staff Writer

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Eating Your Way Through Bangkok

Eating Your Way Through Bangkok
Eating Your Way Through Bangkok
Whether you are visiting Thailand for the first time or have been living there for longer than you can remember, there is always something new, interesting and exotic to experience. What has always been the most dear to me is the multitude and availability of local dishes and cuisines (both traditional and fusion style) that really express Thailand's culture and the Thais flavor and attitude towards life.

The Misnomer of Street Food: So often when I host an overseas visitor they are amazed at the sheer number of people eating on the street asking me "How safe is it really and do people get sick?" If you've been to India, then eating fresh fruits, noodles, grilled chickens and other curiously looking meats from the street vendors in Bangkok is nothing. I've been eating from food stalls/street vendors/push carts for years and find that dining in this manner is no more dangerous than eating in a restaurant except for the fact that you are eating in plastic chairs, perhaps share a table with another hungry patron or breath a little exhaust from passing cars here and there; but generally the food is fresh, well prepared, very tasty and overall fairly safe to eat-street vendors don't like to carry a lot of over-head; most cannot afford to so everyday they go to the fresh markets buying only the amount of ingredients that they anticipate using in a given day; very seldom do they store meats and vegetables like a restaurant.    
     
When trying to decide which food stall to eat from (as there are many to choose from) it's best to observe where the locals eat (of course using your judgment to a certain extent) and if there is a line, a lot of chaos, and definitive smells that draw a curious sense and hunger; then you are probably at the right place.

Sukhumvit Soi 38 has a plethora of street vendors hawking various dishes such as Moo Grob (crispy pork belly with Chinese broccoli, chili and oyster sauce), Ca Pow Gai (Thai Basil Chicken Fried Rice), and Kuaytiaw Raat Naa (Fried Noodles with Pork & Vegetable Gravy) among others-my favorite is Ba Mee Puu (Egg Noodles with Crab) served from a push cart about 20 meters on the right hand side of Sukhumvit Soi 38 when coming from Thonglor BTS. At the corner of Soi Convent and Silom road (Friday and Saturday nights only) P' Uan (meaning fat in Thai; not to be construed in a negative sense as in the western culture) serves up the best Moo Ping (Pork Thai Barbecue) in Bangkok-the pork is grilled and caramelized to perfection where the robustness of each bite intensifies leaving you not just tasting the Moo Ping, but experiencing it.

My Pad Thai and Noodles: The first meal that many Bangkok “first timers” order is either Pad Thai or Fried Rice as they want to compare these dishes to the familiar dishes that they get in their own home country (an normally associate these dishes as not being too spicy). Pad Thai is made up of stir-fried rice noodles with eggs, fish sauce, tamarind juice, and a combination of bean sprouts, shrimp, chicken, or tofu; for a slight variation of Pad Thai from the traditional sense, I recommend Pad Thai Thip Samai (Salaya, Puthamonthon, Nakornpathom, Bangkok, (0) 81630 6444); established in 1966 that serves two definitive dishes such as the Pad Thai with large prawns enclosed in an egg omelet (Pad Thai Kai Ho) or the Pad Thai Song-Krueng where the Sen Chan or grass noodle can be laced with crab meat, ground cuttlefish and/or sliced mango.

Located in Pranakorn, Somsrong Pochana’s kitchen creations originate from the Sukhothai Province serving Sukhothai noodle consisting of BBQ pork with green sprouts in the noodles and delicately sprinkled with dried chili’s for taste and intensity—for a less spicy flare the Thai Spaghetti with coconut milk, pineapple, & dried shrimp (Kanom Jeen Sao Nam) is a safe bet. Soi Watt Sangwej (Opposite Sangwej Temple), Pra Atit Rd., Pranakorn Bangkok, (0) 2 282 0972.
If you like Duck and happen to be in the Phaholyothin area, a must try is the Steamed Duck Noodles at Yothin Duck Noodles food stall (#1301 Soi Paholyothin 11 (beginning of the Soi), Paholyothin Rd., Bangkhen, Bangkok, (0) 2 278 1738) where the duck meat effortlessly falls off the bone releasing the succulent juices and natural ripeness of the duck.

Don't Be Scared - Just Eat it!: Bangkok has lots of hidden delicacies and interesting cuisines that are often overlooked as newcomers and veterans of Bangkok tend to stick to the same restaurants over and over again. There is so much great food out there to be eaten that I encourage everyone to venture away from the more touristy areas into the more unknown or 'less frequented by foreigner ones.' Talk to locals, people watch, read online reviews, get yourself lost in China town. Whether you have a strong passion for food or just like to enjoy a good meal, get out and do a little exploring. You won't like everything you taste as you'll have good meals and bad meals, but who cares-it is all part of the experience! The main thing is that you have fun and learn a lot about the Thai culture, people and food along the way.

The above are just a few examples of some places to enjoy while dining in Bangkok. For more information visit www.PekoPiko.com featuring Bangkok's Best Restaurants, Street Food and Hidden Cuisines along with restaurant information, user reviews, and saver promotions-everything you need to guide you on Where to Eat and What to Eat in Bangkok. If you like what you've read above I recommend PekoPiko's 'Old Bangkok Eateries' section for other similar restaurants.

Written By Jason Buckalew, Bangkok Foodie Photos By Pukky Churuphant.

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Suvarnabhumi Airport Questions and Answers

Suvarnabhumi Airport Questions and AnswersQ: Kemal writes: If i come to thailand...how can i go from airport for to khaosanroad,airport-khaosan if there bus which number? And nearist which railway station to khaosan road...

A: Taxi, bus, airport pickup - nearest railway station is Hualumpong.

Q: Andreas writes: "Hi, I need the cheapest way from Bankok Airport to Khao San Road?"

A: By airport bus - 150 Baht per person - 05.30 to 24.00 hours daily. It takes from there around 1 and half hour, getting off at the last bus stop near Khaosan Road.

Q: Mike writes: "Hello, what are the options for getting to Hua Lamphong Train station from Suvarnabhumi airport, please."

A: AE4 Suvarnabhumi-Hua Lamphong (by expressway) - taxi to Morchit MRT and MRT to Hua Lamphong.

Q: Gwyn Jones writes: "Dear Sir, travelling from UK to Phuket on 2nd Jan 07. Best case scenario is that luggage will be checked through to hkt from Manchester. On arrival in the new airport will I be able to remain in 'transit'/collect boarding pass from Thai Airways desk and eventually clear immigration in Phuket, or will I have to clear immigration on arrival and check in again at domestic? Any advice you have will be appreciated. Thank you in advance."

A: We presume you can go directly to domestic and your luggae will be transfered to your on flight. Again, we are looking to hear from people who can confirm this...

Q: Cheryl writes: "I'll be flying from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok on Oct 13 using Air Asia. Will it be at the same terminal as all international flights. I'll be staying at Mandarin Hotel. What is the taxi fare from Suvarnabhumi Airport to Mandarin Hotel. My departure time is very early in the morning around 7am. Will your taxi stop at the proper arrival area or to a certain place whereby I need to use your shuttle bus. Is it easy to get a cab early in the morning let's say 4am."

A: Sorry - again we don't know... has anyone been to Mandarin Hotel from the new airport? If so please let Cheryl know...

Q: Bbaker writes: "I am trying to find hotels/guesthouses near the NEW airport and am having trouble as all tour books and sites still list places near the old airport. Please advise." We have had a number of people asking this question...

A: We don't know much about about discount accommodation and if anyone has details let us know. However, there's Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel, Royal Princess Srinakarin, Grand Inn Come Hotel, and Novotel Bangna amongst others.

Q: Larry writes: "I used to take the airport bus from the old airport all the way to Tower Inn. Will I be able to take the same bus from the new airport?"

A: We don't know for sure, but it's pretty unlikely - the old aiport and the new airport are opposite ends of Bangkok!

Q: Ocean writes: "Where is the taxi stand for taxis into the city at the new airport?"

A: Public taxis taxi stands are located on level four of the departures concourse.

Q: Han s. Chen writes: "Hi; I will be in BKK on Oct.3 at 11;45 PM , this is a scaring time to arrive of a new airport, I don\'t know the latest airport bus to Khaosan Rd is what time and is Rte 551 bus directly going to Khaosan Rd also if not which bus is?! Would you please tell me this urgent and confusion questions.Thanks in advance for your helps of this anxious awaiting questions. Best Regards Han Chen"

A: We don't know about the 551 - can anyone help? The AE2 goes directly to Khaosan Road and costs 150 Baht. the journey takes an hour and gets to KSR by expressway.

Q: Wim writes: "Do the bus services from Khao Sarn Road to the new airport (556 and AE2) have 24 hour service?"

A: Sadly - we can't find the answer... anyone?.

Q: Tony writes: "Hi. I'm flying into Bangkok from Samui on Monday and on to Bahrain on Tuesday. Is the old airport totally gone or is it still being used for domestic fligts? "

A: Our understanding is that the new airport will deal with both domestic flights and international flights… the old airport will be used for charter flights and some domestic routes, althoughn not key routes.

Q: L.Mogan Muniandy writes: "What is the taxi (meter) fare from Airport (New) to Grande Ville Hotel?"

A: Sorry, no idea... anyone?

Q: Mike writes: "There is an airport bus advertised from Suvarnabhumi airport to the On Nut BTS Station - does this come off the Expressway down Sukhumvit Road from Nana ie past the Landmark Hotel or does it come to On Nut for passengers to get the BTS up towards Nana. It is very difficult to find this out. Thanks,"

A: We don't know the answer to this one.... Anyone?

To contact the person asking the question click on his/her name. Please CC your answers and comments to us here: info@khaosanroad.com. Contact us with more information.

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Suvarnabhumi Airport – Insights

Suvarnabhumi Airport Questions and AnswersRyan writes: "John, something for travelers who want to take a less expensive way to go to the airport. From Khaosan to the airport by taxi is about 400 baht. I did it for 340 baht last night. Brought my parents to the airport. On the meter… no 'special deals'. 65 for the toll ways - (40 for the first one, 25 for the second) and 50 for the airport surcharge. We left at 23.00u and 35 min. later we were at the airport. Fast and not to expensive. Back was different. As my friend came with me, we decided to split up. He takes a taxi and i took the bus, number 556. He took a taxi at the departures level, were the taxi's drop off people. It is not allowed to pick up people there but at 00.30 there are no security guards...

So he made it back, 35 min. back to Khaosan - 240 on the meter and 65 for the toll ways. No 50 baht !!! I went with the bus, had to wait 1 hour for it. So at 01.30u I left from the airport and 35 min. later I was at Khaosan. For 35 baht, this was ok. If your not in a rush or carrying to much luggage, the bus is a fine alternative. If you are in a rush and don\'t mind the money, take a taxi. Note: the busses don't drive on a schedule.

It might be possible that you have to wait a while to get a bus. However, the information counter at the public transport terminal is very useful and gives you all kinds of alternative routes to the city. You can take the 552 bus to and get out on Sukhumvit. From there bus 511 to Khaosan... And so on. Just ask them, they speak good English and were very helpful at 01.00 in the morning! Regards Ryan"

Shai Pinto has been to the new airport twice already so he should have a few insights... here's what he has to say...

The bottom line for the new airport is - it's big, it's easy if you know your way around airports,and it isn't such a big change as expected. As I have managed to go through the new airport twice in it's first 3 days of operation here is the lowdown for you to update everyone.

Basically, once you get out of the baggage claim you are still on the arrivals floor 2, and you have a few options:

1- Go down 1 level and get an airport authority taxi - it will cost you a flat rate and it is expensive

2- Walk out the doors of the terminal - there are 3 curbs or sidewaks ahead off you. The first one has a big stop for the shuttle bus - this bus will take you to the transport centre, a seperate building 10 min drive away. From there you can take regular taxis, buit they add at least 50 baht rack rate surcharge. You will also have to wait for the bus a bit. BGy the way - make sure you get the express one, or you will end up stopping at all kinds of buildings along the way (usefull if you have a special fettish for new airport buildings, hangars or storage rooms..)

3 - As you exit the doors - just flag down the first taxi you see. They will all stop even though they are not supposed to, and they all seem just as lost as you do, so they will hurry up to take you before the funny man with the whistle and the uniform chases them away. It also helps with bargaining..

4 - As in the old airport - go up to departures and grab a taxi that just dropped off passengers. it still works...

By the way - only go meter!!! it is exactly 220 baht to KSR (3 journeys, same price), and if you pay the tollway fees add another 65 Baht.

In summary - new airport or not, just walk out the door, hail the first taxi to drive by, say meter, pay for tollway, and in exactly 45 min you will be at KSR.

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The Good Stuff: A Passage to Little India

Little India, Bangkok, Thailand
Little India, Bangkok, Thailand
Little India, Bangkok, Thailand
Little India, Bangkok, Thailand
Little India, Bangkok, Thailand
Little India, Bangkok, Thailand
Little India, Bangkok, Thailand
Little India, Bangkok, Thailand
Little India, Bangkok, Thailand
Little India, Bangkok, Thailand
Little India, Bangkok, Thailand
One of my favourite parts of Bangkok is its Indian neighbourhood, known as "Little India". This hidden jewel in Bangkok's crown is full of gorgeous food, interesting sights, and a real impression of what it's like to walk down an Indian street.

Bangkok's Indian community first settled in the Phahurat area soon after King Rama I ordered its construction in 1898. The area has expanded over the years, and now merges into the southwestern edge of Chinatown.

The soi, or lane, known as "Little India" runs parallel to Phahurat Road. Read on for photos galore, and details of how to get there.

On entering the lane, you'll find food stalls selling hot snacks; while posters of Hindu gods sit alongside a child's bicycle. The sights and sounds of India are everywhere, as locals go about their daily business. I arrive at lunchtime, and that only means one thing: time for lunch! There's one place I go to eat every time I visit Little India: Punjab Sweets.

This fantastic restaurant is a real treat. TV programmes stop every 3 minutes for advertising: Fair and Lovely face cream, Indian Oil, Bharti Life Insurance, Belmonte Academy of Style, and Reliance Mobile Telephones (only 999 Rupees). There are a couple of dishes I like to order when I go there: chhole batore (a plate of chickpea curry, potato curry and lime pickle, served with puffed-up fried Indian bread), and samosa chana (chickpea curry with 2 crunchy, hot samosas). I'm taken right back to my memories of street-side eating in Delhi, and I wash these delectable treats down with a glass of hot, sweet masala chai. This is way better than any expensive Indian restaurant food; plus, it's totally authentic, and so easy on the pocket as well: my fantastic lunch set me back a mere 70 Baht. Icy-cold drinking water (in a jug on your table, safe to drink) is free of charge, too, so you can really cool down from the heat of the street.

I'm tempted to stay even longer at Punjab Sweets, as the sweets themselves have caught my eye. They're quite beautiful. The gulab jamun (sweet fried dough balls in rosewater syrup) nestle under edible silver leaf; the ras malai (milk curds flavoured with cardamom and saffron) also grab my attention. But alas, every time I come here l enjoy my chhole batore and samosas far too much to have room for any of these delicacies. Punjab Sweets also stocks an extensive range of spices and cooking ingredients, if you want to try your hand at making a real curry.

Out into the street I go. It's time to soak up the spectacle of this part of town. Wandering through the lane, there are so many things to look at. It's interesting to see how Indian and Thai culture blend a little bit here. Indian food stalls serve

Thai curries to Indian residents. Shop doors feature different written languages, for the understanding of all.
   
A man makes these chewy snacks which turn your mouth, and your saliva, bright red. The experience will set you back about 5 Baht, and it's like nothing else. Try one!

A beautiful gurdawara, or Sikh temple, sits a little way down the soi. This is said to be the largest gurdwara outside India, and is built of opulent white marble.

If you're lucky, you may find that your visit coincides with some special occasion in the temple's calendar, as I was when I took the pictures above.   
 
Visitors to the temple are made very welcome, and there is usually someone there to show you around - an interesting way to spend a little time.

Remember to remove your shoes and cover your head when you go any higher than the ground floor; the customary yellow headscarves are provided for this.

Little India also holds some exotic treasures for fans of browsing and shopping.

Wandering into one establishment, I am soon the proud owner of 3 CDs of beautiful Indian music (80 Baht each) and a bottle of heady rose perfume oil from Mumbai (300 Baht). Walking further, I also pick up a red beaded necklace for 100 Baht, some Burmese cooking ingredients, some natural Neem soap, a rolling pin (50 Baht), some curry pastes, and a box of saffron (70 Baht).

So that gives you an idea of what this area of Bangkok is like. I hope you will give it a try.

Getting there:

In fact, it's possible to approach the Indian district from the westernmost end of Chinatown's chaotic Sampeng Lane; from there, turn left onto Chakraphet Road, cross the footbridge, and go left along the pavement. A few minutes along on your right is the entrance to Little India.

However, to avoid the crush of Sampeng, and for a more peaceful journey along the river, here is the route I always take. The journey begins at river-taxi pier 13 (Banglamphu) on Phra Arthit Road.

Take a boat that is heading down the river: if you look to your right from the pier, you can see them approaching under the Rama VIII Bridge with its golden suspension cables. Get on a boat with an orange or yellow flag.

Orange-flagged boats charge 13 Baht per person, while on the yellow-flagged "Tourist Boat" you pay 18 Baht. Do observe the pier numbers as you make your way down the river. The numbers are on blue-and-white signs on the platforms. Look out for pier number 6: Memorial Bridge.

You can see the green Memorial Bridge as you are floating along. On the Tourist Boat, the helpful guide will announce (in English) when you are about to reach your stop, so get ready to get off. Cross the road in front of you, and you will see a huge, ornate Thai Buddhist temple, with its adjacent white spire. Walk towards it and go to your right.

Keeping the temple on your left, walk along and you will soon be in the busy Chakraphet/ Chakphet (the spelling varies) Road. 

Now you're on the home strait. Pass the Chinese temple on your left, continue along Chakphet Road, and look out for the Royal India restaurant on the other side the road. And before you know it, you'll be at the entrance to the Little India soi (lane). Look out for the "India Emporium" shopping mall that's being built, and you'll know you've found your destination. Phew! Happy exploring!

About the author: Liz Clayton

Liz Clayton has been living in Thailand for 2 and a half years. Her first year was spent in Bangkok, last year she worked in Prachinburi province near Isaan, and now she is back in Bangkok for a few more years.

She enjoys looking for new places - finding the little hideaways which aren't on the usual backpacker trail.

Fortunately, she is passing what she finds onto KhaoSanRoad.com visitors. 

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Bangkok Skytrain – BTS

Bangkok Skytrain BTS
Bangkok Skytrain BTS
Bangkok Skytrain BTS
bangkok_skytrain_bts_4
It's no secret that Bangkok has a traffic problem, and traveling between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. can be frustrating and time consuming as you become lost in a series of traffic jams. However, there is an alternative that can make traveling through the city easy and enjoyable.
The Bangkok Mass Transport System - usually called the BTS or Skytrain - began operation on December 5, 1999. It is an elevated metro, consisting of two lines and 23 stations. For people wishing to explore the center of Bangkok, the Skytrain offers a fast, pollution-free service and a different vantage point.

The average journey costs 10-30 baht, much cheaper than a taxi or tuk-tuk. The automatic ticket machines only take 5 and 10 baht coins, so take plenty of change if you want to avoid queuing at the change counter. You can also purchase a day ticket, which offers unlimited trips for just 120 baht.

Called Rot Fai Fah in Thai - car with fire up in the air - the Skytrain connects with areas such as Siam, Sukhumvit and Silom. The best way to experience the Skytrain from Khaosan Road is to take the ferry from pier 13 to Saphan Taksin, which connects with the last stop on the Silom line. It is good to note that the stations on the Skytrain use a slightly different phonetic spelling to usually seen on maps and signs around Bangkok. Try saying the words aloud and if they sound similar then you're on the right track.

Here's a break down of what you can find at each stop:

Silom Line

Saphan Taksin: Journey starts here. Follow the signs from the river up the steps and purchase your ticket.

Surasak: Not much here, but there are some good, cheap restaurants.

Chong Nonsi: Close to the Thai Immigration Bureau on Soi Suan Phlu (Sathorn soi 3).

Sala Daeng: (Interchange with MRT). This is the stop for Patpong, where you can barter in the market or slip into one of the bars for livelier entertainment. Stop here for Convent Road.

Ratchadamri: Stop here for elevated views of the horse racing track, or some of the swankier hotels such as the Regent Hotel.

Siam (Central Station): Bangkok's main shopping district. Siam Square, Siam Centre, Discovery Center, Paragon and MBK are all close by.

National Stadium: End of the Silom Line. Jim Thompson's House is a short walk from here.

Wongwian Yai: Gets you over the river and closer to some of the main tourism sites.

Sukhumvit Line

Mo Chit (Morchit): A good way to get to Chatuchak park and market. Suan Rot fai, the park behind Chatuchak, is also worth exploring. Connects with the North-East Bus Terminal and MRT.

Saphan Khwai: Stop here for Thai-style bars and go-go bars.

Aree: Villa Market Complex can provide food for homesick palets, as can the range of restaurants and cafes.

Sanam Pao: Means 'Shooting Field' in Thai.

Victory Monument: Stop here for live music at the Saxophone Pub, or explore the stalls dotted around this area.

Phaya Thai: Here you will find some restaurants offering delicious Isaan food. Look out for 'Tee Sud Isaan Inter Restaurant'.

Ratchathewi: This is the stop for Panthip Plaza and the Pratunam Shopping Center, which has a good international food court.

Siam (Central Station): Change for the Silom line to go back to Khaosan Road.

Chit Lom: Stop here for up market shopping centers such as Amarin Plaza, Gaysorn Plaza and Central World Plaza.

Ploen Chi: There is a sky bridge connecting to the pedestrian bridge next to the British Embassy.

Nana: Home of Nana Plaza, and the main soi with its inviting neon-clad bars as well as Nana Hotel and Landmark Hotel.

Asok (Asoke): Interchange with MRT. Stop here for Soi Cowboy.

Phrom Phong: The Emporium is here and you can also explore The Queen's Park (Benja Siri Park).

Tong Lo (Tong Lor): Soi Tong Lo (Sukhumvit 55) has a wide range of bars just waiting to be explored. Check out The Robin Hood Pub, Wiches Tavern and Coliseum Brew Arena.

Ekkamai: Connects with the Eastern Bus Terminal. The Science Museum here is worth visiting.

Phra Khanong: Get off here for the Hua Mark Stadium.

Om Nut: Closest stop to Suvarnapoomi airport - for now, at least.

See the BTS website

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Bangkok Underground – MRT

Bangkok Underground - MRT
Bangkok Underground - MRT
Bangkok Underground - MRT
The relatively recent addition of the Mass Rapid Transit network (MRT) has made traveling around Bangkok much easier and dramatically decreased the amount of traffic on the roads.

The MRT (also known as the Bangkok Subway or Bangkok Metro) is known as Rot FAI Die Din in Thai; 'car with fire under ground'. It was opened by HM King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit at 19:19 on July 3rd, 2004.

The MRT is particularly useful for people traveling to/from Hualomphong Station as it runs from there round in a horseshoe shape to Bang Sue, which is also located next to a railway station.

The MRT comprises 18 stations and intersects with the BTS at three points: Chatuchak Park, Silom and Sukhumvit. It is impossible to get lost on the underground as there is only one line. Some of the most frequently visited stops include Kamphaeng Phet, Chatuchak Park, Silom, Asok (Sukhumvit) and Lumpini.

Single journeys are quite cheap, costing 15 baht for one station, whilst a ticket from one end of the line to the other costs 39 baht and takes about 25 minutes. You can also buy san unlimited one day pass for 120 baht, a three day pass for 230 baht and a thirty day pass for 800 baht. It is a good idea to carry a supply of 5 and 10 baht coins for the automatic ticket machines. You will be issued with a plastic disk, which you lightly press against the barrier to gain admittance.

The trains can carry 40,000 passengers an hour in each direction and arrive every five minutes during peak times - 07:00-09:00, 16:00-19:00 - and every seven minutes at non-peak times. There are also TV screens and soft music to entertain you while you wait.

Although traveling on the MRT is quite simple, you may want to bear the following tips in mind:

The MRT is air conditioned throughout, and sometimes gets so cold that it feels as though it were designed by polar bears! Take a sweater if traveling more than a couple of stops.

If you are visiting Lumpini Park, do not get of at Lumpini Station but exit at Silom Station instead. Lumpini Station is close to Lumpini Stadium and the Suan Lum Night Bazaar. Phaholyothin Station, rather than Lad Phrao Station, is also the closest station to Central Lad Phrao.

Bangkok Underground - MRTAlthough Chatuchak Park Station is the closest station to Chatuchak Park, Kamphaeng Phet Station is the most convenient station for Chatuchak Weekend Market (J. J. Market).

It is worth bearing in mind that the Thailand Cultural Center Station is actually quite a distance from the Thailand Cultural Center. Visitors to the center may want to get a taxi from the station.

See the MRT website.

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Denis Hemakom, 808 Club, Royal City Avenue (RCA), Bangkok, Thailand

808 Royal City Avenue (RCA) Bangkok, Thailand
royal_city_avenue_808_2
808 Royal City Avenue (RCA) Bangkok, Thailand
808 Royal City Avenue (RCA) Bangkok, Thailand
808 Royal City Avenue (RCA) Bangkok, Thailand
808 Royal City Avenue (RCA) Bangkok, Thailand
808 Royal City Avenue (RCA) Bangkok, Thailand
On RCA, we spoke to Denis Hemakom. Denis has the luxury of being a partner of 808 Club, which a quick sound check with a young Thai club fanatic we know confirmed, is "the hottest place on RCA". 100% Thai, yet a native of Washington DC, we could find nobody better to give us an insight into the club scene in Bangkok, RCA in particular, and what exactly brought Grandmaster Flash to town.

What attracts the planet's peripatetic youth to Thailand's capital? For many, their quest is of a spiritual nature; a quest for discovery - to find people different to themselves and situations they would never encounter back home; to learn and to grow… and, of course, to take in some of Bangkok's "kickass nightlife". But with all of this passion for discovery abounding, you can sometimes wonder if the KSR "decompression chamber" actually has a safety net around it. It's sad to say, but many a traveler on KSR never actually makes it further than the police station of an evening. Some of those that do venture out only get as far as Rambutrri Road, where they fill their journals with vivid descriptions of their "taste of Bangkok the traveling masses rarely encounter". Well, as Ricky Fitts said, "Never underestimate the power of denial". With a philosophy that aspires to get people off Khao San Road, KhaoSanRoad.com had to intervene. We took a look around to find something worth getting off the strip for - and we came up with RCA.

On RCA, we spoke to Denis Hemakom. Denis has the luxury of being a partner of 808 Club, which a quick sound check with a young Thai club fanatic we know confirmed, is "the hottest place on RCA". 100% Thai, yet a native of Washington DC, we could find nobody better to give us an insight into the club scene in Bangkok, RCA in particular, and what exactly brought Grandmaster Flash to town.

RCA started life as a failed investment - a street full of shop front offices that were finished just in time to greet a massive downturn in Bangkok's real estate market. The area's fortunes
turned when a couple of Thai pop stars bought up some of the offices and opened them up as cafes/bars. Through their fame, and their choice of local bands as entertainment, they encouraged an immediately loyal clientele. When members of the government raised their eyebrows at role models as purveyors of alcohol fueled entertainment, the pop stars sold up, but RCA's fame as an 'alternative' venue remained. The rest, as they say, is history.

Compare RCA (or 'Royal City Avenue' by its proper, but now somewhat outmoded name) and KSR, and you might be entering the Twilight Zone. To imagine what it is like, take KSR, shake off all the travel agents, hotels and guesthouses, and you are left with the clubs and entertainments venues. Now, add a genuine club culture with top local and international acts, and you have RCA. What's curious in the comparison is that RCA caters to a local market with acts like Grandmaster Flash and Ed Banger, while KSR, where the bulk of visitors might have at even heard of DJs of this magnitude, in general, does not. Why then aren't legions of die hard clubbers heading from KSR to RCA as part of their Bangkok itinerary? We ventured to 808 Club to find out.

808

We enter a dimly lit 808 Club - clothed in black '808' t-shirts, the club's bar staff and security receive a military-style briefing in preparation for tonight's big act - the DJ legend Grandmaster Flash. Opposite, Grandmaster Flash's crew are setting up turntables and checking sound levels. It's all go in here tonight, but despite the backdrop of industrial efficiency, we get a warm and generous greeting from a calm and relaxed looking Denis Hemakom. A Thai-American, Denis looks a lot younger than his 32 years.

KSR: So, how long have you been in Thailand?

Denis: I was brought up in the US, but I came to Thailand often, and I moved here full-time 4 and half years ago.

KSR: And were you involved in the US club scene?

Denis: Actually, I was involved in the bio-tech industry, but I also used to run DJ events and parties on the side. We used to do things like throw a party in the desert 2 or 3 hours out of San Diego - that's when I was living in California.

KSR: In the desert? That's sounds like a lot of organizing?

Denis: Not really - these weren't 'Burning Man' type events. There's a plateau in the desert we called 'Fat Man's Crack' which was this huge crack in the ground that tapered off into something the size of a footpath. We'd set up speakers and we'd have about 400 people there. They were pretty intimate affairs.

KSR:
You obviously know your stuff - so the first question should be about the club scene in the US and the club scene in Thailand; are they at all similar?

Denis: Totally different. In the States a venue might be just a bar and a dance floor. It might even be a warehouse. There the focus is on the music - here people want the package; the sofa to sit on, the table to have their drinks - that's part of the club experience. I am not saying one is better than the other - both are unique.

KSR: So where does 808 fit in?

Denis: We looked at Astra (the former name of the club) and thought hard about where it went wrong, and how we could fill the holes. Yes, it's a compromise between a US club and a Thai-style club - we have tables, but not so many, and we have a dance floor. We really feel like we have created a genuine international club here. Our biggest investment was the sound system - if it's not the best, it's equal to the best in Thailand.

(A post interview walkabout around RCA revealed some clubs in the area, like Denis said, had an intriguing nature. One of the wings of Route 66 typified what Denis was talking about - rows and rows of school desk-sized tables where you'd expect a dance floor. The advantage though was punters had plenty of room to house dispensers the size of mini-beer kegs, each holding about 5 liters of 'Vodka and soda' - very handy, if potentially life threatening.)

KSR: And what about the music?

Denis: To be honest, the 'cutting edge' in Bangkok might really only be what the 'Top 40' clubs might play in the US. The House is the same as the US, but there's no real Hip-Hop hardcore here.

KSR: Do the locals really understand the music?

Denis: Not in the same sense someone in the US might - not really, but the changes are encouraging. When we opened 6 months ago and we had a big name in, I'd send pictures back home and my friends would say, 'Is that Thailand?' - they'd just see rows of white faces with maybe a couple of Asians - a similar dynamic to clubs in some parts of the US. We had 'DJ Nu-Mark' here and he said the same thing - he felt he might as well have been playing in the US. But even in the short time we have been open - 6 months - there have been changes. Now when we bring in a big name we can expect much closer to a 50/50 split between Thais and foreigners. Regular nights, it's a typically Thai scene, but at events like Grandmaster Flash - well, you'll see tonight.

(And although it was probably more 40-60 loaded in the favor of foreigners, he was closer to the mark than we expected.)

KSR:
So, in the West a lot of 'youth culture' - for want of a better word - comes from grassroots, the streets, and works its way up to mainstream. Here in Thailand the music on the streets is the music farmers listen to in the Northeast of Thailand, or Ad Carabao-type 'Songs for Life' music - which is never heading for mainstream. If club music doesn't have any roots in Thailand, can it ever be anything more than fashion here? I mean, let's face it - the people who come to your club are pretty well off.

Denis: Maybe, but the people who come to 808 don't come here because they are rich; they come here because they like the club and the music we play. Yes, the people into this music have traditionally been pretty well off in Thailand - they've studied abroad, they have done an MA at college in New York or Washington, but they've grown an understanding and appreciation for the music. They have brought it back, and they have made it accessible to people in Thailand. Bands like Thaitanium - they spent a long time in New York. Clubs like Route, Slim, Santika sprung up to cater for the demand or adjusted their format, all
big opulent places - where we fit in is by providing something a bit different. Yes, we want to make money - but we also want to be accessible. We could charge 1,000 Baht ($35) at the door for Grandmaster Flash, but we are not, we're charging 700 Baht ($21). Like you said, in the US things start at the street and work their way up, while here there has been a trickle down. We play a part in educating people so that they start to feel going to a club is a good way to spend their time. We want people to come regularly, not just for events.

KSR: In your opinion, what does RCA have to offer?
Denis: It offers some really great clubs - Route 66, Flix, Slim, House of Bangkok, 808 of course - they are all good places. It also offers diversity - down the road you have 'Old Leung' - it's a rock venue. There are clubs here full of students dancing to local pop music. You get live bands down here. Some good places to eat. Also, it's an Entertainment Zone - that means we get a license to do this and we can legitimately stay open until 2:00 a.m. We're still going when you get kicked out of most places in Bangkok.

KSR: It's clear RCA has a genuine club culture and you have international acts here that Westerners and others might already know, so why aren't there legions of clubbers coming down from KSR?

Denis: We have asked the same question and didn't really come up with an answer. Perhaps it's the distance in uncharted territory…

KSR: You mean they're shit scared?

Denis: (smiles) Or perhaps they are in Thailand and they don't want that sort of thing - perhaps they came here to get away from clubs. We tried piggybacking a few acts down there (KSR) when they came to Astra, but it didn't really work out. Who knows - if you find out the answer let me know! (smiles)

KSR: Would it be a good thing? Herds of foreigners in a traditionally Thai scene?

Denis: Anything that gets people to see more of Thailand has to be a good thing.

KSR: OK - RCA, Bangkok. Why Grandmaster Flash?

Denis: Well - it's personal!

KSR: So this is just for you?

Denis: (smiles) Right - you see in this job I have had the opportunity to meet some of my heroes. Jazzy Jeff, DJ Premier - as I was growing up Grandmaster Flash was the man. He was just - you know… a hero. So, yes this is just for me, but it's also a safe bet. We're going to sell out tonight - it's not a problem.

KSR: Aren't you worried about too many old people turning up with walking frames or electric wheelchairs?

"Yes - they've been on the phone all day today", interrupted Dave, Denis' British partner.

KSR: Have they been asking 'Is it the real Grandmaster Flash?'

Dave: That's right!

KSR: So what's the next big thing at 808 after Grandmaster Flash?

Denis: Ed Banger August 2 - it's the one we've had the most requests for.

KSR: OK - well good luck tonight and good luck with Ed Banger.

Denis:
Thanks.

Three hours later, Grandmaster Flash was making people make some noise and work up a sweat that could only have meant bar receipts for the evening were pretty good. It was a good night, and despite Dave's worst fears, a packed house wielded not a single walking frame and no fire risk bylaws were broken. Strange how things change and stay the same. I guess quality always does and Grandmaster Flash played an awesome set. Although it lacked some of the presence his earlier days mustered, it was still powerful. But what's to compare - there was nothing when Grandmaster Flash started off, so of course he was going to be amazing then. OK - it wasn't the 80s, but Grandmaster Flash in Bangkok? Has to be awesome enough!

If you ever feel like venturing off KSR and ending up at RCA, probably the best way is get a taxi to Hualumpong Railway station and catch the MRT. Get off at Praram 9 station, and get out of the station on the 'True Head Office' side (you will see the signs). From there, take another taxi to RCA. Yes, there is a bus route, but you don't want to bother late at night - bear in mind RCA is a late venue… things really don't really get going until around 10:30-11:00 pm.

Tip: Leave before 2:00 am. When the masses move onto the street, getting a taxi is a bitch, and at that time of night you aren't going to find another way back to KSR easily.

If you want to know more about 808 Club visit their website.

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Hospitals in Bangkok

BNH Hospital, Bangkok, ThailandThe number of people flying to Bangkok to receive major surgery testifies to the fact that its hospitals - both private and government - are world class. If you are in Bangkok and cost is a problem head to Chulalongkorn University Hospital, Rama IV Road (Tel: 0-2252-8181). It's a government hospital with some of the best doctors in town. If you need to get to a hospital in Bangkok quickly, Bangkok Adventist Mission Hospital is closest to Khao San Road. Get there by ordinary bus #11, 12, 44 or airbus #44. If it's an absolute emergency get in a taxi and tell the driver this: 'By rong-payabaan mi-shun row-row'. Click here for hospitals around Thailand.


Here's a quick list of hospitals in Bangkok:

Phyathai 1 Hospital
364 Sri-Ayudhaya Road.,
Rajhathevi Bangkok 10400
Tel: 0-22452620-1, 0-2642-7373
Fax: 0-2245-5488 Phyathai 2 Hospital
943, Phaholyothin Road,
Samsenni, Bangkok 10400
Tel: 0-2617-2444 ( Automatic 100 line)
Fax: 0-2271-2306

Phyathai 2 Hospital
943, Phaholyothin Road,
Samsenni, Bangkok 10400
Tel: 0-2617-2444 ( Automatic 100 line)
Fax: 0-2271-2306

Phyathai 3 Hospital
207/26 Phetkasem Road.,
(Phetkhasem 19/3),
Pakklong, Phasricharoen Bangkok 10160
Tel: 0-2869-1111

Bangkok Hospital
(formerly known as Bangkok General Hospital)
2 Soi Soonvijai 7
New Petchburi Road
Bangkok 10320
Tel: 0-2310-3101/3102
Fax: 0-2310-3367

Bangna Hospital Km. 3
Bang Na-Trat Road
Bangkok
Tel: 0-2393-8534-5
Fax: 0-2398-9531

Bumrungrad Hospital
33 Sukhumvit Soi 3 Wattana
Bangkok 10110
Tel: 0-2667-1000
Fax: 0-2667-2525

Central General Hospital
362/114 Pahonyothin Road
Bang Khen, Bangkok
Tel: 0-2552-8777
Fax: 0-2552-0666

Lad Prao Hospital
2699 Lad Prao Road
Bangkok
Tel: 0-2530-2244
Fax: 0-2935-0021

Dental Hospital (Dental only)
88/88 Soi 49, Sukhumvit Road
Bangkok
Tel 0-2260-5000
Fax: 0-2260-5026

Nonthavej Hospital
30/8 Ngarm Wong Wan Road
Bangkok
Tel: 589-5489-91
Fax: 589-8753

Mongkutwattana General Hospital
34/40 Chaeng Wattana Road
Bangkok
Tel: 0-2574-1000-1
Fax: 0-2574-4856

Pakkred Vejchakarn General Hospital (Government Hospital)
132/215 Chaeng Wattana Road
Bangkok
Tel: 0-2960-9655-9
Fax: 0-2960-9666 Police Hospital
Rama I Road.
Bangkok
Tel: 0-2252-8111-25

Ramkhamhaeng Hospital
2138 Soi 34, Ramkhamhaeng Road
Bangkok
Tel: 0-2374-0200-16
Fax: 0-2732-3977

Rajavithi General Hospital (Government Hospital)
Rajavithi Road
Bangkok
Tel: 0-2281-1246
Fax: 0-2246-8270

Saint Louis Hospital
215 Sathorn Tai Road
Bangkok
Tel: 0-2675-5000
Fax: 0-2675-5200 Samitivej Hospital
133 Soi 49, Sukhumvit Road
Bangkok
Tel: 0-2392-0011-9
Fax: 0-391-1290

Samitivej-Srinakarin Hospital
Bangkok
488 Srinakarin Road
Tel: 0-20-2731-7000 Samitivej Hospital
133 Soi 49, Sukhumvit Road
Bangkok
Tel: 0-2392-0011-9
Fax: 0-391-1290

Thai Nakarin Hospital
345 Bang Na-Trat Road
Bangkok
Tel: 0-2361-2712-61
Fax: 0-2361-2788 Thonburi Hospital
34/1 Soi Saeng Suksa (Soi 44)
Issarapharp Road
Thonburi
Tel: 0-2412-0020-7
Fax: 0-2412-7343

Vibhavadi General Hospital
51/3 Ngarm Wong Wan Road
Bangkok
Tel: 0-2561-1258-67
Fax: 0-2561-1466 Bangpo General Hospital
95 Pracharat 2 Road
Bangsue, Bangkok 10800
Tel: 0-2662-587-0144
Fax: 0-2586-0024

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Suvarnabhumi Airport

Suvarnabhumi Airport, Thailand
Suvarnabhumi Airport, Thailand
Suvarnabhumi Airport, Thailand
Suvarnabhumi Airport, Thailand
Suvarnabhumi Airport, Thailand
The Thai authorities wanted to sell Suvarnabhumi (pronounced su-wan-na-poom) Airport as Asia's new international hub and gateway to the region. They wanted to make an impression and they succeeded, despite over-running and a few difficulties. Located 25km east of Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi, from an old Sanskrit word meaning 'Golden Land', is grand. It's not the biggest nor will it be the busiest airport in the world but it is a grand gesture from a country keen to be a serious global player in the transport sector.

It boasts the tallest control tower and the biggest single terminal in the world. Maximum capacity runs to 45 million passengers a year - less than Heathrow, with almost 70 million international passengers, but with room to grow. There are plans for a further two runways and another terminal which, combined, would take total capacity to around 100 million.

The airport is built on an 8000 acre site formally known as 'Cobra Swamp' that took five years of land reclaiming in order to get ready for construction, which finally started in early 2002.

So what's it like?

The architects (Murphy/Jahn) have really created a great atmosphere with Suvarnabhumi and you get a great feeling of openness and space the moment you enter. It's light, spacious and feels relaxing; a breath of fresh air compared to the previous airport interntational airport, Don Muang. It's definitely conducive to a calming travel experience.

On entering the airport it's worth a look around and upwards. The structure is a maze of steel and glass, and enormous concrete pillars.

One point worth mentioning is the arrivals areas. They are smaller than I imagined given the amount of people coming through the arrivals gates at any one time and the amount of family and friends that usually gather.

Getting There and Away

Of interest to inhabitants of Khao San Road will be transport to and from Suvarnabhumi. Fast forward five or more years and the options will be plentiful; high speed underground train, specialised bus links etc. But for now the options are limited.

Leaving aside the expensive limousine service and transport provided by/for first class hotels there are two options at present; bus and taxi. The former being convoluted and the latter being pricey.

Getting the taxi from the airport is clearly cheaper than getting to the airport. Having checked with several taxi drivers at the airport the cost breaks down thus: 50 baht service charge (rumoured to be increased to 100 baht soon), about 65 baht expressway fees and between 300 and 400 baht on the meter, depending on time of day and traffic.

Basically they're talking 500 baht all in. Traffic permitting it should be possible to do the journey to KSR in less than an hour There's been some confusion concerning the amount of taxis licensed to enter the airport. Originally they were greatly limited but now the authorities have increased the number of licenses. They've also added a restriction on the age of taxis so only reasonably new taxis will be operating out of the airport; up to five years old is the figure being touted.

When I checked with the taxi drivers in KSR it was a different story. They are refusing to use the meter and asking 700 baht plus the expressway charge, and presumably a tip on top. Basically it's going to cost you for around 800 baht. It might be better trying for a taxi off KSR, there's more chance of the meter being used then.

Suvarnabhumi Airport, ThailandI asked around a few travel agents and it seems that no one is offering any kind of airport bus from KSR yet, but it's surely only a matter of time before someone sets this up. It might be worth asking around all the same as I didn't go to every one in the area and there might some enterprising guy already on the case.

A cheaper option is the bus. The BMTA say that the best way from KSR is to get the number 503 air-con from Rajdamnern Avenue to Victory Monument and then take the 551 air-con to the airport. Total cost for this option is less than 70 baht (just the bus fee).

Route details are below:

Public Bus Service to Bangkok and area

Bus Number 549 - Suvarnabhumi - Minburi
Bus Number 550 - Suvarnabhumi - Happy Land
Bus Number 551 - Suvarnabhumi - Victory Monument (Expressway)
Bus Number 552 - Suvarnabhumi - On Nut BTS station
Bus Number 553 - Suvarnabhumi - Samut Prakan
Bus Number 554 - Suvarnabhumi - Don Muang Airport (Expressway)

Public Bus Service to other provinces

Bus Number 389 - Suvarnabhumi - Pattaya
Bus Number 390 - Suvarnabhumi - Talad Rong Kluea
Bus Number 825 - Suvarnabhumi - NongKhai

Buses aren't allowed to the passenger terminal, they drop you at the Public Transportation Centre and there's a free shuttle bus which will drop you outside the airport, and make the return journey on arrival. The airport is well signed so finding the bus pick-up/drop off point isn't difficult.

Whilst the bus is pleasantly cheap it does have the disadvantage of taking a lot longer, being much more inconvenient and a real pain, especially if you have a lot of luggage to carry.

There is also the option of a combo of bus and taxi. Take a bus down to Sukhumvit, perhaps the no.11 air-con, and then grab a taxi. This might work out a hundred baht or so cheaper. Then there is cab sharing. If you find a few other guys heading out to the airport pitch in together and lessen the cost.

Try to avoid the 'hey, what's 800 baht in dollars/pounds/euros/shekels etc anyway' attitude. These guys are taking advantage pure and simple and giving in to them hurts locals as well as other travellers. Once they set a figure as a norm then it sticks and everyone has to pay the price.

If, on arrival, you're feeling particularly flush you could opt for the limousine service operated by Airports of Thailand. They have nearly 400 cars operating 24/7 from the limousine pick up area on the arrivals level.

Another expense worth mentioning is departure tax. At present it is 700 baht.

In a few years time the high speed underground train will link the airport to the existing sky train and underground networks making travel to and from the airport considerably easier and cheaper. But until then, unless you're lucky enough to have someone meet you or take you, it's the options listed above.

Suvarnabhumi definitely makes entering and leaving Thailand a pleasurable experience.

Suvarnabhumi Airport Map

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Doing More to Help Out

Children's charity in Bangkok, Thailand
Children's charity in Bangkok, Thailand
Children's charity in Bangkok, Thailand
I can't stand do gooders, they really get on my nerves - in fact I hate them. I hate tin shakers, fund raisers, bible bashers, Guardian readers, lefties, feminists, dreadlocked feminists, Civil Servants wives, tree huggers and primary school teachers. However, despite all this passionate dislike, lately I've been wondering if I should be doing more to help out. How to do it without joining their ranks though?

Now, I'll spare you the details of my recent woes - if you know me you'll have heard about them ad nauseum, and if you don't know me, hearing about them won't enrich your life - but I was sat in my serviced condotel free from the curses of excess last night and wondered how I could improve my own situation. I was in need of some gratification that didn't come out of a green bottle. I wanted to feel better about myself. After a bit of finger drumming, I came up with the ingenious idea of visiting one of Bangkok's many orphanages.

The plan was to saunter up about midday with the sun brightening my day, walk in with a pack of biscuits, be greeted by thirty or forty underprivileged but happy kids, dish out the biscuits, teach them how to sing "The Famous Man United Went to Rome to see the Pope", video it, stick it on YouTube, walk off with the Swedish volunteer nurse's phone number, an instant halo, and hugely improved karma to boot.

It didn't happen exactly like that.

The orphanage I picked was the Kevorkian Foundation on Sukhumvit 26 (Soi Than Ying Phuangrathana Prapai). It's a foundation that looks after 19 orphans with HIV/AIDS. With anti retroviral medication infected people can lead a pretty normal life these days and expect a reasonably full life span. I know this because I've got a mate who's living with it in the UK. They think his normal life expectancy may be reduced by between 5% and 10%, which if you hold it against my legacy of booze, smoke, dangerous sports, fried foods, stressful jobs and the occasional all nighter in the nineties (nice one our kid!), he's probably going to see me out. But that's in the UK where he gets the drugs he needs gratis from the NHS. Unfortunately, it's not the same situation for someone with HIV/AIDS in Thailand.

It took a while to eventually find the orphanage, probably because it's inadequately signposted. It looks nothing like you'd expect it to. I was a bit disappointed not to be met by a sea of waving arms and toothless childish grins.

What I actually got was a normal sized 70's Bangkok townhouse, a bit world weary, but homely. A woman met me and I told her I'd come to visit. One of the first things she said was "we need rice".
 
She took me inside and there were two young boys sat at a table eating food. One was disabled (he had trouble controlling his legs) while the other seemed able bodied. The woman told me that the other 17 kids were at school. I tried to make conversation with them, but there was a bit of an age and language gap. They seemed like normal kids, and I asked the lady "Is there anything I can do to help?" She said, "Yes we need rice". I was expecting them to want to share my football skills or teach the alphabet or something, but what they wanted was food.
 
I looked around the place and along one wall was a load of tidy boxes with the names of kids and some artwork they'd personalised it with. The lady told me she could get a bloke to give me a lift to the supermarket, so I nodded my head and waited for him to show up.
 
While I was waiting I started to do a few sums. I can eat easily 300 baht worth of food a day, times that by 19, its nearly 6,000 baht, times that by 30 that's 180,000 baht in food alone for a month to keep the kids who were at school fed. Then there's the building and clothes and books, and apparently school fees are 50 baht a day per kid. Then there's the Anti Viral medication which I'm sure isn't cheap, and what about if the kids get ill, or the building needs repairing, or electricity or water. Then there are wages for three or four staff who are permanently on site to be de facto mums and dads to the kids.
 
An oldish bloke turned up and took me in his car to the local hypermarket. I asked him his name and he said he didn't have one (I think that's what he said, my Thai isn't as good as it used to be). I spent 1,300 baht on rice and milk, which is about all I had on me at the time. When we got back I took the stuff into the house and asked the lady what they did for money. She said that Linda Der Kervonian puts 100,000 baht a month into the foundation and the rest is topped up by donations. She gave me a leaflet that says they want the kids to lead normal lives, which with ARV's they can so long as they stay on them, but they need to keep the supply and that doesn't come free.
 
The kids I saw were well looked after, but it's only as a result of people's goodwill that that happens. Before I left I signed the visitors book, the person prior to me had shown up a week previously and "played pass the parcel with the kids".
 
As I said before I'm not a do gooder. I don't like them. If you want to go to the orphanage and get gratified by grateful smiling kids, I didn't get that so I doubt you will either. But next time you go out on the piss on Friday night, why not go out two or three hours later. Donate the 1,000 baht you save to the kids at Kevorkian Foundation. I'm not trying to spoil your fun. I know a lot of people are experiencing austerity at the moment, and we can all feel like we're being tickled by the feather of misfortune at times, but a few thousand baht keeps one of those kids in medication and education for a month. Think about it... It seems buying rice just once really can make a difference. If that's the case, you can make a difference, too.
 
Dominic Lavin
 
If you want to find out more about how you can help the kids at Kevorkian Foundation, email here.

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Crosstown Traffic

Cross Town Traffic in Bangkok, Thailand
Cross Town Traffic in Bangkok, Thailand
Cross Town Traffic in Bangkok, Thailand
Cross Town Traffic in Bangkok, Thailand
Cross Town Traffic, BTS in Bangkok, Thailands
Cross Town Traffic, BTS in Bangkok, Thailand
Cross Town Traffic, MRT in Bangkok, Thailand
Cross Town Traffic, MRT in Bangkok, Thailand
"Don't s**t yourself that's the secret," I'd never been on a motorbike taxi before and they were the words of advice my mate Chris had given me about riding on one. He said, "Most accidents happen when farangs get on the back and don't know what's going on. They panic and try to jump off when it gets a bit scary."

At the time I was trying my best not to s**t myself. We were going the wrong way down a one way lane and a bus was coming towards us. The sheer terror was incalculable, I'm struggling for metaphors, it was like being on a motorbike heading straight for an oncoming bus. I covered my face with my hands, a few seconds later I uncovered my eyes and saw that we were ten feet (that's about 3 meters for those of you from mainland Europe) away from colliding head on with the bus.
 
I made the sign of the cross and wondered weather to jump or not but the driver glided deftly to his left and slid through a gap about two feet wide (that's about an inch and a half wider than your humble narrator for those of you from mainland Europe). The slipstream of the bus to my right and of the taxi to my left made the hairs on my arms face the wrong way.
 
When we got to my destination I paid the driver the prearranged sum of sixty baht although I genuinely felt like "tolchocking the brazny vesch in the litso real horrorshow for making me kaki my breshies which at the time were the heigth of fashion" (if you don't understand that last little phrase try reading A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess although the diction gets the general sentiment across).
 
I'd always sworn never to get on a motorbike taxi, but that day matters were quite urgent, I had 20 minutes to get from Sukumvit to Thai Air's offices on Silom to get my flight changed or loose it altogether. Once the panic was over and everything was sorted out I heaved a sigh of relief, reflected on the journey and thought how convenient that particular option had actually been.
 
The return journey to my hotel wasn't that urgent, but I weighed up the other modes of transport available and actually opted for a motorbike again. This time, as I was relieved and happy to be staying in the kingdom for another week and not so petrified of the consequences having managed a successful maiden voyage, I actually enjoyed it. I sat back on the seat, lit a cigarette at some traffic lights, waved flirtatiously at a young lady in a taxi and regretted not having brought anything to read with me.
 
When I got back to base camp I pondered for a while over another facet of Bangkok that makes it so enchanting, there are just so many ways to get around in this great city. Here's an outline of some of the different options available.
 
Walking

Pros

If you smell some nice food being cooked you can stop and try some.

Cons

Within a hundred yards you'll have sweat accumulating in every nook and cranny of your body and within two or three you'll need a change of clothes.

Dos

Wear something light and loose fitting.

Don'ts

Bother unless it's journeys of less than a couple hundred yards or so.

Motorbike Taxi

Pros

They're a very quick efficient way of getting from A to B, especially in heavy traffic. Can be exhilarating. Cons You may need a change of underwear. If you have back problems repeated motorbike journeys can aggravate them.

Do's

Agree on a price before setting off, and get the driver to come down 10 to 20% on his opening price. Insist on wearing a helmet. Keep your knees tucked in.

Don'ts

Panic or wobble about.

Tuk Tuk

Pros

They're a quaint entertaining way of travelling. They can cut through traffic, but not as well as motorbikes. They carry more than one passenger.

Cons

The drivers tend to have commission deals set up with tailors shops, bars, massage parlours, jewellery stores etc. and will constantly bother you to take a visit at no extra charge.

Do's

Knock them down on their asking price.

Don'ts

Believe they can take everywhere in Bangkok for only 20 Baht!

Taxi

Pros

Taxi's can be a nice comfortable way of getting around town. They've got aircon, are amply protected from the rain and have plenty of storage space for luggage and shopping. If three or four of you share the fare it can actually work out cheaper than the other modes of transport.

Cons

They sometimes have the aircon on too high and aren't too good at cutting through traffic. The drivers have a habit of talking complete nonsense about how bad the traffic is, how little money they earn. If they hear you mention an English Premiership Football team they will furnish you with their intimate knowledge of the side ad nauseum. If they hear you speak even a single word of Thai they assume that you're fluent and will speak freely and openly to you in their dialect despite your protestations that you only speak a little bit.

Do's

Wear a seatbelt. Insist on them using the meter instead of letting them quote you a price.

Don'ts

Mention a Premiership Football team, especially one that's doing well, or they will bore your socks off.

Bus

Pros

I'll put my hand on my heart and admit to it I know next to nothing about the buses in Bangkok, so if you don't like me personally their main "pro" is that you can be 100 % certain never to run into me on one of them, although apparently they're very cheap. From what I can work out they are either air conditioned or non air conditioned and those who use them tell me they're a good way of getting about and cover virtually the entire city. Cons They go head on at you when you're on to the Thai airways office on Silom on a motorbike in an emergency and make you soil your breeches.

Do's

Expect to be one of too many people jammed onto them and have to listen to very disconcerting engine noises. Find out from somebody how to go about using them.

Don'ts

Expect any help from me!

River Boats

Pros

Bangkok's River Boats or River Taxis a very very cool way of getting about. They're fast, cheap, exciting and offer some outstanding views of the city. Bangkok was known as the "Venice of Asia" because as recently as the 1980's the best way to commute was by canal although recently most of them have been closed off because they became polluted although a couple of the main routes (Chao Prahaya and Klong Saem (sic)) are still used. A lot of people visiting Thailand form the west want to see the old Thai culture and travelling my river boat will give you that on old charming creaky timbered boats. The Chao Prahaya boat is pretty easy to use and is quite tourist friendly and there's a pier at Banglampu near Khao Sarn Road and near Wat Po, Wat Arun and the Grand Palace.

Cons

The routes they travel are a bit limited and there is little tourist information on them, so unless you're on the Cha Prahaya one ask somebody who knows, if you use them it may take a while before you know your way around. You might get a bit of water splashed on your face and have a bit of a nerve jangle getting on and off them but it's part of the fun. If you don't like me you've got the chance of running into me on one of them.

Do's

Give them a whirl. Don'ts Fall into the river, or expect it to go without hitch, but you're on holiday so what does it matter ?

SkyTrain

Pro's

The Skytrain or BTS was opened on the Kings Birthday on December 1999 and was a real milestone in the development of Bangkok as a modern city. There are two lines which cross the majority of the city and intersect near Siam Square. It's a fast, safe efficient way of crossing the city and can offer some pretty good cityscapes from above ground level. If you're in a hurry through the business districts of town it can be the best way to travel.

Cons

It can be a bit overcrowded at time so expect the odd game of sardines and it can be a bit disorientating at times, a lot of people when they first start to use it have to ponder about which exit they take so expect a few wrong turns during your visit but it's still a good way of getting about, oh and I got my pocket picked on there once but don't let that put you off, everybody who knows me will tell you how unlucky I am.

Do's

Give it a try, enjoy the views and zip through the congestion.

Don'ts

Get aggravated like I sometimes do at the dumb visitors who can't work the ticket machines or the barriers.

Subway (MRT)

Pros

The Subway/MRT or "Mass Rapid Transport" system is the latest weapon in Bangkok's artillery as it prepares to do battle for the title of number one 21st Century city. It opened in around 2003 and after a couple of false starts and hiccups it now runs quickly and efficiently across the city from Hua Lamphong (the Central Railway Station) to Chatuchak Market in the North and intersects at two or three places with the Skytrain.

Cons

The aircon is sometimes set a little bit too high so when it isn't rush hour you can feel the cold and a lot of its stops are non tourist destinations. The map and ticketing systems at the stations are a little bit on the vague side if you don't know your way round Bangkok.

Do's

Give it a try.

Don'ts

Worry about it if you don't give it a whirl, the views aren't that spectacular with it being underground and anyway it'll still be there when you come back.

Don't fotget there's no a Railway Link (Airport Link or SRT) that's a good way to get around Bangkok.

CHEERS !

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Do you have what it takes to do Muay Thai?

Do you have what it takes to do Muay Thai?Loads of people come to Thailand with visions of taking a few Muay Thai lessons and going home the next Tony Jaa. Problem is, not many recognise the reality of getting even past the first base as far as Muay Thai (Thai boxing) is concerned… Unfortunately, there’s a less glamorous side to Thai Boxing that involves getting out of bed in the morning and plenty of sweat hitting the concrete. Oh, and yes, believe it or not you might get hit once in a while! Dominic Lavin takes us through the bits martial arts films and the travel brochures tend to miss out. He also interviews a few of the people training at Jitti Gym - a well respected Thai boxing gym… and we interview Dominic... Do you have what it takes to do Muay Thai?

“What the f*** am I doing here?” those are the exact words that went through my mind just after I’d climbed into the ring. My corner men were rubbing my legs, 400 blood thirsty half tipsy spectators were gazing in my direction and my opponent was in the blue corner, limbering up and avoiding eye contact.
 
That was back in 1994 and I lost the fight by the narrowest possible of margins. I've seen video footage of the event since and from a judges perspective the only thing that gave my opponent his one point margin was one more head kick than I'd thrown. Six months later a career change meant I had to retire from the competitive side of Thai Boxing but I've trained on and off in the sport throughout the remainder of my life. When people find out you've boxed they want to know what it's like, does it hurt? Is it fun? Is it dangerous? It's that long since I fought myself memory prevents me from giving a fair answer but as I'm in Bangkok and training pretty regularly at a gym I've known for 10 years or so I thought other people (who've fought in Thailand while my fights were in the UK) can give me a better insight into the sport.
 
On Monday at about 2:15 pm I got the underground to Rahcadaphisek station. I left by exit number 1, turned left through Rachada Night Bazaar and within thirty seconds or so I was at the back of the gym compound that sports the sign Jitti Gym International Muay Thai Training. I decided to have a cigarette before going in. As I drained the life out of a Marlborough Light I could hear the pop pop pop of heavy plastic skipping ropes on the concrete floor and smell the linament from over the wall. I walked round to the front, pulled back the ornate blue and gold gate and entered the gym. It was smiles all round. Last night, Richard from York had fought at Rajadamnern Stadium (ranked even higher than Lumphini Stadium in boxing circles) and won in the second round.

Two and a half minutes into the round a man wearing a taxi drivers bib stood by a large urn of water shouts rieu rieu rieu rieu (quick quick quick quick quick) and the pace intensifies. I find it hard to lift my legs and after another thirty seconds my spirit lifts as here the word break. The man in the corner hands me a cup of iced water, I pour some of it on my head, face and down my back then drink the rest. It gives me a moments' salvation from the searing heat, but within seconds warm beads of sweat force their way out of my skin. I lift my arms above my head to help me breath better and as my heart beat starts to return to normal round two starts. Somehow I complete the second round without suffering too much more delirium and the start of round three (where I get my second wind) is delayed while a dog chases a cockerel round the ring and the trainers shoo them out. The fourth round is torture and I only just manage to stay on my feet, so call it a day, climb out of the ring and douse myself in iced water, while the rest of the gym continue oblivious to my plight.

After sitting on a bench feeling sorry for myself for seven or eight minutes I feel guilty about my indolence and decide to work on a big leather punch bag. I maintain a low to moderate pace, boxing mainly with the occasional kick or knee thrown while the guys from Leeds and the youngsters throw themselves into their training relentlessly. A while later I get called over to train with Daomai, the boxing coach. He smiles, slams the focus mitts together, points at my stomach and calls me Sweat Pea. I'm assuming he's referring to the slightly podgy American heavyweight rather than the featherweight Colin Sweat Pea MacMillan from Sheffield.

He holds the left pad up and I jab. Bam Bam, he shouts and I jab twice. Two, he holds both pads up and I throw a one two combination. Four, I throw four as he smacks the pads down onto my hands. My right knuckles and wrist hurt but I ignore the pain and try and punch as powerfully and quickly as possible. Doamai adds in hooks and uppercuts and makes me block and roll from his punches. After two and a half rounds I want to lie in bath of iced water for the rest of my life, again I sit down for a while before going back to a bag while the rest of gym continue their relentless efforts to knock the stuffing out of the pads.

Eventually people switch from pad work to light sparring and clinch work. I decide to join in and get gracefully wrestled into a corner by one of the pad men, who proceeds to gently knee me around the abdomen. When the smell of cooking rice wafts out of the kitchen I get pangs of hunger and decided to call it a day.
    
After showering I return and the rest of the people are either playfully and respectfully sparring with one another or indulging in excruciating looking exercises. By six thirty everyone's gathered round a big table in the kitchen, having a laugh and eating and that's when I interview a cross section of the regulars at the gym and KhaoSanRoad.com interviewed me!


 
jitti_damriramJitti Damriram, age 46, Gym Owner, home town Burriram
 
Q How did you get involved in Thai boxing?
 
A To be honest I like all sports, football, takraw, boxing, but I liked cooking, washing, cleaning and ironing my clothes and my friends called me "ladyboy" so I had to fight to show them I wasn't.
 
Q What level of success did you achieve as a Thai boxer? 

A I reached number 5 at Rajadamnern stadium, but as a boxer not a Thai boxer.
  
Q What does a typical day involve for you?
  
A Right now, I wake up at 5 or 6 in the morning and then check that they go running and start to prepare the food for them and I look after them like my babies you know, my family. I see that they have enough sleep, enough food and things like that.
  
Q What do you like about Thai boxing?
  
A I think it's got into my bones I love it I couldn't do any other job you know.
  
Q What do you dislike about it?
  
A If something's not correct, that's when I hate it.
  
Q What's been the best thing that's happened to you in Thai boxing?
  
A Many Champions all over the world know my gym is one of the best ones, because we've run for a long time. Before we started to train farangs for nothing that was when we were near Khao Sarn, then when they started to want to come and train they had to give me 50 baht. Then many more started to come, so we needed more pad men, we needed more trainers and I was lucky that I had many friends and ex students who were top champions already. They wanted to come to work for me because they could see the opportunities in the future to go and work abroad teaching people to fight.
  
Q Has there ever been anything bad that's happened?
  
A It was a long time ago there was one Japanese student, he was stupid and got too excited about a fight, he was training for a fight in Cambodia, he trained too hard and then got nervous. He didn't eat or sleep properly and went sparring full power. With the heat his system went into shock, and when he left the ring he went into the shower and passed out and hit his head on the floor. He died in hospital that day.
  
Q How many champions have you trained?
  
A Many, I can't remember them all, but Rajasak was the best he was Rajadamnern Champion at four weights.
  
Q Did he fight at Lumphini as well?
  
A At the time the promoter at Rajadamnern didn't allow the fighters to fight at Lumphini, but he fought many Lumphini champions and beat them.
  
Q Have you ever been hurt?
  
A I had one fight where I couldn't remember what happened, I got stopped. The guy was 5 kilos heavier than me, because at that time I was top at boxing and nobody wanted to fight me, so I had to go up 5 kilos. I did ten rounds and then I just blacked out. When I got out of the ring I couldn't remember my opponents name, then I got back to the gym and I asked my friend where I was, I didn't know where I was. He had to give me some pills, valium or something like that to help me sleep and relax. The next day when I woke up I was fine.
  
Q What other interests have you got?
  
A I'd like to move up and be a promoter, that's my dream, my aim. I also like football and takraw.


  
Do you have what it takes to do Muay Thai?Rajasak Sorvorapin, age 38 home town Burriram
 
Q How did you get involved in Thai boxing?
 
A To be honest I like all sports, football, takraw, boxing, but I liked cooking, washing, cleaning and ironing my clothes and my friends called me "ladyboy" so I had to fight to show them I wasn't.
 
Q What level of success did you achieve as a Thai boxer?
 
Q How long have you been involved in Muay Thai?
  
A Since I was twelve years old.
  
Q What level of success did you achieve?
  
A At Rajadamnern I was recognised as fighter of the year for two years.
  
Q How many fights have you had?
  
A Over two hundred.
  
Q What is your daily routine?
  
A Drinking (laughs). Handyman as well, repair buildings that sort of thing.
  
Q When you're training people what does that normally involve?
  
A 5 in the morning I wake up, go for a run and then training until around 9 o'clock.
  
Q After training what do you do?
  
A Many things relax, go shopping, get a massage then train again in the afternoon from 3 until 6.
  
Q In Thai boxing what's the best thing that happened to you?
  
A The first time I won a title at Rajadamnern.
  
Q What's the worst?
  
A I had a motorbike accident that stopped me fighting.
  
Q What do you like about Thai Boxing?
  
A My brothers and my father were fighters. I have Muay Thai blood.
  
Q What do you dislike about it?
  
A I don't like some of the bad people involved.
  
Q Have you ever been hurt?
  
A The worst was when I had just started to train and fought without having trained properly.
  
Q What other interests have you got?
  
A I want to be a good trainer and teacher so that I can travel abroad and see other countries.
 
Do you have what it takes to do Muay Thai?Komgiat Sortanikhun age 33, home town Khon Kaen
 
Q How long have you been involved in Thai boxing?
 
A Since I was 16.
 
Q Why did you get involved in Thai boxing?
 
A My father was an ex champion, he encouraged me and I loved it.
 
Q How good were you? 

A I fought for titles many times, but didn't quite beat the Champions. There was business and money involved.
  
Q What does a normal day involve for you?
  
A As well as training people at the gym, my girlfriend sells food. I help her with the cooking.
  
Q What do you like about Thai boxing?
  
A I like the technical side of it, being skilful.
  
Q What do you dislike about it?
  
A I don't like the clinching and knees, but I like left kick left punch.
  
Q What's your proudest moment in Thai Boxing?
  
A I fought a guy called Chamophet who had about eight or nine titles.
  
Q Have you ever been hurt in the ring?
  
A Only cut. 
  
Q What interests have you got outside boxing?
  
A I love cooking Isaan food, laarb and som tam.


daomai_setcordomDaomai Setcordom, age 40 and still handsome, hometown Burriram
 
Q When did you start Muay Thai
 
A I am more of a boxer than a Thai boxer. I started when I was fourteen.
 
Q What made you start boxing ?
 
A When I was young I had rough friends around me and I needed to be able to take care of myself.
 
Q What level of success did you achieve ?
  
A I was ranked second in the world by the WBC.
  
Q Who was the best person you fought ?
  
A I fought a Korean guy who was ranked number one by the WBA and 9 by the WBC.
  
Q What was the proudest moment you had ?
  
A When I fought Junior Frazer for the WBC belt.
  
Q How many fights did you have ?
  
A At least 75. 
  
Q What do you like about boxing ?
  
A I like having the punches and speed of a champ boxer.
  
Q What do you dislike about it ?
  
A I don't like fighting relentless fighters.
  
Q Have you ever been hurt ? 
  
A In one of my fights I got my eye closed by the swelling.
  
Q What other interest's do you have? 
  
A I have a food shop that sells barbeques and steaks. 
  
Liam Harrison, age 20, home town Leeds England
 
Q How long have you been involved in Thai boxing?
 
A Seven and a half years.
 
Q Why did you get involved?
 
A My cousin took me down to Bad Company Gym in Leeds where he was training at the time.
 
Q What level of success have you had?

A I've done quite well. I've won two world titles, one of them in Thailand against a current world Champion and I've had six fights in Thailand and five wins. I've had 35 fights in total.
  
Q What does a typical day involve?
  
A Training wise it's a run in the morning, clinching, pads and sparring. About 6 hours all together.
  
Q What's it like when you fight, what goes through your mind?
  
A I don't know how to answer that one. I can't explain it. It all just comes naturally. I'm happiest when I'm in the ring.
  
Q What do you like about Thai boxing?
  
A Everything. 
  
Q Is there anything you dislike about it? 
  
A Idiots on discussion boards mouthing off. 
  
Q What's been your proudest moment in Muay Thai?
  
A When I won my world title. I t was in a province three hours outside Bangkok, Cha Am.
  
Q What's been the worst thing?
  
A The first time I fought a stadium ranked Thai, I got my comeuppance big time. I went the distance but lost on points. I got kneed all over the place.
 
Q What do you think makes a good fighter? 
  
A A big heart and toughness will take you a long way, but you need dedication and have to be willing to put the time in. It's hard work you have to train all the time day in day out. The harder you work the more you get out of it, these people here can make you a champion if you put 100 % in.
  
Q What other interests have you got?
  
A I've played football semi professionally. I had trials with Leeds, Barnsley and Sheffield Wednesday but never made it though, I didn't quite make the cut.


  
Do you have what it takes to do Muay Thai?Richard Cadden, age 29, home town York, England
 
Q How long have you been involved in Muay Thai?
 
A It's about 10 years.
 
Q What got you interested?
 
A I was involved in Kick Boxing and the instructor stopped turning up at the gym. One of the lads I
trained with suggested trying Thai Boxing instead
and I enjoyed it. I starting kicking the pads properly instead of just flicking them like you do in kick boxing.

A Back home I work full time, so can't train all the time, but I spend all my annual leave in Thailand. I'm a railway engineer. When I'm here I get out of bed at about 6, and run until about 8, then I do bag work and pad work until about nine. After that it's a shower and sleep. I get up again at 3 and train again until half six, seven, then shower and eat then sleep because it's so intensive.
  
Q What's been the proudest moment for you in Thai Boxing?
  
A When I won my world title.
  
Q What's been the worst thing that's happened in Thai boxing?
  
A To be honest I'm a pretty positive person. If something goes wrong I take it in my stride. I just deal with it.
  
Q What's it like when you fight, what's going through your mind?
  
A I think about my family and all the people who are supporting me. When I say that I mean people like my trainers, my friends from the gym, my family and my girlfriend who give me emotional support.
  
Q How many fights have you had?
  
A 36, I'm not sure how many of them I've won. I think it's about 24.
  
Q What is it you like about Thai boxing?
  
A Belting people in the face. Whacking 'em(laughs). It's everything to do with the sport it's the lifestyle. When I get in condition I like seeing my body change shape. There's also the spiritual side as well. I read a lot, I like the Wai Kru, Ram Muay, the fight ritual and stuff.
  
Q Is there anything you dislike about Thai Boxing?
  
A People on the discussion boards mouthing off. There's one guy who's shown a lack of respect, saying I'm running scared and have avoided fighting him six times. I've only known about two of them. The fight just never came off. It happens sometimes, but I'm going to fight him now, set the record straight.
  
Q Have you ever been hurt?
  
A Not really. 
  
Q Not even aches and pains from training?
  
A You always get things that happen, but you can work around them. I hate it when people wallow in the despair of injury. If your shins hurt you've got two hands and two elbows, you can still train around it. If your legs are knackered you can still box. There's so many things you can work on because you need fitness, power, strength, stability and conditioning. I snapped a ligament on the outside of my knee when I was running once. My kneecap went down the side of my leg, I pushed it back in and limped back to the gym. I was out for about six months, the muscle definition disappeared in my legs, so I spent a lot of time down the swimming baths and doing weights and stuff like that. When I got back to the gym I'd changed shape, but just got back on with it. That's an example of how you need to think positive about things. I could have used that as an excuse, but you won't get anywhere without the positive attitude. You start to see things from a different perspective.
  
Q What other interests do you have?
  
A I've got a girlfriend back home and I've been into a lot of other martial arts. Tae Kwon Do, Jiu Jitsu, Kick Boxing.
  
Q What do you think makes a good fighter?
  
A Never say die attitude, passion and dedication.

dominic_lavinDominic Lavin, age 35, home town Wigan England
http://www.myspace.com/140525510
 
Q How long have you been involved in Muay Thai?
 
A Since about 92 I think.
 
Q Why did you start?
 
A I was a bit of a football hooligan in the early days and when I saw my mates going to prison for it I thought I'd better call it a day, but I still needed an outlet for my aggression. When a mate took me to see some fights I was hooked. It was handy as well because someone owed me some money and I wanted to know how to snot him properly.

Q What is your typical daily routine?
 
A It varies, when I'm in England I just work all the time, but when I'm in Thailand it's different. For the first month or two on my visits to Thailand I tend to wake up at around four or five in the afternoon and wonder where my mobile phone, wallet and cash have gone. I have a shower then go downstairs. The apartment manager usually asks me to apologise to Mr & Mrs So and So in flat xxx for trying to get in their room using my keys at four in the morning, then I go and have something to eat and try and remember which bars I was in the night before. At around 7pm I start to drink. When the money starts running low I start training again to try and loose weight and feel better about myself and just get bevvied at the weekend.
  
Q What level of success have you had in the sport?
  
A I was never that good really I just liked a scrap. I had 3 Semi Contact fights which I won and four full contact, out of them I came second in all but one of them.
  
Q What was your proudest moment?
  
A I was awarded fighter of the year at Horwich Thai Boxing Club in 1994. I think at that time the club had about 9 members and two fighters.
  
Q What was the worst thing that happened to you?
  
A I got used to getting filled in after a while.
  
Q What was it like when you fought?
  
A It used to fill up my head space completely for about a week before the event. I never really got panicked by it I just went into a bit of a world of my own. On the night of the fight I had sort of an inner calm but wanted to get down to business as well.
  
Q What did you like about the sport?
  
A It was the adrenalin buzz of a combat sport. One-to-one with your opponent. In Thailand sparring's pretty light, they can't afford to get injured and save the heavy stuff for in the ring. Back in the UK some of the sparring sessions were like World War 3, it was great, very little technical merit but good honest battling. If I was lucky I could get a good half hour of heavy scrapping every day five or six times a week.
  
Q What did you dislike about it?
  
A one of the worst things was sitting in the changing rooms before a fight, waiting for your turn and seeing your mate come back in on a stretcher. Another thing that annoyed me was when loads of new associations started springing up in the UK. All of a sudden some bloke who'd had two fights got matched up with the caretaker at the church hall, won on points and was declared Buxton and New Mills Muay Thai Association British and European Champion at three weights.
  
Q Have you ever been hurt?
  
A I fought a guy called Craig Willis from Darlington. I don't really remember what happened, but I think it ended in the second round. When I came round in the changing room someone told me that my nose was half way across my face and I had to reset it (push it back into place), it hurt like f***. One eye was completely closed and I could just see out of the other. I couldn't walk properly for days.
  
Q What other interests have you got?
  
A A few really, drink beer and smoking tabs is the main one though. Seeing Wigan Athletic in the Premiership after all these years is truly amazing. I like the bars of Lower Sukumvit and their employees, listening to New Order and The Who, writing, reading good books and poetry, that sort of stuff.
  
A Not having me as your role model.
  
If you're interested in training at Jitti Gym visit his website, www.jittigym.com, Jitti has an excellent reputation around the world and is happy to adapt training for everyone from complete novices to professional fighter.

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Hooky in Wonderland

Hooky in Wonderland
Hooky in Wonderland
hooky_in_wonderland_3
A couple of years ago Peter Hook (Hooky) played a DJ set on RCA, Bangkok. When KSR.com asked me to interview him, I mentally prepared an informative and detailed preamble about New Orders highly credible impact on the music scene and the pivotal role that their nightclub The Hacienda played in the dance revolution of the late eighties and early nineties. However, after some consideration I decided to keep it brief and just say that New Order are the best band in the world and Hooky's their bass player.

If you want a history lesson get a copy of the film 24 Hour Party People or read Dave Haslam's book "Manchester England".

Here's what happened when I hooked up with Hooky.

Myself and a few other journo types congregated in the Cy'an Restaurant at the Metropolitan Hotel and waited anxiously, a rumour went round that Hooky was in the pool and we made polite conversation amongst ourselves until a slightly damp Hooky arrived carrying sunglasses and wearing a bathrobe insisting that nobody took photographs until he got dressed.

This is the transcript.

Q) Have you been here before?

A) I came here for six hours in 1981. It was funny because we came out the airport, there were hundreds of taxis and they came running at you, we were like 'f***in' ell. What 'appenin' 'ere?' - They were trying to get you in their taxis so we got in one and told him to take us to a bar.
 
Q) What do you think of the place?
 
A) It seems alright I've not really seen that much of it. I've got a lot of friends that come here though.
 
Q) How do you think it compares to Walkden or Worsley like?
 
A) It was Little Hulton actually. That's a strange question I've not been there for a long time either.
 
Q) Where do you live now then?
 
A) Alderley Edge.
 
Q) What's the strangest thing you've seen since you've been here?
 
A) You! (laughs)
 
Q) A skinhead from Wigan in Bangkok, I mean when people get here there's always something that blows their mind, something out of the ordinary.
 
A) Well, I've only been here half an hour and to be honest it's just like being in the Metropolitan in London, so I'll have to reserve judgment on that one.
 
Q) Had you thought of bringing the rest of the lads over to do a gig like?
 
A) It isn't like that really. I think it's pretty well documented that New Order don't really do a lot of gigs, so er the chances of it'll be quite slim really.
 
Q) I heard Bernard Sumner saying that one if the reasons you don't tour much is your bad guts, do you anticipate any problems on that front tonight?
 
A) I bought some Imodium at the airport. The reason we don't tour much is because of Barney's bad head, his bad attitude to touring.
 
Q) Is there anything you're looking forward to seeing while you're in Bangkok?
 
A) No, not really, it's a funny thing. I'm very lucky in the way I get to travel to a lot of places and I really enjoy my job and I just look forward to doing it well wherever I do it. It's like that. It's quite a strange thing, I live in England and I'm happy there and I know that my job takes me everywhere which I love, so the thing is that I come here I do my job I go home. If I want to come and see things I'd come when I wasn't working it's a different mind set.
 
Q) One of the things Bangkok's famous for is its racey nightlife are you considering indulging?
 
A) My racey nightlife days are pretty much over now. I'm an alcoholic, so I don't drink, which is quite ironic. I've been tee total now for eighteen months, now I have a different way of looking at life. You see having been through the Hacienda, Madchester and all the things like that in Manchester I've found that there's other things in the world. I actually found that it was stopping me working and I wasn't enjoying it, so I'm on the other side of it if you like.
 
Q) Have you reached the point where you enjoy being sober?
 
A) I wouldn't put it that way. It's like a child not being able to have sweets, even though you know it's not good for you, you still f***ing want it don't you.
 
Q) In an interview before you started DJ'ing you didn't give much credence to DJ's
 
A) No, I didn't, I thought they were all a***holes. I still do, and now I include myself.
 
Q) So now you've become a rockstar DJ do you sympathise with any of them?
 
A) Oh no, I don't sympathise with them. They don't deserve your sympathy, they're a bunch of arseholes. I'm being facetious; the thing is there are different things that people do. I count myself as a live musician my first love in the world is playing live music and I'm not able to do that for one reason or another so the next best thing to that is to DJ, and whilst it's different it is still a performance and Bernard (Sumner) is still right when he says that what we do as 'celebrities' that's a horrible word, is a PA and people come and stare at a geek that used to be in a band (laughs). I mean I've realised how difficult a job it can be, how lonely it can be, I mean if it goes wrong, you're like 'F***in' 'ell. Sh**.' You just want to dissolve. I mean I found it very difficult it took me a long time to get used to not being with people because for 28 years I've had about 30 people with me. The worst thing is when they just stare at you, you have 200 people staring at you it's very unsettling. It's alright when you're on stage you've got a guitar and can hide behind it or ponce about. It took me a long time to get used to people staring at me.
 
Q) So now you only do major gigs like Glastonbury?
 
A) Yeah. It's like Naomi Campbell, we don't get out of bed for less than fifty grand. (Laughs again)
 
Q) Do you think the Hacienda would have stayed open a bit longer if you'd saved a few bob by Dj'ing yourself?
 
A) (laughs). No, the interesting thing about the Hacienda was it created the superstar DJ they had the record for paying the most.
 
Q) Like Dave Haslam?
 
A) We didn't pay Dave Haslam the most.
 
A) It was an enormous amount. I mean the interesting thing was that the Hacienda closed because of its debts. It'd been ran so badly for so long and basically Factory and Rob, Rob Gretton bless him had been using New Order's money to keep it open, without New Order knowing. As soon as New Order found out then they stopped. It was almost as simple as that.
 
Q) What do you think Ian Curtis would have made of the Hacienda and the New Order of today?
 
A) I think he would have liked it. Ian was very much one of us anyway. I think his illness changed him and the medication for his illness did him the least help. I was reading an article about the way they used to treat epilepsy in the seventies and it was f***ing frightening. It was the cocktail of drugs. Compare it to now there's a lot more awareness, they're a lot more gentle, there's more awareness about your mental health that sort of thing. So I think Ian's probably up there having a laugh. He's never really left me so…
 
Q) Do you feel any personal responsibility or guilt for the popularity of the paisley bandana in the late eighties?
 
A) I thought you were gonna say the death of Ian Curtis then. I thought 'who've you been talking to'. The paisley bandana I never wore one, did you?
 
Me) Some people did.
 
Hooky) Let's get 'em. That's what I say.
 
Q) I listened to a radio show you did over Christmas and you played some songs by unknowns from across the world. Are there any Thai musicians you like?
 
A) Funnily enough what happens is, when I gig people give me things. A lot of the time I worry about having nothing, so I'm afraid of missing something, so whenever somebody gives me something I always listen to it. Even though it takes f***ing forever, I've got a pile on my desk f***ing this high you know, every so often I go in and pull one out and think "Thank God it's crap" then it goes through the shredder, though funnily enough or luckily, with all the places I've played like Japan I found some fantastic dance music in Japan that I play. I did a gig in Mexico and met this guy who does noiselab.com, who's got some f***ing fantastic Mexican dance bands. They're great and I was delighted. I do I pick them up. There's also a French band that gave me their CD that I play erm (drums his finger) I'll play it tonight, I can't remember I can see it but I can't remember. Sh** I'll tell you tonight I can't remember.
 
Q) Are you going to modify what you play tonight for the Thai crowd?
 
A) No, I can't do that. I mean I don't know the Thai crowd. It's a funny thing really, because I went through a phase of not playing New Order. It seemed logical to me I was in New Order, why the f*** do I want to play New Order? I mean I think I was denigrating it. I thought why would anybody want to listen to New Order, then I got so sick of people asking me to play New Order that I started looking for a way to play it and I started putting weird stuff together and stuff that hadn't been heard before and things like that to make it interesting for me really. So the thing is that I have a spectrum that I draw from, but I don't know people well enough. I can only tell if they're dancing or not or if they're all stood there like that (looks at floor solemnly), and you think f***ing hell. If you're playing dance they want indie and if you're playing indie they want dance.
 
Q) What about requests? How do you handle requests?
 
A) I have a really good way of handling them I just go 'no'. I've not travelled 5000 f***ing miles for you to ask me for The Cure, know what I mean, f*** off. Americans get very upset when you say 'no'. It's quite interesting, they don't get it. (Peter puts on mock startled American accent)
 
"What did he say?"
"He said no."
"He said what?"
"He said no"
 
It's like that. I mean you don't go up to a band and say 'oi' do you? I know people think they can do.
 
Q) What are the rest of New Order doing?
 
A) Err, Bernard's at Waitrose, he does the shopping about now. Stephen'll be at the local homeless shelter he gives the soup out at 4… (laughs). How would I know?
 
Q) I mean like, will there be another album?
 
A) Oh right sorry, you meant generally… er.. It's changed lately in that we've found our new records are… it's what the record companies call a 'Rolling Stones' moment. Everyone wants to hear your old stuff, not your new stuff. Like waiting for the Siren's Call hasn't really sold many.
 
Q) Why do you think that is?
 
A) Because people don't like it, (laughs) off the top of my head. I don't know I think the climates changed. It depends what your audience is made up of doesn't it. It depends if you cross over to a younger audience or if your audience is made up of forty year olds who just want to get off their tits on ecstasy to Blue Monday again. My accountant summed it up quite well he said "Peter people don't want to hear your old stuff they just want to get off their tits to Blue Monday again." Do you think that's true? (looks at me and laughs).
 
Q) How does that make you feel?
 
A) It doesn't particularly bother me, I mean I've been doing this a long time and I'd be really surprised if somebody surprised me. I mean with me being sober you begin to see the irony of things. Like I had this girl - I was playing a gig in Spain last week and she was screaming at me and I'd just played Blue Monday. I thought I'd better go and see what she wants, she said 'Play Blue Monday ! Play Blue Monday!'.I got back I thought 'F***in' 'ell' That is wierd.' So in a way it's part of the rich tapestry of life.
 
Q) Where you going next?
 
A) I go to China tomorrow.
 
Q) Do you listen to some of the new bands?
 
A) I listen to a lot of new bands, I mean I was very impressed by The Editors, I'm still a great fan of Razorlight although the new stuff sounds a bit weird and funnily enough when I was at the NME awards I was very impressed by Babyshambles actually, but the guy's such a f***ing jerk (Pete Doherty) in't he. I just think he's a complete and utter w****r. I mean I've got mates like that but they're not in the press thank God, I mean I think it's a bit dangerous, because you're always aware, especially as a parent of the effect that glamorising that shit has, and I get worried about that, especially when we've glamorised the Hacienda and the Happy Mondays and the Ecstasy angle of what we went through. I mean I think it's a very dangerous thing because you'll get some kid in a club going, 'Do you want a bit of smack mate?' 'Well I've seen Pete Doherty doing it and he seems to be doing alright' it's as simple as that in't it.
 
He's obviously a very troubled character and he sort of needs looking after really and nobody seems to be doing that really. I was watching a documentary about the Lotto Lout, that Mike Carroll and they were saying people set him up to make a dick of himself, and they guy managing him uses that.
 
I think with Pete Doherty it seems like that, I mean for someone to get caught that often you've got to be pretty stupid haven't you.
 
It reminds me of that time Liam Gallagher got caught on Tottenham Court road, he was off his trolly wasn't he and got paranoid when he saw a couple of policeman and they pulled him over, that was his sort of cry for help. I think musically he (Doherty) is very good, he's very interesting. His lyrics are very interesting as well.
 
I also like Carl Barrett although it amazes me that you can talk to him but you can't understand a f***ing word he says and yet you can understand him when he sings, it's quite funny.
 
Q) Do you think it's useful to explore altered states to expand musically and creatively?
 
A) Yeah, well, I think a lot of the time when you make music like that you think it's great, but when you wake up in the morning and listen to it you think 'f***in' 'ell'. I mean some people can do, but I'm not one of those musicians so I don't understand it. Bernard tells me all the time, 'It was great when we were all off our heads.' I wasn't off my f***in' head, what you talking about? 'We were all off our heads when we made Power Corruption and lies.' I wasn't. He says it was acid album, it was more like f***ing hard work, so it is for some people, but I've never found that drugs and music go together, I think it's very destructive. I mean when you look at things like Shaun Ryder and The Happy Mondays, the pinnacle they were at, they just destroyed themselves.
 
Q) One of the things that gave Joy Division and New Order their credibility was your reluctance to court the press. A friend of mine called it 'anti marketing' was that a deliberate ploy?
 
A) Well our manager said, 'You two are f***ing thick - stop talking to the press.' I mean now at the age of 50 it's quite easy for me to talk to you lot, even though I don't even know you, which is just practice really, but the thing is when you're twenty-one you're consumed with a burning anger, you're trying to break out from your Salford roots or wherever, you feel like the worlds against you. You're not really in the right frame of mind to talk a lot really because you're going to make a lot of mistakes. The thing is when I was twenty one I didn't know why I was doing it, I was doing it because there was free beer and I got to chat up a few birds.
 
Q) What do you think of the Hacienda being turned into flats?
 
A) That didn't bother me at all. I'd rather have it as flats, if it had remained a nightclub it would have been like seeing your girlfriend out with another bloke. I actually heard a rumour that Noel Gallagher is buying the penthouse there which I thought would be fantastic.
 
Q) While you're in Bangkok do you harbour any secret curiosities for ladyboys?
 
A) Yeah, course. Are they a local band? Part of the post punk revival? The LadyBoys of Bangkok were actually hugely successful in Salford, it was like a review, they became local stars, people used to see them out shopping and treat them like they were off Coronation Street or something.
 
I was hoping for something a bit more newsworthy than that.
 
I'll leave that to you, you're the one that lives here.
 
Peter called the interview to a halt at that point insisting that he need to go and sleep before the gig. Throughout the interview he was affable and good natured. All the points he made that could be interpreted as contentious were tongue in cheek.
 
The music he played ranged from Deep Dish, Chemical Brothers through to Joy Division, Sex Pistols and Johnny Cash with all the colours of the rainbow in between. It sounds weird but it worked.
 
I'm biased but it was one of the best DJ sets ever played. If you ever get the opportunity to see him, grab it with both hands.
 
Copyright: Doiminic Lavin (first appearing on KhaoSanRoad.com)

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The River of Kings

Chao Phraya River, Bangkok, ThailandAt one time the very life blood of Bangkok, the majestic Chao Phraya River and all the various canals and waterways gave rise to the city’s former worldwide reputation as being “The Venice of the East”. Since the founding of Siam’s new capital in 1782 by King Rama I, to the people of Bangkok the Chao Phraya River has been a source of protection, trade, food, fun and worship. Although many of the riverside’s traditional Thai wooden houses have been replaced by modern skyscrapers and hotels, to all Thai people the Chao Phraya River will forever be the river of life.

Either on it or by it, a little of the city’s very own CPR will breathe fresh life into party weary limbs and provide a chilled out journey into history, so for those of you whom are up for a day of messing about on the water, here are a few highlights of river life to check out while cruising down the heart of Bangkok.

Zone A

Located in the north, the tiny island of Koh Kret is where Bangkok’s Mon community settled during the reign of King Tak-Sin. Sights to see are Wat Paramaiyikawas (Temple), Wat Chimplee (Temple), Wat Klong Kret (Temple), The Ceramics Centre, and Khanom Wan Canal (Dessert Canal).

Zone B

Beginning at the Wat Chalemphrakiat Worawihan, heading south along the river other sights to see are Nonthaburi Provincial Government House, Wat Khemapirataram (Temple), The Rama VI Bridge, Wat Rachathiwas Worawihan (Temple), Bang Khunphrom Palace, and the Phra Sumen Fortress. 

Zone C

A short journey west along Bangkok Noi Canal sights to see are the Royal Barge Museum, Wat Suwannaram Ratchaworawihan (Temple), Baan-bu Village, Thonburi Railway Station, and Wat Srisudaram Worawihan (Temple).

Zone D

Continuing south along the main river visitors will see Ratcha Woradit Pier and Rachakij Winijchai Throne, Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), Wat Kallayanamitr Woramahawihan (Temple), Santa Cruz Church (Catholic), Phra Buddhayodfah Bridge, and Sullaka Sathon (Former Taxation House).

Zone E

Located south west of the main river along Sanam Chai Canal you can see Wat Nang-Nong Worawihan (Temple), Wat Raja Orasaram Ratchaworawihan (Temple), Wat Sai, (Temple), Wat Nang Shee Shotikoram (Temple of Nuns), and Wat Nang Ratchaworawihan (Nang Temple).

Zone F

A short journey south west of the main river along Bangkok Yai Canal visitors will see Wat Hong Rattanaram Ratchaworawihan (Temple), Wat Moliokkayaram Ratchaworawihan (Temple), Wat Intaram Worawihan, Charoen Mosque, and The Old Palace. 

So, whether you decide on one of the leisurely evening dinner cruises, or purchase a day river pass entitling you to unlimited travel between Nonthaburi in the north (Zone A) to Thonburi in the south (Zone F), or even would simply like to travel to one of Thailand’s former capitals, Ayutthaya, by boat, a visitor’s trip to the Kingdom would not be complete without a journey along “The River of Kings”. Enjoy.

And remember…

Keepitreal

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Temple Trekkin

Temples in BangkokOf all the unforgettable images left in the mind of a visitor to the Kingdom, the truly majestic, shimmering and almost mystical looking Thai temple, or “wat” in Thai, has surely got to be way up there among the best.

It is said that there are around 32,000 monasteries dotted all over the country, and that Bangkok is home to about 400. Aside from Wat Phra Kaeo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), Wat Pho, Wat Benchama Bophit, and Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) which charge a small fee for on going restoration, admission to all other temples in Bangkok is free, so put down your novel, dress appropriately, pack a little respect, and get out there with your camera to experience some of the city’s most significant and beautiful temples..

1. Wat Phra Kaeo.  - Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

Officially named Wat Phra Si Rattanasatsadaram; generally known to all as Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and located in the grounds of the Grand Palace, was completed in 1784 during the reign of King Rama I. Regarded as the most significant of all Thai temples and home to the most sacred of Buddha images, the green jade statute of Buddha, the large compound of over 100 beautifully architectured buildings represents 200 years of royal history.

2. Wat Pho or Wat Phra Chetuphon.

The oldest and largest temple in Bangkok, Wat Po was first built in the 16th century during the Ayutthaya period and then almost completely rebuilt in 1781 by King Rama I. It is famed for being home to the largest reclining Buddha, has the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, and was the earliest centre for public education.

3. Wat Arun – Temple of Dawn.

Named after the India god of dawn, Aruna, Wat Arun is perfectly located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River to catch the morning light, and was chosen by King Tak Sin to be his royal temple in the 17th century. The Emerald Buddha was once housed here before being moved to Wat Phra Kaeo.

4. Wat Saket – Golden Mountain.
The “Golden Mountain” or Phu Khao Thong in Thai on the west side of the temple grounds offers stunning views over Rattanakosin Island. Construction began in the reign of King Rama III, was added to during the reign of King Rama IV, and finally King Rama V added to the structure and housed a Buddha relic from India.

5. Wat Ratchanatda

Built under the reign of King Rama III, this unusual 19th century temple’s architecture may have seen influence from Burma. The Loha Prasit (Metal Palace) surrounded by 37 metal spires and a total height of 36 metres is the only one of its kind in the world. It is also famed for its market which sells amulets or magic charms featuring images of Buddha, monks and Indian deities.

6. Wat Benchamabophit - Marble Temple

Made of white marble, hence the nickname, this most recent royal temple was built at the turn of the century by King Rama V. The main building is an excellent example of modern Thai architecture.

7. Wat Suthat

This temple is home to a 14th century Buddha statue from the Sukothai period which is surrounded by some rather surreal depictions of Buddha’s last 24 lives. King Rama II carved the great doors and up until World War II, the Giant Swing Ceremony to celebrate the rice harvest was held in front of the temple grounds.

8. Wat Bowonniwet

Founded in 1826, when it was known as Wat Mai, this temple is home to Bangkok’s second Buddhist University, Maha-makut University. King Mongkut began a royal tradition by residing here as a monk. His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) and several other members of the royal family have ordained here.

9. Wat Mahathat

Home to Bangkok’s other Buddhist University; Maha That Rat-chawitthayalai, this temple was founded in 1700’s and has a Thai herbal medicine market and meditation centre on the grounds.

10. Wat Rachapradit

This small temple was constructed under the reign of King Rama IV for the purpose of becoming one of the required 3 eminent temples in the city. Noted for its abbey’s mural paintings, they depict all the annual royal ceremonies undertaken, including the legend of the eclipse of the sun during the reign of King Rama IV.

11. Wat Thepthidaram

Erected by King Rama III between 1836 and 1839 this temple was exquisitely design by court artisans as can be seen by the presiding Buddha image which is beautifully enshrined by mural paintings. Once home to a famous Thai poet, Sunthon Phu, the monks living quarters are now known as “ban kawi” or Poet’s House Museum.

12. Wat Kanlayanamit Woramahawihan

Founded by Chao Phraya Nikornbordin in 1825, the temple was added to by King Rama III when he built the Phra Wihan Luang in which the principle Buddha image is enshrined. Predominantly Chinese style brick work, stucco, tiles and motifs, the mural painting depicting the Buddha’s life story is now almost completely faded.

13. Wat Suwannaram Ratchaworawihan.

Founded during the Ayutthaya period, not only has this temple been dismantled, rebuilt and restored again and again between the reigns of King Rama I to King Rama V, it has also seen a variety of uses such as a place of execution for Burmese prisoners of war during the reign of King Taksin and later it became the site for royal cremations up until the reign of King Rama V. 

14. Wat Trimitwitthayaram

Built around 150 years ago and restored in 1937, the main attraction of this temple is the five ton, three metre tall Sukhothai style solid gold Buddha image known as the Golden Buddha.

15. Wat Ratchaorasarm

Built on the bank of Sanamchai Canal in the Ayutthaya period and later appointed a royal temple by King Rama III, its distinguishable Chinese style make it historically important as it is the first temple to have no traditional Thai decorations.

16. Wat Rachapradit Sathitmahasimaram

Built by King Rama IV as one of the three required temples for royal ceremonies, this temple was founded on what was originally a coffee plantation before the land was purchased by the King and given to the Thammayut sect to build the temple.

17. Wat Sommanatwihan

In 1853, King Rama IV built this Dhammayut sect royal temple as a memorial to Queen Sommanat Vadhannawadi. Placed on the surrounding wall facing eight directions are stones indicating the boundary of the chapel.

18. Wat Indravihan

The temple is famed for its gigantic standing Buddha image. Built during the reign of King IV, the image of the Buddha stands 32 metres tall, is just over 10 metres wide, and contains the Lord Buddha’s relic brought from the island nation of Sri-Lanka. 

19. Wat Ratchabophit

The first temple built under his reign, King Rama V ordered its construction to commemorate the queen. It later became the temple of King Rama VII. Although the exterior of the main chapel is typically Thai, its interior is quite European in style.

20. Wat Ratchatiwat

The temple was re-established from the former Wat Samor-rai by Somdej Chao Phraya Maha Surasinghanat and then later renovated and renamed Ratchatiwatwihan; meaning temple where the King resides, by King Rama IV. The large teak Ayutthaya style building, redesigned by HRH Naris, is reputed as the biggest and most beautiful wooden structure in the Far East.

21. Wat Thepsirintharawat

Ordered built by King Rama V, the king dedicated this temple to his mother, the late Queen Thepsirindhra, and named it in her memory. As one would expect, this chapel is one of the most outstanding architectural treasures of the Rama V period and has many famous Buddha images enshrined in it.

22. Wat Rakhangkositaram

Built in the Ayutthaya period, this temple was later restored and named a royal temple by King Taksin. During the reign of King Rama I a melodious “rakhang” or bell was found in the temple compound. The King ordered it sent to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and had five new bells sent back in exchange. The belfry, built in the style of the late Ayutthaya and early Rattanakosin periods, is the symbol of this temple and its three tier roof is decorated with beautiful murals by Phra Wanwadwichit, the famous artist of the King Rama VI era. This former residence of King Rama I is one of the most outstanding examples of Thai architecture.

23. Wat Bhoman-Khunaram

This Chinese-Tibetan style temple was built in 1959 by a Chinese spiritual master who later became the temples’ first abbot. The main Buddha image was named Phra Phutthawatcharaphothikhun by King Rama IX and is enshrined in the chapel with 500 other Buddha images. The pavilion houses 7,240 texts of the Mahayanist version of the Tripitaka.

24. Wat  Munkorn Kamalawat

Built in 1871 by Phra Ajarn Wangsamathiwat and Phra Chokikaratsetthi to disseminate Buddhism, the temple, formerly named Wat Leng Nei Yee, was later renamed Wat  Munkorn Kamalawat by King Rama V. The temple is decorated in Chinese architecture and the main Buddha image in the hall is also in a Chinese style. Images of the world’s four keepers are found can be found in font of the hall’s shrine.

25. Sri Mahamariamman Temple

This Brahman (Hindu) temple of the Shakti sect, which reveres this mother of the gods, was built in 1879 by Indians from Tamil Nadu in Southern Indian who came to Thailand and established a community of traders on Silom Canal. Inside the temple the main image, the Umi Devi, is surrounded by Indian deities Ganesh, Khandakumara, Krishna, Rasmi, and Kali.

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Royal Barges in Thailand

Royal Barges in ThailandOne of Thailand's most spectacular sights for visitors would have to be the flotilla of Royal Barges carrying the Thai Royal Family elegantly down the Chao Phraya River during traditional annual celebrations. Although such a spectacular marine procession can only be seen just a few times a year, the Royal Barges themselves, when unused, are housed and maintained in sheds located about 45mins walk & ferry away from KSR and can be viewed daily by the general public between 8:30am to 5:00 pm at an entrance fee of just 30 Baht. It's a chilled out way to spend time between waking up and happy hour and another great opportunity for visitors to get up close and personal to some unique and important Thai works of art.

Beautifully hand crafted, a Royal Barge procession would total an approximate number of 25 boats; however, only few of these are the "actual" Royal Barges with most numbers taking up roles of Royal Escorts, and fantastical Mythical Creature Barges. Once you've found the Royal Sheds (which requires a little patience) you will see that every Royal Barge is headed by a mythical figure or creature and is ornately decorated. The barges themselves reach an approximate length of around 50m and require a crew of over 40 men to row each. These majestic barges are all hand crafted, intricately carved, colourfully painted and inlayed with hundreds of tiny mirrors/glass shards to make each barge seem to shimmer and sparkle, day or night. Of course, as expected, the largest barge of all named "Suphanahong", is reserved for the King alone. The barge itself is over 50m in length, is wonderfully decorated and has to be powered along by 50 oarsmen.

Royal Barges in ThailandGetting over to the Royal Barge Museum is quite easy. The sheds themselves are located along Khlong (canal) Bangkok Noi, which is just across the Chao Phraya River, and is very close to the Pinklao Bridge. You can head over to the Museum in a taxi or Tuk Tuk, but if you'd prefer to avoid the traffic around Pinklao Bridge, then take the river instead. From KSR take a short walk around to Phra-Athit Pier, on Phra-Athit Rd and catch a ferry boat just across the river to Station Pier. When you?ve crossed the river, follow the road up to the Arun Amarin Road junction. Here, take a right and head across the bridge for the canal, getting off the bridge on the other side via the stairs to your right. A small sign and the few food stalls around mark the entrance to the museum. Although the entrance path is quiet long (hence the need for patience), just follow the signs as you zigzag between local homes; spotting the "house of beer" will mean that you're on the right track, until you finally reach the Royal Barge Museum. Enjoy.

And remember...

Keepitreal

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Suan Rot Fai

Suan Rot Fai
Suan Rot Fai
Suan Rot Fai
It’s difficult to believe that any wild life can exist among Bangkok’s noxious atmosphere beyond a few sparrows, pigeons and cockroaches. But the City of Angels is home to an amazing number of bird species and many can be found alongside one of the main arteries, Phahonythin Road.
Alongside the more famous Chatuchak weekend market Suan Rot Fai, or Railway Park, is a northern version of Lumpinee Park. A few small acres of green where Bangkok’s residents can jog around the 3 kilometre track, lift weights or just stroll aimlessly among the well manicured lawns while a few metres away the rest of the city is snarled up in yet another traffic jam.

A lake dominates the park with paddle boats for hire. An oriental Serpentine. But round the lake a variety of trees and shrubs are home to a bustling eco system that does its best to survive in less than promising surroundings.

After five minutes of strolling round the track I had already seen five different types of bird including Tree Sparrows, Rock Pigeons, Olive-backed Sunbirds, Magpie Robin and Great-billed Crows. The sounds from the trees hinted at many more but these birds, less at ease in the company of humans, kept themselves hidden in the canopy while high above swifts circled the early morning skies.

Obviously binoculars would come in handy as well as patience. Birds for the most part are shy and wary of danger. And with good reason. One blogger spied a Reticulated Python curled up in one of the trees but it is unclear if it had been raised in the park or had escaped from the nearby Chatuchak Market where a brisk trade in endangered wildlife carries on apace.

I saw cuckoos, herons and doves but I heard plenty more. The sounds teased you to the tree and vainly you would scan the upper branches looking for some tell tale sign of feathered movement. Sometimes you would get lucky but often they remained just out of reach.

Not so the Tree Sparrow. These small birds coloured various shades of grey are unafraid of humans and collect confidently in small packs. They can be found all over Bangkok and their dullness and ubiquity can breed familiarity. Likewise the pigeons. But among the feral mongrels that hunt in pack it is possible to see the Rock Pigeon as well as Spotted Dove.

Magpie Robins are another that has little fear of man. About the same size as the Tree Sparrow but with a longer tail these black and white birds can often be seen at ground level and are a frequent sight in the park.

With the MRT right next to the park, Suan Rot Fai makes for an interesting early morning wander, with or without the birds. For a map and list of species that can be found in the park check out www.thaibirder.com.

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Mahachai Station

Mahachai Station
Mahachai Station
Mahachai Station
This will never appear on any list of great railway journeys in the world which is a shame as it certainly offers a step back in time to when Bangkok and it's environs was more aquatic than today. It's a lovely old line with some wonderful scenery and a comic book feel that starts when you try and find the station in Bangkok. Wong Wien Yai is a big traffic circle with a statue of King Taksin in the middle. You have to scout around to find the station and be careful who you ask because many people are unaware of it's existence. Basically the station is hidden down a narrow soi not far from a 7/11.


Trains are regular, approximately every hour and the tickets for the one hour run are 10 baht. The single track rattles through some of Thonburi's western suburbs hemmed in by markets and houses. Past Wat Singh and we get more greenery. Ramshackle huts hug the klongs that criss cross the flat terrain while young kids fish and play around. Sam Yaek looks great, a wonderful place to get off and wander around and take the opportunity of recording this photogenic landscape. It's a junction of 2 klongs with many bright flowers and brighter birds flashing by the rapidly moving train.

With Swiss style punctuality we arrive at a spot where double tracking allows the trains to pass and we are soon proceeding on our way. It's a Saturday and I'm a little hung-over and appreciate the cool air through the open window. We pull into Mahachai station and come to a halt in a dark market that doubles as the railway station. Outside in the bright sunshine it's a sea food lover's delight as stalls sell all sort of stuff that had been happily minding their own business and few yards away the night before. Rickshaws and songthaew remind you that while Bangkok may only be an hour away your are pretty much up country here.

There is a river crossing where you can join the Mae Klang line but this is a less frequent run, four times a day and I had little time to wander the market and surrounding streets before heading back to the big city.

I've done the journey a couple of times now and enjoy it. You do feel you are being taken to another world yet one so close to Bangkok. The journey back is as uneventful as the outbound and I took the opportunity to look at my pictures. Each time I've done the trip I have never been the only farang (foreigner) on board so obviously people are hearing about this quaint little line.

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Vegetarian Food on Suan Phlu

Vegetarian Food on Suan Phlu
Vegetarian Food on Suan Phlu
Vegetarian Food on Suan Phlu
Vegetarian Food on Suan Phlu
Vegetarian Food on Suan Phlu
Vegetarian Food on Suan Phlu
Vegetarian Food on Suan Phlu
Thailand does not really have a tradition of vegetarian cooking, and most dishes contain meat or fish. As a result, it can be a bit difficult for a veggie to fully appreciate the Thai cuisine, as most Thai vegetarian dishes are the meat versions with bits taken out. In central Bangkok, Suan Phlu (where the old immigration office was) offers a couple of restaurants that redress the balance.

Thailand does not really have a tradition of vegetarian cooking, and most dishes contain meat or fish. As a result, it can be a bit difficult for a veggie to fully appreciate the Thai cuisine, as most Thai vegetarian dishes are the meat versions with bits taken out. In central Bangkok, Suan Phlu (where the old immigration office was) offers a couple of restaurants that redress the balance.
 
Directly opposite the old Immigration office you have UR Station. It probably looks a bit more like a burger bar than a full on veggie restaurant, but looks can certainly be deceiving, and they are in this case. UR Station offers pretty much everything you could ask for. Both Thai and Western cuisine are available, with particular reference to the latter.

The cakes and pastries are great - blueberry crumble, chocolate buns, cheese croissants… there's not much you could want for, including versions without egg. Washed down with one of a splendid choice of coffees, they make a great treat.

The Thai cuisine is excellent, too. Fried rice with curry or basil, tofu soup, and rice noodles all come in at the 55-65 Baht range and give you a proper taste of what Thai cooking is all about. The hands down winner though are the sandwiches and croissants. They have an excellent range including veggie ham and cheese and veggie tuna, and they are, to die for. They are truly excellent, and at 65 Baht, killer value. If you are in the area, don't miss them. Tel: 02-287-1635, 089-490-3111 (mobile).
 
If, however, you are more interested in having traditional Thai fare in more typical surroundings, go out of immigration, and turn right. Keep walking until you get to Soi 8 and go into the Soi. On your right you will find Banbaiplu.

The owner, a suspiciously Singaporean-looking gentleman, with the suspiciously Singaporean-sounding name of 'Andy Lam' runs this establishment, and claims to be Thai. He speaks really good Singlish, too (so you guess what's going on!). Anyway, this is a place where they do wonders with Soya protein and turn it into veggie meat that actually tastes like meat. So much so that you might start asking questions… but it's true - those big lumps of fried pork, that even look like fried pork, are actually veggie! Being so meat-like, you get a much better insight into the regular Thai meal here. Curries, soups - Andy's got the works, and all at nice prices. One dish with rice costs only 25 Baht - the same price the locals pay for meat versions. This is something to write home about! Tel: 068-080-7255 (mobile).

Leave Andy's, go back to the street and turn right, and you'll soon notice that you have masses of fruit on sale either side of the street. Fresh, clean, and again, despite the presence of so many foreigners, this is not a tourist area and prices are what locals pay. Stock up and put some in your room back on Khao San. Keep walking, and on your right you will soon notice Bobaimai Bakery.
 
This is a dainty little cafe? - actually, it's small. But the food is good. They have cakes and all the sweet niceties you would expect to sit alongside a nice, hot cappuccino. As their sign suggests - "all natural with no additives or preservatives", so they are well worth a look. Go out of Bobaimai Bakery, turn right again, and you will come across a stall selling Dim Sum which is part of a bigger restaurant. Although this restaurant serves meat as well, the stall (which faces the road) is dedicated to veggie food. It's just Dim Sum, but they do a good job, and it's well worth going down there just for a taste.

To get to Suan Plu By take bus nrs. 22 , 62 or 67. Lumpini Station is the closest MRT station.

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