Tag - river

Mae Hong Son, Thailand

Mae Hong Son, Thailand
Mae Hong Son, Thailand
Mae Hong Son, Thailand
Mae Hong Son, Thailand

This beautiful Northern Province is located along the banks of the river Pai near the border with Burma.

Mae Hong Son, with a population of around 7,000 people, is also the name of the Province capital. The town can easily be reached from Chiang Mai or via Mae Hong Son Airport.

Mae Hong Son is surrounded by mountains and is much cooler than the rest of Thailand, making it a great place to visit in the scorching summer months. In fact, for most of the year the valley is shrouded by mist and fog, which adds a mystical quality to it.

For nature lovers, Mae Hong Son is the perfect destination. Here you will find sparkling waterfalls, glittering caves such as Tham Mae La Na and the beautiful Tham Pla National Park makes a great day trip.

Mae Hong Son Province is home to the Padaung Hill Tribe villages, also known as the ‘Long Neck Women’ tribes after the long coils the women wear around their necks, which can weight as much as 22kg!

Many people visit the province in order to go trekking and visit these intriguingly exotic hill tribes. The hill tribe village of Ban Ruam Thai is particularly welcoming to independent visitors, or travellers can opt to go on a trekking tour, where a guide will take you to several villages in the area.

After trekking, you may want to relax in the Pha Bang Hot Spring, or pay your respects at the many local temples. There are dozens of gleaming temples to explore, such as Wat Huang Wiang, Wat Jong Kham or the nearby Wat Si Bunruang.

For the adventurous, Mae Hong Son is a great place to go rafting, and all your retail needs can be met at the bustling night market.

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 !

KL’s Early Chinese Influence

KL's Early Chinese Influence
KL's Early Chinese Influence
KLs_early_chinese_influence_3

If early KL had a heart it was the Old Market Square. Here, on the east bank of the Klang River early traders set up shacks to cater to the pioneer Chinese miners who had been sent up river prospecting for tin in 1857. Tin soon became quite profitable so more miners were despatched to the jungles around the river. And as the miners moved in so did a variety of traders seeking to profit from this exciting new industry.
Supplies for the growing village took something like three days from the Klang estuary on the west coast of the peninsular thanks to the twists and turns of the serpentine like Klang River and when they did finally arrive they were off loaded just south of the current Masjid Jamed, the place where the traders had set up stall.

For the Chinese miners living and working upstream the Old Market Square was their R & R. it was where they came to gamble, take opium and enjoy the pleasures of the local hookers. And overseeing this burgeoning empire was the Captain China. Yap Ah Loy.

On the corner of Jalan Kasturni and Lebuh Pasar Besar today stands a credit card centre. In 1877 there was a ‘fairly loose board house’ from where Yap Ah Loy ruled his turf surrounded by attap roofed houses occupied by his coolies.

There was a gambling shed close to the river, roughly where the Sin Seng Nam coffee shop now stands while the clock tower that stands almost apologetically at the heart of the square stands on the ground that was once the heart of the market selling the food and materials the miners would need to take with them up river.
 
The Old Market Square was the centre of old KL and the arteries radiating out today follow the rough old tracks first developed over 120 years ago as people hacked their way through the jungle to create new settlements at places like Pudu. A map of the area today would be recognisable to Yap Ah Loy and his contemporaries but put him by the clock tower and ask him to show you where his house used to be and he may struggle to come to terms with the changes that have since his patch of land transformed from essentially a rural market garden into a buzzing commercial centre. Those three day boat rides to Klang, ‘poling and rowing’ have now been replaced by slick efficient one hour train rides.
 
In his own right Yap Ah Loy is an intriguing character. Part gangster, part warlord (he would pay for rivals heads to be decapitated and he would display them outside his house, near that credit card centre), part businessman. His importance to the growing community of KL was recognised by the English colonial overlords and it was through his determination that the new town overcame such teething problems as floods, fires and internecine warfare that pit rival Chinese and Malay groups against each other.
 
His memory lives on in a couple of places around his old stomping ground. Yap Ah Loy Road is possibly one of the shortest roads in all of Malaysia while the Sin Sze Si Ya teple, built by him back in 1864 is still active and his memory is revered by devotees lighting incense to his memory. Look carefully inside the temple for a photograph of the man himself at his own alter.
 
At first glance the temple seems to have an orientation all of its own, set as it is just back and off the main roads. But Yap Ah Loy would have followed traditional feng shui principles when he designed the place so an expert, applying those principles, could come up with a rough idea of how the area looked while it was being constructed.
 
Yap of course is long gone. As is his old gambling shed as well as the hookers in their tiny shack. The attap roofed homes of his coolies have also gone and in their place has come high rise concrete buildings dwarfing the square. There are no more floods and real roads now link the old heart with the expanded city and its suburban overspill. It’s a transport hub, a commercial centre and as such differs little from similar places around the world. Much of Yap’s world has gone but what remains is Malaysia’s vibrant capital city. Without his determination and steely resolve, and his profits from sex and drugs, perhaps KL would have disappeared in one of the many fires and floods that hit the small town.

A Weekend Walk in Yangon

A Weekend Walk in Yangon Burma
A Weekend Walk in Yangon Burma
A Weekend Walk in Yangon Burma
A Weekend Walk in Yangon Burma

It’s a gloriously sunny day. Squinting through the window I can make out the magnificent deltas of the Thanlwin, Sittaung and Bago rivers below, looking like hundreds of crooked bony fingers probing into the Andaman Sea. It’s a breathtaking view and I remain transfixed until we touchdown. Myanmar International airport is nothing to write home about and I find it strangely reminiscent of a visit to Tashkent Airport about 12 years ago, but with slightly less rubble to scramble over. That said, the customs staff in this peculiarly cool and airy arrivals hall manage to process the entire flight in minutes and still find time to exchange pleasantries with each passenger.

In most developing countries the newly arrived guest is accosted by hordes of taxi drivers and hotel touts, and Yangon International Airport is no exception. The only difference here is the remarkable politeness of these guys. They accept no for an answer, bid me good day and move to the next potential source of income. It’s a welcome and refreshing change. It’s at this point that I realise that investment in a guide book would have been money well spent. I negotiate with several drivers on the road outside the airport and settle on what seems to be the going rate for the journey to my accommodation.

Most taxis will take either Kyats, US dollar, British pounds or Yen. Dollars can be exchanged at the official money changer booth in the airport, presided over by a crusty old guy with a sinister appearance, where you will get about 450 kyats to the US$1. If you can wait and change money once you’re in Yangon itself you will get 1000 Kyats or more, a much better deal. Be sure to have a few dollars, British pounds or Yen with you on arrival though, just to get you away from the airport, and don’t forget to check that driver is happy to accept whatever currency you have.

As with most taxi drivers across Asia the one who drives me to my chosen accommodation is a Manchester United fan, and even has a brand new Wayne Rooney shirt in his cab, kept neatly folded in a plastic wrapper; apparently a much a prized possession. I haven’t the heart to tell him that I think Rooney, though a talented footballer, is a butt-ugly, foul mouthed thug in my humble opinion. I settle with just telling him that I support the Magpies and he embarrasses me by knowing more than I do about their present struggle to keep from relegation. I really didn’t expect an Yangon taxi driver to be so knowledgeable about the English Premiership; it’s quite a revelation.

I stay at the Classique Inn which is a lovely privately owned guest house nestled amongst the diplomatic residences along Golden Valley road and a short walk from where Aung San Suu Kui is held under house arrest. I arranged this accommodation online prior to my arrival and can strongly recommend their fast and courteous service. They charge US$30 per night for a double room with en-suite and breakfast and for a further US$2 they throw in a dinner too. Once there I change US$75 at a rate of 1100 kyats/US$1 and get landed with a gargantuan pile of the local currency that won’t fit into my wallet and has to be stuffed into an airmail envelope. A short taxi ride with yet another Man U supporter and I am in downtown Yangon, after a brief stop to change a deflated tyre for an inflated but bold one. The taxis in Yangon are almost exclusively white, Japanese, at least 20 years old and right hand drive; odd in a country where they drive on the right hand side. In fact most of the private vehicles are right hand drive also, not just taxis. Presumably a sign that they get most of their vehicles as second-hand imports from a country that drives on the left.
 
My aim is to explore Yangon on foot. Hot as it is, the climate is much more suited to walking than Bangkok and the traffic a great deal more pedestrian friendly. I walk for hours through busy streets, crammed with locals in sarongs busying to and fro, through markets with colourful displays of exotic fruits spread out on the floor, garment merchants selling material in all patterns and designs, sarong peddlers, men selling cheap plastic toys, book sellers and street tobacconists. Someone is selling something on every street, under every tree and on every corner. I try to install a new film in my camera but have a problem. I find a camera repair shop with far too many assistants for its clear lack of customers and try explaining my problem to a young guy at the door. He shares the dilemma with a few of his colleague and then collectively they refer it to a evil looking bearded guy perched on a stool at the other end of the shop. He takes my camera in complete silence, fiddles a little and then solves the problem in an instant. I ask how much but he just slowly shakes his head and throws me a knowing wink. All his underlings are suitably impressed by his performance with the foreigner’s camera and can’t stop smiling.
 
Everywhere I go there is an aroma of some kind in this city of fragrant streets; scent, food, tobacco, incense, pleasant and exotic cooking smells. Filthy canals and open drains don’t seem to be in as much abundance as they are in Bangkok. Yangon is in no way a romantic city and falls well short of being even picturesque at first viewing but it has a certain charm that, mixed with the friendliness of its people, is quite intoxicating. I read somewhere that Yangon was once the ‘garden city’ of SE Asia. Though it is undeserving of such a flowery monika at present it is easy to see that it would have been quite a place in its heyday. On this first day I already want to return and learn more about the country, wishing my stay wasn’t so short
 
The buildings are generally old colonial with modern cheaply constructed units dotted between them, and here and there more recent multi-storey monstrosities. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of colonialism the resulting architecture is surely an asset to any cityscape. Unfortunately even some of the colonial buildings that are still in use have been sorely neglected and look tired and miserable. It’s a city in need of a sympathetic makeover.
 
Busy as the streets are I can’t help feeling alone. Foreigners are scarce and once away from the absolute centre I’m soon aware that I’m the only white face around. At no point do I feel in danger or the need to worry, even when sauntering through the most run down areas of town or when, as on several occasions, I’m stopped from taking photos or going down certain streets by armed soldiers and police.
 
Several hours of walking and I have the town pretty much sown up and retire to the 20th floor of the Sakure Tower for refreshments and to view the city from above. The crumbling buildings look even worse from up here, roofs caved in on many of them. I was right about the makeover. The view reminds me of Cairo where you suddenly go from city to desert. Yangon is similar, but with considerably less pyramid. Stretching before me is the chaos of Yangon, right up to the river which acts as a buffer between city and nothingness. On the other side of the river is nothing, just open plains littered with the occasional cluster of trees.
 
I’ve been wanting to visit Yangon for some time and my first impression of it is favourable. I think you know if you’re going to like somewhere the moment you see it, and arriving in Yangon with no pre-conception of what to expect I am pleasantly surprised by what I find and know straight away that I like it. It’s a step back in time and is, I imagine, similar to Bangkok in the early seventies, but it has charm and the people are truly warm and welcoming. More than once I’ve been stopped by strangers for a quick handshake and to wish me well, leaving me wondering if I’ve just been the victim of a scam or theft of some kind. In fact it is just a refreshing and genuine attack of politeness and good manners from a people only too happy to see faces from outside grace their streets. Without exaggeration almost everyone I’ve made eye contact with has smiled and or said hello. The true ‘land of smiles’ if ever there is one.
 
Another taxi ride, this one with a chirpy Liverpool fan, and I’m back at the Classique Inn where the staff serve a fabulous local dish for dinner incorporating a wholesome vegetable soup, spicy chicken pieces with vegetables and a simple caramel nut dessert, all washed down with local beer and served alfresco on a quaint little patio beneath a large coconut tree that dangles heavy coconuts perilously above my head from about thirty feet.
 
I intend to go out and explore the Yangon nightlife but get sidetracked by the staff of the Classique who are keen to talk about Myanmar and all it has to offer. Later an American girl arrives fresh off the plane from Bangkok. She’s one of many foreigners I’ve spoken to who is visiting the country for a three month spell of meditation and we talk late into the evening over a several beers. Despite her best attempts I remain unconvinced as to the usefulness of spending three months sat cross-legged and going ‘ohm’ whilst depriving yourself of beer, fags and all your favourite food. Despite our differences of opinion we get along fine, though I decide it’s time for goodbye when she claims to have a ‘spiritual connection with the people of Myanmar’. A bold claim for someone who has only been in the country for a few hours.
 
Breakfast alfresco on the patio at 6.30 sharp and then I walk down to the famous Shwe Dagon pagoda. The original pagoda is said to date back some 2,500 years and contain 8 hairs from the Lord Buddha given to a couple of brothers from Myanmar on a pilgrimage to the north of India. Not being one for temples and pagodas I visit Shwe Dagon mainly because I had been told that it was a must for any visitor to Yangon. It is. As pagodas go this one is definitely the daddy. Built on a mount there is quite a walk up, barefoot, until you reach the base of the pagoda. But it is worth it. Standing more than 90m high from its base, which is greater than 420m in perimeter and in the region of 50m above the surrounding city, this golden ‘winking wonder’ dominates the surrounding complex of smaller pagodas, statues shrines and Tazaungs. Sarong clad locals are in abundance; praying, relaxing, meditating or simply, as it appears, chewing the fat with friends. There is a truly pleasant atmosphere and I would have stayed a while longer had I not been on a strict time frame due to my lunchtime flight.
 
From Shwe Dagon I continue north-east and make my way to Nga Hat Gyee, on the recommendation of one of the staff at the Classique, to view another temple and several hundred monks learning about meditation. Meditation appears to be quite a popular pastime for both locals and foreigners alike. At Nga Hat Gyee I’m told there is a Brit in residence who has been meditating now for six months solid, and for free. I politely decline an offer to meet him and continue my walk. I can’t imagine what I could possibly talk about to a guy who has been meditating almost exclusively for six months.
 
From Nga Hat Gyee I head south taking in the picturesque Kan Daw Gyi Lake and then along Zoological Garden Street, past the Aung San Stadium and back to the downtown area. It is in the area of the stadium that I am the victim of a money changer scam. Keen to change the pile of Kyats I still have left back to dollars I fall for the sales patter of a money changer and follow him back to his ‘shop’, a small, sweaty, hole in the wall affair populated by several of his countrymen. There’s a great deal of pushing and shoving, a fair amount of bullshit to distract me and I’m down 10,000 Kyats with nothing to do about it. We continue the transaction with the remainder of my money and I leave, somewhat pissed at myself for letting this happen. Two of them follow me out of the shop begging me to come back and solve our ‘misunderstanding’. Accepting my loss I suggest where they can put their solutions and move on. They hassle tourists in the area around the stadium and look Indian. Avoid at all cost or take extreme care.
 
Yangon is not for those addicted to the creature comforts of modern 21st century living. The streets are not awash with luxury shopping malls or American fast food retailers; though they do have a local equivalent complete with golden arches called Mac Burger and a doughnut shop that looks remarkably familiar. You’ll have trouble getting a mobile on an overseas network to work and your options for nightlife are somewhat more limited than Bangkok, Singapore or even KL. That said, it is a great place to visit to experience that something a little out of the ordinary. As for the moral argument about whether or not to visit just think about the people. Do you think they really want to be isolated? It’s easy enough to visit Myanmar and limit the amount of money you actually throw into government coffers. If you visit major government tourist attractions, fly with MIA or use the state transport system and hotels you’ll be contributing to the system and arguably prolonging the hell. If, on the other hand, you organise the trip yourself and use only privately owned accommodation, private taxis for transport and avoid anything with state involvement the only money you’ll be giving the government will be the US$10 airport tax on departure. One thing is for sure, the people of Yangon clearly welcome visitors to their country.

Puttamonthon Park – Lizard Safari


Puttamonthon Park
Puttamonthon Park - Lizard Safari
Puttamonthon Park - Lizard Safari
Puttamonthon Park - Lizard Safari
Puttamonthon Park - Lizard Safari
Puttamonthon Park - Lizard Safari

We creep slowly through the forest, taking care to tred lightly and not to make even the slightest sound. All is still; the only sounds the faint rustling of the leaves in the trees.

Suddenly, my friend stops and motions for me to stand still. “There!” he hisses, pointing to the river bank. “Can you see it?”

All I can make out is an empty patch of grassy bank splashed with shadows. Suddenly, one of the ‘shadows’ moves slightly and I can make out the long, scaly tail of a large monitor lizard. I want to rush forwards for a better look, but my friend holds me back and we watch in silence as the mighty beast suns itself on the bank.

We remain that way for several minutes, the three of us, one oblivious to the rapt attention of the other two. Then suddenly the monitor lizard sees a fish splashing in the river and slides off the bank to retrieve it. There is a short struggle, then both fish and lizard disappear from sight.

Stopping frequently to spy on the huge reptiles, my friend and I walk quietly and carefully through a large bamboo forest. It is hard to believe that we are just a short bus ride from Bangkok.

The intensely beautiful park of Buddhamonthon is located in Tambon Salaya, part of Nakhon Pathom Province. The park covers an area of about 1,000 acres and is an important religious site.

The park was built by the government in 1957 or B.E 2500 by the Thai calendar to commemorate the 2500th year of the existence of Buddhism. One of the main focal points is a bronze-gold standing Buddha image, which measures a colossal 15.8 metres. The Buddha image was named “Phra Sri Sakkaya Thosapol Yan Phratan Buddhamonthon Suta” by the current King, His Majesty King Bhumibhol Adulyadej.

Around the magnificent statue are four commemorative sites concerning Lord Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, the first preaching sermon and his death. There is also a Buddhist museum nearby, meditation halls, a university and a large library.

The park is highly revered and popular during religious festivals such as Visaka Bucha Day, Makabuscha Day, Ananhabucha Day and the Loy Krathong festival, when tiny candle filled vessels are set onto the river.

In addition to being a sacred site, Buddhamonthon is also a place of extreme natural beauty. Filled with pretty ornamental gardens, bamboo forests and sparkling streams and rivers spanned by stepping stones and cable bridges, this is a great place to go for a walk or meditate in the shade of one of the mighty trees.

Because this is a sacred area, the wildlife is protected and the rivers and streams are teeming with fish. A peaceful pastime is to buy a bag of food from one of the vendors who wander around the park. As soon as the food touches the water the stream comes alive, the fish writhing so closely together that it seems as though the stream were made of fish rather than water.

You can buy almost anything to feed the fish with; from pungent fish pellets to brightly coloured corn snacks. My favourite fish treat is a huge bag of popcorn, which not only smells better than some of the alternatives but also seems to be very popular with the fish.

Among the other wildlife in the park are turtles, which splash happily in the streams and small canals and you will also see a range of brightly coloured bird in amongst the trees.

It can be quite hot and humid in the park, especially in the bamboo forest. Luckily, there are public showers next to the toilets and this is a great opportunity to cool off before getting the bus back to Bangkok.

Information:

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