Monday, October 3, 2011

The Sleeping Dogs of Lumpini Park

Ahhhh, to be a dog in Lumpini Park.......what a relaxing life.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Temple of Dawn

I have come to the conclusion that one cannot have a favourite Temple in Thailand. There are just so many astounding Temples of different styles in so many different places in the country that it is simply impossible to choose a favourite. In Bangkok alone there are a magnitude of impressive temples.

One Temple I have visited numerous times is Wat Arun, also known as the Temple of Dawn, the impressive Temple on the west bank (Thonburi side) of the Chao Phraya river. From Saphan Taksin BTS station take the pleasant riverboat to Tha Thien pier. Tha Thien pier and surroundings is a great experience in its own right....but that can wait for another post...this is about Wat Arun! Once off the river boat you turn right, walk a couple of meters and you will see the turnstile entrance for the ferry across the river to Wat Arun. The crossing as at February 2011 cost 3 baht per person and the trip is 2 minutes or so, including docking time, which seems to require a bit of skill if the river is choppy.

Turn left off the ferry and you will come first to the Ordination Hall with its two giant guardians (Yaksha) standing out front. The main temple complex is off to the left of that, hard to miss really, just look up and you'll figure it out. The striking architectural feature of the complex is the massive Khmer style Prang (tower) which stands at about 76 meters high. It is surrounded by four smaller Prangs. You can climb up steep stairs to two different levels on the main Prang. It is easy going up but, if you suffer vertigo, coming down is a whole different matter.  Those steps are really, really steep. There is a handrail - make use of it. The views from up above (though you cannot go anywhere near the top) are spectacular so it is worthwhile making the trip up and suffering gut-wrenching, bowel-loosening, naked, raw, primeval fear on the way down. That gut-wrenching fear will soon be forgotten and the views and satisfaction of having 'conquered' the heights of Wat Arun will make it all worthwhile. (Otherwise just do as I do and descend sitting down on your ass one step at a time like the giggling Japanese university students do - I did the giggling bit too, but the visual effects were not so aesthetically pleasing!)

The detail on the Prangs is magnificent.  Each are covered in bits of brightly colored porcelain and seashells. These little chaps help to hold the whole structure up.  Without their tireless efforts day in, day out, the whole thing would have come crashing down by now:
Apart from the main Prang and the four satellite Prangs there are other buildings in the complex worth seeing. Monks also live on the premises and there appears to be some sort of military base or military living quarters in the vicinity as men in uniforms were much in evidence criss-crossing the area between the Wat and the river.  There are also opportunities for visiting females (or males if you are so inclined!) to dress up in traditional Thai dress, complete with elaborate headgear and those long fingernails, and pose for photographs in front of the temple, all for the reasonable price of 100 baht. (Dog in background does not cost extra but he may want a tip).

It is called Temple of Dawn, but I confess I have never been there at dawn.  I have only been there late afternoon, towards sunset, which is, so everyone says, the time to go. For sure, that is a beautiful time to go as the sun sets behind that magnificent Khmer style masterpiece of architecture, and the view from the opposite bank of the river is awesome, but I owe it to myself to one day rise early and really see the Temple of Dawn at Dawn!

Thai Connoisseur

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bare breasted brouhaha in Bangkok

Never, since Janet Jackson's infamous 'wardrobe malfunction' of 2004, when the moral midgets of 'Middle America' were convulsed by paroxysms of rage, have the sight of bare female breasts aroused the levels of brobdingnagian borborygmus that appears to have gripped the bigwigs of Bangkok.  The story started when Youtube videos were uploaded which showed three young Thai ladies embracing the more traditional, and somewhat forgotten aspects of Songkran, by dancing in much the same way as their great grandmothers would have done back in the days of Siam. In other words, bare breasted! Who can blame them? I think it is a good thing for the young people to revive forgotten traditions of one's ancestors. Anyway, they were soaking wet and it is better to get out of your wet clothes rather than risk catching a cold by leaving them on. Ok, so they were dancing provocatively on top of vehicles. Err, no....they were trying to get dry by shaking their bodies around!

The video went viral and next thing you know the Thai Ministry of Culture has gone into full panic mode. Culture Minister Nipit Intarasombat said:
the clip has negatively affected the image of Thai culture and that all parties involved with such behaviour should be punished, while asking police to give importance to this issue, for it destroys the country's reputation.
At the same time:
 Bang Rak district chief Surakiat Limcharoen filed complaint against three Thai women dancing topless during Songkran festival at Silom area together with their supporters and those releasing the trio's video clip on the internet. The complaints are to charge the three ladies, dancing topless on Friday night at the Silom-Narathiwat intersection area, with a fine of no more than Bt500 each for shameful behaviour in public, while their supporters are to be responsible by two-thirds of the trio's punishment. Those releasing the clip will face imprisonment of up to 5 years and fined up to Bt100,000 under the country's Computer Crime Act.

The twittersphere meanwhile is having great fun pouring derision on the reaction to the 'incident', the overwhelming consensus being that officials were boobs and had only succeeded in making complete tits of themselves.

In a humorous side twist it was pointed out, by!/tri26 that the Ministry of Culture had an image of three bare breasted maidens on their website. News quickly reached the aforesaid Ministry and, as reported by!/thethaireport the image was speedily removed  (on a Sunday!) and replaced.!/RichardBarrow managed to post 'before and after' pictures.!/bangkokpundit rather cruelly remarked:
Is the outrage over the topless silom coyote girls and that they damaged the country's reputation because the girls weren't that pretty?
I actually thought they were very sweet and really hope this has no adverse consequences for them.

All in all it has made amusing fodder, but with a dark undertone. Oh well, TIT. What could be more appropriate?

Thai Connoisseur

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

De Chai Hotel, Chiang Mai

One of the newest hotels in Chiang Mai is De Chai the Colonial Hotel. I stayed there for one night two weeks ago when my regular hotel and second choice hotels were unavailable. I got a reasonable deal through the Agoda website for a little over 2,200 bht for a deluxe room, breakfast included.  This is normally more than I would pay in Chiang Mai where much better deals can be had, but this was a very last minute booking and the hotel looked interesting and the location ideal. Room rates on the hotel website range from 2100 to 5200 baht.

First of all: Location. The hotel is on a very quiet soi located off the busy Thapae Road. Turn left out of the hotel and you will be on Thapae Road within 1 minute. Turn right, wander down the meandering soi and you should find yourself on the popular Loi Khroi road in about 3 or 4 minutes.  Once on either of those two roads you can be within the walls of the old city within 5 minutes, or walking in the other direction, be at the famous night bazaar within 6/7 minutes.

Rooms: My room was very well appointed. It had two beds, both four posters, with white muslin sheets (not mosquito nets) draped over the top. Lanna style touches accentuated the otherwise minimalist style. Although the hotel is very quiet the air conditioning is most definitely not. It is noisy, probably the noisiest I have encountered. Reviews of the major review sites will reveal similar complaints. One might think that noisy air conditioning would equal strong, effective air conditioning. Not so for me, I woke up in the night feeling oppressively hot and never felt the room achieved an entirely comfortable temperature, despite this being the second day of February and Chiang Mai experiencing refreshing outside temperatures.

Breakfast: Nothing to get excited about. The buffet had those awful, bland, boiled sausages sitting in hot water. Quite why much of the world considers this to be acceptable food is beyond me. However I was offered freshly cooked eggs and French toast and this satisfied me.

General ambiance: The reception features a large water feature which makes it appear very cool and refreshing (unlike my room). The staff are very accommodating, if slightly reserved and formal. The hotel had a slightly deserted feel as I saw almost no other guests. Not always a bad thing!

Their brochure is a little over the top, and like many tourist oriented brochures in Thailand, would have benefited enormously from the ministrations of a native English speaking proof reader:

“At the sight that catches your eye are colorful flower garden and a long wonderful lotus pond, like you walk in artistic paradise. Not same the other, de chai offers a sense of its own identity with 40 stylish Lanna Colonial type room: type A-G, every unit customize compositions by matching pieces of furniture and sanitary fixtures that are coordinated and made of precious materials and finishes, unequivocally characterizes de chai’s style. The attention paid to the esthetical aspect of materials, together with the use of smooth shapes, conveys a sensation of balance and helps in transforming the bathroom into a room with a great atmosphere.”

While I did very much like the lotus pond feature I would not go so far as to say I was walking in artistic paradise! Mind you, I stayed off the booze that particular night. In hindsight that may have been a mistake and a few beers may have helped me to experience the artistic paradise sensation. However, in turn, that may have effected the sensation of balance I got from the use of smooth shapes and I may well have got dizzy and collapsed on the bathroom floor, although at least I would be collapsed into a room with great atmosphere. Their brochure goes on to enthuse:

“de chai is produced on the creative space to allow for more natural light to come through, and also generates noise from uncontrollable factors on chaotic Thapae Roads with 25 mm. special window glass. Spacing for air circulation has been created between the walls to help reduce heat build up.”

I guess the guys doing my room forgot the spacing bit!

“If this isn’t a dream such a hotel would merge into the background of similar structures, all of them clean and neat and architecturally as perfect as this one. Where it’s however, de chai, stand out!”


It is certainly a nice hotel, meticulously clean and well furnished with a good location. Would I stay there again? Probably not because I know I can get better deals. It would probably appeal to romantic couples who want to be close to town and not stuck in one of the many ‘romantic resorts’ out of town, providing they don’t mind getting a bit hot and sticky in their romantic trysts and providing the noisy air con problem is sorted out, because that could be a bit of a romance killer. It may also appeal to the business traveller who wants to be in town, but wishes to avoid the impersonality and mass coach crowds of the popular high rise hotels in town.  

Conclusion: sort out the air con and this will be a nice hotel for the non-backpacker visitors to Chiang Mai.

Address: 6/3 Thapae Road, Soi 4, Changklan, Night Bazaar, Chiang Mai, Thailand 50300

Monday, February 14, 2011

Turning the Tables......

In the Thailand blogosphere many discussions focus on disproportionate pricing for farangs, whether it be higher prices at tourist destinations or inflated prices at markets/shops based on the colour of one’s skin or perceived ability to pay prices far above the Thai norm.

Let me start off by saying that, in principle, I have no objection to business owners seeking to maximize revenue returns. Savvy business operators across the globe do this on a regular basis, this is certainly not a trait confined to Thais. However, where does the line cross between good business practice versus blatant contempt for customers?

In Chinatown last week I popped into an open store which sold a variety of relatively inexpensive goods. My eye was caught by Thai style purses, in various colours, with elephant motifs on the front and back of each, packaged in sets of 12. These are the sort of purses you can find at any market throughout Thailand and border town markets in neighbouring countries. You know they are cheap and will not last long but they make good, inexpensive, give-away presents. A bonus point was that the price was clearly indicated on the packaging, 180 bht for 12, making each purse a very reasonable 15 baht.  As I was examining the set, the Thai owner of the shop approached me and said ‘Very good price, for set of 12 only 1000 baht!’ I looked again at the price sticker, which clearly said 180 baht, then I looked at the shop owner, looked back again at the price sticker, returned my gaze to shop owner and asked her to repeat the price: ‘One thousand baht’ she said. ‘One thousand baht’ I repeated. She nodded her head enthusiastically, the head nodding somehow indicating this was the deal of a lifetime. My gaze returned once more to the sticker price of 180 baht. Had I somehow misread this? Was there a missing ‘1’? In that case would the price not be 1,180 baht? I picked up a similar 12 pack, comprised of smaller purses, which had a price sticker of 150 baht. How much for these I asked? ‘1,150’. Oh, very crafty..... she had now added 1000 to the sticker price instead of just rounding up the sticker price to 1000. This made the smaller purses more expensive than the larger purses. Do I look stupid? Had I got drunk the night before and had a ‘I am a stupid, dumb farang’ tattoo etched onto my forehead? I smiled and politely thanked the lady....

Fortunately I was not alone in Chinatown that day. My dear friend, the irrepressibly happy Miss Pla, (who I am pleased to say neither looks nor smells like a fish) was eagerly inspecting counterfeit bags in a shop a few doors down. I explained the situation to her and pointed out the  offending shop. She, being a savvy shopper herself, laughed in outrage at the 1000 bht price tag I was quoted and happily trotted off to conduct counter espionage tactics on my behalf. She came back out of the shop a minute later and told me she had been quoted the Thai price of 180 baht. Ok, close the deal, I said (in my best Gordon Gekko accent), buy for 180 baht. Back into the  shop she went while I hovered outside, just out of sight of the shop owner. As soon as she handed over the money and had the purchase in her hand I walked up to the counter, took the bag from Pla’s hand, inspected the merchandise and said ‘Wow, you got a good deal for 180 baht’. The shop owner looked at me, then looked at Pla and said, in English, ‘You buy for him?’ ‘Yes’ said Pla, unable to avoid a cheeky grin creeping across her face. All credit to the shopkeeper, she maintained a stoically dignified expression and graciously thanked me and Pla. Presumably she was not out of pocket otherwise she would not be able to sell at that price, she just lost out on the extremely lucrative (500+%) “farang tax”. Pla thought the whole thing to be incredibly funny and could not believe I was quoted 1000 baht. She doubled up in laughter once outside the shop and for the next few hours constantly chuckled to herself repeating the phrase ‘1000 baht’ while shaking her head in disbelief.

This is all part of what makes travelling in Thailand so much fun.  Keep your wits about you, keep smiling, stay polite, never get offended, it’s just business, not personal. Mai pen rai.

The controversially priced purses!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Holidays in Thailand 2011

Thai Festival blogs has published a very useful guide to Thai holidays next year. There seems to be something going on every month.

Check it out here:

Thai Connoisseur

PS. Link now fixed!!