Category Archives: Thailand

Bangkok for the repeat visitor

A second (or third) visit offers a perfect opportunity to get to know the city better

These days, everyone extols the virtues of ‘offbeat’ travel but the truth is, when you’re in a famous city like London, Paris or Bangkok, it’s hard to look beyond the obvious without first looking at the obvious. And that’s why, it’s the repeat visitor who is privy to those quirkier, shadowed portions of a city that seldom make it to travel guides.

Art in Paradise Museum

Art in Paradise Museum, Bangkok
Posing at the Art in Paradise Museum

This is a one-of-a-kind interactive museum at Din Daeng that many tourists have never heard of. Reserve an entire afternoon for traipsing through the wonderfully realistic 3D paintings in this vast, multi-storeyed set-up. Illustrations show you how to pose so that you look like a part of the scene being depicted and instructions will guide your friend on where to take the best picture from. This place is not designed for solo visitors because how else will you take home photographs of windsurfing (with your hair perfectly in place) and drifting down a Venetian canal in a stately gondola? Time your visit well to avoid long waits for photographs at every painting. And look out for a Thai-speaking Mona Lisa who bids you goodbye at the end of your amusing visit.

Monuments of Bangkok

The Democracy Monument, Bangkok
The Democracy Monument, Bangkok

Bangkok’s beautifully constructed temples are tourist magnets but the city is also home to two historical monuments in interesting neighbourhoods, which merit a visit. Head to Democracy Monument at Ratchadamnoen Klang Road, built by Phibun on the lines of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, to commemorate the Siamese Revolution of 1932 and finish with a traditional Thai lunch at Methavalai Sorndaeng, a quaint fine dining restaurant located bang opposite the monument.

Authentic Thai food at Methavalai Sorndaeng, Bangkok
Authentic Thai food at Methavalai Sorndaeng, Bangkok

In the evening, make your way to Victory Monument at Ratchathewi District, built in June 1941 to celebrate the Thai victory in the Franco-Thai War. After you finish inspecting the tall pillar and the military statues at its base, head to the Victory Monument Night Market for some retail therapy and a dinner of street-side boat noodles.

Anantha Samakom Throne Hall

Ananta Smakom Throne Hall, Bangkok
Ananta Smakom Throne Hall

The former reception hall inside Dusit Palace is probably the grandest and most awe-inspiring royal museum in Bangkok. What makes Anantha Samakom Throne Hall truly unique is its Renaissance-style and neoclassical architecture, clearly reminiscent of European castles. The credit for this goes to its Italian architects Mario Tamagno, Annibale Rigotti and Ercole Manfredi. Women are not allowed to enter the museum in trousers but you can also get a free wraparound skirt that the attendants are happy to fasten for you. The best part is, you get to keep whichever skirt you choose to wear. Photography inside the museum is prohibited so you will have to commit to memory the stunning Fresco drawings and mural paintings that portray everything from kingly duties to chapters of Siamese history.

Walk around the city

Locals relaxing at Lumpini Park, Bangkok

Ditch your itinerary and take a walk around Lumpini Park to see how the locals relax. Sample some fried banana and grilled seafood at stalls manned by the ubiquitous ‘lady boys’. Discover little known temples and shrines on forgotten sidewalks; sometimes they have better stories to tell than the larger Wats (temples).

A lady boy sells corn cobs, fried bananas and grilled meats outside Lumpini Park, Bangkok
A lady boy sells corn cobs, fried bananas and grilled meats outside Lumpini Park, Bangkok

Inspired by London’s Hyde Park, Lumpini Park serves as Bangkok’s green lung and often hosts eclectic fairs and festivals. In January this year, the park hosted the week-long Thailand Tourism Festival where visitors could shop, eat and view enthralling performances from different parts of Thailand. Do look out for drones buzzing around and capturing footage of who-knows-what.

Satisfy your ‘instant’ hunger pangs

One thing you must do in Bangkok, especially if hungry between meals, is pay a visit to a 7-Eleven store. There, you can witness and participate in the unique process of buying, making (at a hot water dispenser) and consuming a cup of instant noodles all under the same roof. What’s more, if you’re in the shop before 2pm or after 5pm, you can also purchase a can of beer and swig it with your Ramen. Be warned though, the flavours are nowhere as spicy or strong as the versions you get in India. And you might be hard put to find a 100% vegetarian instant noodle.

Do it like the locals

Lanterns at Siam Niramit, Bangkok
Lanterns at Siam Niramit, Bangkok

The denizens of Thailand’s capital city are known for their penchant for ‘casual chic’. So if you visit the famed Siam Niramit show and want to blend in with the locals, don’t dress up. Turning up in shorts and a T-shirt is more than fine; it’s ideal. And it’s not really going to take away from the experience of watching mesmerising stories of ancient Siam unfold on what is purportedly the world’s highest stage.

MBK Market, Bangkok
MBK Market, Bangkok

Also, don’t miss MBK Market for a satisfying shopping spree. There are others more famous but trust me, this one is the real deal. It has the widest variety of clothes, bags, shoes, make-up, accessories, medicines, toiletries, perfumes and a lot of other things at great prices. At times you can bargain but sometimes, the prices are fixed.

Clichés worth repeating

View of Chinese temples during a cruise of the Chao Phraya River, Bangkok
View of Chinese temples during a cruise of the Chao Phraya River, Bangkok

Yes, (nearly) everyone does the dinner cruise along the Chao Phraya River on their first visit to Bangkok but it still deserves an encore for two reasons. One, it’s the best night view of the temple-studded city you’ll ever have and two, every ship offers a distinctly different experience. Go for the one operated by ‘Wonderful Pearl Cruise’ and you’ll have the privilege of sharing floor space with an Elvis Presley lookalike who also does a mean rendition of ‘can’t help falling in love’. Also, the buffet dishes on this ship stand several notches higher than some of the others; notable among which are the sushi platters and baked fish in pandan leaves.

Fact file

View of Bangkok city

How to reach: Most major airlines fly to Bangkok. Indians can get visa on arrival.

Where to stay: The recently opened Aetas Lumpini is an excellent choice close to Lumpini Park. The Sukhumvit Soi area has some great boutique resorts.

Where to eat: Nahm Restaurant at The Metropolitan for some swanky fare and the food markets for humbler eats.

Tracing Thai war history in Kanchanaburi

In the bright light of day and the charming backdrop of a temple-side river, it’s almost inconceivable that there might have existed a time when that very landscape was bathed in the sacrifice of war-time martyrs. Peaceful as the verdant town of Kanchanaburi is, its World War II relics are a grave reminder of the fact that even the most peaceful parties are forced to take sides in an event of world-changing proportions.

Floating rooms at River Kwai Village Resort, Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Floating rooms at River Kwai Village Resort, where I had a peaceful stay

On my second day in Bangkok, we decide to do a two-hour long road trip to Kanchanaburi, literally ‘golden city’. By train, the journey could take up to six hours, our guide cautions. But you would have the privilege of riding along the Death Railway, which owes its macabre name to the thousands of labourers and Prisoners of War (POW) who perished during its construction. Today, the train from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi is free for locals, which means you’ll be in interesting company during the long ride. Also called the Thai-Burma Railway, it passes through the Sai Yok Waterfall, Tham Krasae Cave Temple and the River Kwae Bridge, which is Kanchanaburi’s biggest claim to fame.

Train carriage at Sai Yok, Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Carriage from the original Death Railway train at Sai Yok

Immortalised in Pierre Boulle’s book ‘The Bridge over the River Kwai’ and the film that came after, ‘kwai’ is actually a mispronunciation. While ‘kwae’ means tributary or branch, ‘kwai’ translates to ‘water buffalo’ in Thai!

River Kwae Bridge, Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Bridge over the River Kwae

JEATH War Museum

JEATH War Museum, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

One can perform a ‘war trail’ of sorts through Kanchanaburi, beginning with the JEATH War Museum, nestled in a cool green enclave with a serene waterfront that are in stark contrast to the grim stories within the museum’s corridors. To put things in perspective, Thailand maintained a position of neutrality until it was invaded by Japan in December 1941. Thereafter, the unfortunate chapters in its history unfolded.

Using black and white photographs, newspaper articles, videos and preserved relics spread across three bamboo huts, the JEATH War Museum paints a dark picture of the atrocities the Allied POW suffered while constructing the Death Railway. JEATH is an acronym that stands for the nationalities that participated in the construction work – Japan, England, America, Australia, Thailand and Holland. What makes this museum more interesting than the larger Thailand-Burma Railway Museum despite its relative state of disrepair is its untouched nature. Looking at the frayed photographs and nearly illegible writings in this museum that was established in 1977, one almost feels like one has travelled back in time. Depicting everything from the sordid living conditions to the skin diseases that the soldiers had to work with, the images can be both disturbing and enlightening.

“They say that every sleeper on the Death Railway train is equal to one lost life,” our guide tells us. And despite the sorry tales of rice without salt for their daily meals and sleeping spaces that were merely 2.5 feet in width, marriages and love affairs between the Allied forces and the Thai locals abounded.

The serene waterfront at JEATH War Museum
The serene waterfront at JEATH War Museum

A map at the entrance to the museum reveals how the two streams of River Kwae (Kwae Noi, the small stream and Kwae Yai, the big stream) join to give shape to the Maeklong River. As you exit this repository of Thai war history, don’t miss the replica of the Three Pagodas that divide Thailand and Myanmar (Burma).

Don Rak War Cemetery

Don Rak War Cemetery, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

There is something immensely personal about gazing upon someone’s headstone and learning the words that defined their lives. Rows and rows of neatly arranged headstones give Don Rak a peaceful symmetry. With 6982 burials, it is the larger of the two war cemeteries in Kanchanaburi. The smaller Chong Kai War Cemetery contains 1740 burials but these are just a fraction of the 61000 soldiers who died during the war. The headstones are interspersed with trees, flowers and the occasional flag, corresponding to the nationality of the soldier buried there. Established in January 1956, the cemetery is divided into sections based on nationality. The Australian and Dutch soldiers are on one side while the British soldiers are to the other. Only the Americans chose to take their deceased home.

According to our guide, the locals will try to spot shapes resembling numbers in the ‘holy trees’ at the cemetery and use them to buy lottery tickets.

En route to Don Rak Cemetery, you will pass by an older Chinese family cemetery, adjoined by a beautiful Mahayana temple that will tempt you to make a pit-stop.

A Mahayana temple next to Don Rak War Cemetery
A Mahayana temple next to Don Rak War Cemetery

Death Railway

Death Railway, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Beginning at Thonburi station in Bangkok and ending at Nam Tok station in Kanchanaburi, the train along the Death Railway is a must-do while in Kanchanaburi. It doesn’t matter where you alight; the fare is always 100 Baht only and even though seats are all 3rd class, the train is clean and makes for an enjoyable joyride through the countryside.

On my second day in Kanchanaburi, I visit Sai Yok Waterfall, which is just a trickle of water in January but offers an interesting trail along the railway line. There, we are so mesmerised by the carriage from the original Death Railway train that we end up being late for the elephant ride at Muang Singh Elephant Village and we miss our train from Thakilen station! What follows is a mad dash in our coach for the next station.

Elephant riding at Muang Singh Elephant Village
Elephant riding at Muang Singh Elephant Village

As we speed along the roadway, we can see the train snaking along besides us but the driver continues to put the accelerator to good use and we soon leave the train behind, making it to the next station with enough time to spare.

The scramble proves to be a worthwhile exercise when we find window-side seats on the train and watch the countryside and the river go by unhurriedly. It is quite thrilling to realise that we have been walking on these very tracks all this while. All the passengers rush to the right side of the coach to catch a glimpse of Tham Krasae Cave and the Buddha Temple within. On another day, we inspect its stalactites and stalagmites at leisure, also paying homage to the majestic Buddha presiding over the cool interiors of the cavern.

View from the Death Railway train, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

You can also take the train to Thakilen, the station for Muang Singh Historical Park, which once served as the western border of the Khmer in Thailand. The park complex is actually a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and also offers a good view of the Kwae Noi river. Most passengers board the train at the legendary River Kwae Bridge, where you can walk along the tracks with the river on either side and picturesque temples, restaurants and cottages along the way.

Tham Krasae Cave Temple
Tham Krasae Cave Temple

Fact file

How to reach: Drive down from Bangkok (2-2.5 hours) or take a train (5-6 hours).

Where to stay: River Kwai Village Resort, which offers beautiful floating rooms with a veranda that looks on to the river, mineral springs and spa and a host of adventure sports and activities.

What to eat: Keeree Tara, a riverside restaurant with exceptional Pad Thai, dry green chicken curry and prawns topped with tamarind sauce.

Keeree Tara restaurant
Keeree Tara restaurant

What to do: Apart from the war trail and elephant village, you can also go bamboo rafting, check out the organic farms at Tha Makham Agricultural Centre and explore the floating markets of Kanchanaburi.

Tha Makham Agriculture Centre
Tha Makham Agriculture Centre

Discover more such unexplored gems around the world:

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Thailand Tourism Festival 2016: Glimpses

Bangkok’s Lumpini Park came alive between 13th to 17th January, as the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) wowed everyone with a stunning cultural parade and stalls showcasing various facets of Thailand at the Thailand Tourism Festival 2016 (TTF).

The Thailand tourism mascot - cute, isn't he?
The Thailand tourism mascot – cute, isn’t he?

The festival was divided into four zones spread across Lumpini Park’s serene 142 acres of open space, lawns and a lake that was awash with fiery colours at dusk. Zone 1 was reserved for stalls showcasing TAT’s primary activities and Zone 2 was devoted to the five major regions of the Kingdom of Thailand. At Zone 3, visitors could participate in various activities from the 50 districts of Bangkok.

Cultural parade
Cultural parade

But Zone 4 was where the main action took place. And I was there for the brilliant opening ceremony, graced by Thailand’s deputy Prime Minister and the elegant Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, Minister of Tourism and Sports.

The main stage at Zone 4
The main stage at Zone 4
Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, Minister of Tourism and Sports
Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, Minister of Tourism and Sports

As we made our way to the main stage, we passed by colourful set-ups and beautiful Thai men and women in traditional attire, dancing and proceeding along the walkway in a stately manner.

Cultural parade at Lumpini Park
Oriental wings!
Cultural parade at Lumpini Park
I’m not sure which is more colourful – the bird or the people!

By the time the opening ceremony began, the sun had set and Lumpini Park was adorned in glittering night lights.

Bangkok at dusk
Lumpini Park at dusk
Dance at Thailand Tourism Festival 2016
The setting sun casts its glow on these lovely women

Drones are a common fixture on the streets of Bangkok and we spotted one at the tourism festival as well. Before the opening ceremony, we chatted with Ms Wattanavrangkul briefly and she told us that last year, Thailand had received 1 million tourists from India. “In 2016, we are hoping for 5-10% growth; perhaps more as we’re promoting a lot of new locations and activities.” TAT is now focusing on offering a combined offering of Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Posing at Thailand Tourism Festival 2016
Posing with these lovely people! Please excuse my contrastingly tired face – I arrived here straight after an overnight flight.
A make-shift cottage at Thailand Tourism Festival 2016
A make-shift cottage

Finally, it was time for the opening ceremony and a gala extravaganza of song and dance awaited the packed lawn. We were served little snack boxes containing sticky rice and meat and welcome glasses of cool lemongrass water while we watched.

Dance at Thailand Tourism Festival 2016
We were as happy as the dancers!
The costumes were as attractive as the steps they performed
The costumes were as attractive as the steps they performed

A shower of confetti rained upon the dignitaries and the audience as the ceremony came to an end and the ministers posed for a photograph.

The mood was electrifying and joyful!
The mood was electrifying and joyful!
Dignitaries at Thailand Tourism Festival 2016
The shutter bugs go crazy

But the magical evening hadn’t ended yet. After the ceremony, we took a tour of the different zones and encountered curious sights and sounds.

A contraption at Thailand Tourism Festival 2016
Don’t ask me what this does.
Food stall at Thailand Tourism Festival 2016
Because we need to eat!

If you haven’t been to Bangkok yet, plan a trip already! Apart from tranquil Lumpini Park, several delights such as the Art in Paradise 3D Museum, the ethereal dinner cruise along River Chao Phraya and the mesmerising Siam Niramit show await you.

Don’t miss out on other exciting photo features!

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.