Category Archives: Thailand

Floating Footy at Kho Panyee

So by now you’ve probably seen the below video from Now This News doing the rounds on social media

The soccer pitch itself is located in the fishing village of Kho Panyee in Phang Nga Bay off the coast of Phuket, southern Thailand. According to our tour guide the village was founded by two Malaysian families (Wikipedia suggests that the families were Indonesian) as a refuge from which to practice their Islamic faith. Nowadays more than 1,500 people live in the village built on stilts, allegedly descendants from the original families that settled there late in the 18th century.

Unfortunately, on the day we visited the weather was inclement and the floating soccer pitch was in a state of disrepair. The locals were only interested in selling us the same cheap and tacky trinkets that were available at every other marketplace around southern Thailand, and the overall feeling within the village was one of depression and bitterness.

Thankfully we were able to visit the little primary school that was filled with colour and laughter, but if you are planning a trip to Kho Panyee I would suggest doing so on a sunny weekend.

Khao Ta Poo

AKA – James Bond Island, Khao Ta Poo was made famous by the 1974 movie ‘The Man With The Golden Gun‘ and has been a popular Thai tourist attraction ever since. Situated approximately 40m offshore from Ko Khao Phing Kan island in Phang Nga Bay, the limestone structure was once part of the island, but has eroded over millions of years to form the rock occasionally referred to by the locals as crab’s eye island or spike island. Khao Ta Poo stands approximately 20m tall and has a 4m circumference at the base. Swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving is not recommended due to the very frequent movement of tourist boats.

Patrol Boat 813

The Fate of Patrol Boat 813

Patrol Boat 813 was built in 1994 and operated under Marine Police Station 1, Division 8 Marine Police Bureau, Pak Nam Sub-District, Mueang District, Ranong Province in the Kingdom of Thailand. The primary role of Patrol Boat 813 was to protect and secure the VIPs of the country and on the morning of the 26th December 2004 Patrol Boat 813 was anchored approximately one nautical mile offshore in front of the La Flora Resort in Khao Lak whilst Thai Prince Khun Poom Jensen was jet skiing.

Several hours earlier the third largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph struck off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. The subsequent tsunami swept the Prince from existence and washed Patrol Boat 813 almost two kilometres inland killing the entire crew. Other members of the Royal Family were lucky to escape with their lives by sheltering in the upper floors of the resort.

Today the boat stands where the tsunami placed it and is kept as a sombre memorial to the estimated 227,898 people killed by the monstrous waves.

Ciao Phraya

Here is a collection of photos from Thailand that didn’t quite make the other blog posts.

Daytime

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Nighttime

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Kwai

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Wat Pho

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Death Railway

Perhaps one of the most poignant parts of our trip to Thailand was a visit to the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery and Museum on the way to the Bridge on the River Kwai.

Unknown SoldierWhen the decision was made by Japanese authorities to build the Thai / Burma railway their engineers estimated that it would take approximately 60,000 labourers around five years to complete. As the war progressed, and the Allies solidified their presence in the Pacific, increasing pressure was placed upon the construction crews to get the railway built as quickly as possible. The already inhumane treatment of PoWs and Asian workers, became utterly barbaric and the death toll increased exponentially.

Aside from the vicious beatings, mainly from the Korean guards, and being chronically malnourished, diseases such as cholera, dysentery, diarrhoea, beri beri, malaria and septic tropical ulcers plagued the workers and resulted in many fatalities. The chances of survival were greatly influenced by many factors including; the condition of the campsite and its proximity to fresh water, the attitude of the Japanese railway engineers, access to medicines and medical personnel, food and hygiene practices, and the work that the individual was tasked to perform.

“The death toll was horrendous. Nearly 39 per cent of those who worked on the railway died”. – Rod Beattie.

CemetaryIn his book ‘The Thai-Burma Railway: The True Story of the Bridge on the River Kwai’ from which much of this information is gleaned, researcher and historian Rod Beattie points out two amazing facts.

1.) The mythology surrounding the Thai-Burma railway, mostly generated by the movie “The Bridge on the River Kwai” would have you believe that it was built almost exclusively by Allied personnel. The truth is that 70% of the workforce were contracted or conscripted Asian labourers. Most of these labourers came from Malaya or Burma, but there were some from Singapore and Java as well. The death rate amongst the Asian workers was more than twice that of the PoWs.

“The Asian labourers took the brunt of the carnage, with nearly half of the approximately 180,000 Asian workers dying, mainly from disease and malnourishment.” Rod Beattie

2.) The death rate amongst the nationalities of the PoWs was remarkably similar.

  • American 19.1%
  • Australian 21.5%
  • British 22.9%
  • Dutch 15.5%

“The prisoners of war managed to contain their rate of death to about 20 per cent of the total of just under 62,000.” Rod Beattie.

By the time the railway was completed on the 25th October 1943 when the line was joined at Konkoita, the death toll was as follows:

  • American – 131
  • Aminese – 25
  • Australian – 2,802
  • British – 6,904
  • Burmese – 40,000
  • Chinese – 500
  • Dutch – 2,782
  • Javanese – 2,900
  • Malay – 42,000
  • Japanese / Koreans – 1,000

According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission there are 5,084 Commonwealth casualties buried or commemorated at the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery alongside 1,896 Dutch war graves. Many of the graves are unidentified. Three hundred men who perished during a cholera outbreak and were cremated have their ashes interred within two graves on this site, their names are commemorated on panels installed inside the entrance pavilion. All American soldiers have since been repatriated. No Asian workers are buried here.

Lest we forget.

Soldier Cemetary

Bridge on the River Kwai

The plan to build a railway linking Thailand to Burma was first considered by the British in the late nineteenth century. Surveys were conducted in 1885 and 1905 but the project was shelved due to the fact that it was not economically viable. In June 1942 the US naval fleet inflicted a decisive blow against the Japanese Imperial Navy at the Battle of Midway and deprived the Japanese of total control over the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. The Japanese needed a safe supply route to their forces in Burma and, with the vast quantity of PoWs at their disposal, the decision was made to build a railway from Ban Pong, Thailand to Thanbyuzayat in Burma, a distance of around 415kms.

Early construction crews reached their first obstacle at the River Kwai Yai at Kanchanaburi on the Thai side. A temporary wooden bridge, pictured below, had to be built across the river so as to transport supplies, equipment and workers further up the line.

Old Bridge

Barbaric treatment of the PoWs and Asian migrant workers was compounded not only by the mountainous jungle terrain, but by the tropical weather as well. Monsoons turned the entire area into vast mud pits stopping the progress of even the hardiest supply truck. To get around this problem the Japanese began retro-fitting army vehicles with an ingenious system that could easily replace rubber tyres with short gauge rail wheels that would run on the tracks already laid.

Much of the railway was torn up at the end of the war, and a large part now lies submerged within the Vajiralongkorn Dam, however there is around 130kms left that takes tourists from Ban Pong to the Sai Yok waterfalls on the border of Myanmar.

trainIf you get a chance to visit the bridge do yourelf a favour and walk along the tracks until you round the bend on the other side. The silence there will help you to digest the amount of human suffering that occurred so that the bridge and the railway could be built.

 

Thai Transport

Whether it is by boat, bus, taxi or tuk tuk, getting back to your hotel after a day tramping around the city is simple.

A word of advice though, make sure your cabs are metered and that you establish the price with the tuk tuk driver before you commence your journey. Otherwise you could be in for a horrible surprise and an empty wallet.  We got smart – one taxi driver reduced his fare (to what it should have been) on the condition that on the way we got out at a mall to ‘buy him ‘something’.  We got out of the taxi.

Tuk tuks can also be good to get around, however, nothing moves quickly in rush hour, except perhaps the scooters which are prevalent in large numbers all over south-east Asia.

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Wat Ratchaburana

Wat Ratchaburana was built by a Chinese merchant named Liab in late Ayutthaya period, and formerly known as Wat Liab. In the Thornburi period the temple was the residence of ecclesiastical dignitaries but it fell into decline. In 1793 during the reign of Rama I Chaofa Krommaluang Thepphitak (the King’s grandson) had the temple restored with the King’s support. It became the Royal Temple and was named Ratchaburana Ratchaworawiharn.

Wat Ratchaburana01The temple was seriously damaged during World War II and deleted from the official list of royal temples. The Abbot, Phra Khuna Charawat, rallied support from the local community to restore the temple in 1962 and in 2007, on the 80th birthday of His Majesty the King Bhumibol, the Metropolitan Electricity Authority restored the main pagoda.

Wat Ratchaburana02

The Grand Palace

Next to the amazing Buddhist temple complex of Wat Pho are the grounds of the Grand Palace. Originally built in 1782 by Rama I, the palace is no longer occupied by the royal family and is mostly used for official ceremonies.

Royal Reception Hall

Underneath the Royal Reception Hall (pictured above) is a military museum housing the royal family’s collection of antique weaponry and fire arms, many of which were gifts from visiting dignitaries over the years.

Emerald Buddha Photo D Ramey Logan [1]

Emerald Buddha Photo D Ramey Logan [1]

The palace is in fact a collection of different buildings, the most important of which is Wat Phra Kaew – the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The actual statue is carved out of a single piece of jade and the term ’emerald’ refers to the deep green colour of the stone and not what it is made out of. Unfortunately photos of the Emerald Buddha are forbidden – the one on the left was taken by D Ramsay Logan is hosted on Wikipedia and is used here under the Creative Commons License [1].

The Emerald Buddha was discovered by accident after a lightning storm struck the temple in which it was housed. Originally the statue was covered in plaster that replicated the image underneath and it wasn’t until the monks went to repair the damage from the storm that they discovered the original statue.

The size of the statue is approximately sixty-six centimetres tall and around forty-eight centimetres wide. It is believed to have been carved sometime in the fourteenth century. The statue has three ceremonial costumes that are changed three times per year to coincide with the winter, summer and rainy seasons. Only the King or the Crown Prince are permitted to touch the statue.

Directly outside the temple is the bell tower (pictured below) built by Rama IV.

Bell Tower

The palace grounds are laid out in a similar style to the Ayutthaya palaces with many other buildings located within the complex, such as the prayer hall Wiharn Yod (pictured below) which always seems to be closed to the public.

Wiharn Yod

In the centre of the grounds lies Prasat Phra Thep Bidorn, the Royal Pantheon. Originally built to house the Emerald Buddha, it was later decided that the elevation of the Pantheon was not high enough and, with other structures looking down upon it, would not be a suitable place for the statue. Next to the Pantheon is Phra Mondop, the library that houses the revised edition of the Buddhist Canon. It is a replica of Wat Phra Buddhabat in Saraburi province that purports to cover Buddha’s Footprint [2]

Pantheon and Mondop

Entrance to the Royal Pantheon on the left and Phra Mondop on the right. Like Wiharn Yod, the Mondop is always closed to the public.

Opposite Wiharn Yod is the model of Angkor Wat (see below), commissioned by Rama IV at the same time as the bell tower.

Model of Angkor Wat

Outside Wat Phra Kaew is Hor Phra Khanthara Rat (pictured below), a small pavilion that houses the Buddha image used in the Royal Ploughing Ceremony. Known locally as Phra Ratchaphiti Pheutcha Mongkhon it is a Buddhist ceremony held every year to bless the plants, raise morale and generate a good harvest.

Hor Phra Khanthara Rat

On the eastern side of the Wat are eight chedis (see below) that are purported to represent the Noble Eightfold path of Buddhism, which is the fourth of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths [3].Chedis in the Palace Grounds

Each entrance to the palace is guarded by towering stone Yaksha (below), benevolent nature-spirits who protect the treasures of the earth.

Guardian

All in all the Grand Palace and its surrounds are an impressive sight to see and a ‘must visit’ for any traveler in Bangkok.

The roof of Wiharn Yod

The roof of Wiharn Yod

Architecture

Phra Mondop on left with the Royal Pantheon in the background and a small pavilion to the right

[1] “Emerald Buddha Photo D Ramey Logan” by WPPilot – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/

[2] Bangkok For Visitors – Phra Mondop – http://bangkokforvisitors.com/ratanakosin/grand-palace/emerald-buddha-temple/phra-mondop.php Accessed 17 November 2015

[3] Buddhist Studies – http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/8foldpath.htm – Accessed 15th November 2015.