Top News Stories from the Region
The Nation : Mon, 02 Dec 2013 04:33:00 GMT
The Immigration Bureau announced on its web site that foreigners who seek immigration police's services at the Government Complex should instead seek the services at Imperial World Ladprao branch.
Bangkok Post. : Mon, 02 Dec 2013 15:57:00 +0700
The Nation : Sun, 01 Dec 2013 12:53:00 GMT
People are advised not to stay outside from 10pm to 5am, Center for the Administration of Peace and Order (CAPO) said Sunday.
The Nation : Mon, 02 Dec 2013 18:00:00 GMT
The 27th Phuket King's Cup Regatta on Monday launched in beautiful sunshine and in consistent winds as the classic race in the Andaman Sea kicked off with one of its largest ever fleet of keelboats; 105 entries competing over a newly expanded range of 15 individual classes.
The Nation : Mon, 02 Dec 2013 08:31:00 GMT
The red-Shirt Rak Chiang Mai 51 group Monday threatened to seize the Thai PBS relay station in Chiang Mai if Thai PBS does not stop airing statements of the People's Democratic Reform Committee.
TOT : Tue, 03 Dec 2013
Bangkok Post. : Mon, 02 Dec 2013 17:53:00 +0700
Bangkok Post. : Tue, 03 Dec 2013 00:00:00 +0700
Bangkok Post : Mon, 02 Dec 2013 19:38:00 +0700
Bangkok Post : Mon, 02 Dec 2013 20:17:00 +0700
The Nation : Tue, 12 Nov 2013 18:00:00 GMT
Thailand International Balloon Festival returns to Chiang Mai on December 7 and 8, promising a sky full of colour sky over Gymkhana Golf Club as well as live concerts.
The Nation : Tue, 26 Nov 2013 18:00:00 GMT
The isles surrounding Sihanoukville are ideal bookends to the temples of Siem Reap
The Nation : Wed, 27 Nov 2013 18:00:00 GMT
MORE THAN 10,000 PEOPLE showed up at a public forum on the government's Bt350-billion water-management scheme yesterday to express their opposition, bringing the meeting to a quick end.
The Nation : Thu, 28 Nov 2013 18:00:00 GMT
As per the latest weather forecast from the Meteorological Department, temperatures should go down by 5 to 7 degrees Celsius and conditions will likely be windy in the North, Northeast, Central region and East until Tuesday.
The Nation : Sat, 30 Nov 2013 11:02:00 GMT
ICT Minister Anudith Nakornthap claimed that anti-government protesters cut the power to the CAT Telecom building hence also affected its internet server in Bangkok's Bang Rak at around 2pm on Saturday.
The Nation : Mon, 02 Dec 2013 18:00:00 GMT
AT LEAST three people were shot with "live" bullets during clashes yesterday between anti-government demonstrators and police in Bangkok, according to the Public Health Ministry.
BTS Skytrain extension to Soi Bearing
Posted August 29 2011
The BTS extension from Onnuj to Soi Bearing has opened at last, and very useful it is if you need to get to
Udom Suk, Bang Na or Soi Bearing (and on to Pak Nam). This part of the BTS line is free currently, but
will eventually cost 15 Baht for the extra stations.
Unfortunately for people travelling into town from Onnuj, there is often standing room only now as trains arrive from Soi Bearing pretty full. I suppose
it shows just how much demand there was for this service
Bangkok Smile Bike No More
Posted: 20 September 2011
Alas No More
Sadly, the Bangkok Smile Bike scheme seems to have ended. On a recent visit to Banglamphu, I saw that the bike
stand and kiosk by the Phra Pinklao bridge were empty.
The stand near City Hall was also empty. Hopefully the bikes will return next holiday season - will keep you posted. I did
however notice a bike parked on Onnuj Road that, though sprayed a different color, looked remarkably like one of the missing
bikes, but I could be wrong.
Bangkok Smile Bike
posted: 16 June 2011
Cycles for free
Under the Phra Pinkhlao bridge, where the old city moat rejoins the river, is a stand of bicycles for (free) hire, distinctively sprayed green and white, with "Bangkok Smile Bike" and vehicle number printed on the rear mudguard.
To hire one of the bikes you need your passport so that it can be photocopied and that is all. There is no hire charge.
The aforesaid bikes are part of the Rattanokosin by bike project. In many parts of old central Bangkok (Rattanakosin Island) bike paths are clearly marked in the center of the footpath, and sometimes on the road itself.
Pedal Cycles Only!
I have to say that I have not seen many bikes using these tracks, though the odd motorcycle seems to find them handy, ignoring the fact that the bikes pictured on the path clearly do not have engines! Also, last time I was on Phra Athit Road (near Khao San Road), the cycle track, on the road this time, was blocked by parked cars.
no bikes (or motorbikes) on the cycle path but lots of vendors!
The bikes come equipped with maps of central Bangkok with cycle paths clearly marked. The route passes many of the famous landmarks in Bangkok:
(official start of the route), Loha Prasad, Mahagan Fort, The Ministry of Defence, Wat Pho, The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo, Sanam Luang, Phra Sumen Fort and Wat Bovorniwet
There are five cycle stations:
1 Near Wat Phra Kaeo
2 Under Pinkhlao Bridge
3 Near Phra Sumen Fort
4 Near Bangkok City Hall
5 Opposite Wat Ratchbophit
Bikes picked up from one station can be left at any other (before 6 p.m.).
Posted: 30 October 2010
Ewan MacDougall is a student in his last year at university. He recounts his first train journey in Thailand, the problems of the language, and the difficulties of a foreigner travelling alone in what is still a very "foreign" country. Photos from Thailand by Train archives.
Once I'd got my ticket I went to join the other passengers waiting on the platform.
It had not been an easy journey to the train station. This was 2006 and I had only recently started my year as a volunteer English teacher. It was one of my first trips away from Mae Chan, a small village in the far North of Thailand where I was working. I was on my way to the central region of Thailand, another small village, Tharua just outside Ayutthaya an ancient Thai capital.
I'd got as far as the train station by over night bus; the bus had arrived extremely early, 5AM, and left me not in the city, but on the side of a highway somewhere on the outskirts of Ayutthaya. At 5Am there was a surprisingly large amount of traffic, but no sign of any travel links. I'd never really travelled alone before this, my Thai at that point was near non existent (it's not much better now): this was certainly a challenge.
I walked a little way then got lucky: a motorcycle taxi dropped someone off a little way ahead of me, and with a little bit of a run, I managed to catch the driver before he left and negotiate a journey to the train station.
Ayutthaya Station, early morning
The train lines don't run to the far north off Thailand where I was living, so this was my first Thai train station experience. On the platform, everyone was sprawled out and half asleep wherever they could find an empty spot. Despite its crowdedness the platform was eerily quiet and sleepy. The majority of people wore yellow polo shirts in respect for the king, the common uniform for most professionals; it seemed odd to see this bright and vibrant yellow not connoting smiley energetic people but instead being the garb of unenthusiastic workers lost in the dim and hazy twilight of what must have been just after 6AM.
Trying to explain where I wanted to buy a ticket to had created quite a scene, I'd imagine my pronunciation "Thaurua" the name of the village I wanted to visit can't have been great, and they didn't seem to believe that any Farang would want to go there. I got the ticket eventually though with time to spare before my train pulled in. A friendly woman, who spoke English, had overheard the confusion with my destination and tapped me on the shoulder to make sure I got on.
The platform had been crowded but the train itself wasn't too hectic and I didn't have trouble finding a window seat opposite an elderly man who, even in the Thai heat, was wearing a full suit - the uniform of the west. It was slightly too big for him and completed with large gold cuff links. His thinning hair had been slicked over his bald patch; he didn't quite seem to fit naturally in the scene. I tried to imagine who he might be: his face was distinguished with lines and wrinkles that gave the impression he'd lived a life time farming the paddy fields that the train was now trundling past.
Paddy Fields in Central Thailand
That morning, however he was on a train, his eyes darting around - I couldn't help but wonder if this train journey was just as new and exciting to him as it was to me. We travelled though the farms and country side of central Thailand, The sun was rising as we passed, the paddy fields had all flooded far worse than usual that year and the reds and golds all reflected back at me in the water. It was beautiful. I don't think any train journey could ever again stay In my memory the way this one will.
I arrived in Tharua far earlier than expected, feeling pleased with my self for getting this far. I decided to see if I could find my way to the school I was visiting, unaided, and surprise both the friends I was visiting, and maybe my self.
Visit his blogsite at:
New Bangkok Airport Link
Posted June 22 2010
Old and New
Yesterday I rode on the new Bangkok Airport Link for the first time, from central Bangkok to Lad Krabang station, a few minutes from the airport. The new elevated railway runs parallel with the old Eastern Railway Line from Phyathai, Central Bangkok, to Lad Krabang and then swings south into the heart of the airport. The journey took only 15 minutes.
I had travelled into town earlier in the day when the new service was not running, on an old eastern line train without air-conditioning for the princely sum of 6 Baht (about 12p or 18 cents). I have to say that old trains are quite acceptable when they are not crowded - a bit smelly with diesel fumes and a bit noisy, but the open windows allow a good view of the city and the shanty towns which have grown up within a few feet of the track, sometimes only a few minutes away from very expensive parts of Bangkok.
Seating on the new trains is a bit spartan: plastic bench seats each side of the central aisle, but comfortable enough, especially as the journey time is so short. My impression was that the carriages are well sound-proofed: it certainly seems quieter than the BTS Skytrain. Air conditioning is efficient and the view from the windows excellent, both of central Bangkok and the semi-rural area around Lat Krabang.
Services are limited at the moment: only the city line is running and not to all stations. Service times are 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. in the morning, 4 pm. to 7 p.m. in the afternoon. Trains arrive every 20 minutes and currently there is no charge.
The line starts at Phyathai, a few minutes walk from the BTS Skytrain station and stops at Ramkhamhaeng, Hua Mak and Lat Krabang stations before it reaches the airport. Other stops will be introduced as local facilities are completed.
Full service will start some time in August (maybe the 23rd). Prices will be apparently discounted from the originally announced prices of 15 to 45 Baht for the city line, and 150 Baht for the express service.
Isan Rocket Festival (Hae Bang Fai) 1st to 2nd May 2010
Posted May 08 2010
At the beginning of May I stayed with some friends in the small Isan town of Phang Khon not far from Sakhon Nakhon and the Laos border at the time of the local Rocket Festival.
When I first heard the words Bang Fai
- it sounded remarkably like 'Bun Fight' - it turned out to be that and more. I had worked out with a Thai friend that Bang Fai
meant something like 'fireworks', so I was expecting a firework display. It turned out that the Bang Fai were enormous home-made rockets made of bamboo or plastic tubing, packed with gunpowder, and up to three meters in length - more like miniature ballistic missiles.
A friend from Udon Thani tells me that, for their festival, the revellers need permission from the local Air Traffic Control before they can launch.
Bang Fai is a Lao rain-making celebrated most famously in Yasothon but also in many towns and villages throughout the Isan Region and the Lao PDR. Some villages prefer the Hae Nang Maew
festival, in which a yowling cat is paraded around the village in a basket, the villagers hoping presumably that the gods will take pity on the poor creature and send them rain - at which point I presume they would release the cat.
Many businesses close down for the days of the festival including the lady who did our laundry - compelling us to stay an extra, not unpleasureable, day.
On the first morning of the festival a merit making took place in each of the villages surrounding Phang Khon. At each village center money trees were assembled under the supervision of the village headman (Phuyai Bahn): 20 and 100 Baht bills were inserted into bamboo spills, and the spills pushed into the soft pith of coconouts which had the hard shell removed from one end.
In the afternoon there was a grand parade through the town. The Lord and Lady of the festival came first, perched somewhat precariously on a life-size model elephant, standing (also somewhat precariously) on the back of a three-wheeled cart.
Lord and Lady (and escort)
Large pickup-mounted floats followed, often in the shape of Thai longboats, but with huge (hopefully) imitation rockets, often crowned with a dragon head, stretching from the front to well beyond the tail of the vehicle.
Local schools and colleges provided costume parades; vans crammed with amplifiers and huge speakers blared popular Luk Tung and Mor Lam songs for dancers in traditional Isan kilts. Boys dressed as girls and middle aged ladies dressed as tarts provided comedy. Towards the end of the afternoon most of the boys, and some of the girls, appeared to be drunk. The noise was deafening.
Dancers in traditional Isan Kilts
The older ladies of the district clad in traditional silk top and sarong marched more decorously, bearing the earlier prepared money trees as an offering to the local temple.
Rockets in the Laos PDR
In Laos, Rockets range from less than 12 kg of gunpowder to a maximum 120kg (about 264 lbs);
Competition rockets contain about 12kg or around 26.5 lbs.
Source: Illinois University SEAsite Laos
The second day was the business end of the festival: in the morning a wooden launching platform, about 12 feet high was set up in the middle of a field, oriented away from the town, and a tented village of market stalls arose on the townward side.
There is much competion among local households as to who can make the most impressive Bang Fai - i.e. the biggest, and whose rocket can fly highest and furthest. During the afternoon lots of these home-made missiles were launched into the sky amid huge clouds of smoke, apparently to attract the attention of the gods, and request rain for the rice planting season.
I hope there were no accidents this year: I am told that two or three years ago a rocket turned back on itself and exploded in the tented village, killing one spectator and injuring several others.
Later that afternoon, we had just returned to a hamlet about 2km away from the field and about 90 degrees off the flight path, when a rocket roared a few feet over the rooftops with a noise like a jet engine. Where it came down I have no idea; truly, Isan festivals are not for the faint hearted.
The Rains Arrive
I have to admit, though, that the day after the festival we drove back to Bangkok through heavy rainfall - maybe the gods did listen, or maybe they were just trying to drown out the Yowling Cat Festival.
Songkran Festival 13th to 15th April 2010
Posted April 09 2010, updated April 14, April 16
Ambush in Phrakhonong
Songkran is the Thai New Year, a time of both pious and hilarious celebration: a time for showing
respect to elders by pouring water over their hands, and a time for drenching passers-by with water pistols,
buckets and even hose pipes. Not for the faint hearted.
I note that this year the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA) have scrapped most of their public events
because of the ongoing political unrest, and as the troubles approached uncomfortably close to
Khao San Road, it looked like the revels there would be more muted than usual. However, reports suggest that
on the day itself, fun was had by all, Thais and foreigners alike
On Songkran day most Thais visit the local temple to make merit and pour water on a Buddha image.
In this temple a row of seven Buddhas had been set up - one for each day of the week: you pour water on the Buddha appropriate to the day of your birth.
Of course many people pour water on all the Buddhas
just to make sure they catch any good luck going.
In the video above, the plastic bottle was filled beforehand with water from the tap and jasmine flowers from the garden. After pouring
water on each of the Buddhas, the girls in the picture collects some water dripping off the table and uses it to annoint her companions.
Songkran celebrates the end of the dry season, the hottest part of the year (with temperatures around
100 deg. C) and, hopefully, the beginning of rice planting, though in some years the rains start in May or
It probably derives from the Hindu "Holi" festival and is celebrated throughout Thailand and
also in Thai speaking parts of Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Southern China. The official festival lasts only
three days, but in Chiang Mai it lasts six days and in Pattaya up to 2 weeks!
Old Style Songkran
In "A Child of the North East"
describes life in a poor hamlet in North East Thailand in the 1930's from the point of view of a young
boy "Koon". His description of Songkran in Isan is very evocative and not too dissimilar to the
celebrations today up country, though probably less boisterous.
Songkran day started with Koon's mother waking the three children before dawn. They all washed and
dressed in their best clothes. Koon's mother prepared an old brass pitcher of water and poured water into
it and then a small amount of perfume. First they visited their grandmother and approached her on all fours.
Starting with Koon's father they each sprinkled water from the pitcher onto her shoulder, receiving a
blessing from the old woman.
For the rest of the day the children played with the other children of the village, tossing water and
generally having fun despite the three year drought that reduced the amount of water available, then in the
evening all went to the local temple. For this day, the Buddha image had been carried out of the temple and
set on a platform under the Bodhi Tree and women from the village poured perfumed water over it. Some of the
children lay under the platform as the water was poured so that they could share in the refreshing draught.
A brass (or aluminium) bowl, filled with water and scented with jasmine petals, is still used for the polite part of
the festival: families pay respect to their elders by pouring water over their hands, employees do the same with
their bosses, but most of the three days is spent in riotous and often drunken water fights.
Waiting for more "Customers"
roam the streets of Bangkok and other towns throwing water over anyone who comes near them: motor-cyclists are a favorite
target and anyone who needs to use an open-sided Baht bus.
Groups of children stand by the roadside throwing
water at the traffic and annointing motor-cyclists with powdered water.
In Chiangmai and the Northern part of Thailand, well known Buddha images are placed on trucks then, garlanded
with flowers, are paraded around the streets with music and dance.
Celebrating Songkran in Chiangmai
Songkran in the Shan States of Burma ca. 1910
(from "The Tai Race: Elder Brother of the Chinese", p203)
In the early years of the twentieth century, The missionary William Clifton Dodd and his wife were
stationed in Kengtung (now part of the Shan states of Burma). They were invited by the ruler or Chow Fa to
the New Year Festival in mid April, and arrived "dressed in their best". All was very polite for
the first hour as the state dignitaries came to pledge loyalty to the Chow Fa by pouring water over his
hands, but then:
"Suddenly the Chow Fa disappeared, returning soon dressed in his every day clothes. That was the
"High carnival followed, shrieks and screams of laughter and running to and fro, pursued by the
dignitaries of the palace, the court, and the eighty-six districts all anxious to pour water over
White Lotus Press, Bangkok 1996
Really things have not changed very much in the last 100 years.
Rail Link to Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
Posted March 26 2010
I just noticed that on the most recent SRT Southern Timetable (valid from 1st April 2010), the 953
train from Had Yai now terminates at Kuala Lumpur rather than Butterworth.
The trip takes around 17 hours overnight, and I am not sure yet what accomodation is available - watch this
Airport Link Delayed Again
Posted March 26 2010
Power Supply problems have caused further delays to the opening of the new rail link between
Suvarnaphum Aiport and Central Bangkok. The service is unlikely to start for a few more months.
Fares are likely to be 150 Baht for the express service, and between 30 and 50 Baht for the city line service
which stops at 6 stations between the Airport and Phyathai where it crosses the Skytrain route.
Wat Pho: The Buddha and 5 Disciples
February 28th 2010 was a public holiday in Thailand for the Buddhist Festival of Makha Bucha Day which
falls on the full moon day of the third lunar month. As the event falls on a Sunday this year, many shops,
businesses and Government Departments will close on the Monday to compensate.
The Makha Bucha festival commemorates a day of the full moon, 9 months after the Buddha's enlightenment
when 1250 disciples arrived unexpectedly, all of them "arahants" (enlightened ones) who had been
ordained by the Buddha himself.
In the evening of the full moon day, candle-light processions are held in temples throughout Thailand, where
monks and laity walk three times around the Ordination Hall (Ubosot
celebrate the "Triple Gem" of Buddhism: the Buddha, the Dharma (the teaching) and the Sangha (the
community of Buddhist monks).
Many Thais choose this day to visit their local temple to make merit. Alcohol will not be on sale in bars,
restaurants or supermarkets.
The festival is also celebrated in the neighboring Buddhist countries of Laos and Cambodia.
Chinese New Year 2010 in Bangkok: Year of the Tiger
Thais are very lucky in that they can celebrate (and enjoy) 3 New Year festivals - Western New Year, Chinese
New Year (a lunar festival which usually takes place in February) and the Songkran Festival (Thai New Year)
The Chinese New Year festival this year started on the 14th of February. Traditionally it continues until the
15th day of the new lunar month, but in Bangkok, the main festivities took place from the 14th to the 17th
In the days leading up to New Year's Day, homes were decorated, ducks slaughtered in their millions, and
decorations in red and gold strung across the streets. The traditional new year greeting pictured right is
Gong Xi Fa Cai
, a wish for properity in the coming year.
Ducks in a Row
The 13th, last day of the waning moon, is the day when all debts must be settled, houses swept clean, doors
and windows hung with red and gold decorations, quarrels patched up, and children of the immediate family
receive small red envelopes containing gifts of money. Fruit and flowers are placed at household shrines and
Spirit Houses formerly plates of duck and pork were more popular but, more recently, non-animal food seems to
on Chinese New Year's Eve, Bangkok 2010
On New Years Day itself, parents and other family are visited, younger relatives receive their red envelopes,
employees receive their bonuses, prayers are offered at Chinese temples, Dragon Dancers and Lion Dancers
scurry down the narrow streets of Bangkok's Chinatown, collecting money and gifts and presenting good
luck in return.
Actually that was the old style - in recent years the dancers appear well before new year's day, ensuring
that no-one misses out on the good luck or fails to reward the performers: one enterprising group of Lion
Dancers makes regular appearances around Bangkok's Suhumvit area at ALL times of the year.
New Year's Day in pre-revolutionary China:
(from Destination Chungking, Han Suyin, 1942)
Except for the intermittant splutter of fire-crackers which exorcise devils and malevolent ghosts, the
first day of the New Year is strangely quiet. Morning shines down upon empty streets between boarded-up
shop fronts, with none of the customary push and struggle of traffic .... For this one day of all the year
work ceases ...... No broom is wielded, lest the New Year's luck be inadvertantly swept away; and no
water is poured out on the ground for fear the year's wealth be poured out with it.
Many Chinese businesses were closed from 14th to 17th of February, but as this year Chinese New Year
coincided with Valentine's Day, many of Chinatown's gold shops were open for business as usual, or
even extra business. On the streets were you might expect Lion Dancers, Dragon Dancers, the rattle of
fire-crackers, Moon Cakes and other traditional Chinese foods, and, a favorite of mine, chestnuts roasted in
The Tourism Authority of Thailand promised cultural performances at Yaowarat Square, but for a few baht, you
could dress up Chinese style and make your own show!
Chestnuts in Chinatown
Dressed in Style
Many Thais consider Chinese New Year an auspicious day for making merit. Two ways of making merit are
illustrated below: copious quantities of incense are burned at the Chinese temples; bird sellers roam the
streets of Chinatown selling birds for release at 100 baht a cage. I am not sure what effect this has on the
karma of the vendors, however.
One of my friends is of the opinion that the sparrows are trained to return to their captors as soon as they
are released - homing sparrows, I suppose.
Burning Incense at the Poi Sian Shrine
The lions were somewhat of the cuddly rather than fierce variety, this year, and I did not see any dragons;
also tigers were there none, apart from the styrofoam creatures in Yaowarat square, assuming they were meant
to be tigers. The only street musician I saw was the humble fiddler below, sitting among the vendors of
bric-a-brac; and, come to think of it, I do not remember hearing any fire-crackers at all.
New Year's Day
Chinese Fiddle or Erhu
Not my favorite visit to Chinatown, Bangkok. Lots of people of course - Yaowarat Road was suppposedly closed
to traffic, but a couple of green buses got in via a side street. Large numbers of "official"
traders lined the sides of the road, but lots more "unofficial" vendors set up in the middle of the
road selling all sorts of things from pocket knives to dragons on a stick, causing a total traffic jam -
until a squad of police moved them on. Chinatown became a Thai market for the day.
Highlight of the day for us was lunch at the Canton House Restaurant, next to the Chinatown Hotel - Dim Sum,
Noodles and cold beer, all at normal prices, and definitely recommended. Overall the restaurant was far more
Chinese than anything we saw outside.
..... was it really that much fun?
Getting to Chinatown
And when it was all over ....
The best way is probably by Subway or Train to Hua Lampong Railway Station. Leave the station by the main
entrance to the south, cross the approach road, and then turn right onto Rama IV Road. Cross the Canal
Bridge, and at the intersection ahead take the fourth exit (anti-clockwise), Thanon Mittaphap, which leads to
the Chinatown Gate. Yaowarat Road leads North West from the gate.
Notes on "How The Trains Made Thailand"
The following piece by Andrew Hicks details a recent trip by train to Chiang Mai which made clear to him how
crucial the rail system was in unifying Thailand as a young nation.
Prior to the railway era, a journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by elephant and river boat, could take a month
or more, and in the twentieth century, up to the Vietnam War, trains were practically the only way to visit
the North, East and Southern parts of the country. The major roads North and North East date from the
1970's onwards, and the development of provincial highways, together with a lack of investment in rail
infrastructure, have led to an inevitable decline in the railway system.
I note however recent interest in new railway development from the Thai Government, possibly with Chinese
Investment. Ironically Chinese interest in rail links between Yunnan province and Thailand's sea ports is
reminiscent of the British proposal (late 19th century) to link Yunnan with the Gulf of Martaban (Burma) -
see the excellent "A Thousand Miles on an Elephant in the Shan
" by Holt S. Hallett, first published in 1890.
Andrew Hicks is a retired British academic lawyer now living in Thailand. He has written a best-selling
novel, "Thai Girl", a tropical Romeo and Juliet without the coffins. The story of his life in a
small village in Surin can be found in his second book, "My Thai Girl and I".
More about the books can be found on www.thaigirl2004.com and he chronicles his life and observations about
Thailand on www.thaigirl2004.blogspot.com
where this article first appeared
How The Trains Made Thailand, by Andrew Hicks
Nations are defined by wars and geography but it was its railways that finally integrated Thailand within its
Cat and I have just been on the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and the journey back by day has
reminded me what an extraordinary feat it was to construct a railway across the plains, through almost
impenetrable jungle and mountains and up to the ancient kingdom of Lanna.
"Bangkok's Hualampong station - waiting to go northwards"
Weâ€™ve also recently been through the humiliating and barbaric process of applying for
visas for Cat, both to go to the UK and also to get a Schengen visa for Europe. There is a link there
After millennia of tribal warfare, the Schengen agreement between twenty one European nations now allows
visitors to obtain a single visa valid for all these countries. How civilized it is to freely cross borders
and how very sad that the UK stood apart and did not sign up to this accord. If only we now had just one visa
to apply for on going to Europe.
Ease of travel in a modern world means that strict national borders are needed to separate and divide people,
but weâ€™re now so used to this intrusion that itâ€™s easy to forget that
the nation state itself is a brand new concept. Likewise, passports are something of a new thing. Italy and
Germany are new countries and the United States was quite recently defined by its civil war.
And Thailand as we now know it is new too.
An advert for Tiffy recalls the dramatic era of steam
Relating things to my own lifespan, a warring Europe was pacified, the invaders were turned back and an
extraordinary reconciliation was begun only two years before my birth. And not long ago Africa was abruptly
carved into more than thirty artificial nations by the European powers at the end of the nineteenth century,
driven on by the insatiable demands of their missionaries and traders. This all happened a mere twenty years
before my fatherâ€™s birth.
Despite the artificiality of some of the borders thus created, even in Africa the nation state has been
extraordinarily successful with remarkably few annexations or secessions. Just like
Vietnamâ€™s eviction of Pol Pot from Cambodia, nobody liked it when Tanzania kicked Idi Amin
out of Uganda as borders are sacrosanct and must not be violated even for good reason.
Eritrea successfully broke away from Ethiopia and Morocco has been too acquisitive, but the fledgling
â€˜stateâ€™ of Biafra, the biggest ever secession failed and Nigeria,
Africaâ€™s giant, remained intact, as does almost all of the late nineteenth century
political map of the continent.
Now taught an assertive brand of nationalism, modern Thais may look at a map of South East Asia and believe
that theirs is an ancient Kingdom but, as defined by its present borders, like so many other nations,
relatively speaking itâ€™s brand spanking new.
So whatâ€™s the story and why is this so?
Throughout history, where land is divided by insurmountable mountains, rivers and seas, political entities
must of necessity be small and this region was no different in that respect. The old civilization of the Chao
Phaya basin, of Sukotai and Ayutaya which lie at the core of Thailand, was closed off by mountains to the
west, north and east. Those to the North isolated it from the kingdom of Lanna/ Chiang Mai, while the
mountains to the east ensured that the Korat plateau and Isaan looked eastwards and could not be fully
integrated by â€˜the Thaisâ€™ from the west.
Thus the loose â€˜empiresâ€™ of Burma, Thailand and Cambodia, not yet
nations with settled borders, were in perpetual conflict as they sought to control the small vassal states
around them and to extend their spheres of influence.
The mountains were of course the defining factor. But if you move mountains, everything changes, and
thatâ€™s exactly what the railways achieved. During the reign of King Chulalongkorn, truly
the architect and father of Thailand, construction of the great railways to the south, to the north and east
of Thailand was courageously begun.
Iâ€™ve previously written of how the feat of cutting a railway over the mountains to Ubon in
the east enabled Isaan to be better absorbed into a unified nationâ€¦ which ironically the
current political tensions suggest has not yet been perfectly achieved. (See â€˜Last Train
From Sikoraphumâ€™ posted on this blog on 14 November 2008)
So now I want to tell you of our long daytime journey back from Chiang Mai by train, a slow and spectacular
ride down through the mountains that again reminded me that before 1921 when the railway was finished, Chiang
Mai and the Lanna kingdom was another world, a veritable Shangri La, hidden from the Thailand of the southern
In the last few decades air travel has given us seven league boots and made the world smaller but the
railways had a far greater impact than that. As a major breakthough in transportation, they redefined much of
the political world, allowing access to outlying areas that could now be integrated politically and
Not least of all this is how it happened in Thailand. It was the railways that were the essential means to
make the nation what it is now.
"There's light at the end of many
a tunnel up in the mountains"
The financing and construction of the Thai railways was a modern marvel of political will, organization and
engineering. Crossing the plains was easy but surveying a route through the mountains, building cuttings,
embankments, bridges and tunnels, especially a long one through the Khun Tan mountain, must have seemed an
impossible project. At last the dream was achieved and served its purpose, though now the line is desperately
in need of modernisation and has been left to gently molder in the shadow of its past glory.
Thus as the Chiang Mai train slowly approaches a tiny station high in the northern mountains, the station
master is in his old clothes, busy manicuring its immaculate garden. He snaps to attention and rushes off to
buff up his boots and to put on his best uniform and peaked cap. Just in time he grabs his green and red
flags and makes it onto the platform as the train rumbles in.
Yes, they still wave their flags and they ding a big, polished brass bell to send the trains on their way.
Itâ€™s just wonderful and nothing, but nothing seems to have changed. Steam has been
exchanged for diesel, but the Thai railways still offer a perfect time warp for any nostalgic lover of the
worldâ€™s quaintest old railways.
Not only travelling hopefully to Chiang Mai is fun but arrivingâ€™s even better. As always I
greatly enjoyed the city and although itâ€™s changed and grown, the atmosphere is much the
same inside the moat as it was when I first visited and stayed in the seventies. The rice fields and
mountains are still there too and rural life goes on much as it always has done. And so also do the trains.
The railway is thus the perfect link to help you to slow down and to take you from the madness of Bangkok to
that other more gentle world of Chiang Mai. Even Bangkokâ€™s Hualampong Station where your
journey begins has been nicely restored and it retains its fine architecture and a polite otherworldliness.
"But for Thais even eternal waiting can and should be fun"
It is always vibrant with people and activity but for Bangkok itâ€™s strangely calm and
orderly. The central hall is packed with people, but they just sit on the floor with their luggage
surrounding them and they serenely wait as if forever, something the Thais are always so good at doing.
Perhaps theyâ€™re pleasantly anticipating the slow ride out through the slums and the
shanties built literally feet from the passing trains, out through the sprawling city and onto the endless
rice plains. After the long run across the plains, when Chang Mai is not so far away in distance but still a
long way in time, their train will abruptly leave the rice fields and climb slowly up into the mountains.
It makes slow progress and you can see the train ahead of you as it rounds the sharp curves. You can feel the
extraordinary steepness of the gradients as the train clatters over bridges and culverts. Its single track is
but a precarious thread, dwarfed by the mountains and threatened by the encroaching jungle, more like a
narrow gauge mountain railway than the important artery that first united Thailand.
"Wheels and couplings speak loudly as we clatter over a culvert"
In less than a hundred years though the railway has become insignificant and almost an irrelevance.
Governments have repeatedly failed to modernize and to invest, caught in a power play with the railway unions
who strike to preserve the privileges and inefficiences of an outdated system. It will take strong and
determined leadership to give upgrading the railways the priority it deserves, which suggests that nothing
much will change in a hurry.
"At Lampang there was a fine old steam engine on display"
In the meantime Iâ€™m not personally complaining about that.
Nothing for me could be better value or fun than a round trip on the train from Bangkok up to Chiang Mai and
back. Iâ€™ve done it several times before and I hope this time wonâ€™t be
POSTSCRIPTâ€¦ Iâ€™m no historian and have done no research whatsoever to
write this piece so if you find itâ€™s riddled with inaccuracies or can tell us more about
the story of the railways, do please leave a Comment on this blog.
Andrew Hicks The â€œThai Girlâ€ Blog November 2009
Loy Krathong Festival 2009
Lotus Shaped Krathong
One of the most popular Thai festivals is the Loy Krathong Festival, falling on the full moon of the
twelfth lunar month, in 2009 on the 2nd of November. The festival Derives from a Hindu festival in which
offerings were made every year to the goddess of the River Ganges, sacred river of India. It came to Thailand
probably during the Sukhothai period.
In Thailand it has come to be a purification festival, a letting go of the transgressions of the previous
year, but with also a sense of making an offering to the spirits of the river, and Mae Khongkha, goddess of
The Krathongs are small boats, originally made of banana leaves formed into the shape of a lotus flower.
Sometimes a round section of banana tree is used as a base, though in recent years a circle of expanded
polystyrene, or bread has become popular.
The basic boat is then decorated with flowers, leaves, incense sticks and a central candle; coins are placed
within the interior - a matter of considerable interest to the small children who flock to the event. The
completed Krathong are then floated ("loy"
lighted, on the main rivers and canals. Unfortunately the large catfish who abound near the temple piers have
wised to the fact that some of the Krathong are edible and tend to demolish the fragile offerings almost as
soon as they go into the water, as we observed this year at Wat Lan Buhn, in Bangkok's Lat Krabang
After the unsuccessful launch, we sat in a restaurant on the other side of the canal, eating food,
drinking beer, and watching the crowds flowing over the bridge. The glum looks from my friends may be because
of the krathong catastrophe - some Thai women seem to believe that the behavior of the krathong reflects the
future of their own relationships: if two krathong floated together, remain together, all is well; woe betide
if they float appart. I have known anxious males surreptitiously tie the vessels together with string to
ensure a fortunate outcome.
at Wat Lan Buhn
This colourful festival, which often includes traditional Thai Dancing, is celebrated throughout Thailand: in
Bangkok at parks, restaurants and hotels, and especially by the River and Canal Bridges and Temples; most
events take place between 6 p.m. and midnight.
Chinese Vegetarian Festival 2009
From the 18th to 26th of october, many towns in Thailand celebrate the Chinese Vegetarian Festival
Phuket, Bangkok's Chinatown and Samut Prakhan are well known for their colorful processions and food
stalls decked out in yellow flags.
The festival seems to have originated in Phuket around 150 years ago, its object being personal and communal
purification. Participants abstain from eating meat and also, hopefully, from sex and alcohol. Utensils used
for preparing food should not have been used in the preparation of meat.
First Rail Link from Thailand to Laos
The rail link between Nong Khai and Thanaleng (Lao PDR) opened on March 5th 2009. The cost is around 80 Baht
aircon, 20 Baht non-aircon.
For years, travellers have noticed that the Thai North Eastern line continued beyond Nong Khai Station, but
only as far as the Mekhong River. The new stretch of track, which crosses the Friendship Bridge, is the first
ever railway in the Lao PDR and the first section of a line that is planned to connect Nong Khai with
Viantiane the Lao Capital, some 20km to the North West.
Posted March 12th 2009
On-Line Train Tickets
The State Railway Authority of Thailand has started to offer e-tickets from its website:
It appears that you have to sign up for a user account before you can book tickets.
Escape from Bangkok!
I flew out from Utapao airport on 4th December. Check-in was at Bitek in East Bangkok at 7 a.m. and we
boarded our bus at 11 a.m. The bus then waited 90 minutes while a convoy of around 10 buses formed. During
this waiting time there was no information about the cause of the delay, no refreshments and no toilet
facilities on the bus. Eventually a mobile loo pulled in just around the corner, though no-one told us what
We drove to Utapao airport under police escort in about two hours, and eventually turned into a military base
to get to the aircraft. The bus pulled up right by the plane and we boarded without ever entering the
terminal building, or meeting the group of Navy medical staff who were waiting to greet us - presumably in
case any foreign tourist had been overcome by lack of alcohol on the journey from Bangkok.
Generally the evacuation was well executed except for lack of information at Bitek, and lack of refreshments.
I went from 6 a.m. to around 4.30 p.m. without so much as a glass of water. The young guy sitting next to me
on the plane must have had a similar experience - he went so far as to ask (unsuccessfully) for another
lunch! I have never seen so many empty plates after an in-flight meal.
Posted by Matt M., December 6th 2008
Bangkok to Ubon Ratchathani on Train 67
For once I had time on my hands, so I decided to take the train from Bangkok to Ubon Ratchathani. Usually, I
fly; a few boring hours, mostly spent waiting. I have always liked trains, but this was to be my first
sampling of Thailand's highly esteemed rail service.
I had not made a reservation, so I showed up at Hualamphong Railway Station - easily found at the end of the
BTS line - on a Saturday morning, hoping to purchase a 1st class sleeper ticket for that same evening. The
only available berth was for a female - in 1st class, sexes are separated, two to a cabin - so I settled for
a 2nd class sleeper. At 671 baht one way, it seemed like a bargain. The railway station and booking process
are simple. The station is well signposted, in English as well as Thai, and there is even a special ticket
booth for foreigners. This seemed a far cry from the railway system in my own home country. Within a few
minutes, I left the station, ticket in hand, and knowing which platform I needed to come to later that
I arrived at the station early; a combination of having already checked out of the hotel and being unsure of
traffic conditions at that time of day. This time I travelled by taxi, having luggage with me. The train had
not yet arrived, so I stocked up on snacks for the trip; a small bottle of Sangsom, some soda, and ice. Soon
the train arrived, and well before the scheduled departure time of 20:30, I was able to board and get
In 2nd class, the sleepers are arranged like bunk beds, a row down each side of the carriage. The bottom bunk
folds away to provide two seats; one each for the upper an lower berths. Genders are mixed, and my travelling
companion turned out to be an interesting and friendly middle-aged Thai lady. Noi was a teacher in Sisaket,
returning home after a short break. She taught business administration at a technical college, and proudly
showed me photos of former students she had visited whilst in Bangkok. One was working at the checkout of a
7-11, and it reminded me how hard it is for young people to find good employment in Thailand, even with a
After we had chatted for a while, I sensed that she was ready to sleep, so I made my excuses and went in
search of the dining car. This allowed the steward to convert the two seats we had been using into her bunk.
Each bunk has a curtain to provide privacy when sleeping.
The walk to the dining car took me through the rest of 2nd class and all of 3rd class. The latter looked
rather uncomfortable, and most people were already trying to get to sleep in their seats. When I arrive in
the dining car, I was the only passenger. The other occupants were all railway police, guards, stewards,
etc., in their various tight-fitting uniforms. I was soon served a delicious "wrap egg", a bottle
of cold beer, and a bucket of ice. One of the guards eventually joined me my table; actually, I think I was
at his table. Daeng was a shiny faced, friendly chap, missing his front teeth. At each station he jumped up
to look out of the window; this seemed to be his only duty. He told me that he makes the trip up one day,
down next, and sleeps during the day.
As the train picked up speed out of Bangkok, through Ayudhya, and beyond, the windows wide open, I smiled and
raised my glass to Paul Theroux, that most intrepid train traveller. How happy I was to be here!
Later, as the diner filled up, I joined another farang, Erik, and Lek, a Thai lady who had some business
somewhere; but by now the Beer Leo was flowing and I can't remember what it was. We chatted on and on,
until finally the stewards, probably wanting to get some sleep themselves, urged us to turn in. Apparently
the inter-carriage doors are locked at night for added security. I returned to my bunk, which was now made
up, for a satisfied sleep, rocked in the cradle of The State Railway of Thailand. The bed was comfortable,
with a clean crisp sheet, pillow, and a blanket sealed in a plastic bag. The toilet facilities, entirely
stainless steel and well ventilated, were basic but clean and without any unpleasant odours.
By the time we reached Sisaket, most passengers had gone, so I got up and sat in a spare seat to watch the
routine of early morning rural life begin. Finally we arrived, punctually at 07:25, in Ubon. "This is
your station", said the pyjama clad stewardess in charge of my carriage, "have a nice day".
(posted 19th November 2008)
Last Train From Sikoraphum, by Andrew Hicks
After a horrible day cancelling our TOT satellite internet contract and emptying my wallet in the
process, I felt like having a day out. There were a few takers for a train ride to nowhere, especially as it
happened to be free, so we all piled into the pickup and headed off to Sikoraphum.
The railway workers have been on strike in support of the demonstrations against the government but now
they're back at work again and the bosses are punishing them by making train rides free. I guess the idea
is to attract people back to the railway and incidentally to make the strikers work harder coping with
The idea was for us to take a train from nearby Sikoraphum to Si Saket and back but on the way there Cat
suggested we go the other way to Surin instead as it's not so far.
Just as we arrived at the station a train to Si Saket was just rolling in. Only a few seats were filled but
we stuck to our plan and didn't get on board. Cat went and bought some grilled chicken while I wielded my
Sikoraphum and its railway line.
Sikoraphum is notable for its 900 year old Khmer temple and more recently came back to prominence when
the railway line was cut through a little over a century ago. What's charming about the town is that it
has hardly changed over the years. The centre is a series of narrow streets and Chinese shop houses, all well
kept and bustling but without the demolition and disruption that usually comes with relative prosperity.
It's hard to believe how remote Sikoraphum must have been before construction of the railway. A
millennium ago it was not so remote though, looking to Angkhor, the great centre of the Khmer empire. Only a
few hundred kilometres away, the journey would have been relatively easy passing through a gap in the Dongrak
hills at Chong Jom and across level ground to the capital.
With the decline of Angkhor, the political balance swung East across the plateau towards the Mekong, which
allowed river access to the great capitals upstream. Then as Laan Chang declined, the region became beholden
to the kingdoms of Thailand, but how very far it was from their capitals in the Chao Phraya basin.
Bangkok was impossibly distant and for government officials visiting the fractious North East the ascent onto
the plateau was extremely difficult. In 1891 King Rama V therefore ordered construction of the railway, a
huge and herculean task to integrate Isaan into his modern kingdom.
Laying the tracks northward across the plains progressed well but after Saraburi came harsh mountains where
the German contractors faced many hazards and risks. It was only in 1900 that the railway reached Korat not
so very much further on, during which time forty Germans and over 500 Chinese workers are said to have
Pushing on through Buriram, Surin and Sikoraphum and at last to Ubon was then relatively quick and a
remarkable vision was finally achieved.
Saraburi today is now only an hour or two out of Bangkok by road, so it's hard today to grasp the
significance of this feat of modern civil engineering. Sikoraphum, once far away on another planet, had
become accessible in safety and comfort on an overnight train. This was a huge leap into the future, though
since that time the railway has been allowed to slip gently back into the past.
Today the line to Isaan is a delightful time warp and a lack
of investment in the railways has preserved it in a pleasant state of sleepy decay. The old station signs are
as they always were, the wooden buildings, the track and systems substantially unchanged. It's all much
as I remember the small station in sleepy Warwickshire village from which I used to take a train pulled by a
puffing tank engine a few miles to school and that's a good few years ago.
The heavy levers for changing the points that the German contractors installed are still in use, a polished
brass bell hangs above a decorative fountain and the long platform is clean and well kept. In fact it has an
almost military feel and the staff look sharp in brown uniforms, their toe caps gleaming as they wave their
green flags to send the Bangkok train on to Si Saket and Ubon.
All is now anticipation on the crowded platform as the Surin train is in sight down the line. We're on
our feet as it rolls into the station, an elderly diesel engine drawing tatty carriages that must be at least
fifty years old.
Then I realize to my dismay that it's packed out with people. It's going to be standing room only,
We move down the platform to avoid the worst of the crush and try to make it up the steps at the end of
carriage, but the corridors are jam packed with people. It's almost like the Indian sub-continent with
bodies hanging off and not a spare inch inside. Offering free rides has certainly brought out the travelers
We don't have to go anywhere today though, as we're here to enjoy ourselves. A battle like this
isn't going to be fun so we admit defeat and scramble down onto the platform again and watch the green
flags waving as the train moves slowly out of the station.
Shall we have a good look round the market instead, I suggest. There's some nice pictures to be taken
among the fruit and veg, but then it starts to rain.
Clearly this wasn't our day, though savouring the retro mood of the station in Sikoraphum was like
stepping back fifty years.
It's a rare and special experience that can make me feel like I'm twelve years old again.
Reprinted by kind permission of Andrew Hicks who owns the copyright
Originally posted on www.thaigirl2004.blogspot.com.