An elephant sized folly ?..the Erawan Museum.

 

noun

noun: folly; plural noun: Follies
  1. 1.
    lack of good sense; foolishness.
    2.
    a costly ornamental building with no practical purpose, especially a tower or mock-Gothic ruin built in a large garden or park

     One of Thailand’s more eccentric moneyed class was Lek Viriyaphant, the creator of the Ancient City and the Sanctuary of Truth in Pattaya, and also the Erawan Museum on the outskirts of Bangkok.

    Featuring a three headed elephant standing on top of a pink three storey building in the middle of a large garden, I think it qualifies as a ‘folly” 🙂

    Like the Sanctuary of Truth in Pattaya, the Erawan Museum is a bit of a hotch-potch of religious influences without actually being a religious building. The main building is supposed to represent the 3 levels of the Hindu universe, the basement entrance takes you into the “underworld” which is strangely full of antiquities, then you climb up into the human world :

    The main hall is full of Buddhist, Hindu and Christian allegories carved on to the walls and pillars, plus a large statue of a Chinese goddess, Guanyin ….I told you it was a hotch-potch ! The ceiling is a large stained glass map of the world.erawan-11

    erawan-6Getting into heaven is not supposed to be easy, so a long climb up several flights of stairs (through the elephants legs) will take you up to the top level which is a more conventional Buddhist  area, with several old and very valuable Buddhas, that represents Heaven.

This part is actually inside the elephant, but unfortunately there are no windows to see out over the gardens.

The gardens naturally feature many more elephants, in various sizes and colours.

 

 

One story I read says that when planning the nearby ring road the government was going to go through this garden, so Lek Viriyaphant dedicated it to his Majesty the king, making it untouchable. However the govt. changed the plans and put the road through his house next door !

How to get there ? The Erawan Museum is on Sukhumwit road, so many buses go past it. The 511 is an air-con bus that goes right across town and out to Samut Prakan so that would probably be best. The BTS Skytrain will be ( should be !) extended out there by end of 2018, currently you would have to get off at Samrong and then get a short taxi ride or bus. Note that some buses detour via the expressway when returning to the city so a return via taxi and BTS might be best.

How much ? It does have the foreigner surcharge, so a normal walk-in ticket is 400baht/adult which is a bit pricey, but booking online will get you a hundred baht discount. If you are an expat with a Thai driver’s license, flash that and get the Thai price of 200 baht.

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After our week in paradise Ko Lipe it was time to move on to our next destination, Langkawi. For most of the year there are 2 daily ferries and many speedboats that make the fairly short trip between the 2 islands…..both ferries cost the same and leave at about the same time, all the speedboats cost the same and are driven by the same young kids with cowboy attitudes to safety, which is why I never take the speedboat if there is an option of a “real” ferry. ( a quick Google search for “speedboat accidents in Thailand” gave up 386,000 results!)

The ferry check-in with Bundhaya went smoothly, boarding passes given, pointed over towards immigration, told to wait nearby. Slightly disconcerting and confusing for some passengers who did not speak Thai or English was the fact that passports would be given back to you once underway on the ferry. For some reason the immigration office bundle all the passports together, give them to one of the boat crew who later came around asking who owns a Thai/Malay/British/American/whatever passport. They did not seem to look at the photo inside to check they were giving passports to the right people !

Arriving in Langkawi at the Kuah ferry terminal the Malay immigration was quick and efficient and we were soon off to Pantai Cenang and our hotel, the “White House Lodge”.

Not quite as large as Mr Trump’s White House, but still very nice 🙂 , big room at the end looking out over a rice paddie, tropical gardens and a nice swimming pool, which was handy as I did not really think much of the beach here.

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mind where you walk at low tide !

Lang_Pen-1 The Lonely Planet says “ the beach is gorgeous, white sand, teal water, green palms” ….I thought the beach was rather grey, gritty sand, lots of glass and bottlecaps exposed at low tide, the water had a lot of jellyfish, and many of the palm trees have been replaced by construction equipment. Another blogger, Rob from Experimental Expats often bemoans the unrestrained development where he lives in Penang, and Langkawi is the same it seems.

There is certainly a lot of  construction under way, with hotels and apartments popping up all along the beach and Pantai Cenang’s main road. Just who do they expect to live there ?

In between all the building sites are plenty of international food chains, all the usual suspects, lots of Thai restaurants, Mexican restaurants, even a couple of Syrian ones, but hardly any local food, and I really, really wanted some laksa. The only place that I found happened to be closed 😦

But the main reason for coming here was because the GF had read about the legend of a woman called Mahsuri, who was falsely accused of adultery and executed.

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Mahsuri’s village (or a recreation thereof !)

After bleeding white blood to show her innocence she cursed Langkawi with 7 generations of bad luck, which supposedly ended around the time of Langkawi’s tourist boom. Anyway, we rented a motorbike and headed off to see her village, now one of Langkawi’s tourist attractions. I don’t know how much of it is original or recreated but it all seemed rather forced and artificial to me, but the GF liked it and that’s all that counts, is n’t it 🙂 While we had the bike we went for a ride into Kuah to see the big eagle, and then up to the top of the highest hill where you can see to Thailand on a clear day, so they say :

As she will not go in the sea but still wanted to ‘ see the pretty fish” we also went to Underwater World, Malaysia’s biggest aquarium. I prefer my fish on the reef, but as aquariums go this one is pretty good.

All in all, I did not really think much of Langkawi, and will not be heading back again.

After a few days it was time to head back to Bangkok, but the long way around with a 3 day stopover in Georgetown, Penang. It’s just a short flight, we probably spent longer checking in than we did in the plane ! Seeing all the construction cranes as we headed from the airport to Georgetown I could see why the Experimental Expats have had enough and are headed out. Georgetown is a listed Heritage area though, a crane free zone ! We stayed at the Kimberley hotel, a converted colonial style building, with wooden floors and a private balcony looking out over the rooftops of Georgetown.

Lang_Pen-10 Many, many years ago as a naive backpacker I arrived late evening in Penang, where one of these fellows recommended a nice cheap hotel. I looked at the room, it was ok, the price was ok, so I said OK. Later that night all I could hear was the sound of high heels click-clacking their way along the corridor and back again 15 minutes or so later. Back and forth, back and forth. The next evening I returned from dinner late and decided to check out the bar at the back of the hotel …it was almost pitchblack inside but when my eyes got used to the dark I realised that all the “customers” were women in tight dresses, high heels and way too much make-up waiting for their customers …the hotel doubled as a brothel.

The Kimberley Hotel was way, way above that level of place !

Without any real sightseeing plans we spent our time in Georgetown just wandering around the streets,  getting my laksa fix and eating lots of the local food …but not the durian : Lang_Pen-14

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Is that Gordon Ramsay @ number 5 ?

One good thing about Georgetown streetfood compared to Bangkok’s is the lack of diesel fume “seasoning”, the streets are almost vehicle free compared to Bangkok, much more pleasant !

Some more photos from Georgetown :

And then it was back to Bangkok, and get ready for the madness of Songkran.

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Our next trip away is in a couple of days, just up to Ubon Ratchathani for a week or so while the GF sorts out some bureaucratic paperwork or other, then it will be time to start getting all the paperwork together to renew my visa …another year gone !

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Ko Lipe….revisited again.

It had been all of 2 months since my last snorkelling trip so it was time to head off to my favourite Thai island, Ko Lipe, way down south in Satun province and almost in Malaysia.

flippers-3We flew down with Nok Air who have combo fly-shuttle-ferry tickets which are convenient and actually cheaper than booking each transport leg yourself.

Once again I stayed at the Green View Resort, right on the beach. This place is certainly not fancy, but the bamboo bungalows are great value on what is probably Thailand’s most expensive island. Peak season had finished so it was not too crowded, even on the weekend when the Malay tourists flock over by speedboat from Langkawi.

I think that I mentioned after our last visit that a new concrete resort had replaced my favourite beach/reggae bar, I was happy to find a replacement a bit further along the beach, and also happy to see that the new ‘Art Club” resort never had more than 8 or 9 customers whenever we walked by. Stretching around 80m along the beachfront and onto Walking Street,  and looking more like something from Ibiza (I imagine) it has several bars occupying prime real estate, and at least 10 more staff than customers at any one time. I really think the owners did not do any market research, as probably half the visitors to Ko Lipe are Malay, mostly non drinking, non partying Muslims, most backpackers cannot afford their prices, and many of the remaining tourists are too old for an Ibiza style foam/pool party (yes, my hand is up 🙂 )….which does not leave many customers even now, let alone in the low season. It seems to be only partly completed, perhaps the owners have had second thoughts ? And perhaps others will have second thoughts about building yet another resort and turning the island into another Samui ?

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Anyway, it was still just as beautiful underwater 🙂

There is a coral reef literally just off the beach, although you would be wise to stick to the roped off swimming zones to avoid the longtail boats ! In the swimming zone in front of the “Z touch Resort” I found this lobster, safely surrounded by sea urchins :
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And this Moray Eel : kolipe2017-23

kolipe2017-16I think this is a Trumpetfish, although they are usually yellow or a light grey. And just after I took that photo I saw a Giant Grouper, swimming right underneath me. Not a big one, but unusual to see in that area.

There are several daily snorkelling trips by longtail boat, nearly all go to an underwater rock called Jabang, which rises from about 16m deep to about 4m below the surface. Every other time that I have been there was a strong current, last time you had to swim upstream about 10m, dive down and get carried along like an express train with time for just one quick photo before surfacing on the other side. On this visit there was no current, and the visibility was nearly perfect…the first pic is near the bottom, about 12m straight down !


And elsewhere on that trip :

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But all good things must end, and while I was snorkelling every day for hours, my GF was sitting back at the resort twiddling her thumbs for a week…like many Thai women she does n’t like the sun or the water, so after that week the next few days were for her, and she wanted to go to Langkawi, just an hour and a bit away. And then the easiest way back to Bangkok was via Penang, so we had a few days there too. All that to come…….soon.

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Catch up time – a Bangkok photo walk

We have been back from our trip down south for a while now but I have n’t had time to download and go through the hundreds of photos and videos until now, what with the Songkran holiday recently and life in general ….was it John Lennon who said “Life is what happens while you make other plans” (or something like that). No doubt there will be lots of photos from above and below water to come but just to keep some sort of chronological order this post is about something else ….
Anyhow, the weekend before we headed off down to Ko Lipe I went on a photowalk with the “Bangkok Photographers” Facebook group in the Bang Kho Laem district, just off Charoen Krung road near the Asiatique complex. This was the 60th walk of the group, but the first that I had been on, coincidentally 60 photographers turned up !

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It is a culturally mixed community, accessed by narrow alleys and paths, some barely wide enough for a motorbike, a world apart from the Sathorn business district only a few kilometers away. After each walk the organisers ask everybody to submit around 10 of their best photos and then publish an online magazine. They do ask people not to post those pics anywhere else until it is published, so I could n’t inflict mine on the world before I went away. 🙂

The group includes some pro and semi-pro photographers as well as many skilled amateurs, so I was rather pleased to see 7 of mine considered good enough !

The full issue can be read here.

According to my phone GPS we walked about 2.5kms, over a leisurely 3 hours or so, before returning to Charoen Krung road near Asiatique, where some of us had lunch at a nearby food court. After that I strolled down to the Protestant Cemetery nearby, where many of the early western missionaries and adventurers are buried.

The graves include that of Admiral Sir John Bush, the first harbour master of Bangkok, who served 2 kings of Siam, and nearby that of his son George who also served as the Royal Harbourmaster ….but I do wonder at the choice of a skull and crossbones on his memorial. A bit of piracy on the side perhaps ?

 

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Here’s looking at you…..

The internet speed here at our resort on Ko Lipe is not all that great, so I will not try and upload heaps of fishy photos for your enjoyment ….that can wait till we get back ! Besides that, there are a couple of fish that are new to me and I am not sure of their ID so will wait until I get home.

But here is just a few for the time being….

 

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Close-up of a Hermit Crab hiding in his borrowed home

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Can you see me ? …Stingray hiding in the sand.

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One eyed bundle of spikes !


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 Our first day here was cloudy and a bit wet but since then the days have been mainly sunny, but with a bit of thunder and lightning at night. After a week here it is off to Langkawi tomorrow morning,a fairly short trip by ferry into Malaysia. We will have 5 nights there, and then on to Penang for 3 nights before flying back to Bangkok. Looking forward to some Laksa ! I have been making the most of the opportunity to eat real southern thai food like Panang and mussaman curries that are sometimes hard to find in Bangkok, but the missus sticks to her somtam and sticky rice ….you can take a girl out of Issan but not change her diet !

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Songkran is coming !

In Thailand, when the shops start stocking Hawaiian style shirts you know that the Songkran festival is approaching. But like back home when the stores start getting all Christmassy much too early, it’s still a month until the world’s biggest water fight starts.

Plenty of time to stock up on gaudy shirts for the festivities, or on survival rations to let you stay at home out of the combat zone during the hostilities, depending on your attitude to this time of the year !

As the country is still in an official 12 month mourning period it remains to be seen whether Songkran is toned down or not this year …even if it is you can be sure that going out during the day will see you get wet sooner or later.

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