Tag Archives: Chonburi

Bangsaen Beach and Monkey Hill

My Bangkok Day Trip for this week is to Bangsaen Beach in Chonburi Province. This is the closest seaside resort to Bangkok which has sand and water clean enough for you to swim. Chonburi City is just over 60 minutes from Bangkok and you can get there by using the Bang Na-Trad Highway. Most people by-pass the city on their way to Pattaya. But, they are missing out on some good tourist attractions which are worth at least a day if not longer. There are buses from Bangkok to Chonburi and the nearby Bangsaen beach. There are also songtaews running up and down the beach front. However, to explore the area properly, it is better to have your own transport. You will find motels, hotels and guesthouses along the beach. If you are able, best to visit during the week when it is less crowded.

The first stop on my tour is the fishing village of Ang Sila. This is about five kilometers to the south of Chonburi city. Apart from fishing, the main occupation of the local people is making things out of granite. The most famous examples are a mortar and pestle which you can find in various sizes. There are also figurines of different animals. You will find many stalls along the road in front of Wat Ang Sila, so make sure that you shop around to get a good price. Further along this road you will reach the fishing pier which has a fish market. There are plenty of stalls selling snacks here such as dried squid. Not too far away from here is the The Mangrove Forest Conservation Center. It isn’t that easy to find but is a good place to see the mangroves up close as you walk along the 2.3 km board walk. If you are with young children you might want to skip this as it is a hot and tiring walk in the sun with not much shade.

On the road between Ang Sila and Khao Sam Muk you will pass the colourful Chinese temple called Wihan Thep Sathit Phra Kiti Chaloem. The four storey high building is beautifully decorated with many figurines and Chinese deities. You are allowed to take pictures in the compound but no photos are allowed to be taken inside. However, it is worth climbing to the top for the wonderful views of the bay. In the distance you can see the hill called Khao Sam Muk. The Chinese shrine is open daily. On weekdays it is open 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. At the weekend it is open a bit later until 6 p.m. on Saturdays and 8 p.m. on Sundays. As you are passing this way on your way to the next destination it is definitely worth your time to visit the shrine even if you are not Chinese. It is certainly very beautiful.

Continue driving south with the sea to your right. There are plenty of restaurants along this route which sell delicious seafood. If you are hungry then stop at any place. Personally I prefer to wait for lunch at Bangsaen Beach. The next stop is Khao Sam Muk. The main attraction at this small hill are the hundreds of monkeys that are really naughty. Be careful if you have a bag as they will most likely snatch it from you thinking there is food inside. I stopped briefly to take some pictures of some monkeys and as I drove on further up the road I suddenly realized I had some stowaways on the roof of my car. At the top of the hill there is a great lookout place and a small car park where there are some vendors selling food for the monkeys. At the foot of the hill, there is a Chinese shrine for two lovers who apparently jumped to their death when their parents objected to their marriage.

Continue driving south following the coastline and you will reach the cape at Laem Thaen. This area has been developed by the local authority as a place to come and relax. They have also set up a “walking street” here. This is the point where the beach becomes sandy for the first time though at the cape it is mainly rocky. From this point onwards there is an umbrella city with deckchairs. This end is quieter if you want to sit and eat your lunch in the shade. However, if you have come with children then best to keep driving until you reach Bangsaen Beach. On your left you will see plenty of places to stay the night. On the beach the kids can rent inner tubes for swimming and also go on a banana boat ride. You won’t find many Europeans here as it is mainly a beach resort for Thai people. If you go swimming here then please don’t walk around in speedos! Thai people swim in their clothes and most are shocked by how little Europeans wear in the local shops.

Once you have finished at the beach, you might want to check out Wang Saen Suk which has models showing what will happen to you in hell if you have been naughty. Little kids might be scared of some scenes but you might want to take this opportunity to show your children what will happen if they lie to you! You can reach the temple by going down Sai 2 which runs parallel to the beach road. Then look for Soi 19 on your left. The temple is at the end of the road. The Buddha Park is open every day from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Before you head back to Bangkok, you should stop at Nong Mon Market to buy some souvenirs. For Thai people, a souvenir usually means something that you can eat. The market along Sukhumwit Road has a lot of well-known local food and various dried seafood. To reach the market, drive out to Sukhumwit Road and turn right heading away from Bangkok. A short distance away, you will see many market stalls along the road on your right.

Journey to the Jungle

Today we went back to Khao Kheow Open Zoo in Chonburi Province. I was there last year with Nong Grace and as she liked it so much she kept asking me to go again. It is the school summer holidays in Thailand now so we thought we would drive down there today. The zoo is not well-known among foreigners as it is not in any of the guidebooks. But it is an easy day trip from either Bangkok or Pattaya. There isn’t any direct public transport to get there but you can either rent a taxi for the day or join a tour. From Bangkok it took us less than 90 minutes to drive there.

Compared to Safari World, we found Khao Kheow Open Zoo good value for money. Although there is a two price system, they are very open about it and the difference is marginal. In fact, without really asking, they just gave me the Thai price and Nong Grace got in for free again. Thai people are 70 baht and foreigners 100 baht. The full ticket price for Safari World is something like 700 baht. The cost of buying the food for the animals was also reasonable compared to Safari World. And at the restaurant they gave us a large plate of food for only 25 baht. I felt we were well looked after. Though, at the elephant enclosure, I saw them charging three Russian tourists 800 baht for an elephant ride when they had only charged us 150 baht for two people.

Since our last visit, they have opened a new show called “Journey to the Jungle”. As usual in Thailand, they labelled this a world class exhibit. You have to pay extra for this. It is 50 baht for Thai people and 100 baht for foreigners. They show Arabic numbers for both prices so you know that you are paying more. But they gave me Thai price without an argument after I politely asked. The aim of the show is to give you an impression of jungle life without actually going to Africa. The commentary was in both Thai and English. That was nice of them to do that, however, I had a hard time understanding much of it. It was also very stage managed, with different animals coming on to do an “act” and then left as if on cue.

The highlight of the show were the tigers who clambered up a tree to grab some meat and then later dived into the pool to have a swim. If you go to this show, I would advise you to sit on the lefthand side facing the stage. Your view won’t be blocked so much by the gates. If you sit more at the back then you can look over the gates a bit better. Though you won’t see the tigers swimming in the water tank at the bottom. I took the above picture after the show was over. I went down to the bottom to get a closer view. The admission price of 50 baht wasn’t bad, but I think 100 baht would be pushing it a bit. The ending was a bit of an anti-climax. As usual, I have marked this on Google Maps. Come back to www.bangkok-daytrips.com soon for more ideas of places to go with Kids in Bangkok and the surrounding area.

Khao Kheow Open Zoo

There are a number of zoos in and around Bangkok that are ideal destinations for people on holiday in Thailand with their children. One of the better zoos is Khao Kheow Open Zoo in Chonburi Province. It is about half way between Bangkok and Pattaya. The journey took us about 90 minutes and so it makes it an ideal day trip from either Bangkok or Pattaya. However, it is not easy to reach there by public transport so you might have to rent a car or hire a taxi for the day. But it is certainly worth the effort. I went there yesterday with Nong Grace and she had a really great time. She certainly wants to go back again.

In some ways Khao Kheow (sometimes spelled Khao Khiew) is similar to Safari World in Bangkok. It has all the regular animals that you would want to see such as giraffe, elephant, tiger, lion, chimpanzee, camel etc. It also allows you to get up close to these animals. There were many opportunities where you can feed the animals. Food was available for the animals at a very reasonable 20 baht a bunch. Like Safari World you can also drive through the park. However, at Khao Kheow you can get out of the car at most places and get quite close to the animals. You wouldn’t want to walk around the whole park as the animal exhibits alone cover an area of 400 acres.

If you don’t have a car you can always take a guided tram ride or rent a bicycle or even hire a golf cart for 300 baht for two hours. When we go again we might just do that. There are several places within the park where you can rent golf carts. We spent most of our time feeding the giraffes so next time we could park the car there first. Then when ready to explore more, we could go and rent a golf cart. The advantage of a golf cart is that you will see a lot more. Also, we were sometimes a bit lazy to keep getting out of the car to see all of the animals. Having said that, we did spend an incredible six hours at this zoo!

In the afternoon we went to see a Bird Show which was quite good but the parrot named “James Bond” didn’t always want to perform on cue. But, it was an enjoyable show for the youngsters. At the end of the show, Nong Grace wanted her picture taken with a parrot which only cost 20 baht. Nearby there was an adventure playground and a Children’s Zoo. Nong Grace spent several hours here playing and feeding the animals such as rabbits and goats. In fact I think we probably fed most of the animals at the zoo several times over. Luckily this wasn’t as expensive as at Safari World. Nong Grace wanted her picture taken with some of the animals such as tiger like she did at Sriracha Tiger Zoo. But, we didn’t see any opportunities for that which was a shame.

When we went to Safari World, the price of the tickets for foreigners was a really expensive 700 baht. This was mainly due to the shows. Nong Grace said she wants to go there again but I have told her it is too expensive. In contrast, Khao Kheow Open Zoo is far cheaper though obviously more challenging to get there. They have a two price system but the difference is very minimal. Thai adults are 70 baht and foreign adults 100 baht. Thai children 15 baht and foreign children 50 baht. Nong Grace is only four and they let her in for free. I then had to pay another 50 baht for taking my car into the zoo which was also very reasonable. As there wasn’t much difference between foreign and Thai price I didn’t bother to ask for local price. But they gave it to me anyway. It is nice when they do that without asking.

If you are a parent with children, you will probably find Khao Kheow Open Zoo much better if you have your own transport. This meant that Nong Grace didn’t have to walk around so much and we had a mobile base where we were able to keep drinks and snacks. The reason we ended up staying there six hours was probably because we drove around the zoo twice! Which is something you cannot do at Safari World. On the first round we skipped a few places which were too near to each other. Then saw these animals on the second round. We also went back to see some of her favourites like the giraffes and elephants. She also liked throwing cucumbers into the open mouth of the hippos. They apparently have a night safari here which might be worth investigating. I also noticed that they have a camping ground though I am not sure if that is mainly for schools.

Sriracha Tiger Zoo

People often ask us for family friendly tourist attractions in Thailand where they can take their kids to have some fun. Sriracha Tiger Zoo is a great place for kids on holiday in Thailand. It can be done as either a day trip from Bangkok or as an excursion from Pattaya which is slightly closer. We drove down there this week to visit the zoo and it took us only 80 minutes from the Bangkok area. I took Nong Grace again as she enjoys visiting zoos and animal parks. Up to now, she has been quite nervous about getting close to any of the animals. However, for the first time, she wanted her picture taken with a tiger cub. This cost 150 baht for an instant picture in a nice frame. You can also take as many pictures as you like with your own camera. She even posed again later with two baby crocodiles for another 150 baht. She could have also posed with an orangutan, kangaroo, snake and even scorpions. But you have to draw the line when it costs 150 baht per picture.

The main feature of the zoo are the 200 Bengal tigers which can be seen at various locations. To their credit, the zoo has been able to maintain a successful breeding program for these tigers and so many of them were born at the zoo. In the Tiger Tunnel you can get quite close to the tigers. This picture was taken through the perspex glass and it came out quite well. Strangely, in this same enclosure was this African guy dressed in classic Tarzan gear. I am not sure what his purpose was as he was just sitting there smoking a cigarette. I guess when coach parties pass through he will get up and wrestle the tigers or something. In the same building there is a nursery where you can see one of the most remarkable sights at the zoo. This is the tiger cubs drinking the milk of a large mother pig. And then, in the neighbouring cage, there were piglets dressed in tiger skin shirts running around with a full grown tiger!

As well as observing the animals, there are also a number of shows that you can watch for no extra charge. Our first show was “Amazing Circus” which was a kind of Big Top show. It started with an act by an intelligent pig that was able to successfully sort coloured pegs into the correct coloured boxes. I guess this proves that pigs are not colour blind. Next came the highlight of the show with a performance by the large Bengal tigers. A word of warning before I continue. The tigers sat in a semi-circle with their backs to the audience at the start of the show. I would strongly suggest that you don’t sit in the front row as when they go to the toilet they can squirt backwards a couple of meters. The tigers did all the usual tricks such as jumping through hoops of fire and walking on their hind legs. It was certainly entertaining for the youngsters in the audience, but honestly, I am never that impressed with performances done with animals in Thailand. There are three of these shows per day at 11 a.m., 1.30 p.m. and 3.30 p.m.

From here we followed the crowds to the Elephant Show. This one wasn’t actually too bad. The tempo was quite fast and the elephants with their trainers kept running on from stage left and stage right. Although many of the tricks were the usual fare, the fast tempo managed to keep our attention and Nong Grace enjoyed the show. The highlight for her was the basketball match between two elephants. Take a look at this picture of one of the elephants doing a slam dunk! I have seen them playing football before but this was a first for basketball. The trainers also asked for two volunteers from the audience. They then laid down on the ground while two elephants walked over them several times. One of the elephants did the usual trick with its trunk by prodding the male volunteer in places he didn’t really want to be prodded. However, the young female elephant was the funniest. When it stepped over the volunteers, it lifted its hind leg as if it was just about to take a leak. There are three elephant shows per day at 11.40 a.m., 2.30 p.m. and 4.30 p.m.

Our next show was the pig racing which I was actually looking forward to. I had heard about it before and just wanted to see what it was all about. This show started with an amazing pig that could do some really cool party tricks. Believe it or not, the pig could do simple arithmetic sums. To prove it wasn’t fixed, the audience were invited to call out numbers. The equation was then read out aloud in Thai, English and Chinese. The pig then picked up a marker with the correct number. After this came the pig racing. These were piglets that basically just ran from one end to the other. The second race was then their return trip. Not as exciting as I thought it would be. The show certainly has more potential. These shows are every half hour from 9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.

In the building next to the pig racing is a place where you can feed the baby tiger cubs. A bottle of milk was a little expensive at 50 baht. However, Nong Grace really loved feeding the tiger cubs and I think it was her highlight. In fact, after we had finished walking around the zoo, we had to come back here for a second round. Nearby here we also saw deer, giraffes and a few other wild animals. There was also a section with dozens of rabbit that seemed to be suffering a bit from the heat. Again, Nong Grace enjoyed feeding them which fortunately only cost 10 baht this time for a bunch of long green beans. Nearby we went into an artificial cave to see the advertised Scorpion Queen who apparently is comfortable with scorpions covering her whole body. Though we didn’t see any action as she didn’t want to perform for just the two of us. But she said she would if we paid 150 baht. I declined her offer. On the map, there were a couple of places marked that Nong Grace wanted to visit. First was the pig swimming and second the ducks that apparently swam with the crocodiles. But, unfortunately both of these shows have been discontinued. Nong Grace said that maybe the crocodile ate the duck!

Our last show was the Crocodile Show. Our third in three weeks. All of these crocodile shows are much the same as each other. It usually involves sticking limbs – either hands or heads, into the mouth of a crocodile. What makes or breaks these shows is the personality of the performers. Our show had one lady and one man. The guy actually looked quite young and he hammed it up a bit which made his performance a bit funny. He slipped over a few times while trying to pull the crocodile out of the water which earned him some nervous laughter and applause from the audience. The show was alright if you haven’t seen that kind of thing before. It ended when an obvious stage plant came down and threw them a 20 baht note as a tip. No-one picked up on the hint so the cleaning lady was then told to throw some money too. Then other people started to tip them. There are seven crocodile shows per day.

Our last stop was the crocodile nursery. Here we saw hundreds of crocodile eggs in the incubators. Apparently they have an egg breaking festival in May where the public can help with the hatching of the eggs. Nong Grace then surprised me when she said she wanted to have her photograph taken with a baby crocodile. She was very nervous at first but was determined to do it. She had seen a photograph of her father posing with a big tiger and I guess she wanted to outdo him. So, she now had two framed pictures of her holding animals. Something to show her friends at school. On the way to the exit, we passed one more pen where we saw a tiger that seemed to be living happily with some dogs. Pretty unusual so it excited Nong Grace. But she was still disappointed that she hadn’t seen the duck with the crocodile.

As usual, there is a two price ticket system at the zoo. The foreigners price is 300 baht for adults and 200 baht for children. No sign of the Thai price which makes me presume that they are embarrassed about having two prices. I managed to get the Thai price of 120 baht by asking politely in Thai. Someone also told me that a work permit also does the trick. Nong Grace was free as she is less than 140 cms. But that sign is written in Thai and so I am not sure if that includes foreign children. The price for Thai children is 60 baht. To reach the zoo, just take the main highway from Bangkok towards Chonburi and then Pattaya. The zoo is in the Sriracha district. Big signs tell you when to turn off so it is quite simple.

A Trip to Koh Si Chang Island

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The little island I visited today, known as Koh Si Chang, has been on my list of places to visit for a long time. It is not that I have heard spectacular things about this island. It is certainly no Koh Samet. You also cannot really label it “Unseen Thailand” as you will find it in the Lonely Planet, amongst other guidebooks. However, what intrigued me the most is its attractions of historical importance and the fact that not that many people have been there! Certainly not many of my Thai colleagues have been there.

To reach the island, you need to first catch a bus down to Siracha (sometimes written Sri Racha). From the bus station you can catch a tuk tuk to the pier for Koh Si Chang. The boat leaves hourly between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. However, as it was a long holiday weekend there seemed to be more boats available. We just missed one boat that didn’t seem to have a scheduled time. The next came 30 minutes later and soon was filled to capacity. To be honest, I don’t really trust boats in Thailand. The 45 minute crossing was relatively calm though there were a few swells that rocked the boat. We made a point of making sure we sat in the open area at the back. I didn’t fancy being inside if the boat capsized. Each of the seats had a lifejacket wrapped around the back. But, most of these had worn thin and the stuffing was either exposed or had fallen out.

Koh Sichang

Back in the days before the Chao Phraya River was dredged to allow big container ships to go up to the port in Bangkok, Koh Si Chang used to be a major destination for ships arriving in Thailand. Their cargo was offloaded onto barges and then transported to Bangkok. However, it would seem that there is still a lot of shipping commerce going on here. Apart from the fishing vessels, I counted at least 50 large freight ships between the mainland and the island. As we approached the island, I could see a couple of massive silos that was a backdrop to a white chedi on the hill. Nearby, there was a ship docked at a deepwater pier. In a way it is a shame to spoil this holiday destination. However, it has been this way for over one hundred years longbefore tourists started to arrive.

When we landed at the pier, we were met by rows of songtaews, motorcycle taxis and some very beefed up tuk tuks called “sky labs”. An announcement on the PA system assured us that we wouldn’t be cheated if we took a sky lab tour of the island. There was a fixed price of 250 baht for a long tour of the island. They said we could spend all day for this one price. That seemed to be very fair and I wondered how they could survive on that amount with oil prices being so high. Our sky lab driver was a friendly person who showed us on a map where he would take us on the tour. We agreed but said we wanted to get something to eat first. He said no problem and took us to a nearby restaurant where he waited for us. The second surprise of the day was that the prices of the meals weren’t that bad. It averaged about 30 baht per plate. Obviously the islanders had made a decision that they didn’t want to have a reputation of cheating tourists.

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Our first stop on the tour was the nearby Khao Yai Spirit Shrine which was situated in a Chinese Temple. Our brochure, which incidently you can pick up for free at the pier, told us that the shrine becomes very crowded during Chinese New Year. Even if you are not interested in the temple itself, there are certainly some fine views that give you a good introduction to the island. If you are feeling fit enough, there are steps behind the temple that lead up to a viewpoint which houses a replica of Buddha’s Footprint. This was made during the reign of King Rama V from a sacred stone that was brought from the birthplace of the Buddha. The extra 300 hundred or so steps are worth the effort as you will pass by wild monkeys and will see some wonderful panoramic views of the township below and the hills beyond. At the foot of our hill we could see Wat Chutharthistham Sapharam Worawihan which was built by King Rama V in honour of his son who was born on the island. Further in the distance, on another hill, we could see a large seated Buddha with two standing Buddhas behind. This is a famous meditation temple called Wat Tham Yai Prik which is worth a visit if you have more time.

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We descended the steps back down to the road nearly an hour later. The sky lab driver had said he would meet us back in 30 minutes. He didn’t seem to mind that we had taken longer. Our next destination was only five minutes away on the other side of the island. Chong Khao Khad seemed to be an excellent place to come in the evening to enjoy the pleasant sea breeze. In fact, I should mention that in despite the heat of the day and blue sky, we were certainly enjoying the cool sea breeze. There were several places to eat and also a hotel with fan rooms starting at 590 baht. My intention was to come here to check the place out for a future visit. But, I was already falling in love with the island. I wish I had brought a change of clothes so that I could explore the island in a more leisurely manner.

Back in the car park, our sky lab driver was just arriving with what looked like another tour party. It then dawned on us that the guy was two timing us. While he was waiting for us, he had gone back to pick up another tour! We later found out that he had at least four tours going on at the same time as there were other people ahead of us! We didn’t really mind as 250 baht is quite a good deal for an all day tour. He seemed to be juggling us very well. The island is only 7.9 sq km and as the roads are in excellent condition he was able to get around quite quickly with his powerful engine. As we drove to our next destination, we picked his brain about places to stay. As we passed by guesthouses and small hotels, he told us the prices. Fan rooms seemed to start as low as 450 baht. I was starting to like the slow pace of life here a lot. It was so different to Koh Samet. This was a real community and it felt it. There were shops, markets, temples and schools.

Touring Koh Si Chang Island

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Although Ko Si Chang is the nearest major island to Bangkok, it doesn’t really get that many visitors. Sure, on holiday weekends it can get a little crowded, but not like other tourist destinations. If you like peace and quiet, then just make sure you come here during the week. For 250 baht (about $6) our sky lab driver was giving us a tour of the island. Even if we were going to stay the night, I think we would have still done this tour as it was turning out to be a good introduction to the island. I am sure the driver would have taken us to a hotel first to drop off our bags before continuing with the tour. Then, on our second day, I think we would have probably rented motorcycles (also 250 baht per day or 80 baht per hour) in order to explore the island at a more leisurely pace.

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For our third stop of the tour, our sky lab driver (they use this name in Thai) took us Phra Chuthathut Palace. What is fascinating about this island is that three past kings (Rama IV, Rama V and Rama VI) all came here with their wives and children for a holiday. King Rama IV came here in the mid 1850’s for the fresh air and beautiful views. Though he never actually slept on the island, opting rather for sleeping on his boat. It was Rama V who built the palace as a kind of convalescence home. In fact, one of his sons, Prince Chuthathut was born here and so he named the palace after him. Rama VI came here as a child. A  number of the buildings still remain today. However, a teak wood mansion was never completed due to border incursions by the French in the 1890’s. It was considered to be too dangerous to vacation on the island any more and the building was shifted to Bangkok in 1899 where it became the famous Vimanmek Mansion.

You could easily spend a few hours wandering around the grounds. There is a museum inside the buildings and also a restaurant. If you are feeling adventurous, you can climb to the top of the hill where there stands a white chedi. Normally these religious buildings are solid and you cannot go inside. However, this was the first one I had seen that had a small chamber inside. It was here that King Rama V came to meditate. So, it was an honour to stand on that spot. And also, to be the only one there. I think it is probably a great place to meditate as it is so peaceful and there air is so fresh compared to what we have back in Samut Prakan. On the way back down I passed a “bell rock” which indeed sounded like a bell when I hit it with a stone. Nearby was an old stone pagoda that had been renovated. I counted about seven gardeners that were working on the grounds. Cutting grass and clearing weeds. It is worth staying here longer and maybe having a picnic on the lawn in the shade of the trees.

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The final stop for our grand tour of the island was Hat Tham Phang (Tumbled Cave Beach). I had read that there wasn’t really any beaches to speak of on the island, so I was pleasantly surprised to see so many people swimming in the sea in this bay. The water looked very clear and very inviting. Unfortunately we hadn’t brought any of our swimming gear with us. So we could only relax on the deck chairs and soak up the atmosphere and the fresh sea breeze. If you like, you can eat on the beach as there is a restaurant here that will bring food to your deck chair. The hotel rooms in this bay are fan only and cost about 500 baht each. The island isn’t really that big and I guess if you are going to rent a motorcycle for the day then it doesn’t really matter where you stay.

Our sky lab driver came back to pick us up at the agreed time and whisked us back to the pier just in time for the 5 p.m. boat. It had been a really good, though a little exhausting, day out on the island. There was a lot of climbing involved, though like I said before, not everyone bothered to climb up to the viewpoints. Depends on how much energy you have. You really need to take your time when you come here. I would suggest that if you can, you should try and spend at least one night. But please, don’t come here expecting white sandy beaches and parties all night. You will be disappointed. This is a great place to come and unwind and just relax. We will certainly be coming back to spend a few nights here in order to explore this fascinating community a bit more.

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The drive from Samut Prakan to Siracha is quite quick and straightforward. The 100 km trip took about 90 minutes to the pier. From Bangkok, take the elevated highway above Bang Na-Trad Highway until you reach the end. Then turn off onto the Chonburi Bypass following signs for Pattaya and Bangsaen. After a while you will see a sign for Siracha and Bangsaen which will take you back to Sukhumwit Road. As you reach Siricha, you will come to traffic lights with some school buildings on the left which are shaped like ships. There is a blue tourist sign before the lights which clearly tells you to turn right for Koh Si Chang. A short while later you will reach a roundabout. Turn right here and you will see the road leading out to the pier. It is a popular relaxation area for locals as well so it can get crowded. If you are coming from Bangkok, catch a bus from Ekamai to Siricha. They leave every 30 minutes and will take at least two hours if not more. From the bus stop you can catch a tuk tuk or motorcycle taxi to the pier. Just say you want to go to Ko Si Chang (pronounced “goh see chang” ).

Buddhist Hell (and Heaven)

There is a temple near Bangsaen Beach which has a garden full of statues depicting what is supposed to be a Buddhist hell. The place is called Wang Saen Suk and is only 90 minutes away from Bangkok on the way to Pattaya. Some of the scenes depicted are pretty gruesome although there were plenty of families there. Actually, there was one poor boy who was a little scared because his mother had just shown him what happens to children that don’t listen to their parents (see picture above).

According to the book “Traibhumi Phra Ruang”, as soon as you die, you go to pay respects to Phya Yom (the Death king). Four celestial beings will check your records of good and bad deeds. All the good deeds you have done are recorded on a gold plate and the bad deeds you have done are recorded on a piece of dog skin. After a careful investigation, if you have done good, the Death King will send you to heaven to enjoy the fruit of your good deeds there. If you have committed sins, you will be punished.

Punishment in hell varies in ways and degrees of harshness according to the sins committed. Every form of punishment is a torture. Hell has a large number of pits; eight large ones with 16 attachments each. That makes 136 pits altogether. The one that is most commonly known is “avici”. This pit is at the bottom. However, even those who are sent here still have a chance to be reborn some day. Apart from these 136 pits, there is a special one called Loganta. It is pitch dark and extremely cold (unlike all the other pits which are extremely hot). Those who have hurt their parents or monks physically will go to this pit and will remain there until the end of the Buddhist era (until a new Buddha is born on earth).
The sign on the left says “Welcome to Hell!”. Once you pass this sign, you will see scenes showing sinners being boiled in copper cauldrons and others being torn to pieces by hell’s dogs. If you are curious to know what will happen to you in the afterlife if you perform certain bad deeds then come back tomorrow for the grisly details!

In the Christian religion, we have the Ten Commandments. Well, in Buddhism, they have much the same. For lay people they have to keep five precepts. Novice monks keep ten precepts. Adult monks have to keep 227 precepts! I will talk about some of those later. For the time being, I want to show you these pictures I took at Wang Saen Suk last weekend. These are the things that will happen to you if you break each of the five precepts. You have been warned!

(One): You must not kill (Two): You must not steal

(Three): You must not commit adultery (Four): You must not tell a lie

(Five): You must not take strong drinksThe final picture shows what will happen to you if you don’t give alms to the monks and keep the five precepts.

Main Sources: “A Survey of Thai Arts and Architectural Attractions” published by Chulalongkorn University and information signs found at the temple.

A Surreal Temple

I was telling you the other day about my trip to Bang Pakong to watch the dolphins. My Thai guidebook only told me about the dolphins, the bats on Bird Island, and the fishing nets. Nothing else. So, I decided to drive around a little to see what I could find. What a found was Wat Tha Kham. Usually temples are all much he same as each other. But, this one was pretty surreal. Dotted around the grounds were parts of a gigantic walking Buddha. They even had a melting works in the temple grounds where I saw casts for different sections of the Buddha image. The head was already in a shrine. In front of this were some giant upside down feet! I am not sure how many years it will be before it is finished, but go and take a look at this temple now before they complete it.

I have constructed a map for you based on Google Earth. It shows you quite clearly the Bang Na -Trad tollway that we drove on to go to Bang Pakong. We came down from the tollway just before the bridge. Then, on the other side of the bridge we did a u-turn and turned left onto the road you can see just south of the bridge. At the intersection, we turned right to go to Moo 1 Pier. We got on the boat here and went down river to the Gulf of Thailand which took about 30 minutes.  After our boat trip, we went back the other way to go to eat lunch at Moo 8 Pier. On the way back to the tollway, we stopped at Wat Tha Kham. Opposite here there is an information center which wasn’t open at the time of our visit. Looking through the windows we could see that the display looked quite interesting and informative. OK, now you have no excuse not to go!

Bangsaen Beach

On the spur of the moment, I decided to drive down to Bangsaen Beach this morning. I had been thinking about going there for a while ever since a friend of mine said he had enjoyed a couple of visits there recently. I kept putting it off, but then I noticed in the Bangkok Post on Friday that there was going to be a seafood festival at the weekend. Seemed like a good excuse to go. It didn’t really matter I don’t like seafood that much. Any good excuse for a road trip.

I had been to Bangsaen once before but that was really a long time ago. I think shortly after I first came to Thailand. I went with some friends. This time I drove down there alone by car. I wanted the freedom to be able to explore the area. I did contemplate taking my map book of Thailand, but the distance between Paknam and Chonburi was only a few inches on the page! Probably wouldn’t have been much help. That is a problem with driving in Thailand, no really good map books. Certainly none that have all of the roads.

Other than maps, driving in Thailand isn’t really much of a problem. We drive on the left here, the same as my home country England. Petrol stations are a lot easier. I don’t think I have ever seen a self-service station here. As you drive into the petrol station, a guy quickly stands up and waves you enthusiastically towards his pump. There are two types of petrol that cars use. “91” and “95”. I use the latter so I just say “gao haa, dtem dtank”. Which means “95” and “fill the tank”.

While one guy is doing that, another comes along and asks if I have any rubbish and then proceeds to clean the windshield. He even checks my tyres. Compared to England, petrol prices in Thailand are really cheap. But, the prices have been going up so much recently that it has caught everyone’s attention. To be honest, I never really paid much attention to the price of petrol before. A friend came over from America last week and he asked me how much was petrol. I had no idea. I just ask them to fill the tank and then I give them a thousand baht note. However, today a thousand baht note wasn’t quite enough. He wanted a 1040 baht! OK, now I am noticing the price. It is 21 baht a litre. Expensive.

Bangsaen is in Chon Buri Province which isn’t really that far from Paknam. I went there last year with Gor to watch the Buffalo Racing. Driving there was quite easy. I took Sukhumwit Road halfway into Bangkok. It was slow driving through the traffic at Samrong but then picked up after I turned right at the Bang Na-Trad intersection. This first part of the journey took about half an hour to cover 8 k.m. Not too bad for a Sunday morning. During rush hour it would take a lot longer. Maybe even an hour!

At Central City Bang Na, I went up onto the tollway above the main road. Thai people call this the “longest bridge in the world”. I am not sure whether I would call it a bridge but it is certainly long. This tollway goes all the way from Bang Na to Chonburi for a total of 50 kilometres. Compared to the road below there were hardly any cars so I could keep a constant 130 km/h all the way. About 20 minutes later I was in Chonburi! The price of using that road was 55 baht.

When driving in Thailand it is relatively easy to use the road signs. The pictorial warning signs are much the same as other countries. The direction signs are nearly always in Thai and Roman script. Certainly on the main highways anyway. When I see bilingual signs like these my eye automatically goes to the English version. However, it does help sometimes being able to read Thai because the English is sometimes a lot smaller! After driving through Chon Buri for a few minutes, I spotted a sign written only in Thai for Tambon Bangsaen. Not exactly what I was looking for but I wanted to explore the area. Tambon means district.

I drove down a narrow road for a while basically following my nose and a tour bus in front. When I first hit the sea I was a little disappointed. There was only mudflats like we have back in Samut Prakan. I knew people said the beaches at Bangsaen were dirty but I didn’t think they would be this bad. I kept on driving until I reached Laem Taen. This time there were more cars so I got out to take a look.

The air here was really good compared to the industrial city of Paknam. I wouldn’t call it fresh, but the wind was certainly cooler than what we usually have. The tide was in but I could see that this wasn’t a swimming beach. There were a lot of big rocks as well as mud. However, I could see patches of clean sand here and there! I was getting warmer! I kept on walking and then around the corner I could clearly see what must be Bangsaen Beach in the distance. Compared to where I was now, there were hundreds of people on the beach and in the water. I decided to head back to the car and drive down to Bangsaen Beach.

The first sign that I was nearly there were all of the cars parked along the road. These weren’t only double parked but triple parked in places! I had to drive several kilometres before I finally found somewhere to park. I do remember coming here before but I didn’t recognize anything. Everything has changed so much. Also, it is so different to other beach resorts like Pattaya and Cha-am. Along the beach road at these resorts are a lot of shops, restaurants and night clubs. Here in Bangsaen I couldn’t see any sign of beer bars or night-time entertainment.

At Bangsaen they had done a lot of landscaping. Between the main road and the beach is a wide granite walkway. On either side people were selling food like som tam (papaya salad), fried chicken and seafood. There were some souvenir stores as well as bicycle hire shops. There were quite a few children cycling up and down the granite walkway. I would say this was a really safe and family orientated beach resort.

At the top of the beach there are hundreds of palm trees, which give plenty of shelter from the sun. Then there is the forest of deck chairs and beach umbrellas, all huddled close to each other to block out any sunlight. It was an amazing 15 deckchairs deep. They say that Thai people don’t come to the beach for a swim. They come here to eat and chat with their friends under the beach umbrellas. Each group of deckchairs has a central table. When you sit down, someone will come up with a menu. You can order any food you like and they will bring it straight to you on the beach!

I walked through the beach umbrellas and out onto the beach proper. The sand at the top looked quite clean and dry. But further down towards the sea it looked wet and muddy-like. However, this didn’t seem to deter the Thai people from playing in the sand and jumping up and down in the sea. I say Thai people because I didn’t see any other foreigners for the whole time I was there. In fact, I think foreigners are a rarity as a couple of times little children pointed to me and shouted to their mothers “mae mae, farang”. Which basically translates as “Mother, mother, look at that white faced devil!” Well, sort of.

I also knew for certain that there were no Westerners in the sea because just about everyone was swimming with all their clothes on! This is Thai style. It doesn’t mean they cannot afford a swimming suit. Nor does it mean they are worried about skin cancer. (I was probably the only one wearing sun cream and a baseball hat.) The Thai people have a much higher level of decency compared to many Westerners. That is why so many Thai people are shocked when they see Westerners in their skimpy bathing suits or going topless.

Apart from eating, the other main activity on the beach is playing on banana boats. These are long blow-up plastic boats (in the shape of hot dogs) which are pulled along by jet skis. They are everywhere in Thailand and Bangsaen was no exception. There were also kids flying kites and playing in the sea on inner tubes.

After walking along the beach for about an hour I decided to head back to the car. I was getting hungry. Along the way, I came across the information centre and picked up a brochure for the area. Inside was a map. I could see that if I had kept on driving along Sukhumwit Road I would have come across a major road that goes straight to the beach. Probably well sign-posted too. Never mind, it was best going the back roads.

I decided not to eat at Bangsaen Beach. Way too many people. Instead, I drove back to Laem Taen. Here the deckchairs were only four deep and I could get some better service. Just about every food stall seemed to be selling som tam. As it is my favourite I decided to order this spicy salad together with some grilled chicken. After my meal, I laid back in my deckchair and soon started to dose off. There was a lovely breeze and I felt very comfortable.

I wouldn’t say Bangsaen Beach is a perfect beach resort. But, it is certainly a lot closer to Bangkok than Pattaya. It is also more family friendly which is important for people who don’t like the sleaziness of Pattaya. However, for better beaches, you have to head further south down the eastern seaboard. First to Sriricha and then Pattaya. Much further down is Rayong and the islands of Koh Samet and Koh Chang. These have beautiful white sandy beaches and crystal clear water. Unfortunately, you cannot really do any of those as a day trip. Bangsaen is so close to Paknam, that you could almost just come down here for lunch! I will certainly come here again, though next time I will probably come with some friends.