Author Archives: admin

Getting from Bangkok to Chumphon

Visitors to Thailand arrive at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. They typically spend a few days in Bangkok seeing the sights and getting acclimatised, and then head out of the city to explore the Kingdom further. One of the main tourist destinations outside of Bangkok is Koh Tao.

Koh Tao doesn’t have an airport. Those in a hurry for whom cost is not an issue catch a Bangkok Airways flight to the neighbouring island of Koh Samui, and from there board a ferry to Koh Tao. Those not in similar circumstances have to make their way to the south of Thailand by either train or bus.

You can catch the 17.35 train from Hualamphong Train Station in Bangkok to Chumphon in the south. This train arrives early the following morning at 2.48. This allows plenty of time to catch a transfer mini bus to the Lomprayah Ferry Pier. From Chumphon it is about an hour on the Lomprayah high speed catamaran to Koh Tao island.

The only downside to this trip is the over night on the train. The alternative is to travel to Chumphon arriving on the day and then finding a hotel for the night and catching an early morning ferry to Koh Tao.

The cost of a second class sleeper on the train is 1,000 Thai Baht and the cost of the ferry from Chumphon to Koh Tao is 600 Thai Baht. This is a considerable saving on catching a plane. For many the train journey is a chance to see something of rural Thailand. If the Gulf is calm the ferry journey can also be most pleasant. It’s not exactly a boutique travel experience but it is normally stress free. Remember that there are often delays with train and boat travel but you invariably get there in the end.

To find out more about this route and to book travel tickets online see – http://www.thailandtrains.com/buy-train-tickets-from-bangkok-to-chumphon/

Sin Sod


The giving of a dowry remains an important part of marriage in Thailand. Nothing unusual about this in many parts of Asia. However, what is unusual is that in Thailand the dowry is given by the husband-to-be to the parents of the prospective bride. In Thailand this money is known as ‘Sin Sod‘.

The giving of Sin Sod is a complicated and delicate issue. It is tricky for Thai people and even trickier for Westerners marrying Thais. This practice, whilst traditional in Thailand, is also open to abuse both in terms of exploitation of the prospective husband and in terms of the bride-to-be.

Sin Sod could easily be viewed as either the selling of a daughter, or a girl selling herself for the benefit of her parents. This certainly does happen. However, it is a mistake to believe that this is the norm. The issue goes a lot deeper than this.

For many Thai families the giving of Sin Sod is a sign of commitment. To give this a positive spin, what it means is that ‘feckless’ young Thai men are made to show that they have the self control and work ethic to be good husbands. The ‘going rate’ for Sin Sod in the poor north eastern part of Thailand (so we are told) is 100,000 Thai Baht ($3,333). A young man in the same area, with a fairly good job during manual labour, will earn around 8,000 ($266) a month. This means getting married entailed saving a whole year’s wages. If a young man can do this by our reckoning he has more than amply demonstrated his ability to work and save and hence his suitability as a prospective husband for a loved daughter.

The amount you pay works on a sliding scale. Basically the more ‘desirable’ the girl, the more you pay. I know this is starting to sound more and more like the selling of a prize ‘cow’, rather than a sacred union. However, bear with me and let me explain this. Doubtlessly for some families this is seen as a money maker. However, even if this is true to some extent, there is also an element of pride involved for the family. Giving the money on the wedding day, and doing it publicly, is a big part of the Sin Sod tradition. For the parents of a girl who fetches a big Sin Sod, it is a source of pride, and a boast to family and friends, to show that they raised a daughter who fetched so much money. It also demonstrates that their daughter has been clever to snare a successful man. Big ‘face’ for the the family. How your family is perceived by the community is very important for Thai people, often more important than the money itself.

Foreigners getting married in Thailand generally have a big problem with Sin Sod, after all its not part of their culture and appears to be Thai people taking advantage. Often this is true. The majority of Thai/Western relationships involve 40+ Western men marrying bar girls. Of course they are being taken for a ride. A girl who sells sex for money is also going to sell marriage for money. The ironic thing here though is that quite often former bar girls make very loyal and loving wives. I know a fair few Westerners in Thailand who fall into this category. Go figure. Thailand is full of paradoxes.

Not all Thai/Western marriages fit this mold though. And there are a range of experiences in respect of Sin Sod for more ‘genuine’ relationships. One friend of ours gave no Sin Sod, the girl’s mum refused to accept. The mum works as an accounts administrator in Bangkok and had a very modern perspective on life. Another friend of ours married an older Thai lady and also paid no Sin Sod, but rather made a promise to renovate the family house (as yet an unfulfilled promise after 4 years since the nuptials). For other friends, with successful marriages, Sin Sod was paid. My point here isn’t about the amount you need to pay, but that even for Westerners the issue has to be dealt with one way or the other. If you think you can get married to a Thai girl in Thailand without dealing with the issue you are kidding yourself. If you are in this situation, and your approach is simply to refuse and not pay at all despite what the family say, you aren’t going to be getting married. Simple as that.

Grand Palace Bangkok


The Grand Palace is Thailand’s most visited attraction. I am not sure its the best attraction in Thailand, but by the same token you can’t not go. Missing the Grand Palace would be akin to going to Paris and not visiting the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower. Its big, and if you have the stamina you could spend a whole day exploring.

The Grand Palace was the official residence for the Kings of the Chakri Dynasty from 1782 to 1925. A quick history lesson: The former capital was Ayutthaya to the North. This was destroyed during war with Burma and the displaced King came to Bangkok and in turn displaced another King (Taksin of Thonburi), who was resident on the Thonburi side of the river in Bangkok. This happened in 1782, and it marks the start of Siam as a unified nation (later to be renamed Thailand) with the creation of the Chakri Dynasty (to which the current King of Thailand belongs), and the establishment of the Grand Palace in its current location. The Grand Palace is an important historical monument in Thai history and is revered as such. Hence, the strict dress code – as a tourist you will be turned away (or made to rent additional clothing) if you come in shorts or vests.

Successive Kings added to the original palace. King Rama II expanded the temple to its current size of 218,400 sqm. King Rama IV later named it the ‘Grand Palace’. This expansion carried on until the 1920s under King Rama VIII who added personal palaces for the Royal family such as the Dusit Palace. This expansion over time explains the eclectic architecture and layout.

Until the absolution of absolute monarchy in 1932, the Grand Palace was the seat of government in Thailand. It formerly housed thousands of people from soldiers, to ministers, administrators and of course the Royal household and their consorts. The Grand Place was very much a city within a city in the same way as the Forbidden Palace was in Beijing. Nowadays, Thailand is governed by a parliament elsewhere and the current King (Rama IX) resides in the Chitralada Palace in another part of the city.

The Grand Palace still holds some Royal administrators and is occasionally used for important ceremonies, but for most of the year the majority of the site is open to the public. Official opening times are 9am to 3.30 pm, 365 days a year. The entrance fee is 400 Thai Baht ($13). It is not on the mass transit system. You can get there by boat though. Take the sky train to Saphan Taksin BTS station and then transfer to the Chao Praya Express Boat system heading north. The best stop for the Grand Palace (and Wat Pho) is the Tha Chang Pier.

One big annoyance to warn you about is the ‘scam artists’ hanging around outside the Grand Palace. They approach unsuspecting tourists to tell them the Grand Palace is closed and then try to sell you a tour or take you to a gem shop. Under no circumstances should you believe them. The Grand Palace is never completely shut – they are up to no good!

To take the hassle out of traveling in Bangkok you can book an Isango tour of the Grand Palace. You are picked up at either 8am or 12 noon and taken to see the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha. Entrance fees are included and you get the benefit of an English speaking guide. Click on the button below to find out more.

 

Sala Rim Naam Restaurant


Sala Rim Naam is run by the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, which is across the river from the restaurant. As arguably the best hotel in Bangkok, and one of the best in the world, diners can be assured that this ‘satellite’ operation of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel will meet up to expectations.

Sala Rim Naam offers two different dining options. There is the inside dining experience (pictured above) known simply as Sala Rim Naam, and an outside dining area known as Terrace Rim Naam for romantic riverside dining. The difference is that the indoor dining includes a classical Thai Dancing show, and dinners are limited (if that is the right to describe an elegant Thai dining menu) to buffet lunches and an extravagant set menu in the evening. At Terrace Rim Naam you can choose from the a la carte menu as well. The indoor dining is a bit more tourist oriented, which may or may not be your thing.

Sala Rim Naam underwent a $3 million dollar renovation in 2007. You can see what they spent the money on as the interior resembles a palace, rather than a restaurant. They hired a specialist weaver for the silk upholstery, cushions and wall panels. The set evening menus are currently priced at 1,800 Thai Baht ($60) per person and worth every penny especially if you factor in the surroundings and the classical Thai dancing show. The dancing show is nightly from 8.15pm to 9.30pm and features a large cast performing a variety of dance styles, including the little performed Khon (masked) dance. If you really want to push the ‘boat out’ you can book in advance for the Chef’s Table. Executive Chef Vichit Mukura will cook you a 6 course meal for 2,900 Thai Baht ($97) or 9 courses for 3,900 Thai Baht ($130).

Terrace Rimm Naam has a great range of Thai food to choose from. Below we have listed some of our favourites:

Naam Prik Makhaam -Deep fried sardines with Thai Chilli Sauce

Gaeng Phed Goong Bai Chapu – Prawn curry with Betel leaves

Nuea Kua Kling – Southern style fried beef with yellow curry paste and herbs

Phed Yaang Naam Makhaam – Roasted duck with tamarind sauce

Sala Rim Naam is open for buffet lunch from 12 noon to 3pm and set dinner from 7pm to 11pm. Terrace Rim Naam is open from 5pm to 11pm. You can book by calling +66 2659 9000 or by e-mail (mobkk-restaurants@mohg.com). To get there go to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and take the hotel’s teak barge across the river, which is pictured above. To get to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel either take a taxi or go to the Saphan Taksin BTS (sky train) station and head to the ferry pier – the hotel runs a frequent shuttle service in another teak barge.

You can make sure you get a table at Sala Rim Naam by booking through Isango. They pick you up at your hotel at 7pm and take you in an air-con vehicle to a ferry where you take a short boat trip out to the restaurant. For $117 you get a seat in the teak and marble main hall, get a full meal consisting of royal Thai cuisine, a dancing show, transfers and an English speaking guide. Click the button below to book or get more information.

Human Development Foundation

Mercy Centre
Don’t be fooled by the great hotels and restaurants in Bangkok or the new shopping centres or advances in the mass transit system. Bangkok still has its slums and its poverty. Bangkok is a great place to visit but we appeal to you to give some thought to ‘responsible tourism’ and make a contribution to one of the great charitable organisations operating in Thailand such as the Human Development Foundation.

Mercy Centres

The Human Development Foundation was set up in 1973 by Father ‘Joe’ and Sister Maria. Father Joseph Maier’s parish covered the poor slum areas of Klong Toey. Amongst his congregation were workers at the local slaughter houses. The children of the workers had little or no education. Moved by their plight, with the help of Sister Maria and whatever donations of money and time he could get, Father Joe set up the first ‘Mercy Centre’ offering schooling for 1 Baht (0.03 USD) per day for children of all backgrounds and religions. The fee has always been waived for the very poorest children, and a hot nutritious daily meal for all children has been provided from the outset.

By 2012 the network of Mercy Centres has grown to 22, providing education to 2,500 disadvantaged children at any given time. A massive 40,000 children have been taught to read and write in Mercy Centres. The schools follow the Thai National Curriculum and offer opportunities for both Buddhist and Catholic worship. The Human Development Foundation hasn’t just stopped there, they also run 6 orphanages, and social programmes for drug rehabilitation, housing, sports, handicapped children and a woman’s savings and loans programme.

You can donate through the website (www.mercycentre.org) or pay a visit. Father Joe can be contacted through the website.

Father Joseph Maier

Originally from Wisconsin, USA, Father Joe has been in Thailand and Laos since 1967. His tireless work has not gone unnoticed by the Thai people. In 2004 Father Joe received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Her Majesty Queen of Thailand. In 2009 Father Joe’s role has become more formalised with his appointment as Child Protection Ambassador to Thailand by the Thai Government.

Father Joe’s work to help the needy, irrespective of their religion, in Thailand has most recently taken him to the Andaman sea where he is currently involved in a project to help the Moken (sometimes known as ‘Sea Gypsies’) whose traditional way of life has been eroded by the actions of the Burmese authorities.

Sister Maria Chantavaradom

Born in Macau, and then raised in Thailand, Sister Maria has been the Mother Superior of the religious order she helped to establish in Bangkok for almost 50 years. She has worked with Father Joe from the outset and rightly shares the credit for the achievements of the Human Development Foundation.

Supatra River House

Supatra River House
Supatra River House restaurant is one of the great dining experiences for visitors to Bangkok. There are better places to eat admittedly, but when you factor in river side location, the views of the Grand Palace and Wat Arun, the value for money prices, and the restored teak house, you can see why this restaurant is so popular. Famous people have chosen to eat here, such as Keanu Reeves and Shakira. If you are on holiday come and eat here, you will love it, and ignore the killjoys who talk down this restaurant. We think its great.

The restaurant is located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River on the opposite side to the Grand Palace. Getting there is either a ‘pain in the posterior’ or charming depending on your perspective. The restaurant runs a shuttle boat from the Maharaj Pier on the Maharaj Road, which is near the Grand Palace, to take you across the river. If you want to make your own way, you need to take a taxi or be prepared for a substantial walk and a challenging time with maps. The address is 266 Soi Wat Rakhang in Thonburi.

The restaurant is open from 11.30 am to 2.30pm for lunch and 5.30pm to 11pm for dinner. The restaurant is split into three sections. There is the open air terrace, the two storey restored teak house with air-conditioned dining rooms, and a second building with a river view dining room. We suggest booking as you will probably want to sit outside. The telephone number is 0066-2-411-0305 and the e-mail address is reservation_srh@hotmail.com.

This restaurant has some history, and is owned and run by an elite Bangkok family. The original owner of the house is Khun Supatra Singholaga, who is quite a famous figure in Thailand having been instrumental in starting the Chao Phraya Express Boat Company and having been a leading advocate of women’s rights in Thailand. Her youngest daughter is involved in the running of the restaurant and putting on the Classical Thai Dancing shows which happens every saturday night from 7.30pm to 8.30pm. If you go you will see her dancing.

Anyway, onto the food. There are both A La Carte options and set menus. The set menus cost around 750 Thai Baht ($25) to 1,200 Thai Baht ($40). The food is Thai, with a hint of fusion cooking in some of the dishes. We wouldn’t describe the food as ‘authentic’ Thai cooking as it is geared towards the Western palate, but it is good.

The menu is orientated towards seafood and the seafood dishes are the star of the show. Our recommendations are the Steamed Sea Bass in Spicy Lemon Sauce, Deep Fried Garoupa in Chilli Sauce, and Deep Fried Snapper in Sweet & Sour Sauce. To give you a sense of the dishes on offer, and the prices, below we have listed some example dishes:

  • Fried rice with seafood and chinese sausage – 220 Thai Baht
  • Deep fired sea bass – 470 Thai Baht
  • Massaman Beef Curry – 220 Thai Baht
  • Pomelo Salad with Seafood – 220 Thai Baht

Bangkok for Kids (Part 3) – Safari World

Safari World
Located on the outskirts to the north-east of Bangkok, Safari World gets mixed reviews. On the minus side it is a bit of trek to get there: a 30 to 40 minute journey from the centre of town by taxi or by an organised tour. Public transport, even cheap local buses, won’t take you directly there. It is also a bit on the expensive side at 700 Thai Baht ($23) and 450 Thai Baht ($15) for children. More worringly there have been some concerns raised in the past by several western animal welfare experts about the way the animals are cared for.

This said, Safari World is a major attraction – Thailand’s largest open air zoo – with lots of interest for the kids. We say visit yourself and make your own mind up. In a facility of this size some things are probably not going to be up to scratch, but there seems to be enough which is good about it to draw huge crowds, predominantly Thai people, every day. It may not be that ‘classy’ but then again how many major parks of this kind are?

The park is open 365 days from 9am to 5pm. The park cover an area of approximately 480 acres. In addition to the animals there are also a lot of shows put on throughout the day.

The park is split up into the following attractions:

Safari Park – 8km drive (either in your own car or a coach) which takes about 45min

Marine Park – 8 shows daily with dolphins and sea lions

Jungle Cruise – Water flume ride with model crocodiles and gorillas

Eggs World – Educational display about eggs

Orangutan Boxing Show – No actual boxing, but plenty of tricks

Bird Show – Variety of birds trained to do tricks

Hollywood Cowboy Stunt Show – Wold west stunt show by Thai actors

Feeding Show – Watch the lions and tigers get fed

Spy Show – Former Thai soldiers perform daring military based stunts

To take the hassle out of getting to and from Safari World the best thing to do is book a tour with Isango. They pick you up and return you to your hotel after a day at the safari park. It costs $50 per person. To find out more click the button below.

Bangkok for Kids (Part 2) – Siam Ocean World

Siam Ocean World
Siam Ocean World is the largest aquarium in South-East Asia covering a staggering 10,000 sqm and with tanks containing over 5 million litres of water. This is a great day out for kids and enjoyable for the rest of the family. The aquarium is located in the main shopping area of Bangkok and works well as a treat in return for the children behaving during a trip around the shops.

Siam Ocean World is located in the basement of Siam Paragon Shopping Centre. It is really easy to get there, being located very close to the Siam BTS (Sky Train) station. The aquarium is open from 9am to 8pm. The entrance fee is 750 Thai Baht ($25) for adults and 600 Thai Bhat ($20) for children 80cm to 120cm tall.

Siam Ocean World is split into 7 sections:

1. Weird & Wonderful – featuring strange sea creatures such as giant spider crabs

2. Deep Reef – 8 metre deep tank replicating a coral reef

3. Living Ocean – Large fish and other aquatic life

4. Rainforest – Tropical fresh water fish and amphibians

5. Rocky shore – Penguins and other semi-aquatic wildlife

6. Open Ocean – Glass tunnels with large fish and sharks, including the rare sand tiger shark

7. Jelly Fish

There are also a number of interactive activities, some at an additional charge.

These interactive activities include a glass bottom boat trip, a shark encounter, diving with sharks and the Ocean Walker Experience which involves diving in a helmet with air pumped from above – just like the old time divers.

For younger children we recommend the back of house tour, where the staff show you what goes into taking care of the fish, the tanks and their breeding programme. Fun and educational. They will also enjoy the 4D cinema and for the very young children there is a singing and dancing show from the cute Siam Ocean World mascots.

For the adults there is also a fish massage pool. What this involves is putting your feet in a big jacuzzi and having small fish bite off the dead skin. A bit weird, but very pleasant once you get used to it.

Bangkok for Kids (Part 1) – Samphran Elephant Ground & Zoo

Bangkok isn’t the best city for kids who may have difficulties in appreciating the culture, and architecture, in the same way as older visitors. Parents need to give some thought to interspersing visits to the main attractions with activities that will appeal to a younger audience. Samphran Elephant Ground and Zoo ticks all the boxes on this front and is a wonderful experience for the kids.

Samphran Elephant Ground and Zoo is about 30km outside of Bangkok. The road journey takes about an hour. There isn’t a convenient rail link, so you need to either take an organised tour, your own private hire taxi, or a public bus. Bus number 123 from the Royal Grand Palace, or bus number 84 from the Krungthonburi BTS (Sky Train) station, will both drop you directly outside.

Alternatively, you can go with a tour group to Samphran Elephant Ground and Zoo. Isango do a tour that takes in the Floating Market, the Elephant Ground and Zoo as well as the Rose Garden. They pick you from your hotel at 6.30 am and return you to your hotel at 6.30 pm. The tour includes lunch, all entrance fees and an English speaking guide. Click on the button below to find out more.

The Samphran Elephant Ground and Zoo is open from 8.30am to 17.30pm. Entrance fees are 600 Thai Baht ($20) for adults and 350 Thai Baht ($12) for children under 130cm tall.

The three major attractions are the elephant shows, the crocodile wrestling shows and elephant rides around the grounds.

Elephant shows take place daily at 1.45pm and 3.30pm and involve dancing, races, football, games and ‘Yutha Hathi’ – which the re-enactment of a great battle with actors in traditional dress riding on the elephants.

The crocodile shows happen daily at 12.45pm and 2.20pm, which the Thai ‘crocodile wrestlers’ performing tricks and stunts with large crocodiles.


Elephant rides will set you back a further 500 Thai Baht per person ($17) and are available from 10.30am to 3pm daily.

The facilities are set in 25 acres of land, and include a mini zoo, a restaurant, waterfalls and immaculate gardens.  The zoo has baby elephants, monkeys and snakes amongst other animals. You can easily spend half a day here. There is also a decent restaurant with Thai, Halal and Indian food on offer, which is open from 11.30am to 2.30pm.

For those of you with concerns about the ethics of animal shows, or the treatment of the animals, our view is that the animals are fairly well taken care of and are in good health. The animals are expensive to buy, so the financial incentive is there to ensure they remain in good health. Do bear in mind also that elephants have long been kept as working animals in Thailand, and the first elephants at the Samphran Elephant Ground & Zoo were purchased from a logging business which had ceased operating. To the best of our knowledge all the animals at the Samphran Elephant Ground and Zoo have been born in captivity rather than taken from the wild.

Bangkok Street Food – Part 2 (Khao Kha Moo shops)

A great staple Bangkok Street food for Thai people is Khao Kha Moo. You will find this all over Thailand. Every street has a stall. It is great value, at between 30 to 45 baht (1 to 1.5 USD) a plate. If you are hungry you can even ask for a big portion by adding the words ‘Pi Set’ which means special in Thai, to the end of the name of the dish.

You will spot Khao Kha Moo stalls by the whole chicken and pieces of pork hanging up behind a glass container. This puts some foreign visitors off as they think it is unhygienic. However, this is a mistake. The meat is generally cooked in the morning on an industrial scale by catering suppliers and then purchased on the same day by the street vendors. The food is really popular so always gets sold out in a day. The meat isn’t hot when you eat it, but that doesn’t matter as the ambient temperature is warm anyway.

Khao Kha Moo shops actually sell a variety of dishes. We have listed the main ones below:

Khao Kha Moo

Khao Kha Moo
This is stewed pork leg with pickled vegetables over rice. It comes with a broth and a red chilli sauce.

Khao Man Gai

Khao Man Gai
This is boiled chicken with uncooked cucumber over rice. It comes with a broth and a slightly sweet black chilli sauce.

Khao Man Gai Tort

Khao Man Gai Tort
The same as Khao Man Gai, but the chicken is deep fried with breadcrumbs.

Khao Moo Daeng

Khao Moo Dang
Stewed pork leg with crunchy fried pork leg cut into chunks and sliced slightly sweet Chinese sausage. The whole mix of meats comes on rice with a hot red sticky sauce. Yummy!

Khao Moo Grop

Khao Moo Grop
Crunchy fried pork leg cut into chunks served on rice. Sometimes served with a sweet red sticky sauce, although normally accompanied by a bowl of broth, and green chilli sauce.