Sunday, 31 August 2014

Phra Nakhon Khiri Palace

On my last day in Hua Hin we left early for Bangkok so that on the way we would be able to see the Phetchaburi's well-known landmark Phra Nakhon Khiri Palace. Phra Nakhon Khiri means celestial city on a hill. The locals though call it Khao Wang.

The tram car that takes you up to the Phra Nakhon Khiri Palace

Once we reached Phetchaburi we got down and took the tickets for the cable car to go up to the hill top where the palace is situated. The Palace is open from 9 AM to 4 PM and the ticket costs 200 Baht. It is a misnomer to call the ride up as a cable car ride as actually instead of a cable the car is on rail tracks and therefore calling it a tram would be more appropriate. One car can approximately carry 20 persons. Again like the experience I had in Damnoen Saduak I saw someone clicking our photographs but this time I knew what it is and gave a big smile to the photographer.

Beware of the monkeys

Even after getting down from the tram car one has to climb a steep step of stairs. Also one should be careful while walking as the place outside is full of monkeys.

A steep climb of stairs to the Phra Nakhon Khiri Palace

This was the first palace built on the mountain range by King Rama IV in 1859. The palace is surrounded by several temples or ‘Wat’ as is called in Thailand like the Wat Mahasamanaram, Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Phra That Chom Phet. The Palace itself is now a museum. Photography inside is not allowed.

Wat Phra Kaew or the Royal Temple

But the view from the Palace as well as from the various Wats is magnificent as it gives a bird’s eye view of the whole of Phetchburi town and the surrounding hills. The palace is located 92 metres above sea level on a hill top.

A Wat at the Phra Nakhon Khiri Palace

Do note the stair railing in the above picture of the Wat which has Buddhist significance. Ladies in shorts etc need to put on sarongs as the palace also has temples. This dress code is uniform across Thailand if one has to enter a temple as some of our companions learnt the hard way!

View of Phetchaburi from the Phra Nakhon Khiri Palace

The Palace itself has a European and Chinese architectural mix. It is mainly wooden with narrow staircases. It also probably had the first European style bath tubs in Thailand that were imported for the king.

Another view of Phetchaburi from the Phra Nakhon Khiri Palace

Phetchaburi is about 130 km from Bangkok and 70 km from Hua Hin. This trip was on invitation from the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Thai Air.

Also read:

Phraya Nakhon Cave in the Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park in Thailand

Would you like to have a separate waiting room to yourself?

Tourism in Thailand: Lessons for India

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Thailand

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Thailand

While travelling from Bangkok to Hua Hin we detoured a bit to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Thailand. It is about 100 km from Bangkok in the District Ratchaburi.

Long tail boats on the Damnoen Saduak Canal

We started early from Bangkok as our friendly guide Joey did tell us the market remains open only in the morning. We got off the bus at a point where we got into long tailed motor boats which took us along the Damnoen Saduak canal (same name as the market) with views of the local villages, upraised boats (when not being used) and houses on stilts and even a giant statue of Buddha.

A statue of Buddha along the Damnoen Saduak waterway

The motor boat ride lasted for about 15-20 minutes. One should be careful not to stick any of their body parts outside the boat as at turns the boat almost touches the cemented sides and one good get hurt if not careful.

Villages enroute to the floating market in Ratchburi District

The canal serves both the purpose of providing transportation to the locals as well as irrigation water to the farmers. At the market the canal is packed with colourful wooden boats selling mainly fruits, vegetables, hats etc to the people on the land. Of course there was some buying and selling from boat to boat (mainly to the tourists). Some parts of the market are relatively quiet but the main area is very loud as one would expect of an Asian market!

A boat carrying fruits at the Damnoen Saduak flating market

I have seen floating market in India as well on the Dal Lake in Srinagar in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. But the one I saw in Damnoen Saduak was more colourful and boisterous.

Coconut pancakes being made & sold on the boat in the floating market

The Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is considered to be the original floating market catering to the locals though there are now other floating markets that have come up. Now some of these floating markets are mainly catering to the tourists.

The quieter side of the Damnoen Saduak Flaring Market 

Surprising thing was that several of the merchandise was being sold by boat-ladies in their colourful attire and the big hats. The fixed market on the land selling wares were actually expensive compared to Bangkok though I am told one can negotiate the prices upto 40% or so though I still did not buy anything from this place.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Thailand

Another unique thing here is that when you are getting into the boat someone takes your picture (I did not even realise it at that time) and when you finish the market tour at one of the shops they are selling souvenir plates with your photo on it and you are completely taken by surprise as to how did this happen. The price of this souvenir varies from 200 to 400 Baht.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Thailand

Note: This trip was on invitation from the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Thai Air. I am thankful to them for their wonderful hospitality and the amazing experience that they provided.

Also read:
Phraya Nakhon Cave in the Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park in Thailand

Would you like to have a separate waiting room to yourself?

Tourism in Thailand: Lessons for India

Friday, 15 August 2014

Tourism in Thailand: Lessons for India

India is the world’s seventh largest country in geographical size and second largest in population but as far the tourist inflow is concerned India ranks almost nowhere compared to Thailand. Though Thailand is a small country, it ranks among the top ten in terms of international tourist arrivals as per the World Tourism Organization rankings. Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, is ranked the top destination city in the world for international tourist arrivals. So let me explore the reasons for this anomaly. This report is based mainly on my personal experience.


Thailand is a safe travel destination

I could see that women feel safe travelling alone in Thailand. One can see girls out late at night in Bangkok as well as in other towns. This I consider as one of the top tourist attraction points as several single female tourists (as well as locals) could be seen moving around all over Thailand. On this aspect India rates poorly what with media full of rape and molestation stories across India. It is unimaginable for a single woman to be on the Delhi streets late at night (even day time is not considered very safe). Woman travelling in public transport often have to suffer groping hands.

Visa on Arrival:

Visa on Arrival at the Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok

I believe that this is one great plus point for Thailand, whereas the same facility exists only for a handful of western countries in India. The Visa on Arrival process of Thailand is very smooth. All you need to do is fill a very small form with less than 10 entries. There are two lines - a normal one where you pay the fees of a thousand Baht (approx. Rs 2000) and an express line where the process is even faster (you pay a nominal 200 Baht extra). The visa is granted quickly. Compare this with India: even when the Indians arrive back to their home country the immigration officials look at all of them suspiciously, ask rude questions and are not even polite.


Thailand has excellent road network

I found that Thailand has excellent road network even 200 km away from its capital. And there are plenty of hotels of all categories. Now these two are the basic requirements to attract international tourist. On both counts, except for small pockets, India lags behind.


The view from my room at the Amari Hua Hin

Thailand is a value for money kind of destination. First the visa fee is not very high, then hotels, restaurants etc are comparatively much cheaper compared to India (and the Europeans and Americans find it even cheaper with their stronger currency). The glitzy Bangkok is also considered a shopper’s paradise as all stuff, be it clothes or electronics or other items, is inexpensive. 


Hua Hin Beach, Thailand

The beaches were very clean and the water not choppy. In India except some exclusive beaches, others are dirty with people staring at you if you are in beach wear. 

The smiles: Nowhere in Thailand did I encounter any rude behaviour or people trying to fleece me just because I am a tourist. Hawkers did not pester me to buy their product. Compared to this the moment a tourist lands at any Indian destination there are hordes of people who want to fleece you, stare at you, grope you.

The Street Food: In India the street food is normally not prepared very hygienically and offers few options. I was amazed to see the plethora of street food options in Thailand, hygienically prepared, consisting of all kinds of vegetarian, fruit as well as meat and sea products.


The Pavilion at the Phraya Nakhon Cave 

All across Thailand I saw that the cities as well as the countryside are equally clean. Their national monuments and places of tourist attraction are well maintained and are not vandalized by miscreants scribbling on the walls. For example the trek I did in the Phraya Nakhon Cave in the Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park in Thailand had no waste thrown around on the trek and the Pavilion was also not spoilt. Compared to this I have seen innumerable vandalised Indian heritage sites like the Ranthambore Fort. When the tourists land in India they are greeted with garbage lying in the open (even in Delhi) with polythene bags lying and flying everywhere. Even the Indian Prime Minister extolled the Indians to make their cities clean in today’s maiden speech to the nation on the occasion of 68th Independence Day.

Driving etiquettes: In India it is a free for all on the roads and it is certainly not a pleasure to drive on the city roads. I was surprised that despite being an Asian nation the driving sense of Thai is European. Bangkok does have traffic jams during office hours but the drivers do not honk. At least I did not see any brawls on the road (unlike the daily road rage stories that we see and read in India).

Indian tourism authorities have a lot to learn from the Thailand experience.

Note: I was invited to visit Thailand by the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Thai Airways. I am thankful to them for their wonderful hospitality and the amazing experience that they provided.

Also read:
Phraya Nakhon Cave in the Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park in Thailand
Would you like to have a separate waiting room to yourself?

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Would you like to have a separate waiting room to yourself?

Would you like to have your own personal and private waiting room at a railway station instead of the overly crowded ones that all of us have experienced when we travel?

The Royal Waiting Room, Hua Hin Railway Station, Thailand

Well yes you can have one provided you are the King. I was staying in the Amari Hua Hin Hotel and went to see the Hua Hin Railway Station which is just 10 minutes drive from this hotel.

The frontal view of the Royal Waiting Room

I saw the Royal Waiting Room at the Hua Hin Railway Station constructed in the beautiful Thai style meant only for the King of Thailand. The front side of this structure has a huge portrait of the king.

The Hua Hin Railway Station, Thailand

Hua Hin is the regal laid back beach town about 195 kms south of Bangkok. It takes about three hours to reach Hua Hin from Bangkok. It is also the summer residence of the King of Thailand and during my stay at Hau Hin I noted that he was also residing there and one could see naval ships on guard on the Gulf of Thailand.

The beautiful ticketing counter at the Hua Hin Railway Station

The station itself, besides the Royal Waiting Room, is also built in the Thai style. Built in the reign of King Rama VI in gingerbread style, the station is one of Thailand's oldest railway stations. The station building along with the Royal Waiting Room is entirely made of wood and has vibrant colours and even the lamp shades are beautiful.

An Old engine on display at the Hua Hin Railway Station

Though it is a very small railway station but it has been well kept and is worth seeing with manicured gardens and an old railway engine on the other side of the platform whereas old classic bogies have been kept in the front. The ticketing counter is also well maintained. 

A woman vendor selling dumplings at the Hua Hin Railway Station

I also saw this woman vendor selling her dumplings to the customers when a passenger train arrived. Unlike unkempt vendors seen on Indian stations this woman was smartly dressed and overall presented a neat and hygienic look.

Also read: Phraya Nakhon Cave in the Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park in Thailand