Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Lonely Planet Bloggers free photo ebook

Hello all

I am proud to announce that I am featured in a new, free ebook released under the Lonely Planet banner, called "Around the World with 40 Lonely Planet bloggers. You will see my work on pages 60 and 61. Please click on the following link to download it:

This is a collaboration of 40 bloggers from diverse backgrounds, all over the world and it was no mean feat to pull it all together. Many thanks of course to Lonely Planet for all their support and agreeing to host the ebook.

You can also see a collection of my photos and information on South East Asia at my website,

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Wat Traimit

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Following on from my visit to the Baiyoke Tower (see previous post) I took the skytrain and then underground to the end of the line at Hualamphong station. Just a five minute walk down the road is the fabulous Wat Traimit, located at one end of Chinatown.

This is one of Bangkok's premiere temples and as such there is an entrance fee and the associated crowds. However it's nothing like as busy as the likes of Wat Pho so it is possible to get some good, clear photos.

Wat Traimit is famous for housing the largest solid gold Buddha in the world. When this temple was being built, the Buddha was covered in a concrete casing and nobody realised what lay inside, until the crane that was lifting it dropped it. The casing cracked and the gold Buddha was revealed. It is truly spectacular and very shiny! The Buddha is on the top level, the middle level contains a moderately interesting museum detailing the history of Chinatown and the first floor a video screening about the history of the temple and surrounding area.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Baiyoke Tower

On my recent family trip to Thailand, I was allowed out on my own for a day while mum took the kids shopping! I decided to spend it revisiting the Baiyoke Tower and then onto Wat Traimit on the edge of Chinatown. More about Wat Traimit in my next post...

Now, I've been to the Baiyoke Tower before, but many years ago in the days of film camera. So I decided now was the time to go again and try to get some decent photos. Just my luck, it happened to be the smoggiest day in history! These photos may look overexposed and like they were shot directly at the sun....they aren't it's the pollution!

I travelled from my inlaws house on the 77 bus, which always draws a few looks from the locals. The Thai bus network is somewhat difficult to navigate with the little information there is being mostly in Thai and the conductors generally don't speak English. The trusty 77 got me to Surasak skytrain station for some aircon'd comfort. Then it was a 15 minute walk from Siam station upto the Baiyoke Tower entrance. Being Thailand's tallest building you'd expect a somewhat grander entrance, but it's tucked away at the end of a Soi surrounded by shops. You pay your fee at a booth in the hotel entrance then round the back to the one lift that takes you up. "Five minute wait Sir" said the security guard, and he wasn't wrong!

Once you've got past the tacky little musuem and up the stairs to the viewing deck it's all worth it. You're greeted fantastic views of Bangkok, right across the Chao Phraya and beyond. On a clear day you can spot many of Bangkok famous sights, mine though wasn't a clear day!

Friday, 18 February 2011

Wat Pasee - Bangkok

If you are into Tibetan style temples but don't want to venture to Tibet, there's a hidden gem waiting to be discovered in Bangkok.

Almost nothing is written about this temple and that is a great shame, this is a fascinating little place tucked away at the far end of Soi Ekkamai, on Soi 23. Not very easy to get to, you will probably need a taxi to take you there and wait. If you're upto it, take the skytrain to Ekkamai and it's probably a good 15-20 minutes walk.
Although there's nothing much to see inside the temple itself, it is a beautiful building. But it is the exterior of this temple which is so appealing, with lots of little shrines dotted about, a school right next door and the way the temple is squeezed in amongst the surrounding shop houses, a bridge, canal and Siemen's Bangkok HQ!

Bangkok is full of little surprises!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Wat Hualampong - Bangkok

What a great time my daughter and I had here. I had been meaning to visit here for about the last 8 years and never quite got round to it. It is not on the list of Bangkok's must see temples, but it should be. The likes of Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho deservedly take the headlines, but this temple gives you much more than just gleaming structures, it gives you a slice of daily life in Bangkok.

The temple is bustling, there was a market going on while we visited, selling various religious and royal items. Cars were coming and going and a lot of the locals wanted to stop and speak to us.

We only visited because we happened upon a shopping centre across the road, and my daughter saw the temple out of a window.

After a walk around the perimeter of the site, we walked up to the main hall to see the Buddha image, after all that's what it's all about for the Thais. You can get some great city skyline shots from the outside of the main hall as well as close ups of the gleaming roofs of the temple.

At the rear is the temple's main golden chedi where my daughter insisted on taking a photo of me!

The temple is located on Rama 4 road, with Sam Yan underground station right outside. It is also a short walk from Hualampong train station.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Mini Siam - Pattaya

One sight often overlooked by visitors to Pattaya is Mini Siam. It is exactly what the name suggest, small models of famous buildings across Thailand and some models of buildings and structures across the world.

Just a short drive out of Pattaya, close to Jomtien beach, it is well worth a look. When we visited it was fairly busy, as a school coach trip had just arrived, but this didn't detract from the visit as the park is reasonably spacious.

Take advantage of the free umbrellas at the entrance, it was searingly hot when we went.

A sample of photos is below:

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Three days in Chantaburi

My family decided it was time to visit somewhere different for our beach break. We've done Koh Samet several times, Koh Samui, Phuket, Hua Hin etc etc. They all have their advantages but we plumped for somewhere new and Thai people rave about Chantaburi.

It was very quiet compared with all the above, but this is low season I guess. The beach we stayed on had black sand as opposed to the usual white. This is mainly due to the fact the beach belongs to crabs and black shelled hermit crabs which you can see everywhere along the beach. The black colour comes from their broken shells. Don't let that put you off, the sand, you shouldn't get nipped as the crabs are only babies and run away as you approach. The sand is OK for kids to play in and the water clean and warm. Best of all the beach was pretty much deserted and there were no annoying vendors or jetskis.

We visited Oasis Sea World to see the rare pink dolphins they keep there. There is a dolphin show a few times a day and you can book to swim with the dolphins. This place is pretty shabby though and I'm not sure how clean the water is. Make your own choices whether you should visit or not.

It is roughly a 4 hour drive from Bangkok depending on traffic, well worth a look for something different.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Ayuthaya vs Sukothai

Many people ask me which I prefer, Ayuthaya or Sukothai. Both are former capital cities and contain many ruins of temples dating from hundreds of years ago when the cities were in their prime. But it’s hard to directly compare the two.

A lot of people visiting Thailand are often looking for a day trip out of Bangkok and often don’t have a lot of time to spend travelling. In this case Ayuthaya is the clear favourite because it’s within easy reach of Bangkok, about 1-2 hours depending on traffic. If you have more time to spare then I would recommend Sukothai every time, not that I dislike Ayuthaya, but Sukothai is just….well….better!

Firstly, Sukothai is a lot further north from Bangkok. It’s around about a 6-8 hour drive, depending on your form of transportation and the traffic. Thus it will take a few days out of your schedule, but can be done as a stop off on the way to Chiang Mai. But because of it’s slightly more remote location, it receives far less visitors than Ayuthaya, which is a very popular day trip location for tourists and locals. On any given day you’re likely to find coach loads of the local school children milling around the temples of Ayuthaya.

This makes Sukothai a far more peaceful place to visit, and so it’s easier to get clear photos. On my visit here, over half a day I guess I probably only encountered a hundred or so other visitors. The temples are set in a historical park in well kept and fairly expansive grounds. It is completely separate from the main modern-day town. Although you can drive in the park, because it’s off the main roads there is no traffic noise or the associated dust and pollution. Sukothai has plenty of trees and so plenty of chances to get in the shade.

As I said earlier, a lot is going to depend on your circumstances and how much time you have to spare. Ayuthaya is great if you can only spare a day or two and are based out of Bangkok. It’s easy to get to and there are numerous tours. If you can spare the time, or are en-route to Chiang Mai then go for Sukothai.

Here's some pictures for you to compare the two. And check my website at for more.










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A few days in Phuket

A few days in Phuket

Phuket has a mixed reputation, partially deserved but also partially unfair. The first image that pops into many people’s minds is the overdeveloped and rather seedy stretch of Patong beach. However, remember that this is just a small part of a big island and is easily avoided if that’s not your thing.

Recently, my family and I stayed at Kamala beach, a bit further north of Patong and a world apart. Kamala is quiet, with no accommodation built directly on or behind the beach. It is a beautiful natural cove offering great photo opportunities and peace and quiet. Another advantage (for me) is the lack of vendors on the beach, here you really will be able to relax without having to refuse the Henna tattoo and doughnut sellers every 5 minutes!

We chose Kamala because it seemed ideal, having a young family. We didn’t want to be in an area that was too crowded, but still with a nice beach and swimmable sea. We stayed in the Marriott Courtyard, and it was a choice between either that one or the Marriott Courtyard on neighbouring Surin beach (I had a promotional offer to use up at one of these two hotels). As we were travelling with my in-laws (who are Thai) the choice was simple. Surin was badly affected by the Tsunami and many people died, especially in the Courtyard hotel. Kamala was left untouched. Thai people fear ghosts and that is a big reason why tourism was slow to recover in the affected areas. They wouldn’t even entertain the idea of staying at Surin for fear of upsetting any trapped souls. So…Kamala it was!

If you wish to pay your respects while in Phuket there are a few memorial sites around the island. At the southern end of Kamala there is a monument just behind the little river that runs behind the beach and a little grassed area and pavilion.

What to do in Phuket when you get bored of the beach and the hotel pool though….well there is a lot! We hired a car so it made accessing these places easy for us, but the “songthaews” are regular and there’s always a taxi or your hotel will usually arrange something for you. Of course we sampled the more family orientated activities, starting off at the rather more off-the-beaten-track Gibbon Rehabilitation Sanctuary.

This is worth a visit, even if slightly out of the way, to do your bit for a good cause. The centre is run by volunteers (European when we visited) and attempts to rehabilitate gibbons that were orphaned by poachers or kept as pets. They go through several stages of training before being released back into the wild, although of course some don’t make it. The only ones you can see are the latest arrivals who are still used to a lot of human contact, as they develop through the programme they are moved further into the rainforest and away from human contact. There are a couple of nice trails you can walk while here, a few refreshment stalls and elephant rides. If you’re interested, the staff are happy to talk to you about their programme as well.

Following on the animal theme we then visited Phuket Aquarium and it’s related attractions. Most people only look around the aquarium itself and then go, and the aquarium is fairly sizeable although beginning to look a little shabby. They do have a great selection, and some especially large fish that scared my daughter! If you’re travelling with kids this is a great way to entertain them for a couple of hours. If you’ve got an appetite for some more, the entrance fee also gets you into the “Baby Farm” as my daughter called it! It’s a building at the back of the main aquarium where they run breeding programmes for many varied species of sea life. Be careful if you go in there as the Thai’s are never that hot on health and safety, there are plenty of opportunities to fall over! And just a bit further down the road is a small facility that breeds turtles.

Phuket Zoo is, in my own opinion, a grim place best avoided. Sure if you have a little child, they probably will enjoy it and again it’s a good way to pass some time. But any older children may be upset by the cramped and dirty enclosures and the obviously stir-crazy animals. A lot of the facilities appear uncared for and dirty. This place does have a poor reputation and fully deserved, if you can….stay away.

If temples are your thing there are plenty of those to visit. We went to the Phuket Big Buddha, which is really only accessible on wheels, it’s a 6km winding road up a big hill. But when at the top you are rewarded with magnificent views all around. The Buddha itself wasn’t complete when we visited in October 2009 but was still a magnificent sight. Also worth a look in is Wat Chalong, probably one of the most visited temples in Phuket. We were treated to a procession of Miss Teen Thailand contestants in the temple grounds during our visit!

If you find that you need to hit the shops then Phuket Town should cater for your needs, as well as the nearby hyper-global-mega malls (!!) of Big C and Central Festival.

Phuket offers many superb photos opportunities and if you’re able to hire a car, I’d recommend a trip to one of the many viewpoints (they’re shown on any good map). You can get some spectacular sunset shots.

There are countless other activities such as trekking, boat trips, fishing trips, go-karting, Muay Thai fights and training camps and much more. Phuket can be a sleazy, booze trip if you want and Patong can certainly offer you that. But don’t think that this is all Phuket has to offer! You should have a great time!

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Climbing the Golden Mount

Once the highest point in Bangkok, the Golden Mount still stands out even amongst the concrete jungle that now surrounds it. This is a great vantage point to take in a 360 degree view of the city and gives you some great photo opportunities if you get a nice, clear day.

To get here, we took the Khlong Saen Saeb canal boat from Pratunam pier to Fan Faa Bridge. This is the bridge that was, for a while, at the centre of the ongoing anti government protests. After struggling out of the “cosy” boat, we stopped off briefly at the unusual Loha Hin Prasat temple, famous for a building made of iron. Took a few obligatory shots of the Democracy Monument, although the monument itself is ugly (in my opinion) it’s a symbol of struggle and everything that’s happened there.

After taking only 2 wrong turns (!) we arrived at the entrance at the base of the Mount.

Don’t be intimidated by the name, it’s a very steady climb up, the broad stairs wind around the edge of the Mount. There are several places you can stop along the way as well, to ring the bells and take photos.

We want straight up to the top and make some stops on the way down. Of course the first thing that strikes you is the golden Chedi (bell shaped tower) in the centre. Tradition dictates that it is good luck to walk clockwise around a chedi three times. So we fulfilled our obligations and joined the locals in this. Unlike many chedis in Thailand, you can actually go inside this one, the walkways are somewhat narrow and low, so any tall Westerners beware! I only bumped my head once which is good for me!

As a fan of panoramic views, I spent a good hour pottering around the perimeter taking various photos of the Bangkok skyline, picking out the many famous buildings, bridges and temples.

On the way down we rang all of the bells and took photos of the well manicured plants and shrubbery. All in all we spent a good couple of hours here and you could probably spend more if you explored the rest of the temple grounds (The Golden Mount is just one part of the larger Wat Saket compound). Happy days!

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