Friday, 30 April 2010

The Muay Thai experience

It seems to be almost a rite of passage for the backpacker to take in a Muay Thai fight. However, I never quite fitted into that backpacker category (having first lived/worked in Bangkok and then making many repeat visits). And in all my many visits to the country, one of the “must-dos” that I had never done was to go to a Muay Thai fight.

So on our family’s most recent visit my father-in-law agreed to take me, which saved a whole lot of hassle and money. We went to Lumpini stadium, just down the road from the main entrance to Lumpini Park. Its incredibly chaotic outside on fight night, with foreigners, Thais and touts mingling. Usually the “farangs” are told they can only buy ringside seats and pay a hugely inflated price for these. Many people don’t mind as these seats get you closer to the action. The F-i-L got us the ringside seats for the Thai price, bonus.

So in we went, about 10-15 minutes before the action started so I took a few cheeky photos, including the obligatory one of me sitting on the mat. A couple of French girls saw me and asked me to take a photo of them sitting on the mat. Faster than a speeding bullet, the security guard appeared and said “Lady no sit”! Essentially ladies aren’t allowed in the ring or to sit on the mat. They looked somewhat unimpressed!

The usual card at these events starts off with a couple of Western boxing matches, now I don’t like this form of boxing at the best of times, and watching two nobodies slug it out didn’t appeal to me at all. So while this was going on I went for a lager.

At the end of these fights, suddenly the hardcore support came flooding into the stadium and that’s when the night really starts. The music blares, the illicit gambling gets going, shifty looking men on their mobiles are milling about, the press line up around the ring. Then the first pair of contenders entered the arena and began their intriguing pre-fight routine. They perform a kind of dance around the ring to some music, which is a way of paying respect to their family and trainer. Each fight consists of rounds like Western boxing and usually the first few are fairly low-key with the contenders sparring. Not until the final two rounds does it start to heat up, and boy does it get vicious! Here’s where the crowd really gets involved, every kick, every punch greeted with a roar…each louder than the last. The family of each fighter is in a small pen close to the ring, they feel every blow too.

In the final round of the first fight I actually spent more time looking round at the people in the standing area!

As you’d expect, the further you get into the card, the better the fighters are and the more lively the crowd gets. Even though we were in the supposedly more upscale ringside seats, we found ourselves leaping up and shouting with the crowd, such is the atmosphere in this place.

One downside is that it’s really difficult to get clear photos of the action. One obvious problem is that your subjects are constantly on the move, but most modern cameras can get around that. The other problem is the poor quality lighting in the arena, which is essentially a few fluorescent strip lights dangling precariously very low down over the ring.

I’d thoroughly recommend a visit here, if you’re not too squeamish, the fighters can come out with some nasty bruising and cuts. If you know a Thai person, see if they’ll take you as it may work out cheaper.

South East Asia photos on my website,

My blog -

Free iPod, iPhone or Touch -

Monday, 26 April 2010

Should a tourist visit Bang Kwang

Bang Kwang Central Prison, Bangkok is alternatively known as the Bangkok Hilton. There is a long standing debate raging on whether this is a tourist attraction in itself and whether it’s right or wrong for tourists/travellers to pay a visit to somebody they don’t know.

Some would say the prisoner’s deserve a visit, some kind of contact with the outside world. Others say “let them rot”, they committed a crime and deserve to be punished. Should a prison, in any country, be considered some kind of attraction or be off limits to those without good reason to visit an inmate? I shan’t attempt to answer that question here, but can share my experience.

I have visited the prison, in a more official capacity and can pass on my experience of dealing with prison officials, red tape etc. If anyone wants full details on the process, leave me a comment on this post and I’ll reply in full. Essentially though you can just turn up (Monday – Friday 0930 – 1130 and 1330 to 1430) and you will be permitted a meeting with whomever you chose (it helps if you know the inmates name beforehand). Bring some ID with you. These visits are conducted across a fenced off divide and involve a lot of shouting to get yourself heard.

Visits to prisoners in solitary confinement or hospital wing are Friday only (and need to be arranged in advance if in solitary).

If you wish to actually go “inside” the prison and have contact with an inmate you need to arrange well in advance through the appropriate embassy. Bear in mind that these types of visits are severely limited and usually only available once or twice per year per prisoner. Unless you are a close relative of an inmate don’t apply for one of these visits because they won’t be allowed any more.

As with anything, get there early to allow officials plenty of time to process you, bearing in mind there is usually a large crowd of locals visiting their friends and family. Treat officials with respect, no smart remarks about the Thai judicial system, they will see you sharply removed! You are permitted to make a donation to the inmate or bring a small gift for them, check the list of prohibited items beforehand.

To get there take a river express boat to Nonthaburi pier, walk straight upon exiting the terminal and take the first left.

That’s the “how to”. Whether you should visit or not is another matter…!

South East Asia photos on my website,

My blog -

Free iPod, iPhone or Touch -

Friday, 23 April 2010

Bangkok explosions

A series of grenade explosions hit the Silom area of Bangkok on Thursday 22nd April, three of which apparently fell through the roof of Sala Daeng skytrain station. After a tense stand off, the red shirts agreed to move back slightly from their barricades.

The US, UK and Australian governments have now issued warnings to their citizens not to travel to Bangkok unless essential and the situation shows no sign of improving.

More tense times are ahead for sure, as always watch this space.

South East Asia photos on my website,

My blog -

Free iPod, iPhone or Touch -

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Bangkok wierd eats

Bangkok is full of weird and wonderful food and places to eat. None more so than the fried bug stalls on Khao San Road and pig’s brain soup in Chinatown.

But, by far the strangest restaurant concept I’ve come across in Bangkok is the No Hand Restaurant. The food itself is nothing out of the ordinary, but here you get a lovely lady who literally puts the food in your mouth so you don’t have to! Quite an experience in itself, but possibly not for everyone.

It has its own website if you want to find out more, just Google “No Hand Restaurant Bangkok”. Check my blog for other tips on eating out in Bangkok.

South East Asia photos on my website,

My blog -

Free iPod, iPhone or Touch -

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Bangkok pictures

A montage of pictures from my travels around Bangkok:

Grand Palace

Wat Phra Kaew

Wat Pho

Wat Arun

View from the Baiyoke Tower

Jim Thompson’s House

Chatuchak Market

The Skytrain

Wat Benjamabophit

Wat Indrawihan

You can check all my pictures on my website:

South East Asia photos on my website,

My blog -

Free iPod, iPhone or Touch -

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Vimanmek Palace

This place is often overlooked, it’s not considered one of Bangkok’s premier attractions and generally isn’t on the itinerary of people who only spend a few days in Bangkok.

Entrance to the Palace and its grounds is free if you have a ticket to the Grand Palace (as most visitors to Bangkok do!). It is the largest teak building in the world, looks fabulous from the outside and compared to other sights it is relatively quiet. On my visit there was a couple of coach loads of Japanese tourists snapping away, but certainly nothing compared to the crowds one can get at the Grand Palace.

The Palace now is a museum, the usual set up where certain rooms are out of bounds, roped off etc. There are many interesting Thai artefacts and photos of various world leaders and royalty who have visited. This makes for a very interesting detour on your route around the city and can be combined with a visit to the adjacent Dusit Zoo.

Please also check the photos on my website:

South East Asia photos on my website,

My blog -

Free iPod, iPhone or Touch -

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Traffic spotting in Bangkok

Maybe I’m a bit sad, but I love taking photos of traffic, and Bangkok is certainly a great city for doing that! During my many visits I’ve tried to find new and interesting vantage points to get great traffic shots.

There are some photos in my website Navigate to Thailand>Bangkok>River and Street views.

My favourite for day time shots, and probably one of the more famous spots is from the pedestrian bridge that leads out of Gaysorn Plaza across Ratchadamri Road at the crossroads with Rama I. The bridge deposits you just outside Central World Plaza. This road (on my last visit anyway) operates a contra flow system with 6 lanes in one direction and one extra lane available to go in the other direction. Standing on this bridge at peak time gives you some impression of the congestion suffered daily around Bangkok. Facing back the other way you can try and work the skytrain lines into your shot, as it’s at this point where the 2 lines meet at Siam station.

A great location for night time traffic shots I have found is the square shaped pedestrian bridge across Sathorn and Naradhiwas (close to Chong Nonsi skytrain station). This area is commonly referred to as the business district and as such has some well lit skyscrapers and tall office blocks. Mixed in with the red and white blurred lights on the cars gives you some great photo opportunities.

Skytrain stations of course give you a natural vantage point, but it can sometimes be a bit tricky trying to get a clear shot. I once stayed at the Asia Hotel and it has a connection directly into Ratchadamri station, the walkway there gives you a good view back towards Siam Square and the huge crossroads of Rama I and Phaya Thai.

If you are going to visit Chatuchak Market during your stay, there are plenty of busy roads in the vicinity. Phahon Yothin runs directly alongside the market’s eastern edge, this is a main thoroughfare for traffic to north of the city and upcountry. This road receives a massive amount of bus traffic and the northern terminus of the Skytrain’s Sukhumwit line is here, at Mo Chit Station. A bit further up from here you run into the Lat Phrao junction, truly horrific if you’re not a fan, but a traffic photo lover’s dream! It is where Phahon Yothin meets the equally huge Wiphawadi Rangsit Road (which also has an elevated fly over to bypass the junction). Above the flyover is an expressway, a true concrete jungle!

Of course no such list would be complete without mentioning the Baiyoke Tower, Thailand’s tallest building. For some people this may take you a bit too far away from the action but it does give you a sense of the scale of the city and its roads. The viewing deck rotates, once you are pointing in a vaguely north-easterly direction you get a great view down to a tangle of expressways as they meet near to Makkasan train station, keep an eye out for the train lines.

One final entry on this list is a bridge, that is maybe a bit far out of the way for many travellers, but is my favourite in terms of its sheer size and traffic capacity. It is the Rama IX bridge which is part of the Chalerm Maha Nakorn expressway out of Bangkok to the south of the country. On the other side of the river you can see the tall Thai Farmers Bank building. If this is too far to travel, there are many bridges along the Chao Phraya that are within reach of the river express boats.

If you would like any more tips on good photo spots leave a comment on my blog.

South East Asia photos on my website,

My blog -

Free iPod, iPhone or Touch -