Monday, February 26, 2007


Just when I thought our family had been all "wat-ed" out, we happened upon one of the most unique structures I've ever seen. The place was called Wat Sampran (also known as the Dragon Temple) and it's a 16-story red tower with a statue of a dragon wound around it four times.

The whole temple complex is a cluster of crazy statuary, most of it seemingly Chinese-inspired. The effect is almost dizzying.

There are heads based on the characters of the Chinese zodiac (2007 is the Year of the Golden Pig in case you hadn't heard).

I'm really not sure what all of this stuff meant, but it was still fun to look at. Some English language signs or guides would have been helpful, but I guess they are not really a priority in this part of Thailand.

Even the floor was decorated with interesting animal imagery.

Supposedly touching the dragon's foot will bring you good luck, so we couldn't pass up that chance. I don't recall anything truly great happening since this trip, so I'm not sure if it worked (but nothing horrible has happened either).

You can climb up the tower, but the only way to do so is by using the stairs. The place was equipped with an elevator, but it didn't work.

The journey seemed a little imposing, but how often does one get to say they climbed a tower surrounded by a dragon?

The staircase was kind of disgusting. It was dirty, dusty and the floor was covered with mice droppings. The fact that we had to remove our shoes (like you have to do in all religious places in Thailand) made the climb even more unpleasant.

Some of the floors had statues and things to look at (but not all of them). Again, I have no idea what these things represent, but I assume they are based on some Chinese legend.

Once at the top, you get a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside...

A more traditional wat located next door...

And some other building shaped like a giant turtle (further proof that this was one of the most bizarre places we've ever visited).

The top of the tower had more intricate details...

A view of the dragon's tail...

And a close-up of its head.

As far as temples go, Wat Sampran was a pretty fun place to hang out...

Provided you're not afraid of heights (don't look down if you are).

Once we climbed back down, we wandered around the rest of the grounds and saw a giant elephant statue...

And the turtle building (there was nothing too exciting inside).

Overall, I found the place pretty fascinating. My only complaint was that the inside of the tower was pretty run down. If they could get it cleaned up a bit and have something to look at on every floor, Wat Sampran would truly be one of the "must-see" places in all of Thailand (I would still recommend it pretty strongly though).

Sunday, February 25, 2007


The province of Nakhonn Nayok is located just over 50 km. from Bangkok, so a little day trip there is not a massive undertaking. The place is home to a few interesting religious attractions that make for a worthwhile (and peaceful) little excursion for a family interested in getting out of over-crowded, over-polluted Bangkok.

The massive Phra Pathom Chedi is the tallest Buddhist monument in the world (127 m) and one of the most sacred religious places in all of Thailand. To me, it was reminiscent of Bangkok's own Golden Mount (see previous entry from last summer).

The chedi was originally constructed in the 6th Century, but time took its toll on that original monument. Kings Rama IV and Rama V oversaw its reconstruction, and today it stands proudly and is covered in glazed orange tiles imported from China.

Near the base of the spire is this Buddha image that peers out from behind a window. I have no idea what its significance is, but it seemed kind of important.

Like every other wat I have visited, the temple complex is home to some impressive statuary, including a golden reclining Buddha...

And some traditional warrior and guard images.

The complex itself isn't too large, so a trip here can be short and sweet if you wish. On the other hand, the Chedi is so massive, you can still see it in the rearview mirror long after you've departed Phra Pathom.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


Herbivores beware! Fogo Vivo is one restaurant you'll want to avoid! Sure, they have a nice salad bar, but the whole experience is one big Meat-A-Pa-Looza, and for carnivores like me, that's one step short of Heaven.

Fogo Vivo is described as a Brazilian Churrascaria, which roughly translates to Brazilian barbecue (the name Fogo Vivo translates to "Live Fire"). For this particular establishment, that means an endless parade of rotisserie-cooked meat delivered to your table on skewers - beef, pork, chicken, lamb, duck, shrimp and salmon. There's also vegetables, potatoes, and finger food like bread and French fries.

The way this works is they give you a small card with a green side (to indicate "Go") and a red side (for "Stop"). When you keep the card turned up to the green side, the meat keeps coming. If you feel you need a break, you flip it over and show red.

Another way to take a break from eating is to get up out of your seat and boogie with your friends and a couple of lively Brazilian dancers to some fun Tropicalia tunes. This is one area where this restaurant differed from other ethnic places around town - the women were authentic to the establishment, not just Thai girls dressed in Brazilian attire.

And so it went throughout the night: the waitstaff brought the meat and I consumed it (all but the salmon - I'm not much of a fish fan).

When it was all over, I flipped my card over to the red side to indicate that I had surrendered (at least with the meat), but I still had room for two trips to the dessert table.

If you like cooked animal flesh combined with a fun atmosphere, you really can't go wrong in Bangkok with Fogo Vivo.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


I attended a formal event last weekend and in an effort to make it less stuffy (as these things often are), the organizers jazzed things up with a few touches of Thai culture from the past.

Puppetry has been an artform in Thailand for centuries, but started to die out in the 20th Century. In 1982, the government enlisted the late puppet master Khun Sakorn Yangkhiawsod to help revive small puppet theaters. Khun Sakorn, who was better known as Joe Louis (a pretty famous name if you're from Detroit like me), trained his family (including nine children and fourteen grandchildren) in the art of puppetry. Unfortunately, a fire eventually destroyed their home and all but one of their puppets, but an outpouring of donations from the public helped them get back on their feet again.

Each puppet requires three people to manipulate it and the stories they are featured in are all from ancient Thai legends and literature. The Suan Lum Night Bazaar near Lumphini Park is home to the Joe Louis Puppet Theatre, but I guess they occassionaly work cocktail parties as well.

Khon is a classic drama in Thailand featuring singing, dancing, acrobatics, acting and music, although all of the singing is done offstage because of the elaborate masks the actors wear.

The storyline revolves around the Ramakien, a Thai version of an Indian epic which features nearly 300 different masks divided into five categories: demon, human, celestial, animal and monkey. As you can see, the costumes that they wear are elaborate and beautiful and perfectly compliment black tie evening attire.