Thursday, August 30, 2007


I finally finished detailing the final days of our world tour. I think this was the best one yet and have two pages of words and photos (a lot of photos) to back it up. See it all here:

Friday, August 24, 2007


I have been traveling quite a bit lately and the result is enough material for a whole new series of blogs. If you're interested, please check out the following links:

There's more to come later, so check back when you can (and always, comments are appreciated).

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Heading further east on Sukhumvit, you’ll eventually get near another one of Bangkok’s more obscure shrines – the Shrine of Nang Nak (also known as Mae Nak Phra Khanong), which is said to be the burial place of Thailand’s most famous ghost. Situated within Wat Mahabut off of Sukhumvit 77, Soi 7, (not far from the On Nut BTS Station) this shrine is popular with those who seek good luck, wealth or romance.

When one first enters the Wat Mahabut compound, it seems like most other wat in town: several ornate temples and a lot of monks and stray dogs. But as you make your way towards the back, you’ll notice a throng of vendors selling food and various trinkets and this means you’re getting close to the Shrine. Much of this stuff is for sale as an offering to the ghosts of Nang Nak (including beautiful dresses and cosmetics) and her child (toys, candy, milk and diapers).

The story of Nang Nak is a popular one in Thailand and has been the subject of several films including Mae Nak Phra Khanong (1958), Nang Nak (1999) and The Ghost of Mae Nak (2005). The basic plot goes like this: a man (Mak) goes off to fight in a war and leaves his pregnant wife (Nak) behind in a rural village. Nak eventually dies during childbirth, but when Mak returns home the ghosts of his deceased wife and child greet him. He becomes spellbound by them and does not know the truth about their fates. When the other villagers try to tell him what really happened, they are killed by Nak’s ghost who refuses to accept her death and only wants to remain with her husband. Eventually, a Buddhist monk is summoned to the village and gets the ghost to repent and let her husband live his life in peace.

This timeworn tale has often been referred to as the country’s version of Dracula. Like her Romanian counterpart, there has been some debate about how much of the story is true and how much of it is myth, but it’s famous enough that parents will threaten their children with visits from Nang Nak if they don’t behave.

After making an offering and praying to Nang Nak’s gold leaf covered statue, many people will buy lottery tickets from local vendors in hopes that the ghost will bring them financial fortune. The Shrine of Nang Nak is also popular with men looking to get out of military duty, but should be avoided (for obvious reasons) if you are woman who is either wants to get pregnant or is already pregnant (those people should just stick to the Goddess Tuptin Shrine).

Sunday, August 05, 2007


If you head east down Sukhumvit (from the Erawan Shrine) and make a left turn on Wireless you will be on your way to finding one of Bangkok’s most obscure places of worship – Chao Mae Tuptim (also known as the Goddess Tuptin Shrine). This one is pretty hard to find, unless someone tells you where it is. It is located behind the Nai Lert Park Hotel and backs up to Khlong Saen Saep and I found it by going through the underground car park and coming out the other side (if you get to Soi Somkhit running next to Central Chidlom, then you know you’ve gone too far).

The Goddess Tuptim Shrine is a fertility shrine (as if Bangkok needed another place celebrating fertility) built by the man who also constructed the hotel, millionaire Nai Lert, to honor Chao Mae Tuptim, a female deity who supposedly lives inside a Sai (or Ficus) tree on the site. If you look at the interior of the spirit house at the Shrine, you can see a small image of Chao Mae Tuptim.

Originally, people brought food items, white jasmine flowers, lotus buds and incense sticks to the Shrine to honor the deity, but over the years those gifts were replace by wooden and stone phallic symbols of various sizes.

Some of them will tower over you and many are painted in bright colors.

Surrounding the wooden phalluses, are various small statues of elephants, horses, Thai dancers, monks and regular people.

I don't really believe in fertility shrines and that kind of stuff, but if you live in Bangkok and are having trouble conceiving a child, then I guess it wouldn't hurt to pay a visit to Chao Mae Tuptim and pray for a higher sperm count or something like that.


With hundreds of wats around town and thousands of spirit houses seemingly at every turn, it’s more than obvious that Bangkok is a spiritual place. Another alternative if you’re in an ethereal or otherworldly mood are the various shrines situated throughout the city. Many of them are dedicated to specific themes and steeped in local legend. There are a lot of them around too, but first you have to know where to find them.

Probably the most famous shrine in town is the Hindu Erawan Shrine located by the Grand Hyatt Erawan hotel, at the intersection of Ratchadamri Road and Ratchaprasong Road. It is in the heart of a thriving shopping district and has an interesting history.

It seems that its entire reason for its existence is rooted in black magic and superstitions. In 1956, the government was building the Erawan hotel, but the construction was delayed continually by accidents, injuries, cost overruns and even the loss of an entire shipload of Italian marble. An astrologer was brought in and it was determined that the site was plagued by bad omens, quite possibly because the foundations were laid on wrong date and because the Ratchaprasong Intersection had been used as a place to put violent criminals on display in the past.

It was determined that a shrine was needed to fix all this bad karma and thus, the Erawan Shrine was constructed with a four-faced Brahma statue (designed and built by the Department of Fine Arts) as its centerpiece.

Afterwards, the construction work proceeded without incident. In 1987, the hotel was demolished to make room for the Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel, but the Shrine remained.

To this day, it remains a popular tourist attraction and a troupe of Thai dancers is on hand to perform for worshippers.

The dancers can also be hired (for a donation) to thank the Brahama for prayers and wishes that have come true.

Additionally, flower garlands, lotus, incense and candles can be purchased to offer up to the Brahma.

Saturday, August 04, 2007


Generally speaking, a trip to a snake farm or zoo can be rather dull. Looking at snakes that are behind glass or in a cage is about as exciting as watching paint dry (or grass grow or World Cup Soccer or some other cliche that is indicative of boredom). So with that in mind, I had low expectations for Bangkok's own snake farm, the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute.

Fortunately, my trip to the Institute (which is run by the Thai Red Cross Society) turned out to be pretty fun, because I got to see a live snake demonstration that features some of Thailand's most poisonous (cobras and vipers) and non-poisonous (boa constrictors) inhabitants.

Having never seen a cobra in person, it was pretty interesting to watch them bob and weave and lunge forward at the slightest movement.

The occupation "snake handler" is not one I aspire to, but thankfully there were several brave gentlemen on hand to make sure these deadly snakes got put back where they belong.

All of the handlers at the Institute have been bitten more than once and one guy there had some visual proof that shows just how dangerous these snakes are.

Throughout the show, a presenter was on hand to talk about the snakes and answer questions from the audience (she also hosted a brief slide show before the demonstration).

Later, they let people touch the snakes (thankfully, these were the non-poisonous ones).

The main reason the Institute exists is to manufacture vaccines and serum for unfortunate folks who are on the receiving end of a poisonous snake bite. This medication is made from actual snake venom and the handlers demonstrated how the snake is milked.

While I found the trip to the Institute interesting and kind of entertaining, it really isn't worthwhile unless you watch the show. It takes place at 11:00 am and 2:30 pm daily, so make sure you plan your trip around those times.