Art and Culture

The Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij Foundation recently presented its new book: Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij Foundation, an album celebrating years of projects nurturing good relations between Thailand and Belgium and helping the society. The new statue of Chao Phya Abhai Raja Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns, General Advisor of H.M. King Rama V was unveiled.

Count Gerald van der Straten Ponthoz, Chairman, M.R. Priyanandana Rangsit, Vice Chairman, and other board members of the foundation presented the book.  The luxury book of over 700 pages retraces 15 years of activities since the origins, with hundreds of pictures of many events and their distinguished guests.

An important chapter, written by M.R. Thepkamol Devakula, retraces the story of the work and achievements of Chao Phya Phya Abhai Raja Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns between 1892 and 1901, when he was a trusted advisor to the King and the Government of Siam, not only in the field of Law but also most other aspects related to the modernisation of the administration. Chao Phya Abhai Raja Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns is the only foreigner to have been bestowed upon the title of Chao Phya in the Rattanakosin era.

Besides preserving the memory of Chao Phya Abhai Raja Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns, the foundation also aims at helping the society and contributing to the good relations between Thailand and Belgium. Since its creation, the Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij Foundation has organised many projects and activities to help disadvantaged youngsters. These projects are all detailed in the book, such as the “People of the World Ceramic Project”, done in collaboration with a French sculptor, the “Hill tribe Violin Band”, organised together with a Belgian professional violinist, or even the construction of a whole football stadium to open opportunities to youngsters in the field of sports: the Chiang Rai Hills Stadium.

The Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij Foundation has also organised numerous activities to contribute in strengthening the good relations between Thailand and Belgium. In this regard, the foundation has hosted members of the royal families of Thailand, Belgium, and other countries, in its events.

An important chapter of the book retraces the visit of H.R.H. Princess Maria-Esmeralda of Belgium, who came to Thailand in 2015. The Princess was invited by the foundation to participate in the Thai-Belgian Friendship Celebrations. Several events were organised, including an exhibition, which was presided over by H.R.H. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. A charity gala dinner was also hosted and was honoured by the presence of H.R.H. Princess Soamsawali Krom Muen Suddhanarithana, as well as numerous important guests of the Thai society.

The first visit of H.R.H. Princess Lea of Belgium to Thailand, in 2018, is also covered in this book. The Belgian princess was invited to attend the events celebrating the 150th anniversary of the bilateral relations. The chapter also includes countless pictures of the other activities, which the foundation organised for the Princess on that year. H.R.H. Princess Lea of Belgium made a second visit to Thailand in 2019. This time she attended the Simply Exceptional Gala Dinner, a glamorous event that celebrated Thailand, Belgium, and Lesotho, through their diamond and jewellery industries. Royals of no less than six countries, including the King and the Queen of Lesotho, as well as Princes and Princesses of Malaysia, Bhutan, and Russia, attended this event. On this occasion, M.L. Sarali Kitiyakara represented Princess Soamsawali Krom Muen Suddhanarinatha. Besides the gala dinner, H.R.H. Princess Lea also visited the provinces of Chiang Rai and Nan.

One of the greatest symbols of the Thai-Belgian friendship is the friendship between the two royal families, and especially between late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and late King Baudouin of Belgium. This historical symbol is also present in the book, with articles and many pictures of the commemorative events organised by the foundation. The new book about the activities of the Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij Foundation is very unique in more than one aspect. It is a non-commercial commemorative luxury book, which will be distributed as a gift only. But a particularity of this edition is that over one hundred personalities of the Thai and foreign societies have contributed to its publishing, by writing short or longer texts. These include quotes, memories or feelings, but also texts about the Thai-Belgian relations or the very diverse projects of the Foundation.

All of the contributors have been part of the history of the Chao Phya Abhai Raja Siammanukulkij Foundation, be it through their presence at the foundation’s events, or their direct participation in their organisation. This makes so that, as Count Gerald van der Straten Ponthoz likes to say, this book is “for everyone who has been part of the foundation’s story”, or for those who would like to know more about its activities.

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The world’s largest monument to love is undoubtedly the Taj Mahal in India. But Bangkok also can claim its own monument to love, if somewhat smaller, but no less in deep affection: the Neilsen-Hays Library.

The origins of the Neilsen-Hays Library can be directly traced to the Ladies’ Bazaar Association, a charitable organisation. In 1869, thirteen American and British women, who were members of the Ladies’ Bazaar Association, established the Bangkok Ladies’ Library Association, also called the Ladies Circulating Library. Due to the Bowring Treaty being signed in 1855, and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, expats started to pour into Siam in ever increasing numbers as trade agents, missionaries, consulate and legation officials, businessmen and their families. Life in Bangkok at the time could be harsh. With frequent epidemics and little to do outside of home and office, books and other reading materials were scarce and highly sought after. 

The aim was to circulate and share books. Initially the books were housed rent-free in various personal homes and in 1871 moved to the Protestant Union Chapel. Initially staffed by volunteers, the ‘library’ was only open one day a week. A young woman, Jennie Neilsen, joined the association and became one of its most active board members and the future namesake of the Neilsen-Hays Library.

Jennie Neilson Hays was born in Aalborg, Denmark in 1859. First she lived in America then came to Siam as a protestant missionary in the early 1880s. In an anecdotal tale, while on her way to Bangkok on a ship, she and a friend supposedly heard that two suitable young American doctors were also onboard going to Bangkok. Jennie and a friend were said to have selected their respective future husbands prior to them all disembarking. She began her relationship with the association in 1885. She conducted benefits to raise funds and assisted in the library.

Eventually she married Dr. Thomas Heyward Hayes. An American doctor, he was born in South Carolina, USA in 1854. He arrived in 1885, becoming the Chief of the Royal Thai Navy Hospital and later Consulting Physician to the Royal Court. Jennie remained a mainstay of the organisation for twenty years, serving as President of the Library three times. By 1897 the ‘library’ was open every day of the week except Sunday with a paid librarian. In 1900, Jenny arranged for the books to be all moved to Charoen Krung Road home of Mr. T. C. Taylor of the Gold Mines of Siam Company. The Library continued its peripatetic journey, finding a new home in 1903 on Chartered Bank Lane. The Library was moved several times after.

The Library’s name changed to Bangkok Library Association in October 1911. But by 1914 it was clear that a dedicated building was required. To this end, Dr. Hays bought a plot of land on Suriwongse Road.

Sadly, Jennie died suddenly in 1920 of cholera. Dr. Hays chose to honour his late wife by commissioning a new library to be built in her memory using the plot of land he purchased earlier. It was also a gift of love. Designed by the Italian architect Mario Tamagno, who also designed the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, the Parutsakawan Palace, the Thai Khu Fah Building (the Government House of Thailand), Hualamphong Railway station and other important buildings. The result was an elegant neo-classical building. Dr. Hayes died in 1924. He and his wife are buried in the Protestant Cemetery on Charoen Krung Road.

The Library flourished in its new and permanent home for several decades. However the Library received a grave a setback in 1941. When Japanese forces invaded Thailand they used the building for billeting military troops. More than 1,000 rare volumes were shipped to Japan along with many precious architectural blueprints. Many books were eventually returned after World War II ended. But some of the Library’s rarest books and blueprints are still missing.

In 1986 the Neilsen-Hayes Library was granted “Historic Landmark” status by the Association of Siamese Architects. Apart from the elegant wooden clad 20,000 book Library, there’s also a children’s corner and a Gallery Rotunda. Meanwhile, the spacious garden contains the Garden Gallery and Café. The Library looks almost exactly the same after a century of use. It houses tens of thousands of foreign books, some of them very rare and valuable. It is a regular venue for a variety of art and photography exhibitions. It remains a Bangkok landmark. 

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There is only one road mentioned in the Christian Bible. “Via Recta” or “Straight Street” (Acts of the Apostles, 9:11). It is located Damascus, Syria where St. Paul was said to have stayed on a visit. That street still exists, although a far cry from two millenniums ago when the Romans constructed it. Bangkok had its own Straight Street in the 19th century, but no one wanted to use it after the road as constructed.

It is commonly known that “Charoen Krung” (“Prosperity of the City”) or New Road (as the foreigners at the time named it) was the first road in Bangkok built using modern construction techniques. It is also widely considered as Bangkok’s first road opening in 1864. But actually “Thanon Trong” (or “Straight Street” later to be called Rama IV Road) is older.

In 1856, a year after the Bowring Treaty was signed, western merchants were pouring into Bangkok. They proposed a trading community be established some distance away from the city proper at what is now called Phrakanong. They requested a canal be dug that would lead to a new warehouse site since everything in Bangkok had to move by water. They wanted a shorter water route from these proposed new warehouses to the city’s centre that would bypass the 20 kilometre sinuous journey up the Chao Phraya River to the wharfs at Songwat Road. In 1857 a 5.18 kilometre canal was dug from Klong Padung Krung Kasem to Phrakanong. It was called “Klong Thanon Trong” (or “Straight Street Canal”) by the locals since it did not have an official name. It was also called Hua Lamphong canal. The soil from the excavated khlong was piled up along the side it and a roadway was created at the same time. Some of the excess soil was later used to construct Charoen Krung Road.

But when the canal was completed the merchants refused to move to Phrakanong. They claimed it was too far away to do business at the city centre. So the roadway and canal remained unused for quite some time until the city extended eastwards. In 1893 a small railway line, Thailand’s first railroad, was constructed from what was the original Hua Lamphong railway station Southeast to Paknam. In 1900 the Hua Lamphong canal was still bordered by the roadway, but now it was paved. In 1919, King Vajiravudh (King Rama VI) renamed the road King Rama IV Road. In 1947 the canal was drained and paved over to extend the roadway’s width. The train line was discontinued in 1960 due to falling ridership and increased roadway traffic. There was also a tramline that started in the 19th century along Rama IV Road and other routes, but all the tramlines were discontinued in 1965. The tram rails were all paved over with concrete. In the 1980s and 1990s several flyover were added to increase the traffic flow including the Thai-Belgian bridge flyover and the Thai-Japanese friendship flyover. This explains why Rama IV Road is much wider than all the other streets in Bangkok having a canal, a roadway, a train route and a tram line simultaneously.

Rama IV Road (Thai: ถนนพระรามที่ 4) starts at the Mo Mi intersection in the Samphanthawong District of Bangkok’s Chinatown. The roadway then terminates at the junction of Sukhumvit Road in Khlong Toei District close to Khlong Toei Port. Rama IV Road is one of the most important city arteries. The road is always bustling and busy with heavy traffic. Rama IV Road is an important connector to all three parts of Bangkok’s central Business District, Wireless/Ploenchit Roads, Silom/Sathorn Roads and Sukhumvit Road. Along the way are Hua Lamphong Railway Station, Wat Hua Lamphong, the Royal Thai Red Cross. Lumpini Park with Rama VI Memorial Plaza, the New Sam Yan Market, 3HD and King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital. Although Rama IV Road is in a very geographical advantageous position, it has seen uneven urban development through the decades.

The Western section boasts many luxury commercial and residential developments including The PARQ, One Bangkok, Dusit Central Park and Samyan Mitrtown are close to to four MRT stations, while the Eastern section has seen less upscale development. This is due to the proximity to Klong Toey port, a loading bay for container ships. However, the whole road is expected to see major new developments over the next few years.

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The fourth highest number of expats living in Thailand after the Americans, Chinese and Australians are the Japanese. The Japanese expat community have chosen Thailand for the following reasons: 1. No worries for language  2. Family can live together 3. Good weather – no winter 4. Golfer’s heaven 5. Japanese friendly 6. Good food 7 Low cost of living 8. Japanese senior citizens select Thailand as their second home 9. Buddhist country.   

  1. 1.No worries for language

Most Japanese restaurants, cafés, and supermarkets have Japanese language support in writing and/or with translator service.  

  1. 2. Family can live together

There are Japanese kindergartens and schools and international schools. Parents have many choices where to send their children. At all major private hospitals, there are Japanese doctors, translators and Japanese national insurance support desk.   

  1. 3. Good weather -no winter

Every day is summer in Thailand, there is no winter. The average temperature is around 29 degrees. Japanese people love going to the beach to swim and relax with family and friends.  

  1. 4.Golfer’s heaven

The Japanese love playing golf. There are 250 good golf courses around Thailand. Most golf courses are situated around Bangkok and the Pattaya area.  

  1. 5.Japanese friendly nation

Thailand is very Japanese friendly. The best Japanese restaurants outside of Japan can be found in Bangkok. Both the Japanese and Thais are similar in that they uphold some time honoured traditions and understand each other’s respect for their royal families. After the Japanese government waived visas for Thai tourist, Japan has been the hottest tourist destination for Thai.  

  1. 6. Tasty Thai food

The Japanese love Thai food. Both nations eat rice, lots of vegetables and fruit.  

  1. 7. Low living cost  

Most Thai likes to eat out, because it is cheaper than cooking at home. Food, transportation, clothes, houses are all much cheaper than in Japan.  

  1. 8.Many elderly and retired Japanese have selected Thailand as their second home.After Malaysia, Thailand is the second most popular country for retirement. However, the Japanese who choose Thailand stay here far longer than in other countries.

  1. 9. Buddhist country

Thailand is Buddhist country. Around 70% of Japanese people are Buddhist. For Japanese to accept Thai Buddhist is not a problem.   

Long history of Japanese migrations

Japanese migration started late16th century during Ayuthaya Kingdom period. By 1620, around the East side of Chao Phraya river, there were between 1,000 to 1,500 Japanese habitants. In Ayuthaya, according to the official recording of French King, Louis XIV’s  diplomat, 600 Samurai lived there as the Thai Royal Court Guard. The most famous Samurai warrior who became King Songtham’s (1590-1628) advisor was General Nagamasa Yamada. After King Songtham’s death, he was assassinated by King Prasat Thong in Nakhon Si Thammarat in 1630. After General Nagamase Yamada’s death, King Prawat Thong ordered the destruction and burning of the Japanese village in Ayudhya.

Japanese Chamber of Commerce Bangkok (Established in 1954, Sep 27)

At the Japanese Chamber of Commerce Bangkok (JCC), there are 1,736 (2020, April) Japanese companies officially registered as JCC members. There are15 business category groups; Metal, Machinery, Textile, Agriculture and Fisheries Food, Financial Insurance, Transportation, Living Industry, Automobile, Tourism and Public Relations, Construction, Chemical, Electrical, Information and Communications, Distribution and Retail and Trading.  

There are 22 committees; Public Relations, Japanese Language Supplementary Lesson School, Thai-Nichi Institute of Technology Committee, Thai Japanese Association School Management Support, General Affairs, Social Contribution Fund, Labour Relations, Editorial, Environmental, Human Resource Development, Investment Infrastructure Development, Small Medium Enterprise (SME) Support, Customs, IBC, Tax, Legal, GMS, EDC, FDC, Organisational Strengthening, Safety Measures, Economic Research Committees.   

Japanese is one of the biggest investors in Thailand 

In 2019, 2.49USD Billion USD were invested in Thailand by Japanese firms. This is 24.6% of the total foreign investment of 6.13 Billion USD.  

However, as has been experienced by almost all investors during this pandemic, most Japanese firms saw a drop in revenues by almost half compared to previous years.  This, according to a 2020 survey conducted by the Japanese Trade Organisation (JETRO).

Tips on how to use Feng Shui to increase your luck in 2021

 

1: Use auspicious days

There are selected days to implement certain activities to boost your good luck, health, wealth, peace, and happiness.

 

February 3, 2021 (Li Chun, Beginning of Spring)

Li Chun is known as the Beginning of Spring.  In 2021, this falls on Feb 3rd. It is the start of the New Chinese Solar Year. In recent years, it is believed to deposit money on Li Chun symbolises steady income throughout the year. The auspicious timing to deposit money is 03:00 – 11:00, and 17:00 – 23:45. With internet banking it can be done at any convenient time and place.   

February 4, 2021 (Auspicious cleaning day to welcome good luck)

It is believed to clean the house before welcoming New Year to throw away the bad luck of the previous year, and welcome good luck from the coming year.  

February 11, 2021 (Chinese New Year Eve)

Chinese New Year Eve represents a day to eliminate the old and welcome the new, by decorating homes/offices flowers, orange trees and spring festival couplets. In the evening, every family will enjoy sumptuous meal together, known as the reunion dinner.  Some people will try to stay up all night for the longevity of the elders at home.    

 

February 12, 2021 (Chinese New Year)

The Feng Shui calendar is closely associated with the Lunar Calendar. The year 2021, the year of “Golden Ox“ starts on Friday, February 12. This is the day to wear clothes in red (red is believed to be very auspicious colour to star the new lunar year), give and receive red envelopes (Hongpao/Angbaos: a symbol of good luck), and attend reunion dinner to exchange good wishes among family members, friends, and employees.  

However, we cannot sweep the floor or do major cleaning on this day. This act is believed to drive away good fortune and results in wealth loss.

February 16, 2021 (The birthday of the Weald God)

On this prosperous “Wealth God Birthday“, we need to send away the Poverty God and welcome the Wealth God. To get this Wealth God’s luck, many people likes to visit the Chinese temple to pray to the Wealth God to be prosperous.      

 

February 18, 2021 (Tossing Day)

On this Tossing Day, all family members, close relatives and friends gather around the round dining table to have tossing (Yu Sheng) by eating colourful salad with raw fish.  This acts symbolises good fortune, good health, greater achievements and wealth.   

SSF Consultants original Feng Shui calendar

You can also check 2021 Feng Shui calendar by opening SSF CONSULTATION homepage, by clicking (http://www.ssfconsultation.com/calendar/) to find out auspicious and inauspicious things to do on that particular date. It is highly recommended to avoid the day marked X to start your new business/job, wedding, moving houses, signing important documents and moving into a new house/office.  

  1. 2. Auspicious Vs inauspicious directions, activation and remedy

There are certain rules to use auspicious direction and time to increase your luck for 2021.  

 

February 12, (00:00 – 13:00)

Between 00:00 – 13:00, going out the house towards, Southwest, Northeast and/or East directions. If you go to the Southwest direction, you will have a happy year,  to the Northeast direction, you will meet your supporters, to the East directions, you will be rich in 2021. Ideal plan is to leave your house early morning to any of the three directions and stay thee at least two hours to get that particular directions lucky energy. Avoid time 13:00-19:00 for above practice.  

Throughout 2021, it is better to avoid 13:00-15:00 for auspicious events.  

Auspicious directions for 2021

South, West, Northeast, these three directions are very good for 2021. If your house/office entrance is located and facing these directions, you can have very good income at your office and happiness at your house.  

If your entrance door is not located at these three directions, but facing these three directions, you can still have good result.  

Not auspicious directions for 2021

Southwest, Northwest, North, Southeast, these four directions are bad for 2021. If your entrance door is located at these directions looking at the centre of the house/office/factory, there are certain objects to be placed on February 13, between 00:00-13:00, 19:00-21:00, 23:00-24:00.  For Southwest, red carpet, for Northwest, 3 water bamboos, for  North, 6 coins, for Southeast, metallic wind chimes.  

Directions to activate

Auspicious directions: South, West, Northeast, must be activated. If your office table is placed in the centre of the room, and if there are some empty spaces in these three directions, you can simply place a fan, printing machine, fax machine, telephone, and radio. By doing this, auspicious energy is activated.  

 

 

Directions not to activate

Not auspicious directions: Southwest, Northwest, North, Southeast, must not be activated. Looking at the centre of your bad room, if your bed is placed in these bad directions, you better relocate your bed to auspicious directions. If you cannot relocate your bed, you need to place red pillow for Southwest, three water bamboos for Northwest, six coins for North, and metallic wind chimes for Southeast.

 

  1. Make a relationship with people with good moles

Face reading using moles on the face is one of the ancient technic to determine the person’s fortune. Up to this day, this method is used for selecting future spouse, staff and friends.   

 Facial moles and their meaning

 

1, 2, 3. Poor relationship with parents, elders, and superiors.

  1. 4. Turbulent life, sometimes too blunt.

  1. 5. Worry about loved ones and spend too much money on them.

6: Intelligence, talents, wealth.

7: Poor family relationship, and pay attention to financial issues.   

8: Optimistic character, good interpersonal skills, but be cautious on financial issues.

  1. 9. Very good money luck

  1. 10. Male: long life, Female: wealth accumulation

  1. 11.Male: long life, Female: wealth and s

  1. 12. Health issues

  1. 13. Enjoy eating, but be cautious what you say and eat.

  1. 14. Children relationship luck is poor.

  1. 15. Be aware of food hygiene and food poisoning.

  1. 16. Can become a big landlord, enjoy fine things in life.

  1. 17. High romance luck, need to self-control.  

  1. 18. Good career luck.

  1. 19. Male: can inherit fortune. Female: marrying into rich family.

  1. 20. Male: successful business man. Female: have a blissful family.

  1. 21. Prosperous life with smooth career luck.

  1. 22. Pay attentions to foot health, water related accidents.

  1. 23. Pay attentions to romantic relationship.

  1. 24. Intelligence, filial and helpful personality.  Female: Enhance spouse’s luck.

  1. 25. Left: high status.  Right: prosperity.  

 

When I mentioned throughout 2021, or this year, it means between February 12, 2021, until January 31, 2022 (Chinese Year of Golden Ox).

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After the 1688 Siamese Revolution, most foreigners were expelled from the kingdom; foreign influence dropped to minimal levels. That situation remained for almost 140 years. However, Western nations, especially the U.K. and the U.S., started looking for new markets for their exports. These countries showed in Bangkok in the late 1810s and early 1820s eager to resume trade and diplomatic relations. However, the Thais were wary since they saw the surrounding nations were being absorbed into European colonial empires: India, Burma, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, China seaports, the Philippines and Singapore. They did not wish to meet the same fate, so they initially resisted these commercial and diplomatic overtures and planned to move slowly. But foreign nations were determined to establish relations so the Thais knew it would only be a matter of time before they had to work out some agreements.

The Portuguese were the first to set up an embassy in 1820. The first agreement between the U.K and Thailand called Burney Treaty signed in 1826, but this was not about commerce. Thailand and the U.S. signed a treaty in 1833. It was the first treaty the U.S. signed with an Asian nation. but nothing much came out of it. Only a few European and other foreign traders appeared, but most of the Westerners who arrived during this time were Christian missionaries who doubled as teachers and doctors, both very prestigious professions in the eyes of the Thais. However, trade had always continued with China. Chinese junks of all sizes plied the waters carrying mainly rice and other local commodities to home and all manner of goods to Thailand including porcelain wares, teas, cutlery, silks and thousands of other little trinkets and useful objects. Trade between Thailand and the Dutch East Indies plus Singapore consisted of mainly  European goods and textiles.

However, everything dramatically changed overnight when Sir John Bowring, the British Governor of Hong Kong, arrived in Bangkok. He negotiated a trade agreement with King Mongkut (King Rama IV) that was signed in April 1855. In short, the treaty was similar to the forced treaty signed between the U.K. and China, namely one that was unequal or heavily skewered toward the British. Although the agreement liberalised foreign trade between the two nations, the Thais were pressured to accept and not allowed to negotiate under the veiled threat of armed force.

In the eyes of the Thais the treaty provisions included sweeping changes. It created a new system of imports and exports with fixed low customs duties. There would be one tax only, all other different taxes on the same goods would be abolished. All royal monopolies were terminated, heavy royal taxation on imports was ended and tree trade guaranteed for all foreigners in Bangkok. Thailand reserved the right to prohibit the export of rice, fish and salt if these commodities proved to be scarce. A British consulate was authorised, and British subjects could own land, subject to some restrictions. As with all such treaties at the time, British subjects were given the right of extraterritoriality in that local authorities could not prosecute British subjects without consular approval. British subjects could travel inside the country and trade freely with locals without interference. But the treaty also allowed British ships to import opium. The treaty was very important in one aspect. It prohibited all other nations from interfering in Thailand’s internal affairs thus guaranteeing the country’s independence.

The effect of the treaty was dramatic. It created a framework for trade between Thailand and China and Singapore. Trade started to increase exponentially. Within two years there were 200 Western ships that called on Bangkok. Rice became a major export commodity to British India with sugar cane and teak becoming import exports. Quickly other nations signed bilateral treaties with Thailand, including the U.S. in 1856, all based on the Bowring Treaty. Foreign embassies started to be quickly set up and foreigners started pouring into Bangkok, although they had to live on boats along the river. Trade and commerce started to greatly accelerate. The Thai government eventually shifted to a tax farming scheme by granting concessionary licenses to make up for the loss of royal monopolies on such activities that included teak, gambling and opium. In the end of the Thai government gained in the bargain with much higher revenues.

The Bowring Treaty proved to be a great boon to the country as trade was greatly expanded.

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Historical city of Sukhothai


After residing in Thailand for thirty years, I finally fulfilled my dream to visit Sukhothai. I have often been told by my Thai friends, “If you enjoy visiting Ayutthaya which is only one hour drive from Bangkok, you are going to fall in love with Sukhothai.” And, they are perfectly right. The most historically significant and splendid temple ruins are inside the Sukhothai Historical Park and nearby Si Satchanalai Historical Park. Sukhothai and associated cities, namely Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet were declared the 574th UNESCO World Heritage in 1991. Located over 400km from Bangkok with a five hours drive, this partly explains the reason for less foreign visitors without the convenient transportation. Frankly admitting that the current Covid situation has encouraged everyone like me to appreciate domestic travelling. I am totally enchanted by the rustic lifestyle of what Sukhothai offers as a quiet rural city in Thailand. Given the opportunity of a long weekend stay, one will not be disappointed! Sukhothai worth’s deserved as a UNESCO World Heritage city.

Cradle of Thai civilisation


The Sukhothai Kingdom (1238-1438) was considered as the cradle of Thai civilisation, with Sukhothai city as the first capital of Siam. “Sukhothai” means “the dawn of happiness” which launched the birthplace of Thai art, architecture and language. The kingdom enjoyed 200 years of peace and prosperity until the Ayutthaya Kingdom annexed it. Under King Ramkhamhaeng the Great (1239 – 1317), the second ruling monarch of the Phra Ruang dynasty, the Ceylonese school of Theravada Buddhism was established as the state religion. Thai alphabets were documented from ancient Khmer scripts and an administrative system for the government was set up. It was marked as golden period for Siamese art and architecture.

Sukhothai Historical Park


The Sukhothai Historical Park ruins are one of Thailand’s most impressive World Heritage sites. It is a great testimony of the glorious part of Thailand. The park covers an area of land totally 70 square kilometres with 193 ancient monuments, including 60 ancient monuments inside the town walls, 27 ancient monuments outside the town walls in the North, 37 ancient monuments outside the town walls in the South, 19 ancient monuments outside the town walls in the East and 50 ancient monuments outside the town walls in the West. In terms of visiting the whole compound, the ground is divided into three separate but adjoining areas. Most visitors concentrate in the central area. I found the most amazing site in the North with Wat Si Chum. The roofless mondop building enshrines a huge Sukhothai style Buddha image named Phra Achana (translated as “He who is not frightened”). It is the largest Buddha image in Sukhothai measuring 15 metres high and 11 metres wide.

The Sukhothai style image wearing a serene facial expression occupies the total space of the mondop’s interior. At the centre of the mondop is an opening diminishing in size towards the top through which the image can be seen from the outside. Local people also refer this amiable image as “Speaking Buddha”. The architecture of Sukhothai temples is most typified by the classic lotus-bud chedis, featuring a conical spire topping a square sided structure on a three tiered base. Generally known as the Sukhothai style, these lotus-bud chedis, brick-over-stucco construction techniques present the Buddha images with a signature graceful form. Some sites exhibit other rich architectural forms introduced and modified during the period, such as bell shaped Sinhalese and double tiered Srivijaya chedi. The grounds of the historical park are so expansive and I saw so many tourists renting bicycles to joyfully enjoy the scenery at their own pace. I hope my next visit to this beautiful historical park is during the Loy Krathong festival, as it is the most important festival of the year in Sukhothai. The local guide explained that during the Loy Krathong Festival, the Sukhothai Historical Park offers exceptional evenings with performances, ceremonies, monuments illuminations, entertainment, booths of all kinds of local products and food mixed with the famous krathongs, small rafts that people launch on the pounds of the park. The night ends with a light and sound and fireworks on the pond in front of Wat Sa Si. Ramkhamhaeng National Museum The National Museum was built
for history and archaeology aspect to honour King Ramkhamhaeng the Great, the King of Phra Ruang Dynasty of Sukhothai. The Ramkhamhaeng National Museum was officially opened in 1964 for over 50 years. It is located inside the Sukhothai Historical Park. The museum displays detailed exhibition on “Sukhothai: the Past and the Present.” A replica of the famous Ramkhamhaeng inscription, said to be the earliest example of “Lai Sue Thai”, the Thai letter of the alphabet, is kept here among an impressive collection of Sukhothai artefacts.

Si Satchananalai Historical Park


Less than one hour drive from Sukhothai, we spent another day to explore Si Satchanalai. With the total area of 45 square
kilometres, this historical park extends over 4 sub-districts including Si Satchanalai, Sara Chit, Nong O and Tha Chai. Its ancient monuments are entirely located in the district of Si Satchanalai. The ruins here are just as amazing as in Sukhothai and thoroughly well kept. Sawankhalok Together with Sukhothai, Si Satchanalai grew from a rural area to an urban centre. According to a stone inscription, Si Satchanalai of Sukhothai had been formally known as Chaliang. When Sukhothai was annexed and Ayuthaya became the capital of the Kingdom of Siam, Si Satchanalai was renamed as Sawankhalok, which was regarded as an outer town. In 1991, UNESCO as World Cultural Heritage together with Sukhothai and Kamphaeng Phet designated the ancient town of Si Satchanalai. Earlier in 2019, several artists from around Thailand and the ASEAN region were invited to Sawankhalok to create street art along a stretch of road near the town. Sawankhalok Walking Street Art has drawn many curious tourists.

Sangkhalok ceramics


Sangkhalok ceramics are ancient Thai traditional ceramic ware specifically derived from Sukhothai kingdom period. The pottery is made in very fine ceramic and glazed signature green olive colour. The green exquisite pottery making has also been known as “Celadon”. There is a small museum called Sangkhalok Ceramics Conservation and Study Centre, which is worth a visit.

Sukhothai noodles


One of the popular street foods and unique to the province is Sukhothai noodles. The main difference between Sukhothai noodles and regular Thai noodles is the ingredients. Sukhothai noodles are always served with thin rice noodle with sliced roasted pork, to be accompanied with green beans, small pieces of salted turnip and ground peanut.

The taste is slightly sweet and sour because the last touch is the addition of palm sugar, dried chilli and lime. A trip is not completed without shopping for some souvenirs to take home. I picked up a few pieces of Sangkhalok ware with simple designs under their greyish blue/green matte glaze for our friends. Sukhothai is well known with the gold and silver jewellery with its exclusive design. Colourful embroidered textiles are widely available at a much affordable than in Bangkok. For many places, we will feel that one visit is enough in a lifetime, it will definitely not in my case with Sukhothai. As said earlier, I wish to experience Loy Krathong festival at Sukhothai Historical Park, perhaps in my Thai traditional outfit!

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Historical city of Sukhothai

After residing in Thailand for thirty years, I finally fulfilled my dream to visit Sukhothai. I have often been told by my Thai friends, “If you enjoy visiting Ayutthaya which is only one hour drive from Bangkok, you are going to fall in love with Sukhothai.” And, they are perfectly right. The most historically significant and splendid temple ruins are inside the Sukhothai Historical Park and nearby Si Satchanalai Historical Park. Sukhothai and associated cities, namely Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet were declared the 574th UNESCO World Heritage in 1991.  

Located over 400km from Bangkok with a five hours drive, this partly explains the reason for less foreign visitors without the convenient transportation. Frankly admitting that the current Covid situation has encouraged everyone like me to appreciate domestic travelling. I am totally enchanted by the rustic lifestyle of what Sukhothai offers as a quiet rural city in Thailand. Given the opportunity of a long weekend stay, one will not be disappointed! Sukhothai worth’s deserved as a UNESCO World Heritage city. 



Cradle of Thai civilisation

The Sukhothai Kingdom (1238-1438) was considered as the cradle of Thai civilisation, with Sukhothai city as the first capital of Siam. “Sukhothai” means “the dawn of happiness” which launched the birthplace of Thai art, architecture and language. The kingdom enjoyed 200 years of peace and prosperity until the Ayutthaya Kingdom annexed it.

Under King Ramkhamhaeng the Great (1239 – 1317), the second ruling monarch of the Phra Ruang dynasty, the Ceylonese school of Theravada Buddhism was established as the state religion. Thai alphabets were documented from ancient Khmer scripts and an administrative system for the government was set up. It was marked as golden period for Siamese art and architecture.

 Sukhothai Historical Park

Sukhothai Historical Park

The Sukhothai Historical Park ruins are one of Thailand’s most impressive World Heritage sites. It is a great testimony of the glorious part of Thailand. The park covers an area of land totally 70 square kilometres with 193 ancient monuments, including 60 ancient monuments inside the town walls, 27 ancient monuments outside the town walls in the North, 37 ancient monuments outside the town walls in the South, 19 ancient monuments outside the town walls in the East and 50 ancient monuments outside the town walls in the West.  

 Sukhothai Historical Park

In terms of visiting the whole compound, the ground is divided into three separate but adjoining areas. Most visitors concentrate in the central area. I found the most amazing site in the North with Wat Si Chum. The roofless mondop building enshrines a huge Sukhothai style Buddha image named Phra Achana (translated as “He who is not frightened”). It is the largest Buddha image in Sukhothai measuring 15 metres high and 11 metres wide. The Sukhothai style image wearing a serene facial expression occupies the total space of the mondop’s interior. At the center of the mondop is an opening diminishing in size towards the top through which the image can be seen from the outside. Local people also refer this amiable image as “Speaking Buddha.

Wat Sichum

The architecture of Sukhothai temples is most typified by the classic lotus-bud chedis, featuring a conical spire topping a square sided structure on a three tiered base. Generally known as the Sukhothai style, these lotus-bud” chedis, brick-over-stucco construction techniques present the Buddha images with a signature graceful form. Some sites exhibit other rich architectural forms introduced and modified during the period, such as bell shaped Sinhalese and double tiered Srivijaya chedi.

The grounds of the historical park are so expansive and I saw so many tourists renting bicycles to joyfully enjoy the scenery at their own pace. I hope my next visit to this beautiful historical park is during the Loy Krathong festival, as it is the most important festival of the year in Sukhothai. The local guide explained that during the Loy Krathong Festival, the Sukhothai Historical Park offers exceptional evenings with performances, ceremonies, monuments illuminations, entertainment, booths of all kinds of local products and food mixed with the famous krathongs, small rafts that people launch on the pounds of the park. The night ends with a light and sound and fireworks on the pound in front of Wat Sa Si.



Ramkhamhaeng National Museum

The National Museum was built for history and archaeology aspect to honour King Ramkhamhaeng the Great, the King of Phra Ruang Dynasty of Sukhothai.  The Ramkhamhaeng National Museum was officially opened in 1964 for over 50 years. It is located inside the Sukhothai Historical Park. The museum displays detailed exhibition on “Sukhothai: the Past and the Present.” A replica of the famous Ramkhamhaeng inscription, said to be the earliest example of “Lai Sue Thai”, the Thai letter of the alphabet, is kept here among an impressive collection of Sukhothai artefacts.

 

Si Satchananalai Historical Park

Less than one hour drive from Sukhothai, we spent another day to explore Si Satchanalai. With the total area of 45 square kilometres, this historical park extends over 4 sub-districts including Si Satchanalai, Sara Chit, Nong O and Tha Chai. Its ancient monuments are entirely located in the district of Si Satchanalai.  The ruins here are just as amazing as in Sukhothai and thoroughly well kept. 

Si Historical Park

Sawankhalok

Together with Sukhothai, Si Satchanalai grew from a rural area to an urban centre. According to a stone inscription, Si Satchanalai of Sukhothai had been formally known as Chaliang. When Sukhothai was annexed and Ayuthaya became the capital of the Kingdom of Siam, Si Satchanalai was renamed as Sawankhalok, which was regarded as an outer town. In 1991, UNESCO as World Cultural Heritage together with Sukhothai and Kamphaeng Phet designated the ancient town of Si Satchanalai. 

Earlier in 2019, several artists from around Thailand and the ASEAN region were invited to Sawankhalok to create street art along a stretch of road near the town. Sawankhalok Walking Street Art has drawn many curious tourists.

Street Art

Sangkhalok Ceramics


Sangkhalok ceramics are ancient Thai traditional ceramic ware specifically derived from Sukhothai kingdom period. The pottery is made in very fine ceramic and glazed signature green olive colour. The green exquisite pottery making has also been known as “Celadon”. There is a small museum called Sangkhalok Ceramics Conservation and Study Centre, which is worth a visit. 

Sukhothai noodles

One of the popular street foods and unique to the province is Sukhothai noodles. The main difference between Sukhothai noodles and regular Thai noodles is the ingredients. Sukhothai noodles are always served with thin rice noodle with sliced roasted pork, to be accompanied with green beans, small pieces of salted turnip and ground peanut. The taste is slightly sweet and sour because the last touch is the addition of palm sugar, dried chilli and lime.

Noodles

A trip is not completed without shopping for some souvenirs to take home. I picked up a few pieces of Sangkhalok ware with simple designs under their greyish blue/green matte glaze for our friends. Sukhothai is well known with the gold and silver jewellery with its exclusive design. Colourful embroidered textiles are widely available at a much affordable than in Bangkok. For many places, we will feel that one visit is enough in a lifetime, it will definitely not in my case with Sukhothai. As said earlier, I wish to experience Loy Krathong festival at Sukhothai Historical Park, perhaps in my Thai traditional outfit!

Textile Musuem
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by Ruth Gerson

Thais love a party!  And indeed, the annual calendar is packed with cultural events and festivities, each month offering a colourful experience. The festival that marks the start of the Thai New Year in the month of April is Songkran – the focal holiday of Thai culture. The customary three days of celebrations embrace the rites of spring, family gatherings honouring the elderly, acts of purification, Buddhists rituals, and the now very popular water splashing revelry. It is the time to clean the house and burn the old refuse thus hoping to be rid of all the bad luck of the old year, and start anew with a clean slate, so to speak. 

The name Songkran is derived from the ancient Sanskrit. Using ancient astrology to determine the position of the sun in the sky, it literally describes its monthly movement within the zodiac from one sphere to the next. In April the sun leaves the sphere of Aries and enters that of Taurus, a period known as Maha Songkran or the Great Songkran. It is believed that the festival of Songkran was introduced into Thailand from India where the festival of Holi is still celebrated. The theme of water splashing during the hot season has been so well integrated into SE Asian cultures that most countries neighbouring to Thailand have their own water festivals, from the Southwestern province of Yunnan in China, to Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. The purpose of water is manifold, as it is used for cooling, for symbolising the act of purification, and for invoking the life giving monsoon rains.                                                         

At present the official cultural Thai New Year falls in April, the fifth month of the Thai lunar calendar (the first month being December). At one time this holiday was celebrated by Tai of Yunan on the first lunar month, a more befitting date. It is explained, however, that the cultivation of rice was a major factor for the change, as the Tai originated from China where harvest time was different from that of tropical Thailand, and subsequently they adopted the highly skilled agricultural system of the Mon-Khmer. Denis Segaller, an author and expert on Thai culture reinforced this idea with his comment that present day Songkran depends on the cycle of rice cultivation, “with the rice harvesting finished, and the planting of the new crop not yet begun,”  a time when people can relax.  Another possible reason was that the astrological configuration in the April sky was considered more favourable, and the Thai are great believers in these astral phenomena. It is interesting to note that for years Songkran was the official Thai New Year. In 1888 King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) adopted the Thai version of the solar calendar called Suriyakhati, based on the Gregorian calendar, Suriya being the Hindu sun god. Consequently, the King moved the official New Year to 1 January to conform with most of the world.                                                                                                                                                    

Originally a lunar holiday, Songkran is now a fixed date on the Thai calendar to accommodate modern times, and is officially celebrated in most regions in the country from the 13th to 15th of April. However, in recent years the three days have been stretched out to five days and occasionally even longer. In the northern city of Chiang Mai this festival lasts up to a week and is lavishly and recklessly celebrated, as do the Mon people in Prapadaeng, in the harbour area of Bangkok. The latter celebrate Songkran one week after the rest of Thailand. In Chiang Mai the Buddha image is taken out on procession, as is the custom in numerous Thai cities and towns, but appears to be in a much more elaborate fashion than seen anywhere including                  

Bangkok. Just ahead of the Buddha image is the Songkran Queen, chosen from the beautiful young women of Chiang Mai. She rides a mythical animal, usually the one symbolising the year to come. These animals represent the twelve year cycle of the zodiac introduced into Northern Thailand by the migrating Tai from Southern China around the 13th century.                                                         

On the eve of Songkran, every house is thoroughly cleaned and old refuse is burned so as not to carry bad luck or anything harmful into the New Year, with hopes of starting everything afresh. Another old tradition is the setting off of firecrackers to frighten away any bad spirits that may lurk about from the old year. This day is known as Tarusa Suta Pi, the last day of the old year.  Wan Songkran or Songkran Day, the first day of the year, is also known as Wan Thaloeng Sok. This day was believed to have been the peak of the hot season when the hours of the day and night were equally divided.                                                                                                                                    

Early in the morning of Songkran Day people pay respects to the monks by bringing offerings of food prepared the previous day. This is customarily a temple ritual which enables the public to acquire merit, an important act in the lives of Thai people that is carried out all year long. In recent years hundreds of monks have gathered at the Pramane Ground to receive alms from the public, enabling the many people of Bangkok to carry out this important meritorious act.                                                                                                                                        

In the early afternoon, Buddha images are taken out of temples for ritual bathing and are sprinkled with lustral water by devotees. A most revered image in Bangkok is the Phra Phuttha Sihing, housed in the National Museum’s Buddhaisawan Chapel. The image is taken out to the Pramane Ground every year for the public to pay their respects. Before placing the image in the elevated pavilion erected for the purpose, it is carried around the city to allow a greater number of people to receive merit. Once in place, the image is sprinkled by thousands of people who also free birds from their cages and release fish into rivers so as to gain additional merit and good fortune.                                                                                                             

The act of purification is also performed on Buddha images in private home shrines, on family elders, and on specially revered monks and village elders who are father figures to their communities. Songkran is a time for family gatherings, when young members bringing gifts visit their elders, pour scented water over the palms of their hands, and receive blessings in return. In the past, these respected elderly relatives were bathed and dressed in new garments brought as gifts for the New Year.    

The traditional gentle water sprinkling that takes place within families has escalated outdoors into public splashing, dousing by the bucketfuls. No one is spared a generous dose of water in this mischievous merriment and all participate good naturedly. Moreover, nobody seems to mind getting drenched, as April is the hottest month of the year and a shower can be most welcome, dress and all. The water throwing has a further purpose than just having fun. It is an old belief that if one walks around soaking wet, it is a hint to heaven to send down rain. In the agricultural regions of Thailand rain is of prime importance.                                                                         

Today’s celebrations of Songkran with raging water battles that use power water guns and water hoses have moved away from the traditional festivity. “In the old days Songkran was full of meaning, but today much of the holiday’s spiritual aspect is gone. People just think of having a good time,” says Khun Euayporn Kerdchouay, Siam Society Senior Consultant. And indeed, it seems that this age old holiday has grown into a water festival to please the young and the tourists who visit Thailand. A good example are the annual festivities on Khao San Road, a backpackers’ enclave, and the more recent municipality sanctioned festival on Silom Road that closes for traffic on this occasion. Both locations draw huge crowds, as do other designated spots in the city and which are very popular. In fact, the result of the water festival has been so successful that last year Singapore staged its own water splashing festival. Khun Somlak Charoenpot, former Deputy Director General of the Fine Arts Department, Ministry of Culture explains the reasons for the change in nature of the celebrations: “The concept of Songkran is still the same today as in the past but due to changes in social and economic conditions it became a target for tourism and thus some of the different ways in celebrating the event appear.”                                                                                                                  

Also well liked at this time is the dabbing and smearing of white powder or paste on revellers’ faces. It is one of the oldest Songkran traditions and is believed to protect the person, warding off evil; traditionally the paste has been applied by an older person. This custom grew out of the practice by Buddhist monks who use chalky white powder to bless people, places and items on which they put their distinctive mark. The paste, the water, and even ice stuffed down people’s shirts have gotten out of hand as the festival of Songkran continues to evolve. The Venerable Phra Kantasilo articulates, “In recent years, the observance of Songkran amongst Thai youth has taken on a particularly sinister mood, hardly resembling the fun and innocent practices of bygone years.”  Philip Cornwel-Smith, author on Thai culture explains the importance of such outlets for energy, “The sanuk surplus acts as a social safety valve,” providing a much needed outlet for the stress of daily life.                                                                                                 

For years Songkran has been the time for courting, when young men of one village woo the girls of another. These lively events begin on the afternoon of first day of Songkran when groups of young men and women play old courting games believed to be a vestige of an ancient culture and referred to by some scholars as ‘mating games’. One such game still widely played in Thailand today is the game of saba, in which both sexes participate. Generally girls of one village play with boys from another village as this flirtatious game often leads to marriage, thus eliminate the pairing of those who may be related. They sit opposite each other in a small, enclosed arena and take turns in carrying a flat, rounded piece of wood on one foot while hopping on the other. The object of the game is to knock down a similar piece of wood, perched on its side in front of a person of the opposite sex. Both success and failure elicit further flirting and teasing.    

Songkran serves a multitude of religious and social functions. Its festivals are celebrated with great zeal, including parades, carnivals, and beauty contests, while music blares and great quantities of food and rice liquor are consumed. On the first afternoon, a Nang Songkran or Miss Songkran is chosen to reign over the festival. She is led in procession seated on an animal figure representing the day of the week on which Wan Songkran falls that year. There are seven such animals. The Garuda, for example, stands for Sunday while a tiger is for Monday. These figures derive from an ancient Hindu legend telling of a god who had lost a bet and in the process also lost his head. His seven daughters ensured that his memory lived on by parading his head once a year. This procession still continues as part of the Songkran festival; the severed head, however, has been replaced by seven different creatures, each corresponding to one of the god’s daughters.                                                                                   

A tradition practiced on the second day of Songkran is the building of sand chedi. Although predominantly a Northern custom, sand chedi have become a popular way of devotion in many regions of Thailand. A sacred structure, the chedi symbolises the place where the Buddha’s ashes were kept. Wealthy people often add new structures to a temple compound usually in the form of a chedi. The poor emulate this meritorious act by constructing a representation of a chedi, a small one made of sand, in a designated area of the temple. As in permanent chedi, small items such as coins, bodhi leaves and Buddha images are placed in the core of the sand chedi. Likewise, these tiny structures are decorated with colourful flags, topped by candles, incense sticks, and flowers. The completed sand chedi are sprinkled with scented water and some temples award prizes to the most beautiful ones. This custom is also a symbolic replacement of sand which may have clung to devotees’ shoes and inadvertently carried out of the temple.                                                                                                                                            

The Songkran festival goes on for several days, a welcome respite from work and daily routines, and a temporary diversion from the summer heat. Special food served in central Thailand at this time is khao che which is cooked rice soaked in aromatic cold water surrounded by delicate dishes of food, a dish inherited from the Mon, while glutinous rice cakes is the fare in Northern Thailand.                                                                                                                                        

The water festival is not unique to Thailand although its celebrations are known worldwide. In Asia both Buddhist and Hindu enjoy water festivities, such as several states in India and some of Thailand’s neighbouring countries. Myanmar celebrates Thingyan, Laos has Songkran or Boun Pi Mai, and Cambodia observes Chaul Chnam Thmey literally meaning to enter the new year, all celebrated like Songkran in Thailand with similar traditions and practices, as well the as the mythical tales that accompany this holiday.  In Sri Lanka the holiday is called Aluth Avurudda while in Tamil Nadu it is Puthandu, Bohag Bihu in Assam, and in Orissa Pana Sankranti also known as Mesha Sankranti. In South India, especially in Karnataka, a festival called Okhali or Okhli is celebrated. People there keep a barrel of water in their home mixed with chalk and turmeric which they throw on others. Bengali New Year includes east India and Bangladesh and is known as Pohela Boishakh. Here not much water is splashed but the lively parades are reminiscent of those in Thailand, only more colourful. Holi, a Hindu water and colour festival, is celebrated in India about a month before all these other water festivals, all of which amazingly fall on April 14th.

Interestingly, there are some water festivals in Europe as well. Hungary has a traditional event in which people get soaked, especially women, while Poland, Slovakia and parts of the Czech Republic splash people with water during the Easter celebrations.  Fortunately, beneath some rough festivities of Songkran remains a culture that is still intact and celebrated in a serious manner. It is practically a must for young people to return home on this landmark holiday to pay respects to the elders at home. As Bangkok is the hub of employment for thousands of upcountry people, particularly for those from Isaan, a great exodus is to be expected as the holiday nears. No matter the fashion in which Songkran will be celebrated, it remains the corner stone of Thai culture.

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Robert Hunter (1792-1848) was the first European merchant to reside in Siam. He was the most important intermediary between the royal court for two decades serving as an unofficial diplomat during the reign of King Rama II. 

Hunter was originally from Scotland. His family were established merchants and traders since the early 18th century. They exported tobacco from Virginia to France, but that business ended with the start of the American Revolutionary. They started to manufacture linen, cotton and glass from their home town near Glasgow, Scotland.

Hunter first went to India to learn trading. He arrived in the newly founded Singapore in 1819 and founded a firm called Hunter Watt & Company. While he was there, the British East India Company sent James Low to Siam on the first diplomatic mission in 1824. Low was an officer of the English East India Company. He was also an early student of Thai. Low wanted to enlist Siam’s help for the British invasion or Burma and gain an agreement for trading rights with King Rama II. However, Low was not successful.

In the early 1820s, foreigners started to return to Siam after a hiatus of almost 140 years since all foreigners were expelled in 1688. In July 1824, King Rama III ascended to the throne. In a canny move, Hunter arrived in Bangkok that August bearing a gift of 1,000 muskets as the Siamese were preparing for war with Burma. Hunter spoke to the Minister of the Treasury (Phra Klang) and received the right to trade with other foreigners on behalf of the royal family and nobility. After receiving permission, Hunter was allowed to settle in Bangkok. In 1840, the King directed a prominent three storey building be erected in Thon Buri along the Chao Phaya River for his residence and business concern then called the “British Factory” (or what trading posts were called by Westerners then).     

  

Hunter also obtained permission from the King for other Europeans, then living on house boats, to also build home along the riverbank. Many quickly moved ashore and built new houses. With no British legation in Bangkok, formal diplomatic relations or treaty, Hunter served as an unofficial British representative handling visitors and trading between Siam and Singapore with great success.

In 1825, Hunter wed Angelina Sap, a half-Siamese, half-Portuguese lady. She was also descended from Constantine Phaulkon, the famous 17th century Greek adventurer who was probably the most famous foreigner in early Siamese (or even in all Thai) history. Angelina taught Hunter to speak both Thai and Portuguese fluently. As there were no other English speakers (or Thai speaking foreigners) at court, the Hunter wielded enormous influence in trade negotiations and diplomacy by his ability to speak fluent Thai. As Christian missionaries and diplomatic missions began to pour into Thailand, Hunter was instrumental in guiding them. He also helped Henry Burney negotiate a successful trade treaty in 1826 between the Great Britain and Siam. In 1831 Hunter received the distinguished title of “Luang Awutwiset” which honored his service in supplying weapons to the kingdom.

Hunter was directly involved in introducing the most famous Thai personalities to the world (before 1965 Miss Universe winner Apasra Hongsakula, 1988 Miss Universe winner Porntip Nakhirunkanok, Tiger Woods and U.S. Senator Ladda Tammy Duckworth), namely the original “Siamese Twins,” nicknamed Chang and Eng (meaning “left” and “right” in Thai). In 1824, on a trip up the Chao Phaya River, Hunter spotted what he saw was a “strange animal.” It was the shirtless twins bathing along the river. He instantly saw the lucrative financial opportunity by displaying the twins to the public on an international tour. He first befriended the twins and their family, then sought permission from the King to bring them to England on tour. The twins and the family were agreeable, but it took five years for permission to be granted. In 1829 Hunter and his American business partner, a sea captain named Abel Coffin, sailed to Boston in 1829. They were an instant sensation. They went to New York to continue their successful tour and then to London. After their success there they toured the British Isles to great acclaim. However, the press of business in Siam forced Hunter to leave London for Bangkok. He departed on 28 September 1830. Coffin bought out Hunter’s interest in 1831, but Hunter kept in regular contact with the twins for years after.

Hunter then went into partnership with another British merchant named James Hayes. The 1826 Burney Treaty allowed more trade privileges for all the British merchants based in Singapore, but Hunter & Hayes completely dominated the market in Bangkok. They had a monopoly on imports from the U.K., but that concession was only limited to textiles from Liverpool. However, their business was overwhelming in exports. This was due to the monopoly they held on European type square-rigged sailing vessels that the royal court could use for their own trading interests. 

This business arrangement between Hunter and the Siamese government could not last forever. As trade rapidly expanded throughout the 1830s, the King and nobility obtained their own sailing vessels. They now began to trade with foreign merchants who were crowding into Bangkok other than Hunter. Due to his rapidly falling profits, Hunter decided to trade in opium. This illicit trade was expressly strictly forbidden. But King Rama III had to tread lightly on the matter as he was worried about Hunter’s threat to summon the Royal Navy to defend his business interests. The King knew the fledgling Siamese Navy would be no match against British warships. However, disrupting opium shipment at sea was one thing, seizing illegal goods at the port was another.

In 1839, Hunter & Hayes suffered great losses when the Siamese government suddenly monopolised teak exports. Then in 1842, they suffered ever greater losses when the King imposed heavy customs duties on sugar and seized Hunter & Hayes’ stock to collect on the overdue customs bill. From close trading partners, both sides were now bitter rivals for trade and business.

The final straw was when King Rama III and Hunter fell out on the purchase of a steam warship. The First Opium War (1838-1842), involving Great Britain and China, had widespread regional repercussions. King Rama III was worried about British intentions towards Siam. He ordered a large supply of weapons and a steamship named the Express just in case the British attacked Siam. However, the war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 and the British did not attack Siam. By the time the steamship finally arrived on 11 January 1844 there was no need for it.

The negotiations between the King and Hunter quickly grew to be contentious. It is unclear if the King refused to pay for the vessel, or if Hunter quadrupled the price on delivery in an extortion attempt. Matters came to a head when Hunter threatened to sell the vessel to the Vietnamese, Siam’s sworn enemy at the time. The King was immediately outraged at this naked threat and Hunter was immediately expelled from the Kingdom. Hunter departed Bangkok on Express, bound for Singapore, on 24 February 1844.

Upon landing in Singapore, Hunter immediately lodged a complaint with the colonial governor. The governor proved to be non-committal. So Hunter took the Express to Calcutta and saw the head of the East India Company. Hunter stated that King Rama III had violated the Burney Treaty. He also wanted the establishment of a British counsel in Bangkok, British warships to be dispatched to intimidate the Siamese and a renegotiation of the import duty. Eventually, the Governor General of India ruled that the dispute was a personal one between Hunter and the King of Siam and wisely took no action. Hunter did make good on his threat to sell the Express to the Vietnamese but at a great loss of profit.

One of Hunter’ assistants at the firm, Christopher Harvey, ran the business while Hunter was away. Hunter returned in July 1844 to collect on his outstanding debts then dissolved the business for good. Hunter left Bangkok for good on 29 December 1844. He returned to his native Scotland and died in Glasgow on 07 September 1848.

Hunter’s son. Robert Jr., remained in Siam and maintained better relations with the court. He died on 19 April 1865 and was buried in Bangkok’s Protestant Cemetary. Hunter left an uneven legacy in Siam. It was said Hunter unsuccessfully mixed shrewdness and arrogance, zeal and kindness. In 1850, during James Brooke’s unsuccessful mission to extend the terms of a freer residency for Europeans, King Rama III specifically cited Hunter’s behaviour as the reason to reject any new agreement. The King distrusted Europeans for the rest of his reign. When King Rama IV ascended to the throne in 1851, trade relations became more cordial. The King signed the Bowring Treaty in 1855, trade between Siam and Great Britain saw a tremendous expansion.

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Of all the major or important sights in Bangkok that have changed the least, then Sanam Luang (Thai: สนามหลวง, or literally “royal turf”) is most likely at the top of the list. The spacious grounds has served a multitude of official and unofficial functions for almost two and a half centuries. The royal field is an important part of modern Thai history and its national culture having had so many important events and rituals held in the public park.

Sanam Luang was laid out during the construction of the Grand Palace complex in 1782, when the capital was moved from the Thon Buri side of the Chao Phaya River to Bangkok. Sanam Luang now measures 74.5 rai, 119,200m2 or almost 30 acres. It is considered both an open field and public square. Officially, Sanam Luang is known as “Thung Phra Men” or (the royal cremation ground; Thai: ทุ่งพระเมรุ). It has also been referred to as the Royal Park, the Royal Field and the Royal Grounds for the many royal or official ceremonies held there. It is a public square situated right in front of the Grand Palace. Sanam Luang has been frequently used as a site for the cremation of royal family members, including many of Thailand’s kings, queens, royal princes and princesses plus other nobility since the reign of King Rama I.

The first royal cremation at Sanam Luang was King Rama I’s brother, the vice-king or prince-successor, who occupied the Front Palace, a royal residence nearby the Grand Palace. King Rama II followed this tradition by both performing royal ceremonies at Sanam Luang and conducting the cremation rites of his closest brother, also a vice-king or prince-successor. During King Rama III’s reign, Thailand entered into a dispute with Vietnam over Cambodia’s border demarcation. Since “farangs” were starting to return to Thailand at this time, the king wanted to demonstrate to them, and all other nations, that his country was a flourishing, prosperous nation. So Sanam Luang was converted into a rice field. Even the grounds in front of the Grand Palace were placed into rice cultivation. When the grounds were needed for a royal funeral, Sanam Luang was covered over with dirt for the cremation ceremony. There was a barn nearby to store the rice husks.

In 1855, King Mongkut (King Rama IV) changed its name from “Thung Phra Men” to “Thong Sanam Luang”. The name was later shortened to “Sanam Luang” and is now of common usage. King Mongkut also established Sanam Luang as the site for the ancient ritual, the Royal Ploughing Ceremony. Low walls were placed on the grounds and a small pavilion was erected to house a Buddha statue for the ceremony. There were other pavilions and towers placed on the grounds including one for the king so he could watch the ceremony. Next to the king’s pavilion a stage was erected so plays could be performed as part of the ploughing ceremony to appear the ancient spirits.

King Chulalongkorn (King Rama V) enlarged the grounds. He also ordered all the old buildings dismantled that had been previously used. Rice growing was discontinued as the space was needed for Bangkok’s centennial celebration in 1897 when King Rama V returned from his European tour. He also ordered two rows of tamarind trees to be planted that encircled the park. By 1900 Sanam Luang was the site of Bangkok’s first golf course and race course. This was due to more foreign visitors and residents. In a July 1901 local newspaper article it mentioned that “farangs” doing snipe hunting in the park. Kite flying has always been a popular sport there.

King Vajiravudh (King Rama VI) continued his predecessors use of Sanam Luang for conducting various ceremonies. King Bhumibol Adulyadej (King Rama IX) also sponsored the Royal Ploughing Ceremony each May. Other celebrations conducted during his reign were the 1982 bicentennial celebration of Bangkok’s founding and the grand celebration of the King’s golden jubilee in 1996. Royal cremations included those for King Ananda Mahidol (King Rama VIII) in 1950, Queen Vadhana in 1956, Queen Rambhani Barni in 1986. Princess Mother Srinagar Indra in 1996, Princess Galyani Vadhana in 2008, and Princess Bejaratana Rajasuda in 2012. On 26 October 2017, King Rama IX was cremated in the most ornate and lavish funeral ceremony the country has witnessed in a 50 metre high pyre.

Sanam Luang holds a very special place in the hearts and minds of all Thais.

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