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Discovering Puchao Saming Phrai Fort

Puchao Saming Phrai Fort

One of the historical legacies of Samut Prakan Province are the Fortresses along the river from the Gulf of Thailand all the way up to Bangkok. At various times through history, going back as far as the Ayutthaya period, there has always been forts here of some description. Many fell into ruins during periods of peace but were built up again by succeeding monarchs. About 800 years ago, Phra Pradaeng used to be the first line of defence as the the coastline was in this area. However, over the years, the land extended further South and Phra Pradaeng lost its importance as a sea harbour. The first temples, in what is now Samut Prakan, were built in about 1350 A.D. Forts soon followed.

Puchao Saming Phrai Fort

In 1768, when King Taksin became the king after the fall of Ayutthaya, he order all of the bricks from the forts at Phra Pradaeng to be moved to Thonburi to build his new palace which practically obliterated the city. However, King Rama I saw the importance of the city as a fortress. In 1809 he commanded for the city to be rebuilt together with Wittayakom Fort alongside Latpho Shortcut Canal. This area is now under Bhumibol Bridge. King Rama II, in about 1815, continued with the building programme at Phra Pradaeng. He had five forts built on the West side of the river and three on the East side. A ninth fort was built about ten years later. At the same time, King Rama II changed the name of the city to Nakhon Khueankhan. He also brought 300 Mon men and their families here to man the forts.

Puchao Saming Phrai Fort

The majority of these forts no longer exist and their exact location has been forgotten. Only Phlaeng Faifah Fort near Phra Pradaeng Municipal Office has been preserved as a city park. Others have been pulled down and built over. For the past few years I have been trying to locate the original position of these long lost forts and then go there to see if I could find any remaining evidence. Then not long ago I came across an old map of the Phra Pradaeng area which marked Puchaosamingphrai Fort on the East bank opposite the municipal hall. It was surrounded by a canal. I used this evidence to cross-check with Google Earth. I found the Southern side of the canal but not the Northern canal. However, on the satellite image, I could just make out something between two buildings that looked like it was ruins of some kind.

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I drove over there at the weekend to check it out. From Sukhumwit Road I turned off onto Puchaosamingphrai Road which leads straight to the Chao Phraya River. This is where we used to have to cross the river by car ferry, but now they have built the two Bhumibol Bridges. Anyway, just before the car ferry I turned left towards Wat Laem and Phrapradaeng Hospital. I parked my car in the car park here alongside the river. Straight away I knew that I was in the right place as there were a dozen big guns lined up along the waterfront. After taking a few pictures here, I turned inland to look for what I thought were ruins on the satellite image. I was looking for a long snake-like building with a red roof. I eventually found it behind the buildings of the Rajapracha Samasai Institute.

Puchao Saming Phrai Fort

I have been exploring Samut Prakan for many years trying to discover something new or long lost. I know the ruins that I found here at the weekend were in the grounds of a medical institute so it wasn’t exactly a secret. But, it did take my breath away when I first caught sight of the ruins of Puchaosamingphrai Fort. I saw the wall first and then beyond that high up the remains of a wooden building that had collapsed. It looked very much like a lost city as it was now heavily overgrown and squatters had set up shacks around the base. Many of them had physical disabilities and some apparently even had leprosy. For them this was just a place to stay but for me it was an important link to the historical past of the province. It should be preserved for future generations.

Puchao Saming Phrai Fort

We explored around the ground level first. However, after an encounter with some vicious dogs we went around the back where we found some steps that took us to the top. From what I could tell, an artificial hill had been built and a brick building had been built on top. The wooden roof had collapsed but many of the wooden planks remained which is quite surprising. Many of the shutters on the windows were still there and a couple were banging in the wind. I wondered aloud whether it had been doing that for the last hundred years or ever since it had been abandoned. I looked in through some of the doors but the wooden floors had all collapsed. The place was obviously a death trap and probably home to numerous snakes. But, I was too excited not to pass up on this opportunity to step back in time like this. There are not that many historical ruins left in Samut Prakan.

Puchao Saming Phrai Fort

I have been working on a Map of Forts in Samut Prakan Province and I am happy that there are now six forts that still have evidence of their existence. There are about twenty more that have been lost to time. I doubt that I will find anything else but I will continue with my quest to find the long lost forts of Samut Prakan. Recently I have been reading many contemporary accounts of Samut Prakan written by foreigners nearly 200 years ago. They talk of places that are no longer marked on the maps. My next expeditions will be to find the mysterious “Red House” in Paknam and the village of Paklat upriver in Phra Pradaeng.

Lotus Throwing Festival in Bang Phli

One of my favourite festivals in Thailand is the Rap Bua Festival in Bang Phli, Samut Prakan. I usually go every year now. In English, the festival translates as “Lotus Receiving Festival”. However, it has another name in Thai which I think describes it more accurately. This is “Yon Bua Festival” which translates as the “Lotus Throwing Festival”. This is basically what happens as countless thousands of local people line the banks of Samrong Canal to throw lotus flowers onto a boat carrying a replica of the famous Buddha image Luang Poh To.

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If you want a good spot then you must go early. The boat carrying the Buddha image wasn’t scheduled to pass the front of Wat Bang Phli Yai Nai until after 7.30 a.m. We arrived there an hour earlier at 6.30 a.m. and it was already very crowded. All the best locations were already taken. It is on days like these that you really need to be a tall person in order to see over the heads of people. The route of the boat covers a distance of only 1.6 kms but it takes them over 100 minutes from start to finish. Most people go to Wat Bang Phli Yai Nai which, for obvious reasons, has the best atmosphere. But you can also watch the boat parade from Bang Phli Old Market, the District Office and Wat Bang Phli Yai Klang.

The boat carrying Luang Poh To wasn’t the only one on the canal. Following close behind were about five or six large colourful floats. Some were being towed while others had its own rowers all wearing traditional Thai costumes. In addition, there were several hundred smaller boats belonging to local people. Some stayed moored by the banks of the canal while others went up and down. I was lucky enough to get on the media boat this year for the first time. This allowed me to see the entire route from start to finish and I could see where all the people were waiting to throw their lotus flowers.

As the boat approached, people brought the lotus flowers up to their face to say a short prayer. Then as the boat drew nearer they then did their best to throw their lotus flower on to the boat carrying Luang Poh To. Many of them missed. At least half a dozen hit me on the head and back. People on a few boats were following close behind scooping up these lotus flowers. Someone was making an announcement telling people not to worry if their lotus didn’t reach the boat. However, some people believe that if your lotus flower lands onto the lap of Luang Poh To then your wish will come true. As I had a few recycled lotus flowers sent my way, I took advantage of this to say a quick prayer and then toss it onto the boat.

By the time the boat reached the end of the route the amount of lotus flowers had risen up to the shoulders of the Buddha image. Obviously many people had been able to throw their flowers accurately. If you are planning on going to this festival next year, then I suggest that you go to Wat Bang Phli Yai Nai first as this is where there are the most people. You have time to spend about an hour here taking pictures of the boat as it passes and then the floats. Or just soak up the atmosphere. Then hop on a motorcycle taxi that will take you the short distance to Wat Bang Phli Yai Klang where the boat will finally reach shortly before 9.30 a.m. There are less people here and much easier to take pictures.

Honey Offering Ceremony

Honey Offering Ceremony: On Saturday 18th June 2011, Mr. Cherdsak Choosri, the Governor of Samut Prakan Province, presided over the Honey Offering Ceremony at Wat Khan Lad in Phra Pradaeng. This is an old Mon tradition that usually takes places on 15th day of the 10th lunar month. However, it was moved to this month this year to make it more convenient. In addition, a Mon Culture Festival was organized at the same time. On Tak Bat Nam Pheung Day local Mon people go to their local temples dressed in traditional costume. They offer honey to the monks as they believe that this will give them great merit.

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Song Nam Phra At Wat Chai Mongkol

One of the more traditional events that takes place during Songkran is “song nam phra”. This is the practice of bathing Buddha images with rose scented water. Most tourists, and even some Thai teenagers, seem to think that Songkran is only about throwing water at each other.

However, it was originally more a bathing of Buddha images and pouring water on the hands of monks and elders. The latter ceremony is called “rod nam dam hua”. Over the years people tend to spend more time playing water fights which is obviously more fun.

I took these pictures at Wat Chai Mongkol in Samut Prakan this afternoon during their annual “song nam phra” ceremony. People came to the temple in their best clothes with their families. They then prepared some rose scented water which they first poured onto a Buddha image.

Next they walked down a line of seated monks and carefully poured some water onto their hands. Some people, who were a bit more familiar with the novice monks, poured some colder water down their necks.

Once the lay people had finished pouring water on the monks and novices, they then had some fun splashing water on each other. This is basically where the water fights started. In the old days, it was mainly restricted to the temples.

Now it is on all the streets and no-one is safe from the roaming pick-up trucks armed to the teeth with barrels of water and powerful water guns. Wat Chai Mongkol have about 300 novice monks at the moment who ordained for the summer holidays.

 

Sunset At Bang Pu Seaside Resort

The nearest stretch of seaside to Bangkok is probably Bang Pu Seaside Resort (สถานตากอากาศบางปู) in Samut Prakan. Don’t go there expecting beaches as it is only mudflats and mangroves. However, in Bang Pu they have a pier where hundreds of local people go to enjoy the cool evening breeze.

During the relatively cooler winter months between November and March, thousands of seagulls migrate here from Siberia. Local people like to go to Bang Pu Seaside Resort to feed the birds. The best time of day is during the late afternoon just as the sun is about to set.

This is where I went this afternoon to take some pictures of people feeding the birds and also of the setting sun. Next to the pier there is wildlife sanctuary which has bird watching towers. There is also a footpath along the coastline which you can explore. I have done it a couple of times and it takes about four hours.

There are several places at the pier where you can enjoy a meal while watching the sunset. If you are ever planning on going to Ancient Siam (formerly known as Ancient City) then it is worth going a further ten minutes down Sukhumwit Road to this resort. There are no direct buses from Bangkok. However, metered taxis do come out this far. Or catch a bus to Samut Prakan and then change to a songtaew or bus heading towards Klong Dan.

Luang Pho Pan Festival Parade

One of my favourite festivals in Thailand is undoubtedly Luang Phor Pan Worshipping Festival in Bang Bo District of Samut Prakan. I went a couple of years ago for the first time and had no idea what to expect. There were so many surprises that I had a really great day. I went again for the third time this morning fearing that it wouldn’t be special any more. However, it still was as fantastic and intense as ever. The highlight of the day is the boat parade out into the Gulf of Thailand. Literally hundreds of boats of all shapes and sizes followed the vessel carrying the image of the revered monk Luang Phor Pan. Once out there we did a massive “wient tien” which involved going around in circles three times lasting about forty minutes.
Luang Phor Pan was a revered monk at Wat Mongkol Kothawas in Klong Dan Sub-District during the reign of King Rama V. He was famous for his meditation techniques. Although he died nearly 100 years ago, he is still worshipped by the local people. We had to get up very early this morning in order to get to the temple on time. We arrived there at about 6.30 a.m. thinking that we were early but it looked like many people had already been there a long time. Some were sitting on the temple floor praying and others were lighting joss sticks and sticking gold leaf on the images of the Buddha and the monk. The air was thick with smoke. Not long before 7 a.m., the sound of a Chinese Dragon dance signalled that the Governor of Samut Prakan had arrived.
There were brief speeches first by the City Mayor and then the Governor, a large gong was banged and the image of the monk was then carefully lifted aloft and carried out of the temple. The auspicious time was now 7.09 a.m. Outside were hundreds of people waiting to pay homage to the monk. The pallbearers almost had to fight their way through the crowd to the waiting boats on the nearby river. The Governor went onto a barge together with the image of Luang Phor Pan and nine monks. They would be chanting for most of the journey out into the Gulf of Thailand. The barge was pulled by another boat that was full of other people. As this pulled away to lead the parade, another large boat pulled in and I quickly jumped on board. It was an open-decked boat with no seating, no shelter and very low sides. We now set off to be part of the parade worshipping the revered image of the monk.
There were about five or six boats that left the temple. However, along the way there were dozens, if not hundreds, of other boats. Some only had half a dozen people on board while others had at least a hundred if not more. There were also people on the banks waving to us. We passed a fleet of fishing boats that were moored and off-loading their fish. A few of them also joined us for this merit-making water parade. By the time we reached the open sea twenty minutes later there was quite a large flotilla of boats. It was really an amazing sight and a wonderful atmosphere that is difficult to capture in still images.
We went about three kilometres or so off-shore to a point where we started to do a large “wien tien” three times around an imaginary point. Everyone was following the barge carrying the image of Luang Phor Pan. Whilst this was going on, monks on that barge were chanting and consecrating sacred water which would be used later to bless the local people. We seemed to be going around in circles forever. I tried to count the boats taking part but I lost count after one hundred. There were also a dozen jet skis. About forty minutes later we had finished going around in circles. Then there was a mad scramble for each boat to get a small flag with an image of the monk and sacred writings. These were being handed out by the barge with the monk’s image. They used a long pole but still it was chaos as everyone wanted to get a flag for their boat. Luckily, even though we hit a few boats, there were no serious incidents and we soon headed back to shore.
We finally arrived back at the temple nearly two hours after the start of the festival. The time had gone quickly but I felt exhausted; as if I had already experience a full day. However, this was far from being the end. Waiting for us on the banks and along the road were literally thousands of people waiting to pay homage to the image of Luang Phor Pan. The image was carefully carried off the boat, through the crowd, and onto the back of a truck that had been beautifully decorated. The monks climbed up with it and then it set off for the next parade. This time, on land around the city. However, the way ahead was blocked by literally hundreds of motorcycles. I walked back up towards the main road where I discovered that there was a bottleneck where all the motorcyclists were waiting to receive little red or yellow flags much the same that was given to the boat captains. This was a kind of reward for taking part in the parade as they were handing them out to all the drivers.
I waited near Klong Dan Market for the parade to approach. The monks on the back of the truck were chanting and two monks on either side were sprinkling the local people with the sacred water that they had prepared earlier. Hundreds of people were lining each side of the narrow road to receive the blessing from the monks. Everyone was in a joyful mood and several people kept offering me food. Last year I just put it down to the local people being so friendly to strangers. However, I knew this year that this was a major part of the parade. The hundreds of pickup trucks and cars following on behind were handing out food and drinks to everyone who had just been blessed by the monks. Some people reached out their hands while others had baskets.  People were handing out food cartons, ice cream, Thai desserts and drinks. It was really amazing the scale of generosity of the local people taking part in the parade.
The truck carrying the image had long since gone but the queue of vehicles stretched as far as the eye could see. A local told me that it would take more than one hour for the parade to pass their shop. From this Soi, the parade turned left onto Sukhumwit Road and headed towards the border with Chachoengsao Province. I didn’t follow it this year as I remembered how bad the traffic was. I also wisely parked my car on the main road pointing towards Samut Prakan. As I drove home, I kept spotting groups of people waiting with baskets ready to receive food and drinks from people taking part in the parade. It reminded me a little of Songkran with people driving up and down in pickup trucks. However, instead of throwing water at the local people, here they were handing out goodies to them. This was such a great thing to witness and to take part in. I didn’t stop to watch as I knew that the parade wouldn’t reach Samut Prakan City until nearly 2 p.m. and it would be getting on to 4 p.m. when it finally returned to the temple. But, I knew that hundreds of others would be following the truck.

 

Sanjao Pho Pak Ao Festival

 On the morning of 18th September 2010, Mr Surachai Kanasa, the Governor of Samut Prakan Province, presided over the opening ceremony of a new building at Sanjao Pho Pak Ao in Amphoe Phra Samut Chedi. At the same time, he took part in the annual worship festival for Sanjao Pho Pak Ao. After the ceremony at the shrine, everyone then boarded nine boats to take part in a boat procession along the canal and out into the Gulf of Thailand.

Emergency Exercise at Suvaranbhumi Airport

On the morning of 8th September 2010, airport officals at Suvarnabhumi Airport took part in a Full Scale Emergency Exercise (SEMEX-10). These are done once every two year with a partial exercise done annually. Watching the emergency exercise today was Mr. Chana Nopsuwan, the Deputy Governor of Samut Prakan.
The mock-up situation practiced today involved an Airbus A300-600 plane carrying 89 passengers and crew arriving from Asealon, Mardovia. The plane attempted to land during heavy rain and strong wind, which caused the plane to slide off the runway. It subsequently burst into flames. Emergency evacuation procedures were then put into place to control the situation. According to international regulations, the emergency team have to reach the airplane within three minutes of an incident happening.

Night Tour And Show At Ancient Siam

Last night I was invited to visit Ancient Siam in Samut Prakan for their night tour and dinner theatre. This is not a regular feature but a special event for this weekend and next weekend on 14-16th May 2010. I have been to the Ancient Siam (formerly known as Ancient City) literally hundreds of times but I have never been there in the dark. So, I jumped at this chance to tour the grounds at night.

The evening started at 6 p.m. with a buffet meal in the floating market area of Ancient Siam. The ticket price includes this meal, the shows and the tram tour. For Thai people it is 300 baht for adults and for foreign tourists it is 450 baht for adults. The food was actually very good and there was a large variety on offer. They had everything from curry on rice and noodles cooked on boats. There was also plenty of desserts and drinks.

The first show started at 7 p.m. There is no need to rush your meal or even eat it all in one go. I had my first course when I first arrived and then wondered around taking pictures. The picture of the temple at the top and this one were taken about ten minutes before the show started. The show was basically traditional Thai boat songs. You could sit anywhere you like around the floating market to listen to them or even carry on eating.

At about 7.45 p.m., we were all told to board the trams for the tour of the park. It is not safe to drive around by yourself in the dark so you are not allowed to bring your car in for the tour. However, being on a tram gives you a higher viewpoint of the sights than a car. And it was certainly better air-conditioning as there was a really nice wind last night. Which was one of the advantages of doing the tour at night.

It is not easy taking night pictures. Using a flash doesn’t give you any depth. The pictures above were all taken with a tripod. However, during the tour there wasn’t really any time to get out to take pictures. They did pause a few times but not at every location. It would have been nice to have spent longer but obviously we didn’t have all night. The other downside was that the tour guide only spoke in Thai. So, best just to enjoy the view and the breeze. A good tip would be to sit on the right-hand-side.

After about 20 minutes we arrived at Sanphet Prasat, which is the palace for the kings of Ayuthhaya. Next door to this is a building from the present Granad Palace in Bangkok. Both of them were beautifully lit up. Once we arrived they took us on a tour of one of the buildings for about 20 minutes. As I had been there many times I just went off by myself to take some pictures. Afterwards we were then entertained with two more shows. This time with the Sanphet Prasat Palace as a beautiful backdrop.

The show concluded at about 9 p.m. and we then got back on the trams to finish the night tour. Another advantage about touring at night is that there was more wildlife. I spotted a large water monitor earlier and then during the tram tour a very big snake. The tour finally finished at 9.30 p.m. I did actually enjoy myself and would go again. As I said before, your final chance of going is 14-16th May 2010.

 

Parade of the Pagoda Pinnacles

 
The Mon people, in the communities surrounding Wat Bang Ya Phraek in Phra Pradaeng District of Samut Prakan, took part in a parade and merit making activities this afternoon. In Thai, this parade is called “ngan hae yot phra chedi sai”. Which is basically a parade to carry the pinnacle or slender spires for the sand pagodas. I have talked several times about “chedi sai” before. You often see these sand pagodas being made at temples during the Songkran period. Traditionally, people will take sand to their local temples once a year in order to replace any sand that they may have inadvertently taken away on the bottom of their shoes. Families will come together to build a sand pagoda as a way to make merit together. They decorate these with flags and flowers and quite often produce a really beautiful pagoda.
The festivities at Wat Bang Ya Phraek started with the parade. Taking part were about ten communities and organizations in the local area. The opening ceremony was conducted by Samut Prakan Governor Mr. Surachai Kanasa. After he had cut the ribbon the parade then started. There weren’t any big floats as this was really a kind of “wien tien” around the main building in the temple. But there were close on a thousand people involved so it was more like a parade. There were at least two marching bands but every group also had mobile amplifiers attached to loudspeakers which they pushed along on a trolley. Some had electronic guitars plugged in and were blasting away.
In each group there were people carrying various items to use to decorate their sand pagoda. In the top picture you can see the “yot chedi”. Others carried rice, buckets of essentials items and “money trees” to offer to the monks. The parade went around the temple grounds three times in a clockwise direction. They finally ended up in the area where the sand pagodas had already been prepared the day before. These were all amazingly beautiful without exception. It looked like a lot of work had been done to make these. I am glad I came early and took pictures of the sand pagodas before the parade finished. Afterwards, this small area became really crowded and the cacophony of noise from all the different amplifiers just added to the organized chaos.
Each community raised the “yot chedi” to the top of their sand pagoda. A Thai style pagoda is often a bell-shaped monument. The “yot chedi” is the spire that goes up from the top. Hanging down from these were lines with 20 baht and 100 baht banknotes attached. I also spotted some 500 baht notes. These were then attached to poles at each of the corners. Next they decorated the chedi with a cloth and some flower garlands. People then lit joss sticks and said a short prayer before placing them into the sand pagoda. Once they had all finished, the monks started chanting which was broadcasted around the temple on loudspeakers. This went on for about 20 minutes. But that wasn’t really the end of the events. Starting today they will have a kind of three day temple fair. Tonight they will have a free concert at the temple.
It was quite an amazing experience for me even though this was now my second time. The parade started at 5.15 p.m. and it was just over an hour before they were ready for the chanting. There was so much to see and experience. It was one of those events that you had to keep looking around you for photo opportunities otherwise you would miss something. The sight, sound and smells were quite overwhelming at times.

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