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Slow travel with a low carbon footprint

Posted on 13 July 2011 by admin

Cycling in Bangkok has always been a traffic dilemma for both cyclists and conventional motorists. The former want proper space to safely ride their bicycles, while the latter feel they are deprived of driving space and full use of the roads. And perhaps, some day soon, street vendors on the footpath will start to feel they are losing “their space”, too.

Simply put, these conflicting views are just a lack of public understanding. In fact, all road users are just “guests” with equal rights and must share the roads. “It’s public space, and every motorist is a guest that must share it,” said Saranarat Kanjanavanit, secretary-general of the Green World Foundation (GWF).

Fortunately, though, these misperceptions will be corrected on Sunday during the first-ever “Bangkok Car-Free Sunday” event, held in the heart of Bangkok’s central business district, from 7am to 2pm.

Organised by the Green World Foundation, in conjunction with Bangkok Big Trees, and Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA)’s Bangkok Bicycle Campaign, the event aims to raise environmental awareness and promote slow travel, which causes less carbon footprint.

To get rid of prejudices against cyclists – who are viewed by many as weirdos or a nuisance on the roads – attending cyclists are encouraged to dress up and join the free ‘Bike Chic Trip’; Saranarat insisted that women in skirts can still pedal. There will also be around 100 bicycles provided for enthusiasts free of charge.

As for the cycling route, cyclists will start from Silom intersection and head to Charoen Krung Road – with the left-most lane of the loop route closed off for cyclists – and then turn left and go down Sathon Tai Road. Next, the cyclists will continue riding down Witthayu Road and turn left onto Phloenchit, before making another left turn onto Ratchadamri Road and back to the starting point.

To encourage more people to appreciate slow travel, guided tours will also be conducted. The first is a one-hour bird- and lichen-watching tour in Lumpini Park starting at 7am, followed by a guided 10km cycling tour through the streets and sois surrounding the Sathon, Silom and Phloenchit areas, where participants will have the chance to check out some of the lesser-known peaceful places in the downtown area, including chic cafes and various properties with huge trees.

Today there are 28 designated bicycle lanes throughout Bangkok, including some bike routes on loop roads, some of which are on paved footpaths while others are on the farthest left lane of the road. However, many of them are underused, since the bike lanes are blocked by street vendors or illegally parked cars.

Despite this, the BMA remains reluctant to regulate the bike lanes and does not punish the violators. Therefore, a better understanding about the use of bike lanes and the cyclists’ rights has been campaigned through casual activities, like “Car-Free Sunday”.

“There’s no point in issuing a ticket to violators if the bike lanes are not actually used by the cyclists,” said Jate Sopitpongsatorn, adviser to the Bangkok Governor and a coordinator of the campaign.

The first public event, scheduled to be held every month for the next three months, will raise awareness about the existence and facility of bike lanes. If they are practical for cyclists, then conventional motorists will acknowledge their existence. “Paying a fine won’t change their habit – but having an understanding will,” added Jate.


Call 08-7690-1579 to reserve a bicycle, or bring your own bicycle on the BTS (all types) or MRT (folding bikes only). Visit http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/event.php?eid=215296591848285.


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Writer: Sirinya Wattanasukchai
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Why curtains or blinds just won’t do

Posted on 13 July 2011 by admin

My previous article was illustrated with photos of nice window shades that have been used for decades in Phuket’s Sino-Portuguese buildings. Some readers may have wondered where that type of architecture comes from and whether it has been used only in tropical climates like ours.

As the name implies, Sino-Portuguese style was influenced by architectures in Southern European countries like Spain and Portugal. Those locations are exactly not tropical; rather arid in fact. Winters there are not too cold, but the summers are really hot and dry, with the temperature sometimes reaching 45 degrees Celsius. The dryness of the air causes the summer sky to be very bright and clear. As a result, the sunlight is really strong which means your skin can get burnt very easily when you are outdoors.

I visited Spain last year during the summer. Barcelona and Madrid were my destinations. Barcelona is the capital of Gaudi architecture. The unfinished basilica of Sagrada Familia is probably the best known work by Antonio Gaudi, one of the most innovative architects in the history of the world. Like many other architects, my intention in visiting Barcelona was to take a closer look at Gaudi’s legacy, but what interested me most was not any single structure, but rather the city as a whole. All the buildings in central Barcelona were designed and built to be in harmony with each other. The scale, proportions, form and height of all these structures are the same, thus making the city centre look very ordered. Even though the buildings designed by Gaudi easily stand out from the more conventional architecture surrounding them, the aesthetic in Barcelona doesn’t necessarily mean that every single edifice has to be totally different from all the others. We Bangkokians could learn from this.

When it’s 45C outside and the sun is beating down, it’s impossible to walk the streets all day without a hat. The same goes for buildings. As I strolled around Barcelona, the most prominent feature on building facades were hand-operated wooden shades covering window exteriors. Of course, the shades aren’t there to provide protection from rainfall. As with those seen on old buildings in Phuket, these shades are more efficient as shields against the heat and glare of the sun.

All the buildings in central Barcelona were designed to harmonise with each other. Wooden shades provide efficient protection from the heat and glare of the sun.

At this juncture I should probably repeat my earlier reminder to home-owners that Venetian blinds or any other kind of shade on window interiors give no protection whatsoever against solar radiation. Once you allow sunlight to hit your windows, it’s already too late; the heat passes through the glass and no thickness of interior shades will help. Many people choose houses with large picture windows, thinking that curtains will be an adequate shield against the sun. They don’t realise that exterior window shades are the most effective protection, but developers often try to save on costs by neglecting to fit any or simply not installing enough of them.

Sometimes the fault lies with the architects would want to replicate the look of some cold-climate structure they’ve spotted in design magazines from the West. In a country like ours, however, fitting lots of large windows without exterior shading is a design flaw which can cost you in cooling-energy terms.

To make matters worse, some housing developers put foam insulation inside exterior walls while neglecting to install sun-shades over windows. This makes a house perform in the same manner as a hot-water flask: the unshaded windows allow heat to enter rooms which the insulated walls then prevent from dissipating. It’s simple thermodynamics. This thermal-flask effect will keep your house warm all day long, so when you switch on your air-conditioners at night you’ll need to use extra electricity to cool the place down.

In cold climates this effect works so well that it is sometimes called the “passive solar-heating method”. During daylight hours one traps as much solar radiation as possible via unshaded windows pointed towards the sun and then one uses insulated walls, ceilings and roofs to slow down heat loss after sunset and keep one’s house cosy during the long, chilly nights.

Of course the thermal-flask effect must be avoided at all costs in this country of ours where additional heat is the last thing we need! But what often happens nowadays is that designers trade window shading, which they think will make a house look old-fashioned, for extra wall insulation – assuming, incorrectly, that that will be sufficient to keep the interior cool. They’re totally wrong! It’s high time that we learned the lessons of our collective past and stop yearning after beautiful glass-box houses; these are suitable for cold-climate countries, but definitely not a sensible import.


Asst Prof Atch Sreshthaputra is a lecturer at the Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University and chairman of the Green Building Programme at the Association of Siamese Architects.


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Writer: Atch Sreshthaputra
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Ambassador Hotel Bangkok

Posted on 13 July 2011 by admin

A list of interesting hotel packages for your next holiday.

Haadson Resort

Bangkok

The hotel is offering one night free for guests staying two paid nights. Rates start from 2,600 baht for a superior room, excluding breakfast. Other benefits include internet access in room and late check-out until 2pm. A minimum three consecutive nights stay is required. The offer is valid until October 31.

Call 02-254-0444 ext 1᎜_4 or visit www.amtel.co.th.

Glow Studios Trinity Silom

Bangkok

Deluxe Delight offers a 15% discount on a Deluxe Room or a Deluxe Corner Room. Valid until September 30, rates start from 2,300 baht per night for Deluxe Room only and free Wi-Fi.

Call 02-231-5301 or visit http://silom.glowstudios.com.

Kantary Bay

Rayong

The Fantastic Package starts from 1,700 baht for two, inclusive of breakfast, plus free tea, coffee and snacks throughout the day at its Reading Room. The offer is valid until the end of October. Download the promotional coupon at www.kasemkij.com/weekend_special and show the coupon to reservation staff when checking in or call 02-233-3433 ext 123.

Call 038-804-8Ȍ or visit www.kantarygroup.com.

Haadson Resort

Khao Lak, Phangnga

Until October 31, rooms are 1,320 baht per night in the 36 m Coconut Room and 1,980 baht per night in the 45m Island Villa. The prices include daily breakfast for two and requires a minimum two nights’ stay.

Call 076-593-510 or visit www.haadsonresort.com.


Aleenta Phuket-Phang Nga

Phuket

The Unlimited Luxury Experience includes a two-night stay in a luxury suite, breakfast, two lunches and a couple of three-course dinners, roundtrip airport transfer via BMW. Rates start from 28,500 baht for two.

Call 02-514-8112 or visit www.aleenta.com.

W Retreat Koh Samui

Surat Thani

Rates for Thai residents are 9,999 baht per night in a Jungle Oasis villa, inclusive of daily breakfast for two, beach bag, flip-flops and Wi-Fi access. Bookings should be made before July 18 and stays should be before August 31.

Call 077- 915-999, or visit http://whotels.com/kohsamui.

Bandara Resort Spa

Samui, Surat Thani

The resort is offering a 30% discount for a Deluxe Room booked 30 days in advance. The price starts from 4,130 baht per night. Bookings can be made until October 31 and stay must be completed by December 21.

Call 077-245-795 or visit www.bandarasamui.com.


Rates quoted do not include service charges or VAT, unless noted. Room upgrades and late check-out are subject to availability.


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The Kee Resort & Spa

Posted on 13 July 2011 by admin

153/1 Thaweewong Road, Patong Beach, Kathu, Phuket 83150
- Tel: 076-335-888 – Fax: 076-335-808
- Website: www.thekeeresort.com – Email: sales@thekeeresort.com

The luxurious Kee Resort Spa is a new hotel and shopping complex between Patong Beach and Bangla Street.

The location of the hotel allows guests to experience the excitement of Phuket’s nightlife and enjoy the sun, sand and sea during the day.




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Floral merit-making in Saraburi

Posted on 13 July 2011 by admin

In ancient times, it was a tradition for Buddhists from all over Siam to visit Saraburi’s Wat Phra Buddhabart Ratchaworamahawihan to worship the Lord Buddha’s footprint during the 3rd and 4th lunar months. Despite transport hardships, they were strongly determined to get there due to a belief that three-time visitors to this temple would go to heaven.

Tak Bat Dok Mai (floral merit-making) at Wat Phra Buddhabart, Saraburi.

According to legend, this footprint is one of the Lord Buddha’s only five footprints in the world.

Wan Khao Pansa, the first day of the Buddhist Lent in the 8th lunar month, has become another popular occasion for Buddhists to visit this temple for Tak Bat Dok Mai (floral merit-making).

After alms-giving, Buddhists will present yellow and white flowers called dok khao pansa (Buddhist Lent flowers) to monks who are climbing the temple’s stairs to worship the Buddha’s footprint. They will also wash the monks’ feet as a symbol of clearing away their lusts and sins.

Activities include: July 13′s worshipping the district’s six holy spirits and the spirit of King Song Tham who established the temple during the Ayutthaya period; July 14′s alms-giving to 3,000 monks; and July 15-16′s flora merit-making scheduled for 10am and 3pm.

The Buddhist Lent Candle Procession in Ubon Ratchathani.

After these ceremonies, tourists can also visit Saraburi’s other cultural spots. On the list are Luang Phor Dam, Chao Mae Takian Thong Shrine,Wat Samuhapradittharam’s Sukhothai-style Buddha statue and Wat Ton Tarn’s Thai Yuan weaving centre. Tourists should also pay respects to Wat Phra Yao’s golden Buddha statue that survived Burmese invaders’ arson attack as well as Khao Kaew Worawihan, which was built in King Song Tham’s reign.

Another must-see is Wat Khao Wong (Narai Cave) where King Narai the Great and King Song Tham stayed overnight. In this temple stand a 1,200-year-old Pallava-language inscription and a meditating Buddha statue. Wat Tham Phra Bodhisattava’s 1,600-year-old Buddha statue as well as Wat Phra Buddhachai’s Buddha’s footprint and Buddha’s shadow image on a mountain are also interesting.

For more information, call the TAT’s Lop Buri office on 036-770-096/7 during office hours or visit www.tat7.com.

Lent celebrations in the Northeast

To mark the start of the Buddhist Lent on July 16, Surin province and the TAT will host the Buddhist Lent candle procession and the Tak Bat Bon Lang Chang ceremony (alms-giving to monks on elephant back) during July 13-15 in front of the provincial hall and the statue of Phraya Surinpakdi Srinarongjangwang in Muang district.

For more information, contact the TAT’s Surin office on 044-514-447/8 or email tatsurin@tat.or.th.

Tak Bat Bon Lang Chang (alms-giving to monks on elephant back) in Surin.

In Ubon Ratchathani, the famous Buddhist Lent Candle Procession Festival is taking place and will last until the end of the month. All entries of the candle carving competition from Ukraine, Latvia, Japan, France, Brazil, Nepal, Belgium and Thailand are on display at Ubon Ratchathani National Museum until July 31 along with candle making, short films, a photo exhibition and dharma practice. From July 11-16, candle carving demonstrations and more exhibitions will take place on the Candle Street. On July 14 and 17, Phra Maha Sompong Talaputto and Luang Phor Boonserm will deliver sermons at the museum.

On Asarnha Bucha Day (July 15), the presentation of royally-bestowed candles and robes will take place after a barge procession from Wat Luang pier to Wat Supatthana pier. All the entries of the candle carving contest will be on display around Thung Sri Muang . In the evening, a wian tian ceremony will be performed at Wat Sri Ubonrattanaram, followed by a light and sound show.

For more information, contact the TAT’s Ubon Ratchathani office on 045-243-770 or visit www.amazingubon.com.

In Nakhon Ratchasima, the Buddhist Lent weekend will focus on Buddhist storytelling through candle carving. Other activities will include a candle carving contest, merit-making, meditation practice, parades, light and sound shows and a food fair. For more information, contact the TAT’s Nakhon Ratchasima office on 044-213-030 or visit www.facebook.com/koratcandle.


If you have any comments or news to share, send them to pichayas@bangkokpost.co.th.  


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Britain: It’s truly great

Posted on 13 July 2011 by admin

Icons: Britain is full of them _ the Tower of London, Edinburgh Castle, Buckingham Palace, Manchester United, the Beatles. And alongside these big names, Britain boasts many more delights that’ll soon become your own personal favourites.

Britain’s astounding variety is a major reason to travel there. In cities such as Bath and York, the streets buzz day and night, with tempting shops and restaurants, and some of the finest museums in the world. Next day, you’re deep in the Cotswolds, climbing mountains in Snowdonia, enjoying the coast at Brighton or sailing across to the Isle of Skye.

A journey through Britain is a journey through history. You can walk beside the ancient megaliths of Stonehenge, stroll around the masterpiece of Canterbury Cathedral or explore the ancient colleges of Oxford and Cambridge. Then fast forward to the future and you’re admiring 21st century architecture in Manchester or the space-age domes of Cornwall’s Eden Project.

Britain boasts a rich and complex culture, but it’s familiar to many visitors. This is all thanks to a vast catalogue of British film and TV exports. The same applies when it comes to communication; this is home turf for the English language, so many visitors don’t need to carry a phrasebook. Of course, Wales and Scotland have their own languages, but everyone speaks (sometimes reluctantly) English too.

Finally, travel in Britain is a breeze. Granted, it may not be totally effortless, but it’s easy compared with many other parts of the world. Although the locals may grumble (in fact, its a national pastime) public transport is pretty good, and a train ride through the British landscape can be a highlight in itself. For drivers road distances are short, and in this compact country you’re never far from the next scenic town, the next welcoming pub, the next national park or the next impressive castle on your hit-list of highlights.

This is an edited extract from ‘Discover Great Britain’, by David Else, et al Lonely Planet, 2011.
For more information visit www.lonelyplanet.com

DISCOVER GREAT BRITAIN: Available from all good bookshsops for 850 baht.

TOP ITINERARY

FIVE DAYS

LONDON TO SALISBURY _ ABSOLUTE CLASSICS

If time is tight you’ll have to make the most of every moment, so we’ve stripped down this trip to include Britain’s absolute essentials.

1. LONDON

With so many sights in the capital, you’ll have to plan your time with military precision. Try to tick off Trafalgar Square plus Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey followed by the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Other must-sees are the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. In the evening, take in the city’s skyline from the London Eye.

LONDON TO OXFORD

Train: One hour from London’s Paddington station.

Car: 90 minutes (traffic permitting) from central London to Oxford on the M40.

2. OXFORD

Elegant Oxford is one of the world’s most famous university towns, with a wealth of historic traditions and stunning architecture. The university consists of many separate colleges, with Christ Church College and Magdalen College among the best to visit. Just outside Oxford is the fabulous mansion of Blenheim Palace.

OXFORD TO BATH

Train: 75-90 minutes on frequent trains from Oxford, requiring a change at Didcot.

Car: Two hours on the scenic (but slower) roads through the Cotswolds; 90 minutes via the A34 and M4.

3. BATH

The beautiful city of Bath is renowned for its grand streets of Georgian architecture, especially the Royal Crescent. Other highlights include awesome Bath Abbey. Don’t forget, of course, the Roman Baths that give the city its name.

BATH TO SALISBURY

Train: One hour, frequent trains from Bath Spa railway station.

Car: One hour, follow the main A36, detouring slightly via Stonehenge.

4. SALISBURY

Salisbury is most famous for the magnificent Salisbury Cathedral, especially its graceful spire, the tallest in England. Other sights include the mediaeval Cathedral Close, a tranquil enclave surrounded by beautiful houses. If you didn’t detour on your way here, a half-day excursion to Stonehenge from Salisbury is easy to arrange.


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Thailand cited at travel awards

Posted on 13 July 2011 by admin

For 16 years, the world’s leading travel magazine Travel + Leisure has navigated and explored the cities, hotels, spas and other tourist services around the globe and come up with a definitive list, as voted by its loyal readers.

Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, Chiang Mai

Browsing the list of finalists at this year’s World’s Best Awards 2011 reveals that Thailand has again fared well, with Bangkok voted the world’s favourite city and several Thai-based properties figuring in the top 10 in various categories.

In topping the favourite city list, Bangkok amassed a score of 90.49, followed by Florence, Rome, New York City and Istanbul.

The elegantly designed Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi in Chiang Mai placed 7th on the “best hotel” list and it was the only hotel in Southeast Asia to figure among the top ten, while its sister property in Bangkok, the Mandarin Oriental, finished 8th in the “best hotel spa” category.


For the full list of winners, visit www.travelandleisure.com/worldsbest/2011/.

The Oriental Spa’s Ayurvedic Penthouse at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Bangkok


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TAT sets ambitious new visitor targets

Posted on 13 July 2011 by admin

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has set an ambitious goal for the tourism industry next year with 19.5 million international arrivals generating revenues of 760 billion baht.

White sandy beaches are among the attractions promoting Thailand as an ideal Asian family holiday destination.

“The industry will grow about 9%,” said TAT Governor Suraphon Svetasreni, adding that by the end of this year the number of tourists to Thailand will be 18-18.3 million, up from the projection of 16.5 million at the beginning of the year.

The major factors would be more aggressive marketing campaigns via both traditional and online media such as promoting Thailand through social media, online games and online advertising via YouTube.

“‘Amazing Thailand’ will still be our country brand for this year and the next because although we have internal problems, there are still a large number of tourists visiting the Kingdom,” he said, adding that the TAT would also add more meaning to the campaign and it will become ‘Amazing Thailand Always Amazes You’.

Marketing campaigns under the slogan will include promoting Thailand as an ‘Asia Ideal Family Holiday Destination’ for visitors from Europe, ‘Dream Destination’ for honeymoon couples, ‘World Class Golf Experiences’ for international golfers, international health and spa services for Asian markets as well as ‘Eco Tourism Destination’.

For the domestic market, the TAT will focus more on family travel and green tourism as well as promoting travel as part of lifestyle.

The target is 93 million trips with a revenue of 453 billion baht in 2012.

More wireless services at Suvarnabhumi

Passengers at Suvarnabhumi International Airport will have another wireless internet choice when Boingo Wireless introduces a service at a monthly flat rate.

The main target is those who travel frequently because they can use one account to access the new service in the airport and 325,000 other Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide.

The new service is a result of a partnership between Boingo and Milcom Systems Company which offers a wireless internet network at the airport.

The service will share the same infrastructure of Milcom Systems, but it will have its own service rates which are US$4.95 (about 150 baht) per hour and US$7.95 (about Ꮀ baht) per month.

Boingo Director of Asia Pacific Allen Pan said the service would serve regional travellers who need a cost-effective and simple solution to Wi-Fi roaming.

The service is an alternative to Milcom’s WLanNet which charges 250 baht for one hour’s access, 450 baht for 2 hours and 650 baht of 3 hours. Although Milcom also offers free 15-minute internet access, passengers must register their names at airport information counters before passing the immigration areas.

According to Milcom Systems Managing Director Rattana Metem, up to 2,000 people pay for the service per month and about 25,000ᆲ,000 passengers register for the free internet access per month.

The demand for internet usage is increasing and Boingo’s service could bring more internet traffic to the airport, he said.

JNTO office relocated

Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO) has moved its Bangkok office to the 10th floor of Serm-Mit Tower on Asoke Road.

The new office is a short walk from Asoke skytrain station and Sukhumvit subway station.

Call 02-261-쥅/6 or visit www.yokosojapan.org for a mmap.

Airlines update

- Thai Airways will introduce its first direct flights from Copenhagen to Phuket on November 11.

The flying time will be 10.35 hours and will depart from the capital of Denmark on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. However, for the return leg, passengers must fly domestically from Phuket to Bangkok before catching another flight to Copenhagen.

THAI will also add three more flights per week on the Bangkok to Copenhagen route on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Visit www.thaiairways.com, for more details.

- KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has taken another green step, announcing that it will use recycled cooking oil on 200 flights between Amsterdam and Paris in September.

The fuel is biokerosene which must contain the same technical specifications as traditional kerosene and must not require any adjustments to aircraft engines or infrastructure, according to the company. The airline must also have authorisation before operating commercial flights on the biofuel.

KLM announced a policy to develop biofuel in 2007 and it kicked off its pilot test carrying 40 passengers on board by using biokerosene in November 2009.

According to airline managing director Camiel Eurlings: “The route to 100% sustainable energy is enormously challenging. We really need to move forward together to attain continuous access to sustainable fuel.”

Hotels update

- Anantara Hotels, Resorts Spas is launching an international competition to give a child aged 7 to 15 the chance to become a reporter for its 10th Elephant Polo competition.

The winner will cover the week-long event to be held from September 4-11 at Anantara Hua Hin and will also receive a free seven-night stay at Anantara Hua Hin Resort Spa with an adult, daily activities such as visiting Mrigadayavan Palace, a vineyard and joining a Thai cooking class, transportation and two round-trip air tickets.

To enter the contest, candidates must submit a one-to-two-minute video in English about “amazing elephant tales with Anantara” to www.facebook.com/anantara. The winner will be the one who receives the most votes from elephant experts of the hotel. The submission deadline is August 1 and the winner will be announced on August 4.

Visit www.anantaraelephantpolo.com for more information.

- Best Western International will introduce the Grand Howard on Charoen Rat Road, Sathon in October this year.

The Grand Howard will feature 256 rooms with choices ranging from studio rooms to premier rooms. Each room will have a working area, a bathroom with bathtub, a 32-inch LCD TV and internet service.

Hotel facilities include a swimming pool, an all-day dining restaurant, a coffee lounge, an outdoor bar, a fitness room, business centre and function rooms including a grand ballroom for 700 guests.

- Crowne Plaza has introduced rooms for people who snore.

The new room is built with egg-box style foam walls to reduce the snoring noise, a specially designed sound-absorbing headboard, an anti-snoring bed wedge encouraging snorers to sleep on their sides or upright, an anti-snoring pillow and a machine to help drown out the snoring noise.

The project is a trial to reduce the impact of snoring and has been implemented in nine Crowne Plaza hotels in the Middle East and Europe.


If you have any comments or news to share, send them to karnjanak@bangkokpost.co.th.


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Writer: Karnjana Karnjanatawe
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Say it with flowers

Posted on 13 July 2011 by admin

This coming Saturday, July 16, will mark the first day of the annual three-month retreat of Buddhist monks who are required to study dharma and practice meditation in temples during the rainy season. Apart from a ceremony to offer giant candles to monks, some temples are also organising a unique flower offering known as tak bat dok mai.

The Buddha image is put in a pick-up truck before the row of monks.

The most well-known floral merit-making event is annually organised in Wat Phra Phutthabat Ratchaworamaha Wihan in Saraburi’s Phra Phutthabat district, about an hour’s drive north of Bangkok.

During the morning of the Buddhist Lent Day, people come to the temple to offers alms to monks before joining the flower merit-making around 10 o’clock.

Hundreds of people line up in two rows in a kilometre-long walkway from the gate of the monk’s residence to the steps at the feet of the hilltop where a large sacred footprint of Buddha is housed in the Monthop of the temple.

Most of the flowers they offer are dancing lady ginger (globba winitii), which rather different from other areas as the blossoms are widely found in Saraburi. The flower is also called dok khao phansa in Thai because it always blooms during the date of Buddhist Lent (khao phansa).

Novices line up with monks for the big flower merit-making festival in Saraburi.

The blossom has a variety of shapes and colours, but always hangs down from its stem. It is comprised of showy bracts in purple pink or white with tiny yellow flowers or totally in golden yellow colour.

You may purchase the flowers from local vendors inside the temple. Some vendors are so aggressive that they will approach you once you open up your car door. Once you have the flower set, you will be ready to join the traditional ceremony. You will know certainly where people offer the flowers because the area will be crowded.

When you are in the line, the process is like offering food to monks. First, you say a prayer then put each set of flowers in a monk’s bowl, carefully avoiding touching the hands of the monks or novices. There is no need to hurry because there are always about 100 monks and novices joining the festival.

After finishing the process, some locals also pour water on the feet of monks to wash the dirt before the monks walk the steps to the hilltop to offer flowers to the footprint of Lord Buddha.

According to a tale, the flower offering started during the period of Lord Buddha to honour his charisma. The ceremony in Saraburi used to be a local event but since it was promoted as an unseen attraction by the Tourism Authority of Thailand almost a decade ago, the event lures thousands of tourists each year.

Saying prayers.

In addition to the ceremony in Saraburi, an alternative festival is also held in five temples in Bangkok _ Wat Thepsirin, Wat Ratchapradit, Wat Bowon Nivet, Wat Ratchabophit and Wat Phraram IX Kanchanaphisek.

In Bangkok, people offer simple flowers they always offer to monks or Buddha images such as lotus, jasmine, rose, orchid or chrysanthemum.

Monks in the temples do not carry alms bowls, but they will have yellow bags for people to put flowers inside.

The event in Bangkok is always organised for the afternoon (see the details in the box at right), but you should get there a little earlier to make sure that you will have flowers to offer.

The ceremony has been held at Wat Ratchapradit le for the past 30 years. Those who bring flowers can also offer candy to the monks, who will further offer the flowers to Buddha images in the temples. The sweets are for the monks because they are not allowed to have meals after midday.

In addition to the tak bat dok mai ceremony, some temples might have their own ceremonies such as offering incense and candles (tak bat thoop thien) in Wat Mahathat, the oldest temple in the town of Nakhon Si Thammarat, and candle merit-making (tak bat thien) in Nan.

The aim is for the monks to use these offerings for prayer or study during the three-month period.

Some Buddhists believe that offering flowers, incense and candles to monks will sharpen their minds _ and help them look smart in the next life.

Although all the offerings can be made any day, this is a big event once a year where you can join hundreds of people to offer flowers to celebrate the Buddhist Lent Day.


TRAVEL INFO

- Wat Phra Phutthabat Ratchaworamaha Wihan in Saraburi will organise two rounds for people to offer flowers to monks at 10am and 3pm on July 15 and 16.

- In Bangkok, the ceremony will be organised on July 16, but times vary as follows:

1pm: Wat Thepsirin on Phabphlachai Road in Pom Prap district.

3pm: Wat Ratchapradit on Saran Rom Road and opposite Wat Ratchabophit in Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang area.

5 pm: Wat Bowon Niwet on Phra Sumen Road in Bang Lamphu area, Wat Ratchabophit on Ratchabophit Road and Wat Phraram IX Kanchanaphisek in Rama IX Soi 19.


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Foreigners without borders

Posted on 13 July 2011 by admin

Frontiers are the event horizons of the world, and they can be precarious places. The Gaza Strip, the Korean peninsula DMZ, Khao San Road _ all with their own style of conflict. Any border between differing ethnicities is typically complicated and problematic, and it’s not until you embed yourself as a minority in a foreign culture that you begin to understand these differences. Either innate or learned, friction between cultures seems to be the global trend.

A kooky Asian take on cultural divide exists in hospitals in Paris, where thousands of visitors, mainly Japanese, are treated each year for what is called Paris syndrome, which involves a traveller freaking out on arrival in Paris where things aren’t quite how they seemed in the brochure. To minimise such shock, in terms of international travel, cultural divides are filled by the vacuous hand-over points called airports, which are often characterless cultural buffers, bland and purposefully neutral.

In terms of the Southeast Asian cultural frontier, the famous cultural landing pad for any farang is typically Khao San Road. It reminds me of the outback towns in Australia where the outcasts of the Aboriginal communities and the urban rejects from the big capital cities of Australia converge in a reluctant cultural symbiosis. The cultural divide between Thai and farang perhaps isn’t as severe, but behind the Thai smile and the foreigner’s vacation-happy naivety lies an uncertain gap.

On arrival in Bangkok, I answered an advertisement on a website and naively moved into a share house in Nana. The area was and still is one of the stains left from the first wave of foreigners that made Thailand into the sex port of call that it is largely still perceived as across the world. And it happily remains as that for many of the long-term sexpats, sadly. But as a young guy on the streets of Nana, I soon realised my newfound role in a city that was moving from being known as full of sinners to angels. And it’s a responsibility that all people of any nationality carry when they leave their home land. I used to smile at the prostitutes on my way home, and eventually they got to know me and would smile at me differently when I passed, realising my non-gratuitous intentions. Their sincerity was fleeting, however, as there was usually some foreign guy behind me trying to catch her eye for the wrong reasons. I pitied the women for the first few months, but then I began to pity the men. The poor and lonely losers who dominate the prostitutes in terms of global social recognition but are dwarfed by their strength of character and durability. And I realised that I would more likely end up friends with the women working in my area than the lonely expats who pay their and their families bills, although it never happened.

So I keep this in mind in my Bangkok expat existence. And I am often made aware of the origins of the real meaning of farang by the sexpats who wander Nana at night. I have many foreign friends living in Bangkok who are young, free, here of their own volition and have a lot to offer this or any other culture. I hope too much damage hasn’t already been done and that Thailand will accept us second generation expats, for what we are, what we are no longer, and recognise our unspoken role as the shedders of the skin of our predecessors.


Richard McLeish is a sub-editor at Guru magazine.


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