30 April 2014

Krabi - Cultural Flare at the Night Market

Date of Exploration : 11 Jan 2014

Parking on the sand all day to roast every melanin cell for that golden tan was how I planned to spend my Krabi islandic escapade. Never mind about skin cancer or that uncomfortable raspy feeling of sand rubbing between the toes. But there is only so much sun the body can take before turning into human jerky.

So we decided to venture out of our nest at Ao Nang Beach and paid a visit to Krabi Town. Located 20km from Ao Nang, it is not exactly near but definitely worth a day's trip to experience the real Krabi away from the hyper-touristic waterfront.

Child dancers livened up a night market that takes place every weekend in Krabi Town with impressions of Chatri, a traditional dance of Southern Thailand.
Small Town, Big Frowns

As we rolled into the provincial capital of the island, a sign welcomed us with the slogan "Krabi - Lively Town, Lovely People". It's a promise that warms the heart. Except, it wasn't quite entirely true.

We visited Krabi Town on two occasions - once on a Thursday night and another for a Saturday day trip; and except for a weekend night market that revived the area, the township seemed rather comatose and the folks weren't big on smiles. We were even chased off a songthaew while trying to make our way back. But I'll leave that incident to the end of the post.

Nevertheless, the township that's home to about 25,000 Thai southerners packs some rather nifty finds especially during the night market on weekends.

A 30-minute songthaew ride into Krabi Town from Ao Nang Beach costs about 40 - 60bht. This is the main street, Maharat Road (Thanon Maharat) and to the left corner is the entrance to Wat Kaewkorawaram. The quaint all-white temple is definitely shutter time and you can find out more about it here.

A hard to miss landmark at Krabi Town is the caveman junction with 4 huge statues holding traffic lights. Archaeological finds suggest that Krabi dates as far back as the Paleolithic Era (age of the cavemen).

Although there were quite a few cafes and eateries around, an 'authentic' Thai diner was hard to find so we settled for lunch at a streetside zichar stall. Ordered Pad Thai, tom yum gai and stir-fried dishes for about S$8.00. Cheap but the meal wasn't big on taste and the teenage cook wore a bittergourd on her face.

Shopping centers are scant in town. Except for Vogue Mall that retails typical branded stuff and a 4-storeyed souvenir shop (pictured here with the giant Kitty face), there're not many places to spend.

Main highlight in town is the Krabi Night Market that happens every weekend (Fri - Sun, 5 - 10 pm) at a carpark and street behind Vogue Mall. The zone is closed to traffic during the night bazaar to create a Walking Street brimming with food, sundries and handicraft stalls.

Cocktails in a bamboo tumbler? How's that for a natural high?!

Health in a cup for 40bht.

Juicy BBQ-ed squid... my carcinogenic weakness!

Street food galore!

Fragrant fried quail eggs... my cholesterol weakness!

With savouries and desserts side-by-side, you'll need a huge appetite to come out of the market alive!

The creams may be melting, but these confections were still irresistibly tempting even to a sugar-phobe. Strangely, none of the purchases brought on a smile from the hawkers.

The biggest frown at the night market goes to this girl selling loop choop (also spelt luk chup) who had a sour face despite selling something so sweet. Bought a pack of the dessert from her and even that didn't elicit a smile.

Made of mung beans coated with gelatine, the adorable loop choop was once the exclusive snack of the royal family until the recipe leaked onto the streets. It's kinda like mini ang ku kueh.

Adjourning the food section is a street lined with street performers and stalls for exercising your purse / wallet.

A pop-up children's orchestra lifted the atmosphere with classical Thai chords.

The girl striking the khong wong lek (gong circle) reminded me of a spaceship console being activated!

Can you guess what this intricate etchings are made on? Cow hide. They are really beautiful.

Barbies given a Thai ladyboy makeover. One-of-a-kind for Mattel doll fans!

Street painting activity to nurture the creative minds of Krabi kids.

Hand-painted pouches with customisable names. Great as thoughtful gifts after selecting the caricature that most resemble your family or friends. Finding a match was all the fun!

As the sky grew darker, the crowd grew thicker. The Krabi Night Market is compact but surprisingly fun and filled with a casual air of Thai culture. Although stallholders weren't too friendly, I had a great time sampling the food and enjoying an introduction into the performing arts.

Not far from the Krabi Walking Street Night Market is a fruits and food market that is open nightly. Tried the mango here but it was sour.

We came here on Thursday night and were initially confused that this is the Krabi Night Market but it is not. So the best time to visit Krabi Town is on a weekend to coincide with the actual night bazaar.

Linking Krabi Town and Ao Nang Beach are white songthaews like this one. The songthaew depot is just a small white sign in front of a 7-Eleven shop on Maharat Road near Vogue Mall. This is the drop-off and pick-up point to and fro the town and Ao Nang.

And now to the episode that got us booted off the songthaew. Our fare from Ao Nang to Krabi Town was 40bht but the return price asked by the station conductor was 60bht. We didn't see the listed price on the sign initially and thought he was trying to rip us off. Then we were told that the vehicle will depart at 8:00pm. But by 8:20pm, it still hasn't barged because there weren't enough passengers. Hungry and tired, the firecracker in our entourage flared and got into a heated exchange with the conductor and we were asked to get off.

So we went off and tried to get another songthaew back but there was none. Without a choice, we circled the block and had dinner before coming back to the station again, hoping that the conductor was no longer around, to board another songthaew back. Well, that guy was still around but he didn't pursue it further and we swallowed our pride and took a 9:00pm ride back.

Moral of the story : Be slow to anger and adopt the sabai-sabai spirit as systems may not always work the same way as back home. And don't piss a local off in a foreign land. You don't know where you might end up!

The night may not have ended on a happy note and the town didn't feel too cordial, but the overall experience of exploring Wat Kaewkorawaram and the Walking Street Night Market more than made up for it.

Krabi Town may be small and not architecturally sophisticated with few tourism attractions but it is a nice break from the constant whiff of suntan lotion by the beach.

Related Post :

The Immaculate Wat Kaewkorawaram

28 April 2014

Bangkok - Museum of Human Body (Chulalongkorn University)

Date of Exploration : 21 Feb 2014

WARNING : This blog entry contains graphic images of human biology that may be disturbing to some. Continue reading only if you are morgue-curious or want to go on a less travelled tourist trail in Bangkok... But be cautioned, don't read this post with a full stomach!

Having sort of purged shopping, gourmet hunting and temple chasing in Bangkok a couple of years back, I'm more interested to track down the unusual / off-the-beaten-track stuff whenever I revisit the Thai capital. And this city that seems to know no taboos is full of culture shockers.

From an animist shrine filled with penises to a museum of death (Siriraj Hospital) to coffin donation to feasting on insects and many more encounters too shocking to mention, bizarre is in the DNA of Bangkok. But just when I thought I've seen them all, my radar for weird picked out a new haunt...

Our bodies unzipped like a suitcase to reveal the belongings we bring on this journey of life.

The Museum of Human Body (more commonly known as Human Body Museum) is not to be confused with the Forensic Medicine Museum at Siriraj Hospital (a.k.a. Museum of Death), which also spots a gallery exhibiting dead bodies and parts.

The main differences between the two are that the Museum of Death is a study of unnatural causes of death (eg. murder, accidents, birth deformities, etc) with encased body parts, formaldehyde babies and wax-preserved cadavers, while the Human Body Museum features a collection of plastinated bodies and parts with incredible detail of how disease affects the various organs and biological systems.

But the best difference is that the Human Body Museum is much easier to get to being right at the heart of Bangkok's prime shopping district!

Getting to Human Body Museum

Housed on the 9th floor of the Faculty of Dentistry at Chulalongkorn University, the museum is a short 10-minutes walk from Siam BTS Station. The museum is actually easily accessible but it is obscured within a building and there are no big signboards pointing the way, it is difficult to find.

Here's a guide on how to get there with landmarks to look out for...

View of Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Dentistry building (the building at the left end of the photo with beams that formed upward pointing arrows) from Siam BTS Station.

At Siam BTS Station, one side is where all the shopping malls are (eg. Siam Paragon, Siam Center, etc) while the other side is a labyrinth of buildings and streets. The side opposite Siam Paragon is where the Human Body Museum is located.

On the Siam BTS Station platform, look for the dentistry department building (pictured above) and walk towards it.

View of Siam BTS Station and Siam Paragon from Human Body Museum.

From Siam BTS Station, take Exit 6 and turn back to walk down the pavement (as shown in top left photo). At the end of the pavement, turn right and you'll see a complex at the end of the street (bottom left photo).

Walk towards the complex and cut through it. There's a huge boookshop inside and a small exit diagonally across it next to the toilets. Use that exit and you'll see the back of the Faculty of Dentistry building (pictured right).

If you are facing the dentistry building, turn right and walk along it. That is Chulalongkorn Soi 64. You'll see some stalls along the way and arrive at the university's gate with purple signboards.

After entering the gate, you'll see a sign that says 'Esthetic & Implant Clinic. Go behind the sign and walk straight ahead and you've reached the Faculty of Dentistry building.

Walking alongside the building, you'll come to the entrance. There were no big banners to advertise the museum's presence except for a small poster. Enter the building and go to 9th floor via the lifts to the right. You're here!
Life in Layers

Opened in August 2012, the Human Body Museum is the first of its kind in Southeast Asia while a global tally of museums of such calibre, or should I say macabre, totals at 11.

At the time of posting, the museum houses 13 whole body cadavers with over 130 specimens meant for medical and dentistry students to further their study of how the different parts and systems piece together. Typically, students only get to see models of isolated organs and parts and not how the bio puzzle pieces fit into a complete human body.

Corridor outside the Human Body Museum. Felt like I'm about to enter a laboratory.
The attraction here are the 13 cadavers that have been preserved using the plastination method developed by Gunther von Hagens (a.k.a. Dr Death) in 1977.

Instead of using formaldehyde which results in discolouration of preserved tissue and the limitations to close examination of specimens due to the jars to contain the fluid, the plastination technology produces biological specimens that retain a high level of structural fidelity, are odourless and can be touched!

A plastinated human body peeled open with astonishing details of every muscle fibre and vein still clearly visible.
The 4-step plastination process includes fixation, dehydration, forced impregnation and hardening. Fixation involves cutting the body open to reveal the intended parts and fixing the position of the specimen (eg. arms and legs bent to simulate running).

The body is then frozen with chemicals to cause dehydration. This is followed by boiling the body in liquid plastic at low temperatures. Finally, the body is cured with gas, heat or UV light and voila... a modern mummy is born!

It's a revolting thought but human jerky or bak kwa came to mind.
Due to the complexity of the plastination works, this method of preserving biological elements is very expensive. The entire collection of the Human Body Museum is valued at over 100 million baht and donated by the Japan Medical and Dental University.

Flak was that the corpses were that of executed Chinese convicts although authorities maintain that the bodies were donated with consent from the deceased.

A case of split personality?

The real two-face.

Amongst all the exhibits, I found this severed head to be the most disturbing despite having all its skin on.

If you're a smoker, this is how your lungs look like. Time to quit!

The body in slices.

All exhibits are distributed over 2 rooms with explanations mostly in Thai.

One of my favourite is this female corpse that has been split open with the outsides deshelled and insides splayed. The eyeballs still attached to the brain is really freaky.

The thought that he was once a living, breathing person was unsettling but at the same time, I had a sense of transcendental disassociation with my own body.

I didn't know that the testes were attached to the side of the pelvis and not directly under the penile shaft until I visited this exhibition.

The museum isn't very big but its coverage of the human body is very deep. It's a walk-in biology textbook of the various organs and bodily functions such as the muscular, skeletal, nervous, digestive, respiratory, and reproductive systems. But above all, it was a test of one's capacity for the morbid and gruesome.

I was the only person at the museum on a Monday afternoon. So you can imagine what went on at the back of my mind as I browsed through the exhibits... that the lights must not suddenly go out or as I turned around, one of the bodies had changed position. Yikes.

I spent about 30 minutes at the museum and although I didn't graduate a doctor at the end of it, one lesson I took away with me was to live healthier and treat my body better!

Address : Chulalongkorn University, Faculty of Dentistry, Level 9
Tel: +66 87 097 5481
Opening Hours : Monday - Friday, 10:00am - 4:30pm (new hours as of Jan 2014)
Entrance Fee : Donation of 100bht

Related Post :

Bangkok - Top 5 Culture Shockers

16 April 2014

Krabi - The Immaculate Wat Kaewkorawaram

Date of Exploration : 11 Jan 2014

When I came to Krabi, I thought that most of my 6D5N would be spent by the beach toasting the sunshine with ice cold wine. But instead, I devoted more time touring the inland sights and discovered that this Thai destination is pretty full of surprises... and one of them is the immaculate Wat Kaewkorawaram (known as Wat Kaew in short).

Zen is in the air. Wat Kaew is all white except for dark roofing tiles which bestow the temple with a modernist streak in traditional Thai monastic architecture.
Built around 2007, Wat Kaew is a relatively new addition to Krabi Town. In a small township dominated by low-rise shophouses and dwarf complexes, Wat Kaew's position on higher ground makes it easily visible. We didn't know about this temple until we caught sight of it upon our arrival in Krabi Town and decided to drop by for a look around.

Getting to Wat Kaewkorawaram

If you are staying in Krabi Town, Wat Kaew is a short walk from the junction with 4 cavemen traffic lights along Maharat Road (Thanon Maharat) in the direction of Vogue Department Store. The temple is near the mall.

Entrance to Wat Kaew from Maharat Road. Sitting on a 'white' hill made, the white temple with blue roofs seem to be floating when viewed from afar.
If you are coming from Ao Nang Beach, hop on a songthaew that goes to Krabi Town (there are lots of them). The ride takes approximately 20 minutes and should cost 30 - 40 baht (some drivers will ask for more during peak tourist season). Krabi Town is the end stop and all passengers are required to get off. Wat Kaew is a short walk from the drop-off point.

There are 2 entrances to Wat Kaew... from Maharat Road and another along an arterial road which I don't know the name off.
Visual Relaxation

The best way to visit Wat Kaew is to get in from the Maharat Road entrance and ascend a flight of stairs elegantly rimmed with 2 rows of golden nagas. Due to all that white and open spaces, it was instant visual relaxation as I stepped onto temple ground. Its xanax for the eyes!

A half-heartedly landscaped garden with an untended pond and ragtag collection of dioramas to the left were a disturbance to this masterpiece in white.

A heavenly sight to behold! Except for the sentry of golden nagas, Wat Kaew's pale visage and clean form is a refreshing departure from the vigour of colours and patterns that Thai Buddhist temples usually come dressed in.

Instead of looking tacky or scary, I thought the nagas slinking along Wat Kaew's stairway like a graceful bracelet added a touch of glam to the exquisite temple.

View of Maharat Road and the street of the songthaew drop-off stop.

It felt really peaceful here and a great place to just sit under one of its pavilions (called sala in Thai) and meditate.

Sala roofing support with a naga carving.

I was lucky that a lotus was in bloom in one of the few giant earthen urns dotting the temple's perimeter for a shot that brought together two different kinds of beauty.

The interior of Wat Kaew returns back to the Thai tradition of temple decorations.

When visiting the temple, dress decently. That is, no singlets, bikinis, shorts and revealing clothes.

A statue of Shakyamuni soon to be covered in gold 'leaves' offered by devotees.

The spirit is bigger than the person.


Wat Kaew offers a sanctuary for the senses... and a break from sunburning the skin.

Wat Kaew is definitely worth dropping by for some shots and a mind massage!

Related Posts :

Shrine in the Sky : Krabi's Tiger Cave Temple

Wat Sai Thai
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