Feeding the monkeys at Sammuk Hill

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Some tourists in Pattaya think of something else other than the beach thing. They go to Sammuk Hill in Bangsaen and feed some monkeys. That is not to say Pattaya’s attractions are not great, but a day with the cuddly primates is, indeed, another story.

Sammuk Hill is just a short distance from Bangsaen beach and features the shrine of Chao Mae Khao Sammuk, a Chinese girl who, according to one version of the story, committed suicide by throwing herself into the cliff, after her parents refused to give her the blessing to marry her lover. The entire hill is inhabited by wild monkeys, but can be hand-fed if you have bananas.

If you go more than picture-taking and want to do this and you don’t have anything to give, fruit vendors, who ply their trade on Sammuk hill, will provide. The top of the hill where the shrine is located can be reached by cars. The road is winding but not steep so that you don’t have to rev up your vehicle beyond necessary. Besides, monkeys do exercise their liberty, crossing the road at will.

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You don’t want having a bad day after killing one instantly with your rubberized tires! There are those who hike their way up the hill. If you do this and you’re over 40, make sure you had taken a dozen of energy drinks prior to embarking on this short journey. Halfway up the road is the first stop, though. Take a rest, deep breath, under a shelter, and enjoy a spectacular view of the sea. Right here is a relatively large tree where lazy and overfed monkeys take their nap.

If you need additional energy to reach the top, buy a bunch of bananas and do feed yourself first, before you do to your ancestors. Look through the thick trees and bushes beside the road. You’ll find a lot of baby monkeys, breast-feeding mothers, and banana-belied males. Most of the time, especially when many other people have come before you, the monkeys will not even throw a glance at your bananas. You need quail eggs to lure them towards you for the photos. This is a more expensive commodity around here, but it is readily available.p3

The top of the hill is a watering hole in itself. There is a car parking area. The shrine is never without people around it, devotees and curious onlookers alike. Ironically, despite its sad story, people worship it for luck and to improve on their love relationship. Another legend has it that this spot was used as “Lover’s Leap” where couples kill themselves after making a vow to their forbidden love.

Still another tale says that the shrine was built in memory of a fisherman’s wife who waited atop the hill for her husband who was lost at sea. They are not so sure, of course. It’s an old tale and we are talking here of an 18th century story. — Jony Reese

OTHER ATTRACTIONS IN BANGSAEN • Bangsaen Beach, ideal for swimming, windsurfing and other water sports. • Wat Saensook, where there are many statues, describing hell and heaven stories. • Ang Sila Village, where large oysters, lobsters and shells are kept in a fisherman’s farm. Also in this village are many stone handicraft factories, where you will be surprised at the craftsmanship skills of artisans in creating beautiful sculptures out of stone boulders.

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Gorgeous Rayong

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Not far from Pattaya is a province known for its gorgeous seafood, delectable durian and fine beaches. Yet despite these attractions, Rayong is unlike Pattaya. It is not as touristy and it even has that sleepy feel to it. Although fine hotels line some of its beaches, the tourists visiting Rayong are mostly locals.

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The few foreign tourists who stray into the province mostly proceed to Ban Phe, a busy fishing port and jump-off point to KohSamet, the island with the whitest and squeakiest sand in the kingdom. The island is a 30-minute ferry ride away. It is a favorite among farangs as it has something for everyone — from funfilled beaches with jet skiing and live music to tranquil, secluded spots where one can enjoy sand, sun and sea in complete privacy. But while foreigners find island beaches more exotic, the locals have their own idea of what constitutes a better beach.

Such place doesn’t need to be isolated or off island. In fact, it is just about five kilometers farther down the highway from Ban Phe. This beach, known as the Suan Son Pine Park, is a popular picnic area among locals. It is squeaky clean and as white and sandy as those of Koh Samet, though not as tranquil and isolated. It is in fact busy on weekends when people from other parts of the province, including those from Bangkok, flock to the beach to frolic. Tall casuarinas trees give Suan Son its unique charm.

These trees line each side of the road, which runs along the one-kilometer beach. Interestingly, the crowns of the trees from each side meet above head, making the whole length of the road look like a green tunnel. The area, quite expectedly, teems with food stalls and food shops. And because it is not a farang haunt, food prices are cheap here. Accommodation is also available for those who want to stay overnight. It comes in the form of bungalows or guesthouses, which are reasonably priced.

The venturesome can rent a boat to explore the smaller islands nearby like Koh Kudi, Koh Kham, Koh Platin and Koh Talu. The climate here is typically tropical– hot from March through May, rainy from June through October, and cool from November through February. Average daily temperature throughout the year is 27 degrees Celsius. During the rainy season, rainfall is usually brief and the rest of the day is normally clear and sunny. Traveling around Suan Son can be relaxing because the traffic here is light and the roads are very smooth. The surrounding areas are mostly quaint fishing villages, too laidback that they offer a perfect escape from the bustle of the city.

A stroll along the beach will give you a first-hand look at life in Thailand’s coastal villages. Only a little over an hour from Pattaya (via Sukhumvit Road towards Sattahip) or two hours from Bangkok, Rayong is a popular getaway destination among urban holidaymakers who prefer a more peaceful beach atmosphere than the nearby touristy Pattaya. Those who are continuing on to Koh Samet will also find Rayong the perfect base, as it’s possible to do a bit of sightseeing and shopping before hopping on a speedboat or a ferry at Baan Pae.

Separated from Koh Samet by a 45-minute ferry ride, the city area feels like a world apart. It retains a pleasantly localized atmosphere, where you are more likely to bump into Thai families or groups of young university students than foreign tourists or backpackers. Young urbanites from Bangkok often drive out here to enjoy a great seafood meal or dig their toes into the soft white sand, before heading back with a lung full of clean fresh air.

Attraction
A launching point for land and sea explorations with long distance bus terminals, ferry piers, food stalls and a lively handicrafts and seafood market, Baan Pae is a hive of activity. Laem Mae Pim, perhaps the second most popular destinations after Baan Pae, is an ideal spot for relaxation, with a lineup of beachside eateries and calm, inviting waters. Other attractions further inland include Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Herbal Park, Sopha Arboretum and the Rayong Aquarium.p3

Activities

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More popular for it is lineup of beachside seafood restaurants and shady beaches than for water sports, Rayong beaches are peaceful and relatively free of large crowds. Marine excursions are limited to fishing, snorkeling and diving at nearby islands such as Koh Kruai, Koh Thalu, Koh Pla Tin and Koh Kham. Island hopping is also an attractive option for those in search of a little adventure. Golfers will find a haven among Rayong’s range of well-designed courses, including the 72-par championship course at St. Andrews 2000 Golf and Country Club and Eastern Star Country Club.

Restaurants
Rayong is never short of mouthwatering seafood. In fact, dining is as much an experience for the eyes and ears as the palate, as many restaurants are situated by the beach, with an outdoor deck that juts right into the water. So, dining p2at these venues almost guarantees a great view. With a bustling seafood market, Baan Pae is one of the best places to go get a serving of freshly caught steamed crab, prawns and the all time favorite sea bass with lime ginger sauce. Finish off a satisfying meal the local style – with a plate of fresh tropical fruits.

Nightlife
Rayong is more famous for its causarina-shaded beaches and translucent blue sea than as a nightlife hotspot. However that’s not to say that there’s none around; a one-km strip Ratbamrung Road, which runs parallel to the main Sukhumvit highway in the city center, houses a large concentration of pubs, bars and nightclubs with stage shows and strip dancers. Getting Around Well connected by an efficient network of buses and songtaews (passenger- carrying trucks), public transport is the best option if you don’t have a car. Within Rayong, several lines of public buses operate between popular tourist destinations. These buses are color-coded and most run from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Ferries to Koh Samet depart from Baan Pae Pier on an hourly basis from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and drop tourists at major beaches, such as Sai Gaew, Ao Thaptim, Ao Phai, Ao Wong Duen and Ao Wai. The trip takes about 45 minutes, but if you take a chartered speedboat, it’s reduced to 15 minutes.

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Enter the Dragon fruit

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It doesn’t have any distinct flavor, but it has a lot of antioxidants known to ward off free radicals that’s causing many kinds of ailments. At a fruit stand, one would not miss the bright colors and unusual shape of this fruit. Because, for one, it doesn’t look like it’s not an ornamental plant. And it doesn’t look edible either. But surprisingly, many have already discovered the gem that is the dragon fruit. Dragon fruit is native to South and Central America.

But it is so widely distributed that several varieties can now be found in six continents. Thailand, because of her sheer agricultural prowess, is no exception. The fruit, called Kaew Mong Kon in Thai, abounds in fresh markets and even sidewalks. It is actually a cactus fruit with fuchsia pink skin and scales. Legend has it that the fruit came from a fire-breathing dragon. During a battle, these dragons would spit fire to the warriors and then spit the fruit last. After the dragon was slain, the warriors would collect the fruit and offer this to the emperor as a treasure and sign of victory.p4

The slain dragon would then be butchered and eaten by the warriors. It was believed that those who partake it would be endowed with exceptional strength and ferocity. But legend or no legend, dragon fruit is a healthy alternative. The fruit has three varieties which can be differentiated through the color of its flesh – white, red or magenta. The red variety is said to contain substantial amounts of lycopene, a natural antioxidant known to fight cancer, heart disease and lower blood pressure.

The popularity of dragon fruit has reached an all-time high. It is now the leading fruit export to Vietnam. Fruit juice giants Snapple, Tropicana and Sobe have added a dragon fruit flavored juice in their product lines. Don’t be fooled when someone tells you it tastes like kiwi (like how most people would describe it taste). The fruit is often chilled and cut in half with the flesh spooned cut. True, its texture and consistency is like that of a kiwi but its taste is not. It doesn’t really have any distinct flavor.

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The seeds though are crunchy. Because of its rather bland flavor, dragon fruit is best eaten with other fruits. It will actually add a twist to any dish which can be combined with fruit. Salads and salsas, for example, are best combined with dragon fruit. If you haven’t discovered this wonderful fruit, it is time to drop by your favorite fruit store and stock up on it. Remember not to eat the skin, it’s not edible.

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Fun and thrill in the Sunshine Strip

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From a sleepy fishing village in the ‘60s, Pattaya has grown into what it is now — a world-class beach destination. And one thing that has contributed to its worldwide appeal, apart from its dynamic nightlife, is watersports. Despite the rise in prominence of other beach destinations in the country, such as Phuket and Koh Samui, Pattaya has stood its ground as the place to go for watersports.

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Arguably it is now – in fact, always has been — the watersports capital of Thailand. Windsurfers from around the world come here to surf, thanks to its good sailing conditions. While the waves here are not that strong compared to those in Hawaii or Florida, many enthusiasts still enjoy coming over because Pattaya, particularly Jomtien Beach, is one of the few places in southeast Asia where enough wind blows year round.

During summer, while much of the region basks in sunlight and the beaches are full, Jomtien Beach, sometimes referred to as Pattaya’s Sunshine Strip, teems with amateur and professional windsurfers seeking to hone their skills. What makes Jomtien the favorite among foreign surfers is that it has a long coast and wind speed in the area is relatively the same year round. Also, there is little in the way of rocks or coral to watch out for in Jomtien. Due to this favorable environment, Jomtein has been host to a number of local and international windsurfing competitions.

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But windsurfing isn’t all that this resort city can offer. Another popular beach activity in Jomtien is parasailing. Like windsurfing, parasailing relies on wind. And the wind speed is perfect for parasailing. Parasailing is something that few have even dreamed about, much less tried. “My heart started to beat faster once the boat turned slowly. Suddenly, the parachute took me higher, causing an air-pocket effect,” said a first-time parasailer. “My knees felt rubbery. There was an unexplainable sensation to the whole thing. You practically felt like a bird. And it’s just great,” he added. Indeed, the sport gives those up in the air a different perspective of everything on the ground, and definitely a natural high.

How does one get to fly and watch the world while in Pattaya? Simple. Just go to the beach and ask for the parasailing team to attach the harness to your waist. Don’t forget to wear swimming goggles for eye protection. Then, get into the water and wait to be lifted to the sky. While up there, feel the wind and the freedom, and enjoy the breathtaking bird’s-eye view of Pattaya below. There are many other watersports to try here in Pattaya. They include water skiing, riding jet-ski, water scooter or banana boat, diving, kite-sailing, kayaking, cable skiing, and deep-sea fishing. So while in Pattaya, experience what many can only dream about. Take to the beach and go for some thrills that only the Sunshine Strip in Pattaya can offer.

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Rim Talay Seafood Restaurant Celebrates 7 years with complete makeover

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Opened 7 years ago, Rim Talay restaurant celebrates its 7th birthday with a complete makeover from top to bottom. “We are so happy to celebrate 7 years of successful operations for which we thank our many customers from around the world,” says Khun Kanuengsuk Prungpluem (Khun Oy) the general manager. “Our new renovations will reflect customer wishes so that we are able to provide better facilities and services. It is one of the ways we thank our customers for their continued custom by listening to their suggestions.” When the restaurants first opened its doors 7 years ago on the beach at Half Moon Bay at the end of Soi 18, next to the Centara Grand Mirage Resort the area was not very well known and there were thoughts that customers would not know to find the place.

However customers came and found the location perfect and the restaurant’s presence helped generate more traffic in the beach area so that today the beach is a very popular place for people seeking refuge from crowds off the main beach in Pattaya. Rim Talay’s new renovations start right at the beginning when customers enter the restaurant. Here they have created the biggest “seafood restaurant market” in Pattaya.

 

First they transformed one of their shrimp fishing pools into the largest seafood display pool in Pattaya where customers can choose live seafood like king lobsters, rock lobsters, river prawns, Fish and so forth swimming for customers to select prior to cooking. In addition they also have around 10 large glass aquariums where fresh live seafood and fish are kept for customers to eyeball.

Morever they have kept another pool nearby for their very popular fresh shrimp fishing where customers can try their luck skills with fishing for shrimps. A fun activity that is easy to do, but requires a bit of skill in order to master. This has been one of their signature fun activities and remains very popular. The restaurant cooks shrimp caught for customers with the slogan “you do the fishing and we do the cooking”.

Next to the live seafood pool customers pass through the fresh chilled food area where seafood are kept for people that prefer not to order live fish. Then customers pass near the grill area and kitchen next to it where they have a staff of 25 cooks busy with many orders. The cooks are specialists in seafood cooking as well as in the preparation of imported steaks.

The second floor is kept as the place to view the beautiful Half Moon Bay and is very popular particular during sunsets. The second floor area is reduced a bit to allow for more open roof space for the first floor terrace. “The second floor we have redecorated a bit to allow for private parties and other functions. Customers wanting to celebrate specials events like birthdays and such and can now have a better private area to celebrate” says Khun Oy. “Our redecorations of mainly white themes keep the mood of casual and relaxed elegance to reflect the spirit of the restaurant and mirror the beauty of the ambiance of the dark blue sea, white clouds, long golden sandy beach and lush greenery of our tropical garden areas.

Sunsets are often spectacular with the sun sliding into the distant ocean’s edge”! The biggest change is on the first floor or the “Sunset View Terrace” as they call the area. The area has been expanded doubling its capacity with more open sky space with the removal of part of the floor of the second floor. A retractable awning has been installed to allow for a roof cover in case of inclement weather. “This means more of our customers can dine under the stars while enjoying one of the best seafood in Pattaya” says Khun Oy. “Rim Talay is the only seafood restaurant that offers full service dining experience right on the beach for breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner in Pattaya and we intend of keep and improve on this tradition,” according to Khun Oy. During the day there are dozens of sun beds for customers who wish to enjoy the sun while dining. In the evening more tables and relaxing beach sofas are set up according to demand so customers are able to dine under the stars with the ocean practically lapping at their feet.

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“Rim Talay is the only seafood restaurant that offers full service dining experience right on the beach for breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner in Pattaya and we intend of keep and improve on this tradition,” according to Khun Oy. During the day there are dozens of sun beds for customers who wish to enjoy the sun while dining. In the evening more tables and relaxing beach sofas are set up according to demand so customers are able to dine under the stars with the ocean practically lapping at their feet. As an added innovation and a conversation piece they have also transformed a ‘tuk-tuk’ to become a draft beer bar, which is parked in the beach area. In addition to beer the restaurant maintains an excellent selection of wines from around the world for customers who want to choose the right wine with their meals. There are also tempting tropical cocktails served throughout the day. “We provide friendly and professional service together with our truly delicious seafood as well as imported steaks. Our wine selections go well with most dishes. We also have Australian or Canadian steaks, which we keep chilled to keep its unique flavors, as well as Thai, Asian and European food. We also offer New Zealand mussels, Norwegian salmon, and Thai specialties all at compatible prices because we want customers to return. Advertising and “word-of-mouth” are our marketing strategies and it has worked well for us,” according to Khun Oy.

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The main menu is spectacular boosting over 200 items of seafood, steaks, Thai and European food and each menu item has a photograph of the actual dish plus describing each dish in 5 languages (Thai, English, German, Chinese and Russian). Khun Oy further mentioned; “We also added a completely new and chic as well as romantic and relaxing “Chill-out-Zone” in front of the beach with cozy furniture, sparkling lights and a special chill-out-menu offering “Stone Oven Pizza” and other delicious items besides our international variety of seafood, steaks, Thai and Asian delights. Since we opened the “Chill-out- Zone” it quickly became a hit with our guests!” Another new addition is the “TukTuk Beach Bar” located right in front of the beach with breathtaking views and offering a wide varieties of drinks from draft beer to tropical cocktails, wine and delicious Mock-tails all of which are also available for take-away while strolling along the beach!

What the spirit house means to Thais

Spirit worship is as old as mankind itself. In Thailand the phenomenon goes back to the ancient days when the Thais were beginning their slow migration from the Red River Delta in northern Vietnam to all parts of the Southeast Asian region. Spirit worship, or animism, was a religion by which the entire world lived at one time, and when Buddhism came to Southeast Asia, it developed side by side with the ancient spirit religion. Today, many of the old animistic beliefs are intertwined with Buddhism and some animistic practices still exist in Thailand. One of these which is practiced by every Thai is the spirit house. The spirit house can be seen at a prominent spot outside every business establishment in the country. It can be seen on a pedestal in front of every hotel. It dresses the corner garden area of a restaurant, the front of a bar, disco.

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They can even be seen at outdoor food markets. They are built on the grounds of Buddhist temples, outside caves in the mountains, near fish ponds in the valleys, and occasionally in the middle of an otherwise uninhabited forest. Most importantly, however, the Thai spirit house is built at the yard of every home. The purpose of the spirit house is to provide an appealing shelter for the spirits, or celestial beings, who would otherwise reside in the heavens, find a place in large trees, or in caves, cliffs, waterfalls or other natural surroundings. According to folklore, the spirits themselves are either good or evil, but most are just finicky and mischievous, demanding respect from humans. They are, it is said, capable of disastrous interferences if they don’t get their way. The spirit of the land, for example, expects to be informed when a human intends to start a business or engage in improvements to an existing business. If the spirit is not informed, and if the human does not respectfully request permission, the spirit can indeed cause the venture to fail. The style and construction of a spirit house may be as simple as a typical Thai-style shelter or as elaborate as a Thai palace.

The exact style often depends on two factors — which spirit the person wishes to invite and how much one can afford for the spirit house construction. Construction itself is a specialized field and only an expert spirit house builder would be considered for proper construction. His responsibility, in addition to construction, is to be familiar with all the necessary rituals involved so that the spirit to be invited will find it an acceptable earthly abode. The house may be permanent or temporary, made of wood, concrete or brick. At certain times the spirits are invited down only for special occasions and this is when temporary spirit houses are built.

The size may vary from the very small to a large, walk-in, ground-level affair. The houses are finished with statues, small figures, or symbols of many other sorts in the center within the spirit house. In addition, there may be various animal figures, such as elephants or hones; figures of people, such as a married couple or other images; and even furniture. Outside, around the balcony that usually surrounds a spirit house, incense holders, candle sticks, and vases for flowers are placed. There are countless gods and other celestial beings in Thai folklore, The primary spirits the Thais are concerned with, however, are called the Phra Bhum Jowthee , or Guardian Spirits of the Land. There are nine of guardians and each offers a different type of protection. The Guardian of the House and the Guardian of the Gardens are so frequently consulted with and prayed to that they are the only two that have permanent spirit houses built for them.

p8The Guardian of the House is the spirit that watches over and protects the home. It is uncertain whether there is one spirit that watches over all homes , or if individual spirits do this for each home. However, all you have to do in Thailand is look around and you’ll see that every home has a spirit house. Thai families who believe wholeheartedly in the spirit house and its importance light incense every morning and ask the spirit to watch over and protect the home. Others do it on ritual occasions.

The Guardian of the House includes the spirit or spirits who help in business matters, and spirit houses at business sites are of the same type. More often than not in Thailand, the business and the home are in the same location. The Guardian of the Gardens also has a permanent spirit house shelter built for him. This spirit watches over and protects the natural surroundings, yards, gardens and orchards of the Thai family. There is a separate spirit for rice fields, so the Guardian of Gardens should not be mistaken for a spirit protecting all of agriculture. Rather, nature, flowers, plans and fruit are so important to the Thais that the Guardian of the Gardens receives a separate and permanent house of his own.

The other seven Guardians of the Land are Protector of Gates and Stairwells, who is believed to reside in the home doorstep which explains why one should never step on the doorstep of a Thai home; Protector of Animals ; Protector of Storehouses and Barns; Protector of Forests; Mountains; fields and Paddles; Protector of Temples; Protector of Waters ; and Protector of Military Forts and Defense. The various temporary spirit houses built at times requiring the intercession of a particular spirit can be constructed at any time and at any place.

An example of this is a spirit house that sits in the rhododendron forests at the top of Doi Inthanon in northern Thailand. Here in the middle of a forest hundreds of years old is a spirit house constructed for soldiers who died in a helicopter crash years ago. At the front of this spirit house, in addition to candle holders and incense holders , are small ledges for the placement of burning cigarettes. This is because those in the helicopter were believed to have liked to smoke. Offerings to a spirit house and the spirit who is intended to reside within can be nearly anything.

p8The traditional offerings include flower garlands, betel leaves, bananas, rice, chicken, duck, and a wide range of other edibles and non-edibles. Candles are often used while incense is usually lit daily before a spirit house. There are spirit houses everywhere In Thailand. Some very famous ones such as the one that houses the Chiang Mai City Pillar are large enough to walk into. A visit to Wat Chedi Luang in Chiangmai will give you an opportunity to see it for yourself. People go to these places to make offerings and request help from the spirits for various things, such as a good harvest.

The ritual at such events often involves hundreds of people with a common goal and the spirit is called upon to help all. In return the people make promises of future offerings in the event that they are successful. Thus a return visit to repay the spirit for his help is another important part of the ritual. The spirit house is one of the most fundamental features of Thai life even today and it is easily the most obvious. In Thailand devotion to Buddhism most often shows itself in ritual within a temple while Thai devotion to the spirits, especially to the guardians of the land,is often done in front yards.