Tag Archives: south east asia

St George’s Church

St George's Church - Penang

The Grand Dame of South-East Asia

St George’s Church

Farquhar Street, George Town.

Dedicated to the patron saint of England, St George’s Churh is South-East Asia’s oldest Anglican church and the largest in Malaysia. In 1817, the seed for building this grand house of worship had been sown and just a year later, building commenced at a cost of about 60,000 Spanish dollars – quite a huge sum in those days!

Built by Indian convicts in the veins of Western neo-classical style and Georgian Palladian design, the white building was inspired by the architectural style that was the rage in Britain and other parts of Europe at the time.

The brick building, modeled after a similar one in Madras, has a plastered stone base. The roof was originally flat but was converted to a gable in 1864. The highest point is the octagonal steeple and the most eminent feature is the portico of  Greek columns outside the front entrance. These columns are “Doric” in style (like the Parthenon in Athens).

Former British Governor of Penang Colonel John Alexander Bannerman’s daughter later married at the church that was constructed during her father’s term. Janet Bannerman’s marriage to Governor W.E. Philips Esq on June 30, 1818, was the first marriage ceremony for St George’s.

Then in 1799, the widow of Captain Francis Light – the man who established Penang as a trading post, also chose to re-marry at the Greek and Roman influenced building.

Although it was built under the auspices of Philips and Bannerman themselves (the highest-ranking British officers on the island then), the church was founded by Reverend Sparke Hutchings.

The congregation in those days comprised a multi crew of British officials, printers, tavern-keepers, fiddlers, hairdressers, coach-makers, watchmakers, coppers, shipwrights, merchants, planters and sailors, and French and Dutch prisoners of war who filled the pews and enjoyed the gardens.

Perhaps divine intervention has saved (except for the roof) the church from the World War II air raids, allowing ex-servicemen from the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) to come “home” annually to honour 35 of their comrades who died in the line of duty and were laid to rest in various cemeteries in the country. A plaque bearing the names of those killed in action during their brief sojourn in Malaya between 1947 and 1951 hangs inside the church.

Within the sprawling church compound still sits a beautiful domed structure built more than 120 years ago in memory of Light and in celebration of the founding of Penang as a trading post in 1786.

Shrubs surround the Greek temple-like memorial, bringing with it a sense of tranquility despite its location in the heart of the city.

During the war, (now antique items like the) pews, pulpit, lectern and organ were looted by the locals but a marble plaque (engraved with writings about Light) framed by two column figures, is worth a look.

As a tribute to the Grand Dame, the church was gazetted as a historical monument in 1996, acknowledging its importance and role in the spread of Christianity in the region. Indeed, the essence of the church lies in its unpretentious yet breathtaking facade.

These days, mass is still conducted here every Sunday morning. Non-Christian couples who have fallen in love with the historical church often arrange for their wedding photographs to be taken in the compound while many Christians take great pride in exchanging their vows in a church that epitomises eternity.

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Bangkok, Thailand

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Bangkok, Thailand

The city of Bangkok is the capital, largest urban area and primary city of Thailand. Known in Thai as Krung Thep Mahanakhon or กรุงเทพฯ Krung Thep for short, it was a small trading post at the mouth of the Chao Phraya River during the Ayutthaya Kingdom.

It came to the forefront of Siam when it was given the status as the capital city in 1768 after the burning of Ayutthaya. However, the current Rattanakosin Kingdom did not begin until 1782 when the capital was moved across the river by Rama I after the death of King Taksin. The Rattanakosin capital is now more formally called “Phra Nakhon” (Thai: พระนคร), pertaining to the ancient boundaries in the metropolis’ core and the name Bangkok now incorporates the urban build-up since the 18th century which has its own public administration and governor.

In the span of over two hundred years, Bangkok has grown to become the political, social and economic center of not only Thailand but for Indochina and South East Asia. Its influence in the arts, politics, fashion, education and entertainment as well as being a business, financial and cultural center of Asia has given Bangkok the status of a global city.

Bangkok is the world’s 22nd largest city by population with approximately 8,160,522 registered residents (July 2007). However, similar to most regional centers, due to large unregistered permanent migrants from the North East of Thailand and other Asian nations in combination with those who commute to Bangkok during the day for work, the population of greater Bangkok is estimated to be closer to 15 million people.

This has in turn shifted the country from being a rather homogeneous Thai population to an increasingly vibrant mix of Western, Indian and Chinese people, in doing so, giving the city a cosmopolitan status. The capital is part of the heavily urbanized triangle of central and eastern Thailand which stretches from Nakhon Ratchasima along Bangkok to the industrialized eastern seaboard—it is the most built-up area mainland-South East Asia.

The Bangkok Province borders six other provinces: Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Samut Prakan, Samut Sakhon and Nakhon Pathom, and all five provinces are joined in the conurbation of the Bangkok Metropolitan Area.

Transportation

River and canals network

An elaborate network of canals known as khlongs gave Bangkok the nickname “Venice of the East” at a time when most transportation was by boat. Today, nearly all of the canals have been filled in and converted into streets. While many khlongs still exist with people living along them and markets often being operated along the banks, most are severely polluted. A notable khlong market is the floating market in Taling Chan district.

Through downtown Bangkok runs the Khlong Saen Saeb, which has a canal boat service, the most extensive of which is the Chao Phraya Express Boat with as many as thirty stops along the both banks of the Saen Saeb. However, there are limitations as the further north the route is the farther apart the stations are, impeding the ability of this water taxi to function as a true mass transit system.

Roads

Several elevated highways, newly rebuilt intersections, and many partially finished road and rail projects dot the landscape around greater Bangkok, but have done little to overcome the notorious traffic jams on Bangkok’s surface roads as private vehicle usage continues to outstrip infrastructure development.

Bangkok also includes many shopping and business roads like the Sukhumvit Road which includes highrise business buildings, apartments, and shopping malls, Sukhumvit Road is where many foreigners like to come shopping.

The Wireless Road or Thanon Wittayu include the Stock Exchange of Thailand and many business buildings like the All Seasons Place Complex which includes the Conrad Bangkok, a shopping mall, and many other business offices. The Thanon Khaosan or Khaosan Road is also well-known by foreigners. One of the popular shopping roads for teenagers is Rama I road, which has the Siam Paragon, Siam Square, and the Siam Discovery Center.

Inner-City Buses

A regular bus service is provided by the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA) and it operates throughout Bangkok as well as to adjoining provinces around the clock on certain routes. Public buses are plentiful and cheap, with a minimum fare of 7 baht to most destinations within metropolitan Bangkok. Air-conditioned buses have minimum and maximum fares of 11 and 24 baht, respectively. Air-conditioned micro-buses charge a flat fare of 25 baht all routes. A Bus Route Map is available at bookshops.

Rail systems

On the birthday of HM King Rama IX, 5 December 1999, an elevated two-line Skytrain (officially called BTS) metro system was opened. The remains of the failed BERTS (Hopewell) project can still be seen all the way from the main railroad station out towards Don Mueang Airport. Due to the Asian financial crisis of 1997 construction was halted and the concrete pillars were left unused.

The MRT subway system opened for use in July 2004. The MRT connects the northern train station of Bang Sue to the Hua Lamphong central railway station near the city centre, while also going through the eastern part of Bangkok. It connects to the BTS system at BTS stations Mo Chit, Asok, and Sala Daeng.

Currently, transit and development projects initiated by ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin are gaining in popularity with the currently elected government, and have a possibility of being resumed and extended.

A new high speed elevated railroad called the Suvarnabhumi Airport Link, currently under construction, will link the city with the new Suvarnabhumi Airport. The announced opening date has been pushed to back to December 2009. The Airport Express railway is to be operated by the State Railway of Thailand. It will provide a 28.5 km (17.7 mi) link between the new airport and the City Air Terminal (CAT) at Makkasan with connections to the BTS at Phaya Thai and MRT at Petchburi. There are plans to extend the line to Don Mueang and Rangsit, but again, this is very dependent on the political situation.

Plans have been approved for a further extension of the BTS Silom line from Wong Wian Yai to Bangwah (4.5 km/2.8 mi), Sumrong to Samut Prakarn (8 km/5.0 mi), Mo Chit to Saphan Mai (11.9 km/7.4 mi) and the National Stadium to Phran Nok (7.7 km/4.8 mi). This includes five underground stations in the Rattanakosin area. The State Railway of Thailand has also been given approval to complete the Dark Red and Light Green lines. Alongside, MRT has also begun construction on two new lines, the Purple line from Bang Yai to Bang Sue, and the Blue line from Hua Lampong to Bang Khae and Ta Pra.

For intercity travel by train, most passengers begin their trips at Hua Lamphong at the southern end of the MRT. Here, trains connect Bangkok to Malaysia in the south, Chiang Mai to the north, and Nong Khai to the northeast and beyond to Laos.

Bus service

Virtually all cities and provinces are easily reached by bus from Bangkok. For destinations in the southwest and the west, buses leave from the Southern Bus Terminal, west of the city in the Thonburi area. For destinations in the southeast, such as Pattaya, Ko Samet and Ko Chang, buses leave from the Eastern Bus Terminal at Ekkamai. For all destinations north and northeast, the Northern Bus Terminal is at Mo Chit. Bangkok’s less accessible southern terminal was recently moved even farther out. Though Bangkok is well connected to other cities, getting to the bus terminals often are a challenge in themselves.

Bus (Bangkok Mass Transit Authority)

The Bangkok Mass Transit Authority service area covers Bangkok Metropolis and its suburban areas in the adjacent provinces of Nonthaburi, Samut Prakan, Pathum Thani, Nakhon Pathom, and Samut Sakhon. It serves approximately 3 million passengers per day.

The service hours are 05.00-23.00 hrs, except 24-hr night-owl service on some routes. In September 2005, BMTA owns a fleet of 3,579 buses—comprising 1,674 ordinary buses and 1,905 air-conditioned buses. In addition to BMTA-owned buses, there are 3,485 private-own contract buses, 1,113 contract minibuses, 2,161 side-street songthaews, and 5,519 vans. In total, there are 15,857 buses and vans over 427 routes across 8 zones.

  • Zone 1: North (Hubs: Rangsit, Bangkhen)
  • Zone 2: Upper East (Hubs: Bangkapi, Minburi)
  • Zone 3: Lower East (Hubs: Samrong, Samut Prakan)
  • Zone 4: South Central (Hubs: Khlong Toey)
  • Zone 5: Southwest (Hubs: Dao Khanong, Phra Pra Daeng)
  • Zone 6: West (Hubs: Bangkhae, Thonburi)
  • Zone 7: Northwest (Hubs: Nonthaburi, Pak Kret)
  • Zone 8: Central (Hubs: Huay Khwang)

Airports

Bangkok is one of Asia’s most important air transport hubs. In 2005, more than ninety airlines served Don Mueang International Airport (IATA: DMK; ICAO: VTBD). It was the 18th busiest airport in the world, second busiest in Asia by passenger volume, 15th busiest in the world and fourth busiest in Asia in international passenger volume.

Don Mueang consistently ranked 19th in the world in cargo traffic, and seventh in the Asia-Pacific region. Don Mueang is considered to be one of the world’s oldest international airports, its opening in March 1914 making it almost twenty years older than London Heathrow. It has three terminals and is located about 30 km (19 mi) north from the heart of Bangkok.

On 28 September 2006, Suvarnabhumi Airport (IATA: BKK; ICAO: VTBS), became Bangkok’s official international airport, replacing Don Mueang. Pronounced Suwannaphum (RTGS), or loosely Su-wan-na-poom, the airport is located southeast of the city center in Bang Phli district, Samut Prakan Province.

The progress of Suvarnabhumi Airport dates back to the early 1970s when a large plot of land 8,000 acres (3,237 ha) (32 km²) was bought. A student uprising in October of the same year prevented further progress with the development when the military government of Thanom Kittikachorn was subsequently overthrown. After several military coups and the Asian financial crisis of 1997, construction finally began in 2002, after five years of clearing the site. The first flights landed in September 2006, shortly after another military coup. Its two parallel runways are connected by the five concourses of the main terminal building.

The airport features a 132.2-metre (434 ft)-tall control tower, the tallest in Asia and one meter (3.2 ft) taller than Kuala Lumpur International Airport control tower. It is the tallest stand alone purpose built control tower in the world. Airports of Thailand Plc. (AoT) have announced another terminal to accommodate a further fifteen million passengers. This will be part of Phase 2 of the airport, which is expected to begin construction in three to five years. The main airline of Suvarnabhumi is Thai Airways International.

Much of the construction of Suvarnabhumi Airport took place during the premiership of Thaksin Shinawatra, who took personal responsibility for its timely completion. Despite a “ceremonial” opening on the planned date, construction was over a year late. Continuing controversy surrounds the quality of planning and construction; accusations include cracks in the runway, overheated buildings, a severe shortage of toilet facilities and lengthy passenger walks to departure gates. The fact that the airport is already overcrowded and near its maximum capacity less than a year after opening is another concern.

Don Mueang remains in use as a base of the Royal Thai Air Force. Thai Airways and most of the low-cost airlines now use the airport for domestic flights, in an effort to ease congestion at Suvarnabhumi, until the next terminal is opened.

Taxis

These three-wheeled ‘open-air’ motorised taxis (called tuk-tuks) are popular for short journeys. River taxis can be used on the Chao Phraya River. Some are just cross river ferries, but others serve the many landing stages on both banks and cover a route that goes up as far as the northern suburb of Nonthaburi.

Tourism

Bangkok is considered to be one of the world’s tourist hotspots. Bangkok is Thailand’s major tourist gateway, which means that the majority of foreign tourists arrive in Bangkok. The city boasts some of the country’s most visited historical venues such as the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun. There are numerous projects to maintain Bangkok’s historic sites in the Rattanakosin area and river districts.

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