Bangkok, 29 June, 2015-Three of Bangkok’s nearest provinces; Nakhon Pathom, Samut Sakhon  and Ratchaburi teem with artistic people doing amazing things, from taking in a concert of classical music to learning the art of making exquisite Bencharong pottery.
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Exterior of Prince Mahidol Hall, Salaya campus of Mahidol University in Nakhon Pathom.

Indeed, there are few more sophisticated ways to spend an evening than by taking in a concert of classical music. Luckily, the kingdom’s culture-seekers are well served by one of the best concert venues in Asia, perhaps the world. The 2,000-seat Prince Mahidol Hall, on the lush green Salaya campus of Mahidol University in Nakhon Pathom, is home to the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra and its state-of-the-art acoustics ensure that every note played onstage is thrown out into the audience.

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Entrance of Prince Mahidol Hall
    

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Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra

The music soars, waves and crashes around the audiences and whatever their musical tastes, it’s an amazing experience. Influential orchestras and conductors are lining up to play the hall and the season ahead boasts an eclectic mix of local and international music. To challenge the cliché that classical music is highbrow, ticket prices at the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra are kept low – music, after all, is for everyone. Be sure to look around too, the amazing architecture of the hall evokes a traditional Thai sala and takes the shape of a Kan Phai Mahidol flower, the university’s emblem.
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The colourful Bencharong bone china porcelain

For hands-on art, head to Samut Sakhon and visit Don Kai Di Bencharong village. This collective started up 30 years ago to ensure the traditions of making colourful Bencharong bone china porcelain survive. The techniques for making Bencharong pottery originated in the Ming Dynasty China and came to Thailand around 600 years ago for use by members of the royal family. But now it is available to everyone, which is how the founders of the village collective like it – they want to see Bencharong pots and dishes used every day rather than being museum pieces.
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Bencharong means five colours – and denotes the five used for the decoration:  black, white, yellow, red and green, though secondary tones are also used. Traditional designs go back to the reign of Rama II but now there are a range of themes with celebrations; such as, Songkran, being popular.
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Don Kai Di Bencharong village

At Don Kai Di Bencharong village, Bencharong can be seen everywhere, in colourful tiled scenes and painted statues. But the real pleasure comes from watching the artisans working. They sit at benches using finely-tipped brushes to deftly dab spots of coloured paint onto vases and bowls. It’s a painstaking process, requiring a steady hand but the skilled workers manage to do it while swapping jokes and chatting to curious visitors. It’s particularly satisfying to watch gold rings been added to the rims of bowls, a technique that requires spinning the object and applying a steadily-held brush.

You can try painting your own Bencharong cup or bowl, and your handiwork will be sent to you after it’s been fired in a kiln at over 800 °C. The secret, by the way, is to dap and drop the colours in place rather than to paint.
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A woman is painting a large water jar at Tao Hong Tai Ceramic Factory of Ratchaburi

A more modern take on ceramics is found at the Tao Hong Tai Ceramic Factory of Ratchaburi. The family-owned venture started 60 years ago to produce large water jars, but now they specialise in ceramic sculpture, furniture and objet d’art in every conceivable size and colour which are kept around the green factory grounds. Smiling pigs, elephants and Chinese demons peer from among more abstract works – it’s like walking through a scene from Alice in Wonderland. You can watch pots being made, on wheels or by hand and even walk into one of the huge kilns, used to heat the pots to temperatures of up to 1300°C.
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The above is just the start of a long list of cultural activities that can be enjoyed in Nakhon Pathom, Samut Sakhon and Ratchaburi. The region abounds in quirky commercial artists and there are museums, puppet shows, and inspiring attractions aplenty.

If you’re bored with the beach, take a look around, you can still enjoy your seafood dinners, as the tidal regions of the area boast some of the best shellfish in Thailand. So you’ve no excuses. Start enjoying some artistic exploration.

Fast Facts:

Prince Mahidol Hall and the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra
25/25 Phuttamonthon Sai 4 Road, Salaya, Phuttamonthon, Nakhon Pathom
Tel: + 66 (0) 2800 2525 Ext. 153 and 154
Website: www.thailandphil.com

Getting there:

    The Salaya Shuttle Bus link to the Mahidol Hall is timed to arrive in advance of performances, which depart from the bus stop by the BTS Sky Train Bang Wa Station at Exit 1-2.
    The buses return to Bangkok from the front of the auditorium and a timetable can be found at www.music.mahidol.ac.th/salayalink

Don Kai Di Bencharong village: as well as the chance to see Bencharong pots being painted; the village offers a homestay experience where tourists can enjoy the local lifestyle and learn more about the community.
Tambon Don Kai Dee, Khrathum Baen, Samut Sakhon
Tel: +66 (0) 34 473 408, +66 (0) 34 843 371

Tao Hong Tai Ceramics Factory: most of the larger pieces here are made to order but you can buy from the Factory and send your own ideas to be made.
234/1 Jedeehak Road, Ratchaburi
Tel: +66 (0) 32 323 630
Website: www.thtceramic.com

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