Telling the time in Thai is a little … weird. Things start quite simply. Counting the hours from 1 a.m. you have:

tii 1 (1 a.m.)
tii 2 (2 a.m.)
tii 3 (3 a.m.)

(“Tii” means “strike” or “beat” and refers to the watchmen’s marking of the hours throughout the night. In my moobaan a security guard still makes the rounds every hour through the night on a bicycle striking a bell.)

When you get to 6 a.m., things go awry:

6 mohng chaaw


mohng chaw (7 a.m.)
2 mohng chaw (8 a.m.)
3 mohng chaw (9 a.m.)

So 6 comes before 2. Seriously strange.

This pattern continues up to midday:

thiang (12 p.m.)

Then the pattern changes again:

baay mohng (1 p.m.)
baay 2 mohng (2 p.m.)
baay 3 mohng (3 p.m.)

And in the late afternoon, yet another pattern (just for a couple of hours):

5 mohng yen (5 p.m.)
6 mohng yen (6 p.m.)

(“Yen” is the Thai word for “cool”, reflecting the cooling as the sun gets low in the sky.)

And then another pattern:

thum 1 (7 p.m.)

but then:

2 thum (8 p.m.)
3 thum (9 p.m.)

and finally midnight:

thiang kheun (12 a.m.)

All this time-telling complexity probably explains why a certain fugitive from justice had 26 watches, including 9 Patek Philippe, 2 Audemars Piguet, a Cartier, a Chopard, a Rolex, a Breguet, and 3 Vacheron. Total value: 10 million Baht – over £200,000 at today’s exchange rate.

Unfortunately for the criminal concerned they have all been seized by the state.


The full moon hung low in the deep black sky. I slowly drove down a narrow, unlit lane next to paddy fields, doing my best not to strike any of the multitude of feral dogs which inhabit this part of town. After a few minutes I reached my destination: Wat Ayotthaya, my regular temple. It’s an ancient place, with a large but crumbling chedi behind the ubosot (ordination hall). It’s not a rich temple, and there are usually only about a dozen monks in residence at any one time.

As I drew into the car park I could hear the sound of chanting over the tannoy system. A group of about a hundred worshippers was hanging around outside the ubosot. I approached a small stall, put a donation in the box there and picked up a lotus stem, three incense sticks and a thin candle.

After a few minutes the chanting stopped and the monks emerged from the ubosot. One addressed the crowd and welcomed them. The monks then approached a large, yellow candle outside the temple and lit their incense sticks and candles. The laity then followed suit. The evening breeze quickly extinguished many of the candles. A few kids took transparent plastic cups and punched a hole in the bottom to make improvised shields for their candles.

An elderly monk approached me and briefly asked me where I was from, and thanked me for coming.

Pressing the flower, incense sticks and (now extinguished) candle between my palms I followed the procession headed by the monks. The tannoy now carried a taped chant in a loop. We made our way, barefooted and silent, around the ubosot three times.

The procession complete, the monks and the worshippers relit their candles and placed them on a special stand, planted their incense sticks in a large bowl of sand, and laid their lotus stems in another large bowl. The ceremony of “Wian Tian” (circle with candles), held on the full moon day of the third lunar month, was over for another year.