Great Big Story

Commissioned work for CNN's Great Big Story


The Snake Catchers of Bangkok

Phinyo Pukphinyo has an ordinary job with a few extraordinary requirements. As a firefighter in Bangkok, he's not only expected to save people from burning buildings but also from slithering house guests. Recently, snakes have become an everyday sighting in Bangkok, and have begun to infiltrate residents’ daily lives. Pukphinyo says he is now spending more time catching snakes than going near flames. Luckily, he loves it.

Tour This Stunning Grove of Man-Made Trees - Singapore

In the center of Singapore, a manmade horticultural haven blooms. Supertree Grove is a man-made forest meant to enhance greenery and flora in the bustling city. The grove consists of 18 “trees” acting as vertical gardens, with trunks covered with over 200 varieties of orchids, ferns and climbing plants. Each tree reaches 80-160 feet high, and is connected by walkways that allow visitors to view the city from the treetops.

The Architectural Wonders of Thailand’s White Temple

There are 33,000 traditional temples in Thailand. But with its majestic, otherworldly exterior, Wat Rong Khun is unlike any other site of worship. From the ghoulish heads that hang from surrounding trees, to the hands that reach for you as you cross the bridge to the main temple, every part of this site is unique. While Wat Rong Khun attracts thousands of tourists from around the world, it received negative attention when it first opened because critics said it wasn’t traditional Thai art. Yet the temple continues to stand defiantly as a symbol of Thai art for a modern world.

For the Best Food in Bangkok, Try This Chef’s Home

It’s not every day that you find a fine dining establishment run from a chef’s personal kitchen. But then, Pichaya “Pam” Utharntharm is not your everyday chef. At just 28, she has studied gastronomy in both France and New York, and worked for a Michelin three-star chef. But her dream was always to return to her native Thailand and open up her own place. So, she did. Now she’s serving some of Thailand’s most inventive dishes out of Bangkok’s most exclusive joint—her dining room. Welcome to The Table.

The Bug Seller Who Loved Me

It’s a love story for the ages — man, woman … and a cart full of fried insects. Husband and wife team Lek and Baitoey sell deep-fried scorpions, tarantulas, caterpillars and other creepy crawlies at a food stall in Bangkok, Thailand. Their cart has become a popular tourist destination on Khao San Road, serving up the local delicacies daily.

Ascend Thailand’s Temple of the Rising Dragon

In the Samphran district of Thailand sits one of the country’s most spectacular Buddhist temples. Wat Samphran is a towering pink masterpiece scaling in at 80 meters high — an homage to the number of years Buddha lived. Known for the hollow dragon’s head that encircles the temple, visitors are welcome to ascend the 17-story superstructure to touch the dragon’s beard, or climb inside the belly of the beast.

Inside Thailand’s Sanctuary of Truth

Thailand’s Sanctuary of Truth is a modern day marvel, made entirely of wood without the use of a single nail. Built using ancient carving techniques, the religious shrine has been under construction since 1981, with teams of dedicated architects continually working to finish out the plans of its creator. Originally commissioned by a Thai millionaire intent on keeping traditional craftsmanship alive, the structure is now considered to be a religious shrine, a cultural monument and a work of art, all in one. Welcome to the Sanctuary of Truth, a divine masterpiece in the making.

Stop and Smell the (Fried) Flowers of Thailand

Everything tastes better deep fried. And in Thailand, the same goes for flowers. Just north of Bangkok lies Koh Kret—a quiet island known for its pottery, Buddhist gardens and traditional dance shows. However, locals know one of the best things about this island are the fried flowers. That’s right, fried flower petals. Boonrod is the oldest of the island’s fried-flower vendors. And for more than 10 years, she’s been selling this delicate treat, made from delicate butterfly pea, bougainvillea and ixora blossoms that she harvests from her own garden. We swear, they’re blooming good.

Thailand’s Purple Noodles Offer a Tasty Tradition

Kanom jeen is a traditional Thai noodle with a history that stretches back centuries. The noodles are made over the course of two days from rice flour dough that’s kneaded, fermented, boiled and hand-pressed. Each cook in Thailand puts their own spin on the dish. For Samrith Petchkong and many others, kanom jeen noodles are always made with vibrant butterfly pea flowers and turmeric, which turn the noodles bright purple and yellow. Petchkong, the director of Silapa Vithi (Life Arts Center) in Thailand’s Trang province, is on a mission to save the cultural heritage of old Thailand. Preserving the traditional recipe for kanom jeen noodles is an important part of that goal.

Climb Inside Thailand’s Three-Headed Elephant

Located just outside Bangkok is Erawan Museum, commissioned and built as a place to preserve Thai heritage and arts. To access the museum, visitors must first climb up the statue of a 250-ton, three-headed elephant. Inspired by the white elephant god in Hindu mythology, Erawan features large statues of elephants that trumpet as guests walk underneath, as well as copper pillars carved to represent Theravada Buddhism, Christianity, Mahayana Buddhism and Brahma Hinduism. Inside the belly of the elephant sits Erawan Museuem and temple, serving as a beautiful tribute to Thailand’s past.

Thailand’s Floating Markets Serve Up a Feast on the Water

For hundreds of years, floating markets have been at the center of communities in Thailand. Originally built along canals and rivers, the markets emerged during a time when water transport played an important role in daily life. Today, one of the country’s most popular is the Amphawa floating market. Located 45 miles from Bangkok on the Mae Klong river, this 30-mile-long market features a cornucopia of produce, seafood and traditional Thai dishes to satisfy every taste bud.

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