Monthly Archives: August 2010
We arrived about a week ago, but I had to blog about the last few days in Amazing Thailand before i could write about being back “home” in the UAE.
Mary Ann is back at work. I am trying to find my way around the apartment we have in the Faculty Housing complex on campus. This is the biggest place Mary Ann and I have ever lived in together. I still make a wrong turn to the kitchen or the bathroom sometimes. It has two big bedrooms and three bathrooms. The master bedroom and bath combined are as big as our apartment was in LA when we first got together. The kitchen looks like a restaurant kitchen. The combined living and dining room is huge. It is a little weird in some ways. One of the bathrooms has no toilet, another has no shower, but the master bath has it all including of course a bidet. I still have not used it, don’t plan to either.
They supplied everything we could possibly need. Furniture, linens, cooking utensils and the list goes on. The university pays for our electricity, so we keep it a cool 25 degrees. Outside it is always between 40 and 50 degrees. For those of you still stuck on Fahrenheit, 50 degrees is halfway to the boiling temperature of water, HOT.
The campus, while situated off in the desert, away from town, is very green. We have big trees in front of our place and plenty of birds. Exotic birds I have never seen before. There is a species of blue birds here that is not endemic to Sharjah, but the ruler likes them so he imported a bunch.
We go to town twice a week in transport supplied by the U to do our grocery shopping. We have nixed the idea of leasing an automobile (for now) because neither of us want to drive here. One of my assignments is to find us a driver so we can go to Dubai or Sharjah center for more shopping. We really do not lack anything, but I want a bike so I can get around campus like I did when I was in University. I was skinny then, and I think the bike helped keep weight off. Anyway, I need the exercise. The Faculty housing has a big pool and rec enter, so I need to swim and bike or I am going to look like I do not want to look. The food in Thailand was so good that I put twenty pounds on, bummer.
We have free cable,(60 channels) and the library has all the novels and DVDs I could ever want to avail myself of, so the temptation to veg out is too strong. I also want to take a class this fall, in what i’m not sure, but I can take two classes a semester for free.
We got home at the start of Ramadan, so the campus is deserted and things all over are rather quiet. Ramadan starts and ends with a week called EID. No one works during EID. So, Mary Ann basically gets two more weeks added to her extremely generous six weeks vacation. Her trip to Thailand covered the first EID. She immediately started planning for the next one. We are gong to Nepal! I have to go back to Thailand for more dental work in November, so she is planning another week off before I go to Chiang Mai, and it looks like we are going to Borneo. Borneo? So far all I have read about it is that it will be, well, different.
Now, any of our friends who want to experience the UAE, see the magnificent buildings and malls in Dubai, get caught in a traffic jam with Bentleys, ride a camel in the desert, we have space for you! Come visit! Fly Emirates! (do NOT fly Gulf air, yuch). Once you are here you can take inexpensive side trips to Morocco, Oman, India, Nepal, any of those destinations are about $350 R/T from the Sharjah airport, ten minutes from our apartment. We welcome you! I’d suggest doing it in winter months, and no, you will not need a jacket.
Thanks for reading, please make a comment.
I am a huge fan of WWII movies, and the classic with William Holden is one of my favorites. Mary Ann and I found a tourist agency that ran a trip to the Kwai. She knew I would pout if we did not do it, so we booked it and went.
I was very excited. I started whistling the song famous from the movie until she gave me a look that said, “that’s enough of that”.
At the end of the day, I still liked the movie, but it should be called Some Bridge Over Some River. I know Hollywood takes liberties with historical facts, but this time they just made it all up.
Yes, there was a bridge on the Kwai that was part of the Malaysia to Rangoon railway the Japanese hoped to get up and running to support a drive into India. Yes, they used prisoners for labor. Yes, most of them were captured when the Brits surrendered Singapore. Some were sailors from the destroyed Repulse and Prince of Wales. These two ships and the fortress of Singapore were the bastions of British occupation in South East Asia. Winston Churchill had ordered that Singapore never surrender and fight to the last man. The British commanders defied him after the Prince of Wales and Repulse were sunk, basically cutting off Singapore from any resupply possibilities. Churchill referred to this as the greatest defeat in British history. It was in fact, the beginning of the end of the British Empire.
In Hollywood’s version of the story, British prisoners were forced to build a bridge over the Kwai. In the movie, they designed it and built a “proper bridge”. Poppycock.
The bridge was not made from trees in the jungle. It was made of steel, and brought to the Kwai in pieces and assembled there. This is what it looked like then, and still does.
Enough of debunking revisionist history and back to the tour.
Our first stop was a wonderfully done cemetery. It was established and is maintained by The Commonwealth Grave Commission. It is in the town of Kachanaburi, which is a mere 4 km away from the bridge. It was a village in WWII. The movie tells is that the bridge was miles and miles away from any civilization. It wasn’t.
Anyway, the cemetery is a true shrine to the 6,982 men buried there. There are Brits, Aussies and Dutch. After the war, the allies forced the japanese to dig up every grave they could find along the entire length of “The Death Railway” . American bodies were sent back to America, the others buried in two cemeteries. One here and one in Burma.
When you enter this shrine, it is awe inspiring. A great tribute to the men who died building this railroad in brutal conditions.
After a half hour here, we had to leave. I could have spent more time honoring these guys who died in the worst way I can imagine, but alas, my tour van was leaving.
We went to the Death Railway Museum.
Overall it was a decent museum. It had relics and photos and the usual museum pieces that told the story. I was uncomfortable with a group of Japanese tourists being there. I guess that is my problem. Someday I hope to visit the “Hanoi Jane” Museum in Vietnam, so I have nothing to complain about.
Part of the story in the movie has a gallant group of men from some British special forces unit hiking through the jungle with explosives and destroying the bridge as the first train traverses it. Again, poppycock.
The bridge was bombed, twice, by the U.S. Army Aircorp. (we are good at that)
So now the tour took us on a train ride, on the actual Death Railway.
When we booked the tour we knew it was the Queens birthday. The King and Queen in Thailand are a real big deal. You see their portraits everywhere. Every train station and every dog house has a portrait of the king at least. The queens birthday is a national holiday. So, a tourist joint like the Kwai was jumping. We were told we would take an old train, across the Kwai bridge and another “wooden” bridge, ride for an hour, then go home from there.
There were so many people on this train that Mary Ann and I sat on the floor, in the door of our car. I think we had the best seats. I could lean out and get some decent photos. Someday I will own a real camera and my photos will improve. For now all I can offer are these.
That’s all for today folks. What do I have in plan for you tomorrow? More Buddhas, lots and lots of Buddhas.
Our first tourist day in Bangkok we decided to take a river cruise. Not knowing exactly what we were doing, where we were going or what to expect added to the fun. We took the SkyTrain (elevated metro) to the public pier on the river. As soon as we got off we were “presented” with options. By presented of course I mean Thai tourist pimps trying to sell us their version of a river trip. We looked at small boats like we rode on the Mehkong, a large boat which carried about 100 people, and then we found a medium sized boat that was ‘just right’. It was the slow boat too, so we did not speed past things. It was also small enough to get into the canals that spider web off the main river. These canals are where the real sights are to be found. A life style all its own. Temples and Buhdas and giant geckos, oh my.
There will not be much wordage here, this is a photo essay, so just take a peak at life in a city of 10 to 12 to ? million people, at least those of whom live on the water.
Ok folks, thats it for this post. Tomorrow I will take you to the Bridge on the River Kwai. Stay tuned and thanks for reading. Please comment.
After two months in this wonderful city in the north of Thailand, It was time for Mary Ann and I to start our journey back to Sharjah. She had been here a mere two weeks, and even with all the things we did see and do, we left a lot on the table for another trip. I will be back in November for more dental work. Mary Ann has not decided if she will be back. I suspect she will. She loved the town as much as I did.
Now it was time to head south to Bangkok. We decided that we would go by train. When I told people we were going by train, the first thing they said was
“first class I hope”. But our train did not have a first class. It was the daytime “sprinter” which only had four cars, all second class. I asked when I bought the tickets, and yes, it had air conditioning, and padded seats. Everyone told me that it had wood benches and open windows “Like the train at Disneyland, only not as fast.” Then they warned me that there was no telling what time we would get into Bangkok because the trains here always late. So I was ready for at least twelve hours on a wooden bench in tropical heat.
So much for the local lore. The train rolled at exactly the scheduled time and arrived in the Bangkok station right on the minute. Probably the only thing uncomfortable was that it was over air-conditioned, actually chilly. The seats were close to airline seats and even reclined.
I was just a little concerned that I would not be able to have a smoke for 12 hours, but I found out that if you wanted, you could stand on the platform between the cars and smoke. I did. It was like surfing on a steel board on a steel ocean. I only had a few, but it was exciting. I felt like a hobo riding the rails out there, I was having fun.
Although the train was called the Sprinter, we really did not pass by many of the stations, and that was cool. Some of them were truly romantic looking. With an expected Asian twist, they were like stations out of the old American west.
Mary Ann wants to go back to Thailand to write a travel guide about this trip. She wants to get off at every stop, spend a day or more and write about what you can find in these small towns. Sounds good to me, I would love to go along.
The first few hours we were in mostly jungle. Then we hit the mountainous areas and even went through a couple of tunnels. We constantly commented on the similarity of the flora with what we remembered from Panama.
Then we spilled out into the fertile plains of Thailand and went through tens of thousands of acres of rice paddies. You can picture in your mind the classic South East Asia rice paddy, with the farmer in the pointed “coolie” style hat hunched over planting rice. The only thing to erase from your memory is the American soldier toting an M16, thank god.
We arrived in the “Big Mango” (Bangkok) exactly on time, 11 hours and 45 minutes after we left Chiang Mai.
My next blog (coming soon, stay tuned) will be of our tours in and around the big mango.
Thanks for reading, feel free to comment.
Ok my intrepid readers, pour yourself a cup of coffee and get comfortable. I intend to entertain (bore?) you with details of a 14 hour tour Mary Ann and I enjoyed yesterday in Northern (AMAZING) Thailand.
I had heard from other Farongs living here in Chiang Mai about Mr. Oh. He is a young taxi driver who speaks perfect English. Let me take that back, he speaks perfect American. When I asked him how he knows so many American slang phrases, his answer was “Eddie Murphy movies”.
He told us that we could go anywhere within reason and stop when we needed coffee or to use the rest room. Our first stop was a combo of the two. Now I am all for international rest room signs, we have all gotten used to them where ever we travel, but sometimes they over-state the obvious. This is an example.
The fellow that owns the restaurant across the street from our hotel told us “You just have to see the White Temple.” It was the closest thing on our list for the day, so our first stop. I’m telling you, it almost ruined my day. It was designed and built by a Thai artist who has gotten quite wealthy selling his art. I never want to see any of his artwork, because this guy is sick in the head. If Hell has a temple, it would look like this. I am only going to post one of the pictures I took, believe me when I say it is the least disturbing of the lot.
Inside the temple were painted incredibly disturbing images, including imagery of the 9/11 tragedy that make the real thing look like a mere bicycle accident. I am glad to report this is NOT an official Buhdist temple, it is just a tourist trap. We could not leave there fast enough, so I will not dwell on it further.
Back to the fun stuff.
The next stop was to visit what people refer to here as “the hill tribes.”
There are five major tribes living in the hills of Northern Thailand. They all have tribal origins in Burma, or Laos as well as being natives of Thailand. They are the Akha, the Lahu, the Palong, the Lu Mien and the Karen. Especially the Karen (pronounced KAHRUN) are persecuted for political reasons in Burma (now known as Myanmar). There are about 400,000 of them, with 100,000 living now in Thailand The Karen, who were just this week granted an autonomous province in Thailand, are known as the “Long Neck” people. The Palong are known as the “Big Earring” people. Keep reading folks, my sociology lesson will end and I will give you some pictures to look at.
Anyway, these people have suffered through persecutions, opium wars and modern society, yet maintain their customs and dress. No Ropa Americana here. You wont find them wearing Yankee caps, god bless them. They have had to accept that tourism brings them the Baht. Now, if you are true adventurers, and have days to explore, you can go off deep into the hills of Thailand to find their real villages. How welcome a farong would be, I do not know. In our case, we touristed out and went to a set of five villages off in the hills that are set up for us to go spend money in. And boy did we. I think a couple of them are retired now. We found a selection of handicrafts available here in the village, for a mere fraction of the big city cost. I for one could not pass up a few things, but to be fair, I think Mary Ann outspent me abou 5 to1. She bought some marvelous scarfs, carved elephants and a few other things. Our hotel room looks like a gift shop this morning. What was my favorite trinket I bought? Well, here is a photo of it.
In case this is escaping you. it is a coffee cup/ashtray. Have a cup of coffee in the morning, then a smoke. How utilitarian can an item be? It is hand made out of bamboo with the decorative trimming made from the bark of the bamboo. Here is a shot of the old Akha man making it.
Now I know, if motivated, the indigenous in Bocas could make these, but I think they lack the motivation.
The next village was the Palong. They grow coffee and pineapples. They are known as “The Big earring People”. I will let a couple pictures tell the thousand words I would probably write. You can thank me later.
Now, you really need a close up to get the true experience here.
I’m sorry but all I could think of was if she had to pay the satellite company for her reception.
Then it was onto the village of the Long Neck Karen. These people were referred to as the tribe of Giraffe women by a Polish explorer. Legend has it that the brass rings protect the women from getting eaten by tigers. Other legends say the men make the women do it so other tribes will not steal their women. I don’t know, and I do not think anyone knows why it started, but they continue it now to keep individual tribal identity, something very important to them. The rings are made of brass. I weighed one, over 4 kilos, thats over ten pounds to carry on you neck, 24/7. The things do NOT come off. They weave all day. A woman who cannot weave, cannot find a husband. The scarfs they weave are incredibly delicate and beautiful. Just ask Mary Ann, she now has a collection of them for her “over air-conditioned” office back in Sharjah. Ok, I’ll shut up, sit back and enjoy some more photos,
OK, so we had just doubled the GNP of the hill tribes for the day. They danced for us and even applauded Mary Ann when she made a donation in the name of BESO to the following;
Not being able to solve the worlds problems, we set off for the Mehkong river. Yes, I know, during that little “police action” in the sixties the NYT called it the Mekong. Here it is the Mehkong. This river starts as ice and snow melt in the Tibetan Himalayas. It flows through China, then becomes the border between Laos and Thailand, before heading down to Viet Nam and the “Mekong” delta.
Where we were headed for is known in lore and fact as “The Golden Triangle.” It is where Burma, Laos and Thailand all meet. It was the center of the poppy growing, opium and heroin production. It was where the Brits scored the opium to addict the Chinese, which eventually led to the Opium War. It was where the drugs that end up on the streets of the USA came from for a long time, especially during the Viet Nam War. The only thing overtly left of all this trade today is a couple of Opium Museums, one of which we visited at the end of the tour. But first, our “illegal” entry into Laos!
Mr. Oh took us to a town on the Mehkong called Chiang Sean. Here, Thai boat men run the weirdest looking boats I have ever seen, or at least ridden in.
They are made of plywood. They have internal combustion engines mounted on the back, probably out of old Toyotas. Interestingly, they have been converted to run on on the same gas that people in Bocas use to cook with. Once they get going, they really zoom up the river. With about 6 inches of freeboard, it makes for a thrilling ride.
They take you to the other side of the river, to an island that belongs to Laos called, Don Sao. Technically we had now entered Laos. No immigration, and alas no stamp on our passports. It is actually just another tourist trap. Dozens of tourist oriented crafts, and something I think you might find amazing. I am putting in a larger photo this time so you can look closely.
Snake whiskey. They were offering free samples. Uh, no thanks. They had big bottles with big snakes and little bottles with baby cobras. Some had scorpions as well. OK, I am a bit adventurous. I used to think I would try anything once. I now know different.
I bought a Golden Triangle T-shirt, and a nicely carved stone box which I have no use for. I wanted a Lao Beer, so I found one. The same store sold smokes. I looked at a new brand and decided to try them.
They were damn good. Now get this. A carton for 150 Baht. Do the math, I did. that is 15 Baht per pack, which is about 46 cents. That means each cig costs about 2.4 cents. Light ’em up!
Our time as illegals in Laos was up and we got back on the boat. He took us to the confluence of the Mehkong and Mae Nam Sai rivers, which is the territorial boundary of the three countries, Thailand, Laos and Burma. I call Myanmar Burma, because the Thais call it Burma. I imagine that if I ever go to Myanmar, I better call it Myanmar.
He then took us to a landing at a place called Sop Ruak, where Mr. Oh met us. I’ll share my favorite pics of this place.
From where we had lunch (gotta feed the Belly) I took a picture of three countries at once. But because I do not own photo shop, I cannot merge them into a panoramic for you. Suffice to say that eating lunch while enjoying a view of three different countries is rare. Personally, I have only seen three countries at the same time (Bolivia, Peru and Chile) once before, and I do not think Mary Ann ever has.
It was getting late, and we had one more stop to make.
This was a very cool museum. It is one of two in the region. The other is run by the government, this one by people who cannot grow poppies any longer so they decided to harvest tourist Bahts.
On the way home we stopped at a restaurant with a catchy name.
This is an organization that has promoted birth control, aids prevention and education in Thailand for over 20 years. They won a huge grant from the Gates foundation, and do excellent work. They of course also had a gift shop, and yes, we bought more stuff.
We finally made it home. with a 25% tip, Mr Oh got $125 for 14 hours of driving us all over northern Thailand and entertaining us. I hope I have entertained you, thanks for reading.
Today, Mary Ann went to one of the 20 or so full service spas in Chiang Mai. She had a Pedicure, Manicure, foot reflexology, full body scrub, milk bath and a massage. 4 hours of being pampered for about $70. An expensive treat in Chiang Mail standards, but she is worth it. She is now a gumby on the couch.
Me? Well my sixty day visa was going to expire 4 days before our flight back to Dubai. I had the choice of crossing the river into Burma (Myanmar now) for a 15 day extension, (You do not need to stay 72 hours, your cross the bridge, stamp stamp and come back) or going to immigration with my cousin. He had to go to get his new retirement visa, so I chose to come along. I wish I had brought a camera because the sign out front said “Kingdom of Thailand Immigration. Let us serve you with a smile”. And they did. I was done in ten minutes. The guy behind the counter was smiling and cracking jokes the whole time, called me Johnny Walker, and so soon I could not believe it I was done, good for another 30 days.
Speaking of immigration people, it seems like migracion in Bocas could take a cue from their equivalents in Thailand. Here is why.
On Thursday, Pattaya’s Immigration Office will officially launch the country’s first Transnational Crime Data Centre, equipped with a staff of 12 and a 6-million-baht (184,615-dollar) computer system dedicated to tracking down nefarious expats.
“Pattaya may have been a heaven for foreign criminals in the past, but now we have the technology to spoil their paradise,” said Police Colonel Athiwit Kamolrat, Chonburi Immigration Police Superintendent.
The centre, plastered with photos of alleged criminals wanted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Interpol, Bangkok-based embassies and Thai authorities, sits above Pattaya’s Immigration Office, a busy place visited by hundreds of expatriates a day.
In the morning we are leaving on a tour of the “Golden Triangle”. This is the area where Myanmar, Laos and Thailand all come together. Of course it used to be famous for being the opium center of the world, but now it depends on tourism. There IS an Opium Museum…we will also take a 45 minute float down the Mekong river, land on a Laotian island and see what crap they try to sell us. Basically I am done buying stuff. I have bought two funny hats and ten very comfy silk shirts. We will need an extra bag to get home.
I promise to take pics and post them in a day or so, so stay tuned.
Well, today was another amazing day in Amazing Thailand. We went out in the country to a wonderful Elephant riding experience. Unlike the fish yesterday, Mary Ann took to riding the elephant, like, well, a fish to water.
Ride ’em Mahout Girl!
Mahout is Thai for Elephant trainer. We only did the one day experience. If you want to do a 4 day experience you can get certified as an official Mahout. Neither of us need that on our resume, so we stuck to one day. We learned how to give them simple commands (left, right, forward and stop).
Mary Ann just crawled right up on that 4 ton animal and started bossing it around.
She had no fear of feeding them by hand. We fed them Sugar Cane and Bananas.
When we were done with our hour ride we bathed them in the river.
They loved the water. The loved to play. The would roll around under water and you did not know where they would come up. A a baby elephant swam around and sprayed us from his snout. A ounce in a life time experience.
Yes, I rode also.
You have to give them commands in Thai. I couldn’t remember the words so I just spoke cowboy to my elephant, and of course he ignored me.
All in all this ranks up there with the day we swam with the pink dolphins in the Amazon for wildlife adventure experiences! Highly recommended if you ever find yourself in the Land of Smiles!
In the morning, Mary Ann takes off for a four hour “life changing” spa experience. Me, I am just going to rest my tired butt! Riding an elephant without a saddle is like, well, riding an elephant without a saddle I guess.
Thanks for reading. Please make comments.
My wonderful wife finally joined me in this fine country. So far, she is enjoying it very much. In her normal intrepid spirit, she has meandered on her own to markets and come home with what she sought. I don’t speak any Thai either, so me being along would not help much anyway. The Thai people are always quite helpful, and they are always smiling, hence the nickname for the country, and the title of this post.
So far, I have taken her to a couple of tourist spots I enjoyed before she got here. Remember me writing about Tiger Kingdom? Well, she definitely wanted to see the Tiger Kitties. You can tell from this photo, she enjoyed the experience.
Then again, I took her to one of my other favorite experiences the fish/feet spa, which, at first, she did not take a liking to.
But after the half hour session, which I made her sit through, because I had paid 100 baht (about $2.75) she decided she liked it, as you can see here.One thing I had not done was visit an orchid farm. Orchids are a big thing here, and they raise them to export to the world. There is an orchid farm close to the Tiger Kingdom, so we went. Here are some flowers. I know, yawn.
Another thing I had not done was visit any of the temples. They are called Wots. There are wots of them in every town in Thailand, in the second largest city, Chiang Mai, well, take it from me there are a whole Wot. People ask me if I have visited a Wot yet. My answer is “Wot for?” or “Wots that?” or “Wots a Wot?” Well, Mary Ann and I were walking down the street (any street, doesn’t matter, there is a Wot) and I saw a Wot with animal statues all around it. My first thought was “wot in the hell?”.
We walked up to it to find all sorts of animals represented on the grounds. My favorite was this.
If you don’t see wot I see, here is a closeup
Wot Donald duck is doing on the grounds of a temple is beyond me. We are going to have to hire a Wot guide to tell us Wot in the heck is going on.
OK, enough with the Wot jokes…
In the morning we are off to become Mahouts! That means Elephant trainers! We spend all day with our own elephant, off in the jungle. We ride him, bathe him feed him and train him to do, well I don’t know Wot all. (sorry, could not resist one more)
Wish us luck.