Monthly Archives: November 2010

Loy Krathong and Yee Peng

Mary Ann and I were on the 14th floor of the Hilton Hotel for NYE in Caracas, Venezuela. Everyone in Caracas bought BIG skyrockets, and with no organized program, complete mayhem ensued. That was the most impressive display of community participation in an event  I have ever seen. Until now. The night(s) of the November full moon find the city of Chiang Mai alive and vibrant in a wonderful celebration. Actually there are two different traditional celebrations happening at the same time. The first is Loy (some times spelled Loi) Kathrong. The origin of this celebration is lost in folklore. It is either to thank the river for bringing bounty to the land or to celebrate Buddhas first steps on the bank of the river Narmaha river in India. No one seems to care. What happens now is that couples make rafts, mostly the size of a medium pizza, with flowers, incense and a candle. They light the incense sticks and the candle and include a token coin on the raft. They make wishes for the next year and set them afloat in the  Ping  river. They drift down river but never reach  the Pong river (sorry, dumb joke) before they get collected by young   boys for the coins.

Girls preparing to launch their kathrongs.

Kathrongs floating down the river, Poor photo I know, there were thousands of these in the Ping this night.

However, the most impressive part of this celebration is something that makes Chiang Mai almost unique. I hear this is done other places, but I also have read in magazines and in a book about cultural festivals that nowhere else is this done on the scale it is done here.

This is the scene at a place north of town where thousands of these lanterns, called Khom Loi, are set off simultaneously.

This is what these lanterns look like before being launched. They are made out of rice paper. I think the fuel is a half inch thick cut of a toilet paper roll, soaked in Kerosene. I could be wrong about the toilet paper, but it is some sort of paper, and definitely soaked in something flammable.

This is the paper being lit. You hold onto the lantern until it wants to float, then you let it fly! This is one of the three I sent up. I included a firework attachment (The thing hanging on the right side) that made it send of sparks all the way up.

Now what would a community celebration be without a parade? Chiang Mai did up an excellent parade. OK, if the Rose Bowl parade is excellent, that makes this one very good. Lots of pretty girls and floats. In my coomitment to a full service blog, here are some photos.

The princesses and the queen on this float

I'd be remiss if I did not show you the queen!

Of course every parade has to have a military presence. This is the float of the Royal navy of Thailand. It is shaped like a royal barge, and was gold in color with lots of flowers. The two guys riding it could have been made of plastic, I mean they never moved a bit.

And no parade ever walked the streets of any town without politicians. This is the United States Department of State at work.

When I got close to this guy,( the US Counsel in Ching Mai) closer than his security detail was comfortable with, I shouted out to him "Hey man, You've gone NATIVE!" This made his wife laugh uproariously, he smiled and said "yeah, native".

And last, the music. The parade started off with a marching band bigger than my high school’s,  but smaller than say Ohio State. They were playing, of all things…wait for it…the theme song from Rocky 1. Gotta play something I guess. I always like the drummers in my former home of Bocas. This is what the drummers looked like in Chiang Mai last night.

They kept up a great rhythm.

The entire town was gussied up. Here are a few photos for those of you still awake.

These elephants were constructed along the moat that surrounds the old city. There was a competition and these were finalists.

An elephant in front of one of the ancient gates to the city.

The square at Tha pea gate is huge and this photo only captures a small % of the lit lanterns covering the entire area.

Of course for every celebration, there must be an aftermath,

These spent rice paper lanterns, so magical the night before, could be found all over the city in the morning. Make that early morning because people were everywhere cleaning them up. I was lucky to get a picture of one.

Thank you so much for joining me for Loy Kathrang and Yee Peng. I hope you get to see it yourself someday. One thing I forgot to mention, booze was prohibited outside of bars and inebriated people were not present anywhere. When you play with fire, safe and sober is a good idea.

Although I have other places to explore, Chiang Mai is now on top of my retirement possibilities.  After all, if the US Consul can go native, why can’t I?

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Shaken, not stirred

A lot of you have opened this post to read about Mary Ann having to be rescued by a Lady Boy in a Chinese Jungue. OK, but I am going to force you to read some other boring stuff first.

PHUKET

Phuket was what we expected. It is a well developed resort island. Every seasoned Thailand traveler will say “You should have seen it twenty years ago, grass shacks with sand floors”. I reply, “I lived someplace like that for four years, been there, done that and got the insect bites.”  Phuket today has a giant Hilton, a Club Med and everything in between. We stayed in a very comfortable hotel which was across the street from a long beautiful stretch of white sand beach. This beach was special to me because the sand was so soft is actually(really and truly) SQUEAKED when you walk on it.

This is Karon beach. Our hotel is to your left. You can get a massage and a beer right on the beach. You can also just walk around and listen to the sand squeak under you feet.

I DID find one thing to do that involved something more than hedonism, well maybe just another type of hedonism.

I saw a parasail operator. They saw me actually. somehow I have "sucker" written on my forehead

After the guy gets you all strapped up, the last thing he should do is wish you luck then turn and laugh, but that is what he did.

If I now look like I am having second thoughts, oh yeah, second thoughts indeed.

We have lift off of the tourist shuttle dumb shit.

It was actually an incredible flight over the bay. Just about the time I got relaxed, it was over.

The Tourist has landed. One small flight for man.

I guess I liked it!

The next day I talked Mary Ann into going fishing. “Deep sea, big game fishing” they called it. The brochures had pictures of sailfish and huge tuna.

This is what I caught.

 

I doubt it would taste good even with Thai seasonings.

It was a wonderful day on the water. We had a good time.

The next day we just relaxed and got massages.

OK, what you really opened this post for….

JAMES BOND ISLAND

There are a multitude of tours available from the island of Phuket. One is to the Phi Phi islands. Normally I tell me readers that what I just wrote is not pronounced  as rudely as  it looks. This time I must tell you that but in the opposite way. it is not pronounced FI Fi, no, it actually is pronounced PEE PEE. It makes for interesting conversations with the tour sellers who ask, “You want to go pee pee?.”  Or “have you gone Pee Pee yet?”   We did not go Pee Pee, even though the Pee Pees are where the movie “The Beach” was filmed. Everything we read about it talks about the intense over commercialization, hundreds of tourist shops selling mostly crap made in China. Plastic busts of Leonardo diCaprio do not interest me.

Our limited research convinced us to go to the James Bond Islands. These are in a region of the Andaman Sea called Ao Phang-Nga Marine National Park. It consists of dozens, OK,  hundreds of Karsts. Karsts are massive limestone blocks pushed up out of the sea by mainland fault activity. You have probably seen pictures of them but in case not, here ya go. This IS a full service blog!

They rise up all around you as you navigate through the waters of the park

Our tour was on an “Authentic Jungue” How authentic I cannot tell you but it was comfortably outfitted, and attractive.

Cool eh what?

We cruised close to a couple of karsts so we could see the erosion of the lomestone caused by the salt water and waves.

In thid case the erosion created a tunnel to pass through.

As you can tell from the photos, yes there we an awful lot of fellow tourists out and about this day. No worries. I’m glad they are making money.  This group of tourists were in plastic Kayaks, being rowed by local boys who fish at night from the following village.

 

This is a floating village. It is named Paynee Village. It is also called "Sea Gypsy' village because all the residents are Muslims descended from sea faring Muslims from Java.

Of course Mary Ann and I live in a Muslim country, so I  tried my limited (very limited) Arabic with them. Mary Ann laughed and said “Just because the woman is covered, does not mean she speaks Arabic, idiot.” The entire village is dedicated to the separation of a tourist from his money, but again, that is cool. they had a great school, and kids all looked happy.

Playing jax.

You shuld take the time to open this photo as large as you can get it and read the "Rules" of the island. You will be humored by some of the English spellings, and especially some of the fines if you violate the rules.

OK OK. Onto Mary Ann’s adventure. But first a word from MI6

Our next stop was at James Bond Island, so called because 34 years ago they filmed part of the movie “The Man With The Golden Gun” here. Unfortunately is was not a Sean Connery movie, so IMHO, not really a James Bond movie. This one starred Roger “The Usurper’ Moore, 006 1/2.

It too is a tourist trap.  If you wait for the Korean and Japanese tourists to get out of you way, you can get good shots of the iconic karst featured in the film’s posters.

 

Here I am trying to look like an MI6 agent. Agent 1/2

My Bond girl

 

Security office on the island, straight out of BedRock

OK Already! Now to Mary Ann’s Inadvertent Adventure!

Our tour leader and defacto captain of the Junque was a  Lady Boy Lady Boys are Thailand’s third gender. They do not have to hide in a “ghetto” like the Castro district. They are an accepted part of Thailand life. How can you spot one. Well, first, they have implants that make them a solid 36C, while most Thai girls are lucky to fill out a training bra. If you are still confused, look for man hands and of course an Adam’s apple.

After Bond Island we stopped to swim, out in the middle of the Andaman Sea. Mary Ann had been looking forward to a swim all day. she stripped of her shorts and T shirt and dove right in. She was the first overboard, and the last. By the time she came to the surface she was 30 or so feet behind the junque. It turns out there was quite a current. I watched as she licked lively to try to get back to the boat, but she was being  pulled further and further away. I could sense her look of apprehension, and frustration. So could everyone else. She was now just a spot in the water. I got the attention of Captain Lady Boy. She immediately took command. Her/his voice dropped an octave or two as she started giving orders to the crew.   They threw her a life ring on a stern line which was about 60 feet too short. Then they tossed her an unattached life ring. It too fell short of the mark, but smart Mary Ann let it drift toward her until she could reach it and hold on. Now she waspaddling again, but to no avail. It got to the point where all we could see was the orange life ring.

 

She is out there somewhere!

I started to say something to Captain Lady Boy but she was a step ahead of me. She got one of her crew to get in the dinghy. He tried to start it for a few minutes while Mary Ann drifted further away. The engine would not catch, so he started paddling towards her. He finally got to her.

 

If you look hard you can see the dinghy. Mary Ann is holding on.

Everyone on board was shouting encouragement in French, German and Australian, none of which I understand. The Aussie looked at me and said “Is that all you are going to do mate, take pictures?” The only thing I could say was “It is not everyday you get rescued.”

Mary Ann was too tired to get into the dinghy. The rescuer figured he would motor back with her holding on. It took him five minutes to get the little 2 1/2 HP Tohatsu to start. Alas, the current was too strong for the dinghy to get back. The rescuer yelled some Thai at  Captain Lady Boy. The driver of Junque started the engine and made a nice round-about and pulled up next to the dinghy. There was Mary Ann gallantly holding on.

The things some people do for a tip.

And now for the happy ending.

Shaken Not Stirred. My Bond girl!

Needless to say, we had Martinis for dinner that night, and watched this sunset.

Great end to a wonderful exciting day.

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Aw Phuket

We are now in Phuket. It is not pronounced like you just pronounced it. The locals pronounce it like Bukcket. Close anyway. It is an hour and a half flight south of Bangkok.

It has a huge international airport with flights from Oz, Europe, the Middle East and Japan. Airlines I have never heard of. Tiger Air? Eidelweiss Air? Pacific Blue Airlines?

We flew in on Air Asia, the local equivalent of Air Arabia. Air Asia started after WWII as an arm of Air America, which was the CIA’s worldwide on-demand transport service. Their motto was “Anything, Anywhere, Anytime”. My father worked for Air Asia until he found out that they were dropping rice into Viet Cong held villages during the monsoon so that they could keep up the fight, prolong the war and sustain America’s war machine. Anyway,  the CIA sold Air Asia after the Vietnam war and it is now a profitable airline. It serves all of SE Asia, Japan, China, Oz, India and even flies to London.

Phuket is a tropical island. I find it hard to compare to anywhere else I have been in this whirlwind year. Of course nothing like the UAE Nothing is like Nepal. The closest is probably Bocas. But once you get past the palm trees and the banana trees, the similarities cease.

First, the airport. Although there are houses alongside the airport, there is a real  fence and there are no people meandering along the side of the runway carrying stuff home. They deliver your bags on a carousel instead of stuffing them through a whole in the wall. The bathrooms work. The parking lot is not mud.

The island is maybe 10 times the size of Isla Bocas and has been a tourist destination for over 40 years, consequently, it is “built up”. Every chain store and brand name you can imagine is in town. There are wonderful white sand beaches all around it. I have not noticed any surfers. I think the last big wave here was the Tsunami. One thing in common with Bocas is Euro Trash tourists walking around in nothing but a nutbag.

Hotels here, at least ours, are quite nice. You can choose on or near the beach, as we did, or up in the hills if you are paranoid about another tidal wave. Of course being an international destination you have a choice of any kind of restaurant. Menu prices are higher than Chiang Mai or Bangkok, but lower than Bocas.

International destination is an understatement. We have heard every language other than American here. There are many many young Japanese couples in Phuket. They have this weirdo custom. They wear matching outfits that “split” a T shirt. It is hard to describe, but I will try. Imagine one of those Japanese cartoon characters talking into a soup can, with a string leading off the left side of the guy’s shirt. The girl will have on a shirt with the string leading on from the right side, to a soup can held to her ear. Maybe this is easier. Each has half a butterfly, so if they stand next to each other they make a complete butterfly. Maybe they are honeymooners. I cannot imagine walking around like that for very long. In fact, I cannot imagine ever doing it, at all, not for one day,one hour, one minute. Crazy as shithouse rats is my opinion and I’m sticking to it.Mary Ann thinks it is cute. When she told me that, she watched my face, and said “don’t worry”.

That is all I have to bore you with today. If you want to know what I had for dinner you will have to read about it on FaceBook. Isn’t that why you are on FB anyway so people can tell you what they had for lunch?

Some pics follow. Thanks for reading, tell a friend, make  a comment. Peace.

At the BKK airport, we were behing this gut with bookoo stuff to check including what looked like a chicken in a bag,

Airport security, THAI STYLE!

Mary Ann will not be able to attend Lo Kathtrong this year, so she launched a lantern from the beach last night. It floated higher and higher while we stood and watched. I'm not sure if it gives you a thousand years of good luck or anything, but is fun, and beautiful.

Finally, a useful souvenir!

Thai one on, again.

Mary Ann and I are back in Thailand. I am here for my second round of dental work and for the Lo Krathong festival, stay tuned for that one. It is rated as one of the worlds greatest cultural festivals, and I am looking forward to it. I will be in Chiang Mai when it happens (during the full moon) and I will post about it big time. Now back to the present.

Banging around Bangkok

We spent a day in Bangkok because last time we were there we did not get to see the Grand Imperial Palace. So we set out with a mission in mind. The best, or  at least most touristy way to get there, is on the river in a big tourist boat. When we got to the river we were of course surounded by the touts trying to sell us a trip on one of the long tail boats. We did that last time, which is why we missed out on the Grand Palace. No big deal,  these guys are just trying to make a living. Tourism is still slow, although this is the start of the high season. Any Thai will ask you where you are from. When we say Dubai, they ask where our dishdash is,why isn’t Mary Ann covered. Then we admit we are from America. They always say “Ahh, America, Obama! I love Obama! Is he Muslim?”  We explain his father was, but he is Christian. They still love him anyway. It is much more pleasant than having to apologize for Bush.

I have made this comment in previous posts. You RARELY find an American in Asia or the Middle East. Distance? Fear? Tired of being asked why we send our military around the planet killing people? I don’t know, but an  American tourist is rare everywhere I have been this year.

The first thing you see on the river is this fabulous Royal bridge. It looks a lot like the new bridge in Boston,unencumbered by civic budgets

I had to take this picture just to prove to anyone who has never been to Thailand, that WHEREVER you are in this country, you can see a 7/11!

Fiirst view of the Grand Palace from the river.

When we got to the entrance of the grounds where the Palace is, we found out that clothing we can get into a Mosque in is not good enough for the Palace grounds. We had to rent acceptable clothing.

I sure hope that they liked making me look this ridiculous. I rarely look this goofy outside of my own home.

Mary Ann still looked good in her rental clothing. Palace in background.

Our ticket on the boat included a guide. She took us all around and explained things to us she kept using the phrase “my king” or “my queen”. The king of Thaiand has been king longer than any other monarch except that queen in England. He has been good to and for his people. What will happen in Thailand when he dies is a matter of concern for my expat friends here. the crown prince is not very popular and no one knows if there will be some sort of internal struggle for power. We are considering Thailand as a retirement option. Weather, cost of living, nice people, great food, excellent health and dental care and cheap massages are all reasons why.   But we have a lot of the coconut to see still.

I could go on and on about or first day, but I won’t. we are off to Another adventure early in the morning.

Stay tuned and thanks for reading. Make a comment!

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