Category Archives: thailand
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.
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.
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.
I just finished a full Monday thru Friday cooking class.
We shopped for raw ingredients. Here are couple shots of the market.
Then we went out into the country to a really first rate big cooking school. It has capacity for maybe 30. With tourism as it is the classes ranged from 5 to 9. I was the only one who took all five days. Everyone else showed up for a 1 day experience. We cooked and were expected to eat six courses each day, and then a desert. I have not eaten anywhere else all week. Here are a few dishes I cooked.
Today, the last day, seems how I had already been to the market a few times they took me directly to the school and while others shopped, theey tried to teach me how to make garnishes. This is hard, hard mind you. The Thais have this gentle touch with little fingers. Me, with my big clumsy fingers took over an hour to make the following. I made the girl who was showing me how to do it stop laughing.
I just hope Mary Ann does not expect these with dinner. The rose and lotus (from tomatoes each took 20 minutes. The damn leaf took even more. I threw out my first couple attempts, they looked like road kill.
In short, I had a great week. I probably put on 5 pounds. Now I know why Buhda is so fat. And I wonder why the so few Thai people are.
Next week, massage school!
Very random. If you don’t feel like following me through the trees jumping from limb to limb, catch me next time.
Thai Language: If I say it is different, will you say “duh”?
I know there are many languages where intonation is so important that it changes the entire meaning of words. Thai is one of those.
The intonation is lyrical. A word may go sianwhEEEExiao, or might go sianwhUMPxia. Big difference right? Well the fist means “I am happy in Chiang Mai” and the other means “I just arrived from planet x, take to your leader.”
Thai Money: It is the Baht. Roughly 32.5 of them buys a dollar. They have notes in 20, 50, 100 500 and 1000 denominations. Coins in 10, 5 and 1. 20 Baht will get you across town in a Sung Tawl (sp?). More on that later. Consequently you always want to carry twenties. They are dollar green. It takes a day or two to not freak about spending a 20 greenback. The ten coin is only useful as tips, and half a fare on the Sung Tawl. The other coins you put in the charity boxes at every checkout stand. Everyone does. They are not worth carrying around. But the charity boxes are full of them!
Getting Around Town: It really is not that big of a town, and when you eliminate the areas Farongs have no need to go to, you have reduced Chiang Mai to a few small neighborhoods. These are the neighborhoods with the bookstores, the restaurants and of course the Starbucks, all 7 of the things. The only franchise bigger than Starbucks here is “Sembleven” (7/11). In these neighborhoods, and I think elsewhere in town, you are never out of site of a 7/11.
To get around in town you can walk. But seriously folks. I take Sung Tawl’s all the time. For those of you in Bocas, it is exactly like the Bocas PD Paddy Wagon. Two benches face each other in a covered back of a pickup truck. You stand on the curb (if there IS a curb) and wave a green 20 in front of the driver like a red cape. He will pull over, you tell him where you want to go (better pronounce it right or you might be telling HIM to go somewhere). If there is no one else in back, no problem, he sets off. If he has customers already he might be going in a different direction and he will tell you no. Thats cool, one comes along every fifteen seconds. You give them a landmark, like Tha Pea gate. He drops you conveniently close and you walk from there.
The other common way to get around is the TookTook. A three wheeler with a bench on the back. Again, covered from rain and sun. These guys charge more but take you right to where you are going, like back to my hotel. They are more fun to ride in than the Sung Tawl, like a C ticket at Disneyland instead of a B ticket. (If you get that you are old)
The locals get around mostly on scooters. Small Hondas. Everyone over 12 seems to have one. I think they get them when they get their first cell phone. The scooters are designed to be two seaters, they often carry three. Sometimes you will see Papa Thai, Mama Thai, two baby Thais and a chicken all on one. Thanks to Buhda, they use mufflers, so the streets are quiet. But that also means you really must be careful before you step out onto the street. Two things to get your mind wrapped around is that first, pedestrians have no right-of-way, and secondly, Thais drive on the wrong side of the road. That second one still bugs me. It would take a long time riding around in tooktooks before I drove here, or I know I would cause a head-on. Meanwhile, I still remember to look both ways, but the other way first.
Tourists and Expats: Tourism here is way down. The expats all talk about it and say this is as low as they have seen it in however many years they have lived here. Most are quick to blame the recent incidents of the oppressed taking it to the streets. No, that is the way yours truly puts it. They will call it political unrest. or “that shit that went down in Bangkok” .
In comparison, I hear from my friends in Bocas that tourism is really low there this year as well. The last political unrest in Bocas was when the mayor closed the bars for easter.
Also, I do not want to think of myself as “One of the few, the brave, the stupid”. So I will just assume that traveler types have already gone everywhere they want to go. That is the most positive thought I can have about it. I think the Buhdism is getting to me. Smiling in the land of smiles is easy to do.
Anyway, back to the last limb…tourism. I chose to be here now, (Oh Oh, now the buhdism is slipping into quotes from Baba Ram Dass) and am lucky enough to be here. Restaurants are not crowded, tourist traps like the Tiger Kingdom are quiet and you get more personal attention. It is a great time to be here now.
Expats seem to have it awfully good here. One of them quoted “some magazine” that rated Chiang Mai the second best city in the world to retire in. Be here now, but be here for the rest of my life? Hmmm. I have been here three weeks and felt a breeze maybe three times. After Bocas and the Arabian Gulf, I have grown used to air that is moving. Not air just hanging there, heavy with the threat of rain, but no rain. The temps range from 80 to 90 mostly. The sun here enters the moist atmosphere and sort of boils it. I guess that is called humidity. But really, you have read this far so I wouldn’t say something lame like “it is humid”.
Beyond the weather…little or no crime. Or so I hear. Most people here are too busy trying to smile at you to steal from you.
Traffic is not bad. Mostly because of all the scooters and people movers. Also, people walk here, they walk a lot. The town is laid out in your classic E-W/ N-S grid with mostly straight streets. Traffic flows pretty well, albeit in the wrong direction.
Food. Name what you want. Mexican, Southern, great burgers, Indian, Japanese, French, Italian and oh yeah, Thai. You can get off the Sung Tawl in one of two neighborhoods and be close to any type of restaurant. However, most of them are members of Meals on Wheels. This is not for shut-ins, anyone can have an Italian meal (no not a Pizza, a meal) delivered to their hotel or home. They charge 50 baht to bring it. That is $1.50. Kick back and order some fettucine. I think I have it best. Right across the street is a comfortable garden restaurant owned and run by a guy who was a pastry chef in New Orleans, and a chef/butler to a rich guy in Denver. The man can cook.
Water. Potable. Other water? Well there is a river and a moat. Yeah, a mote. This was a walled fortress for something 8 thousand years, well quite a while anyway. (I wonder what tourism was like then!) Some of the wall still exists and some has been rebuilt. But no beach. You can visit waterfalls with pools, I have not done it yet, but long-time expats say there are nice spots.
This will be the last post of the week. I am in a Thai cooking class! I’m in class all day and so full of glass noodles afterwards that I just nap. I’ll write more at the end!
Thanks for reading. Comments?