Sunday, November 26, 2006

Pak Chong District

This weekend, we took a short trip Northeast of Bangkok to the Pak Chong District where we found the Phu Pimarn Resort (poo pimon) nestled in the mountains. Our plans to walk in the nearby Khao Yai national park were thwarted by the rains that peppered our day, so we hung out in our room waiting for the rain to stop and the corporate dinner that brought us there to begin.

Where's WaldoThe dinner event was something to see. We've been to a few of these now and the consistent feature of all of them is VOLUME. They have great sound systems in Thailand that provide a low distortion experience no matter how much they crank up the decibels. This night's event was a variety show entirely in Thai so my evening was spent people watching and trying to keep count of the Thai words that I could pick out of the entertainment. Still we made a productive evening out of the whole thing by chatting with a couple of expats and some very gracious Thais that stopped by to translate a little for us. One of the Thais explained that of the three people pictured here, one was a famous male Thai rock star, one was a very good female singer and the third was another guy. Can you find the two men in this pic? Gives a whole new perspective to the “Where’s Waldo” game.

garden viewThe garden area of the resort is very well done. Lots of folks were out taking pictures when the rain subsided. I took a few myself, and one that I labeled "the end of Eden" shows the edge of the property in its more natural state which provided a striking contrast from the manicured plantings on site. You’ll have to go to my photo album if you want to see that one.

CowboyOn our way home the next day we stopped by Farm Chokchai an 8000 acre dairy farm that is the largest in Southeast Asia. In addition to their farming operations, Chokchai has a thriving tourist industry in which they offer tours of the farm including the dairy, ice cream factory, feedlots, pastures and "genuine wild west show." The tour was surprisingly long. Even though we started our trip at 9:40, we didn't finish until noon. Now that's a long time to ride around a farm.

rope trickWe made it back to Bangkok in time to clean up and head out for the annual St. Andrews Society Charity Ball downtown. An evening full of kilted men and Irish Scottish dancing kept us out until 2:00 AM during which time we were befriended by Duncan. Duncan chatted us up and asked us how we were enjoying Thailand in a heavy brogue that has survived his nineteen years living in Bangkok. He was hilarious as he told us about his kilt and admitted that he would never dress that way in his native Scottland, but that here in Bangkok it felt perfectly natural.

Such are the characters that find us as we stumble about this strange new world. Take a look at some pics at my photo album, but don't expect any of the ball. For some reason I neglected to take my camera, a mistake that I will probably not repeat.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

China Town

China TownHouston has a population of 4 million, give or take. New York City is around 9 million. Bangkok is between 9 million and 13 million at any given time, so I don’t know what in the world I expected as I ventured into Bangkok’s China Town today.

I told my dad that I’d look for some model railroad stuff for him. Derek, my friend that I went with said that we needed to go look at the flower market which he has seen and says is amazing. I saw neither trains nor flowers but did I ever see…….. well you be the judge. Take a look here and see if you are ready to hit the mean streets of Bangkok’s China Town. I know I’ll go back. Will you?


Monday, November 20, 2006

What's in a Name?

Tigger Here's a unique concept. Everyone in Thailand that has the same last name is related to one another. And not only are they related, but they generally recognize each other at family reunions and such. Coming as I do from the "land of a million Smiths," this is a seriously strange idea for me.

The topic came up today as my language teacher asked me what I am doing tomorrow.

"Prungnii kuhn gamlang ja tham arai?" she said, which litterally means "tomorrow you will do what?"

"Prungnii phom gamlang ja len golf." I replied revealing my plans to play a round of golf.

"Ahhh" she said. "Cheu khon len golf gap arai?"

"Phom gamlang ja len golf gap Kuhn Derek," I said easily providing the name of my playing partner and thinking to myself "Well this is going quite well."

"Ahhh, Kuhn Derek," she repeated, and then "Naamsagun kuhn Derek arai?"

This turned out the be the critical question because Derek's last name (naamsagun) is Anderson.

"Khun Derek naamsagun Anderson," I uttered at which time Noi nearly exploded in a frenzy of activity searching her lesson materials and finally producing the name of one of her other students, Ian Anderson. And then she proclaimed "They are related!"

You and I know that such a relation is unlikely, but to a Thai it is a very simple matter. Same last name = related.

From time to time I run across someone with my same last name and we are never, ever related, or at least they don't admit to it. But here, if you meet someone named Joe, Fred, Bob or Mary, if their last name is Chuanarong, you can bet your last Baht that they are related to my Thai teacher. Isn't that amazing? Or maybe I'm just easily entertained.


More Shopping Woes

stoolI have previously mentioned the difficulties associated with grocery shopping in Bangkok. It was the subject of a rant not very long ago. Today, I have a similar rant, but on something so mundane that you just can't believe the difficulty I've had.

Our maid is typically Thai. By that I mean she is honest to a fault (unlike Fred, our driver) dark haired and...... short. So I decided that a step stool would be a welcome addition to our household tool set. She could use it for all manner of chores I reckon, but little did I know the difficulty I would have in finding a simple step stool. Just to relieve the obvious tension that you must now be feeling, let me tell you in advance, I still do not have a step stool despite an entire day spent searching.

Ok, it might not have been an entire day. I spent the morning in a workout (6:30 AM - 8:00 AM.) Then I watched Monday Morning Football. You know MMF better as Sunday Night Football (SNF), but all the world is perspective and from my perspective it's MMF. But right after football, and at the stroke of.... oh..... about 11:42 or so, I struck out to find a folding step stool.

I figured it would be an easy find, and set out to not only get my stool, but to enjoy the day as well. With these two goals in mind, I headed via BTS to the Siam Paragon shopping mall. This is the place that has a Lamborghini dealer on the third floor. Porsche, BMW and Ferrari as well. When you are a guy and have to shop, it helps to have such a warm and inviting environment.

I had a leisurely lunch at the Paragon. For this day I chose a new Thai tradition, Burger King. Let me just say this about Burger King in Thailand.

Thais are a beautiful people. I can't really evaluate the men, but the women here are definitely above average looking. They are all petite with glossy straight hair and big happy smiles. (OK, not all of them but enough to make this point) But the folks you see at Burger King are on a radical departure from the Thai norm. If ever there was an in-situ case study on the affects of American Fast food, the McDonalds and Burger Kings in Thailand are that study. As I ate my Whopper (super sized) I couldn't help but notice that everyone in the restaurant except me was FAT! How in the world does something like this happen? Not only are they all Thai, but they are all FAT and I am the only one in the restaurant that is normal for my race. Go figure. All I can say here is "Run Thailand, run."

After my lunch and requisite Buuuuuuuurp.... I continued looking for a folding step stool in the largest, most upscale shopping center in Bangkok (and Southern Asia.) No luck.

So I walked about a half mile to Central Chitlom department Store. This store was my "sure thing." I have been here many times and I was certain that I would walk directly to the folding step stools nestled securely on the fifth floor near the mops and brooms and what not.

Oooops. No stools. At least no folding ones. Everyone here has the non-folding plastic stoolsbtu they take up too much room and I want a folding one. Our apartment is not that big after all.

Well now I am at a loss. I had previously looked at Tesco Lotus, the Wal-Mart of Thailand. Tesco has no folding step stools. So I headed toward home resolved to check every hardware store I found on the way.

I am home now having checked all those stores. I still have no folding step stool. But undaunted, I will continue my quest..... maybe after Tuesday Morning football.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Hua Hin

AnantaraThe Anantara Resort in Hua Hin Thailand is a true resort. It has accommodations to rival anywhere that I have ever vacationed which is even more surprising given that it is in such an out-of-the-way place. There are reasons to visit Hua Hin. At least the King thinks so. His beach palace is located only a couple of miles down the beach from Anantara.

King's pierBut “beach” must mean something different here than at home. You would more likely consider this beach a seawall. Only at low tide are you able to see more than a very few feet of sand, and then only in a few select places. Never the less, the Gulf of Thailand is accessible at Anantara, and like most resorts they have ample space around their two pools to accommodate those who prefer a less salty dip.

Hua Hin itself is a confusing place in that I couldn’t find much of anything in the town that was interesting. The main street though town is six lanes, but the traffic did not seem to warrant such a large thoroughfare. And as beach towns go, it wasn’t particularly well developed for the purpose. It was just another Thai town with some tourist areas, and a night market with plenty of folks looking to relieve you of your Baht.

There are some good seafood restaurants along the waterfront, and lots of tourist oriented shops like in any beach town. But for me, there just was not “difference that makes a difference” in this town. Oh well, it was still a nice weekend for a Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

fishingI took a quick trip to the Pa LA-U waterfalls about an hour and fifteen minutes drive from Hua Hin. It was a nice trip that offered a casual walk through the forest alongside a small river.

fishingPa La-U has two falls, the minor and major falls. The major falls is about 25 to 30 feet high, which gives you a pretty good idea of the minor falls. Still, it was fun to do the hike and get off the beaten path. I was with two friends and we had the place all to ourselves most of the time. But after we had been there an hour or so a small tour group showed up to help us enjoy the trip.

Several of the girls in this group were not at all amused by the hundreds of carp that have grown familiar with the tourists who bring fish food with them to the falls. My fishing techniques were crude, but I got my hands around several of these fish. Happily for them, they are all still safely huddled in there schools awaiting the next group of tourists and their handouts.

You can see a few more pics a my photo album.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Language Barrier

Copyright...Apparently there is no Thai word for "Copyright Infringement." It's not quite the Orange and Black, and I don't think Mr. Harley or Mr. Davidson would recognize their names, but the Bar and Shield is definitely..... well.... not authentic.

But for 200 Baht (bargained down from 280) I couldn’t resist this “genuine” HD shirt found at a street vendor in Bangkok today. I asked my maid to read it to me and she faithfully sounded out ‘Haree Davidsun” across the bar, and “Moto Cycuh” on the shield so I got the real deal and for only $5.41 US.


Sunday, November 12, 2006


We had no idea how to pack clothes for our time in Thailand. We knew that it was generally hotter here than in Houston, but there area places in the North where we might vacation or take weekends that get cooler, or even cold. But the thing that I have learned while here for the past six weeks is that you really don’t need very many different clothes, at least that is, if you have a maid.

closetEach day I kick my dirties off into a corner of the bedroom. And each morning, our maid scurries about doing her this and her that and among those things is the laundry. The result is that every day, everything I own is clean and ready to wear again. If I were so inclined, I bet I could get by with two of everything, one to wear and the other in the laundry. Can you imagine a closet with only two empty hangars in it each day? Then about half way through the day the hangars get re-populated with your shirt and shorts while the unmentionables are tucked neatly away in a drawer. It might be boring to wear the same thing every day, but it is absolutely doable.

So my advice to anyone headed this way is to be conservative on your clothes. The closets are small, and you really don’t need much anyway. Bring enough to provide some variety, but multiple pairs of jeans for instance is just a waste. Bring some shorts, some lightweight jeans (it is hot) a few tee shirts, some golf clothes and some dress clothes. But you don’t need three blue shirts and four pair of jeans. You certainly don’t need a lot of suites because it is a rare occasion when anyone here wears them. Well, maybe they wear them to work. I wouldn't know anything about that.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Haircuts and other exotic things

Before I talk about haircuts, I want to mention that I've played golf here twice and I really like it. You have the option of using a golf cart here, but we walk. Why not, we don't have to carry clubs, everyone uses caddies.

The caddy fee is usually 250 Baht (about $7) and we tip another 200 Baht. So let's see; A caddy can make two rounds a day if they are lucky. They get 170 Baht from the 250 fee and the entire tip. So on a good day they can make about $20. If they work 7 days a week, these ladies (all the caddies are ladies) can make about $7,200 per year max.

I assume that like the US, they stand to be taxed on some of this income, but not the cash portion. Did I mention that the caddy fee must be paid in cash? So the most generous estimate possible still has these ladies living on less than $12,000 per year Gross (before tax) US equivalent. Actually a pretty good living here, but can you imagine working for that in the states? OK, you can if you are a teacher can't you!!!! But remember teach, for the caddy to do that well, they have to walk two rouds a day 7 days a week 52 weeks a year, and with obnoxious Farang no less.

The caddies do add a lot to the round. On my first hole yesterday, I had a 12 foot putt to sink for par. My caddy said "Sawng barr qwa." So I aimed two balls to the left (Sai) of the hole and it broke two balls right (qwa.) In it went. If I could have done what she said to do on every putt I might have only putted 18 times that day.

On another hole, a 170 yard par 3, she handed me a 7 iron. I looked at the hole, and then at her. After a bit, I said "hok" so she handed me my six iron. I still felt I was misclubbed too short, so I took a mighty swing. The ball bounced once on the BACK of the green and stopped in the rough about 30 feet from the pin. As I handed my club to my caddy, she quietly said "seven." The rest of the day I hit what she handed me, no matter what.

Golf is a hot sport here. The daytime temperatures in November seem to be pretty consistent at 89 - 91 Degrees F. There is always a breeze and that helps, but after a few hours walking in that heat, I get farily drained. The result is that if I want to score well, I had better do it on the front nine because I have played significantly worse on the back side both times I played.

So golf is fun, and different than in the states. And there are plenty of places to play, so when you come to BKK, bring your clubs, and your umbrella to shield you from the sun.

Now for haircuts.

You'd think a haircut is a haircut wouldn't you. Especially when the hair is like mine, cut 3 mm from the scalp leaving only a trace of its former glory. But in BKK it too is a little different than you'd expect.

The haircut itself takes about the same amount of time as in the states, and it costs about the same. But after they cut your hair here, they take you back for a shampoo. Still nothing special right? Well remember that my hair is 3 millimeters long and try to account for a shampoo job that takes longer than the actual cutting. I got lathered up three times, and creame rinsed once.

Each treatement was several minutes long and included what I can only call a full scalp massage. After awhile I just closed my eyes and almost took a nap. I can't imagine that I have enough hair to justify such a washing, but it was kinda nice. And this wasn't at a spa, or fancy salon. It was just a barber shop that I found near our apartment. I wonder what they do in the many, many spas that are all over the place here???


Monday, November 06, 2006

Mail - snail, pouch and e

We were very concerned about mail delivery before we came to Bangkok. We get a lot of financial mail… bills and such with account numbers on them and we felt that an enterprising crook could gain access to some important information if we didn’t get our mail handled properly. I think we might have been right. We haven’t had any problems, but we have seen plenty of indications that problems could occur.

We have only received a couple of paper mail pieces in Bangkok mail. Both have been greeting cards from family members, and both had been opened. One had been opened very cleanly as if it was steamed open. The other was less artistic and more of a brute force effort. I am reasonably certain that someone along the long chain of mail handlers was hoping for some cash. Lesson – don’t send cash in the mail.

Solutions – pouch mail:
Many companies provide “pouch mail” for their ex-pats. In these systems, your US mail is sent to a central address in the US by regular USPS. Then a company mail room sorts it all and packages into “pouches” to be sent directly to the employee at their overseas office. We haven’t had too many problems with pouch mail, but we have had a few.

We have received almost none of our magazine subscriptions. We did get my motorcycle mag, but Brenda’s chic mags are almost all missing in action. What does this mean? Is there a guy in the mailroom that understands how important it is to get good quality Harley-Davidson information while abroad? Or is it a chic that doesn’t care to steal my mags, but latches onto Brenda’s like a crab trying to avoid the boiling pot? And what’s the big deal on magazines anyway? First, we paid for them, they are ours and we want them. Second, US magazines over here are phaeng jangloey (sooooo expensive) and difficult to replace.

We have also had some mail ripped open in the pouch mail system. It’s hard to say whether or not it was opened on purpose or not, but it was opened to an extent that would have allowed it to be extracted and read.

Pouch mail takes a long time too. About the same as mail sent to our BKK address. Both seem to take an average of ten days. One package sent by a friend took 21 days to reach us by pouch mail. I figure it would never have gotten here by regular mail.

Solutions - E-mail
So what do you do about all this if you are coming to live here. Well, here is what I did. I converted ALLLLLLLLLLLLL of our financial accounts and bills to electronic delivery. I get NOTHING related to finances in BKK. Not by pouch mail, Not by regular mail. Just plain old NOT AT ALL. I also send nothing financial out of BKK via mail of any sort. It all goes electronically via internet. That makes the internet very important here. Luckily, our internet is pretty reliable and pretty fast. I have heard no complaints from any ex-pat about internet so I guess it’s pretty good all over the city.

I also forwarded any mail that could be sensitive to a trusted relative. The quantity of this mail is small because most sensitive stuff has been converted to electronic and not duplicated on paper mail. So now, about once a week I get a note from my family that we got some sort of envelope and do we want them to open it. Most of the time it is something that I know about and I know what is in it because I have already gotten an electronic message about it. But sometimes it is something I don’t expect and I get them to open it and tell me what is in it. Every now and then, I have to get them to send it to me in pouch mail, but when that happens, I ask them to reinforce it with good packing tape so it will be harder to “accidentally” open while in transit.

That’s our mail situation. Feel free to send a letter. Don’t get anxious for a response because I won’t see it for awhile. But don’t send cash. You can just buy me something nice next time you see me instead.


Sunday, November 05, 2006

Loi Krathong

Loi KrathongLoi Krathong (kra-tong) is a festival held here in Thailand during the full moon of the 12th lunar month. Apparently that happened last night because Loi Krathong was held at the river and in waterways all over Thailand. Even some hotel swimming pools are used to carry out the rituals.

Offerings for saleThe central idea of Loi Krathong is to float little boats made of flowers and adorned with candles and incense on the river. They really look more like centerpieces for a nice dinner, but in this case they are offerings.

Offerings FloatingFrom what I gather, the festival was originally secular and was to celebrate the harvest, but from the demeanor of the participants, some have incorporated some religious aspects in their evening.

Some Thais tell me that the festival is to thank the river for its life giving water. Some say it is to thank the river for not flowing out of control and drowning everyone. Some say it is to make offerings to the river goddess (or water goddess) and others say it is to release all the bad things in your life into the water to be carried away forever. The most interesting reason I was given was to apologize to the river for all the pollution that they put into it during the previous year.

Digger and VickieTo witness this festival, two of our ex-pat friends and I headed toward the river tonight using the sky train as our transportation (40 baht round trip.) After we found the river, we crossed on a ferry boat (3 baht one-way - remember there are roughly 37 baht to the dollar) and found a Chinese restaurant on the river that we could get into without reservations. We got a pretty good table with some pretty good waitresses and enjoyed a buffet style dinner while waiting for dark.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingAs dusk came and went, river boats decked out for dinner cruises headed away from their docks, and more and more people crammed themselves onto the limited waterfront. Prayers were offered and offerings released. Dinner was consumed and music was enjoyed.

Whatever the reason for the festival, the river and its canals around BKK are crowded and fun places to hang out on this festival evening. Most folks seem to just have fun releasing their offerings, but some are quite serious and make long prayers on their knees prior to the release.

The big winners, as in the US are the merchants and restaurateurs who jack up prices to outrageous levels and undoubtedly make several months worth of profit.

Evil MikeOh! Did I mention that we had great waitresses?


Friday, November 03, 2006

Lettuce Wraps

One of our favorite meals in the states is Chicken Lettuce Wraps at Pei Wei Asian Restaurant(in Houston.) Since we like it so much, and since we are now in the land where the lettuce wrap is said to have originated, we thought we'd get our maid to cook it for us sometime.

Hmmmm. She had never heard of Lettuce wraps. So I started asking around and found that none of my Thai friends or aquaintances have ever heard of Lettuce Wraps. As a result, I no longer believe anything I read about a dish on a menu. It's all just marketing. But I don't really care because the wraps really are good.

So I searched the web until I found a recipe and proudly brought it to our maid. She looked at me like I was from the moon. I quickly realized that maybe my Thai maid has as much difficulty reading English (Angrit) as I do reading Thai. So I mobilized my small network of new friends over here and found someone who could translate from Angrit to Thai (in Bali Sanscrit.) I thought you might enjoy this recipe too, so here it is. Let me know how it turns out.

ไป่ไว่ไก่ห่อผักกาด (Chicken Lettuce Wraps)
เห็ดแห้งชิทาเก (Shiitake) 8 ดอก
แป้งข้าวโพด 2 ชัอนชา
เหล้าเชอรี่ 2 ชัอนชา
น้ำ 2 ชัอนชา
เกลือ และ พริกไทยป่นเล็กน้อย
เนื้อไก่ล้วนไม่มีหนังและกระดูก ½ กก.
น้ำมันพืช 5 ช้อนโต๊ะ
ขิงสับละเอียด 1 ชัอนชา
กระเทียมสับละเอียด 2 กลีบใหญ่
ต้นหอมซอย 2 ต้น
พริกแห้ง (ไม่ใส่ก็ได้) 2 เม็ด
หน่อไม้ฝอยกระป๋อง 1 ถ้วย
เกาลัดกระป่อง 1 ถ้วย
วุ้นเส้น ห่อเล็ก 1 ห่อ
ผักกาดขาวจอ 1 หัว

ฮอยซินซ้อส 1 ช้อนโต๊ะ
ซีอิ้วขาว 1 ช้อนโต๊ะ
น้ำมันหอย 2 ช้อนโต๊ะ
เหล้าเชอรี่ 2 ชัอนชา
น้ำ 2 ช้อนโต๊ะ
น้ำมันงา 1 ชัอนชา
น้ำตาลทราย 1 ชัอนชา
แป้งข้าวโพด 2 ชัอนชา

แช่เห็ด ½ ชม. ในน้ำต้ม แล้วนำมาตัดก้านแข็งทิ้ง ซอยละเอียด
เทส่วนผสมซ้อสปรุงไก่ทั้งหมดในชามคลุกให้เข้ากัน แบ่งออกมาเพื่อใช้หมักไก่แล้วเติมเกลือ และ พริกไทยป่น ใส่เนื้อไก่ คนให้เข้ากัน เติมน้ำมันพืช 1 ชัอนชา คนให้เข้ากันแล้วหมักไว้ 15 นาที

ตั้งกะทะให้ร้อนใช้ไฟปานกลาง ใส่น้ำมันพืช 3 ช้อนโต๊ะ ใส่ไก่ที่หมักไว้ลงผัด 3-4 นาที ตักขึ้นพักไว้ เติมน้ำมันพืช 2 ช้อนโต๊ะ ใส่ขิง กระเทียม พริก ต้นหอมคนให้เข้ากัน 1 นาที ผสมเห็ด หน่อไม้ และเกาลัด ผัดให้เข้ากัน 2 นาที ใส่ไก่ที่ผัดไว้แล้ว เติมซ้อสปรุงไก่ที่เหลือไว้ ผัดให้เข้ากัน ชิมรส
วุ้นเสันนำมาลวกน้ำเดือด แล้วผึ่งให้แห้ง นำมาจัดบนจาน แล้วเทไก่ที่ผัดเสร็จลงบนวุ้นเสัน ตักวุนเส้นและไก่ลงบนใบผักกาดและห่อพร้อมรับประทาน.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Thai Broom

broomWhen is a broom worthy of a post on a blog? I guess when it is a Thai broom, and the blog is about stuff I've never seen before.

Our maid reported for duty today, right on schedule. There is no telling how long it takes her to get here. She lives North of Bangkok, near the old airport, maybe 20 miles from here. But she makes the trip on busses and managed to arrive ten minutes early, despite having to call to get our exact location.

Once she got here and settled in a bit, she started puttering around cleaning first this, and then that. After awhile, she needed a broom and asked me if I had one. This question came as something of a surprise because she was holding our broom at the time. It is a Yellow wooden handled broom with yellow synthetic bristles. I'd take a picture, but you can just look in your utility room and see one almost exactly like it in your house.

So I responded "That is our broom." And she said "No, Thai broom. That's OK, I Buy." And sure enough, she went out for dinner ingredients and came back with dinner and a Thai broom.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThis thing is remarkably effective. The bristles are made of hundreds of stems from some sort of grass. They are soft and conform to every nook and cranny. It is very light too when compared to a western broom. And operation is a one handed affair, leaving your second hand free to pick up stuff, or carry a dust pan. Pretty nice.

Khaw Phat Gai and Dum Yum GuunShe cooked us dinner too. She'll do this every night. Tonight is Thai food with Khaw Phat Gai and Dum Yum Guun. That's Chicken Fried rice and Dum Yum soup with Shrimp. It's waiting on the stove for Brenda to get home now. Pretty soon, we'll dig in.