A Travellerspoint blog

May 2012

May 1st-25th: FUNERAL+RATS+SNAKES+PARENTS+PROBLEM STUDENT+++

rain

MAY 1st – 13th

I arrived back at school on May 1st only to discover that I need could have stayed in holiday mode for nearly two more weeks. It is actually nice to be at the teacher’s house alone but it was in a terrible mess when I got back. There was sand and leaves everywhere as well as gecko droppings and myriad insects. I cleaned up slowly over a few days in between the slow uploading of the last batch of photos to my gallery.

Mr Jasper was here too though he lives in the other teacher’s house but we often went in his car to Kham Yai to eat and occasionally into Kranuan to buy something or eat at the farang/Thai restaurant.

One highlight of these two weeks was my purchase of a cupboard. I suppose it is something I should have done a long time ago but never quite bit the bullet. Anyway, I now have one and it would have cost me 3,000 baht (£60) if I hadn’t negotiated a 500 baht discount. The cupboard man also sold me the mattress I bought several months ago and when I was in his shop he asked if my mattress was ok, and I said ok, he then showed me some mattresses he had with springs inside which felt very comfy whereas my mattress is a simple box type and is fairly rigid. The cupboard is now almost full and has enabled me to put away all the things I previously kept on the floor thus creating much more space so I am very happy with it.

Another day I had two high spots. The first, was getting my ceiling light to work again after three dark evenings. It was some kind of loose connection in the roof cavity but as there is no access the connection may break off again I suppose. The second, was nailing some hardboard over the mouseholes in my ceiling and the newly nibbled on in the landing ceiling. I just have to find a way to repair the holes in the window mesh now!!

Last night Mr Jasper spotted a snake on the handrail of the stairs in his teacher’s house and called me over to help. I had a look and realised immediately that it was a very different type of snake to all that I have seen before, which were all the same kind, so I rushed back to get my camera since I knew you would be dying to see as well and the result is now in my gallery.

It was a Green Tree Snake which, apparently, is very common in Thailand and it is very fast moving and is adept at climbing, especially trees, and has the ability to jump and glide from tree to tree. I prodded it with a broom handle and it reacted furiously and tried to bite the wood. All I wanted to do was dislodge it from the banister and point it towards the undergrowth just behind the stairs at ground level. Eventually it slithered down and hid amongst some disused boxes where I left it in peace. The snake was fortunate that it was found by Mr Jasper and handled by me. Had it been found by Thais it would have been killed and eaten.

During this period there was a teacher’s meeting which droned on and on and, as I am not a Thai speaker, it was hard not to drift off and fall asleep. The Director only spent about 30 minutes at the meeting because his mother-in-law has just died and he wanted to get back to Wang Saphung, Loei, where his family live. However, before he left the meeting, he said he wanted all Sai Moon teachers to come to the funeral to pay their respects. A minibus will be organised to take everyone on the 3 hour journey and back and it will cost 500 baht per head though 200 baht of this would go into an envelope as a donation to the family and the rest used for gas/petrol. As my sister said, it is a bit like rent-a-crowd though it happens often in Thailand and elsewhere is SE Asia.

At the meeting I was given the new timetable for the coming term only to find that I had fewer classes and all day Wednesday free. However, the next day I was given a revised version which allocates me three classes on Mondays and two classes on every other day which is as much as can be hoped for really.

Whilst on my holiday travels I bought a cute little digital temperature gauge which offers up the temp in either celsius or farenheit so, from time to time, I will be able to share the temp with you.

SUNDAY 15th MAY

I had to get up at 5.45 to be ready for the 7am departure for Wang Saphung. Mr Jasper, Mr Phong and I gathered at the school on time but no one else was around. When Mr Yor arrived he said departure time was 7.30 from Kham Yai. In the event, when Mr Mee (aka Mr Bear because of his small stature and strength) arrived in his large new pick-up we got in and went into the village where Mr Noi and Mr Weang were waiting. At Kham Yai we met up with the others in their own vehicle and by 8am we all set off for Wang Saphung 3 hours away.

The first stage in a Thai funeral is to pay one’s respects to the departed who will be resting in a coffin decorated with flowers etc in a room set aside for the purpose and then guests are given lunch. After lunch everyone moves to the temple where the cremation takes place with the bereaved arriving last. The crematorium is set aside from the main temple with space for processing around and for seating to be laid out in front. There is usually a covered area as well is case of rain.

As soon as we arrived at the house we paid our respects and then sat down for lunch. Some people were there before us. Family members acted as waiting staff and soon many dishes of food were laid out on our table and there is a photo of the food in my gallery.

A curious thing was that just inside the gate to the house there were several lottery ticket sellers. I assume they were there by arrangement as the house is not in the centre of Wang Saphung but what they symbolised I am not sure.

After lunch we headed to the temple where we had a long wait for other to arrive. Eventually the bereaved arrived and the ceremony began with all the family and friends processing round the crematorium along with the chanting monks following the coffin on a small flatback truck. Various elders had bags of sweets and from time to time they threw handfuls out which were gleefully scavenged by the youngsters present.

The procession halted after going round the crematorium three times and then the coffin was hoisted into position on a sort of mezzanine a dozen steps up on the crematorium which was bedecked with floral displays. Then there was some dancing by a group of costumed girls which I presume was traditional for such occasions.

The last act involved all present climbing the front steps up to the mezzanine and placing a white paper lily onto a table and then going down again via the steps at the side. Everyone attending was presented with a small Buddha image in a plastic case as a memento before leaving to go home.

Almost three hours later we were back in Kranuan where we had dinner at a barbecue restaurant before heading back to Sai Moon which we reached about 9pm.

MONDAY 14th MAY

The school officially opened today and I would have thought that any student would take care to attend school on the first day and be on time but at assembly it was obvious that a number of students were missing from the senior classes.

It was good to see the students moving up a grade at assembly. The old M6 has gone, and now M5 are the new M6 and the other four classes have also moved up a grade and there is a brand new intake of M1 12 year olds.

Unlike last year, when the students spent most of the first week cleaning up inside and around the school, only the first period was devoted to cleaning classrooms etc today and then lessons got underway.

At the teacher’s meeting last week another long discussion was about getting an agreement to shorten the length of classes to squeeze one extra period into each day to make seven in total. So now, classes are fifty minutes each and not one hour.

There is a new teacher at Sai Moon, Mr Komin though I cannot understand why he has been appointed having heard his background from a Thai teacher. Apparently he used to teach at Sai Moon before but he used to drink a lot of whisky during the day and evening and would frequently take lessons in a drunken state. The Director at the time, about two or more years ago, sacked him though I am not sure what he did then. Mr Komin lives in Sai Moon village and teaches social studies though we already have a teacher for that subject. I can’t see him bringing any benefit to Sai Moon whatsoever which makes me wonder if the appointment was foisted on the Director by the Administrative Office in Kalasin city.

At the end of last term all the textbooks were gathered, class by class, and put on a desk in the office I use and they were all still there when I opened the office this morning. Later, Ajaan Walida came round with some students to collect all the textbooks and take them to her office. New textbooks have been ordered but they have not arrived yet.

My first two lessons went well which surprised me a bit after eight weeks of not teaching. Getting dressed in my teaching rig was a bit of an upset as was putting on a pair of proper shoes after using flip-flops throughout the long holiday.

Today was also extremely hot, 32C in the shade!! Just before lunch, which is now 12-1pm in the new timetable, it was realised by teachers that the lady who normally cooks two very boring food dishes for the student’s lunch hadn’t done so though I am not sure why this was. The Deputy Director decided to send the students home for lunch and for the rest of the day since it would be impractical to arrange and pay for transport to take them to their villages and bring them back a second time.

While the students were leaving there was an informal teacher’s meeting in the shade of the trees next to the open space used for assembly. At one point a student came by on an excessively noisy motorbike which drowned out the meeting.

After the meeting I had lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon sweltering in my room and working on my laptop.

TUESDAY 15th MAY

There were more students at assembly this morning than yesterday which was good to see. Mr Noi addressed the assembly after the anthem, prayers and the flag raising ceremony finished. Amongst other things, he singled out the rider of yesterday afternoon’s noisy motorbike and told him to fix it or not come to school. He also castigated the students, mostly boys but some girls too, who had not had a haircut and told them that if they didn’t get it cut and keep it short they can move to another school.

I am sure Mr Noi knows what he is doing but in the worst case scenario if Sai Moon loses students over this warning then the school will also lose the per capita funding it gets from the lost students.

I find it curious that while so much effort is spent in checking and cutting the student’s hair that an equal amount of time and effort isn’t put into general discipline, classroom absences, lateness and so on.

It was a bit cooler today which was nice. There was a visitor to the teacher’s house this evening. An M4 student brought Peter, his English step-father, to see me seeking some teaching advice. He has married a Thai woman (the student’s mother) and has a house in the village which he has nearly finished refurbishing. He has been asked by a school in a nearby village to assist a Thai teacher in class (for which he will be paid 10,000 baht/month, the same as me) and he wanted me to give him advice about how to go about it which I gladly gave him.

WEDNESDAY 16th MAY

As usual it was Scout Day today and all the students were dressed in their uniforms looking so smart. There is an ongoing discussion about having a board with some vocabulary shown to the students at assembly and for them to practice saying each word. Personally, I don’t think this is effective but some teachers here, including the Director, think it is a good idea so I have to go with the flow. The question now is how many words to show. It was decided last term, when this idea started, to have 4 or 5 themed words which students can relate to in their daily lives. So far so good. I would devise the theme, choose the words and write them on the whiteboard while Mr Jasper would deliver them to the students at assembly.

This term things began as before but today the Thai teachers decided that students should have their exercise books and a pen at assembly so they could write down the vocab. The Thai teachers also told me and Mr Jasper to reduce the number of words to 3 and to show sentences using the words even though the portable whiteboard we use is only large enough for the shortest of sentences.

The Director came into the office I use this morning and said he wanted to talk with me about something and immediately began wondering what the topic could be. Pay rise maybe ? The sack ? A ticking off ?

In fact it was none of those things. He began by telling me his 16 y.o. son has ‘problems with his behaviour’ and has been going around with some bad people. In addition he said, his son has ‘fallen in love’ with an older woman of twenty-two. To remedy this the Director said he will bring his son from Wang Saphung (where his family home is) to Sai Moon and that the son would be joining the M4 class and that he will live with his father at his house in Huai Mek.

The Director went on to say that just before Songkran there was a storm in Wang Saphung which blew down some trees onto his house and caused a lot of damage and he is having to pay out a lot of money to get the repairs done on top of the costs of the funeral last Sunday for his mother-in-law. Could he, he asked, borrow 10,000 baht ? Although he already owes me 20,000 baht (about £400) I agreed and we went into Non Kung Sri so I could use the ATM there.

THURSDAY 17th MAY

After assembly today some of the Thai teachers were talking about 15 y.o. student Rittikai who is a cousin of Mr Phong, the computer teacher. The Thai teachers, and I, are worried about Rittikai because he came to Sai Moon last term from another school in Kranuan and he arrived about 3 weeks after term had started. That was ok and he settled in well and I could see in my class that he was a good student. But there is one bad boy in this class (who we suspect of taking some kind of drug) and a couple of other boys who like to mess around all the time in class and the result is that Rittikai has been dragged down step by step.

Mr Phong told me today that Rittikai’s parents have split up and that he lives with his grandparents who are not in a position to help him learn. So this morning we were trying to consider what to do for the best. If Sai Moon was a bigger school with more than one class at the age level then the disruptive boys could be split up but that isn’t an option. Removing the suspected rug boy wouldn’t make a huge difference as this boy has never really fitted in with anyone else and keeps himself to himself. He does little in class but he doesn’t disrupt the other students. Home tuition is a possibility in Thailand as it is in the UK, but I don’t think that is an option in this case given the circumstances. It will be interesting to see what remedy the Thai teachers come up with.

FRIDAY 18th MAY

No classes today as it was the day set aside for parents to come to school to meet the teachers. It was also an opportunity for parents to be reminded of the dress and haircut code.

After lunch there was a Teacher’s meeting at which the main point was budget submissions. I was told afterwards that nobody had forewarned the teachers that this topic was going to be discussed and they were surprised when the Deputy Director suddenly handed out the submission forms and asked the teachers to complete them.

Although the meeting was, as is usual, in Thai I soon realised that budget proposals were being put forward and I was very miffed when I was not given a form or even asked if I had any thoughts about making a proposal. It’s back to my regular complaint of being in the teaching team yet not part of it. The various proposals and budget requests were read out by the Deputy after the forms had been collected and it soon became obvious that all the teachers had pet projects they wanted to pursue. As I don’t have any pet projects I would have proposed funds to fix the fans in the classrooms some of which don’t work. I would have also proposed fixing the split wiring in a couple of the classrooms which hangs loosely from the switch which could be why the fans don’t work. Neither of my projects would cost a lot but the result would benefit many students and the teachers using the relevant classrooms.

During these budget discussions I heard the sun of 50,000 baht mentioned (about £1000) though I am not sure where this money has come from.

SATURDAY 19th MAY

At lunchtime I went to Kranuan on my Scoopyi to Tesco Lotus, the bank and to have eat at the Pizza House where I had their delicious Pork Yellow Curry.

SUNDAY 20th MAY

I did my washing this morning and I was lucky it was a nice sunny day with broken clouds. Once again I went to Kranuan for lunch and in the evening to Kham Yai for dinner. The rest of the day was spent doing the odd chore or on the internet.

MONDAY 21th MAY

The school often gets packs of posters from the Admin Office in Kalasin city which may contain information about university courses, or news about an exhibition etc. Today I got a pack of posters seeking entries for an essay writing competition and a Spelling Bee. The regional essay first prize is 10,000 baht but if you go through to win the final you get an additional 50,000 baht which to a student is a big sum. The topic is My Biggest Decision and the essay has to be in English and be between 800-1,200 words.

Today I had classes M4, M5 and M6 and I told them about the essay competition thinking it might be fun to get them to try and complete the sentence ‘If I had 60,000 baht I would.....’ Western students would have no problem thinking of different ways to use such a sum but my students took an age to think of anything to buy or do so I am beginning to think that the essay topic could be the decisions they faced having won such a sum.

This evening saw the first training session for a new junior futsall team which went very well. While I was watching the training Peter came to Sai Moon on his motorbike and told me about his first day at his school. He was taken on at this school as an assistant to the Thai English teacher but about five minutes after the first class started the Thai teacher left saying the class was his which left Peter, who has never taught before, struggling to fill the two hour period. I gave him more tips and advice and I expect I’ll hear in due course how he progresses.

TUESDAY 22th MAY

A lot of the students come from very poor families and I frequently get asked by the younger students to give them 20 baht for their lunch as they have no money at all. I cannot feed everyone 20 baht notes but I do help sometimes where I think it is most deserving.

Unlike other schools I have taught at Sai Moon usually prefers to use a student’s real first name rather than his/her nickname and I am trying hard this term to memorise more of them; names such as Nattawat, Chaiwat, Naromon, Santhipap, Nattapon, Thanakit, Thaksakon and many others.

You see some odd things in Thailand from time to time such as the small plastic sachet that was given to me to accompany some food. Half the sachet contained chiili sauce the other half sugar but when I looked at the sachet more closely I noticed that the symbol indicating the half with sugar was distinctly odd. Take a look at the photo in my gallery and see what you think!!

WEDNESDAY 23rd MAY

Peter came round again just as I was about to return to school after lunch at the teacher’s house and he told me about his first days at his school.

Last night, the mouse/rat chewed a nice neat round hole in the gaffer tape I’d used to block up the hole in the ceiling of my room in the teacher’s house. This time I was happy about it because I knew the rat would use the hole to come into my room at night and I wanted to put out the rat poison to get rid of him.

This evening I went into Kham Yai for dinner with Mr Weang and Mr Kay at the new restaurant. During conversation I said I couldn’t understand how Mr Komin had obtained the teaching post at Sai Moon. It seems, as I thought, that he was imposed on the school by the Kalasin Admin Office and now, Mr Weang explained, local people are upset over the appointment and don’t think he is a good teacher and they want him removed. The Director is now involved in discussions about how to achieve this outcome.

It rained very heavily in the early evening and during the night.

THURSDAY 24th MAY

Before going to sleep last night I put some of the pink coloured pellets onto two old plastic plates and placed them at each side of my room where I thought the rat/mouse would notice them. I also put some pellets on the ledge of the window frame since I have seen the rat using the frame as a pathway.

Sure enough, about 3.30am I woke and heard the unmistakable sound of the pellets being disturbed on the plates and I looked forward to finding a corpse in the morning.

When I got up I looked around for a corpse but I couldn’t find one. Most of the pellets had gone from one of the plates but the others on the other plate and those on the frame were untouched. I looked everywhere for a corpse thinking that the rat/mouse might not have died on the spot but there was no corpse anywhere.

I came to the conclusion that I had not put enough pellets out and so I will try again tonight. The pellets contain Warfarin which I recall reading that rats had become immune to the poison in the west – I just hope that immunity hasn’t spread to SE Asia!

About a dozen students, mostly from M4 and M5, had to remove their plimsoles at the end of assembly this morning and were told to go barefoot for the rest of the day as a punishment for wearing the wrong colour shoes. Apparently, though this is the first time any such rule has been implemented while I have been here, school rules state that only black or white plimsoles can be worn. It’s not such a harsh punishment as you might think because all students must remove their shoes before coming into one of the offices or before going upstairs to the first floor classrooms.

Peter came to the school again this morning and sat in on my M1 class which he found very instructive.

Mr Jasper came to my room this evening with what looked like a medieval torture instrument, a stout rectangular wire cage with a wire on which to attach a bait, a falling wire door and a latch. When I saw it I doubted it would catch anything let alone a determined rat but Jasper attached a small piece of dried meat onto the hook and set the door flap to drop shut if the bait was pulled.

In the early hours of the morning I was woken by the sound of the cage door snapping shut and I was happy the rat had been caught at last. I was kept awake by two sounds in particular: the sound of the rat trying to escape from the cage and the sound of the rat trying to gnaw its way through the cage itself.

FRIDAY 25th MAY

When I got up this morning I inspected the cage and the rat was cowering in the corner no longer looking bold and destructive. The rat was later killed but I know there are more because I can hear them scampering about above my ceiling so I decided to bait the trap again tonight.

For the last couple of days workmen have been laying a new fresh water pipe which has resulted in the two teacher’s houses being without water. There has been enough in the concrete water tank for showers, but not for laundry. I am not sure why a new pipe has been deemed necessary or exactly how the new pipe will be connected to existing taps etc. The blue pipe is only about one inch in diameter and is being laid in a small hand-dug trench about six inches deep. There’s a photo in my gallery.

Tomorrow sees the start of the three day village festival which kicks off with a parade through the village and there will be Ban Fai rockets fired and Mor Lam and much else besides.

Posted by talismanic 08:04 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

Mar 9-Apr 30th: UDON, LAOS, CHIANG MAI, KOH SAMUI, PATTAYA +

sunny

UDON THANI March 9-11th March

Udon Thani is a fast expanding and developing city with many businesses opening branches there or even moving there in entirety. This is because it is seen as the main gateway into Laos by road via Nong Khai and over the Friendship Bridge.

The Thai government have already announced plans for high speed rail links from Bangkok to Nong Khai, Chiang Mai and south to Hua Hin and are actively considering proposals to build such lines from the Chinese and Japanese. The line to Nong Khai would pass through Udon which is another reason for its development.

Since I was last in Udon the new Central Plaza mall, which was in its infancy two visits ago, is now poised to open and it looks impressive. I have added some photos for you in the gallery.

Another part of the city has been dubbed UD Town by the authorities and it is, in effect, a giant night market selling everything from dried fish to designer clothes and it is great to browse round and have something to eat and drink in the multi-choice food court.

I stayed at the Silver Reef hotel again where I have stayed on ever previous visit. It is clean and comfortable though it does not do any meals however just around the corner is the excellent Coffee Corner which has an excellent breakfast on the menu for all of £2.

VIENTIANE March 11-13th March

Every three months I have to leave Thailand and get a new visa stamp in my passport as I come back into Thailand. I usually do this by going over the Friendship Bridge at Nong Khai, getting a Lao visa for the princely sum of £30 and the doing a u-turn at the border and coming straight back into Thailand. This process takes about 45 minutes. However, on this trip I decided to stay a couple of nights in Vientiane itself to see what changes there have been since my last visit.

Vientiane is another fast changing city which has a lot going for it thanks, mostly, to the many French colonial influences that have left their mark on the city in the shape of excellent restaurants, baguettes and European traditions such as jam making.

Lao, as it should properly be called - it was the French who decided on a whim to add a final ‘s’ a few decades ago – is a land-locked country bereft of beaches which means that the type of tourist going there is not the same as those heading to the beaches of Thailand. What Lao has to offer in abundance are beautiful temples and eco-tourism.

Though Lao is a communist-run country you wouldn’t really notice it these days thanks to the large amount of aid that has poured into the country from the guilt-ridden French and others, including China, as well as the many NGOs working there. There are numerous new projects and progress since my first visit in 2007 has been impressive.

An obvious example of this progress has been the building of a grand promenade along the bank of the Mekong river. What was once a grassy bank where hawker stalls set up at night has now been turned into a lovely wide pedestrian walkway. The nearby pavements, which used to get clogged with the wares of stall holders every evening, are now clear and walkable. Each pavement seller now has a smart red-roofed open-sided tent in which to sell his wares. The scene at night is fun and attractive and there are some photos for you in the gallery as well as some of the promenade itself and giant statue of Chao Anouvong, aka King Chaiya Sethathirath V, (1767-1829) the last Lao king who led the Laotian Rebellion which lasted from 1826-1829. This statue is at the end of the promenade and is is very grand and imposing and was erected as recently as 2010.

I stayed at the Vayakorn Guesthouse which I found after some googling on the internet. It is in a converted colonial house and it has a lovely polished wooden staircase to the upper rooms. Rooms in many hotels/guesthouses in Lao cannot be booked direct and have to be booked through a special Lao tourism website (Teamworkz) which is fine as everything is in one place. However, the fax Teamworkz sent to the Vayakorn requested a single room whereas I booked a double and had written confirmation. I knew nothing about this until I was ushered into a single room on my arrival at the Vayakorn. I put my foot down and said I’d booked a double room and presented my confirmation email. Luckily, the Vayakorn owner was on duty at reception and everything was sorted out and I got my double room and as compensation I was offered free breakfasts and the coffee provided was some of the best tasting coffee I have ever had!! I took some photos of my room for you to see.

I hired a bicycle for a day though I didn’t do much sightseeing but I did visit the large and very busy morning market, the Talat Sao, where I took a number of photos to reflect aspects of market life and the exotic foods on sale and I hope you enjoy the pictures. I also passed the Presidential Palace in Vientiane which is now used for government offices and state receptions was originally built to house the French colonial governors and also served as a royal residence during the brief reign of the monarchy after independence. The royal family was banished in the 1970s.

CHIANG MAI March 13 – March 31st

I have been to Chiang Mai many times before but I always stay at the Anoma Boutique House hotel where I have got to know the owning family who very kindly give me a massive discount on the regular room rates. It is very comfortable and very well located being near to one corner of the square-shaped Old City which means it is about five minutes’ walk to the Tha Phae Gate in one direction and five minutes to the Chiang Mai Gate in the old city wall in another direction.

On this visit I decided to rent a motorbike and I hired a Scoopyi just like the one I have back in Kalasin and I had a hugely enjoyable time zipping around the city and exploring more interesting and out-of-the-way places.

One such place I visited with some friends was Huai Tung Tao lake which also appeared to be a favourite destination for Thai families though it wasn’t crowded when we went there. It is a large lake with some low mountains on one side and nice sandy beaches with some small thatched huts for shade and for eating/drinking/lazing in. It was a very nice afternoon, though so hot also.

I was also taken to some lovely waterfalls on the way to Doi Suthep at Huai Keaw which I never knew existed before but I have passed several times but not seen as they are hidden from the road. There is a viewpoint there which overlooks the city but then you can walk along a narrow track alongside a huge overhanging cliff which follows a stream. Further along there is a large cave and some gentle waterfalls the beauty of which lies not in their great height but in the series of smooth rocks the water flows over. You can launch yourself off the uppermost rock and slide helter-skelter along the fast flowing stream, through some shallow pools and splashdown to a halt into the last one.

I also tried some new restaurants and a couple of old favourites. One of the new ones was Galare which is located way up in the hills above Chiang Mai where the area has been turned into an exotic flower garden and where you dine with a lovely view over a lake.

I also discovered that the Hot Chilli restaurant has reopened in a new location. Astute readers will recall how sad I was to find on my last visit that this restaurant, which in my opinion had the best duck red curry in Thailand/the world, had closed. So I was very happy to have dinner there one evening and the food was as good as always.

I was also able to do something I missed doing last visit which was to explore what is called Walking Street during the Sunday night market. At any other time the street is called Ratchadamnoen Road which is in the old city next to the famous Tha Phae Gate in the old city wall.

Again, loyal readers will remember that I took lots of food photos last time so this time I took photos on a Pattern Theme. All the handmade items on sale at the various stalls are so colourful and often arranged so artfully they beg to have their photo taken and so I did. I hope you like the results!! Do let me know,
ok ??

HAT YAI April 2nd – 9th

I had no idea when I went to Hat Yai that it was the third largest city in Thailand after Bangkok and Chiang Mai and I knew little beyond some basic information I googled. It is only 60km to the Malaysian border and thus has many Malay influences in the architecture and food and so on.

I heard about the car bomb that exploded two days before I flew to Hat Yai while I was waiting in departures in Bangkok. It went off in the underground car park of the Lee Gardens hotel on the Saturday two days before I and my friend, who is from near the city, arrived and after dropping off the luggage at my small hotel we walked round two corners to view the bomb scene. If the bomb had gone off in the UK it would not be possible to get up close to view the scene and, at best, all one would see is plastic screens around the site.

In Hat Yai we not only had free access to the area but there was no problem getting up close to take photos of the burnt out Macdonald’s and the shattered windows of the Sizzlers restaurant next door. Not only that but the authorities had the time to take photos of the immediate aftermath of the bomb and have the photos printed onto a large banner for public display; a photo of the banner is in my gallery.

I did quite a lot of sightseeing in Hat Yai: I went up the highest hill to see a giant Buddha and the Brahmin shrine there and admire the panoramic view over the city; I climbed innumerable stairs to reach the top of a traditional Chinese pagoda and I wandered around the cemetery next door with its array of golden statues and I also took some photos around the city by day and night all of which are in my gallery.

I also went to see the Songkla mermaid on Samila Beach, just outside Songkla city, which was erected in 1966 and designed by the then director of the Art and Craft College in Bangkok and is similar to the famous Danish mermaid. The idea for the Songkla mermaid came from the story Phra Apaimanee by Thailand’s most famous poet, Sonthorn Phu (1786-1855).

Incredible as it may seem, there is only one natural lake in Thailand, Songkla Lake, and it is some 80km long and 25km wide. We took a ferry to Ko Yo island, one of several in the freshwater lake, to visit my friend’s grandmother who lives there.

Another evening I went to see the Klong Hae Floating market which was really interesting and colourful. The sellers sit in boats laden with goods or cook food for sale and have a long pole with receptacle at the end to collect money and return change. The sellers also consider the environment by the use of bamboo tubes, coconut shells and clay drinking cups rather than using plastic bags or cups.

Walking around Hat Yai, and occasionally in other cities also, you often see chestnuts for sale which have been imported from Japan and elsewhere which are somewhat smaller than English chestnuts. The locals roast them in a wok with charcoal granules and the smell is a very pleasant one but not quite the come-and-get-me smell of roasting coffee.

KOH SAMUI April 11-18th

I flew to Koh Samui from Bangkok with Bangkok Airways and the flight took just 90 minutes. I visited the island once before in 2007 and I thought the idea of having some nice beach time and seeing all the changes would be fun and that is exactly how it turned out.

I arrived the day before Songkran which is the annual cleansing festival when it was originally believed that sprinkling water over someone helped to purify them. The festival has grown over the decades and has become increasingly popular throughout Thailand as a time of fun and a way to let off steam, and stay cool in the hot season, by splashing all and sundry and daubing their faces with powder. During Songkran Thais and farang take to the streets armed with water pistols small and huge or they cluster in family groups outside their house and everyone that passes gets a soaking. Often the water is laced with ice cubes so you can imagine the shock you feel if, as often happens, you get a soaking from someone behind you.

In Samui I tried to avoid the mayhem though it was very hard as my guesthouse was on Chaweng’s main street where islanders converged from around the island and where there are hundreds of tourist hotels.

The next day was, in fact, Songkran’s main day and it was nice to see many family groups enjoying themselves touring around in the back of a pick-up with a barrel of water to arm their water guns or to fill small buckets to chuck water over everyone.

The following day I hired a motorbike to tour round the island which was fun. Inevitably, there have been many changes since my 2007 visit the most obvious being many more high-end hotels, spas and wellbeing centres and general development but I could not help wondering when the hotel saturation point will be reached. I read somewhere that the island authorities have been trying to lure more high-end tourists to the island rather than backpackers since the former have more money to spend. What is good on the island is that the many beautiful sandy beaches remain accessible to the public and are not hogged by this or that five star hotel.

Not all the island is built up. Far from it! The eastern seaboard is very quiet and peaceful and uncommercial with little lanes running between palm trees and some very nice houses and the occasional very out-of-the-way bistros and restaurants. It was from a deserted beach that I watched a stunning blazing sunset and took a series of photos some of which are in my gallery.

All in all, I had a very enjoyable week on Samui with some late afternoons spent swimming on Chaweng beach, some lovely food and some good fun along the way. On the flight back to Bangko I had a window seat and was lucky to have a clear view down below and I took some interesting coastal photos as well as some amazing photos over Bangkok. Be sure to check them out!!

PATTAYA April 18th – 30th

I flew from Samui to Bangkok and I had a wonderful bird’s eye view of the eastern coast of Thailand from the plane and I took some photos for you.

Songkran in Pattaya is always a week later than elsewhere and I arrived the afternoon before the first day which gave me time to get settled before the mayhem began.

Early next morning I met up with a Thai friend, Nut, and we headed on foot towards Walking Street. It was 8.30am and splashers were already out and about. We bought a small plastic bucket, some small powder bricks (which you dissolve in water in the bucket to form a paste which you use to smear the cheeks of anyone you like) and plastic sealable waterproof bags which you hand around your neck to protect your phone and money etc. My only regret is that I didn’t realise that larger waterproof bags were available elsewhere which would have been large enough to put my camera into and still operate it, so I had no camera to take photos for you.

It was actually great fun. We walked along Walking Street and onto Beach road which, as the name implies, runs for about three kilometres alongside the beach wall. Beach road was closed to traffic and thronging with people. Stages had been set up at intervals where bands were playing or other performers were doing their stuff and in between there were stalls selling food, beer, ice cleam (!) and much else besides. Some stages had giant foam machines attached creating a shower of foam in which people of all ages frolicked while others scooped up handfuls of foam to hurl around.

Not to be left out, fire engines were also parked at intervals along beach road with firemen using their hoses to spray everyone in sight. I know what you are thinking: it sounds AWFUL!! But, in fact, it was great fun. I admit it would not have been fun if I had business to do and it would not have been so much fun if I had been alone. Everyone got wet, but it didn’t really matter because the hot sun soon dried

Towards the end of Beach road there is the new-ish Central Festival Mall which is just the kind of mall filled with interesting and very different shops (by which I mean shops that are not M & S or any of the other too ubiquitous high street stores) that London ought to have but will never be able to. Between Beach road and the mall is a sunken area used for concerts and the like. Today, a good band was playing on stage and the ‘arena’ was filled with people. We went down into the arena and mingled and enjoyed the music. Behind us and the crowd two separate firemen had coupled their hoses to a hydrant and set about drenching everyone below. Crazy, yes, but fun too.

We went back near my hotel for lunch and walked back to where the most mayhem was taking place and rejoined the party. Time passed very quickly and soon it was evening and we walked back along Beach road and enjoyed the music at another stage before going home.

The rest of my time in Pattaya was less dramatic: I spent some time on the beach at Jomtien, did some shopping, browsed the tech stores, and had a second attempt to recover the date from my London pc hard drive. I also saw the movie Hunger Games which was good but could have been so much better. It is reported to have had huge audiences in the States but as the film is derived from a TV series I suppose that is inevitable.

MONDAY 30th APRIL

I took a taxi from Pattaya to Bangkok airport and caught the Thai Airways flight to Khon Kaen where I was met by Mr Jasper and Mr Phong and I then discovered that I needn’t have come back today after all because the first date teachers are required for is May 11th when there is a teacher’s meeting. Until then, the school remains closed. We then did some shopping in Khon Kaen before heading back to Sai Moon.

My room in the teacher’s house was a right mess. Mice had visited the room and left their droppings everywhere in addition to those left by a large Tukay lizard which had somehow died and was lying inert behind the door. The mice had nibbled two of my teaching shirts and had pulled out papers etc and scattered them everywhere. They had also nibbled through the plastic bottoms of two bottles of water which, luckily, were empty so no flood. The room also had a bad smell from all this activity but copious squirting of air freshener effectively got rid of most of it. What fun!!??

The new academic year will start on Monday 14th May I think and I say I think because I’m not sure if what I have heard is correct or not. Assuming it is correct then the term will continue until October when the school will close again for one month and I will return to holiday mode though I have not yet decided what to do. I am eager to go to Burma before all the hotel developers and chain stores such as Starbucks and Macdonald’s inundate Yangon and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, I will have to wait until the end of this month to see if the promised salary increase actually takes place assuming, that is, I get paid at all for a part month at school. I will endeavour to keep this blog updated more regularly and I will be taking more photos for you whenever something interesting happens.

I enjoy receiving and reading your wonderful comments, so PLEASE keep them coming!!

Posted by talismanic 00:40 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

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