A Travelogue

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Snowy Day

The earth and sky are welded together into a seamless white plate. The creek is grey and broken, like a shard of dirty glass. But the deck looks pretty with its fluffy white carpet.

The warm comforting fragrance of homemade soup wafts through the house as it burbles on the stove. It's that kind of day.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

We're back

We're back in Canada and as I sip my coffee this morning, I take a moment to savour it. Only during the last week in Thailand were we treated to the freshly dripped coffee to which we are accustomed. In the previous weeks the coffee was instant Nescafe. The cream was milk. The milk was suspect.

It's the same story in Chile. In fact coffee isn't even called coffee. It's called Nescafe. I used to love instant coffee and I still like it. But I love freshly dripped coffee.

It's good to be home.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Beaching It

Back in Jomtien, our afternoons passed languidly on the beach watching the vendors.


Not everyone walks on Walking Street in Pattaya.

Buddhist Festival

There's an annual festival held by one of the local monasteries to raise money, which the monks then use for community improvements. It lasts several days, and happened to be on while we were there so we went for a look.

Among the more unusual foods were these tiny little eggs and ordinary juices made more interesting with a backlight.

Shrimp Lagoon

One day we heard that they were draining one of the freshwater shrimp lagoons just a few canals away from Bob and Sami's, so we rushed over to see what that was all about.

It takes a few hours to drain, even with this mega pump. The water just goes into another canal. The shrimp are harvested, sorted, and sold.

Sami had dispatched us to buy some fresh shrimp for dinner, which she cooked, peeled and turned into a deliciously creamy linguini sauce.

A Day at the Orchid Farm

We saw hundreds, no thousands of orchids. And it was hot hot hot!

When they come into the processing plant they arrive in large crates

quickly dipped in an ice bath, then dipped into an insecticidal bath. Those that can take it are dipped into two different insecticidal baths.

and then stacked up like this to be sold as cut flowers. I'm not really hiding. That's just a quick way to lose 20 pounds.

Some fragrant blossoms arrive already plucked from their stems. These are woven into garlands, three blossoms per row each facing outward and every petal carefully fluffed out so it's not hidden behind another one. Something like 160 orchids are used per garland and they're worn for special occasions.

Lunch, and how to cook it

Lunch in the floating market. Here we are with our hosts Sami and Bob and their nephew Atom who was visiting with them for a few days before heading up country with a group of 43 other teens.

This is how they cook in the floating market:

Spirit Houses

Spirit Houses are everywhere in Thailand. The purpose of the Spirit House is to provide an appealing shelter for the spirits, or celestial beings, who would otherwise reside in the heavens, in large trees, in caves and cliffs or waterfalls and other natural surroundings.

According to folklore, the spirits themselves are either good or evil, but most are just finicky and mischievous, demanding respect from humans and capable of disastrous interferences if they don't get their way. The spirit of the land, for example, expects to be informed when a human intends to start a business or engage in improvements to an existing business. If the spirit is not informed, and if the human does not respectfully request permission, the spirit might cause the venture to fail.

This Spirit House also seems to have attracted a more corporeal inhabitant.

Thai markets

The markets in Thailand set up where there's room. And where is there more room than in a parking lot? So... in front of the chedi (a Budhist monastery) we parked, on the street LOL, and walked through the market.

This image caught my eye: two moms, two kids (there's one in between the moms, you can just make out her arm and hair) and a kiosk with naked, pale chickens.

And those creepy delicacies. Literally.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Palace of Rama V and Rama VI

We visited the summer palace of Ramas V and VI which is used today only for special functions. It's very close to the university and we saw a number of students jogging through the beautifully landscaped grounds.

Here we are paying homage to Rama V. There's a volunteer who looks after the statue and provides incence sticks for a small fee. We each get 9 incense sticks to burn.
There's a whole ceremony which he conducts in Thai, and we repeat after him.

And finally, I just love when Hans takes pictures of signs like this!

Last Day

We're leaving on Day 1 of the rainy season.

This morning we are sittig in the gazebo on the canal as the rain buckets down on three sides. Below are views of the house, gazebo and canal taken before the rain. The constant cacophony of thunder echoes above and all around us, rolling off into the distance. Lightening flashes like a strobe and lights the dim white sky. Someone up there is taking flash photos.

A family of monitor lizards emerges one by one fromt their nest under the house and swim slowly along the banks of the canal hunting for breafast. Big daddy measures an impressive 4' from tip to tail.

We feasted on a breakfast of dim sum and fresh mangoes in the gazebo where the rain had dropped the temperature by nearly 20 degrees. I'm guessing because no one uses thermometers here. It's either hot, or very hot, or not so hot.

The rain also brought out hundreds of flying termites. The are was filled with them but if they had the misfortune of landing somewhere wet, their wings became too heavy to fly and the little geckos gobbled them up. But as the rain increased, so did the swarms and when they started touching my hair it creeped me out and I left.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Floating Market

The other morning Bob rented a long James Bond style boat for the morning. The driver/ pilot picked us up at our front door. How cool is that. This is because Thailand has long been known as the Venice of Asia and Bob and Sami's property sit on one of the canals.

It took maybe 30-40 minutes to get to the Floating Market but the whole time was so enjoyable because right and left there were houses and people to see. So much more fun than taking a boat on the sea where there's nothing but water all around. We look lots of photos - to be uploaded when we're back cause I'm not on our own computer.

Got saffron and a few little souvenirs at the market, and then we had lunch. Sami picked our meal from one of the boat vendors and it was delivered steaming hot to our table: a wet soup and dry soup. Same ingredients in both only one had hot water and one didn't. Both were delicious.

Our boat driver waiting for us and when it was time to head back, he dropped Sami, Hans and I off at her sister and brother in law's place. They live in the old parental house and while we visited, Bob and Atom (their young nephew who's spending the summer) carried on in the boat and picked up the car, then returned to fetch us.

Along the way, we found this to be an odd image: a fairly poor looking residence with a satellite dish.

Sami comes from a family of 10 siblings and each one was left a portion of the land the parents had accumulated during their lives. We've now met several of her siblings and so far, they all live on a canal. Bob and Sami also have mango, banana, dragon fruit and guava trees on their property. In fact, I'm going to have some mangos or lunch!

Before heading back home, we walked through some of the high land portions between the canals to visit her 3rd youngest sibling. Suni is one of only 8 female monks in Thailand. She lives alone in a little bamboo hut somewhere in the canal system in a grove of coconut trees. As a female,she's not welcomed in the temples with the male monks.

Thailand used to have female monks but over time, they died out. Only a female monk can ordain another female. As a result, Suni had to go to Sri Lanka to find a sufficiently senior female monk to ordain her and now, she's waiting to have a temple hall built across from her little bamboo room. Meanwhile, she teaches English to local kids and like other monks, relies on the generosity of the local people to bring her daily food and water. As a monk, she's not permitted to prepare or pick her own food except when she travels. She has a Buddha shrine set up and says she spends her days peacefully and quietly.

This is where she lives.

Adventure in Paradise

After our tour of Muan Borang, it's time to eat.

We're south of Bangkok and we're heading parallel to the ocean. We can't see it, but we know it's there off to our right somewhere and we're looking for a seafood restaurant on the water. Finally, Bob spots a connecting road and we whip across traffic (we drive on the let here). The road doesn't look promising except that it's going in the right direction, and it's very narrow. One lane only. There's an oncoming vehicle and Bob is hard pressed to find a place wide enough to squeeze over so the other car can pass. But we soldier on knowing the ocean isn't too far ahead. Rickety dwellings line either side of the street, close enough to touch. children dart in front and behind us clearly unused to seeing an SUV with 3 white aces. Finally we see the water. the tide's out and the exposed beach is covered with hundreds of bamboo poles sticking straight up out of the sand.d Hundreds.

Some folks are sitting near the end of the road and Bob asks if there's anywhere to make a u turn. apparently there is. We have to keep going. We make a 90n degree torn to the right, indeed the only way to go. There's nothing on the left. No road. It just drops straight down about 8 feet to the beach. And on the right, the road is scary.

Sharp, chunky rocks slope down on the let towards the exposed beach. On the right the cement road has eroded and broken of in chunks. In fact, those are probably the chunks we see on the left. Someone has kinds let a line of rocks about 6" to 12" inn from the jagged right edge, presumably a warning not to get too close to the edge lest it break off under the weight of our car.

No restaurant in sight. In fact, the alleged u-turn area isn't readily visible either. thankfully, not too far along we see a landfill on our right and with the promise of a more solid roadbed we skirt around the barrier on the dirt road for about 20 yards. There's a slightly elevated dirt road meeting us in a T-junction and we decide that while this was an exciting detour, we'd do well to try and pick our way back to the incoming skinny road with darting children and head back to where we started.

Dinner was great!

Just a few kilometres down the road we came to a long pier, the Bang Pu Recreation Center established for the Thai Army back in 1937. It has a restaurant at the end overlooking the ocean. Perfect. Dinner was Thai with lots o different tasty dishes and we even caught a glimpse of the ocean on either side of us before night dropped like an anvil. It gets so suddenly dark here it's like turning off the light.

And the grand finale to our full day was that the drive home, via a new route, took only scant minutes over 1 hour.

Bangkok Traffic

Traffic in Bangkok is unlike bumper to bumper traffic in Calgary, but fairly similar to rush hour traffic in Manila.

We left 2 ours prior to our lunch meeting at the Rotary Club of Bangkok, chartered by James Wheeler Davidson from our District in 1930. However, once we ht the downtown lunch hour traffic, we were crawling. We moved by inches. Literally. And since we happened to be travelling directly underneath an elevated road, if also quite effectively blocked the GPS signal Bob was trying to receive. And the GPS lady was confused when we did get the signal so she gave us wrong distances. In the end, however, we arrived at our destination slightly late but it didn't really matter. Once we signed in on their sheet which is specifically for out of country visiting Rotarians, it was rushed to the MC who was just introducing other visitors. He brought the mike over to me so I got a chance to tell everyone that Hans and I were from JWD's district, which news was met with enthusiastic applause.

Our second stop of the day was at Sami's nephew's leather furniture showroom. His factory designs and builds living room furniture and custom orders are welcome. We're told that even with shipping, costs are very competitive. Naturally, I was very interested. Unfortunately it was nephew's day off but we did see something we liked and took photos and measurements. Who knows maybe our next sofa will come from Bangkok.

Having just stepped away from the lunch table, no one really wanted to have dinner yet so instead we visited Muang Boran, the Ancient City. It's an excellent reflection of Thailand's multi-faceted ancient culture presented in scale model replicas. The site is built in the shape of Thailand and major cultural icons are located on the site where they actually appear in the country. It was amazing. We should have come here last year and saved ourselves the travel and expense of visiting a fraction of these sites in the real locales. It's a perfect place to bring first time visitors to thailand. You drive y0u own car through the site or, you can rent a 2, 4 or 6 passenger golf cart. They also have open air buses that take larger groups and include a guide but as the guide speaks in Thai... we opted to stay in Bob's car.

We had only a scant 1 1/2 hours till closing so we did a whirlwind tour and only visited a few of the places in depth. One advantage to being such a late in the day visitor to this site is that there were no crowds. In act, we may have been the only visitors remaining on the site. Perfect! But the gates do close at 6:00 mainly because by 6:30 it's pitch black outside.

Miscellaneous Thai stuff

Almost all pop is served in old fashioned glass bottles. Sometimes cans are available, as in Coke Light, but you can't get it everywhere. that would be because everyone here is thin. that would also explain why no packaged Thai food products show any kind of calorie values on them . They don't need to know and don't care.

This year in Thailand it's 2551. Being a primarily Buddhist country,nit obviously makes no sense for the Thais to chart their calendars after Christ. Instead they count their years from when Buddha reached enlightenment at the age of 36. This is now 2551 years after his Enlightenment. He died a natural death around 52.

The urinal in one restaurant was at chin level. This meant you either had to sit sideways on the throne - a preferable option, or, stare into the urinal.

If you have to parallel park anywhere, you park within inches of the car in front of you and leave your car in neutral. Then, if any of the cars have to leave, the attendant pushes the other cars to give you as much space as possib le. Sometimes, this means if a car 8 lengths ahead of you leaves, he has 7 cars to push up so you can get out. No wonder they're thin here and don't need calorie inormation on their packaged goods.