Not just a King

As everybody here would know, and perhaps elsewhere in the world, His Majesty King Bhumibol died a couple of days ago after a long illness. Even though most people should have been expecting the worst to come eventually, when he did finally pass away Thais were grief stricken to a point that might seem inconceivable elsewhere in the world. After 70 years on the throne, longer than most people have been on this earth, Thais saw him not just as their king but also as their father, and the father of their nation. Indeed, his birthday is also celebrated as Father’s Day.
On one of my earliest visits here I learnt that we shared the same birthday and that like me he enjoyed photography so I took a bit of an interest in His Majesty’s achievements. Unlike me he was an accomplished musician too !
In his reign he travelled to all points of the Kingdom, forsaking the comforts of the palace to sit down in the dirt with the poorest of his subjects. By convincing the hill tribes to grow crops other than opium he helped to fight the drug trade, by showing farmers how to grow their crops without destroying the environment he introduced sustainable development before it became trendy.
A good person can make another person good; it means that goodness will elicit goodness in the society; other persons will also be good.

From a youth who never expected to become king, to somebody who an entire nation revered, his was a journey that will probably never be repeated.   RIP.

Before his death, the worst case eventuality was never discussed in public and most expats would have feared that when it did happen the country would come to a complete stop. Although many, if not most, Thais have dressed in black and their grief has been palpable but the country is still running. There is a year long mourning period, and the public have been asked to refrain from festivities for 30 days so many events have been cancelled.  Nightclubs are closed, including the more infamous ones of Nana and Soi Cowboy as well as normal discos, but most bars are still open but without any loud music. 7/11 is still selling alcohol although Tesco has stopped until further notice, normally an alcohol ban is the first thing announced. Any backpacker that came expecting to go to a Full Moon party is out of luck for the next month as they have been cancelled.

The Grand Palace is closed for about another week due to the funeral rites being held there, although the actual cremation will not be for some time, perhaps a year away. It will be a lavish and elaborate affair when it does eventually happen.

For anybody coming to Thailand in the next few weeks, you should still be able to enjoy yourself but just act respectfully, which is what many countries are saying in their travel advisories.

Posted in Events, Expat life, Thailand | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Navaratri Festival 2016, Bangkok


navaratri-0811 Although Thailand is a mainly Buddhist country, where about 95% of the population follow the teachings of the Lord Buddha, and nearly all the rest are Muslim, there are a number of Hindus of Indian descent especially in Bangkok, enough to have a “Little India” district. A few days ago they celebrated the 9 days of the Navaratri festival (also spelled Navatri/Navratri) dedicated to the worship of one of the multitude of Hindu deities.

One website says it is Shakti, another says Durga, but as Hindu gods come in several forms and under many names they could very well be one and the same !

Who ever it is for, on the last night the area around the Sri Maha Mariamman temple on Silom Road becomes ground zero for multitudes of pop-up shrines adorned with candles, deities, garlands, incense and other offerings.

It is not just Hindus who come to worship, as many Thais will have an each-way bet on religion …one of the most popular shrines in town is the Erawan Shrine which is a shrine to Brahma, and the Hindu deity Ganesh is popular too ! So the road for 4kms around the temple are closed to traffic to enable the crowds of people to walk around and worship, or just take photos (like me!). Some of the more fervent believers would dance themselves into a trance until they collapsed, others would get blessed by the shamans along the route.

Also along the route were several stands handing out free vegetarian foods and drinks to refuel and re-energise, as well as the normal local street vendors, so there were shrines and stalls for nearly all the 4km route.


The night culminates in the ceremonial journey of the god’s statue around the route, pulled along on it’s chariot. We left the area near the temple at around 11.15pm in order to get the last Skytrain home, and we passed it near the Skytrain station, only about a quarter of it’s journey done ! I’m glad we did not wait around to see it arrive back at the temple as many others were doing.

So if you are in Bangkok around late September or early October and want a taste of India check the exact dates and perhaps wander down to Silom Road.

Posted in Events, Photography, Thailand | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai


As I mentioned in my last post we stayed with the GF’s brother’s family in Chiang Rai province for a few days, and did a bit of sightseeing while there. For Thais, visiting a distant province invariably means visiting some of the more famous or sacred wats of the district to make merit so I was taken along on a grand tour of some of Northern Thailand’s temples….again.

cr-0299 First up was Wat Huai Pla Kung Temple, a Chinese pagoda style temple of nine levels. There is also a giant Buddha and a more common Thai-style temple under construction  in the grounds.

The Buddha looks like it will have an observation lookout in it’s head but for now you have to climb the stairs of the pagoda to enjoy the view over the surrounding rice paddies.

Then it was on to Wat Rong Khun, or the “White Temple”. This was badly damaged in an earthquake not so long ago but has been quickly repaired. This is not a conventional temple, but more of an artistic extravaganza conceived by a well known Thai artist.

cr-0339The interior walls are decorated with fantastical murals of super heroes and villains, 9/11 and GW Bush and Bin Laden riding a missile together ! Unfortunately photography is prohibited inside, probably because they want you to buy a souvenir from their shop !

The toilets here would have to be the most lavishly decorated in the country !

After a day of meritorious sightseeing and merit-making, a night of gluttony and drinking was to follow, a pattern followed most days !


Buddha and his gang of super heroes, ready to save the world !

On another day the Gf’s brother drove us all the way to Chiang Mai to visit yet another wat, Wat Phra That Doi Kham. Like the more famous Wat Doi Suthep this is just outside Chiang Mai, on a hillside looking out over the town. This place does not get the hordes of tourists though.


And then just for a change, and to keep the kids happy, we traipsed off to Chiang Mai Zoo. This is not exactly the best of zoos, and is looking a bit rundown nowadays. It seems that the monorail around the zoo stopped working a long time ago, with trees growing around the track. Luckily I got in at the Thai price after showing my local drivers license, it would not be worth the inflated price they normally charge foreigners. After paying the general admission there are extra charges for the seal show, the aquarium, etc, IMHO it’s really not worth the effort or cost to visit.

After several visits to the wats, many plates of sticky rice, and countless bottles of Leo beer, it was time to return to Bangkok. We left Chiang Rai in fairly good weather but flew into Bangkok in the middle of a torrential thunderstorm. The rain was so heavy they would not open the plane doors ! The flight down took about an hour, and then we sat in the plane for nearly as long before we could get off !

Posted in Explorations, Photography, Thailand, Travel, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Schools out ! Time to travel….


Shwedagon pagoda, Tachileik, just after a storm.


Well, the language school is finished after about one term too many and I’ve been able to get out and about again. What with classes weekdays, and having to give some time to the GF, and it being the wet season here anyway, my opportunities to get around have been limited, which is one reason why I have not written here lately ..the other just being laziness.wlEmoticon-smile.png

So how was school ? The first two terms at Duke Language were excellent, with great teachers and a good textbook. The third term was not so good though, IMHO. All three textbooks use the same group of characters and their experiences to teach vocabulary and grammar while at the same time teaching about Thailand. The third term was rather heavy on subjects like religion, festivals, culture, etc which apparently formed the basis of a now abolished test for foreign students, but something which many schools still teach. Some people might regard it as nationalistic brainwashing …think like a Thai ! Most people who have been here a while would already know much of this, and might even raise an eyebrow or two when told that all Thais are “greng-jai” (considerate) when they remember being almost run over by an inconsiderate motorcyclist riding on the footpath ! The third term syllabus did not teach much new grammar, and most of the new vocabulary would be of limited day to day use for most expats. In retrospect I would have been better off using this time to attend the reading/writing course.

While most of the Thai language schools offer a free trial lesson to check out their classes, it is always going to be a crapshoot on what teacher you actually get. The teachers for the first two terms were excellent, the 3rd not so good IMHO. Duke Language uses a total immersion method of teaching, using only Thai and charades for instruction. That’s fine if the teacher speaks clearly and slow enough for students to understand her but this one teacher spoke too fast and her diction was not so good while explaining things, again IMHO. Speaking “native speed” is fine for dialogue practise but if your students do not understand the lesson you are teaching, then you are going too fast. Also she never corrected and returned any of the written homework we did ….what’s the point of doing homework if we don’t get any feedback ? I did look at changing classes but she was teaching the other class too so that would not achieve anything …..

Overall I would still suggest that anybody wanting to learn Thai at least check out Duke Language School but I would also suggest that they might be better off doing the reading/writing course than conversation 3. I will possibly go back next year for the reading and writing course.

Anyway, with school finished and the worst of the rainy season hopefully finished too it was time to start travelling again. The GF has a couple of brothers living in Chiang Rai province and a daughter working in Tachileik (Myanmar) so up north we went.

AirAsia took us to Chiang Rai, where one of the brothers picked us up and took us to Mae Sai, the “Northern Most (point?) Of Thailand and the border crossing into Myanmar. A short walk across the bridge takes you into Tachileik, and back in time several years. Although Mae Sai is nothing much to write home about you can clearly see the difference between it and Tachileik. All the late model cars had Thai plates, the old jalopies had Myanmar ones. The  last time I came here, many many years ago, the Tachileik market was notorious for openly selling all sorts of contraband, from AK47s to protected wildlife (live and dead). Nowadays it seemed to be full of cheap Chinese crap. Apart from the market the only thing of interest to most western tourists would be the “Elephant Temple” and Shwedagon pagoda. The town does get many Thai and Chinese tourists who go to the casinos there though, I was kind of hoping to get to one of them, curious to see what a Burmese casino looked like but never got a chance.

The daughter had booked us into the “1G1 7hotel” where she works, nice enough rooms but a bit noisy from the all night entertainment downstairs …. I was not expecting rock concerts until 7am in Myanmar ! It’s a bit too far from town centre to walk, but the Shwedagon pagoda was nearby, a walkable distance.

If I was not with my GF visiting her daughter one night in town would have been more than long enough for me but I did meet one tourist who had spent a whole week there just pottering around. After a few days the GF decided she had done the dutiful mother thing long enough so we headed back into Thailand for one night in Mae Sai before the brother would come and pick us up to stay with them for a while. Going back through Myanmar immigration I did have a few anxious moments as when coming in to the country their computer had been down, they wrote down my details and said they would enter it later. But apparently they forgot ! When exiting I was told to go into another office, interviewed for a few minutes, but allowed on my way once it was all cleared up.
More photos from around Chiang Rai to come in a later post.

Posted in Expat life, Language, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Travel, Travel, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Happy 100th Birthday, Hualamphong !

This weekend just passed saw the 100th anniversary of Hualamphong, or Bangkok Railway Station as it is officially known. After reading the publicity blurb in the papers, and with nothing better to do, the GF and I went off to check it out.

I’ll be polite and say I was underwhelmed …

With just a few steam engines on static display, a few food stalls, an empty stage waiting for something or somebody, and no ‘vintage market’ as promised in the publicity there was not much to see.

So after snapping a few photos we headed off to Chinatown for lunch, via Wat Traimit so Porn could pay her respects to the Golden Buddha. I’ve seen it enough times that I don’t need to pay another 100baht for the privilege.



Yes, we have no bananas today, but will have plenty soon !

So I waited in the shade of the banana trees below while she went and did her thing.





I was thinking of lunch at a proper restaurant, maybe some seafood, but Porn had other ideas and chose a small hole in the wall noodle shop …she’s a cheap date🙂



Posted in Events, Thailand | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Back to school.


I’ve decided to have another attempt at learning Thai, so for the last week have been heading into town every day for 3 hours at “Duke Language School“. Whether it will be more successful than last time remains to be seen ! With lessons every day this is more intensive, and hopefully I will retain more and not forget it🙂

The teaching style is completely different, what their brochure calls “edutainment”. There is a lot of role playing and games to practice what we learn. After teaching us numbers and classifiers (types of things, used for counting in Thai) they set up a ‘shop” and gave us play money and items to buy and sell.

After learning directions, how to get around town and use public transport they set up a map on the floor so that we could get around from one place to another as the teachers called out directions.

At the last school we started with 13 pupils to one teacher, here we had 8 and 2 teachers so that’s obviously a better ratio. Even better as one guy seems to have dropped out already…

Before we would get used to the teacher’s voice and her tonal range, but now with the two teachers you also get to hear 2 different voices saying the same words slightly different which is a good thing as Thai is a tonal language. There is also another class running at the same time so sometimes the teachers swap over and give us even more listening practice.

In the classroom the teachers try to avoid using English whenever possible, relying on charades and repeating simple Thai to get the meaning across. While I can understand the method sometimes a bit of explanation in English would be nice🙂

While it is still too early to know how much will sink in, from the first week I would put Duke Language School on the list of anybody wanting to learn Thai here in Bangkok.



Posted in Expat life, Language, Thailand, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments