A Family RTW Travel Adventure (2008-2009)
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Category — Thailand

Pinned to the Map


We have just finished watching The Deep End of the Ocean.

It’s on HBO, one of three channels in English here at our serviced apartment in Bangkok. We watched it fully engaged in the drama and at times with tears in our eyes. But I’m worried about us and here’s why: this is the fourth time we’ve seen this movie.

We’re positively stuck in the doldrums, counting the days until we can move on.

We arrived in Bangkok after a grueling bus trip over bumpy dusty back roads from Siem Reap. (I think the only roads in Cambodia are of the “back” variety.)

Thirty-eight travelers in a vehicle built for 35, plus the driver, plus at least one huge backpack for each person crammed into a retired school bus with no shocks and open windows pulling reluctantly at the thick dirty air whenever we lumbered over 10 mph.


One man sat in a child-sized red plastic chair placed in the aisle near the front door. He got the best breeze since the door stayed open for the entire ride.

All the way back, lumpy duffel bags and unwieldy suitcases took the walkways. In the final row, people sat five across under a tottering roof of stacked packs threatening an avalanche with each slam on the brakes.

Perhaps, after several squeaking hours you might doze: a small mental escape. But whining, invasive honking would pull you back in to the reality of the journey. Hand on the horn, foot on the gas careening toward and then away from bikes, tuk-tuks, oxen, schoolchildren, goats over the powdery red dirt roads.

Nothing could have been more pleasing to see than the “Welcome to Thailand” sign.

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April 6, 2009   2 Comments

Our Time in Thailand


Our country report on Thailand – along with our recommendations – is posted here.

March 9, 2009   5 Comments

Thai Town

March 6, 2009   6 Comments

One Person Can Make a Difference


Elephants are amazing creatures. They are the largest land animals, they eat for 16 hours a day, consuming as much as 495 pounds of food, and they can live up to 80 years. Many people don’t want to take on the challenge of nurturing these sweet, loving, and potentially dangerous animals.


During our stay in Chiang Mai, Thailand we visited The Elephant Nature Park. There are many elephant parks in Thailand but this one was different.

The Elephant Nature Park is run by a woman named Lek Chailert. Lek’s mission is to save as many elephants as possible. She works tirelessly to rescue Thailand’s Asian elephants from the awful treatment many receive.

In Thailand, it is not illegal to bring elephants into town to make money. The government of Thailand classifies elephants as livestock, which means the owner can use the elephant any way he pleases. By these rules, elephants have the same protection as a chicken.

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March 4, 2009   6 Comments

Set Them Free


There are old ladies walking around the streets of Chiang Mai selling the freedom of small birds.  The ladies have round straw baskets, each containing three birds.  When I see this, I cannot resist setting them free.

They chirp excitedly when I open the basket, and they fly away.  I wish I could set all the birds free, but it costs too much.


(Note: Buddhists believe that showing kindness to small animals brings good karma.)

March 2, 2009   6 Comments

Red Truck Lesson


Other than Obama’s inauguration, there hasn’t been a lot of good news so far in 2009.

We’ve had the misfortune of staying in hotels with CNN, and the superficial analysis and relentless doomsaying of cable TV pundits is enough to send the even the most optimistic among us scrambling for the Zoloft.

Obviously, the world faces a daunting economic crisis.  Millions of Americans are out of work and facing very difficult times.

But the relentless, mindless coverage that passes for news these days does little to advance our understanding of the problem – or more importantly, the solution.

In Thailand, I’ve asked many people in the tourist industry how business is and every person I’ve spoken to has commented on how slow it is. The tourists, they say, are not coming this year.

Many blame the week long shutdown of Suvarnabhui Airport in November for scaring tourists away.  But clearly, there is more to it than that.

Street vendors in Chiang Mai know nothing about bank failures and toxic assets in the United States, but their lives and livelihoods will be affected by them.

As demand plunges in the United States and Europe, the people who make our shoes, electronics and housewares will be thrown out of work in Thailand, Vietnam, China and many other countries. A United Nations agency is predicting that as many as 50 million people will lose their jobs in 2009.

Dennis Blair, the new U.S. Director of National Intelligence, recently told Congress that instability caused by the global economic crisis had become the biggest security threat facing the United States, outpacing terrorism.

All of which had me very depressed one evening as we boarded a songtaew (red truck) to take us to the Tha Phae Gate.

In the weeks we had been in Chiang Mai, we had made this trip many times. The fare has always been the same: 80 baht for the four of us (a little over $2).

When we arrived at our destination, we jumped off the truck and I went to pay the driver.  I handed him four 20 baht bills and turned away.  In broken English, he called me back.

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February 27, 2009   3 Comments

Love Last Longer

It was all beginning to make sense.

The day before, the housekeeper at our hotel had button-holed Dani.  In limited English and extensive pantomime, the housekeeper had said she was not feeling well. The various symptoms she acted out led Dani to believe she had a bad cold.

Later, over lunch, Dani said: “She was trying to ask me something, but I couldn’t figure out what she was trying to say.”

The next day, the housekeeper appeared at our door once again.  This time, Caroline tried to interpret.  She handed Caroline a foil package of capsules that looked like cold medicine.

The housekeeper said: “Farang leave this in room.  He throw away.  Me take.  What is?”

Caroline told the housekeeper to wait for a minute while she checked, then showed me the package of pills.

The foil contained about a dozen orange and white capsules.  Four of them were missing, presumably ingested by the farang. I found the name “Prelox” on the bottom of the package.

“I’ve never heard of Prelox,” I said. “But I’ll check online.”

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February 25, 2009   5 Comments

In Praise of Gecko Books


To get around Chiang Mai you stand on the edge of a street and hail a red truck.

This is kind of like a group taxi, continually scooping up passengers and dropping them off.  When one pulls over, you need to have a destination name ready for the driver.

So far, we have always been waved in when we say, “Tha Phae Gate,” the name of a famous opening in the wall around the Old City.

Giddy from the success of our first red truck transaction (20 baht per person for the ride—35 baht currently equals one U.S. dollar), we clambered out of the back to look around at our first view of downtown.

The first sign that caught our eye (probably because it was one of the few in English) said Gecko Books.

We are all fond of a good book store and used books are even better: we can spend hours perusing titles and enjoying the smell of the musty pages.


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February 23, 2009   8 Comments

Farang Friendly


Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia never to have been ruled by a European power.

The Thai kings (and by extension the people) were able to maintain their independence largely through a healthy skepticism of foreigners.  One example:

During the late 1600s, a Greek named Constantine Phaulkon, became a key advisor in the royal court of King Karai.

Phaulkon helped the King fend off attempted colonization by the Dutch and English, but allowed 600 French troops into the kingdom. Bad decision.

The Thais, fearing a takeover, expelled the French and executed Phaulkon.  The country sealed itself off from the West for the next 150 years.

Though Thailand has built a strong tourist industry, a healthy distrust of the farang, or foreigner, exists to this day.

The Thai people are gracious hosts, and we have found them to be friendly, warm, honest and helpful. But long-time expats have told us that it is best to avoid confrontation in Thailand – than any disagreement between a Thai and a farang will not end well for the farang.


We have been struck by the local interest in our kids, especially Conor.  Part of the attention they receive comes from a cultural affinity for family and children.

But part certainly is their “farang-ness” – Caroline and Conor just look completely different from Thai children.

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February 20, 2009   6 Comments

Not Another School Day


At our house, nothing is more popular than Thai food when dining out.  Everyone in the family loves something on the menu.

I have imagined myself learning to cook Thai food since we began planning the trip.   Our new Scottish friends who are traveling the world (but in the opposite direction) had been in Chiang Mai before us.  We took their advice and signed up for a day-long class with the Thai Farm Cooking School.


The trip began at the market where our instructor “Tommy” showed us how to tell ginseng root from tamarind and what to look for in a fish sauce.  Loaded with supplies to prepare our dishes, we headed for the farm.

In aprons and hats, we toured the gardens learning about banana flowers and dragon fruit, long beans, coriander, and kaffir limes.


Our tables, lined with stone mortars and pestles, were under a bamboo roof on a pier jutting over the pond.  Each student (even Conor) had a great, sharp knife for chopping and a board scattered with roots, seeds, garlic, chilis, and lime peel.


Depending on our individual choices, we filled our mortars and, with great gusto, pounded our chopped flavorings into a gorgeous curry paste: red, yellow, or green.

In the kitchen we each had a small gas stove to cook five separate dishes: a curry, a soup, a salad, a noodle dish, and a dessert.

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February 18, 2009   4 Comments

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