Halo... I made it to Bangkok yesterday and settled in nicely at Natee's place. Of course my first meal was som tam! Today, we visited Wat Ratchaborpit which is a fancy temple right in the centre of Bangkok founded by King Rama 5th (yeah I got a good history lesson). Chatted with the monks there, especially Tahn Tou - a monk that Natee taught english to. After making an offering to the monks (and eating some super food of course), P'Beer, P'Earth, Natee and I set off to Thammasat Uni where we met nong New. After a quick tour and a pineapple smoothie we endured the traffic (rot dti) to Siam Square. Next up was Mango ice cream with sticky rice - very nice!
By this time we needed some exercise to burn up the food so I showed P'Earh and P'Beer how to bowl, and then got beaten on the pool table! We couldn't really end the day with anything else but food, so we went to some Japanese place where you have a cooker at your own table and cook your own food - funky. : )
If you thought that was it for the day, well when we rolled up home at Natee's place there were chocolate brownies waiting for me! It would have been rude not to... so I polished off 3 there and then. : )
So, this morning I set off for downtown Bangkok... catching buses and skytrains as confidently as the more seasoned travellers. After a huge lunch I wandered past patpong - a famous place for foriegners for all the bad reasons - but luckily it was quiet at this time of day. I managed to find the patpong residents down at Siam Square though...
I this cute girl shouted out to me... Without my glasses on she looked pretty good! I spoke a few words of Thai and she was impressed and came over to me. It was a this point I realised that she was not really a she! She (or he) asked me if I wanted to go shopping together which I politely declined and made a hasty retreat.
After this I was pleased to meet up with P'Nat's three sisters (cute and female!) and went for dinner with them... really nice Japanese food... and lots of it of course!
I have just arrived back in Bangkok from an amazing experience out in a village in the North East. I doubt if I will ever be able better my first Thai New Year in Thailand - it was something special! I don't know where I should start to describe it, but here goes...
It all started with the mystery of how I was going to Ubon. My friend Bombam told we would be doing Tod Pa Pah to get to Ubon. Now I understood Tod Pa Pah to mean putting money on a tree to give to the temple... but I couldn't understand how this was going to get us to Ubon! It turned out it was a massive Tod Pa Pah involving 2 buses of people travelling by bus to my friends village. The second surprise was that it was going to be a big party all the way there, so although we left at 9pm we didnt sleep... instead we had loud Issahn music and flashing lights all through the night!
We (quite sleepily) arrived in the morning to a special welcome. The village had put on dancing for our arrival... they stopped the buses and danced us into the village and to the temple where there was food and drink (as well as some more traditional dancing performances).
It was great to meet Bombam's family again and be able to speak a little bit of Thai... although it was a lot more difficult than I had expected cause everyone was speaking a combination of Thai, Issahn and Lao! Everyone made me so welcome it was so nice, and this was only day one.
I will have to skip a load of great stories now, including more dancing, getting up early to take food to the monks, going to Wat Pah Nanachat by motorcycle (an hour long journey at least), eating lots of som tam, and learning to wash my clothes. Anyway, on Songkrahn the water throwing started shortly after I woke up which was before 6am! After soaking the locals, we went by motorcycle to the next village, getting completely wet on the way, and paid our respects at the temple. Then it was off to the river for more splashing around! By this time the sun was catching up with me and I had a bit too much sun, which is when I started getting called "mot dang" - red ant! This didnt stop me "sa nahm"-ing some more in the afternoon though... a party through the village with dancing and music to the wat where the young monks gave us a good soaking! But we very gently poured water over the Buddha image and senior monk.
Lots more to tell about this trip, but I don't think I can really do it justice here!
I got a spare few minutes so I thought I would dig up a few more images...
This is Tahn Tou, a monk that Natee knows, at Wat Ratchborpit. We got on very well and I am going back to visit him again.
A week ago I met P'Nat's lovely sisters and we went to Wat Pho and Wat Arun... interspersed with lots of eating!
This is the Warwick crew outside MBK overlooking the late night Bangkok traffic. We had just eaten big Vietnamese meal.
You know what this is... TUK GAIR! Cute aren't they?!?! Yeah... remember that!
I think I am getting used to Thailand... maybe a bit over-confident... Today I took two sisters from Ubon to Wat Pra Kaow and the Grand Palace! It is Joob Jang's first time in Bangkok, so being the seasoned traveller I am, I took it upon myself to give her a grand tour of her capital! ;) First stop was the Wat Pra Kaow...
Suay mahk! Next we walked through Thammasat Uni to the National Museum where I brushed up on my Thai history... soon I will be a professional tour guide. :) Unfortunately we didn't take a tuk tuk today... but we will get chance for that sometime this week Joob. ;)
Yesterday I met some more of P'Nat's lovely family. ;) We went out of Bangkok to a very small province by the sea where we visited the Ancient City - a large park containing replica of significant places all over Thailand. Here is Nan and myself braving the heat...
Next we went to a super restaurant by the sea and had some super food (as you do). Significant mentions go to the "gaeng som" which was very delicious! After this we cruised back to Bangkok - changing the BMW for a Merc on the way (as you do)! This being quite strenuous we stopped for a Strawberry Mocha Ice Blast, before heading to the park to walk off a little of the days food. By the time we got home, it was time to go out for food again. Me and my stomach had another great day!
Today I woke up to find Natee's grandma preparing to go to Ayutthaya with some friends. Being the kind of guy that doesn't refuse an offer to go out with the opposite sex I jumped at the chance! So off we went. :)
Ayutthaya has so many beautiful temples. Many lay in ruins from when the Burmese invaded this city, others house large Buddha images - all are truly stunning. I think we visited about 6 temples, but there are many others we passed on the way. Plenty of cool pictures to come. ;)
Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention that we had a great lunch!
I also forgot to mention one of my other surprises of the day. We were driving home and I was a bit sleepy. I think I must have been drifting off when all of a sudden I awoke to a sound I hadn't heard in a while... Rain! Yes, thats right! I opened my eyes and there it was... heavy rain all around. Something I haven't seen in a while. But within 5 minutes it had all gone and things were back to normal - completely dried out and lovely sunshine.
Did this really happen? Or was this a dream?!?! Maybe I was having nightmares about what you guys are facing in the UK! :P
I got up fairly early (by student standards) this morning to leave for the floating market with Natee's grandma... Btw, she is a pretty cool grandma! As you will gather from our superbly engineered day...
So we are on the way with our driver when grandma starts getting lots of phone calls. There seems to be a lot of frantic activity to organise something. Anyway, as we approach the town there is a police motorbike waiting for us which we follow to a small docks for boats. The policeman welcomes us and we jump straight on a boat.
That was slick, but things got better. It turned out that Grandpa had what seemed like the whole provinces police force looking after us for the day. Apparently we were Very Important People! We reached the floating market where the Chief Police Inspector met us and took us for breakfast. Then we jumped on a smaller boat to navigate the floating market and stock up on lovely juicy mangos. :) Everyone was very friendly to us, as they all seem to know the Inspector well. We stopped off at a Coconut farm where they make delicious coconut drink and really sugary biscuits.
Another 4 policemen met us off the boat to carry all our purchases and take us to our car. Next we headed to a Snake Farm - with a police escort car of course! There was a great show which included this one guy catching 3 snakes at once, one in each hand, and then the third one in his mouth. Here he is about to get the third...
Before lunch we stopped somewhere they do wood carving, including lots of beautiful furniture... I was eyeing up a few pieces ready for when I move here. ;) We met some government officials for lunch who looked very important! Although they were treating us like we were royalty - one of them even called me Khun Ant! Take note. ;)
Next we were escorted to the nearby Wat Mahathat which has some large Buddha images and a very old chedi containing murals of the Buddha's teachings. The second Wat we visited Grandma knew the senior monk and so we said hello to him. On the way back home we visited the biggest and oldest chedi in Thailand (someone please remind me the name!). From a distance it looks quite impressive:
The final tour of the day was around a wax model museum where many models of famous monks are displayed. I was pleased to see that the Venerable Luangpor Chah is in the very first room. :)
If any of you are doubting my V.I.P. status or my story today then check this photo out. I managed to cheekily take this one to get one of the policemen with his gun on full display!
An excellent day. I am very lucky to know such nice people here. :-D
This morning I set off with Grandma, Mum and two monks to the Ancient City. Although this was my second trip there it is so big that I got to see lots of new things I didn't see last time. Before we got to the Ancient City we stopped for the monks second meal of the day. This was quite interesting to me because things are done a bit differently to our Wat at Warwick. We stopped at a restaurant and the monks had a meal... there were no bowls involved - it was a plate, spoon and fork job! How civilised! After the meal we arrived at the Ancient City and began a tour around. It was a really hot day and so we required many rests in shady places:
A couple of hours past and we couldn't bear the heat any longer. The next stop was a nearby temple - of the forest tradition! It is also by the sea so I was very interested. :) The Wat is the home of a luk sit of Luang Puu Mun called Ajahn Lee. We went and sat in the kuti in which he died some 40 years ago. After taking a look at the sea, and getting bitten by some big red ants in the forest, we went to the large sala where there are many images of famous forest monks. The Phra Taht (remains) of Luang Puu Mun are on display which I found very special. (I hope someone knows what I am talking about - right Pete?)
The kuti in which Ajahn Lee passed away.
Back in Bangkok I was bitten by a tiger (more dangerous than red ants) ;) For dinner a really nice Lao/Issahn restaurant with lots of sticky rice and spicy salad. Some of the nicest food I have had since I have been in Thailand! Next stop is Hua Hin... I am off there in the morning, and probably not returning to Bangkok for a while. A little sad as I am getting quite used to hanging out in Siam... and also going out with Natee's grandma!
This weekend I went to the beach with the Issahn girls. We left for Cha-am on Saturday morning catching the train from Samsen (nice close station!) and arriving 4 hours later. When we jumped off the train we got a songthaew straight to the beach... the girls told me we must eat first, despite my craving for a swim - I guess the Thai obsession with eating is growing on me! Anyway after dumping our bags at a guesthouse we were quickly taking a warm bath in the sea. It always surprises me when the sea is so warm... Maybe I will get used to it one day and I will never be able to swim in England again.
After I had taken a swim, I managed to convince the girls to get on a banana boat. I was quite surprised at this considering their lack of swimming ability. The sea was a bit rough and so it wasn't long before we all ended up in the sea... I think they all thought they were going to die! Ooops. :) Anyway, they survived.
Once I had taken about as much sun as my weak farang skin could handle we went back to the guesthouse (about 30 seconds from the sea) and got cleaned up. Then we went for a good meal and ended the night with a walk along the seafront.
The next day we hired bikes and cycled to the nearest temple, which was quite far by Thai standards - it must have been a few kilos. And then we cycled back! By which time we were well ready for a swim. :) After we had finished and cleaned up, eaten some more food, it was time to head to the station and get back to Bangkok. A nice weekend at the beach... nice swimming, good food, and hardly any farang!
Arriving back from the beach, I didn't have much time to get ready for catching the overnight train. I went back to Natee's house and showered (cause standing most of the journey on the train had made me a tad sweaty). They gave me dinner... and Natee's Mum had just finished making chocolate cake which I had a generous portion of. I have to say it did remind of all the nice cakes I often have in England... although this was even more delicious (which means that the only remaining reason to go back to England is for tea)!
So after I packed my bags, I went and caught the overnight train to Chiang Mai. I had a bed to sleep in which would have been nice if the air-con was working! I woke up in a sweat several times, and when the morning finally came they quickly moved us down to another car with working air-con and seats. I thought this was a big improvement... for 5 mins... and then it was too cold! I froze for the rest of the journey, taking breaks to the non-air-con part of the train to warm up!
About the time the train was due to arrive, the Mexican guy next to me started panicing... "Why haven't we reached Chiang Mai yet???" He obviously didn't realise that trains are always late in Thailand. I had allowed an extra couple of hours for our journey, and then I was pleasantly surprised when the train beat my guess arrival time. :)
I got picked up in Chiang Mai by 3 girls (again). I don't know why it is but I always seem to be with 3 girls... although I am not complaining! They took me for lunch and then up to the mountain Doi Suthep where there is an impressive temple. After we visited a forest temple which had some good caves - always good for forest monks!
Back in Chiang Mai now, I have found a guesthouse and been to eat some traditional northern food. I also managed to purchase a couple of things at the night market - I don't know why I just had a shopping moment... maybe cause I am hanging around with girls too much! Now I am off to bed... with my mango again. It's the sweet variety this time. :)
The morning started with a quick plate of fried rice with vegetables and good glass of iced coffee, then I was picked up by the girls (only 2 today!). We stopped for more breakfast (this doesn't surprise me anymore), another iced coffee, and headed out into the country. First stop was a temple with stunning architecture... my friend Peung has a degree in architecture and it is her favourite temple in Chiang Mai. Quite impressive! ;) It also had a statue of Luang Puu Mun... in fact there are quite a few images of him around Chiang Mai.
At this point I would like to show you a photo, but I am afraid that the internet cafe here doesn't have the capability... Unlike the exceptional Hotel de Natee's House in Bangkok which allows me to easily download my pics!
Next temple is quite a new place, where they are still building other structures. A huge beautiful bot, and large sala containing images of famous monks.
On the way to the waterfall we dropped by a market to pick up some fruit, and then when we arrived we got some more food, including som tam (of course) and tum mamooang. They packaged it up in a basket and we set off up the mountain where found a nice spot to eat overlooking the waterfall. After polishing off the particularly spicy dishes and then having to drink two bottles of water to take the burning away, we headed further up the waterfall. Despite it being mid-summer (and a drought in the area), there was still a little water in the waterfall - enough for me to splash around and nearly fall in!
Now back in the city I went to look at a few local temples, and got chatting to a monk in one of them. He gave me a necklace, and a poster with lots of Buddhist teachings on it! I am going back to the guesthouse again now, to have a shower and prepare for going out tonight. The girls are taking me somewhere cool... where they have good music apparently! :)
Last night I was taken out by 4 girls (yep, it's getting better) - they picked me up and we went to the restaurant. Great food, really good music... including some funky Sublime tracks which I was surprised to hear in Thailand! I arrived back at the guesthouse a bit late (I think I was the last one in), and then had to get up at 6.30am to leave for Chiang Rai. That temple training is paying off, going without sleep is no problem! Arrived in Chiang Rai at lunchtime and met P'Gee who took me for lunch. Now I am at her university making use of her computer! This university is a classy establishment, it is called "Mae Fah Luang University", and has only been built in the last 5 years. All the buildings are really modern, and the best bit is that it is set out in the mountains so the scenery is spectacular. Much cooler in Chiang Rai too, and very green everywhere - nice countryside after Bangkok! I could get a job out here after my PhD. :)
Yesterday I left you to go to this Songkrahn celebration at the University where staff pay respect to the top bods (professors, etc). I fitted in quite well considering it was my first visit... Everyone thought I was a new farang lecturer! Anyway, I reckon I could work out here when I finally stop studying. After I met P'Gee's boyfriend, and another friend, and we went for dinner in Chiang Rai. It was a nice restaurant with traditional Thai music and dancing. :)
This morning we left the house at 5.30am to go offer food to the monks from the local temple. When we returned I got a little bit more sleep before heading into Chiang Rai and catching the bus back to Chiang Mai. On the incoming journey I took the cheap (non-air-con) bus which was a bit packed and I didn't get any sleep. So on the way back I thought I would get the more expensive air-con bus to catch up on my sleep. This was a bit of wishful thinking! Thailand has probably the craziest bus drivers in the world... the road to Chiang Mai is through several mountain ranges, but this didn't really slow the driver down. Even with your seat fully reclined you are still thrown about as the bus attacks corners like it is on rails! To the drivers credit we did arrive 15 minutes early (despite being searched by the police), which is the first time I have been early on public transport!
So back in Chiang Mai, I was met by Bow and Phung for another afternoon of temples and waterfalls! After eating, we went to the Queen's Botanical Gardens up in the mountains... really good scenery everywhere. Also half way up a mountain we visited a temple. Then on to a waterfall which was completely deserted. We managed to sit on a rock right at the bottom of the fall and eat a big bag of fruit! Back in Chiang Mai I am trying not to buy anything else at the night market before catching the bus back to the Land of the Ladyboys (aka Bangkok)... they must be missing me by now. :)
A few photos from the last week...
The temple at Cha-am (and 3 girls).
This is me overlooking the city of Chiang Mai from Doi Suthep (and another 3 girls).
Lunch at the Mae Sa Waterfall, Mae Rim (with only 2 girls).
The new Mae Fah Luang University out in the mountains of Chiang Rai (special note: no girls).
The Queen's Botanical Gardens contains a huge glasshouse complex... one containing odd looking cactus! :)
Another waterfall in the middle of no-where. My favourite place because we were the only ones there.
chilled out in bangkok
iced mocha blast
walking down sois at night
som tam on the streets
sitting in the park watch the beautiful surroundings
going the wrong way on the skytrain
eating till you stomach is ready to explode!
Tomorrow I am leaving Bangkok for Khorat, only 3 hour bus ride away, for this volunthai programme. Looking forward to it, but going to miss a special thing about Bangkok! ;)
Yesterday I arrived in Khorat, and the 24 hours since have been quite exciting. It started out with meeting the other farang volunteers, which was quite weird because I had to stop talking Thai - most unnatural for me now I am in my second month. One volunteer couldn't hack it, so we are now down to myself and two girls (an aussie and a spaniard). The volunteer leader is an american which causes a bit of controversy when it comes to teaching "proper" English (as the Queen speaks it!). After some training yesterday afternoon, we chilled out in the evening and I bought a shirt at the mall.
Woke up at 6.30am this morning, took a Thai style shower, and put on my new posh shirt and shoes... damn I look good! We were picked up to be taken out to the school in village about an hour from Khorat. This village is famous for the monk Luang Por Koon, who often blesses people by hitting them on the head or spitting on them. This is considered really really lucky, and some miraculous things have happened to people who have been lucky enough to have this blessing!
We arrived in the school where will are organising a 5-day English Camp. The first day is designed to introduce us to the students and begin training us in how to teach English. Basically we played games and had lots of fun... the students found some of my Thai pronunciation especially amusing. And my banana dance (but that's another story)! I think I learnt more Thai than they learnt English, as they had me writing Thai words... although I get the feeling they were trying to get me to write rude words! My group was of course the liveliest, winning the loudest singing competition. :)
The day went really quickly, and then we were back at base for a bit more training and finding out what we will be doing the rest of the week. Then on Saturday we will be moving out to our own homestay projects... on our own! I am going to somewhere no volunteer has been before.
It is a village in Ang Tong... a fairly small school but that is all I know. I am so excited! It will be cool to go somewhere completely new. I doubt it will be as lovely as my home in Ubon... Sawasdee to Ban Kuang Nai krub!
Tomorrow we are taking the students on a field trip to the market... A great chance for my group to have some fun with ting tong farang!
Another busy day of teaching today... lots more learning today for both the students and myself! They are having great fun teaching me Thai and occasionally some Lao to really get me confused. : ) After not eating som tam at all yesterday, I seriously made up for it today... som tam for lunch... spicy mango salad for dinner... and then I also ate spicy pineapple salad too as my friend couldn't eat it. Not sure what my stomach will be like later... lucky I have a bedroom to myself!
The farang and myself went swimming at the mall before dinner. Then after we split up as I had been told I should go pay my respects at the famous monument in Khorat of a woman called Thao Suranan. I got a motorcycle there after bluffing that I would take the bus. I was only there 5 minutes to pay my respects with incense, a candle and a flower. I got an iced coffee at the nearest vendor and then made my way home on another motorcycle... the driver of which kept telling me how handsome I am, and asking if I have a girlfriend! ; )
My first week of teaching is over. It went very quickly indeed! The best part for me was Thursday...
The students were asked if any of them could take a farang home for the night, and of course they loved the idea! So on Thursday after school, instead of going back to Khorat, I had 3 of my students take me home... They were all girls! :-) Nong An, Nong Oum, and Nong Note. The village my students were from was right out in the countryside... far away from the town and any farang (or English speakers for that matter!). We drove through the chilli fields on the way home and I was introduced to many members of the family who were working there. When we arrived in the village there were more introductions and just like in Ubon the whole family lives in the village... lots of aunties and uncles... and even more cousins whose names I didn't even attempt to remember! ;)
We took a walk around the village to see the temple and visit the English teacher at the local school. She was very friendly, and we had a good chat. Her husband teaches computing at the college in town so that was another thing I could talk about. They want me to come and teach! We had mangoes... well actually we had 3 types of mangoes - all very delicious, and they gave me some to take home.
Back at the house, I took a shower... country style. It made me wonder how the other farang were getting on at their villages, cause I know they hadn't experienced Thai shower before! I love it, so simple. Anyway, it seemed that half the family were preparing food and when I came out there were 7 vegetarian dishes ready for me! An amazing feast it was! (Porterhouse feast). I especially liked the spicy mango salad. :) After the meal we sang songs, and prepared the students for their performance of Snow White the following day. I was in bed before 11pm as we had an early start...
I'm not sure what time it was, it was still dark, maybe around 5am when we woke up and started preparing food. We got some rice ready and when the monks came past on pindabart we offered them some rice. Then we made some more food, packed it in a basket and headed to the temple. We had a chat to the monks, and I was given an image of the monk I had met on Wednesday - Luang Por Koon. We offered the food to the monks - I have to say that their meal didn't look very exciting compared to what the monks get at Warwick. It was mainly rice and nam prik (chilli sauce).
After showering we had breakfast... another huge meal including my favourite mango salad. Then it was saying goodbyes to all the family, and catching the bus to school. Despite getting up so early we were still late for school. :)
Today I am leaving Khorat for Chaiyaphum, the place where I will be teaching for the next week. I am expecting it will be pretty rural so I am getting my phone well topped up ;) and catching up on all my emails. I have washed all my clothes and yesterday I did something that I didnt do in all 3 years of my university life... I ironed my shirts! Yes, you heard me right... I did ironing in Thailand. It took me a couple of hours to wash and iron all my clothes. Then today my friend picked her washing up from the laundrette, and it cost only 20 baht (30 pence) for a big bag of clothes! But hey, sometimes I like to do things the hard way. :)
We have had quite a lot of rain the last few days... but it is not the same as in England. This rain gets you really wet! But it doesn't matter because it is really nice to cool off. Another fun thing is that it comes down so quickly that you can be soon walking around up to your ankles in water!
I have just completed my 3rd day of teaching - it is very tiring! The days go quickly but it is real hard work. The last two days I have had the occasional luxury of an air-conditioned room as teaching in the normal rooms is like running a marathon! Today I have been particularly busy but starting to get the hang of it. Luckily each group was their first time with me and so I can spend lots of time introducing myself. In fact I now have a great first lesson plan that I can do with any class... the trouble is I won't know what to do if I see the same group twice! Furthermore, I am not sure I will recognise the class either as there are so many! Classes are really big... I have had classes of 50 or 60 boys which is a good test of your patience. Talking of boys, I am really surprised at how many gay boys there are at school... they get into this sort of thing so early here! So far I have had many tell me they love me, plus one invitation to dinner! Today I had a real breakthrough though as one of the girls said they loved me... I was starting to think that only the boys liked me - a bit worrying!
Yesterday morning we got up early to go to the local temple. It was a small temple in nice (forest like) surroundings with only 4 monks. We ate breakfast with the monks before heading off to work. After school we were taken to a vegetarian food place... really good "som tam". :) I am completely accepting now that it was not time for dinner... when we got home there was another meal waiting for us. The vegetarian food we have had in Chaiyaphum has been excellent. A lot more variety than anywhere else I have been.
Just so you know what it is like to sit in on one of Ajahn Mot's lessons...
1. My name is Ant... in thai Mot - I write it in Thai and they all cheer!
2. I am 22 years old - they like this. :)
3. I come from England.
4. Who else comes from England? - we go through famous footballers usually.
5. What music do you like? - I ask them questions and they find it very funny that I like lots of Thai bands.
6. What food do you like? - This usually revolves around som tam of course!
7. Pronunciation - basically involves me getting all the students to stick their tongues out to say "the".
8. Finish with the students asking me questions... usually "what is your phone number?" :)
Great fun. :)
This our great class on the English Camp in Dan Khun Tort
The Thursday night I went out to the lovely village of Ban Prang and stayed in this house (lots of nice veggie food again - tam mamooang)
A special day on a field trip to the temple when I got to meet Luang Por Koon and I was very lucky to get hit on the head by him : )
I finished teaching on Friday after a very busy week. It was an amazing time teaching and I wish I could have stayed longer. I got on really well with the people of Chaiyaphum... I think the students had fun lessons... the teachers all wanted me to marry their daughters (and one even herself)... and my host family were great. Myself and Laura, an Aussie (but I didnt make too much fun of her ;) ), stayed with this family who were very good to us. We had wonderful vegetarian food everyday, hot food morning, noon and night - aroi aroi.
I had planned to come back to Bangkok Saturday, but the family were going to the National Park for the weekend, so I decided to join. This turned out to be an excellent call. On saturday we packed the car full of gear (no, not that type) and headed out into the country. It was a good 150 clicks before we reach our first destination, a dam that was a little bit lacking in water due to it being the end of the summer. This area was fairly high up in the mountains and so the nice cool air was freshing after a week of me getting sweaty in classrooms! Here we are overlooking the hills (Laura, P'Oum, Nong Ban and myself)...
After some lunch and the dam, we headed into the forest. We met some of the families friends and the significance of this place became clear. Father worked here around 30 years ago, and was one of the first to begin work on making it a National Park. It is still very undeveloped and very few people know about it. I doubt many farang go here, or if it is even in the lonely planet. It seems to be only people that are somehow related to the park know about it. Anyway, after driving round lots of winding roads we came to a small lake with a couple of huts that had been built near the trees. This would be our home for the night. We quickly set up camp, put up a tent and most importantly got the food out! A few other people turned up and put up a couple more tents while I was exploring the surroundings. We went for a walk as it was getting dark, and then when it was completely dark I went a bit further a got close to some dear (who I could barely see). Before finding my way back to camp in the pitch black, I found some place to sit for a little meditation. Reminded me of the forest temple in Ubon where the noise of the many creatures is the only thing you can hear. It gets quite loud but ear-ry too. When the mosquito bites got too much I moved on!
Back at camp we lay under the stars chatting. It was really dark! Plenty of stars to gaze at. Nearly as good as the beach in Mexico last year. We took it in turns to take a shower, and I prolonged my stay outside as long as possible. When I finally went in for a shower everyone else was going to bed. I stepped into the tiny toilet/shower room and just as I was standing taking a pee, the lights went out. Luckily they came on again after a few seconds, and I thought what a relief... but I should hurry as they might go off for good in 10-15 mins. Thirty seconds later the power went off for the night! Generator goes off at 10pm! Oh well, I was nearly naked so I thought that I might as well continue. I stripped off and gropped around to find some to hang my clothes. Next I found the water basin and began throwing water around... wow it was cold! The coolest water in Thailand I reckon... straight from the mountains! I was pretty cool after that and wide awake. I managed to locate my clothes again and get dressed. I came out and my friends found it highly amusing that I had continued to take shower. The only light we had was from a camera flash and the LCD of my mobile phone! Laura tried to write her diary in these conditions, and the result was quite amusing to see in the morning. I located a corner in the hut to sleep in (instead of the tent) and sat watching a glow worm fly around. These things are amazing, I could watch them for hours. They are like flies whose bums light up! Eventually I fell asleep.
In the morning we got up at some crazy hour like 5am. I took a shower (in the near daylight this time) and then went for a walk. A lovely time of day. After breakfast and packing up, we set off for a golf club set in the hills. Great surroundings to play in, although I declined the offer of a round! Instead I took another walk deeper into the forest. Unfortunately I didn't see any snakes, although I got bitten by a few of those big ants! We had lunch and then started the journey home. Really I needed a week at this beautiful place...
I am slowly realising that I don't have much time left in Thailand. I am not ready to return to England. As much as I like a good English cup of tea, it still isn't enough to attract me back! The last couple of days in Bangkok have been fun, but it is like a whole different country compared to the rest of Thailand. This city has everything, as I found out at the cinema the other day... they have sofas! Considering I am a countryboy, this big city has also found a place in my heart. Or maybe it is just the people in it.
Plenty of people to meet this week and next. Currently sorting out this Buddha image business - I have to get a licence for the two images I am bringing back for Luangpor and the Buddhist Society. Lucky I am getting plenty of help from Natee's parents! It will be even more exciting when I have to carry them on the plane. :) There isn't going to be any room for gifts in my luggage!
I hear the weather in England is really good. Everyone has been telling me that it is getting close to 20 degrees! Wow thats lovely... I can only dream of cold weather like that! Over here we are lucky it has dropped out of the 40's! Enjoy. :)
Today I met P'Nat's sisters for some shopping at the Chatuchak market. This must be the biggest market in the world. I remember coming here last time I was in Thailand and getting completely lost... this time was no different. It has absolutely everything for sale, from gifts, to clothes, to art, to cute dogs! Nong Ning did a fair amount of shopping to say the least (the only thing she didnt buy was a cute dog). Back in my favourite place, Siam Square, we had lunch and then went to a cool photo gallery. They should have these in England! We got some funky fotos taken and then headed back to Thonglor for me to chat with P'Nat's Mum and Grandma. My Thai is still not good enough! Cousin Nueng took us out for coffee and then on to a nice Japanese restaurant for dinner. Now I am home I feel very full!
Going to miss special days like this in Bangkok. ;)
But the excitement doesn't end there... You thought I might take it easy my last week in Thailand... You are wrong! Tomorrow, Grandma, Mum, and myself are heading up to Sukhothai - one of Thailand's ancient cities. The plan is a little bit of a mystery to me, I know we are staying there until Wednesday, but that is it. I know we have to leave the house at 6am, and there was a mention of us travelling up in style... I will keep you updated. ;)
Some people occasionally have some luck. Occasionally one person has more than his share of luck...
On Monday morning I got up at 5am and packed my bags for the 3 day trip to Sukhothai with Grandma and Mum. I had some insight into what it is like to travel with Grandma when we went to the floating market, but nothing could have prepared me for this! We flew to Sukhothai from Don Muang Airport. The plane was pretty small, having enough room for only about 50 odd passengers. It was a great experience flying instead of the usual ground transport around Thailand. You get to see loads of scenery in a plane. The flight was only 55 mins long, just enough time for us to be served food and drinks! We landed in beautiful Sukhothai, at the prettiest airport I have ever seen (not that I am an expert). It was 9am and we had travelled what would have taken us 5 hours by car. This is when it gets interesting...
We were met at the airport by some district attorney and a minivan with driver. This whisked us off to the Si Satchanalai Historical Park. We had a personal tour guide who explained everything in Thai and English! The ruins are pretty amazing around this place... so many of them. Anyway, it wasn't long before more important people had journed us from the district attorney office. There were far too many for me to keep track of names! I should really insert some photos here to tell the story...
We were taken for lunch to a restaurant overlooking the river. I was offered lots of meat and beer, but I am well used to this now. Next we headed for the old Sukhothai town where the Sukhothai Historical Park is located. Twenty or thirty years ago this place was covered in forest, undergrowth and dwellings. But it became a National Heritage Site and work began to protect it. The work has transformed the area into a beautiful park containing ruins of a large number of temples. We visited the musuem where we had another guide show us around. Many Buddha images have been found around this area - some still in good condition. There are thought to be around 200 temples in the time of Sukhothai. We visited the ruins of a temple on a hill (as it was a Wat Pah).
We checked in at our hotel which is the biggest in Sukhothai. We only had time for a shower before going out again, but I decided to have a swim instead! Back in the park we visited the centre temple in the town, Wat Mahatat. Also the large Buddha image at Wat Si Chum. At around 6 we went to a place by the lake with a chedi in the distance to watch the sun go down. It was quite romantic to see the sun go down behind the chedi and the moon appear in the sky.
We went to dinner with more important people. The most interesting of these was a Thai guy who was vegetarian... quite amazing to find one of these! The restaurant was just out of town, overlooking a lake. We had a special table set down near the waters edge, away from the hoy-pa-loy. ;) It got dark quite quickly and soon I was able to gaze up at the stars. I ate quite a lot, and when we got back to the hotel I needed a walk to work off some of the food. During this walk I met a guy sat under a tree who I got talking to... he turned out to be the local policeman... and the tree was his police station!
I have not managed to cover Mondays events in any detail, and I still have Tuesday and Wednesday to report yet! Bored yet???
Back to my Grand Sukhothai Experience...
The second day we woke up early and went down for breakfast where we were met by various delegates. One had brought us "rot dee" (similar to crispy pancakes) and "nahm doh hu" (warm soya milk). A great way to start the day.
First place on our agenda was particularly special. We went to the next province, Phisanalok, where there is a very important temple, Wat Phra Chinnarat. It contains one of the most famous, revered and copied Buddha images in Thailand. It is also a very important time to visit this Buddha image, because it has had all the gold removed from it. Once every 100 years or so, the gold leaf is completely removed to repair and recover it. This is something that will only happen once this lifetime. And it is unlikely I will ever be in this same place when it occurs in future lifetimes! They are now preparing the gold leaf to cover the Buddha image with, and I bought some gold leaf that will be placed on the image when it is restored. Very special! :)
The second place to visit was in another province called Phrae. It is the place where Natee's Mum was born and we visited the house where she lived. Being the family's home town, they knew exactly where to find the best food. For lunch we had "kanom gin" (noodle soup) with som tam of course. But the best bit was the dessert... they had about 10 different things you could help yourself to. I managed to put away a couple of bowls of dessert, sampling as many as possible!
After this we headed to a mini grand canyon where there were some cool rock formations. A little walk up a hill gave some nice views of the area and mountains in the background.
After some delicious iced coffee we headed back to Sukhothai. The driver recommended that we stop at a particular temple on the way, which has an important Buddha image. It is called Luang Por Sila and is made of stone. Many years ago the Buddha image was stolen. Eventually it was located in England, but the new owner wanted 5 million baht to return it. Luckily a rich Thai businessman heard about this and bought it, bringing it back to Thailand and giving it to this temple. The temple also has many paintings depicting various stories from the scriptures. I think I found one showing the story of Angulimala. :) Here is the Buddha image...
Back to the hotel, and time for me to have a very quick swim before dinner with all the important people! Later in the evening I went for a late night swim under the stars and the moon. :)
The next morning we packed our bags and after breakfast went to visit the Ramkhamhaeng Monument. This is the King who developed the Thai alphabet, among many other great feats. Following this we also went to pay our respects to the monument of Ramkhamhaeng's Mother.
Then it was time to get to the airport. Did I mention that this is the nicest airport in the world? Anyway, we checked in and then went to the restaurant where I had sticky rice and... yes you guessed it... som tam! Also the tamarind juice was very tasty. :) Anyway, it turned out we weren't the only VIP's there. Grandma told me that on the next table was the owner of Bangkok Airways (who also own this airport). As we ate our food, we were overlooking the runway and our cute plane came into land. So nice. We got up to leave and it turned out that the owner of Bangkok Airways had paid our bill, so we went over and thanked him. He was also flying back to Bangkok. Some 55 minutes later we landed back in the smoke.
What a trip! :-D
That's it. This day has come too quickly. I am all packed and leaving for the airport in an hour. I didn't get much sleep last night because I had so much to pack! I am fighting off the tiredness and the sunburn that I got from the beach yesterday (great fun). As much as I would like to stay, it looks like I am returning to my home country. This is the last time I will wake up this hot... Tomorrow I will wake up needing a hot cup of tea. I took my last walk to the market. Just going to have my last soya milk for breakfast. England here I come...