Thursday 5 December 2013

Customer Service - Thai Style

One of the things about Thailand that constantly surprises me is the high level of Customer Service that I encounter.
The patchy nature of English literacy and language skills can make any commercial transaction a somewhat daunting experience. I know that I, and no doubt many foreigners, do not go into some restaurants and cafes and shops and businesses because it can be daunting. Many foreigners take their Thai wives or girlfriends or a friend to help deal with the challenges.
I do not have that luxury so I have to boldly go where others fear to tread. Food is often easy if you can point at what you want. Most food stalls in markets, food halls and on the street sell a narrow range of products which limits the choices. But even a street vendor can have many variations of what they provide. Below is a photo from the menu of one of my local vendors. For a small cart it is a bewildering choice. I, and no doubt many others, eat just a small range of what is available based on food that I have learned the words for. As a side note, it is my current goal to learn to read such menus and learn how to ask for what I want, not just what I see.

But the presence of English is often surprising, the person in the market who I bought Coconut milk from ended up having very good English skills. There is a lady in a restaurant nearby who speaks fluently, I get surprised at times when I buy something and get told the price in English.
What triggered these thoughts however was a recent experience to buy a new mobile phone and put it on to a plan.
On arriving in Thailand I purchased a Thai SIM that connected me to a prepaid service. It is pretty easy to top this up at 7/11's and a range of other businesses. Earlier this week however my mobile phone died unexpectedly and it was time to buy a new one. Pretty easy to do in Thailand as there are phone shops everywhere. However I also considered it time to get on to a post paid plan which included Internet and retain my current number. While that is a pretty common and relatively simple task, even in Australia that would take a bit of time and effort, filling out forms, proving my identity etcetera. So the same process done in Thailand was a little bit daunting.
I spent some time wandering around shops looking for phones and settled on a make and model with the features that I wanted at a price that I was interested in.
I then checked with my current provider to see if it was available through them. What I discovered was that it was available and that they had a special deal where I could get onto a phone/data plan at a huge discount for 12 months if I transferred in from another phone service or I had a particular exisiting service. Which by chance I had.
So last night I fronted up at my local Phone provider office and took a number to wait for service. The wait was about an hour. I had come prepared with a printout of the phone and plan that I wanted, plus my passport, plus my Work Permit, plus my address written down in English and Thai plus some cold hard cash.
I was served by a young girl who spoke no English. The two of us battled on with pointing and the occasional help of a cashier who did speak a little English. I bought the phone which involved the cash transaction plus a check of my Work Permit.
We then proceeded to setting up the plan. There was a small hitch when I could not understand that she wanted me to confirm that I wanted to switch from prepaid to post paid. But we got there. All the while she smiled and worked diligently and showed great patience. At one stage she thrust a form at me to fill out in Thai. I just looked at it, then at her with a helpless look. She got the message, smiled and we both had a bit of a laugh. She pointed out where I needed to sign and then completed the form herself.
She had to make some changes on her computer on their systems. She then assembled the phone for me and burnt me a new SIM. I thought that she copied my old numbers across, but I either had none on the old SIM or I was mistaken. In any case I lost all my phone numbers as I cannot read the old SIM (different size) in the new phone and my old phone is completely dead.
I was then done and finished.
All that time I had been treated with courtesy and respect and patience. No sign of annoyance and no problem too difficult to overcome. Not a word of English spoken by the customer service person other than common borrow words like "passport". I guess that I helped by bringing all the information that I might need. But overall great Service from my local Telewiz (AIS) Office and a daunting experience became an enjoyable one.
I also have a similar experience whenever I go into my Bank. I always feel that I am well treated and people go out of their way to help. It would be easy for the staff to "not understand" but they are always helpful and friendly.
The Bludger likes good Customer Service.

Sunday 1 December 2013

Teaching EFL in Thailand - Part 1

A day in the life of an ESL Teacher in Thailand.
Disclaimer: Every day is different and this is a composition of several days and weeks of teaching to give a flavour of how it works.
6:00 am I awake and check the time. It is just getting light outside. I have slept well but been aware of noise throughout the night. I am literally 100 metres from the train station. Periodically trains come and depart on their way to or from Bangkok. I hear their whistles and the station announcements over the public address system from the privacy of my bedroom. Also Roosters have been crowing most of the night. I thought that the Cock only crowed at dawn, but this lot seem to have lost all sense of time. It is not a burden however, I actually quite like what I hear.
I should mention that I live about 200Km from Bangkok in a semi rural area.
My bed does not have a mosquito net over it but the doorway and windows are protected by netting and I am rarely troubled by insects. Some nights however I wake up and feel tiny bites on my body. I have never seen what does it, but I believe that it is minute ants. Ants are every where in my house. Drop the smallest crumb and in a short space of time there is a trail of ants taking it away.

My Bedroom
I live in Thai style accommodation. I have a downstairs living area, a small bathroom and have made a kitchen outside. The ground level is a concrete floor that has been tiled and concrete pillars and walls supporting the upper story. Doors and windows are mostly protected with insect screens. The house has settled since it was built and there are large cracks at corners, and where the floor meets the walls. There is no way to keep the insects out. My bathroom has a regular supply of slugs and millipedes, it is a daily chore to collect them and throw them outside. Or just let them be.
House from the front

Back of the house showing the kitchen. The flooding was temporary.
By western standards this is not great but by Thai standards I am in luxury.
I have no hot water and I have to pay Electricity and Water bills and fill up the gas bottle when it is empty. Water for 1 person having 2 showers a day plus flushing toilet etcetera costs about 85 Baht per month. Electricity is costing about 450 Baht per month. Mainly air conditioning and lighting as I have no hot water system. Yes I shower and wash in cold water. If I want hot water I heat it in a saucepan. I did buy a small electric jug for making Tea and Coffee.
I have a gas bottle connected to a single gas burner. That was in a shocking state when I got here but after a thorough clean it is working considerably better. Cooking facilities are all outside. There is a small external sink and I have scrounged tables and bought some pots and pans and cooking implements to make a rudimentary kitchen. Ants, birds, slugs, millipedes, squirrels, mosquitoes and various insects rule outside. It would not pass any health inspection in Australia but is sufficient for basic cooking needs. On the plus side the ants clean up any food stuff that is dropped.
The upstairs section of the house is all wooden construction "Queenslander" style for any Australians and has 2 bedrooms, both with air conditioning. It is pretty cool at the moment with night time temperatures in the mid 20's so I am not using the air conditioner.
I get up, shower, shave, have a drink and get ready for work. I try to check Facebook and email but most of the time the internet is down. This is a specific problem with a shared internet connection that I am using, not a general problem with internet in Thailand.
I live on the school grounds in provided accommodation. This has benefits with cost as it is free and ease of access to work, but some down sides with lack of privacy and anonymity. The school grounds are large and quite lovely. I walk by a fishpond with lovely shaded seating on my way in and past a soccer field and basketball court. Some of the children that I pass call out to me and say good morning. The general greeting is "Teacher" but the last syllable is drawn out and it sounds more like "Teachuuuurrreee". be continued

Teaching EFL in Thailand - Part 2

I am normally in the office before 7:30am. I set up my laptop, turn it on, then go to the main entrance and sign in. If I fail to sign in I get no pay for the day.
On one day of the week I am rostered for "gate duty". I need to be there by 7:20am and I watch the students walk in through the gate. There is one other English teacher also rostered on and 3 Thai's. I think that they are administrative staff rather than teachers. We get on fine. The Thai staff have a bit of gentle fun with the students, calling out to favourites and sharing a joke, sometimes they enforce the boys to pull their socks up (nothing has changed since my school days) or the wearing of identity badges.
The students give a Wai as they walk past. They have it a bit tough as they Wai to the 5 of us in turn and a religious object behind us. Some do each one in turn, some do a sort of continuous Wai some avert their eyes and hope to get away without doing it. Now that I am known and familiar a number of students call out "good morning teacher" to me as they pass.
Two days a week all of the English teachers also have to attend assembly. This starts at 8am and we stand to attention during the playing of the national anthem, flag raising, prayers and then the school song. This is all run by the students plus one Thai Teacher who lead the singing and prayers and raise the flag. I am constantly impressed at the self confidence that the students display when in front of over 2000 fellow students. After the formal part of the ceremonies we English teachers are allowed to leave.
The students stay and are talked to by the principal or various others. There seems to be an inordinately large number of announcements. Sometimes this is finished by 8:30 when first lesson starts, sometimes first lesson is considerably shorter than it should be.
Raising of the Flag during the National Anthem
There are 10 Foreign teachers in our School's English Program. Actually one is a French Teacher. But we like him anyway. Our School is a High School, Matiom, and has a formal English Program that is a little different from many schools. The parents pay extra to get their children onto the English Program. We teach Science, Maths and Computing in English plus various English classes such as Grammar, Fundamentals and Conversation. I have 19 Classes each week, 8 of which are Computing for Matiom 3 and 4 the rest are all English Conversation for Matioms 1 - 4.
Assembly from the far back.
I have no idea what other subjects the students get but I do know that there are Thai teachers who teach English and Computing in Thai. It would be wonderful if we could coordinate our efforts, but there is no scope or desire to do so. Even amongst the English teachers we rarely coordinate. I know that some of my students are also getting English Grammar lessons and it seems obvious to me that I should be structuring Conversation classes to complement their grammar lessons. It is not to be. Given time maybe I can make a change in that respect, but the English Program Administration do not seem to see that as a priority, even if they recognise the problem.

I have a busy schedule. Monday I have 4 lessons, Wednesday and Thursday 5 each, which makes Tuesday and Friday relatively easy days. All that spare time is spent on lesson planning, preparation, marking and some administrative chores. I generally work until 5pm then take work home and spend time on weekends doing catch up.
Lesson planning takes a long time. It will get easier as I build up a body of work that I can draw upon. I am easily doing 60 - 70 hours a week at the moment. I started in October and have not had a weekend off yet, but it is getting easier.
My class sizes vary. The smallest is 20 the largest is 45. Some students I only see for 1 class per week. I question how much I can teach in one 50 minute lesson with 40+ students in it. Besides it is never 50 minutes as some students arrive up to 10 minutes late. I put these students on the spot, in a gentle way, and make them recite the Alphabet or something like that before sitting down. Even at Matiom 4, (about 15 years old) many have trouble reciting the alphabet. They can sing it as a song but have little understanding of the letter order.
I have a number of double lessons. These are good. It does mean a lot of preparation to keep people engaged for 2 lessons, but overall it is easier than doing planning for 2 shorter lessons.
Lessons are often disrupted. Already this Semester we have spent 2 weeks on "special time". During this period each class is 5 minutes shorter so that there is extra time at the end of the day for the Thai Teachers and Administration to do "stuff". The first time was for teacher meetings. At the moment it is to schedule retesting for students who failed subjects in the first semester. I did not see one of my classes for 3 weeks for a number of reasons.
The classrooms I would rate as good. The English Program has air conditioned classrooms. It is part of our contract that we teach in air conditioning. The Thai students often find them too cold and wear jumpers, while I am still sweating. Each room has a PC connected to an overhead projector and a sound system. I prepare a lot of my lessons in PowerPoint and take them into the class on a memory stick. I can play videos and music, display Tutorials and information and use those resources to enhance learning. We also have white boards and a clever device that has a camera and will project things like hand written notes or book pages onto the overhead.
In the computing labs each student has a computer with a wide selection of software on it. The computers are ancient and regularly break down but there is some nifty stuff. Whenever the PC shuts down it reverts to an inbuilt image. This is virus free and wipes out anything that the student did. You cannot save work between lessons but you always know the configuration of the PC to start with. The Teacher's PC has some clever control software. You can control every computer in the room either individually or on mass. You can blank screens, prevent internet access, send files to the students and even interact 1 on 1.
The PCs always boot up in Thai and I have had to learn where the controls are that I need. I still cannot read Thai.
I should also mention that each classroom has a microphone attached to the Audio system. It prevents shouting and is a great attention getter. be continued........

Teaching EFL in Thailand - Part 3

....from part 2......
As far as materials go I consider myself lucky. We have 2 onsite printing operations. Any material that I prepare I can get duplicated. Small quantities are done at a photocopy booth. No more than 40 copies, but they will take multiple pages and print them back to back or copy pages from books etcetera. Bulk printing is done in another section, minimum 50 copies. (Yes a disparity there, where do you go for 45 copies? Cheaper to print extras so go to the place that prints 50 or more). Costs are tightly controlled and all printing needs authorisation from the Thai administration. I routinely take in mini booklets of several pages and make 120+ copies. I do have to collate them and staple them by hand however. My printing needs are fairly light as I use PowerPoint a lot, so I never get questioned. I have seen the equivalent of multiple trees go through that place however.
I have to provide my own laptop and stationery. I could use the School PC's but the convenience of a personal laptop makes it almost mandatory.
My fellow English teachers are a mixed bunch. Some have Thai wives and teaching is a convenient way to earn money and stay in the country. Some are single and there for a multitude of reasons. Some are obviously escaping a past. All are unique in some way. This school does attract long term stayers however.
I have an assigned desk and a very hard wooden chair. It is made from a lovely bit of wood well made, varnished, heavy and it would be worth some money elsewhere. I am cramped in amongst 5 other teachers and we all have to squeeze in to allow others to pass behind us. My desk has draws and I have no storage space. All of that has been nabbed by the existing teachers, as the newbie I have started at the bottom of the pecking order. We have 2 shared PC's, for 10 teachers and 2 Thai leaders and a printer. We are under orders to minimise printing on the local printer. Of course we need to print originals for duplication and lesson plans. Multiple copies of a document are frowned upon. We recycle paper and where possible we have to print on the back of previously used paper. I was issued with a Whiteboard marker. All the rest of my stationary I have bought or scrounged.
We have a Thai Leadership and 3 Thai Administration assistants. They are all nice and friendly with varying levels of English skills. I have no idea why we need three assistants, they spend a lot of the day eating, chatting and watching things on YouTube. The Thai leaders are also Teachers and do lessons like we do, except they are in Thai. I have no official contact with any other Thai teachers or staff, but I am slowly forming relationships with a few. Mainly those who speak a little English or that I have bumped into for some reason or another.
The Students. Isn't that what this is all about? Our School is a former all girls school and the number of girls far outweigh the boys. There are over 3500 students. Assembly is a sight to behold as they fill the assembly area and spill out to the sides.
Once the ice has been broken the kids are lovely. They are polite and generally respectful. They like sharing a joke or having a bit of fun. Many come up to me and say hello and then are lost for words as despite all their training they have exhausted their conversational ability. Some are cheeky and cross boundaries that they would not dare to do with a Thai teacher. One girl recently walked out of an art class and proudly showed me her drawing. I don't believe that she was one of my students, she was just happy to show her work to someone.
In a week I see something like 400 students, some for only 1 hour. There is no way that I can learn all of their names. As I walk around the school grounds I have to stop and wave or say hello or practice a bit of English. It is good. But it does mean that I have to be early for lessons as I can be held up along the way.
In the classroom it is almost impossible to keep the kids quiet. The Thai teachers rule with an iron fist and liberal use of the cane. We foreign teachers do not use the cane and must use force of personality to maintain control. It is somewhat easier for a bloke as we tend to tower over the students. But overall we try to engage the students not dominate them. In a class of 45 students who are crammed into seating so that you cannot even get to some of them it is difficult to do much. Often it is more about keeping them amused for 50 minutes. Some rooms are so big that I doubt people at the back can hear you speak/shout. The smaller classes I prefer to get into a semicircle. Or several small groups. I have found that walking around the room is useful. If you are behind their backs they tend to stop the chatting and obvious things like texting on their phones. But if you do 1 on 1 with a student you can assume that the rest of the class are chatting not working. I try to talk with at least some students before the class is formally started while waiting for the latecomers to arrive.
I really enjoy spending time with the kids - sorry I mean students. I have never had my own children, it is wonderful interacting with people who are on the edge of adulthood and want to engage with you. There are some real characters. A tiny boy in one of my classes is nicknamed Big. This is an obvious joke by his parents. He walks around with broomsticks for legs and trousers that would fall down without a tightly done up belt. And he grins such a disarming smile that I just want to laugh all the time.
Academically I set my own Curricula. No one has ever given me direction, checked on my progress or shown more than a passing interest in what I am doing. While I am an independent person I would actually like some guidance and oversight.
I have to submit 3 levels of written documentation. These are a Semester Plan, a Unit Plan and a Lesson Plan, for each class. Three levels of bureaucracy of which one is redundant.
The Semester Plan is a good thing, it sets general directions. It is very generic. One of my Computing classes merely says that the students will learn Photoshop.
This second semester is nominally about 20 weeks long. It needs to be broken up into Units. The reality is that I will be lucky to have 14 teaching periods with each class during that time.  I thought 2 units, which would be the weeks before Christmas and then the weeks after, would be sufficient. It was pointed out to me that some people have 7 or more units per Semester. A unit that lasts 2 or at most 3 weeks! Get real.
Then we have Lesson Plans. We are supposed to submit these two weeks in advance. What I find in practice is that the Plans get changed dynamically on the spot in the Lesson. I go back and find that half the lesson was not completed or that I have had to divert on a tangent. As a recent example I had to stop a lesson and explain the word "else" (as in 'what else did you do?'). I was floored at such a basic gap in knowledge. But I don't mind if a lesson is not completed as that means that I have material for next week or I have struck an area of misunderstanding and I can spend the next lesson trying to repair the lack of knowledge. Whatever happens I need to re-write the Lesson plan to match reality. I do this assiduously because next year I will have a ready made set of Lesson plans tried and tested.
All I need to submit for these plans are a single printed page of information that gets stored in a folder. The actual plan is about two sentences. This is done to satisfy audit requirements, nothing to do with supervision or tracking what you teach.
My actual lesson plans have the required information on page 1, which I print and hand up, and then a detailed set of notes on subsequent pages, including any tutorials, materials or assessments that need printing. These are my lifeline for getting through a lesson. I often also have a run sheet to keep me on track during lessons.
I find that I have to improvise a lot. I had a double lesson today for example. I found that I had run out of work half way through. Partly because I had under prepared, but also partly because I had to skip material that was obviously too difficult. I had a reading printed and the students were struggling so I stopped and asked them to circle all the words that they did not know. I had a lot of circles and had obviously pitched the difficulty of the lesson too high.Too much to try and teach all of the words on the fly and I will probably abandon the exercise for this class.
Always have a video on hand for times like that. I found a copy of "A Bugs Life" on the PC, the kids were happy to watch that till the end of the lesson.
There is a constant battle to remember that the students have to do most of the talking, not the teacher. But then the other constant battle is to get the students to talk. Generally 2 or 3 leaders do all of the work.
School day ends at 4pm. We are required to be onsite until that time even if we have no lessons. We need permission to leave the school in working hours, even if you are just going across the road to the 7/11 in our lunch time.
Having said that there is no formal lunch break. Lessons start at 8:30am and continue until 4pm. Both the students and the Teachers eat when they get a break in their lessons. This is a good thing as the students eat over a staggered time period spread between about 10am till 1pm. There is very little food left after midday however. (See below). Due to my teaching schedule I tend to eat about 11:30 ish. I consider 12 noon or 1pm a normal lunch time, but I have had to adapt to local necessities. Some days I can take time, others I have to squeeze a quick break in between lessons. At our school there seems to be a rush between 11:00 am and 11:30. Best to avoid that time. Teachers buy their food at the same place as the Students and there is no preferential treatment, a teacher cannot walk to the head of the line as happens in some schools.
Typical Thai lunch time fare. Noodles with Chicken, 20 baht!
As far as food and eating goes we have a huge onsite eating hall and a smaller one for first years (M1) who eat together in a group. There are a number of food stalls selling all manner of Thai standard fare. The type of food that you will get in any Thai food market or see being sold by street side vendors. There are over 14 stands. Food is cheap and consists of all the Thai staples. Noodles in various formats, rice with curries and various options, fruit, deep fried stuff, the lovely Thai sausages on sticks, even a Sushi Bar. Plus a bakery run by the home economics students and a shop that would rival a 7/11 except that it does not sell beer and is mainly packets of chips and soft drinks. An unhealthy dose of fat and salt and sugar.

Food hall - without students. I had to wait to get it this empty.

Foodhall - fruit vendor.

Onsite shop. Junk food mainly,
I am slowly learning to be able to talk food, rather than just point at what I want, and had a small victory recently when I could ask for yellow egg noodles not the standard white noodles. Plus there is a local business that will deliver sandwiches and subs at a very reasonable price.
At the end of the day I walk home. I routinely stay until 5pm. Partly because I have a reliable internet connection at School and partly because I am running hard to keep up with marking, and planning. After 4 weeks it is starting to become easier.
My evenings tend to be quiet. I do not have a TV and it would be useless anyway as without a Satellite dish I could not receive English language channels. At the moment I tend to have a meal and then get back into lesson planning. The meal is either bought from nearby or now that I have made a kitchen area cooked at home. The reality is however that going out and buying Thai food is far cheaper than making it myself. So home made is becoming stuff that I cannot buy locally such as pasta.
If not doing school work I tend to read. I have already run out of reading material but there is a lively community amongst the teachers of swapping e-books and I am now getting new reading material. However I dislike reading on a computer screen, I prefer curling up on the couch with a proper book.
On Monday night there is a market literally outside the school gates covering an entire block. I go there to find my evening meals. If I wanted to I could buy pretty much anything that I wanted in the way of clothes, music, shoes, household items. But I want so little.
After School on Friday I take all my school clothes to a local Laundry. They wash, dry, press and fold my 5 shirts and one pair of trousers for 90 Baht. My only concern with this place is that my shirts feel slightly damp when I get them back. I need to hang them up to complete drying pretty quickly. The rest of my laundry I take on Saturday morning to a different laundry and wash them myself in a pay for use washing machine. I normally take all my bedding, towels, casual wear and underwear and do two machine loads for 60 Baht. I have set up a washing line, made from string at home where they can dry.
I bought a Motorcycle shortly after getting here. Public transport is not very good. It is not always easy to get a Tuk Tuk or Motorcycle Taxi when you need one so it quickly became obvious that I needed transport. The Motorcycle is 125cc and is great for around town but far too slow for highways. I had a frightening experience on the highway when I took a wrong turn and was in the midst of cars and trucks doing well over 100km/h. I pushed my bike up to 90km/h and was in constant fear of being side swiped by passing trucks.
That pretty much covers a usual school day. Plus some extras.
It is all good.

Monday 14 October 2013

Renovations: Master Bedroom #2

Having got the cupboards out of the way it was time to tackle the painting.
I like to work in a top down fashion. Do the ceilings then the walls and finally the room trim including window frames, skirting boards etc.
First task is to strip out what I can, light fixtures, picture hooks and other crap left by previous occupants. Then patch the holes this leaves behind plus fix any other defects. After that it is supposedly a simple task of cleaning walls and ceiling and then re-painting. If only.
I had been aware of some flaking paint on the ceiling, so I did an experiment of sanding and repainting a small patch. It improved the look, but I had doubts about the longevity of this solution. So I did a further experiment and used a scraper on the flakes. I soon found that I could scrape off a fair bit of ceiling paint. It was only loosely bonded to the drywall above. I began to think about two things, firstly why was it doing this and secondly how was I going to fix it.
My first thought on the why was moisture or water. The bathroom and kitchen both have much more serious paint flaking. Water from below was not an option for the bedroom, whereas it could be for the bathroom and kitchen. So next step was a trip into the roof crawl space to see if there was evidence of water. My gutters had been blocked and overflowing, maybe it had come into the roof.
Gratifyingly the roof space was dry and showed no evidence of water penetration.
So i had a closer look at the paint that I had scraped off. The first thing that occured to me was that the paint was coming off the paper covering the drywall. Basically it had only bonded lightly to the ceiling. Also there were patterns, a lot of the flaking was near to joints in the drywall.
I will never know, but I suspect that the ceiling was never primed or undercoated properly. Possibly it was a bad mix of paints, possibly the jointing compound between the drywall sheets had not set properly, possibly moisture is coming through the join. Whatever, I scraped and sanded off what I could, but I think that the problem will re-occur.
But this gave me a problem. Painting over the cleaned area would leave a noticeable ridge line. I had no idea how to overcome this.
Google is my friend. I quickly discovered that I needed to skim coat the ceiling, or at least the parts that I had exposed. This involves spreading a thin layer of jointing compound on the ceiling to even it out. Oh dear, the Bludger is expected to do this? You expect me to spread a thin coat of stuff on a ceiling so that it does not fall off neither that it is too thick nor too thin? Warning impending ceiling disaster.
I dutifully headed off to my regular hardware store to purchase the items that I would need. I felt vaguely uneasy about this however. Had I taken enough of the loose material off? Are there other patches that will fail inside a year or two, and I will need to repeat the exercise? Can I even do it?
{note: Posting a half completed blog from 3 years ago}

Thursday 10 October 2013

Wat Huay Mongkol

Wat Huay Mongkol is one of the tourist attractions in the vicinity of Hua Hin. It is a rather large temple complex built along the banks of a river and features a large statue of Luang Phor Thuad who is a very famous monk in Thailand.
I approached and parked with rain threatening to fall. I began a walk around the temple complex.
There are a number of temples and pavilions and it had a very quiet atmosphere, at least on the day that I visited.
As I write this large parts of Thailand are under water and flooded. The river next to the Temple was in flood and obviously well above its normal height. Some areas were under water and what I assume were flow control barriers or mini dams were all totally inundated and overflowing.
Flooded Pavillion

Overflowing dam

At one stage I walked across a floating bridge and had to leap across a gap at the far end to make it to the temple at the end.
Floating bridge

The prayer area once safely across
This was a nice quiet spot and I spent some time there sheltering from the rain. While there I was attended to by a friendly dog who seemed to like licking the salty sweat from my arms and legs. Did I mention it was a hot humid day?
After the rain eased I made my way via a pathway back to the main temple complex and so to the Statue itself.

Luang Phor Thuad - statue
I am suffering from "yet another Wat" complex, but I have to admit that this statue was pretty awesome. The large carved Elephants at the bottom were hollow and you could poke your head inside the belly, carefully avoiding its anatomically correct carved "woody", and leave a small donation. Trojan Elephants maybe?
Taksin at the charge

I then wandered around the remaining area, checked out another temple, saw the statue of King Taksin the Great on horseback and basically called it a day.

The Bludger was hot sweaty and has pretty much had enough of Temples.

Floating Markets near Hua Hin. Part 2

Hua Hin Sam Phan Nam floating Market

Hua Hin Sam Phan Nam Floating Market
After the Hua Hin Floating Market I rode to the nearby Hua Hin Sam Phan Nam floating Market. To me it seems crazy to have 2 floating markets in such close proximity, but that is commercial interest for you.
Sam Phan is considerably bigger than Hua Hin and was also much busier with several busloads of tourists there and a large school group just turning up as I did. There were also more open shops and a busy series of restaurants.
Superman was not in sight

Generic view of decking and shops

Keeping the floating theme intact

It is a large complex with a central eating area built onto the lake and what turned out to be a stage also built onto the lake. I managed to miss the main performances but did catch some glimpses of dancers in beautiful costumes as I wandered around.
Dancers on a floating platform
There is also a passenger train that runs from one end of the complex to another.

I found this much more exciting than the first market that I had been to. This is a place where you can take the family for a day out and do some shopping, watch the shows and have a nice lunch overlooking the lake. It caters for both locals and tourists.
and my heart went "boom boom boom"
Once again though it is a clothing, trinket and souvenir market and is built around the lake. You can take boat rides around the lake also.

Huay Mongkol Floating Market

This market is so new that it has not hit many of the guide books and online travel guides yet.
Not a lot further on, maybe 10 km from the previous markets it is about 1km from Wat Huay Mongkol (see next post).

When I went there the place was almost deserted. Most shops were closed and still looked vacant, only a handful were open. I spoke with one lady and if I understood her correctly the market does not officially open until November 2013. I was 2 or 3 weeks too early!.
Still it is a pleasant spot and I can see the potential for growth. It is so close to the Wat that it makes a good day trip from Hua Hin you can knock off a temple and market in one go. There are also other attractions in the area that could make a full days outing.

However there is not a lot to report. A large complex with bridges linking sections together and providing shortcuts from one section to another. I saw a bored person using a sling shot and ball bearings to try and shoot fish in the lake. Not the most clever way of using time.
The Bludger was finished with markets for the day.

Floating Markets near Hua Hin. Part 1

The original Thai floating markets were literally boats filled with groceries, market goods, fruits, vegetables, fish, meats, vendors selling cooked food and a plethora of other things. There are still some of these markets operating in Thailand, with a large market on the outskirts of Bangkok which is a huge tourist attraction nowadays.

The more modern floating markets are designed as both retail and entertainment areas for the Thai people. They also attract many tourists. Rather than boats filled with goods they tend to be clusters of shops built around a small lake, often man made. These are not grocery markets, these are places to pick up your clothes, shoes, souvenir items, hand made goods and find a spot to have lunch. They tend to be family friendly and while alcohol is readily available I have not seen the traditional group of Thai's getting drunk around a bottle of Whiskey.
As I had hired a motorbike for the day I decided to take a trip out into the country and explore the markets.
Please note below that I visited in low season on a weekday, the numbers of tourists both Thai and Foreign were very low and many shops simply did not bother to open. The experience in high season will be markedly different.

The Entrance to Hua Hin Floating Market

Market 1. Hua Hin Floating Market. This is about 12km from Hua Hin proper, along Soi 112. Confusingly it is right next to another floating Market (Hua Hin Sam Phan Nam Floating Market ) so you can kill 2 birds with one stone. If you follow the signs to the Sam Phan Nam market you will reach Hua Hin Market first. My map was out of date and the Market was much further along Soi 112 than I had anticipated. I had actually tried walking there the day before and given up. I believe that it may have moved from the original site as the buildings all look very new and modern.

While the lake and buildings are pretty overall I did not find this very impressive. On the day that I went it there were only a handful of shops open and only a handful of other tourists. But there are certainly some nice looking food stalls, I did stop at one to get a cold drink but the disinterested staff could not be bothered getting off their seats so I gave up on the drink idea and walked away.
Goats in the Animal Farm
There is an animal farm at this market which is attractive to children. The animal farm consists of a small souvenir shop, a coffee shop and the animals themselves. These consist mainly of some tired looking goats, a few parrots and a bunny rabbit. You can buy bottles of milk to hand feed the kids.
I walked around the whole complex in about 30 minutes and was on my way.
The Bludger was not overly impressed.

Saturday 21 September 2013


Ayutthaya is a city at the confluence of 3 rivers namely the Pra Sak, the Chao Phraya and Lopburi rivers. The old town is built on an island formed many years ago by building a canal to link the Pra Sak and Chao Phraya rivers.
This area is low lying and flat. In 2011 it flooded extensively when Bangkok and other parts of Thailand were also flooded.
There have been extensive rains in the catchments of the above mentioned rivers and local authorities have had to release water from dams to alleviate the high water levels. Parts of Ayutthaya province are already flooded and although we are not officially on flood watch I have met some worried locals. It reminds me of the atmosphere of Brisbane just before the floods. One lady that I know has left to look after her mother who is in a flooded property. We drove by her mother's place only yesterday and all was well. Today I have been down to the ferry terminal on the Pra Sak river. Normally you walk down a floating gangway to reach the ferry terminal, today I walked up it.
Normally you walk down that ramp. Not today you don't.
The river is in spate. Ordinarily Tug boats tow several large barges in a chain full of building materials down the river to Bangkok. Today there are 2 tugs, the one at the front is barely making headway and is just going with the current and keeping the barges on track. A second tug at the rear is facing backwards and slowing the barges down and preventing the rear most barge from swinging out of line and overtaking the other barges.
Front tug. Slack tow ropes. Just maintaining headway.

The chain of barges

The rear most tug, being dragged backwards.
I ate lunch in a restaurant overlooking the river today. The restaurant owner spent many minutes looking at the river obviously assessing the potential danger of flooding to his property.
Otherwise all good here.
The Bludger is irrigating his stomach with beer.

Thursday 22 August 2013

10 Days in Bali - Days 6-10 part 2

I really wanted to show PeaPa a little bit of the north of Bali, so we engaged our friendly driver, Rahde, to take us on a day trip to the north.
Our first stop was a temple complex, called Pura Ulan Danu, built on the shores of a lake. It is a huge tourist attraction and we were there in time to see some ceremony of which I have no idea what it was about. But the participants certainly looked wonderful in white tops and yellow sarongs.
Get those tourists with their cameras out of the way

PeaPa survived the savage attack
Rahde then took us up a hill to give us elevated views of lake Batur and then on to lunch.
Lake Batur

Panoramic views from our lunch spot.
We then headed down to some hot volcanic pools, Banjar Hot Springs, and had a swim. Well PeaPa chickened out and I swam. Apparently I was purified during this process.

Our next stop was one of the most delightful Buddhist Temples that I have ever been to. That was the one time that I did not have a camera with me. Brahma Arama Vihara Buddhist Temple is extremely well maintained and covers a large area built onto the side of a hill. It is used as a meditation retreat and it is meticulously maintained. If ever in North Bali put it on your visit list. It has little courtyards with trees and pools, fountains, a large communal prayer area, various temple areas and it feels really peaceful.
The day was progressing so we had a very quick stop at Lovina beach and then headed back to Ubud.

Black sand on Lovina beach
The Bludger was pretty tired but we did have yet another excellent meal.

10 Days in Bali - Days 6-10 part 1

Leaving our lovely accommodation in Seminyak we moved to Ubud for a change of scenery. Along the way we visited Taman Ayun. A large temple to the west of Ubud, I think that it may get the title Royal Palace.
A moat and a wall prevented closer inspection
Scene at Taman Ayun
From there we made it to our new accommodation at Suly Resort. This place was fine, my only minor criticisms are that it was a little too far from the centre to walk to Ubud and they needed a pop up toaster at breakfast time! The resort does have a shuttle bus service which we did use but found it more convenient to organise our own taxi. But I did spend some time in their lovely pool and enjoyed talking with the hospitality students who are employed around the resort.
The better of the two swimming pools.
Unfortunately PeaPa had picked up a cold and that limited our travel experiences a little bit. But it was certainly good for her to have a couple of days rest as she works long hours 6 days a week. Holidays are not just about seeing everything and doing everything sometimes doing nothing is good also.
However we did get out and about. We engaged a friendly taxi driver, who ended up becoming our regular driver for most of the days. He had a nice clean taxi, was a responsible driver and spoke sufficient English to be able to explain some of the sights that we saw.
Our first trip was to the nearby Goa Gajah temple. Known as the Elephant cave it is a site that now encompasses the cave, a surrounding temple and walks to other temples and waterfalls. We spent a couple of hours there and I even managed to get PeaPa to take a walk along some of the paths.
Entrance to the Elephant Cave

Inside the cave

Children play in the pools outside the Cave. Sacred water.

On our walk around the temple
That particular drive also took us to a Coffee Plantation which makes the Luwak Coffee. In this process the ripe coffee fruit are eaten by a small animal and the beans extracted from the faeces before cleaning drying and roasting in the normal way.
Two baby Luwaks. Pooper scooper required.

According to those who know best the enzymes acting on the coffee beans removes some bitterness and alters the taste of the final product to make it the "best" coffee in the world. Personally I find that you can do more damage to coffee in the roasting, grinding and boiling processes that far outweigh any small benefit from an animals gut.
But who am I to know. The driver insisted that we go there, he was obviously on a commission, but neither PeaPa nor myself were very interested. I sampled their teas out of politeness.
That ended our first outing, the driver dropped us at a restaurant in Ubud and we made our way back to the resort later.
The Bludger realises that he needs a 3rd post for the rest of the trip.