Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Those Complaining Tourists!

There was a post today on a Thailand forum where the member posted a thorough and informative travelogue-type report about his visit to the Land of Smiles that made me stop and compliment him on it. Is it just me, or do far too many people come home from a vacation or holiday and spend most of their time bitching about things they didn't like wherever it was they went? Maybe those are just the more vocal folks, I don't know. It seems to me that if one is going to spend a couple of thousand dollars to go somewhere that one ought to do their level best to enjoy it.

All too often I run across folks in Thailand that think the Thai owe it to the them to change things to be more like they would be in their own living rooms, where they spend most of the rest of their leisure time while complaining about their previous trip because they weren't treated like some form of deity or person of privilege like the statue of Bacchus above that I photographed in the Ripley's museum at Royal Garden Mall in Pattaya. Just go with the flow, people... you're on an adventure! Be grateful.

The whole thing reminded me of the Monty Python "Travel Agent" sketch from 40 years ago, where the man began a rant that lasted five solid minutes. You've met people like this - we all have. The text of it is below. It's still funny today!


Monty Python's Travel Agent Sketch: The complainer's rant...

“I mean what's the point of being treated like a sheep, being carted around in buses surrounded by sweaty mindless oafs from Kettering and Coventry in their cloth caps and their cardigans and their transistor radios and their 'Sunday Mirrors', complaining about the tea, 'Oh they don't make it properly here do they not like at home' stopping at Majorcan bodegas, selling fish and chips and Watney's Red Barrel and calamares and two veg and sitting in cotton sun frocks squirting Timothy White's sun cream all over their puffy raw swollen purulent flesh cos they 'overdid it on the first day'!

And being herded into endless Hotel Miramars and Bellvueses and Continentals with their international luxury modern roomettes and their Watney's Red Barrel and their swimming pools full of fat German businessmen pretending they're acrobats and forming pyramids and frightening the children and barging into the queues and if you're not at your table spot on seven you miss your bowl of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, the first item on the menu of International Cuisine, and every Thursday night there's a bloody cabaret in the bar featuring some tiny emaciated dago with nine-inch hips and some big fat bloated tart with her hair Brylcreemed down and a big arse presenting Flamenco for Foreigners.

And then some adenoidal typists from Birmingham with diarrhea and flabby white legs and hairy bandy-legged wop waiters called Manuel, and then, once a week there's an excursion to the local Roman ruins where you can buy cherry-ade and melted ice cream and bleedin' Watney's Red Barrel, and one night they take you to a local restaurant with local colour and colouring and they show you there and you sit next to a party of people from Rhyl who keeps singing 'Torremolinos, Torremolinos' and complaining about the food - 'Oh! It's so greasy isn't it?' and then you get cornered by some drunken greengrocer from Luton with an Instamatic and Dr Scholl sandals and last Tuesday's 'Daily Express' and he drones on and on and on about how Mr. Smith should be running this country and how many languages Enoch Powell can speak and then he throws up all over the Cuba Libres.

And sending tinted postcards of places they don't know they haven't even visited, 'to all at number 22, weather wonderful, our room is marked with an "X". Wish you were here. 'Food very greasy but we have managed to find this marvelous little place hidden away in the back streets. Where you can even get Watney's Red Barrel and cheese and onion crisps’ and the accordionist plays "Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner"' and spending four days on the tarmac at Luton airport on a five-day package tour with nothing to eat but dried Watney's sandwiches and there's nowhere to sleep and the kids are vomiting and throwing up on the plastic flowers and they keep telling you it'll only be another hour although your plane is still in Iceland waiting to take some Swedes to Yugoslavia before it can pick you up on the tarmac at 3 a.m. in the bloody morning and you sit on the tarmac till six because of 'unforeseen difficulties'. i.e. the permanent strike of Air Traffic Control in Paris, and nobody can go to the lavatory until you take off at eight, and when you get to Malaga airport everybody's swallowing Enterovioform tablets and queuing for the toilets and when you finally get to the hotel, there's no water in the taps, there's no water in the pool, there's no water in the bog and there's a bleeding lizard in the bidet, and half the rooms are double-booked and you can't sleep anyway...” [CUT]

Panorama Photos: Storm Clouds And Baiyoke

If I were 30 years younger I'd probably be able to figure out how to tweak the code for this blog to allow things like HD video clips and panorama photos to display here better than they do, but I'm not.

That said, even an old fart like myself can manage to right click on an image to open it up in a new Windows tab (yes, you Mac folks probably have an easier way to do this, but again...) so that's what I suggest you do to view today's photos - both taken from a higher floor of the Asia Hotel, looking toward the two Baiyoke towers, the higher of the two we've seen photos from previously.

Both of these shots were from the same trip in June 2005, while I was still grieving the loss of my father. I spent many a pensive moment looking out my window at this view, and the clouds that loomed over the skyline on several days were an apt accompaniment to my mood.

Perhaps some day I'll tell you how I'd fiddled with the window latch to open it to go out on the ledge of the building to wash a spot on the outside of the glass to take these photos. Suffice it to say housekeeping was not pleased with the filthy washcloth I left for them the next day.

Sadly today there are two large condominium complexes - I call them The Cement Waffles - that block this view, but if you didn't see it before you can see it here. The top set of images (remember, these are "stitched" together to make one broad image) were taken at dawn, the others in the afternoon.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Then And Now, Part 2: Victory Monument

The first Then And Now post was back on July 20th, and while there probably won't be many more in this series I have one today for you. The photo of Victory Monument above was identified online as being taken in 1946. The one below was taken by me in 2006, 60 years later.

It's my feeling the images were taken from opposite corners because of the abundance of trees in the lower left hand area of the "old" picture and the trees in the upper right hand area of the "new" one. They were taken from similar angles, though (a lucky coincidence). I've done some cropping to both images, but at the end of today's post you can see my original color image from 2006.

This sort of thing always interests me but I haven't done much research for older Thailand photos so far. Today's 1946 image comes up on a number of sites, but without information as to who took the original photo so I can't give credit where credit is due, unfortunately.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Night Photos, Part 7: Pattaya

A few "longer exposure" night photos for this lazy Sunday post - this time a few taken in Pattaya. The fake plane "crashing" into the Royal Garden Mall from Second Road started us off today, followed by one of many I have featuring the neon of Walking Street.

Near the center of this Walking Street picture you can see the sign for Sea Zone, a seafood restaurant with seating over the water and a nice view of the lights along the harbor. Not the best place in town for seafood, but a pleasant spot for dinner. The photo below was taken from our table there.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Suvarnabhumi Airport Window Washers

One of the first things you notice when you enter Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport - either from the plane or pulling up by vehicle to the front of the building - are the vast areas enclosed by glass. I have no idea how many individual window panes they used to construct the place, but it must be into the tens of thousands.

The "stitched" panorama picture above is the view down concourse "E" which is one of the longer gate areas, but there are seven of them altogether plus the main terminal area, which is no small pup tent by any means. The concourse roofs are also partially heavy canvas, but still...

Any way you look at it, it's acres of glass that needs to be kept clean, one way or another. Rain certainly helps the outside somewhat - just as the strict non-smoking policy does for the insides - but I'm guessing the work I've seen being done a couple of times is an on-going job, and one I wouldn't care to try.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Thai Smiles, Part 16: One Afternoon in Isaan

It's Friday and I don't have anything of much substance to offer today, so I'm going to fall back on another entry in the Thai Smiles series - the topic that gets the most positive feedback here on the site (with my sincere thanks to all who make time to comment).

On my last afternoon in Isaan one trip I had a very productive walk, meeting many interesting locals, all to a person gracious and pleasant to this somewhat damp farang with a camera. I'd met the young man raised in Greece who, although he looked Thai hardly spoke a word of his "native" tongue, had a cordial visit with a group of guys who were setting up an outdoor BBQ place for that evening's business, got a couple of nice "family" pictures and took the photos of the kid getting his haircut. It was a lucky day, picture-wise, and a gorgeous afternoon's walk.

I wasn't able to communicate much beyond "hello" with the couple and their baby (up at the top today) because my Thai is terrible and I suspected their English was, too. Nevertheless, they were quite the proud parents - even as child-like as they looked to be themselves.

The guy in the blue shirt above was attempting to do a macho pose while brandishing a faux weapon, but the silliness of the moment got the best of him and he couldn't keep a straight face. His co-workers in the lot full of unused vehicles came over to see what the hell he was doing and ended up posing with him for a couple of pictures themselves - the can of Chang beer in the guy's hand making it apparent that work that late in the day had more or less drawn to a close.

The last photo today is an image I used for a post in June (The Roadside Barber) but I just love how tickled the boy looked about having his picture taken by this Big Pink Guy so I cropped it a bit and am including it again today, since it was from the same walk. I'll get to the BBQ Boys pictures soon, I promise.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Jatujak Market, Part 4: Things For Sale #1

This container of artificial traditional food was just 3.5" (10cm) across

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series you can find almost anything for sale at the Jatujak Weekend Market, if you know where to look and/or who to ask; but unless you're looking for the truly bizarre or illegal - why bother? As a casual visitor you're guaranteed to find more things of interest out in plain view than you'll be able to bargain for, buy or carry away.

Oh, sure - there are plenty of stalls full of live baby hedgehogs, Siamese fighting fish, intricately carved furniture adorned with mother of pearl and aquarium tables such as the one below, but although you can get larger items shipped home by established businesses there on the premises they're a bit clumsy to pack into your check-through baggage.

There were a dozen different styles of these in one area

The fun for me has usually come from the unexpected: seeing the small bundles of pre-measured and prepared cooking spices, the temple ceremony bowls, the painstakingly done miniature foods like the ones in today's header photo, the pressed flower greeting cards of hand-made paper and the wind chime shops that are always such a welcome oasis of breeze created by their fans that make the chimes sing. I like to linger a while inside while pretending I'm actually interested in purchasing a set ("No, thank you, I'm still just looking - but these are lovely! Let me listen to them a few more minutes before I try to decide") while I mop my brow and cool off a bit. It's a safe bet I'm not the only damp farang who's pulled a similar routine, and luckily they're gracious about it.

Here today are just a few of the divers items I've seen on walks through this huge market:

Thai dish spice packets - light and easy to pack - are great as gifts

A corner shop, filled with instruments that the owner demonstrated

Many stalls had tropical fish bagged and out on display up front

Enough rubber slippers to shoe an entire university

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Surprise Visit By The King

[The information I have regarding this unusual set of pictures is sketchy, at best - so if anyone can provide me with more detail I'd be happy to update the post.]

While visiting in Hua Hin a while back my friend wanted to stop and have breakfast at what he's remembering as the beach hotel known as the Sailom Resort. After finishing our meal we walked around the grounds some, and I saw several framed photos of King Bhumibol Adulyadej on the wall of an open area near the dining room.

I was told these pictures were taken somewhere in the 1970's when he surprised the people on shore by making an unannounced landing on the beach (without his usual entourage) after sailing from Sattahip on the other side of the Gulf of Thailand. He was far younger and more vibrant-looking than he is today, and it was nice to see the looks on the faces of his subjects during this completely unexpected meeting with their much-beloved King.

The quality of the photos is sadly lacking as I couldn't use a flash and was taking pictures of discolored photos behind glass in low light, but I managed to clean them up well enough to make them worth sharing - I hope.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Thai Smiles, Part 15: More Kids

Another batch of miscellaneous "kid" pictures today, taken in various locations. The boy with his sister (above) has an interesting front tooth that I didn't notice until I was back stateside, going through images.

The woman in the T-shirt in Bangkok (below) seemed to be quite proud of the girl she was carrying - maybe a niece or granddaughter, I supposed.

The woman carrying her infant son was taken near Sattahip, and the baby was adorable even if he was finished with his smiling and laughing by the time I got the camera out and ready.

This small boy below was holding down a chair and waiting for his folks to close up shop for the evening at their food cart along Beach Road in Pattaya while munching away on a snack from a neighbor's cart.

I never tire of taking these "yim" (smile) shots... and I hope you aren't getting tired of seeing them. Have a good day, unless you've made other plans.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Plump Ones Are At The Buffets

While staying at the Ban Chiang Hotel in Udonthani some years back I was still half-asleep when I meandered into the restaurant for breakfast and hadn't been looking around more than to see if there was (1) a place to plop myself down and (2) coffee available. Having scored on both points, I'd been going over the previous day's notes before wandering over to the buffet to eat. Finally looking around I saw that although it was a little past 8:00 I was only person in a restaurant which easily seated 100 or more.

There were three long buffet tables, one cook in a full starched white uniform behind the "hot" items, and two somewhat bored-looking young women watching me from beside another serving table. Figuring they might've been told to stay there until the guest (singular) had gotten their food I went over and selected my breakfast items. When I reached the egg station the man hurried over from the other end of the table to serve me, then went back to arranging things and "looking busy" in his area. The pan of fried eggs was full, but what I was served didn't seem as though it had been sitting there for long.

As I'd suspected, the women left the serving area after I'd gotten my toast, juice and fresh fruit, leaving just myself and the chef. He stood behind the eggs and waited. And waited. And waited.

I intentionally lingered over my meal, nursing a second cup of coffee while waiting to see if anyone else would be coming in, or if it would remain my private buffet. I didn't have a cell phone yet, so by 9:00 I needed to head back upstairs and wait for my friend's phone call about our day's plans. As I walked past the cook he was just replacing the two eggs he'd served me, and I took his picture. He seemed pleased that someone noticed he was there - and was even more pleased when I tipped him, saying that the food was good. I doubt he's been tipped before or since, but the element of surprise is part of the fun - for me, anyway.

Yesterday a film critic whose reviews I enjoy reading made mention about aliens from outer space finding fertile harvests of food-quality humans gathered along buffet tables, such as the one above. Having been guilty of similar behavior in the past I got a laugh out of his description of such folks:

"If you want to doubt the fundamental kindness of human beings, just go to one of those things and watch people muscling and elbowing each other to pile every white flour and syrup atrocity onto their plates, topped off with sausages. And rolls. And doughnuts. Here it is, the day has just started, and they're already wrecking themselves - and guaranteeing that they're going to feel stuffed, sick and sleepy for the next four hours. After the aliens eat everybody at the breakfast buffets, they'll move on to cruise ships." -
Mick LaSalle, SF Chronicle 08-22-10

I've seen this boorish, gluttonous behavior countless times, and have been amused by it. I understand and accept that it's colored by cultural differences, but some of the very worst I've ever run across has been by Westerners in Thailand - and I've done cruise ships. For a people who tend to just eat when they're hungry the Thai themselves must be horrified the first few times they see farang eating like this. It's something I've never thought to ask Thai friends about, but I will.

The next morning it was the same story - my own private buffet - until a couple of other groups arrived as I was finishing. Odd, but quiet!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

"Mad Dogs And Englishmen"

As I write this it's 82F/28C both here where I am and in Bangkok; the difference being that it's lunchtime here and 02:30 tomorrow morning there. It's forecast for Bangkok to be 92F/33C in another 10 hours, with a 30% chance of rain throughout the week. Being Thailand's rainy season that's no real surprise, but what's still a surprise to me is how hot it can seem there mid-day when I'm out and about. During dry season there when it's often over 100F/37C it can be especially brutal.

The late Noel Coward wrote a song lamenting "the white man's" habit of disregarding the delightful (and practical) period of calm during the heat of mid-day, and recorded several versions of it. It's something that runs through my head often while I'm out in the mid-day sun there, and I thought I'd plant the seed in yours. If I'm lucky it'll take hold and you'll think of it occasionally, too.

A link to my favorite recording of it is at the bottom.


In tropical climes there are certain times of day
When all the citizens retire to tear their clothes off and perspire.
It's one of the rules that the greatest fools obey,
Because the sun is much too sultry
And one must avoid its ultry-violet ray.
The natives grieve when the white men leave their huts,
Because they're obviously, definitely nuts!

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun,
The Japanese don´t care to, the Chinese wouldn't dare to,
Hindus and Argentines sleep firmly from twelve to one
But Englishmen detest-a siesta.
In the Philippines they have lovely screens to protect you from the glare.
In the Malay States, there are hats like plates which the Britishers won't wear.
At twelve noon the natives swoon and no further work is done,
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

It's such a surprise for the Eastern eyes to see,
that though the English are effete, they're quite impervious to heat,
When the white man rides every native hides in glee,
Because the simple creatures hope he will impale his solar topee on a tree.
It seems such a shame when the English claim the earth,
They give rise to such hilarity and mirth.
Ha ha ha ha hoo hoo hoo hoo hee hee hee hee ......

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
The toughest Burmese bandit can never understand it.
In Rangoon the heat of noon is just what the natives shun,
They put their Scotch or Rye down, and lie down.
In a jungle town where the sun beats down to the rage of man and beast
The English garb of the English sahib merely gets a bit more creased.
In Bangkok at twelve o'clock they foam at the mouth and run,
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
The smallest Malay rabbit deplores this foolish habit.
In Hong Kong they strike a gong and fire off a noonday gun,
To reprimand each inmate who's in late.
In the mangrove swamps where the python romps
there is peace from twelve till two.
Even caribous lie around and snooze, for there's nothing else to do.
In Bengal to move at all is seldom ever done,
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Truck Safety... Or Not

Comparatively, gas prices aren't cheap in Thailand. Oh, sure - the add-on tax rates aren't as high as some places, but overall income isn't as high for most who have to pay to fill the tanks of motor scooters, trucks and personal vehicles, either.

This leads to some "creative" uses of space, as we saw in Thursday's post where the over-sized load was being held in place by whoever it was that drew the short straw that day. A lack of time probably enters into the mix with these decisions too, of course; my friend explained it was probably a long drive from where the bundles on the truck above were purchased (near Bangkok, he surmised) up into the North where they'd land, and that's why they were piled almost twice as high as the truck itself.

It swayed side to side a good 20 degrees as it sailed along the highway, looking somewhat like a sailboat on a lake, and I was glad when we were safely past it. It would have made me seasick, that's for sure - but at least there weren't several people perched on top of it like there are in the photo below: with the guy in the middle snoozing it could just as easily have gone into the "Sleeping" series!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Night Photos, Part 6: Down and Back

The top photo today was taken from one of the restaurants high atop Baiyoke Tower in 2008. Above the watermark you can make out the Victory Monument statue, lit a golden color by the night spotlights surrounding it. It's an area I've explored on many walks and is always a pleasant reminder for me of trips past. The picture was taken through the window next to my table so leaves something to be desired quality-wise, but I like the picture.

Below you'll see a shot of Baiyoke Tower taken that very same night from the elevated walkway that skirts Victory Monument. The tower itself is a little blurred but you can see it clearly, reaching toward the mottled cloud layer that blanketed Bangkok that night.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

THERE'S Something You Don't See Every Day

While riding with a friend through the countryside in Isaan we pulled up behind the truck in the photo above, and I without thinking said "Well, would you look at that... someone's throwing away a perfectly good farm worker!" - and then had to explain my somewhat twisted joke for him.

Jokes are rarely funny if you have to explain them, but once I'd rolled down the window and taken the picture I made a feeble attempt - after we'd safely passed them and I didn't have to wonder if they'd hit an unexpected crater on the road and the poor man would land on our hood... or worse.

Of course, it may well not have been trash, but I preferred my original guess so I didn't pursue the matter with my friend.

By the way... for those who wonder what garbage trucks look like in Bangkok, there's one below.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Thai Smiles, Part 14: The Water Story

It was late one Saturday afternoon and the heat and crowds of Jatujak Market had taken their toll on me. Chanting "mai pen rai, mai pen rai" under my breath while working my way as politely as I could through the crowds and vendors that make the surrounding sidewalks an obstacle course I was frustrated and more than a little cranky at how slow things were moving.

Off to my right I noticed a tall, dark-skinned man at the edge of this river of humanity, trying to get the cap off one of the more inexpensive bottles of drinking water - the type with a pull-strip around the base of the cap to seal it instead of the usual screw cap. Sometimes the pull tabs aren't scored as well as they might be, and can be a real bitch to open. This was one of those times.

Misery loves company and I'd just wrestled with one of these bottle tops myself not 10 minutes before, so I pulled over to the edge of the pedestrian traffic and stopped to watch. Granted, it was a somewhat twisted satisfaction watching him struggle with one, too, but I'd honestly thought "well, he's opened these thousands of times before - maybe he knows the trick".

He didn't.

He pulled at the tiny pull tab that sticks out maybe 3 millimeters from the neck of the bottle, but it was wet - as they often are after chilling in a tub of ice water - and it slipped out of his grip several times. He tried with thumb and index fingers of both hands first, then with other combinations, his brow furrowed as he became more frustrated. Finally he tipped the bottle to the side, brought the tab to his mouth and tried to catch it between his front teeth. I could almost hear them clack together above the crowd noise as the bottle jerked away from his mouth, still firmly sealed.

He shrugged his shoulders almost imperceptibly in resignation and again brought the bottle to his mouth - this time putting the entire top between his molars and biting the cap open. These bottles are made from a far softer form of plastic than the clear bottles are, and the pressure of his hand squeezing it while he bit down caused it to spray the icy water up onto his face, where it drained down his neck and into his shirt, down his chest. The look of surprise on his face was classic.

After quickly wiping off his face and neck with his sleeve he was putting the straw into the bottle and looking around to see if anyone saw the embarrassing thing that had just happened to him... and saw me, with my camera pointing at him. He grinned, somewhat sheepishly, and I got the shot below.

He pantomimed the "explosion" again after looking at his image on my camera, and we both laughed about his misfortune. To this day I think of his perseverance every time I wrestle with one of those bottle tops.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Staying Healthy In Thailand

A roadside eatery outside of Bangkok

On April 27th we took a look at things you might try to stay healthy while being hurtled through the air in an aluminum tube at 500 miles per hour, 30,000 feet above the surface of terra firma. Today is a follow-up to that: making an effort to stay healthy once you’ve reached your destination – Thailand, Tierra del Fuego or wherever. Please take all of this as just advisory and not something to sour you on the idea of enjoying yourself in Thailand. Take what you want of it and leave the rest!

You can’t avoid all exposure, naturally, but you can do things to keep your immune system stronger and help your body fight off the germs and viruses you'll be faced with: keep your hands clean, stay hydrated, take vitamin supplements if you wish and stay rested. By “rested” I mean having a somewhat normally-scheduled night’s sleep, not staying up most of the night and then catching naps on the beach during the day. I know, I know… that's easier said than done when we’re on holiday and don’t want to “miss out.”

Keeping your hands clean can be difficult while out for the day. Many hong nam (toilets) you’ll encounter away from your room will have no more than spigots for water, and soap is uncommon. Paper towels are as rare as hen’s teeth. I strongly recommend carrying a small bottle of hand sanitizer along with you and using it throughout the day – especially before eating here, a land where food is frequently eaten with the fingers. The other day I saw towelettes in individual packets about 2” square for sale here in the US, and those would be ideal. Most any time I see soap and water anywhere I stop and give my hands a good cleansing. To their credit, many BTS stations have a pump bottle of waterless handwash on a table just inside the paid passenger gates.

I know this next suggestion is going to sound like overkill to a lot of you, but follow the logic and hear me out before you scroll past it: I do a minor amount of sanitation to my room when I check in.

As I already mentioned in the health post about flying I’m not a “germophobe” but I’ve taken to grabbing about 10 of those disinfectant pop-up wet paper towels, folding them into something the size of a playing card and putting the stack of folded wet-naps into a baggie that I put into my carry on. I carry a dozen or so in another baggie in my checked luggage. Most people have read how seldom bedspreads are cleaned, and I’d bet you most of the items you regularly handle in your hotel room are dirtier. I’m talking about the remote for the TV, the room phone handset (and mouthpiece), the radio/alarm if there is one, the buttons on the TV set itself and the door handles. Have you ever known housekeeping anywhere to clean any of those? I didn’t think so. It takes two minutes of time and gives me peace of mind.

I shared my dehydration story back on March 24th (“You’re A Couple Quarts Low There, Buddy”) and can still assure you it’s not the way to toss away a day or two of precious vacation time. With so many convenience stores in Thailand it’s foolish not to have a few liters of water in your room, at the very least. Most hotels provide a couple of small bottles per day for free. Drink them. While you’re out, take advantage of safe drinking water more often – probably more often than you would back home.

What’s “safe” drinking water? Good question. Bottled water, naturally, but I mean from the bottle, because you always have to weigh the wisdom of ice in a glass. That sounds silly to some of you, but here’s the logic behind it: ice in your hotel or in a restaurant is more than likely just fine (the hollow cylindrical ice cubes you’ll often see, for example) but common crushed ice can be made with questionable water and I avoid it at street-side carts and eateries, as a rule. I had a friend point out that while the ice itself may have been fine when it was put into the ice chest for the day, the produce and fresh herbs kept in it in the same container may not have been rinsed off well (if at all) and therefore made the ice “iffy”.

Dish washing by hand: the norm at many eateries

It’s also wise to be aware of the plates and bowls at most local Thai eateries, especially outdoor places and food carts. As you can see, dishwashing there – while done in good faith – isn’t quite what you’d expect back home. It’s no big deal for the locals; they’ve grown up with the local germs...we haven’t. What’s fine for the locals can become a race for the Imodium to a farang. You can’t be too paranoid or you’ll starve (or try to subsist on a diet of sealed items from 7-11) but use the brains you were born with.

Hot dogs at a Bangkok 7-11. Just as dodgy there as anywhere else!

Street snacks and food are a topic for another day, but here’s a couple of quick tips: look to see where the locals are eating (a form of “safety in numbers”), eat fresh fruit and vegetables if you can rinse them in safe water and/or peel them yourself and have anything cooked or BBQed cooked thoroughly.

You can’t avoid everything, but you can be aware and eliminate many exposures – and it’s
all a numbers game, isn’t it?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Jatujak Market, Part 3: Pets vs Wildlife

As mentioned in the introduction to Jatujak/Chatuchak weekend market almost everything you can imagine, a lot you can’t and some things you probably shouldn’t are all available for purchase there; and that includes traditional pets, creatures that belong in a zoo where skilled handlers can care for them and - if you know where to look - things that would be better left unmolested to fight extinction on their own in the wild.

National Geographic did an interesting article on this in their January 2010 issue called "Asia's Wildlife Trade" that's worth a read. In it you'll find mention of Jatujak Market and some cute little fur balls known as slow lori they claim sell in Japan and Russia for the equivalent of $1,000USD. Exotic pets just never made sense to me; bringing a crocodile home never seemed like a wise idea.

Five good reasons not to keep pet crocodiles at home

I've found myself off the beaten track in Jatujak and seen the rings where cock fights are held amid the exuberant shouts of those there betting on them while they slash away at each other, but let's address the grey areas another day, shall we?

There's an enormous section of fish, aquariums and supplies at Jatujak - the largest of all the pet areas by far, by my "guesstimate". Rows of relatively permanent stalls lined with tanks, some specializing in a specific type of fish, such as fantail goldfish or what we in the US would call "Siamese" fighting fish - although it didn't occur to me to ask what the Siamese call them!

One shop had nothing but baby geese, chickens, ducks and the likes...

There are also many, many places to buy reptiles of all stripes (and scales) - and puppies by the dozen. It's a fascinating menagerie - somewhat like taking a stroll through Noah's ark - and we'll take another look at it soon.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Full Moon Over Pattaya

It's a lazy Sunday here... a good day to share a photo of the full moon as I saw it in 2008 from a beach between Pattaya and Jomtien, and then go catch a nap!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Jatujak Market, Part 2: A Few Tips

A view down of one of a thousand narrow interior walkways at Jatujak

In addition to going early to avoid the mid-day heat at Jatujak Market there are three nuggets of advice shared with me that I’ll pass along to you here. Take them with as many grains of salt as you wish. OK, make that four tips – because taking a pinch of salt in fruit juice or by way of a salty snack is good advice for maintaining hydration in tropical heat, too – but these are the main three:

One: Hydrate your system before you go out into the market or anywhere you’ll be out for hours in the tropical heat, and take advantage frequently of the bottled water for sale throughout the market. Remember that coffee is a diuretic so it doesn’t count. Fruit is also a good source of water (and nutrients) but takes some thought in and of itself: we'll cover staying healthy overall in a post soon. There are restrooms throughout the place, so you can always find a clean place to pee – but finding a spot to lie down because you’re dizzy, weak, nauseated or otherwise incapacitated with heatstroke is a little tougher. Several enterprising folks were actually selling damp washcloths to mop yourself up with as you wandered – and doing a brisk business, I might add. Trust me, the headache (literally) isn’t worth it and can lay you low for hours, if not the rest of a day. Don’t chance wasting your time and missing something you wanted to see or do.

Two: Be aware of your valuables; mainly your wallets and pocketbooks, but cameras and things, too. I tend to carry a very small billfold when traveling (you only need three or four items besides cash) and put it in a front pocket where it's easier to keep track of. This isn’t a negative comment about the Thai people, just common sense that many tend to take leave of when on vacation. You’re in a dense, smooth-moving crowd here, and waving a digital camera that’s worth more than most of the gracious people around you earn in six months is not only vulgar, it’s asking for attention you don’t need – so tuck your gold chains inside your shirt or blouse and just use your head in general. Even if you’re alone, you most likely aren’t in danger by any stretch of the imagination, but be aware of your surroundings. To temper that point, I’d say you’re in far mare danger in a crowd at home than you are in Thailand.

Three: Travel light. If you’re lucky and your stamina holds up you’ll walk for miles, and you are going to see things you want to buy. Take a couple of sturdy plastic bags with you, they’ll take almost no space at all in your fanny pack or bag if you fold them flat. You’ll be glad you brought them. If you forget, you'll be able to buy light-weight handled shopping bags there. I have - in fact, I bought a plastic, nylon reinforced suitcase-sized bag one trip (like you'll see merchants and locals use to haul things around in) and then left it with a friend there who was glad to have it for his laundry.

No need to bring water with you, it’s available everywhere. Slather on the all-day sunscreen before you leave the hotel, to save needing to bring any with you. Dressing lightly is also a good idea.

A bonus point: bring sufficient baht in cash with you, while not forgetting point Two above. Almost none of the merchants at Chatuchak take credit cards and while there are ATMs in a few spots on the grounds (you can see some on the layout sign from Thursday's post), the chances are very good you’ll never find your way back to the stall where you saw - and perhaps already bargained for - that "perfect" celadon ceramic bowl or whatever. Just don’t carry Bt20,000 in your back pocket. All right... end of lecture. For today. Don't try to leave town.

A stall showing some of the wide variety of items for sale