Monday, February 28, 2011

Isaan Odyssey, Part 3a : Forgot These, Sorry

I forgot to include two clips from Saturday's post, so I'm posting them today. I'll be back tomorrow with Part 4 about Wat Yai Chai Mongkhol.

The clip up top today was taken from the Ho Withun Thasana tower you saw in Saturday's post, showing the view from 75 steps above Wehart Chamrunt Hall.

In part 2 you saw a clip of kids entering one of the European-style buildings that serves as a reception and formal dining hall. Here's a clip showing the interior of one of the smaller rooms:

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Isaan Odyssey, Part 3 : The Palace At Bang Pa-in (2)

Wehart Chamrunt (heavenly light) Hall from Ho Withun Thasana Tower

[This is Part 3 of a series. If you found this via a search or just happened upon it some other way you can find part 1 here and part 2 here.]

In part 2 you saw some of the featured buildings at the Royal Summer Palace at Bang Pa-in, including the detailed beauty of Wehart Chamrunt (heavenly light) hall. Before heading back out onto the open road we'll see some of the others, but not all of them; I think it's always nice to have things to discover on your own. Like I said, the grounds are extensive and beautiful - but we're on a road trip.

I hadn't read anything about this place so there were a lot of pleasant surprises for me as well as we wandered the grounds, one of them being the view from the Ho Withun Thasana (sages' lookout) tower, shown below.

Ho Withun Thasana - 75 steps up to the mid-point balcony

The top photo today is a panorama from as high as I could climb up the spiral staircase inside the tower - which was 75 steps up, at the mid-way point. You can see a view down the well-worn wooden stairway below.

It was a relatively clear day, and the views from the tower were impressive:

Panoramic view from the Sage's Lookout

There were a lot of carefully maintained topiary displays on the grounds, such as the chang (elephants) in the center of the picture above - but I liked the small bunch of bunnies below that were placed by the water near the Wehart Chamrunt hall.

As I also mentioned before it can be quite warm there in the middle of the day, and the refreshment stand below selling water, sodas and ice cream was a very welcome sight, as were the tables and chairs at another refreshment spot we came across a while later. The open doors allowed a breeze to help cool me off as we sat and rested a bit.

There were musicians playing in a small room along one of the walkways. The windows all around the room allowed visitors to watch and the music to carry over the grounds. They seemed to play quite a while without taking a break and were strictly focused on their task while they were at it - not talking or even breaking a smile between each other as they played.

There were drums and the traditional hardwood ranat (xylophones) as well as khong wan lek (small gongs in a rattan frame) and an oboe-type instrument that I believe is known as a pi nok.

Here's a short clip of them playing:

I'll wrap the photos up today with a shot of Aisawan Dhiphya-Asana Pavilion that sits out in the water surrounding the Wehart Chamrunt Hall. The Thai name means "the divine seat of personal freedom", and it certainly looked like a nice place to sit, meditate and think.

By the time I'd finished wandering around being bowled over by the beauty of the place it was past lunchtime and I was hungry. Pot probably was, too, but being the patient person he is he hadn't hurried me along - and for that I was grateful.

Nevertheless, Pot still had things planned for me to see this first day, so I plunked myself back down into the passenger seat of his truck and looked around the nearby area one more time as he started the engine and drove us back out of the parking lot and onto the highway.

Being as close as it is to Bangkok I hope you'll consider a day trip to this lovely spot. If you don't feel adventurous enough to try it on your own you should have no trouble finding a tour service to go there via van or bus. It's worth it.

Next up in part 4: Wat Yai Chai Mongkhol

Friday, February 25, 2011

Inside A Gogo Bar: Krazy Dragon, Sunee Plaza

While gathering information for something I'm working on unrelated to Bao-Bao's Blog I've heard a number of stories from the guys that work in gogo (aka A Go Go) bars, massage venues and the likes.

Some have true happy endings completely unrelated to the "happy endings" some of you may be thinking of at this moment. Many are tales of boredom while enduring on-the-job drudgery (hey, just like some of us!) and some are disturbing reports of physical and emotional abuse, forced sex (and outright rape), indentured servitude and arrangements tantamount to slavery.

Let's concentrate for now on the positive stories - as I have no intention of going into other details now, nor am I willing to begin a discussion via the comments section. Perhaps at a later date. I also will not report negatively on any specific club, but may speak well of some as we go along. That said, those of you who aren't hypertensive may take the rest of this post with as many grains of salt as you wish.

Over the past few years I've interviewed a half-dozen or so guys who work at the Krazy Dragon, a well-known club in the Sunee Plaza area of Pattaya. Some had sufficient English skills for me to speak with myself, some I had a bilingual friend help me with. To a man, none have had anything bad to say about the club or of the owner - and from my experience, that's uncommon.

While I was on personal business in Pattaya last year I stopped by his table to said hello to the owner, and did again this last trip. Since I was doing so much "available light" photography this trip I asked if I might take some pictures inside the club, and he agreed. In fact, he was pleased with the results we could see in the camera's viewfinder, and I've already sent him copies. These are some of the results.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Isaan Odyssey, Part 2: The Palace At Bang Pa-in (1)

Wehart Chamrunt Hall at the Summer palace in Bang Pa-in (click to enlarge)

[This is Part 2 of a series. If you found this via a search or just happened upon it some other way you can find part 1 here.]

It was just past dawn when my alarm went off, but I'd already been up and made a cup of coffee before it started beeping at me from across the room. I was excited about the road trip that would begin in just a few hours and had been arranging things in my suitcase for our 08:00 departure. Not really knowing what I'd need and how I'd do any laundry I'd packed more than necessary and was now taking things back out in an effort to be realistic. There were also gifts and things for my friend, his family and his friends, so it wasn't all my junk.

I showered, dressed and went down to breakfast, scribbling notes and questions for Suphot, my friend/guide/driver for the next week. It was quiet in the dining room, and I sat staring out the window at a normal frenzied Bangkok morning commute. Being far from this madding crowd for a week sounded just fine to me.

My friend and guide for the week, Khun Suphot (at Bang Pa-in)

Just before 08:00 my room phone rang - Pot had arrived. Suitcase and satchel in hand I went down to meet him, and after settling into the passenger's seat and buckling up he turned and asked "Ready to go?" and I replied "Yes, indeed... let's move!" He pulled out into the commute traffic, and as we got onto the tollway we began to move along much better, and by the time we'd stopped three times to pay tolls (40Bt/45Bt/10Bt) we were out of the city and truly on our way.

Heading North through Pathum Thani we drove around 60KM (37 miles) and into the Province of Ayutthaya, where we made our first official stop a ways south of the city of Ayutthaya itself at the Royal Summer Palace, in the Bang Pa-in district. Sitting grand, lush and majestic by the bank of the Chao Phraya River, it was a fitting first stop.

Wehart Chamrunt Hall and grounds at the Summer palace (click to enlarge)

There's a wealth of information available online for this beautiful spot already, so we won't go into a long, detailed history of the place. Briefly, though, it was originally built during the reign of King Prasat Thong in the early 1600s, restored by King Rama IV in the mid-1800s (it had been trashed by an invasion in 1767) and finished to its present state (including the structures you see) by King Chulalongkorn between 1872 and 1889.

Panorama - click to enlarge

The different styles throughout the grounds show a variety of European (above) as well as Asian influences; some saying the grounds have a look similar to Versailles. While it's still officially a "Royal" residence, I was told the current King (Bhumibol Adulyadej's) family hasn't used it much for years other than for the occasional event.

Laudi (Plumeria) bloom at a peaceful spot in the Summer Palace, Bang Pa-in

Admission is 100Bt, and for those who aren't as able to walk distances as others there are carts for rent at a rate of (I believe) 400Bt per hour. As you can see in the aerial view below there's a lot of ground to cover, so take your time and stay hydrated - especially in warmer months. We were there in March, and it was already pretty warm to be out in the sun as much as we were.

The palace grounds, with the Chao Phraya to the left

Being a weekday there naturally were school groups on field excursions - like the group below, entering one of the formal European reception and dining halls - the last one even said "hello". Notice also that not one of them pointed at me and said "KFC!" ...I was pleased.

Next up in Part 3 - More photos of the Summer Palace at Bang Pa-in

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Isaan Odyssey, Part 1: The Plans

One morning on a small village street in Isaan

This may sound like the whining of a small child (that's whinging to some of you) but time and again as my days in Thailand dwindle I find myself lamenting that I didn't have enough time to visit as many of my friends as I'd wanted to. Over the years many have been willing to carve time out of their busy schedules to take me hither and yon throughout the kingdom but there simply aren't enough days, and that sometimes can cause hurt feelings; something I try my best to avoid.

One friend's family farm is in the far Northeast part of the country, an area known as Isaan, and since I hadn't seen them for years I decided to make the effort a couple of years ago to get my farang butt up there to visit. I'd used other modes of transportation for previous trips - with the train being the most interesting and flying the least satisfying because you really don't see anything - so after some thought I settled on finding a driver and trying an extended trip by car.

You've already seen pictures and stories of the Isaan area on the site here; the post "Out In The Rice Paddies" from last July continues to get a lot of visits, for example - although I'm not sure why. My latest guess is that it's been referenced on another site and people are landing on it by referral. It is a good bunch of photos, if you'll pardon my tooting my own horn here. The image to the left is from that series.

A farang friend's long time partner (who goes by the nickname of Pot) has for a few years operated his own tour/guide service; a one-man operation that keeps him busy during what's known as "High Season" in Thailand, which is roughly from November through February. My plans were in March - slightly outside of that time frame - so he was available for the dates I wanted to travel. As these were friends there wasn't a place for negotiations on the cost but I was given a more than fair rate and we settled on a time frame of a week, give or take.

At the time Pot had a standard sized pick-up truck with a cover over the back bed, much like a song taew / baht bus, but he's since replaced that with a "stretch" cab pick-up that has a back seat, which allows more seating or storage space. I pared down my junk and traveled a little lighter, so the two of us did just fine in the old truck; now you could comfortably fit in a few more.

Wild orchids growing on a tree near Udonthani - Isaan, Thailand

I'd originally thought we'd take a more direct route to the Udonthani area (my intended destination), but when I found out that Pot's father at the family home in the Surin area was ill I suggested we detour so he could visit him and see how he was doing. From what I'd gathered his father was gravely ill, and if it were my father I might have canceled the offer to chauffer a relative stranger around altogether.

Being a gracious Thai man it was difficult for me to tell if Pot was truly OK with going or not, so to leave him an "out" I suggested we drive by his home and check on his father, and if Pot felt the need to stay he could put me on a train or a bus to Udonthani, with no penalty accrued, and we'd go from there. Maybe he'd follow along after and meet me there, maybe I'd return to Bangkok on my own - it really didn't matter. Family comes first.

After all, I was out to see the countryside so it didn't matter to me if we made a detour; it was all new territory to me. Besides, I wanted to see a little more of the "real" Thailand, and this was certainly an opportunity!

For reference: the lavender dot is Bangkok, the green is Udonthani and the blue is Surin

All in all, it was a win-win situation; so after meeting Pot and his partner for dinner the night before our scheduled departure to take a look at maps and hear a little of the route he planned to take, I bid them good night and went back to my room and my last night's sleep in Bangkok before heading out the next morning for points Northeast.

There's a lot to this journey and the story will take a while, so I'm going to break it up into pieces - meaning you won't see it finished in a week or two. If you're coming across this after the original posting dates, you can click on "Isaan Odyssey" in the labels column to the right and pull them up in a group. I hope you'll enjoy the ride.

Next up in Part 2 - The Summer Palace at Bang Pa-in

The Great Cooking Oil Shortage Of 2554

Hot oil bubbles and foams over an open flame at a sidewalk stall

The word on the forums lately has been that there's a shortage of cooking oils in Thailand. Evidently it's gotten to the point that limits have been set in stores to avoid hoarding - as often happens wherever there's a shortage of something, perceived or otherwise.

My sympathies certainly go out to the poorer folks there who will undoubtedly suffer the most if costs for a bottle of oil rise and stay inflated for long. Those making 100 baht a day (about $3.30USD today) can ill afford the price of a bottle going up to 85+ baht per liter. Goodness knows the bigger folks (i.e. the KFCs, Burger Kings and McDs) will find a way to hold body and soul together financially.

Having just been surrounded by corpulent company on the beaches there recently a comment I posted in fun on a forum yesterday created an image in my mind that's stuck, though, so I'm borrowing my words from there to post here. I know it's inspired me to have a few more salads!

Mysterious disappearances
the beaches of Pattaya
- Imaginary News Service

Dozens of morbidly obese tourists have mysteriously
vanished over the past week from the beaches of the
tourist areas of Pattaya in what is being called yet
another blow to tourism during an already challenged
High Season.

"One minute Gustav was there, snacking on his ice
cream and donuts - and the next minute he was gone,"
said one woman, staring idly off into the distance at what
appeared to be ten Thai men, struggling to drag an
enormous bundle in a beach blanket across the road into
an overgrown area near the Pattaya Rendering Yards.

Meanwhile, across town, the Mayor was speaking to a
crowd at a fat rendering group luncheon, congratulating
them on their unexplainable upswing in their business
during these somewhat slow economic times.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Different Pattaya Panorama

The panorama photo today was taken one morning from the top of the Royal Twin Hotel on Second Road in Pattaya while I was there visiting friends last month.

Seeking a vantage point I'd taken the elevator and gone up as high as I could, and this was one of the results. This view is looking North, and just past the Dusit Hotel (the first long white building at the bottom of the image) you can see the large mall and landscaped area that houses what's known as "Big C North".

By the way, that's not an odd wave on the ocean's horizon just to the left of the Pattaya Centre Hotel - there's a distinct glitch in the way the four photos were stitched today. That's what I get for not using a tripod!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Accommodations, Part 9: Tui's Place, Jomtien Beach

A couple photos stitched together into one of the outside of Tui's Place

Thap Phraya Road makes a sharp left-hand turn when it reaches the beach in Jomtien, but there's also a small soi that goes to right at the 7-Eleven. If you take that down along Dongtan beach about 100 yards you'll find Tui's Place, a small (11 room) guest house and restaurant directly across from the gay section. The soi itself is primarily a paved walkway that runs parallel to the shore for about three quarters of a mile, past the Rabbit Resort and the Pattaya Park, home of the tower we saw a couple of weeks ago.

Just to be clear, I haven't stayed at Tui's Place. I've had a couple of nice meals there, though - such as the pad see ew and tangmo (watermelon) fruit shake to the left - and they were nice enough to show me a room so I could take a couple pictures and take a peek off of the balcony at the beach. There are a variety of room styles available, as you can see on their site (link at the bottom).

It struck me as a nicely kept, casual, home-like atmosphere - and that always appeals to me more often than the strictly regimented corporate feel of a larger hotel. Rooms all have 60+ channel cable and free wifi, which are both nice after a busy day.

Since I'd taken the photos I thought I'd group them together and share them here for reference, in case someone was considering staying there.

Tui's Place sign as visible from the pedestrian walkway

In the two photos stitched together below you can see the beach from an ocean view room on the first floor (second floor to those of us in the US), showing the public rest room at the left and some folks getting massages on blankets.

Dongtan Beach, as seen from an ocean view room on the "first" floor

The restaurant, reception area and room I was allowed to look at all seemed quite clean and tidy, and the rates (Bt 1,900 per day for the room pictured here) didn't seem out of line, considering the location.

I may well try Tui's one of these trips, based on what I saw that day there. I appreciated being shown around a little after my lunch one day and wish them luck, although they seemed to be doing a brisk business already.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Night Photos, Part 14: Rama 1 - Phaya Thai Walkway

One spot I pass through fairly consistently in Bangkok is the intersection of Rama 1 and Phaya Thai Roads, what I'd call the MBK corner. Sometimes it's because I'm staying nearby and sometimes just because what I'm looking for or where I'm going is in close proximity to this busy intersection.

The number of results after doing a quick search here the for "MBK intersection" made me wonder if I wasn't in somewhat of a rut, but I don't think so; it's a central spot that's provided a lot of entertainment for me in Bangkok, sometimes come upon unexpectedly - such as the break dancers at the National Stadium BTS. It's less than five minutes from the Hua Chang riverboat stop, the Jim Thompson silk house (something we haven't covered yet, but will eventually), as well as the prime shopping malls and funky little Siam Square (same same - I'm still gathering photos of it).

As you've already seen in posts and images showing the area (both day and night) it's a huge interchange from the pedestrian's perspective, and there's no way a sane person would want to try to cross it in any direction on foot at street level. In fact, there are barricades that would prevent it to save accidents and the scraping up afterwards. However, there are elevated walkways that take you in almost all directions, after you've climbed the stairs to get to them.

One night this last trip I was out on an evening walk, and while enjoying the comfortable evening breeze (tempered by the slightly acrid smell of the traffic) I found myself at a crosspoint and tried a few photos with a flash to see if I could capture it. The result of four of those is up top today, although the flash is a bit harsh on the girls walking in the center.

At the far left you can see the almost constant traffic there - one good reason not to cross any of the four directions on foot - and closer to the center are the green Mah Boon Krong Center logo initials. To the right the crossing leads to another junction where you can veer left and go up another half-flight of stairs into the huge ant farm that is MBK.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Thai Smiles, Part 27: Seen On Jomtien Beach

This last trip actually allowed me a little beach time while in Pattaya, and although many of the heavily populated public areas aren't what you could call award-winning venues they do provide a fine place to relax; whether to you that means reading, eating, drinking, people watching, sunning or sleeping. I prefer a mix of the above, myself - with a minimal amount of sun and an emphasis on the people watching, because there's such a divers array of tourists and locals, and dozens of quick surprises that happen so fast you can usually only catch them with your eye. Every so often, though, I luck out and happen to be pointing the camera in the right place at the right time.

For example, just walking into the area I was intending to plop myself down I took the top photo of the guys at a chair-for-rent concession sharing a laugh late one morning. Somewhat like office workers would do hanging around the water cooler they were taking turns sharing stories of one sort or another, punctuated by whoops of laughter. It was a superb example of sanuk.

The young man flashing his stomach later came by my chair shirtless and startled me with the near-billboard-sized arachnid tattoo across his back.

On my way out for the day I asked if I might take a photo of it, and he proudly raised his shirt and waited while I did just that. For what he must have endured to have it done he deserved to show it off a bit, I thought.

The guy selling ice cream had hands that showed evidence of many days of handling the small slabs of dry ice in the cooler he carried strapped over his shoulder, even as quickly as he could move it around to take the treats out when he made a sale, as he did with me. He had a great smile.

One of the problems having an older, simple "no frills" camera as I do is that it's difficult to adjust for strongly back-lit situations, such as from shade into the bright light of the beach. It makes it a challenge to get pictures such as the one below, but the delight on his face as he raced along playing ball with his friends made it worth salvaging the image.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Flowers, Part 7: Mussaendas In Rayong

Some time back a friend took me to Suphattra Land, an enormous farm near Rayong where I came upon this panorama opportunity. As close as I can come after doing some web research is that the large densely "blooming" shrub is a Mussaenda (mew-say-en-duh).

Although it looks as though it's weighted with deep pink blooms, the actual blooms are thumbnail-sized and yellow, surrounded by what appear to be large pink petals, but are in reality brachts; leaves that come out with color, similar to a Christmas poinsettia. They don't grow as far North as I am on the West coast of the USA, but they will grow in some warmer places like Florida.

It was an idyllic setting, and I wandered around there for a while taking pictures when we stopped along the tour. I'll do a post about the place itself soon.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The White Elephant Of Jomtien Complex

Although real chang phueak (white elephants) are rare and highly prized creatures in Thailand (many times presented to the king as a ceremonial gift and then released) the large building on one corner of Jomtien Complex on the Southern side of Pattaya is a white elephant more along the lines of the US phrase, meaning something no longer wanted and often difficult to get rid of.

Jomtien Complex sits near the Southern curved end of Thep Phraya Road, the road you'd ride along on a baht bus to get from Pattaya itself to the Jomtien area. The Poseidon Hotel sits at the pointed top of that grouping of dark grey roofs over the complex.

I've seen this building under construction for years; worked on in fits and starts, now looking as though the base work is completed but still a l-o-n-g ways from being finished - especially by Thai construction timetables, if there actually is such a thing. As you can see, it makes a big footprint on the complex in the adjusted satellite image below. I put a green "x" on the structure's ample rooftop.

There have been rumors about the place over time; Tesco-Lotus, Friendship Market, Tops Market - all have been talked about, but that seems to be as far as it's gone. There's a rental office on the ground level to the far right, but that's about it. As you can see from the panorama picture up top today, it's almost completely vacant. Almost, other than an art dealer and the odd stall set up at street level on the corner at the far left in the photo.

My guess is that the other "Nightlife" establishments have been an impediment to finding a keystone store to take the space, but it is Thailand - so who knows? The continual additions to the area high rise by high rise may well create enough of a marketable demand to make it a desirable location.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Not To Be A Nitpicker, But...

In English, if someone is unusually picky or fussy about details they're sometimes called a "nitpicker". It's often someone who easily finds faults in people or things - and usually small things, hence the word "nit," which is also also the name of the tiny eggs stuck to the base of the host's hairs as laid by head lice, beginning what is usually a drawn out and bothersome infestation.

The easiest way to rid a person of head lice is to shave the head, which removes all of the nits. Nowadays there are also chemical treatments, but for reasons of preference, tolerance and cost sometimes shaving the head is the best course of treatment. Short of that, you're left with trying to use a special very fine toothed comb, or a pair of tweezers to painstakingly remove them one by one, hopefully getting them all. Frankly, I think it's somewhat of a fool's errand.

In cultures and societies where people live in a more communal environment - such as a single studio room apartment or traditional one-room Thai house there's naturally more opportunity of sharing something as "catchy" as head lice, but it crosses almost all boundaries, cultures, classes and people.

"Nice," I can hear you saying "but what's the point?"

Walking along a street in Pattaya one day I spotted the couple in the photo above and thought "Oh, isn't that sweet! I haven't seen a public display of affection like that since the afternoon in Bangkok," (Hello, Young Lovers) but as I drew closer I could see the tweezers in the inset and knew immediately that while it was a caring act, it wasn't the romantic episode I'd first thought; this was a hunting expedition. In fairness, she may have been looking for fleas, but her actions were one of someone on a mission, regardless. So, that's your warm and fuzzy Valentine story!

I hope wherever you are and whomever you're with today that you have the feeling of being cared about and wanted by people you care about in return. I am, and it's something I never, never take for granted.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Break Day

I won't be at Jomtien Beach where I sat and watched these jet skis zipping around a ways offshore, but I will be taking a day off today.

See you tomorrow!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Night Photos, Part 13: Royal Garden Mall Christmas

Evidently it was still Christmas in Thailand last month. Christmas trees stood proudly in shops and malls, heavily strung with festive lights, festooned with colorful ornaments and a dusting of - well, dust. I saw them in the lobbies of hotels, in the waiting areas of massage parlors and one somewhat weather-worn one on the beach. I even saw one in the working area of a motorcycle repair shop, lights blinking as the sparks flew from a grinder at work on a bent frame.

There's a 1934 movie song called "June in January", and I thought of it a few times this last trip while out walking, amused at the disparity between the actual holiday and the the decorations for it. If you heard someone singing it while taking pictures, that was probably me.

As planned, I did a lot more night photography than on previous trips, and had even armed myself with a tripod from TukCom the day I arrived. However, time constraints and health didn't allow me to get many pictures at Royal Garden and Central Malls in Pattaya or the Spring things at Siam Paragon, but I did get the above shot (actually two, stitched) of the thousands of LEDs cascading down one side of Royal Garden, with the Ripley's "Believe It Or Not" museum plane embedded above the main entrance. It's an interesting juxtaposition of festivity and disaster, I think.

Back here at home it's not at all unusual to see houses with Christmas lights on them year-round; strings of faux icicles, hanging haphazardly from the eaves of homes and sometimes actually still on at night well into Spring, so I probably shouldn't have been too surprised. However, I live in a country that's overwhelmingly Christian (primarily by name only - you wouldn't know it the majority of the time by the actions of most folks), and Thailand observes Christmas more as an affectation than a real holiday.

So, here it was in the Land of Smiles: the end of January, and the Christmas decorations were beginning to share space with the Chinese New Year lanterns, dragons and cardboard bunnies. It was a hoot!

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Meat Markets Of Pattaya

A butcher's stand - inside a local fresh food market in Pattaya

OK - everyone who thought this was a post about Go-Go clubs, raise your hands. I thought so. Well it isn't, although it is about fresh meat.

Special once a week gatherings that are often called "Farmer's Markets" here in the Western US are just a normal everyday event for local residents throughout Thailand; probably stemming from the fact that refrigeration hasn't been as widely available, coupled with a knowledge that fresher meat and produce is often better and better for you - even with the flies. We won't debate the pesticide/chemical vs organic thing today, thanks.

In addition to a wide variety of produce sold at these markets, more perishable foodstuffs are also available - such as meat, fish and poultry. I've been surprised at the size and number of stalls in these "locals" markets several times - most notably in Udonthani a couple of years back - but also in Bangkok, Pattaya and other places.

What's also surprised me, although it shouldn't, is the way these perishables are out in the open and on display, in the standard grocery stores, too. When I get around to writing about Tesco-Lotus (similar to a Wal-Mart, K-Mart or Sam's Club in the USA) you'll see fresh meat, fish and poultry displayed in much the same way - open, touchable and exposed. Come to think of it, it's not all that different from a lot of the strip clubs there, but let's get back on topic.

A few weeks back I was on my way to breakfast in Pattaya when I walked past the entrance to the local market on South Road, close to the intersection of South and Second, on the South side. I turned in and found myself not only wandering for an hour or so, but nearly missing breakfast entirely.

The guy above who was diligently working away cutting and trimming at one stall didn't seem to be bothered by my watching, so I did. I showed him a very short clip of him cutting, and he laughed, so I asked if it was OK to take a few more and some photos. He agreed, after joking about not getting too close because his knife was sharp and he could slash me if he felt like it. An odd thing to joke about, I agree.

In the clip below you can see him working with a practiced hand, making quick, precise cuts with a well-worn knife that he would stop and swipe a time or three on the bottom of an upside-down skillet he had on the table top.

As is often the case I suspect he'd never seen himself in a clip and he laughed and called a couple of others over to look at it, pointing to the viewfinder screen and then back at himself, saying something in Thai that appeared to indicate he was the Knife Master.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Pattaya Park Tower - From Jomtien Complex

Sorry if some of you expected to see more pictures of the tower and water park itself, but so far I haven't ever gone there. It's located between Pattaya proper and the Jomtien area, closer to Jomtien.

It's been something that's interested me (as a tourist) for years, though, and I thought maybe someone would share something about it via the comments section if they've ever visited the place.

It has a water park with pools, slides and the likes; a roller coaster and other rides, and the 240 meter / 787 foot tall tower that boasts revolving restaurants on the 52nd, 53rd and 54th floors. For the truly adventurous there's a zip line-type drop from tower to ground level and another couple of adventurous ways to ascend the tower. You can't help but notice the tower portion of the place from almost anywhere in Pattaya.

My guess is the view from 50+ floors up is impressive and that the restaurants are somewhat over-priced and of moderate quality. Am I anywhere close to the mark here?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Safety Tip: Pickpockets On The Baht Bus

A song taew (baht bus) seating area

It's so easy to put our minds in "neutral" when we're on a holiday somewhere; there are so many different things to see, we're in unfamiliar surroundings and don't want to miss anything. It's also easy to lose track of reality if one's been drinking, especially if that's to excess.

Drunks are priority targets for pickpockets and others who would take advantage of because they're far more likely to be unaware of what's going on around them. Come to think of it, that was my prime directive back in the distant past when I would throw away time getting drunk - but I digress. The weary, lost and confused are just below drunks for the same reason: they're distracted.

Pickpockets have probably been a problem since before the event of recorded history, but in tourist areas or places where poverty pushes people to act in ways they wouldn't in better times it's more common, and the tourist meccas of Thailand are certainly fertile territory for them.

Song taews (more commonly known as baht buses) perhaps aren't as easy for a pickpocket to work as a moving crowd might be - say, watching a fireworks show - but they can be full, and a person sitting directly next to you could be skilled in relieving you of your possessions. The key is to be aware of your surroundings, who's around you and - more importantly - where your valuables are at all times. Your run-of-the-mill pickpocket doesn't want to confront you so usually you're distracted so they can do their job. Bumping into you, slipping a hand into your pocket or handbag, carefully slicing a pocket with a razor to slip a wallet out - all of these things can - and do - happen in a heartbeat.

The author of the fine (albeit currently dormant) blog Rice Queen Diary told me a wonderful story a couple of weeks ago that I hope he'll get around to writing about if and when he feels like it, but it was an excellent example of what we're talking about here today. Upon going through the 3,000+ pictures I took this last trip I came across these three, although I'd already forgotten about them by the time I had lunch the following week with RQD.

I'd taken the header photo just as a reference picture before noticing the warning signs you see below. The pickpocket warning isn't something I've seen all that often, but the news regularly features stories about this tourist or that being ripped off. Again: don't be paranoid, but BE AWARE.

After seeing the pickpocket warning I glanced over and noticed the second sticker which I'm guessing was more of a joke. It wasn't so much a warning as a reminder of common decency, but since it made me laugh I'm sharing it with you.