Thursday, 29 October 2009

Thailand: Bangkok - Around and about Din Daeng

As most are aware, I am renting an apartment in Bangkok, in the district of  Din Daeng. As I have made Bangkok my base, for travelling around this part of Asia, this is the cheapest way, rather than at a guest house or inexpensive hotel.....
I have grown to like this part of the city, an easy ride by MRT or bus to both downtown and the 'old City'. As you have seen from a previous posting, the local market is second to none. 
There are numerous 'local' restaurants, a Buddhist Temple, couple of good supermarkets and above all else a feeling of a 'village' very much with it's own identity........ I like it.

Fire Station

Entrance to Wat Din Daeng

One of the Demon Guardians

Buddha image

Small Buddha Pavilion

A local cafe

Picking up a quick lunch

One of the many stall holders  offering
food throughout the day and till late at night....

Figure of a revered monk in the midst of the market

Entrance to the market with Portrait of the King.....

Bringing to market.......

Motorcycle "taxis" waiting for a fare

One of the "boys" takes a rest.......

A monk walks barefoot "begging" for alms

Dancing in the streets during the festival of Songkran


The local supermarket, just a short walk away.....

Statue of the Buddha near the Police Station.....


The local bus that takes me all the way downtown to the Flower Market

MRT Station.......

Local shop opposite my apartment block.....

Shrine in Entrance to the Apartment

Close-up of shrine.......

Taken from the balcony -




This little fella paid a visit one morning & was gone within seconds.....

Enjoying a fresh coconut

Thailand: Chonburi - An "English Camp"

Recently, I spent two days at an "English Camp" for a local school in Chonburi. The journey to Chonburi which is about 100 km east of Bangkok on the coast, took a couple of hours and was held in the 'safe haven' of a Thai Army base, in the midst of a forested area next to the sea shore.

I had had the good fortune of having been invited by Bruce's church group, who were running the Camp for the school. Although the group could speak English, they wanted a couple of 'native' speakers to add weight to the sessions.... I was joined by a couple of young Americans and a New Zealander. And, of course, I took my camera along with me too, although in the end, I did not have the opportunity to use it a great deal......

The first day started really early with a 5.00 am alarm call, followed by a twenty minute bike ride, a short meeting to acquaint everyone with each other and finally a mini-bus journey to Chonburi. I had the ominous feeling that the next two days were not going to be a joy ride!!!

We arrived at 'base-camp' just as the 85 children, aged between 8 and 12 years, were descending from two coaches, together with the Head Master, a number of teachers and assistants.....
Following a school briefing by the Headmaster, the church group took over the days' proceedings.
The children were assigned into seven groups and given their group name associated with children's stories, such as Aladdin, Pocahontas & Peter Pan. I forget now, the others!!!!!!!!

'Peter Pan' was Bruce's group and my role, so I gathered, was pretty flexible - I could wander from group to group talking to the children or take a more direct approach and aid Bruce and his group. I chose the latter.
Singing English childhood songs was the backbone of the two days, together with a group 'skit' based on their character. I might be biased, but 'our' Peter Pan' skit seemed the best of all seven. I must say Bruce was amazing, his patience with the children, coaching them through their lines, done with all smiles and enthusiasm.

Where ever possible, English was spoken, a delight for me!!! Sometimes the youngest children looked 'lost' so Thai was used for clarification.......
As a group of so many children, they were all remarkably well behaved, the elder ones helping the younger ones, no fighting, squabbling or bad language. I am sure this would not happen in the UK!!

I came into my element, with the 'vocabulary activities' on the second day. Each group, in turn, would come to 'our classroom' where I would go through word games, aided by Bruce. This was good fun - one I particularly liked was the pronunciation game, showing the differences between sh and ch, th and ve.... etc.

Our accommodation was basic, barrack-style building with only a couple of the rooms having a bathroom. I ended up having a shower in one of the 'boys' rooms whilst they were busy watching tv with one of their teachers'......

Unfortunately I found the two days quite exhausting, I lacked energy, had a neck ache throughout and my legs were decidedly unsteady. Since my return to Bangkok, I have learned that I have "Spinal Stenosis" and require surgery.......
Non-the-less I had a thoroughly enjoyable time.

Headmaster addresses the Group
with some of the teaching staff

Bruce is on the drums.............!

The other 'native' speakers showing off their singing skills......

Luncheon break

The youngest member of "Peter Pan'......

and the cheekiest .........

The Church Group

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Thailand: Phi Phi Island - paradise lost

The six islands that make up the Phi Phi archipelago are considered to be one of ".....the most naturally beautiful islands in the world....." and " of those places everybody should go at least once in their lifetime......"

This is my fourth visit and to all intents and purposes, my last!!!!

Don't get me wrong, the Islands are spectacular with huge limestone mountains, whose cliffs abound with lush vegetation, that descend into azure coloured waters rich in coral and marine life. During my times scuba diving and later as an instructor, I have dived most of the reefs in the area. There are numerous caves carved in the rocks and the long white sandy beaches are soft to the touch.

Now I know I am now a fully paid up member of the 'grumpy old men club' where life in the past seemed golden and joyful, (not true, by the way!!), but not all change is for the better.

Take Phi Phi as an instance -

I first came to the Islands in the late 1980's. An age before the internet, emailing and social networking changed our lives.....

The journey by boat taking several hours and after I embarked, I encountered a serene paradise with no permanent buildings, electricity or telephones, with shade only being found under a canopy of huge palm trees. The accommodation was really basic, there was one dive 'shop', a couple of 'local' restaurants and I remember the few other tourists I encountered were of the same 'adventurous breed' as I, with the local population being made up of fishing folk.
Paradise gained.........

Today, the islands have suffered from the rampant growth & exploitation of tourism.
Being a mere 50 km south-east of Phuket, Phi Phi is now easily accessible from mainland Thailand by fast boat, putting the islands squarely on the tourist map, turning them into a 'rush a day' destination, where the day-trippers overpopulate the island from about 11.00am when the first boat arrives till 3.00pm when the last boat leaves.
Restaurants, shops, in the main selling T-shirts, internet cafes and a shanty town abound on the main and only populated island of Ko Phi Phi Dom. Litter in the form of cans and plastic bags are strewn over the two beaches that form the isthmus. At night the bars lure the young into a frenzy of binge drinking and merrymaking till dawn, turning the place into the ordinary rather than the extraordinary.
Paradise lost..........

There are a couple of factors that compounded this. Firstly, Ko Phi Phi Leh was the backdrop for the 2000 movie 'The Beach'. Following the release of the film, tourism on Phi Phi Don increased dramatically, and with it the population of the island.
Secondly, Ko Phi Phi was devastated by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, when many hundreds of people lost their lives and nearly all of the island's infrastructure was wiped out. Reconstruction was swift in coming, leading to the growth of permanent structures, hotels, resorts and dive shops.

Phi Phi Dom The main Island of the Archipelago

Approach storm on Phi Phi Ley
From the Lookout on Phi Phi Dom

Ton Sai Bay

Loh Dalam Bay

Dramatic Limestone Cliffs.....

The "dripping" limestone Viking Cave

Cave home
The Island is home to a thriving 'bird's nest soup' industry

Squid fishing boat

Long-tail boat

Long-tail fishing boats now used to ferry tourists round the islands

Shark painting on the prow of a long-tail

The beach front Ton Sai Bay..............

Monday, 12 October 2009

Thailand: Phuket Island Re-visited - quiet places

Despite the continuing building frenzy; the new resorts, gated town house developments, sea-view apartments, the excesses of Patong, (Phuket's main tourist destination, known for it's 2 km long white sandy beach and heady nightlife. I remember the place well in the 1980's when it was little more than a fishing town.......!!), I still like Phuket.
I like it, cos' all is familiar.
I like it, 'cos I am still able to find out of the way places, off the 'tourist trail'.
and I like it, 'cos I am with a Thai friend showing him the sights. All the 'locals' we meet seem amused & delighted that a 'farang' (foreigner) is shows their island to a Thai rather than the other way round!!.....

Chalong Bay from Cape Khaokhat

Fish- farming in the Bay

The small fishing community at Talat Yai This is close to Phuket Zoo
& around the corner from the
house I rented in 2006.....

Brother & sister seek shade from the sun.....

Beginnings of the Mangrove Forest at Talat Yai

The quiet 'uncrowded' beach of Markham Bay on Cape Panwa

The foreshore is covered with these 'Sand flowers'

Looking down the beach to the north

and to the south

This is Markham Bay, looking south, full shot!!!!!


I wonder if this little crab realizes his habitat is in danger.......

Traditional fishing boats moored in Rawaii Bay

A windswept view of Kamala Beach on the west coast

Having explored both the East and West coasts of Phuket, it was time to head inland and show Bruce the out of the way places in the foothills of the mountains The Phuket Mountain Range forms a backbone between the East & West side of the island. For the most part, this limestone range is covered with lush tropical jungle with just a few roads crossing between the two sides. In all, forest, rubber and palm oil plantations cover 60% of the island. The Rubber tree plantations help make Thailand the biggest producer of rubber in the world.

One of the many Rubber plantations on the Island

Collecting the natural rubber from the trees

Red Coconuts
I have only ever seen these here in Phuket.....

Growing pineapple

Water Buffalo family

Squirrels at Rang Hill, Phuket Town

This 'little fellow' landed on my shoulder as I was riding my motorbike......

I liked this 'Street dog' with one eye.....

aaaaaagh! how cute.........!!