04.10.2011 - 01.11.2011
TUESDAY 4TH OCTOBER: CHIANG MAI
On this visit I hired a bicycle to further explore the little sois that criss-cross the old city within the moat as well as some beyond the moat as well. Unexpectedly, the small business that are dotted along many of these sois actually do quite well even though they are away from the main roads. This is because they pass through largely residential areas and in some areas guesthouses and hotels are also located along these sois. Tuk tuks and some motorcyclists also use the sois as short cuts but they are still very quiet and peaceful pathways to stroll along and explore though it does help to have a sense of direction!
Another reason I hired the bike was to look for a bookshop I visited a couple of years ago and although I could remember what it looked like and the immediate surroundings I could not remember how to get there. Despite cycling around the sois in a fairly systematic way I could not find the shop and I came to the conclusion that it’s gone out of business. It is weird how places I like one visit close down by the time of my next visit. Am I cursed or something ?
I also revisited the many secondhand bookshops to browse and buy a couple more books to keep in reserve. Rather than visit all the bookshops in one day I spread my visits out to intensify the pleasure.
Another highlight was to revisit the Thais That Bind restaurant which I have often visited before where the Thai owner always recognises me and we always have a good chat.
One evening, in my hotel room, I watched a DVD movie called Inside Job which though it sounds like a thriller is actually a very intelligent documentary about how the western world is in such an economic mess; how it got there; who is culpable and so on. It pulls no punches when all the key players are interviewed and is recommended viewing.
Another highlight was to go with two young Thai people to the Zoo. I have never been a great fan of zoos but this one was very good and specialising in species from across SE Asia. The zoo itself was better than expected as I'm not a great fan of them. It's fairly new and some parts are still being built or finished off. But it is in a lush jungle setting and very well landscaped and the animals we saw had lots and lots of space. We also saw Lingping. Lingping who, I hear you ask?? She's a panda and was a gift from China and to pay for her upkeep visitors have to pay to see her. But she was asleep so not much to see. We saw a vivid green snake, not in a glass box, but sliding along the jungly undergrowth. One of the Thais spotted it and I managed to get a quick shot of it as it slithered rapidly up a tree which is in my gallery.
I never thought I would ever throw a snowball in Chiang Mai but there is a snow dome at the zoo and we went there as well though the architect must have forgotten to add the dome as there wasn't one! We had to put carried things into a locker before putting on a thick padded jackets and dinky cut-down wellingtons but even so it was f-f-f-freezing inside. Inside there was snow, ice, cherry trees in blossom (fake of course) an igloo without a roof and various other features including an ice slide, like a cut-down luge. We were each given what looked like a plastic toddler’s paddling pool to haul to the top of the slide and then sit in them to slide down. It wasn't a boring straight slide but a twister which all but overturned on the sharp corners. It was good fun, but v-v-very cold. The two Thais were frozen!!
After the zoo we went further uphill in a tuk tuk to Doi Suthep, or more properly Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, which is said to have been founded in 1383 though the full legend can be found on Wikipedia etc. To reach the top you have to climb up 309 steps set between two mythical Naga serpents. The temples at the top look extravagant with abundant gold coverings and decorations and some are considered very sacred. There are good views overlooking Chiang Mai and I tool a set of photos to make a panoramic view for you which is in my gallery.
THURSDAY 30th OCTOBER: BANGKOK
Flying to Bangkok from Chiang Mai on October 13th I managed to get a window seat and when we flew over the central region of Thailand all I could see was a vast sea with the odd tree poking up out of the water and also the odd house. It was an amazing sight from the air but on the ground it must have been a terrifying ordeal.
Everything seemed normal from above as we approached the outskirts of Bangkok and came in to land. By now you will have read about or seen tv images of the floods and it is every bit as bad as you can imagine. There have been regular floods in parts of Thailand, including Bangkok, for centuries but what has made a difference this time is the convergence of several unfortunate events.
Firstly, it rained more heavily and for longer than ever before in Thailand causing floods in Chiang Mai and Udon Thani amongst other places. Secondly, bad decisions were taken early on by the authorities such as shutting off the outflow from a number of dams thus allowing them to be filled by the inflow from the heavy rains. Eventually the dams had to release water which duly flooded areas near to them.
Thirdly, a decision was taken to ‘save’ Bangkok which meant that the huge volume of water travelling southwards (Thailand’s rivers run north to south and most pass through the capital) was prevented from flowing into the city by not opening sluice gates or by building defensive walls etc.
This water has nowhere to go and pressure has built up and up and various breaches of the sandbagged walls has caused many areas to become flooded. Five large industrial estates were inundated causing a lot of damage and stopping production. It is not generally realised that Thailand has a large manufacturing base producing, for example, around 40% of the world’s hard disk drives for companies like Seagate and Western Digital. The production of Apple computers has been badly affected as many components are made here. Sony had to cancel the planned launch of their new Nex camera as it too is produced here and the factory is flooded. All five of Japan’s car manufacturers have been affected too with the loss of their supply lines and car production in the US has almost ground to a halt because certain critical electrical components are made in the flooded areas.
Luckily, the seasonal high tides which came on Saturday 29th October were not as high as feared but with the Chao Phraya river (that bisects Bangkok) at record high levels some overflow occurred nevertheless.
Added to this mix of events has been the lack of solid reliable news. There is news, but different agencies involved make conflicting announcements leading to uncertainty and people not knowing who to believe. There have also been accusations of politicking which doesn’t help either.
On top of all that is the reluctance of the government to declare the floods a State of Emergency because this would give the army greater powers and there is a fear that they would seize the moment to make a coup.
The government has also refused outside offers of help because of the loss of face that would result. The US offered the assistance of their ships and marines which were steaming off the coast of Thailand in case they were needed, but their help was refused.
More than 400 people have died as a result of the floods, millions have been displaced, many thousands have lost everything, many small businesses have gone for good and many thousands of people are unable to work and thus unable to support their families many of whom live in the provinces. Little is said about those who have perished and whenever I have mentioned to a Thai person, during a conversation about the floods, that I feel very sad for those who have lost family members there is never any reciprocal word of sorrow or sadness.
Every evening on Thai TV there is a programme devoted to the daily doings of the royal family. I have watched this several times during the last week or two expecting to see pictures of this or that royal donning gumboots and wading into communities to help and offer condolences or give moral support. What a silly idea that was! The programmes continue as they always do every day showing loyal subjects paying respect and making offerings; the Queen or the Crown Prince or the Princess visiting exhibitions or such like or attending ceremonies at temples and making elaborate offerings to a Buddha image.
The King, in a selfless gesture, announced last week that he did not want any special measures to be taken to prevent water entering the Grand Palace compound but the army, as self-declared protectors of the monarchy, set about making water defences anyway.
When I was in Bangkok it rained every day though not all the time and there were sandbag defences outside shops everywhere. There are a couple of photos in my gallery showing this. As well as an aerial photo showing the near-to-overflowing Chao Phraya river which cuts through the centre of Bangkok.
There is now a growing anger amongst flood victims on the outskirts of Bangkok in particular who resent having to remain flooded in order to protect the inner city. Some people have even taken to destroying dykes to let water out of their flooded area into dry areas on the other side in the belief that everyone should share their misery. This anger could lead to further unrest once the water begins to recede and may, eventually, come to such a boiling point that the government is forced to resign.
MONDAY 17th OCTOBER: PATTAYA
Pattaya had already experienced flooding by the time I got there on October 17th but sandbags were still everywhere. It also rained almost every day here too. I didn’t do very much other than some shopping, eating, going to the beach and searching for a suitable learning Thai book which I bought on my last full day which will give me something extra to do during my free time at school.
I usually stay at a guesthouse when in Pattaya but this time it was fully booked but the owner very kindly offered me the use of a 9th floor fully furnished and serviced condo that he manages at the same rate I would have paid at the guesthouse. It consisted of a very large room with a sitting area, a large king size bed, a small kitchenette and a bathroom. There was a large TV and DVD player as well and there was also a balcony with a table and chairs and views over Pattaya. The furniture wasn’t really to my taste but after a few days it began to grow on me and I realised it could have been so much worse. On the plus side, there was lots of cupboard and storage space which I really liked.
SUNDAY 20th OCTOBER
A cab arrived at my condo at 8.30am and I was whisked off to Suvarnabhumi airport which is the new one. The old airport, Don Meuang, which is still used for domestic flights, is flooded with water up to plane cabin windows.
I saw no signs of flooding driving to the airport though I did see long lines of cars parked at the side the elevated sections of highways to protect them from any floodwater.
My flight to Khon Kaen was uneventful. Though I was unable to get a window seat I was able to see below by craning my neck a bit but our flightpath didn’t appear to take us over any flooded areas unlike my southbound flight from Chiang Mai.
The school Director very kindly offered to collect me at the airport on his way back to Sai Moon from Wang Saphung, Loei. He took me to a market area where there was a separate amulet market taking place with dozens of different stalls selling them and some shops specialising in related items. We had lunch there before walking around the stalls and it was quite interesting to see everything in display.
On the way he told me that he had not been successful in his application for the directorship of Kumin school which means he will now remain at Sai Moon thus removing the dilemma I had about whether to move with him or stay.
Then we went to Fairey Plaza, a large shopping mall in Khon Kaen, where the Director wanted to buy some shoes which meant a long of hanging around for me while he made up his mind.
Then we set off for Sai Moon where he dropped in on Mr Noi at his house and we ended up having dinner there and I was able to meet the replacement English teacher for Ajarn Tippakhorn who is currently in China for one year. The new teacher is Mr Jasper who is from Manila and married to a Thai wife with baby on the way. It turns out that he lives in the village and previously taught at the best school in Kranuan town. His English is good and he speaks Thai fluently which will make life much easier for him. He seems a nice person and I think we will get along very well.
Then Mr Noi drove me to school and I was able to unload my bags, unpack, dust off my room including all the gekko droppings, and get myself settled in again.
MONDAY 31st OCTOBER
Mr Jasper was given a new class timetable for the whole school and we had to work out which classes each of us would prefer teach. I got my bid in early by saying I wanted to teach at least one class of the six grades. It was difficult for us to share out the classes properly but one of the Thai teachers stepped in and did it in a jiff. I now have ten classes a week which is four more than previously. I no longer have every Monday free but I still only have one class that day and I have four afternoons free every week as well.
The lesson times have been changed as well. The first class is now just 40 minutes but all the other classes every day are of one hour instead of 50 minutes. M4, M5 and M6 have two English lessons a week whereas the three younger classes, M1, M2 and M3 each have three English classes per week.
Mr Noi has given me his spare motorbike again which is kind of him. He took me into Kranuan late this afternoon to get a new drive chain and sprocket which were very worn and we had an early dinner there too.
TUESDAY 1st NOVEMBER
My visa situation is becoming clearer. I will have to go to Vientiane again over the weekend of November 19/20th to get another stamp in my passport. This will give me another 90 days in Thailand taking me up to mid-February. I could then go to the Thai Embassy in Vientiane and obtain a 90-day visa to replace the one-year visa I obtained in London before coming to Thailand and I could continue getting 90-day visas back to back.
If I did this I would relinquish the return portion of my air ticket back to London. On the other hand, I am not sure I want to stay in Sai Moon for another year or even stay in Thailand for another 12 months. I will have to make up my mind if I successfully get the 90-day stamp in my passport later this month.