Tag - bangkok travel agent

Khao San Road in Spanish

Khaosan Road, una pequena calle donde se juntan todos los caminos. Dicen que todos los caminos van a Roma, pero en el siglo XXI, se podrna decir que todos los caminos van a Khaosan. Este pequeno callejnn situado el la parte Oeste de Bangkok, Tailandia, se ha convertido en el cruce por excelencia de los viajeros de Asia y del mundo entero.

Hace 20 anos era solo un albergue que brindaba alojamiento barato para los primeros mochileros. Y a travns de los anos ha evolucionado hasta llegar a convertirse en una de las calles mas frecuentadas de todo el mundo. Y ha crecido hasta propagarse a las calles y barrios adyacentes. Se puede decir, sin temor a equivocarse, que es el Estado Mayor de los viajeros.

Khaosan Rd. es indudablemente el mejor lugar en Bangkok para descansar despuns de un largo viaje por Viet Nam, Laos o Cambodia. Desde aqun, uno puede prepararse para el prnximo destino. Sea cual fuere, en la misma calle se pueden encontrar todas las opciones de viaje (desde las mas baratas), no importa si Ud. quiere ir a Malasia, Filipinas, la India, Espana o Argentina. O si quiere viajar a una de las maravillosas islas de Tailandia, sea Ko Samui o Ko Chang, para bucear entre los arrecifes coralinos. Pero no olvide pasarse unos dnas en Khaosan Rd. En pocos lugares podrn encontrar tal afluencia de culturas y viajeros de todo el mundo. Durante el dna puede ir de compras por Khaosan Rd y los alrededores, y de seguro encontrara lo que esta buscando (y a buen precio).

Souvenirs tailandeses manufacturados y todo tipo de productos tradicionales, joyerna, tiendas de mnsica, ropa y calzado de cualquier tamano y para toda estacinn, tatuajes, peinados, masaje, etc., etc... Tambinn puede encontrar a minutos de distancia a pie muchas de las principales atracciones culturales de Bangkok. Como el Museo Nacional (The National Museum), el Gran Palacio (The Grand Palace), la Galerna Nacional de Arte (The National Art Gallery), la Montana de Oro (The Golden Mountain), asn como innumerables templos budistas celebres por su arquitectura. Asimismo, es muy sencillo trasladarse desde Khaosan Rd en bus hasta cualquier parte de Bangkok. Igual puede utilizar los numerosos botes que circulan a travns del rno Chao Phraya, que se encuentra a solo 10 minutos de Khaosan.

nTiene hambren Solo tiene que caminar dos pasos. En el nrea puede encontrar literalmente cientos de opciones para satisfacer su apetito y bolsillo. Desde, por supuesto,todo tipo de delicias tailandesas, pasando por la comida china, hindn, malaya, vietnamita, coreana hasta los platos nrabes, mejicanos y europeos y bueno, los consabidos McDonalds, Subway y Pizza Hut.

Pero la vida nunca se detiene en Khaosan. El lugar esta lleno de bares, restaurantes y clubes donde por la noche puede encontrar todo lo que necesite. Lo mismo puede bailar una salsa o un reggae, que tomarse una cerveza bien frna mientras conversa con nuevos amigos de todo el mundo, e intercambiar historias y experiencias de viaje. La juventud tailandesa tampoco falta en Khaosan, muchos prefieren pasar su tiempo libre acn. Podrn estar al tanto de la vida cultural moderna de Tailandia tambinn y sumergirse en la diversidad repleta de nuevas experiencias, emociones y amistades.

Y si pasa en abril por acn, le tocara mojarse si sale a las calles durante la celebracinn del Festival de Songkran. En esos dnas Khaosan Rd. se convierte en un campo de batalla con todo el mundo tirnndose agua mutuamente, celebrando el Nuevo Ano tailandns. Asn que traiga un impermeable. Y la gente regresa siempre a Khaosan Rd. Ano tras ano. Por que no hay otro lugar como este. Es unico e irrepetible. Un destino obligado para todos.

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Guiding Jumbo

“You’ll have to jump, she won’t listen to me,” came the inspired words of the mahout. I was somewhat dubious of clearing the space between the rickety platform and the leathery back. The giant eye looked me up and down, and then gave me a mischievous wink. I figured it was only a matter of time before the platform would collapse, so I took my chances. This was my first experience with elephant rides, over a decade ago. Today, visitors to Thailand are no longer required to content themselves as pachyderm passengers with no control.

Beyond those flirty eyelashes are intelligent creatures with their own thoughts, memories and even a sense of humour. These old souls form a unique bond with the mahouts that guide them – and this world is now accessible to visitors of the National Elephant Institute (formerly known as the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre), a division of the Forestry Industry Organization, in Lampang. Working with these clever creatures is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most tourists.

Homestays and mahout training courses help people to get closer to elephants and learn more about the mahouts’ way of life. The homestay programme has been going for approximately five years and has become especially popular with foreign visitors. “There are about 100 participants each month coming from the UK, Australia, America and other far away destinations,” says Wilawan Intawong, Homestay Coordinator. Visitors can choose to stay from just one day, up to three days and two nights.

The institute tries to provide each customer with their own elephant for the duration of the programme, however, sometimes guests must share if there is a large group. “There are only 10 elephants in the homestay programme at this time,” says Intawong. “We only use the best trained elephants to ensure the safety of our customers.” The 50 or so elephants at the institute are raised ‘semi-wild’: they work at the centre during the day and are returned to sleep and feed in the jungle at night.

Homestay guests sleep in one of three rustic homestay bungalows, each with three bedrooms – one for the mahout and two for guests to share. The open-air common area and kitchen come together to form an ideal space where the group can cook with the mahout and everyone can get to know each other in the evenings. “We have many guests who say the accommodation is too comfortable,” chuckles Intawong. “They are looking for a rougher experience – but they all have a good time anyway.” Other activities include: watching the mahouts as they make woodcarvings of elephants, visiting the Elephant Hospital, learning how to make elephant dung paper, and participating in the elephant show. “Many homestay participants become repeat customers in following years,” says Intawong, testifying to the quality of the programme.

A slightly different, but equally exciting programme is provided by the Mahout Training School, which was established to train real mahouts – not just tourists. Today, the centre receives significant interest in mahout training from visitors, who can take part in programmes lasting from one day to one month. Mahout trainees sleep at the school and in the jungle with their elephants. The school allows those interested in experiencing the life of mahouts and elephants firsthand to do so in a natural but relatively safe environment. Guests not only learn how to ride an elephant but also how to care for it. One of the most important aspects of the course is learning elephant behaviours and commands used by the mahouts. Mahout trainees learn actual commands in Thai so they can communicate with their charges. Intawong says “It takes about three days to learn all the commands, but putting them into practice might take longer.”

“There are typically two mahouts to each elephant,” says Intawong. The word for ‘mahout’ in Thai is kwaan, and there is a kwaan kaaw (neck mahout) and kwaan theen (foot mahout). She explains, “This dates back from the logging days, when there was one mahout on the elephant’s neck to guide it and another by its feet to coordinate the movement of the timber.”

There are no women mahouts at TECC, and in fact, Intawong has never seen a female mahout at all. She says, “Being a mahout is like being married to the elephant, and this makes it difficult, if not impossible, to have a [human] family.” Mahouts form a deep bond with their elephants, spending the majority of their lives with them. When the elephants are chained in the jungle at night and one of them cries out, that elephant’s mahout can distinguish its voice from all the others and will go to its aid.

A mahout at the centre for 20 years, 55-year-old Pbun is now working with his third elephant since the age of 15, when he first started training to be a mahout at another village. He says, “I wake up at 5am every day to collect my elephant Tantawan (‘Sunflower’ in Thai) from the jungle and then bathe her.” Tantawan, along with many other elephants at the centre, has the important task of giving rides to tourists and other visitors. She works a few times a day, taking turns with the other elephants and finishing at 3.30pm to head back to the jungle. Mahouts at the centre only get four days off per month to go back to their hometowns. “Being a mahout is fun, but it takes a lot of dedication and true love of your elephant,” says Pbun.

Thai Elephant Conservation Center
KM 28-29 Lampang-Chiang Mai Highway
Hangchat District, Lampang 52190

Tel. 054-247-875

Email

By Chantana Jasper

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Khao San Road in Italian

Certo, leggendo semplicemente il nome potrebbe sembrare una via o una strada come tante altre: potrebbe essere adornata da eleganti vetrine, ingiallita dallo scorrere del tempo o allietata da viali alberati. Potrebbe trovarsi ad Hong Kong, Londra o Berlino, forse in una tranquilla provincia del sud dell’Inghilterra. Ma non è così.

Khao San Road è una strada con una propria identità ed una propria storia che la rendono diversa da qualsiasi altra via. Anzi, definirla strada è certamente riduttivo, perché in fondo Khao San è un piccolo mondo con i propri attori, è la terra delle mille culture e delle molteplici nazionalità, dove tutti sono benvenuti.

Khao San Road è unica e si trova nel cuore di Bangkok.

Alex Garland la definisce come il passaggio obbligato per tutti coloro che sono appena giunti in Thailandia o che si apprestano a lasciare la terra del sorriso: per molti, in fondo, è davvero così, perché a Khao San non si vive, si transita.

Può affascinarti, puoi detestarla o esserne infastidito, ma non puoi ignorarla.

Al primo impatto Khao San Road ti stordisce: le mille luci, gli odori forti, la moltitudine di persone attraverso cui riesci a stento a muoverti, le bancarelle stracolme di ogni bene, i soldi che passano veloci di mano in mano, le guesthouse e i locali che ti invitano ad ogni passo. Si stabilisce un rapporto, non necessariamente dagli aspetti positivi od esaltanti, perché le contraddizioni sono parte di Khao San.

Poi inizi ad avere confidenza con quell’ambiente così particolare e forse inizi anche a sentirti a tuo agio, quasi fossi a casa tua o comunque in un luogo amico.

Ma come nasce questa Mecca dei viaggiatori? Nel 1982, nel bicentenario della fondazione ufficiale di Bangkok, il governo Thai lanciò una serie di iniziative per festeggiare la ricorrenza, attirando nella capitale migliaia di turisti stranieri.

Molti viaggiatori, che non potevano permettersi il lusso di una stanza d’albergo, convinsero gli abitanti di Khao San Road ad affittare le proprie stanze, tanto per avere un piccolo guadagno extra. Il business delle guesthouse generò in brevissimo tempo dei profitti impensabili fino a poco prima. Nel girò di pochi anni fiorirono centinaia di guesthouse, ristoranti e negozietti di souvenir.

Dal lento brulicare delle prime ore del mattino fino al rapido e vorticoso crescendo che porta in strada migliaia di viaggiatori, Khao San rimane immobile eppure sempre in movimento. Tutti se andranno, l’abbandoneranno carichi di sacchetti di plastica ricolmi di magliette e costumi, uno zaino sulle spalle e pochi soldi, ma altri giungeranno e molti torneranno, perché Khao San, come la Thailandia, non si dimentica, rimane con noi come una sensazione o un ricordo vago che ogni tanto riaffora e, solo per un istante, ci fa viaggiare nel tempo.

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Meditation in Bangkok

Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
There's no doubt about it, Thailand is a genuine draw for the spiritually inclined. Every year, thousands of people visit the kingdom to step away from the material and gain an insight into themselves and the world around them. While many "spiritual tourists" might envisage gaining enlightenment through fasting and sitting cross-legged under the torrents of one of Thailand's many crystal-clear waterfalls, few might consider a trip to Bangkok's main business/entertainment area a step down a spiritual path. And that just might be a shame… because it just might be what they are looking for.

Sukhumvit Road in the center of Bangkok is more recognized as street of excess than a place of retreat. It's where people work hard, play hard and enjoy the bounty of riding the back of one of Asia's more successful tigers. Yet, like elsewhere in the capital, pockets of spiritual resistance exist providing a ongoing reminder of just what is important in life. Fortunately, for visitors and expats wishing to learn more about the spiritual elements that forge this kingdom's unique identity, there are people around that are willing and able to offer tutelage and guidance in a language many foreigners understand - plain English.

I recently visited a one-day meditation workshop held at Ariyasom Villa Boutique Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 1 in Bangkok. Unlike many of the hotels in the area, Ariyasom is genuinely fetching - built in 1942 as a family home it is still owned by the family that built it, and they really have made the most out of everything they've got. The hotel grounds are not huge, yet their design gives the impression of a vast area that you can wonder through and get lost in. Ariyasom's gardens offer various nooks and crannies that you can walk around and find yourself a bit of personal space - probably one of the reasons this is an ideal location for a mediation workshop.

As a Brit, and a northerner at that, I haven't made too many sorties into the world of the spiritual. Although it's got a few Thai restaurants and Chinese takeaways, there aren't that many temples or the like in mid-Cheshire. So, although I didn't know what to expect from this workshop, I did, to some extent, expect to be a fish out of water. It was then very reassuring then to find out that Pandit Bhikkhu, owner of Littlebang and one of the organizers of the workshop, was in fact not Thai like I thought, but from Altrincham, a small town only a few miles from my home. In addition, David Lees, the broadminded owner of Ariyasom, proved to be a foreigner from Mere, which is even closer to my home than Altrincham! At that point in time, the three of us standing there was probably the only incidence of three Cheshire Cats being in the same room at the same time in the whole of Southeast Asia… well, at least I thought so.

Aside from its splendor, Ariyasom has even more surprises. Whereas most hotels in the area push restaurants and "discos" into every spare inch available, Ariyasom offers a spacious, dedicated meditation area replete with a bedroom for visiting monks... That certainly is a first for me.

"My wife is Thai and has been involved in meditation for a number of years," suggested David Lees. "In fact she runs a blog about meditation. We rebuilt Ariyasom with meditation in mind. With a dedicated facility it's easy for us to run events on a regular basis. There's a decent-sized community of English-speaking Buddhists in Bangkok, and we help cater for them. Our events also extend to visitors to Thailand looking to learn more about Thai-style meditation. We get a good mix of people and I think people enjoy our workshops and benefit from them."

David and his wife obviously talk the talk and walk the walk. While other hotels in the area might squeeze every cent out of their visitors, arriving at 08:30 before the start of the meditation workshop, I was greeted by hot coffee, Pa Thong Ko (the deep fried doughnuts that are a traditional Thai breakfast) and juice - all free of charge. As the day progressed, hot coffee was on tap and a vegetarian lunch was provided, again, free of charge. At the end of the day a variety of Thai fruit was on offer. Alongside offering a huge air-conditioned room for the comfort of meditators, catering for around 30 people in this way was not likely to be a cheap affair.

The workshop itself was also free of charge, and like David said, attracted a mix of backpackers, tourists and well-healed expats, although as the bulk of people seem to know each other, the latter did appear to dominate. The workshop was, not surprisingly, insightful - the Vipassana meditation being taught is better known as "Insight Meditation". The instruction was provided by Aussie Mike Sansom and German Helge Sansom. Both are trainers at Wat Kow Tahm (Mountain Cave Monastery) International Meditation Center on Koh Phangan in southern Thailand. Mike and Helge walked beginners and veterans alike through the techniques and methodology of Vipassana meditation and the instruction proved both accessible and pragmatic.

Basically, mediation offers the opportunity to reflect. We were told to sit, eyes closed and consider the in and out of our breathing. Directing my awareness towards my breathing proved both easy and difficult at the same time. Becoming aware of my breathing generated a stillness that was immediately accessible, but it was also very easy to drift off into a reverie of thought without really noticing where my mind was going. It's was sometimes very hard to pull myself away from thoughts of bills, work, commitments, family, and curiously, the theme music to 1980's British TV program, "Black Beauty" - quite where that came from I dread to think. Obviously some deep and dark place. However, as Mike pointed out, any awareness was beneficial, and as Helge suggested, making a mental note of the mental distractions put them in their place and allowed you to revert to concentrating on breathing. In fact, this for me was the most valuable thing I took away from the day… Just sitting quietly like this, acknowledging the thoughts that entered my head allowed me to really understand exactly what was on my mind. 
    
Later, we were introduced to walking meditation. Although I followed the instruction and understood the technique, the sight of people walking around and meditating at the same time was a little spooky I thought. The technique is intended to be used while you are in motion and with your eyes open. It requires full awareness of your body, its movement, and even the ground beneath your feet and the feeling pressure stepping on the ground creates. I honestly couldn't do it in front of people, not for fear how I looked, but genuine fear of how others looked. To practice this I needed to find a bit of space well away from others, and fortunately this was possible at Ariyasom.

We were also introduced to guided meditation leading to compassion and understanding. Helge introduced the meditation using an everyday scenario: You are in a shop; the check out desk is slow and you are being inconvenienced. This causes anxiety and perhaps even rage. You might even be moved to complain. However, although these emotions appear to be driven by external events, they are, in fact, only your reaction to external events. Changing your perception, through an injection of compassion, will help alleviate YOUR anxiety. Perhaps the checkout girl is having a bad day; perhaps she has financial problems or other problems at home; perhaps even she has just found out she has lost her job and today is her last day. Each of these possible scenarios would account for today, and each, with compassion, would be fully understandable.

At the end of the day's workshop, I can honestly say I felt very refreshed - a similar feeling to that you get after having a weekend away, and yet it was really only a few hours. I really did feel I had been given some tools that would help and enrich my daily life. I felt better for the workshop. Our introduction to compassion and understanding was though immediately put to the test. During the latter stages of the workshop, a freak thunderstorm dumped what appeared to be thousands of tons of water into Soi 1. Not surprisingly, given the downfall, the Soi was completely flooded… and just to be fair - this really is the exception rather than the rule in Bangkok these days.

Even if you are only Bangkok for a couple of days, likelihood is there will be something happening that will provide you with the type of experience I had on Sukhumvit Road. Key places at look for events have already been mentioned - the Littlebang website gives broad details on what's happening in Bangkok while mind.matters.at.ariyasom will provide you with specific details of what's happening at Ariyasom.

I really recommend that you get involved in something while you are here. At the very least, you'll take home with you a greater understanding into what Thais find commonplace, and that in itself, will be much more of an understanding of Thailand than some take home with them.

Staff Writer

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Cafe Democ – Back to the Source

Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Khao San Road is renowned as one of the best places for nightlife both in the Bangkok capital and elsewhere in the Kingdom of Thailand. Sitting alongside excellent restaurants and pubs, KSR's clubs now rank parallel with Sukhumvit 11 haunts as some of THE places to visit when in town. Given the importance of the strip's role in catering to global club officiados, the fact that Cafe Democ is seldom included in any foreign clubber's itinerary remains a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

For those in the know, a trip to Cafe Democ is very much a trip to the source - to where it all began. Despite its unimposing architecture and presence (by Bangkok club standards anyway), Cafe Democ is the spiritual home of Bangkok's club scene. Opened in 1999 and located on a corner of Democracy Monument (hence its name), Cafe Democ is no more than a 10-minute walk from Khao San Road and is where the seed of local DJ talent was nurtured into the vibrant scene that exists today.

As I sit outside the club with owner Mr. Apichart - or Tui to his friends - we talk against a backdrop of some killer homegrown Drums and Bass. "This is not really a club to me," suggests Tui wistfully. "I also own club Culture, a big club in the center of town. That to me is a club - this (Cafe Democ) is my home! This is where I was brought up," he enthuses.

Now in his 40s, Tui started life as a DJ at Diana's in 1984, one of Bangkok's leading clubs back in the day. There he pumped out Madonna, Michael Jackson, and any other commercial sound his undiscerning audience fancied. At the time the local talent for even this was limited, and UK companies would send DJs out to Thai venues to entertain the masses.

The DJs brought a smattering of club sounds that although established in the west, represented something of a revolution in Thailand. Rubbing shoulders with these DJs, Tui's tastes changed, as did that of his audience. Slowly, seamlessly, pockets of resistance to commercial music emerged and along with it local DJs experimented. Thailand's first real underground music scene was born.

"15 years ago Bangkok was the leading place for club music in Southeast Asia," adds Tui. "DJs from places like Singapore and Hong Kong came over here to sample the scene. Unfortunately, as with other places in the world, in 90s the club scene became synonymous with drug culture. Drugs pretty much killed the underground. The police closed venues, and Bangkok became a bit of a wilderness. Hip Hop changed that."

"Local artists like Joey Boy made Hip Hop respectable and brought it into the mainstream," he continued. "Once there, the scene emerged again - it was a safe environment where people could experiment with sounds. Clubs and DJs started to flourish again, and Cafe Democ was there to help things along. Local DJs came here to play exactly what they wanted, with no commercial pressure. We brought over the occasional international act, but primarily, Cafe Democ was for local DJs".

The scene grew to the extent that Cafe Democ DJs turned professional and a number of venues emerged to cater for the increased demand for club music. RCA flourished and places like Astra (now Club 808) went from strength to strength. Many of those venues though stuck to a more traditional format, catering for Bangkok's party scene.

"Cafe Democ is no Route 66,"suggested Tui, talking about a famous RCA club where patrons dance around small tables to top 30 US tunes alongside more commercial local sounds. "There's a genuine sub-culture around these days. This sub-culture has had to be resilient. It's faced 'Social Order' issues that placed curfews on clubbers, political uncertainty, and of course bouts of economic downturn. Despite all of this, the scene remains healthy and you can experience it at Cafe Democ."

These days Cafe De Moc serves up an eclectic assortment of sounds - Electro, Mash Up, Drums and Bass, and despite its proximity to KSR, caters to a predominantly Thai crowd (often based out of Thammasat University) and a few expats who speak a smattering of Thai. Things warm up around 23:30, but before that people sit around and enjoy the great local food Cafe De Moc offers its punters.

"We don't have the marketing budget," suggested Tui when asked why Cafe De Moc doesn't compete with some of the brasher places on KSR. "Nowadays foreigners only stay on Khao San for a couple of days and then they are off. It's not like before when they used to stay up to a couple of months and really get to know the area, including this place (Cafe De Moc)."

Cafe De Moc does though have a small but loyal foreign clientele. DJ Curmi (?) from Brighton, UK was there the night we visited. He wasn't playing; he was just hanging out. "I love this place," he confided. "This is where it all started and it's still going strong. I come here every time I am in Thailand. It's not like one of the big Sukhimvit clubs - it's very intimate".

Cafe De Moc opens nightly until about 1:30 in the morning. If you are looking for a slice of the local scene, it's well worthy of a visit. It's usually free to get in and there's a solid line up of acts.

Check out the much less than pretentious Cafe De Moc website to see what's on offer.

Check out the toilets for excellent graffiti!

cafe-democ_map

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Look Daddy – a Shopping Mall!

Although Buddy Lodge is certainly not a shopping mall, with local building restrictions, it's as close as you will get on Khao San. Venturing into the building, there's a general sense of this being a world within a world. Everything you can find on Khao San is there - the silver shops, accommodation, the bar - but it's all a notch up market and there's a very distinct feel of smooth professionalism about the place. There seems to be a problem with parking though - there's a number of classic motorcycles abandoned throughout the building. (more…)
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British Prisoners in Thailand

British Prisoners in ThailandWe contacted the British Embassy in Bangkok to find out more for people looking for relatives and loved ones who they think might be in prison in Thailand and asked them for information for people who are interested in visiting British prisoners while they are visiting Thailand.

Here is our email: 





Mr. James

I am the founder of www.khaosanroad.com - a website dedicated to budget travel in Thailand and the Khao San Road area of Bangkok. We regularly receive emails from people with queries regarding foreign prisoners in Bangkok and Thailand, especially British prisoners. The queries are varied but often follow one of a couple of themes:

1)  People looking for information on how they can visit foreign prisoners when they are in Thailand, and
2)  People looking for relatives who they believe might actually be in prison in Thailand.

For the former point, we have some information gathered from visitors who have been through the process of visiting prisoners, but the information always leads to the same point - people must get a list of current prisoners from the relevant embassy. In addition, the information we provide is far from comprehensive.

For the latter point, very little seems to be available on the Internet about how people can go about finding out if one of their relatives is in prison in Thailand, and again, the trial leads to the British and other embassies.

I was therefore wondering to what extent the British Embassy in Thailand might be able to officially comment in these two issues in a fashion that might be published on www.khaosanroad.com.

I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Very best regards

John Hughes

Here is the British Embassy's reply:

Dear John,

Many thanks for your e-mail. There are a number of the British nationals who are in prison in Thailand, who have indicated that they are willing to receive visitors. The major difficulty is that the visiting times in the prisons vary according to which room number the prisoner is in. It is best for anyone who wishes to go on a visit, and is serious about their visit, to contact us for more detailed information. When can they tell them who they can visit and exactly what the visiting days and times are. But what I am keen to avoid are frivolous enquiries from people who do not follow through with the visit.

The Royal Thai Police are required to notify the Embassy of the arrest of any British national in Thailand. Anyone who believes that a relative has been arrested or is in prison should contact us, unless they are in the UK. In the UK they contact the Thailand Desk of the Consular Directorate in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Telephone 0207 008 0105. But, for data protection reasons, we can only confirm the details of anyone who has been arrested or is in prison if they consent.

I hope that this information helps.

Yours sincerely,

Neill James
Vice-Consul British Embassy, Bangkok 1031
Wireless Road
Lumpini
Pathumwan
Bangkok
10330

So, there you have it - contact the British Embassy in Bangkok if you are looking for someone who might be in prison AND if you want to visit British prisoners. However, in the latter case, make sure you are serious about the visit.

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Nima Chandler of Nancy Chandler Maps

Nima Chandler of Nancy Chandler Maps: Khao San Road Map
Nima Chandler of Nancy Chandler Maps: Khao San Road Map
One thing there is no shortage of in Thailand is maps… Big ones, small ones, pocket sized ones. You know the sort of thing… They are often a pointless exercise that contribute nothing to the quality of your visit… The immediately disposable giveaways probably most functional in the rainy season as an alternative to the umbrella you didn't think you'd need to bring. Usually found at your guesthouse reception, these maps feature places you already know about or wouldn't really want to visit. Invariably, they carry countless adverts for "Rahiv's and Sanjay's Bespoke Tailoring Shop", restaurants offering the best Pork Knuckle this side of Baden-Werttemberg (or even Lower Saxony), and diving lessons from the local Swedish diving school (why are there so many in Thailand?). They contribute nothing to the quality of your visit… unless of course you are talking about Nancy Chandler Maps.

Created by Nancy Chandler Graphics, and turning the genre on its head, Nancy Chandler Maps are no throw away irrelevancies, but items visitors to Thailand cherish and actively seek out to purchase. Advert free and uninfluenced by 'tea money', they act as a surrogate guidebook, which they often rival for pertinent information. Nancy Chandler Maps are not only useful, but they are the sort of thing people take home as souvenirs. This month saw the organization cross into KhaoSanRoad.com territory with a detailed map of "Khao San Road & Old Bangkok". Before the Bloods and Crips kicked off a turf war, we sat down for a powwow with Nima Chandler, who researched the map.

Here's the result:

KSR: Nima - thanks for meeting us like this. First of all, why don't you give us an overview of Nancy Chandler Graphics and its history?

Nima Chandler: My mother Nancy Chandler founded the company in 1974 when she produced the first detailed map of Bangkok, initially meant to be for expatriates. Handrawn and handletttered, it included special little craft outlets, the only western supermarket, English langauge bookshops and the like about town, while also trying to make some sense of the chaos that were the Sunday Market (then at Sanam Luang near Khao San) and Chinatown. All much the same as was what we do today, although Bangkok has grown immensely since then.
 
KSR: So, you've lived in Thailand all your life?
 
Nima Chandler: It has been home since I was one, the chaos of the city something I thrive on. Visiting the US, I am always amazed at the lack of street food vendors, loud music, mega malls around every corner... It's much too quiet and sane for me there.
 
KSR: And you have maps for Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Suan Lum Night Bazaar… how do you research your maps?
 
Nima Chandler: We clip and file anything we read or see of interest year round. Come update time, we collate all notes before setting out to research specific areas, then either walking or driving up and down streets, keeping one eye open for things on the list, another eye open for things not on the list. One thing you'd never want to do is walk behind me in the Night Bazaar or Chatuchak Weekend Market as every stall gets a once-over before I head home with my notes to pick and choose what might be of interest to the visitor or expatriate.
 
KSR: It must be an ongoing task updating them?
 
Nima Chandler: In a city like Bangkok, it's exciting. There's always new places to visit, old places to toast for surviving, and closed places to keep an eye on to see what comes next. Each city map does take about 6 months to properly update, which is why we only do so every year and a half normally. Luckily I have help now, with my assistant Manapiti Ramasoot, who calls around to confirm hours and the like, while also taking on some of the on foot and road research as well.
 
KSR: …and now Khao San Road... what drew you to Khao San?
 
Nima Chandler: We added an inset map of Khao San to our Map of Bangkok back in 2003. I personally loved the color of the area, its vibrancy and energy, not to mention all the great bars, shopping and attractions of the area. (As my mother jokes, there weren't many bars on her map at all until I joined her in the business. When I did, Khao San was not an area to be overlooked for all it had to offer nightlife lovers.) Since then, we've held several fun scavenger hunts in the area and I've co-hosted several wild hen's nights and Khao San pub crawls for expatriates that rarely tour this part of town. Pictures would be provided, but my friends would not speak to me if I shared, sorry.
 
KSR: We have to say it's a totally detailed little map - everything you need is there and it's going to be really useful for people visiting the area. How long did it take to research?
 
Nima Chandler: Approximately 6 weeks. We had just updated our Map of Bangkok so our notes were pretty up to date before we focused on the area in more detail. We then spent 2 weeks of researching on foot in the area - I actually moved to a hotel on Phra Athit for the week - hunting down places we'd heard about but had yet to pinpoint for the map, after which it took another 2-3 weeks to map, index and double-check. Nancy meanwhile was working on all sorts of sketches to go with the map - of backpackers looking for hotels, shopping, drinking, etc - which sadly never made it onto the map for lack of space! Hopefully, we'll be able to use them in another format in the future.
 
KSR: Most people who come to KSR leave and come back again after a couple of weeks and say "I hardly recognized the place"! Isn't keeping your map of Khao San and the area relevant going to be a particular challenge given how quickly things change here?
 
Nima Chandler: Our website offers free updates online, something we started years ago with our other titles. Updated at least once a month, we highlight great new additions, mention places that have closed and things to keep an eye out for, as well as list upcoming events people might be interested in. In short, if we've heard about or seen any changes, they'll be noted online at www.nancychandler.net.
 
KSR: Give yourself a plug - where can people buy your maps on KSR? What's the current price?
 
Nima Chandler: Nancy Chandler's Map of Khao San & Old Bangkok is available online at www.nancychandler.net and at bookshops in the Khao San Rd area (including Shaman, Sara Ban, Bookazine, Aporia, Moonlight and others). Our suggested retail price is B 125* in Thailand. For those overseas, our website offers the map at US$ 7.95* including delivery by airmail (we don't believe in quoting one price then adding on huge delivery charges without notice when people go to check out).
 
KSR: Most of the maps you find around Thailand are merely excuses for advertising. But of course, you don't accept advertising. So this means you recommend everywhere you mention?
 
Nima Chandler: No, we don't recommend everything on the map - there's too much on the map to do that. On our Bangkok and Chiang Mai maps, recommended places are highlighted in the directories that accompany the maps if not on the maps themselves. On the map of Khao San & Old Bangkok, our favorites are generally given a special mention on the map itself and within the directory. For our nightlife listings, however, we provide short descriptions, leaving the user to decide what kind of scene they are into. For example, we're not particularly keen on hip hop ourselves, but if you are, you'll find a place you'll like on the map. You can read between the lines too, as in the case of one pub where we note "mind the drunken yobos" and another we describe as with "loud live band 9pm on, chill earlier".
 
KSR: And you don't take 'tea money'?
 
Nima Chandler: No 'tea money', no free rooms, no free meals, no discounted drinks. We usually don't mention who we are or what we're doing either, unless contacting people by email.
 
KSR: So what are the 'must do' places on KSR right now?
 
Nima Chandler: Hmmm. What's 'in' changes regularly and really depends on what kind of crowd you're into - I love the streetside cocktail bars which are located in front of what will be a big new mall and hotel, in other words, a remnant of the past likely to disappear soon. Thais meanwhile are currently flocking to the streetside cafes and clubs on Rambuttri just north of Khao San which has a flavor all its own after dark. If I had to list five places that would 'surprise' the visitor to Khao San, they would include a visit to the restored mansion that houses Starbucks for a coffee, a browse for the most unusual title you can find at Shaman Books (there are some truly bizarre ones), a pre-party drink anytime from 6-8 pm at the rooftop Gazebo, dinner anywhere on the street, and then a few more drinks at the Roof Pub on Khao San (great oldies music and a buzzing crowd), the Old Phra Athit Pier on Phra Athit (a much quieter, almost refined ambience for the area) and/or the Ad Here blues bar on Samsen (for the non-claustrophobic).
 
KSR: And if you were writing a back of an envelope itinerary for someone staying on KSR, where are the key places they should visit in the area? I am sure Wat Phra Kaew must be on the list?
 
Nima Chandler: The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Po and Wat Arun are on everyone's itineraries. Special suggestions we would make would include: Sunset drinks and/or dinner at The Deck of the Arun Residence, a wander down the back alleyways to the simple shack-like riverside cafes near Tha Phra Chan, maybe a wander through the crowds at the market in front of Siriraj Hospital on the other side of the river, for sure dinner in the Phraeng Phuton area at Chotechitr. If you're vegetarian, we'd recommend May Kaidee's and Rub Ar Roon. If you're a student, we'd recommend a visit to Thammasat University's bookshop and uni market. I could go on and on. In short, we recommend personalizing your visit, something we believe our detailed map enables people to do.
 
KSR: What about little novelties - markets, oddities… places people might not necessarily read about in a guide book but should visit while they are on KSR… got any suggestions?
 
Nima Chandler: Besides the many mentioned above, wander by the Sor Vorapin boxing gym when classes are in session - who knows, you might find yourself signing up for a few hours of training. The Lofty Bamboo crafts shop is our favorite relatively new outlet, with great little hill tribe textile baby shoes that jump off the shelves among other items. Sticking your head in Nittaya Curry's shops for Thai kanom (sweets) and snacks can also be a unique experience...
 
KSR: So, what projects are coming up… what new maps can we look forward to?
 
Nima Chandler: Let's see. I am supposed to be on holiday, resting up after updating the Bangkok map and releasing the Khao San & Old Bangkok map, but someone who shall not be named has us now toiling away on a map for this very website... As for other projects on the table, we'll let you know when we're ready to announce!
 
KSR: OK - well… good luck with all of that and let us know how things work out.
 
Nima Chandler: Will do.
 
*Prices June 2008
 
See the map of Khao San Road provided by Nancy Chandler Maps.

Read more...

Chris Rodgers, Oh My Cod

Oh My Cod, Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Oh My Cod, Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Oh My Cod, Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Oh My Cod, Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Oh My Cod, Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Oh My Cod, Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Oh My Cod, Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Oh My Cod, Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Oh My Cod, Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Oh My Cod, Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Oh My Cod, Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Oh My Cod, Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Oh My Cod, Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
What do you get if you add a drunken night out with your mates and a complete absence of a decent fish and chips in the immediate vicinity? The answer: Food for thought. We talk to Chris Rodgers about the journey that started as a two week trip to Thailand and ended up with him bringing a real English fish and chip shop to Khao San Road.

KSR.com: OK... Perhaps you can start by telling us your full name.

OMC: Chris Rodgers... with a 'D'.

KSR.com: So... How long have you been in Thailand?

OMC: I've been here 12 years...

KSR.com: And what have you been doing for most of those 12 years?

OMC: I came here for 2 weeks 12 years ago... I was on my way to Indonesia and Australia from India, but I never managed to get down there. For the first 6 months I did the backpacker stuff; backpacking around Thailand. And then I got involved in the Thailand Times... I am a photographer and I was helping them out for a while. It was never enough to live on though, and then one day the company I used to work for in the UK called me because had a new contract at the airport here. They were working with a Thai company and asked if I could show them the ropes for 3 months. That lasted 10 years and I finished with them in November last year. We were dealing with all the major airlines. I finished that to start up this place.

KSR.com: Time to go out on your own?

OMC: Well, yeah.

KSR.com: You weren't going to open your own airline, so you opened a chippy (fish and chip shop) instead?

OMC: That's right - instead of "we're flying tonight", "we're" frying tonight".

KSR.com: That can be the interview headline..."From frying to flying!"

OMC: I wasn't actually flying though; I was on the ground.

KSR.com: Still a great headline...

(Tense silence)

KSR.com: So... erm... The big question is, "is it a northern chippy, or a southern chippy?"

OMC: Middle... we are bridging the gap between north and south.

KSR.com: You can't. It's either north or south.

(A few more seconds of tense silence)

OMC: We're south of Leeds and north of London.

KSR.com: So it's a southern chippy?

(A few more seconds of tense silence)

KSR.Com: Where are you from in the UK?

OMC: Loughborough.

KSR.com: That's London.

(More tense silence)

KSR.com: Do you sell 'Savaloies'?

OMC: No, we don't. But we do sell 'Mushy Peas'...

KSR.com: OK... Northern chippy.

OMC: ... and Deep Fried Mars Bars...

KSR.com: What?

OMC: Deep Fried Mars Bars.

KSR.com: Deep Fried Mars Bars?

OMC: It's a Scottish delicacy.

KSR.com: I've never even seen one of them, let alone had one.

OMC: Every chippy in Scotland sells them so I thought "why don't I put them on as a bit of a talking point". I made some up for a group who came in here the other night. One of them said he liked it... he was from Denmark. The others said they were glad they'd had one, but they wouldn't have one again.

KSR.com: Denmark?

OMC: Yeah...

(More tense silence)

KSR.com: OK... So you were working at the airport... what was the inspiration behind this place? What made you want to start a fish and chip shop on Khao San Road? Have you got chippies in your family or something like that?

OMC: No, not at all. I had to take a course in the UK to become a certified fryer...the British Federation of Fryers... There might be one more place on Phuket but I am definitely the only certified fryer in Bangkok. The inspiration? It was a drunken night on Khao San Road with some mates. We couldn't be bothered to go down Sukhumvit to the chippy there; it's a long way for a bag of chips. Two years later I was trying to find a suitable place for a chippy here, and eventually found this place... and it was going to be just a fish and chip shop originally, but it went more from that to a cafe where you can get a breakfast, pies, baked potatoes... that sort of thing. I used to live in this area and I did a bit more research - I knew it wasn't a place to get a great British breakfast... You can get them on Sukhumvit and I thought "why not do them down here". Sausages, fried bread, Black Pudding if you want it... The works.

KSR.com: So how long have you been open now?

OMC: We opened in 2006. We opened around Songkran so that was a hectic week...

KSR.com: Really? So you got straight in there selling straight off?

OMC: Yeah, it was the best way to do it, we managed to solve a lot of our problems straight away - if we hadn't have got straight in there it might have taken longer.

KSR.com: Why do you think it was all so immediate?

OMC: A lot of our regulars are from this area, we've got a lot of people from Manager Magazine around the back... they come in at lunchtime... UNICEF as well - we have a few of those people...

KSR.com: So let's get this straight - UNICEF spend my donation money of chips and mushy peas?

OMC: That's right... I wanted to make a different sort of place for this area. You've got the nice surroundings... It's...

KSR.com: (Interrupts) I guess its one of those things that, in this area, could be a hit or a miss, and obviously it's been a hit. A lot of the people I talk to already know about you.

OMC: We did a lot of marketing in places like Ajarn.com, BK magazine, Untamed Travel...

KSR.com: ...and the words got out pretty quickly about this great new place on Khao San Road.

OMC: I was amazed - I did a search on the internet and there were lots of posts about me... the Lonely Planet website... ThaiVisa... Stickman... the word's getting around. What I am finding is that people staying here for 3 or 4 days aren't just coming in once, we are seeing them a few times. We had one girl who came in here breakfast lunch and diner for three days in a row!

KSR.com: You have certainly got everybody's interest... There's a fascination with the idea of an English chippy on KSR. There's a lot of American influence on the strip with bars, etc. but there are a lot of English people down here, and they stay here longer, so this place redresses the balance a bit.

OMC: That's right...

KSR.com: So what is absolutely special about this place... apart from Fried Mars Bars?

OMC: We do a 'Hangover Special' which is quite popular. It works if you are still drunk as well, one girl told me last week. It's a fried breakfast with a Bloody Mary... a decent sized Bloody Mary... You know.., the stuff that works when you are not feeling well.

KSR.com: That sounds illegal - lots of carbohydrates and a Bloody Mary?

OMC: Well, we're off the main drag a bit so nobody can see... but really - it works. I am told anyway. I haven't had time to get drunk to find out for myself.

KSR.com: That sound's encouraging...

OMC: But we also do meals that you probably won't find in other places, things like "Boiled Eggs with Soldiers", which are selling like hot cakes. We are doing about 10 or 15 plates every day.

KSR.com: Who too?

OMC: The Indian tailors... They love them.

KSR.com: "Boiled Eggs with Soldiers?"

OMC: Yeah.

KSR.com: I thought that was strictly for the under 5s?

OMC: Yeah, it is, but everyone likes to go back.

KSR.com: Right...

OMC: Cheese on Toast... You see people who have been traveling for 6 months and they come here and have Cheese on Toast... you'd think they were in some sort of fancy French restaurant or something.

KSR.com: Well, it's very exotic food in these parts; thousands of miles away from the United Kingdom... don't look down your nose at Cheese on Toast.

OMC: We use proper cheese... imported... not those processed cheese slices.

KSR.com: Aren't you a bit daunted at the prospect of moving into something like this with the rents so high around Khao San?

OMC: I think having been here so long I had a good idea of what I was getting into, and I didn't start the place to become a millionaire... that's not want I wanted... As long I can pay my rent I am happy.

KSR.com: And we certainly think you are going to do that. You've done really well at conveying an 'English Experience' - it does make you feel like you are back in the UK. Have you had any fights in here yet?

OMC: (Laughs) We had 5 soldiers who were on leave from Kosovo. They had come out here for some R&R. They asked me what was on the drinks menu and I only have beer - no shorts at present - but I do sell Bloody Mary. They asked me what was in a Bloody Mary and they just had 5 straight Vodkas. In the end they had 2 bottles of Vodka. 10 bottles of Singha, 4 Changs... one of them kicked a table over. But it was all done in the best possible taste. They were alright...

KSR.com: Sounds like any small English town on a Saturday night... excellent. And you need that sort of thing for the authentic English experience.

OMC: Exactly. (Laughs) No... to be honest we keep that element out. But we do show 'Eastenders' every Sunday, so if you really are missing the authentic English experience you should come down.

KSR.com: 'Eastenders'?

OMC: Yeah.

KSR.com: The omnibus edition?

OMC: Yeah.

KSR.Com: OK Chris... That sort of raps things up for us. Thanks for your time and best of luck with everything you are doing.

OMC: Thanks - it's been a pleasure.

Khao San Road Directory Listing

Read more...

An Interview with Steve Burgess of Bangkok Natural Healing


healing_and_alternative_medicine_in_thailand_1
Healing and Alternative Medicine in Thailand
Healing and Alternative Medicine in Thailand
Healing and Alternative Medicine in Thailand
Healing and Alternative Medicine in Thailand
Reiki, energy healing, Chi Gong, Tai Chi, healing crystals - yeah, yeah, yeah‚… If you've been on the road for a while, you've heard it all before, usually from some dreadlocked neo-hippy clutching a Carlos Castaneda book he picked up in New Delhi. It's part of the package, and for many, their understanding of the energy healing and alternative medicine is as substantive as their knowledge of why Che Guevara is printed on the front of their t-shirts. The result - the whole issue is often trivialized and marginalized…

Enter Steve Burgess. Steve landed in Thailand 3 years ago and immediately set up on Khao San Road working out a small, one-room shop. His passion for healing is only surpassed by his passion for standards. He is dedicated to the cause of proving scientifically that energy healing is beneficial, and he has worked with doctors and professors who are now beginning to champion his cause. Beyond this, Steve is committed to developing training courses in a range of healing arts that meet international standards and can stand the test of third-party scrutiny. Syllabus, curriculum, learning outcomes - these are not terms usually regarded part of 'alternative' vocabulary. From 'esoteric' to 'pragmatic' - meet Steve Burgess and it will go a long way towards demystifying the mysterious.

We talk to Steve about his time in Thailand, on Khao San Road, and what is in store for the future.

KSR.COM: Steve - great of you to meet us like this. Perhaps you can just introduce yourself for our visitors' benefit and give them an overview of what it is exactly you do.

SB: Firstly, I have been here now 6 years. I came to Thailand to study Pranic healing, and as with most training, once you learn something you need to go and practice. I wanted to start doing treatments as I had studied many different healing arts. I started with a little shop on Khao San. As soon as I made the decision to open there, I was contacted by people in hospital who wanted treatments, and then people in other countries contacted me. I was also invited to teach and do treatments in Japan, which surprised me as that is where Reiki originated. Reiki is the main healing art I use and teach.

KSR.COM: You are from Australia. Many of the people I have met involved in these areas you are have been from safe middle-class backgrounds. Not really the case for you though, is it?

SB: Yes, I am an Ozzy ‚– a country boy. I have had quite a few changes in my life. The last big change was before I came to Thailand. I spent 5 years on 4,500 acres of cattle county. It was a bare block of ground, no house, no running water, no electric. I built sheds to live in and caught water to drink and for showers. I built an old style hot water system and then upgraded to an electric generator - using fire all the time was quite time consuming. Then we hit a massive drought - I had to move the cattle for them to survive. I never wanted to be in that situation again, to fight against the seasons is impossible. Earlier I had worked full time teaching Kung Fu and also worked in the Security Industry, mostly at night clubs and pubs. Oh, also spent 2 years in Brisbane at the National Actors Conservatory studying fight choreography and script writing. So, it is only my experience now that allows me to earn an income, and wow, sometimes that has been a challenge!

KSR.COM: So, from that type of background, what brought you to the healing arts?

SB: At the age of 16 I studied Kung Fu and at 21 I was teaching Kung-Fu full time. I was taught that if I was going to hurt someone, I should be able to fix them. I was taught about Acupressure, manipulation, herbs, moxibustion and massage. So, the Kung Fu training got me into the healing arts, in the beginning I never knew it was a part of it. As the years went by I had studied other areas of interest such as the Bowen Technique. With more interest in the Chinese meridian system, I went to Po Lin Monastery in Hong Kong and went to Shaolin in China to study Chi-Gong.

KSR.COM: Let's talk about Reiki for a moment - you are a Reiki Master and a Reiki channel. What exactly does that mean?

SB: Well, it really requires deep understanding and experience with the science of energy and how energy is related to our bodies. The word Reiki means ‚“Spirit Energy‚”, not ‚“Universal Energy‚”. This I discovered when the translator working with me in Taiwan said Reiki was ‚“Lyn Chi‚”. I understood ‚“Chi‚”, but asked her about ‚“Lyn‚”. She replied ‚“Lyn‚” means spirit. From that, I understood Reiki a little differently from my experiences of doing Reiki treatments and the development of the students I had taught.

A Reiki therapist has healing energy around them; Level 1 would normally have 2 to 4 of these Spirit, or healing energies with them all the time. When the therapist is doing a treatment the Spirits send energy through the therapists body, in through the Aura and Major Chakras, and the energy comes out of the therapist‚’s hands, or Minor Chakras, and into the client‚’s body. This spirit energy is what facilitates the treatment - and the outcomes are quite amazing.

Being a therapist the training consists of understanding the different energy bodies of our clients, such as the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual bodies. What makes Reiki different to other energy healing arts is how energy is drawn into the therapist‚’s body. Other methods require meditation practices, and then the therapist becomes depleted of energy, this is not the case with Reiki.

KSR.COM: How exactly does Reiki help people get over their ailments and diseases?

SB: OK - I will bring some facts into the picture here. Russians have used bio-reasoning equipment for the last 40 years, initially to monitor the health of their astronauts. In the USA (Rife) equipment has been developed that works on frequencies for healing. Every part of the body - organs, cells, etc. - can be measured by frequency. The 3DMRA in Taiwan, Rife in the USA, and other bio-reasoning programs are now being recognized by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).

When performing a Reiki treatment, Spirit energy goes through the therapist's body to change the polarity of congested molecules and, where necessary, remove the negative Ions from the physical body - this also cleans the energy around the body (Elixir) or Aura, Etheric Aura and Major chakras. With scientific equipment, the outcome of treatments can be verified. In simple terms, Reiki energy balances the Chakras and the client's body detoxifies.

Energy sciences are found in many cultures - the foundations of Chinese medicine, Acupuncture, Chi Gong, and also Ayurvedic healing from India which dates back even further. Shamanic practices have been in most cultures around the world.

KSR.COM: I went to the opening of a restaurant on Khao San Road recently and there was a gentleman their promoting his resort in southern Thailand. His philosophy was that there is no such thing as medicine and that all medicines are in fact just poisons of different intensity. He was a firm advocate of anything but the western medical approach. Do you subscribe to this point of view? Does western medicine have any value as far as you are concerned?

SB: Everybody has choice in life; I only supply a service like others in the medical industry. Conventional medicine certainly has its place. Where do you go if your arm has been ripped off? You will not come to me. Although Reiki will help quicken the healing process when the arm is put back on, that type of injury requires surgery and western medicine.

I believe in what has been established by WHO (World Health Organization) and in most countries - Complimentary Alternative Medicine is beneficial. My view is to get the greatest benefit for my clients - that is what I am looking for. Everything has its place. We have to establish what caused a problem. If the cause of a problem is identified, healing is very quick.

KSR.COM: So - and forgive me for being so blunt - I have in the past heard Reiki described as 'snake oil'. In a world of facts and figures and checks and balances, what evidence is there to prove that it's not?

SB: When I was in Taiwan I was introduced to a director of a hospital dedicated to the use of natural healing on patients with stage 3 or 4 cancer. I suggested incorporating Reiki treatments into their program, and I was introduced to a professor at the Taiwan Community Development Association. I was asked to do a presentation on Reiki while the 3DMRA equipment was presented to doctors. The 3DMRA showed clearly Reiki treatments are powerful and detoxify the body to equivalent extents as acupuncture, and sometimes even greater extents. This evidence has been documented and is now undeniable. The 3DMRA is now being used in five hospitals and diagnoses illnesses up to 2-3 months before blood tests or X-rays are able to.

KSR.COM: And what are your personal experiences of the benefits of energy healing? What results have you seen?

SB: Starting with tension and hypertension, Reiki is very effective with both of these. Many students have emailed me to say thank you as they are now sleeping well. A stranger experience would be when a client arrived with an X-ray of a disease with a long, complicated name, which is considered incurable by conventional medicine. I did 2 Reiki treatments and taught the patient Reiki level 1. Later, I got an email from the patient saying he no longer had any pain. About 6 months later I received another email stating another X-ray had been done and the disease had gone. Another client lived in Bali and asked me to go there to do a treatment on the King of a village who had been sick for 3 weeks. No doctor or Shaman could deliver results. I was in Bali for 4 days, on the 4th day the village King was fine. I have now done over 4,000 Reiki treatments in 6 Countries - I don‚’t know why, it is just my life.

KSR.COM: So, when you first came to Thailand, you set up Bangkok Natural Healing on Khao San Road‚… Was it a good experience?

SB: Khao San was the best experience as the clients were from all parts of the world - some very interesting people with various healing methods they had trained in. Some had a very good understanding of Reiki. I met many people who believed Yoga was Reiki or meditation was Reiki - it was an experience to observe these differences of opinion. Some would stay on KSR for only 2-3 days and some would stay 2-3 weeks learning the courses I was teaching. It was a great place to be.

KSR.COM: I can imagine alternative treatments being popular on Khao San Road, but, of course, you have moved now, so the question comes to mind - are these treatments popular amongst Thais, or are you still dealing mainly with visitors?

SB: Thais know more about Palung Chukawan (Universal Energy) and Yo-Ray - both techniques draw in energy by using meditation, neither are Reiki. I am dealing mostly with expats and people who fly into Thailand just to learn, or to have a treatment. I guess word gets around. I have now submitted a 3 month training curriculum and a 1 year curriculum to the Ministry of Education to enable people to come to the school on a student study visa. This will also enable Thais to get a student loan to study.

KSR.COM: Alternative medicine, energy healing - in the past they have often been marginalized. And as you have said, you are now working with doctors and professors who are more in tune with western medical approaches. Why have these areas suddenly become more mainstream, do you think?

SB: I feel there is certainly a world trend and statistics show that 80% of people are inclined to seek Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) treatments rather than conventional medicine. I feel many people are becoming aware of the side effects of the chemicals used in modern medicines. Australia is taking the approach that people working in the CAM industry are likely to identify illnesses and therapists likely to make health reports and recommendations to their clients. More people's lives may be saved as illnesses are found earlier in their development. Therapists are to be given training meeting national qualification standards set by the government. There are 45 to 50 insurance companies that allow members to go to spas for treatments and claim it on their health insurance. As more research is being completed, we are becoming aware many CAM methods work more quickly on some serious illnesses than conventional medicine or treatments.

KSR.COM: You are heavily involved in preparing a range of training courses. Typically, who are your trainees and what do they do with what you have taught them?

SB: Trainees are generally locals and the courses boost their qualifications. They meet international standards in areas such as anatomy and physiology, client consultation and other subjects. With the courses under their belts, people can get jobs working in Spas in other counties. Other students seem to want to establish Spas in their home countries. I try to support them with a Spa concept and give as much guidance as I can.

KSR.COM: And you are running these courses at a resort south of Hua Hin. Tell us more about this. What are the objectives of the resort?

SB: Lumra Resort is quiet and it's got a great beach. There are a limited number of rooms down there so it's an excellent place to deliver programs such as Stress Management, Full Moon activities and Elite Energy Training programs. These programs have been tailored for specific outcomes and there are activities every month. Our objective is to make this resort a special place in the world, where people can have individual growth and soul touching experiences. All these programs leave a lasting impression on your life.

KSR.COM: You are also starting a Reiki Research Center and attempting to set up clinical trials. Why choose Thailand for this? Surely, it must be easier in the west?

SB: The Reiki Research Association was submitted a year ago and the registered certificate will be completed soon. I am lucky to have some good support from like minded people, some being doctors. The objective is to scientifically prove the outcomes of Reiki treatments. The research protocols will be to western standards such as CBC, and Viral Overload tests will be taken as part of the clinical observations - though not limited to only this. Bio-reasoning and the 3DMRA are planned to be implemented to monitor changes before blood tests.

In the west pharmaceutical companies get funding through governments and they have their patents on production lines. With alternative treatments and medicine, the funding is limited. The pharmaceutical companies want to own the rights - big business in a big industry. When the registration is completed we will be looking for financial support and assistance to run clinical trials starting with HIV; there's a planned 3-month "live in" program on a mountain planned. What we are planning would be very difficult to do in another country. Interestingly associations and doctors in other countries are very interested in what we are trying to establish. I feel the results will help all health practitioners, from doctors to therapists. We will though need donations - some of the outgoings to run a 30 people live in program for 3 months will be close to one million baht.

KSR.COM: So you have your individual treatments, and your training, and your resort work and the Reiki Research Center - what's the big picture here? Where do you want all this to be in, say, 5 years?

SB: Well, I am only here for one life and the best I feel I can do is establish a school where people can come and learn competent healing practices through training that meets Australian educational standards. I want to share my experience in Reiki with others, so others may grow. I want to develop a Spa concept for students wanting to do the same in their own countries. And I want to do research to prove what I and so many others are doing around the world with Reiki is genuinely beneficial, and I want to share the outcomes and information with the rest of the world.

KSR.COM: That's great - thanks. Good luck with everything you are doing in the future.

SB: Thanks, John

Click here to contact Steve Burgess.

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Thai Fried Bread

Thai Fried BreadThai food includes a fascinating array of appetisers. Some of these, by themselves are substantial enough to constitute an entire meal. Just like their western counterparts, meat and seafood are commonly featured.

Fried bread is one such interesting dish that on initial impression may appear more appropriate being served at breakfast. But like many Thai foods, first impressions can prove to be quite incorrect.

If this was a prelude to the main dish, it certainly deserved better than being delegated to the rank of a breakfast item.

The aroma of this freshly fried dish was indeed tantalising, There were about ten portions of bite sized golden brown squares measuring about an inch and a half each, all nestling on a bed of shredded salad.

Well-fried bread has no greasy drip and should not be soggy at the base. When prepared well, it should be hot enough yet comfortable when chewed into. It should appear very light to taste in spite of the oil and batter. When bitten into, the crispy flavoured exterior gives way to the very pleasant chewy consistency of the white bread beneath.

A small salad accompanies the fried bread, acting as a pleasant contrast. The diced cucumbers and slivers of carrot in a vinegar-based dressing act as a wonderful counterbalance, adding a zing to this predominantly greasy and possibly heavy dish.

This appetizer with its salad accompaniment is a fine example of how different foods and differing flavours harmonize in Thai cooking. The crunchy salad complements the crispy bread, while the cool sensation of the salad contrasts with the hot bread. The vinegar-based salad dressing provided for yet another contrast against the greasy taste of the fried dish.

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Pomelo Salad

pomelo_saladOne fascinating aspect of Thai cuisine is the liberal use of its many exotic fruits in its dishes. Mango, coconut, papaya and even banana are some famous examples.

Pomelo is a large conical fruit about the size of a small coconut. It has a firm peel which allows the fruit to be peeled neatly, like a mandarin orange. Quite strangely, it tastes very much like grapefruit except it is much sweeter and will not make one cringe. The segments, which may be a pale yellow or even pinkish, are laid out like those of an orange or grapefruit and are easily removed to be eaten.

Yam Som - O is a pomelo salad. This curious dish comprises segments of juicy and plump pomelo teased into small morsels. It is tossed with sliced raw cabbage, cooked shrimp and sprinkled with fried shallots. The dish is moistened with some spicy sauce. To top off the experience, the salad is generously sprinkled with freshly roasted and crushed peanuts, which impart a fragrance to this dish which is otherwise mildly spicy.

Like many Thai dishes, the pomelo salad offers a hybrid of tastes and sensation. The cabbage imparts a crispness which is interrupted by the soft and juicy segments of pomelo whose unique taste, whether sweetish or mildly sour, colours the entire dish. The varied texture of the shallots and the crunchiness of the roasted, crushed peanuts, add to the eating sensation.

Nick Lie


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Crosstown Traffic

Cross Town Traffic in Bangkok, Thailand
Cross Town Traffic in Bangkok, Thailand
Cross Town Traffic in Bangkok, Thailand
Cross Town Traffic in Bangkok, Thailand
Cross Town Traffic, BTS in Bangkok, Thailands
Cross Town Traffic, BTS in Bangkok, Thailand
Cross Town Traffic, MRT in Bangkok, Thailand
Cross Town Traffic, MRT in Bangkok, Thailand
"Don't s**t yourself that's the secret," I'd never been on a motorbike taxi before and they were the words of advice my mate Chris had given me about riding on one. He said, "Most accidents happen when farangs get on the back and don't know what's going on. They panic and try to jump off when it gets a bit scary."

At the time I was trying my best not to s**t myself. We were going the wrong way down a one way lane and a bus was coming towards us. The sheer terror was incalculable, I'm struggling for metaphors, it was like being on a motorbike heading straight for an oncoming bus. I covered my face with my hands, a few seconds later I uncovered my eyes and saw that we were ten feet (that's about 3 meters for those of you from mainland Europe) away from colliding head on with the bus.
 
I made the sign of the cross and wondered weather to jump or not but the driver glided deftly to his left and slid through a gap about two feet wide (that's about an inch and a half wider than your humble narrator for those of you from mainland Europe). The slipstream of the bus to my right and of the taxi to my left made the hairs on my arms face the wrong way.
 
When we got to my destination I paid the driver the prearranged sum of sixty baht although I genuinely felt like "tolchocking the brazny vesch in the litso real horrorshow for making me kaki my breshies which at the time were the heigth of fashion" (if you don't understand that last little phrase try reading A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess although the diction gets the general sentiment across).
 
I'd always sworn never to get on a motorbike taxi, but that day matters were quite urgent, I had 20 minutes to get from Sukumvit to Thai Air's offices on Silom to get my flight changed or loose it altogether. Once the panic was over and everything was sorted out I heaved a sigh of relief, reflected on the journey and thought how convenient that particular option had actually been.
 
The return journey to my hotel wasn't that urgent, but I weighed up the other modes of transport available and actually opted for a motorbike again. This time, as I was relieved and happy to be staying in the kingdom for another week and not so petrified of the consequences having managed a successful maiden voyage, I actually enjoyed it. I sat back on the seat, lit a cigarette at some traffic lights, waved flirtatiously at a young lady in a taxi and regretted not having brought anything to read with me.
 
When I got back to base camp I pondered for a while over another facet of Bangkok that makes it so enchanting, there are just so many ways to get around in this great city. Here's an outline of some of the different options available.
 
Walking

Pros

If you smell some nice food being cooked you can stop and try some.

Cons

Within a hundred yards you'll have sweat accumulating in every nook and cranny of your body and within two or three you'll need a change of clothes.

Dos

Wear something light and loose fitting.

Don'ts

Bother unless it's journeys of less than a couple hundred yards or so.

Motorbike Taxi

Pros

They're a very quick efficient way of getting from A to B, especially in heavy traffic. Can be exhilarating. Cons You may need a change of underwear. If you have back problems repeated motorbike journeys can aggravate them.

Do's

Agree on a price before setting off, and get the driver to come down 10 to 20% on his opening price. Insist on wearing a helmet. Keep your knees tucked in.

Don'ts

Panic or wobble about.

Tuk Tuk

Pros

They're a quaint entertaining way of travelling. They can cut through traffic, but not as well as motorbikes. They carry more than one passenger.

Cons

The drivers tend to have commission deals set up with tailors shops, bars, massage parlours, jewellery stores etc. and will constantly bother you to take a visit at no extra charge.

Do's

Knock them down on their asking price.

Don'ts

Believe they can take everywhere in Bangkok for only 20 Baht!

Taxi

Pros

Taxi's can be a nice comfortable way of getting around town. They've got aircon, are amply protected from the rain and have plenty of storage space for luggage and shopping. If three or four of you share the fare it can actually work out cheaper than the other modes of transport.

Cons

They sometimes have the aircon on too high and aren't too good at cutting through traffic. The drivers have a habit of talking complete nonsense about how bad the traffic is, how little money they earn. If they hear you mention an English Premiership Football team they will furnish you with their intimate knowledge of the side ad nauseum. If they hear you speak even a single word of Thai they assume that you're fluent and will speak freely and openly to you in their dialect despite your protestations that you only speak a little bit.

Do's

Wear a seatbelt. Insist on them using the meter instead of letting them quote you a price.

Don'ts

Mention a Premiership Football team, especially one that's doing well, or they will bore your socks off.

Bus

Pros

I'll put my hand on my heart and admit to it I know next to nothing about the buses in Bangkok, so if you don't like me personally their main "pro" is that you can be 100 % certain never to run into me on one of them, although apparently they're very cheap. From what I can work out they are either air conditioned or non air conditioned and those who use them tell me they're a good way of getting about and cover virtually the entire city. Cons They go head on at you when you're on to the Thai airways office on Silom on a motorbike in an emergency and make you soil your breeches.

Do's

Expect to be one of too many people jammed onto them and have to listen to very disconcerting engine noises. Find out from somebody how to go about using them.

Don'ts

Expect any help from me!

River Boats

Pros

Bangkok's River Boats or River Taxis a very very cool way of getting about. They're fast, cheap, exciting and offer some outstanding views of the city. Bangkok was known as the "Venice of Asia" because as recently as the 1980's the best way to commute was by canal although recently most of them have been closed off because they became polluted although a couple of the main routes (Chao Prahaya and Klong Saem (sic)) are still used. A lot of people visiting Thailand form the west want to see the old Thai culture and travelling my river boat will give you that on old charming creaky timbered boats. The Chao Prahaya boat is pretty easy to use and is quite tourist friendly and there's a pier at Banglampu near Khao Sarn Road and near Wat Po, Wat Arun and the Grand Palace.

Cons

The routes they travel are a bit limited and there is little tourist information on them, so unless you're on the Cha Prahaya one ask somebody who knows, if you use them it may take a while before you know your way around. You might get a bit of water splashed on your face and have a bit of a nerve jangle getting on and off them but it's part of the fun. If you don't like me you've got the chance of running into me on one of them.

Do's

Give them a whirl. Don'ts Fall into the river, or expect it to go without hitch, but you're on holiday so what does it matter ?

SkyTrain

Pro's

The Skytrain or BTS was opened on the Kings Birthday on December 1999 and was a real milestone in the development of Bangkok as a modern city. There are two lines which cross the majority of the city and intersect near Siam Square. It's a fast, safe efficient way of crossing the city and can offer some pretty good cityscapes from above ground level. If you're in a hurry through the business districts of town it can be the best way to travel.

Cons

It can be a bit overcrowded at time so expect the odd game of sardines and it can be a bit disorientating at times, a lot of people when they first start to use it have to ponder about which exit they take so expect a few wrong turns during your visit but it's still a good way of getting about, oh and I got my pocket picked on there once but don't let that put you off, everybody who knows me will tell you how unlucky I am.

Do's

Give it a try, enjoy the views and zip through the congestion.

Don'ts

Get aggravated like I sometimes do at the dumb visitors who can't work the ticket machines or the barriers.

Subway (MRT)

Pros

The Subway/MRT or "Mass Rapid Transport" system is the latest weapon in Bangkok's artillery as it prepares to do battle for the title of number one 21st Century city. It opened in around 2003 and after a couple of false starts and hiccups it now runs quickly and efficiently across the city from Hua Lamphong (the Central Railway Station) to Chatuchak Market in the North and intersects at two or three places with the Skytrain.

Cons

The aircon is sometimes set a little bit too high so when it isn't rush hour you can feel the cold and a lot of its stops are non tourist destinations. The map and ticketing systems at the stations are a little bit on the vague side if you don't know your way round Bangkok.

Do's

Give it a try.

Don'ts

Worry about it if you don't give it a whirl, the views aren't that spectacular with it being underground and anyway it'll still be there when you come back.

Don't fotget there's no a Railway Link (Airport Link or SRT) that's a good way to get around Bangkok.

CHEERS !

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Royal Barges in Thailand

Royal Barges in ThailandOne of Thailand's most spectacular sights for visitors would have to be the flotilla of Royal Barges carrying the Thai Royal Family elegantly down the Chao Phraya River during traditional annual celebrations. Although such a spectacular marine procession can only be seen just a few times a year, the Royal Barges themselves, when unused, are housed and maintained in sheds located about 45mins walk & ferry away from KSR and can be viewed daily by the general public between 8:30am to 5:00 pm at an entrance fee of just 30 Baht. It's a chilled out way to spend time between waking up and happy hour and another great opportunity for visitors to get up close and personal to some unique and important Thai works of art.

Beautifully hand crafted, a Royal Barge procession would total an approximate number of 25 boats; however, only few of these are the "actual" Royal Barges with most numbers taking up roles of Royal Escorts, and fantastical Mythical Creature Barges. Once you've found the Royal Sheds (which requires a little patience) you will see that every Royal Barge is headed by a mythical figure or creature and is ornately decorated. The barges themselves reach an approximate length of around 50m and require a crew of over 40 men to row each. These majestic barges are all hand crafted, intricately carved, colourfully painted and inlayed with hundreds of tiny mirrors/glass shards to make each barge seem to shimmer and sparkle, day or night. Of course, as expected, the largest barge of all named "Suphanahong", is reserved for the King alone. The barge itself is over 50m in length, is wonderfully decorated and has to be powered along by 50 oarsmen.

Royal Barges in ThailandGetting over to the Royal Barge Museum is quite easy. The sheds themselves are located along Khlong (canal) Bangkok Noi, which is just across the Chao Phraya River, and is very close to the Pinklao Bridge. You can head over to the Museum in a taxi or Tuk Tuk, but if you'd prefer to avoid the traffic around Pinklao Bridge, then take the river instead. From KSR take a short walk around to Phra-Athit Pier, on Phra-Athit Rd and catch a ferry boat just across the river to Station Pier. When you?ve crossed the river, follow the road up to the Arun Amarin Road junction. Here, take a right and head across the bridge for the canal, getting off the bridge on the other side via the stairs to your right. A small sign and the few food stalls around mark the entrance to the museum. Although the entrance path is quiet long (hence the need for patience), just follow the signs as you zigzag between local homes; spotting the "house of beer" will mean that you're on the right track, until you finally reach the Royal Barge Museum. Enjoy.

And remember...

Keepitreal

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Chill Out in Cha-am

Cha-amIf its time to re-charge your batteries before the high season mayhem begins, then look no further than the all year round chilled out seaside resort town of Cha-am.

A favourite weekend destination for many Thai families, water sport enthusiasts, and myself, Cha-am, the No.1 beach resort of Pecthaburi province, is located 163km south of Bangkok. Getting there is as simple as a 113 Baht, 2hr bus ride from Bangkok's Southern Bus Terminal which will drop you beside the 6 km beach at Soi 1, Ruamchit Road, the heart of the town or if you've 4 hrs to spare and prefer the railway, then 40 Baht will find you a seat on the direct train to Cha-am which leaves from Bangkok's Hua Lampong Railway Station daily at 09:25am; however, if you take the train, once arrived at Cha-am Railway Station, you'll have to hop on a 20 Baht motorcycle taxi to ferry you down to the beach area located 2km away.

cha-am_1Dotted along the 6km Ruamchit Road running parallel to Cha-am Beach, visitors can find a variety of new and old accommodation to meet any budget ranging from guest houses and villas (Approx. 400-600Baht /per night depending upon facilities) to hotels and resorts (Approx. 1,500-upwards Baht per night).  Nevertheless, as Cha-am is one of the most popular weekend destinations for Thai's, take note that availability becomes scarce and that prices are variable and do increase to quite high levels over the weekends and during Thai holidays, so to avoid disappointment, book or call in advance if visiting on a non-week day/Thai Holiday.

For the adventurous among you, besides the beach area Cha-am has several sights to see such as Muruk Khatayawan Palace (King Vajiravudh's golden teak summer residence), Kaeng Krachan National Park & Dam (Thailand's largest national park at 2,915sq.km), Khao Luang Cave (home to many Buddha images very strangely showered in sunlight from 2pm-3pm), Phra Nakhon Khiri Palace & Park ( King Mongkut's summer palace), Phraram Rachanivet Palace (King Chulalongkorn's rainy season palace) and Springfield Village Golf Spa.

At the beach, the usual array of water sports are available, with all vendors offering the same hire prices; Jet skiing 700 Bht/30mins, Banana Boat 200 Bht/per person and so on., but note that rates can change whether the beach is crowded or not, depending upon the day of the week. If you're tired of lazing by the sea and prefer something a little less energetic than water sports, then hire a bicycle (seating 1, 2,3 even 4 people!) or a motorcycle and tour along the beach road and beyond or even take an idyllic pony trip along the beach as the sun sets. But before you leave the beach area, don't miss out on tasting some of Cha-am's fabulous seafood snacks served by wandering vendors.

Back along the main road, Cha-am is now home to a mix of Thai and European (particularly Scandinavian) restaurateurs and guesthouse owners.

However, unlike in other nearby popular areas such as Hua Hin, prices of food and drink are still great value. Delicious seafood, classic Thai and familiar western dishes are available to suit all tastes and large ice cold Heineken, Singha, and Chang.

My guests and diners usually tell me that Cha-am becomes like a home away from home for them, told me Jarle who together with his Thai wife Tukta and family run the perfectly located, sea facing Baan Thai Restaurant & Guesthouse. With 6 clean, well priced & furnished, self contained a/c rooms, a great Euro-Asian menu and never ending stock of ice cold beer, I was not surprised when Jarle told me that Baan Thai (www.ban-Thai.net) has been mentioned in LP.

So for those looking for a break from city life or beach loving brethren, this chilled out and peaceful home away from home is a great nearby seaside destination at which you can re-charge your batteries, hit the seafood and down a few cold ones without blowing a hole in you wallet. Enjoy.

And remember?

Keepitreal

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KL’s Early Chinese Influence

KL's Early Chinese Influence
KL's Early Chinese Influence
KLs_early_chinese_influence_3
If early KL had a heart it was the Old Market Square. Here, on the east bank of the Klang River early traders set up shacks to cater to the pioneer Chinese miners who had been sent up river prospecting for tin in 1857. Tin soon became quite profitable so more miners were despatched to the jungles around the river. And as the miners moved in so did a variety of traders seeking to profit from this exciting new industry.
Supplies for the growing village took something like three days from the Klang estuary on the west coast of the peninsular thanks to the twists and turns of the serpentine like Klang River and when they did finally arrive they were off loaded just south of the current Masjid Jamed, the place where the traders had set up stall.

For the Chinese miners living and working upstream the Old Market Square was their R & R. it was where they came to gamble, take opium and enjoy the pleasures of the local hookers. And overseeing this burgeoning empire was the Captain China. Yap Ah Loy.

On the corner of Jalan Kasturni and Lebuh Pasar Besar today stands a credit card centre. In 1877 there was a 'fairly loose board house' from where Yap Ah Loy ruled his turf surrounded by attap roofed houses occupied by his coolies.

There was a gambling shed close to the river, roughly where the Sin Seng Nam coffee shop now stands while the clock tower that stands almost apologetically at the heart of the square stands on the ground that was once the heart of the market selling the food and materials the miners would need to take with them up river.
 
The Old Market Square was the centre of old KL and the arteries radiating out today follow the rough old tracks first developed over 120 years ago as people hacked their way through the jungle to create new settlements at places like Pudu. A map of the area today would be recognisable to Yap Ah Loy and his contemporaries but put him by the clock tower and ask him to show you where his house used to be and he may struggle to come to terms with the changes that have since his patch of land transformed from essentially a rural market garden into a buzzing commercial centre. Those three day boat rides to Klang, 'poling and rowing' have now been replaced by slick efficient one hour train rides.
 
In his own right Yap Ah Loy is an intriguing character. Part gangster, part warlord (he would pay for rivals heads to be decapitated and he would display them outside his house, near that credit card centre), part businessman. His importance to the growing community of KL was recognised by the English colonial overlords and it was through his determination that the new town overcame such teething problems as floods, fires and internecine warfare that pit rival Chinese and Malay groups against each other.
 
His memory lives on in a couple of places around his old stomping ground. Yap Ah Loy Road is possibly one of the shortest roads in all of Malaysia while the Sin Sze Si Ya teple, built by him back in 1864 is still active and his memory is revered by devotees lighting incense to his memory. Look carefully inside the temple for a photograph of the man himself at his own alter.
 
At first glance the temple seems to have an orientation all of its own, set as it is just back and off the main roads. But Yap Ah Loy would have followed traditional feng shui principles when he designed the place so an expert, applying those principles, could come up with a rough idea of how the area looked while it was being constructed.
 
Yap of course is long gone. As is his old gambling shed as well as the hookers in their tiny shack. The attap roofed homes of his coolies have also gone and in their place has come high rise concrete buildings dwarfing the square. There are no more floods and real roads now link the old heart with the expanded city and its suburban overspill. It's a transport hub, a commercial centre and as such differs little from similar places around the world. Much of Yap's world has gone but what remains is Malaysia's vibrant capital city. Without his determination and steely resolve, and his profits from sex and drugs, perhaps KL would have disappeared in one of the many fires and floods that hit the small town.

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Colonial Kuala Lumpur

colonial_kuala_lumpur_1
Colonial Kuala Lumpur
colonial_kuala_lumpur_3
It may come as a surprise to many people that Kuala Lumpur is in fact the youngest capital city in South East Asia. It’s founding can be dated back to 1857 when the Sultan of Selangor, influenced by the money to be made from tin mining in the neighbouring state of Perak, sent a group of Chinese laborers up the River Klang to start prospecting.
Those hardy pioneers landed at the confluence of the Rivers Klang and Gombak, at the place where the Masjid Jamek now sits, and started hacking away at the jungle that covered the area.

The miners are long forgotten and the jungle has long been replaced by a different sort of jungle. So complete and so rapid was Kuala Lumper’s growth that within three decades it was declared the capital of colonial Malaya as the British, flush from the global demand for tin and rubber, set about creating a fantasy Moorish city where they could enjoy their gin and tonics and play cricket under the tropical heat.

In the 1880s KL was taking shape. Merdeka Square was even then designated as an open space, initially where the nascent Selangor police force would drill. A photograph from that period shows an early Selangor Club facing onto a rough and ready field. Opposite, where the Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samed now stands, was a muddy track flanked by attap roofed shacks with walls of woven bamboo strips.
 
Behind lay the omnipresent jungle, dark and foreboding and still home to tigers and other wildlife.

And yet by the first decade of the 20th century a vibrant, cosmopolitan capital city had been hacked from the jungle proclaiming the wealth and confidence of British Malaya.

Merdeka Square, formerly known as the Padang, still sits at the heart of KL. In 1880 the area where the Anglican Church now stands was swampy and while locals used to grow vegetables the colonials would shoot game birds.

By 1892 it was decided the Padang would be perfect for cricket so the area was flattened and pretty soon there were tennis courts and football pitches at both ends to cater for the growing band of administrators.

A musical bandstand was constructed so people sitting on the balcony of the Selangor Club could enjoy the latest sounds while sipping their gin and tonics.

Flooding from the nearby River Klang caused a different type of amusement when the whole Padang flooded. A lawyer at the time offered a wager. He would swim from the balcony of the Selangor Club, across the Padang to Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samed with his feet not touching the ground.

The Selangor Club had first appeared in 1890 though in that wonderfully snobbish manner of the British overseas a new club was to appear later as the original one had got too popular. The self appointed elite wanted to enjoy their downtime in more exclusive company and not mere clerks and planters.

But it is the Selangor Club that is the best remembered. It was soon nicknamed the Spotted Dog for reasons that have now been lost in time. One suggestion was that once membership had been opened to local dignitaries, i.e. non white, the club's elder members took to describing it in a derogatory way and one such was the Spotted Dog.

Today it is an icon of KL. Low rise amid all the high rise that now dominates KL I's Tudor beams seem oddly at ease within the context of the Padang. It acts as a link to early KL as it grew from being a kampong and into a world class city. The British have gone but the Selangor Club hangs on in there.

With places to play and drink sorted the next thing the colonial administrator wanted or needed was a place to pray. Certainly as more family men were being transferred to KL more and more took their wives and prissy middle class Victorian attitudes didn't look to well on so much cricket and gin occupying their men folk's time.

Work started on the gothic style St Mary's and soon it was expected all staff would attend the 11 am Sunday service properly attired. Failure to attend would be noticed and a quiet word in the ear of the offender would follow. Because of course chaps had to be seen to be doing the right things and if they weren't, well they were letting the other chaps down and they couldn't have that, could they?

The Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samed was added in 1897. It was from here that Malaya was governed. The impressive Moorish fa?ade is still an impressive sight in today's KL but where once it dwarfed the Padang now it in turn is dwarfed by modern KL's skyline and it can look slightly incongruent beneath the glass and concrete that surround it.

More buildings followed in a similar style. It was as if the architects had overdosed on a cocktail of Arabian Nights and Moghul building design made simple. The tudor Selangor Club and the gothic St Mary's, as British as the cricket on the Padang was being surrounded by minarets and copulas.

All these administrators of course needed suppling and up stepped Loke Chow Kit, a leading Chinese trader at the turn of the century. He built KL's first department staor backing on the government buildings right on the river bank. Despite the arrival of the railway in KL in the 1890s much of the growing cities daily needs still came up the river.

It was to Chow Kit that the Europeans would come for the daily necessities of life. Wine, tinned food, quality cigars and of course hats.

Life was becoming very comfortable indeed for the early administrator as KL continued to expand.

Today much of that early industry can still be seen in and around Merdeka Square. In its 150 + years KL has grown ever upwards and outwards but at its heart it still has the feel of a small village in the tropics.

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Mahachai Station

Mahachai Station
Mahachai Station
Mahachai Station
This will never appear on any list of great railway journeys in the world which is a shame as it certainly offers a step back in time to when Bangkok and it's environs was more aquatic than today. It's a lovely old line with some wonderful scenery and a comic book feel that starts when you try and find the station in Bangkok. Wong Wien Yai is a big traffic circle with a statue of King Taksin in the middle. You have to scout around to find the station and be careful who you ask because many people are unaware of it's existence. Basically the station is hidden down a narrow soi not far from a 7/11.


Trains are regular, approximately every hour and the tickets for the one hour run are 10 baht. The single track rattles through some of Thonburi's western suburbs hemmed in by markets and houses. Past Wat Singh and we get more greenery. Ramshackle huts hug the klongs that criss cross the flat terrain while young kids fish and play around. Sam Yaek looks great, a wonderful place to get off and wander around and take the opportunity of recording this photogenic landscape. It's a junction of 2 klongs with many bright flowers and brighter birds flashing by the rapidly moving train.

With Swiss style punctuality we arrive at a spot where double tracking allows the trains to pass and we are soon proceeding on our way. It's a Saturday and I'm a little hung-over and appreciate the cool air through the open window. We pull into Mahachai station and come to a halt in a dark market that doubles as the railway station. Outside in the bright sunshine it's a sea food lover's delight as stalls sell all sort of stuff that had been happily minding their own business and few yards away the night before. Rickshaws and songthaew remind you that while Bangkok may only be an hour away your are pretty much up country here.

There is a river crossing where you can join the Mae Klang line but this is a less frequent run, four times a day and I had little time to wander the market and surrounding streets before heading back to the big city.

I've done the journey a couple of times now and enjoy it. You do feel you are being taken to another world yet one so close to Bangkok. The journey back is as uneventful as the outbound and I took the opportunity to look at my pictures. Each time I've done the trip I have never been the only farang (foreigner) on board so obviously people are hearing about this quaint little line.

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Vietnam: The Road Less Travelled

Vietnam: The Road Less Travelled
Vietnam: The Road Less Travelled
Vietnam: The Road Less Travelled
Vietnam: The Road Less Travelled
Vietnam: The Road Less Travelled
vietnam_the_road_less_travelled_6
vietnam_the_road_less_travelled_7
I only had a few days in Vietnam and, as enamoured with Hanoi as I was, I wanted to catch a glimpse of rural Vietnam. So, leaving behind Hanoi's cafes, lakes, tree-lined streets and deliciously smooth and hideously cheap draft beer I headed out west.
With a natural aversion to buses and not enough time for a trip on one of the painfully slow trains the only option seemed to be two wheels. Throwing common sense aside I opted for Russian over Japanese.

The Russian Minsk is more commonly known as the 'mule of the mountains' and favoured by the locals for its basic approach to transport and its ability to tackle the rugged highland terrain. Added to that it is cheap and there are spare parts readily available everywhere from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi and beyond.

Feeling oddly proud of my US$10 a day museum piece I secured backpack to seat and kicked the decades old two-stroke into action. Navigating through the mayhem and chaos of Hanoi's streets is an adventure in itself. Officially Vietnamese drive on the right but anywhere between, and including, the paths on either side will do. Street lights and road markings are purely decorative.

Once out of Hanoi the scenery is quick to change. Retail becomes heavy industry which in turn becomes agriculture. Houses become fewer, smaller and with greater distance between them. Eventually the flat rice fields around Hanoi start to incline towards the mountainous region of the west on route 6, where rice is grown in terraces.

The Minsk copes admirably with the hills and trundles along at a steady pace. With no electrics or battery on-board judging speed and fuel consumption is down to guesswork.

The road is generally single lane and of poor quality. Drivers are surprisingly polite even in the very rural areas and as you go further from Hanoi the bounds of what passes as a vehicle get stretched to the limit. Any motorised farm implement with wheels is quickly decked out with a seat and attached to a trailer. Instant tractor!

In Hanoi Minsks are thin on the ground but in the mountains their popularity is clear. Every well dressed Vietnamese owns one. Struggling up a steep mountain road I passed a farmer on a Minsk with a young buffalo trussed up like a chicken and strapped to a board, broadside across the back of the bike. Blue smoke belched from the exhaust just inches from the buffalo's nose as the two-stroke screamed its way up the mountain.

High in the mountains at around 1000m the temperature dropped and I regretted heading out in only a t-shirt. Stopping to pull another shirt from my backpack I was invited to drink tea with a man sat outside his house. Soon we were joined by two others, one holding a baby. None of them could speak English and I can't speak Vietnamese but we somehow managed to communicate with a few words from my Lonely Planet guide and sign language.

With an hour to spare before sunset I reached Mai Chau, a village-sized town set in a flat valley base of rice fields surrounded by steep mountains on all sides. Hidden off the main road down a long and bumpy lane Mai Chau leads me to Ban Lac, a small hamlet of traditional 'hill tribe style' stilted wooden houses.

The people of this region are said to ancient relatives of the Thais in Thailand and known as White Thai. The houses here are very similar to the traditional stilted houses found in the northern region of Thailand.

For about US$6 I got a room for the night, and dinner and breakfast. The room was devoid of windows or furniture and had an old, thin, fold-up mattress thrown down under a mosquito net as a bed. A ceiling fan hung from the rafters and one bulb gave just enough light to read by.

A delicious dinner was served alfresco beneath the house, overlooking the rice fields. Having managed to get the message across that I am vegetarian I was served home grown vegetables, tofu, rice and deep fried homemade crisps, all washed down with a few bottles of the excellent Halich beer.

After dinner I chatted with the lady of the house. Being a Thai speaker, well sort of, I was amazed to discover that distant as the White Thai are to modern Thais there are still some similarities in the language. We managed to have quite a conversation using common Thai words and English.

The view from my bed was a magnificent panorama of rice fields and the steep, rugged mountains beyond. I went to bed with the sounds of rice paddies in my head; lizards, frogs and crickets chirruping contentedly in the darkness. By 2am the local dogs burst into song as a response to several over zealous cockerels and at 5.45am I was roused from my slumber by the sound of cow bells down in the lane. The cool mountain air, dull dong of the cow bells and gentle plodding of the cattle on the dirt road gave the whole thing an air of the Alps.

After an icy cold shower and breakfast of crusty bread, cheese, jam and local coffee I walked through the network of lanes, dodging small herds of cattle ambling slowly in front of their herders. Thick cloud had descended and the mountains were completely shrouded, leaving only the valley floor visible.

The lanes were alive with the gentle hum of conversation and the tapping of hammers. In several locations new wooden houses were being erected. Craftsmen and women were busy shaping wooden beams and carving out ornate mouldings for doors and stairs. Women and children were weaving traditional hill tribe clothing and wicker baskets.

Later on the journey back to Hanoi was cold, wet and with poor visibility. Going over the mountains surrounding the valley in which I'd spent the night the traffic was reduced to nothing more than a crawl with visibility down to about two metres.

The Weekender

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Two Wheels in Chiang Rai

Two Wheels in Chiang Rai
Two Wheels in Chiang Rai
Two Wheels in Chiang Rai
Two Wheels in Chiang Rai
Two Wheels in Chiang Rai
Two Wheels in Chiang Rai
Two Wheels in Chiang Rai
Two Wheels in Chiang Rai
Two Wheels in Chiang Rai
On arrival at Chiang Rai International Airport there is an immediate feeling of life having suddenly slowed down a cog or two. Being my first visit to the north of the country I feel I have finally discovered the famous Thai smile and much written about ‘mai pen rai’ attitude. Even the young soldiers in full military fatigues and armed with automatic weapons have an easy going air about them. My ipod, set to random shuffle, is somewhat appropriately playing U2’s Beautiful Day.
Recently I was shafted good and proper in an elaborate airport taxi scam in Kuala Lumpur and vowed never to let myself fall prey to such tactics again. So when I’m told that there is no option other than a 200baht ‘limousine’ ride for the 8km into town I shoulder my bag and march off to the road beyond the airport thinking that I’d rather walk it than get fleeced. My stubbornness soon pays off as the moment I’m out of the gates a guy in a van pulls up and offers to take me to town for 100baht.

He drops me at ST Motorcycle on Banphaprakan Road where I get a new 250cc all terrain 6 speed Honda for the inflated price of 700baht a day. By 9.30am I’m on the open road in the direction of Mai Sai and the Burmese border. Red earth, rice paddies and grazing buffalo are plentiful along the road and the scenery just gets better the further I go. The open road, clean air and the natural environment make a welcome break from Bangkok’s metropolitan madness. I have a late breakfast of somtam, sticky rice and gai yang at a small roadside restaurant about 19km outside Mai Sai. The staff are inquisitive about what I am doing and where I am going and exceptionally friendly. I just know that I will enjoy my few days in this area.

Mai Sai is not much to look at; a cluster of grubby looking concrete shop houses and street stalls with the border crossing into Burma located, dominantly, at the far end of the main street. The border is busy and is clearly very much used for local commerce. Burmese and Thai traders come and go with goods stacked on their backs, carried on bicycles and samlor, motorbikes and pick-ups.

Just as I think I’m going to get through the vehicle channel on the bike I’m fished out by a smiling soldier and reluctantly have to leave it with the tourist police. On the Burmese side I’m issued with a receipt for my passport, which will be retained and stamped whilst I’m away. The Burmese border town of Thakhilek is even drearier in appearance than Mai Sai and evidently less developed. Wandering through the streets I come across the rather plush Allure Resort and head in to use the bathroom facilities. Inside there is a casino full of slot machines all geared to take Thai baht and there is no shortage of day-tripping Thais happy to pay to watch the reels spin.

I don’t want to spend the day travelling further into Burma and can find very little to hold my attention in Thakilek so I stop for a coffee at a quaint little street café before heading back to the border. I order a cup of black coffee which arrives in a glass and thick with condensed milk, accompanied by the obligatory complimentary hot green tea and a selection of savoury buns and cigarettes on a sale or return basis. The furnishings are all miniature, the kind you might find in a kindergarten, and there are plastic spittoons full of the discarded remnants of chewed betel by every table. The waitresses are pleasant and welcoming and waft around the customers with grace and efficiency. All the Burmese here seem to speak Thai and accept Thai Baht. My coffee and two cigarettes (not that I would normally smoke) cost 15baht.

Returning across the border is a painless experience and it suddenly occurs to me that my first impression of this part of the country was right. Everyone here seems so much happier and easy going; surprisingly even the passport control guys have a smile and a few words. In the no-man’s land of the bridge between the two border posts there is a collection of women and children sat around begging for money. They are bedraggled and filthy and at the same time pleasant and not pushy. A young girl of about three or four skips along beside me asking for ‘sam baht, sam baht ka’ in unclear Thai with a smile that would melt the stoniest of hearts. She’s grimy and wearing a filthy little dress that could have been a nice party frock in its former life. Normally I wouldn’t give money to beggars but looking at this poor little thing, not much older than my own daughter back in Bangkok I couldn’t resist and handed over the three baht she was asking for. Her eyes lit up and she thanked me and scampered back to her mother with the good news.

I head out on the road to Chiang Saen through no end of rice paddies, the smell of fires smouldering almost everywhere. Just before the Golden Triangle I pull in to the Hall of Opium, a museum dedicated to the history of the drug that this area is so famous for. It’s a large modern building and very impressive. At 300baht entrance (200baht for Thais) it’s a bit steep and I challenge the staff about the two tier pricing. The first girl looks embarrassed  and  can’t think of anything to say when her more talkative side-kick steps in, and with more than a dollop of sarcasm asks if I pay tax and if I am Thai and goes on to say this is Thailand etc etc. I point out that Thais don’t pay tax in other countries but still pay the same rate as the locals. She shrugs her shoulders and asks for my 300baht. This turns out to be my only negative experience throughout the trip and is actually quite amusing. The museum is well laid out and very informative, the only downside being the rather one sided picture of history that is presented. But despite that and the extortionate entrance fee it is well worth a visit.

A short ride down the road is the Golden Triangle. This is basically a collection of street stalls selling hill tribe goodies at the point of confluence between the Mekong and Ruak rivers, where Loas, Burma and Thailand actually meet, creating a triangle. The golden bit comes from the lucrative production of opium once ubiquitous in this area. The village is actually called Sop Ruak but all the maps have it listed as Golden Triangle, which obviously has better tourist pulling clout than Sop Ruak. The place is positively teeming with tourists foreign and local, mixed with groups of hill tribe kids dressed in colourful traditional dress, licking ice creams and smiling for pictures. The other dominant feature, apart from the river and neighbouring countries, is the large golden Buddha statue, perched high above the road by the side of the river.

Further down the road, about 10km or so is, Chiang Saen. Much older than Mae Sai, Chiang Saen has a lot more character and various ancient ruins for viewing. The sun is starting to go very low and I want to get back to Chiang Rai to find some accommodation, via Chiang Saen Lake, so I more or less just drive through Chaing Saen, stopping very briefly for a look at Wat Chedi Luang. It looks like a good place to spend a night and I make a mental note to return. A few km out of Chiang Saen on the road to Mae Chan is the lake. I don’t really know why I make the effort to go there except that it is a peaceful spot to stop for a drink and to get off the bike and stretch my legs. Back in Chiang Rai I blindly cruise the streets on the bike looking for accommodation and for some daft reason settle on a grubby place called the

Krung Tong Hotel just off Banphaprakan Road. It’s more of a cheap and aged apartment block than hotel and I get a very basic room with ‘en-suite’ and a fan for 270baht. The shower is filthy and has evidence of previous guests encrusted on the walls, the mattress feels like solid teak and the pillow feels as though it’s been stuffed with granite. However, it seems a good idea at the time and isn’t too expensive.
 
Having not eaten since the morning I gorge myself on Thai food just around the corner from the hotel and set off to wander the Chiang Rai nightlife. In the centre there is a really good night bazaar that is definitely worth a wander, even if you’re not interested in buying anything. I weave in and out of the rows of stalls and open fronted shops free from the usual hard sell you get in Bangkok. The main focus of the bazaar seems to be handicrafts and there’s an abundance of wooden ornaments and ceramics for sale plus clothes, food, cloth, and the usual array of weaponry available in most Thai tourist areas. There are also several stalls with artists prepared to sketch your portrait for a reasonable amount of cash, and given the quality of what they are producing it seems like a bargain.
 
Not far from the clock tower on Banpharakan Road is the main drinking area and I wander past numerous pubs with pool tables and TVs, restaurants and massage parlours. There is also a small section devoted to go-go bars and what looks like pick up joints. Not being a regular frequenter of this kind of establishment I decide to have a quick beer in one and see what the more seedier side of Chiang Rai nightlife is like. I wander in to a go-go bar with the rather unimaginative name of, The Go-Go Bar, perch myself on a seat as close to the door as possible and order a Heineken. It’s a narrow bar with mirrored walls, neon and ultra-violet lighting and a small stage at one corner of the far end where a young woman in bra and knickers with a wisp of black lace tied around her waist is shuffling nonchalantly between two stainless steel polls to the Crazy Frog’s rendition of Axel F. She looks happy enough but would never win any dancing awards. Five minutes later and she’s replaced by another young woman who strips to bra and knickers and ties on her bit of lace and begins her little shuffle. The clientele is mainly Thai, with the exception of one foreigner who is holding court with three of the women, who appear to be genuinely hanging on his every word. Nobody approaches me or tries to talk to me and I’m left alone to drink my beer in peace and watch the ‘show’. Maybe I’m too smelly from my day on the bike or maybe the fact that my trainers, normally beaten-up and dirty, have come to life and started to glow radiantly in the ultra-violet light.
 
Sunday morning and it’s an early start. I walk the early morning streets and watch the town come to life. Monks are in abundance collecting charitable offerings from merit making locals. The early morning fruit and veg market is in full swing and doing a brisk trade with its sellers’ wares laid out on stalls and on the streets. Near the clock tower on Banpharakan Road is Doi Chaang coffee shop. I take a seat on the terrace and order coffee and a pancake whilst trying to decide on my route for the day. The local Doi Chaang coffee is definitely worth a try.
 
By 9am I’m on the road again, speeding along the main road towards Mae Chan feeling more confident with the bike and fast becoming addicted to the idea of exploring on two wheels. Just the other side of Mae Chan I hang a left onto the 1130 road and follow a series of windy roads indirectly up Doi Tung towards Phrathat Doi Tung. On the way I stop in an area completely devoid of all signs of life and rest. The scenery is truly stunning and the almost heavenly silence is broken only by the occasional and unmistakable sound of gunfire in the distance, a reminder that the Burmese border is close by.
 
The temple is bursting with Thai and what sounds like Chinese people, praying, making merit, banging on bells and walking around the Lanna style chedis that are said to date back to 911AD.
 
I assume that the view from here would normally be breathtaking but today there is a haze that restricts visibility to about 1 or 2 km so there is not a lot to see.
 
From the temple my exact route is hazy as the map I have is not concise enough to cover the small roads I end up on, so I just push on and on as the roads get narrower. I aim towards Mae Fah Luang and turn right onto the 1334 and then take several turns and go down some very narrow roads. I ride through hill tribe villages where children wave frantically and try to run alongside my bike, shouting and laughing, and mothers holding babies smile. I decide not to stop and take pictures. I know that most people do and I’m sure these people are quite happy with this but I always feel it is a bit voyeuristic and feel uncomfortable with the idea of treating someone’s home as and way of life as a museum.
 
At one point I realise that I’ve not seen a living soul for half an hour or more and the roads are becoming poorer in quality and less travelled. Eventually I come to a military check point on a dusty road near the Thai/Burma border where I’m stopped by a soldier with a semi-automatic rifle. He’s young and actually seems more nervous of me than I of him. He can’t speak English and asks questions in Thai; most of which I can understand. I return several questions about why he is there and about Burma etc and take the opportunity for a rest and drink of water. He’s quite friendly and lets me take some photos and seems quite happy for some company; I can’t imagine he sees an awful lot of people during his average day. Whilst I’m stretching my legs and drinking, his phone rings and he’s questioned about my presence. He then asks to see my passport. Taking it into his little hut he fingers through the pages looking for I don’t know what and it seems apparent that he can’t actually read what he’s looking at. Even so he finds the passport number and jots it down. The barrier is lifted and I’m allowed to continue with my journey.
 
I continue on for quite some time and eventually the roads start to get better again. At one point whilst winding my way through a series of very sharp hairpin bends I have my first, and hopefully only, fall. I take the bend too sharp, lose control and go flying. The bike has minimal damage and I’m just slightly bruised and grazed. I pick the bike up again and I’m thankful that there was no one here to witness my idiocy. But then I realise that if I had been more seriously injured I could have lay there for a long time before being found. Having a mobile is good I guess but useless if you don’t know where you are.  
 
From then on I take more care and start to worry about the damage to the fairing on the bike. The bike is presumably an import job and therefore difficult and pricey to repair. Will I be faced with a huge bill back at ST Motorcycle? Eventually I get out onto better roads and find road signs I recognise and get back to the Mae Chan/Mae Sai road. My concerns are unfounded, as when I return the bike the woman in charge looks at the damage, makes a call and says, ‘mai pen rai ka’.
 
There are many things to see and do in and around Chiang Rai and I’m sure you could spend a weekend in Chaing Rai alone, before even thinking of venturing further afield and, if the signs are to be believed, it even boasts its very own beach. There are guesthouses and hotels in far better positions than the one I stayed at and a plethora of tours available. If I was to go again I would definitely stay further out in a more remote area and maybe spend longer, exploring the whole region by bike.
 
As for my thoughts on Chiang Rai and its people. Just great. They have a wonderful attitude towards life and a splendidly cheery disposition. The tuk-tuk driver who took me to the airport in the evening epitomised the Chaing Rai way beautifully. I asked him if he would take me to the airport and he replied ‘Yes, ok. But slooowly na, no hurry’, and proceeded to give me a guided tour of Chaing Rai on the way.

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Monastic Training Life and Monkhood at Wat Pah Nanachat of Ubon Ratchathani

Monastic Training Life and Monkhood at Wat Pah Nanachat of Ubon Ratchathani
Monastic Training Life and Monkhood at Wat Pah Nanachat of Ubon Ratchathani
Monastic Training Life and Monkhood at Wat Pah Nanachat of Ubon Ratchathani
Monastic Training Life and Monkhood at Wat Pah Nanachat of Ubon Ratchathani
Monastic Training Life and Monkhood at Wat Pah Nanachat of Ubon Ratchathani
Monastic Training Life and Monkhood at Wat Pah Nanachat of Ubon Ratchathani
"More and more visitors to Thailand are interested in Buddhism. Many of them come to Thailand to ordain as it is very well known Buddhist country. Wat Pah Nanachat is one of their destinations”, said a monk from England who has ordained at the monastery for 2 years. However, ordaining at the monastery seems to be really challenging for many of them. It is important that they should study and prepare themselves well beforehand about their unforeseen living at the monastery.
With a very tranquil forest monastic environment, Wat Pah Nanachat (the International Forest Monastery) is an appropriate home for many foreign monks from a wide range of nationalities to practice meditation. It is located in a small forest of Bahn Bung Wai of Amper Warin Chamrab about 15 kilometers away from the city of Ubon Ratchathani of Thailand.

The monastery has been blessed as a good place for meditation and Dhamma teaching established by Venerable Ajahn Chah, one profoundly wise Buddhist meditation master of Thailand, in 1975 as a branch of Wat Nong Pah Pong. Therefore, many foreigners who search for true happiness come to ordain at the monastery every year.

In Thailand, there are many good places for people who are interested in practicing meditation."This monastery is also one really good and quiet place for meditation practice. It is quite far away from disturbing things. To live here is a good opportunity for me to practice. And, traditional monastic training is always provided very well here”, kindly and mindfully said one monk who is from America.

Men with shaved heads who wear loose white and long trousers with white shirts are trainees who are during the traditional monastic training before ordaining at the monastery. “The interested foreigners who want to ordain here have to be initially trained about traditional way of monastic living for a short period so that they can live peacefully and successfully. The training is relative to the Buddha’s teaching and code of monastic discipline”, explained a senior monk who is from Germany.

It is not easy but not too difficult for the trainees to be during the traditional monastic training period at Wat Pah Nanachat. They will be taught about how they can enjoyably live with local culture. They are expected to follow and join all monastic activities such as meeting and work activities, rules or regulations, and daily routine of the monastery. Therefore, all of them have to adjust themselves very well with these things.

As the trainees have to join and follow everything that the monastery expects them to do before the ordaining, early during the traditional monastic training, many of them may face some challenging difficulties. The difficulties may be relative to monastic activities, rules and regulations, and daily routine of the monastery. For many current trainees and monks as they used to be trainees of Wat Pah Nanachat, There were three most outstanding challenging difficulties: getting up early, weather, and hunger.

The first quite common difficulty for them early during the training was getting up early. It is one of the rules of the monastery. "When I first came here, it was quite difficult for me to get up so early in the morning. However, it could make them to become more active", said one trainee from Holland.

At 03.00 AM, because of the rules of the monastery, every trainee had to get up to participate in the monastic activities such as morning meeting for chanting and meditation. Also, while monks went out to surrounding villages on alms-round, trainees did the chores such as sweeping the monastery and helping in the kitchen.

In general, for some people, getting up early in the morning may be not a problem, but it should not be disregarded for prospective trainees who want to ordain at the monastery. To make sure that they can follow the rules of the monastery efficiently can mean that they can ordain and live in the monastery more happily or without any problem.

Weather was also the common challenging difficulty that many current trainees and monks as they used to be trainees at Wat Pah Nanachat used to face during their traditional monastic training. As most of them

are from the western countries which some are considered cold countries, therefore Thai hot weather was a problem for them early during their training period.
 
However, after they had lived with that condition for a while, they could overcome the problem and their bodies could be accustomed to it. "The weather here is really hot for me. In my hometown, it is quite cold. When I first came here, I had to take a shower more frequently than before", explained a monk from Finland who has just ordained for only 2 months.
 
Also, as Wat Pah Nanachat allows the trainees to have only one meal a day at about 09.00 AM, the hunger can be one difficulty of many of them. Many current trainees and monks who used to be trainees said that they were usually hungry early during the training period.
 
However, after living at the monastery for a while, those trainees and monks could be used to living with those difficulties because their bodies could adjust themselves for it.
 
After the traditional monastic training in a short period, the trainees then can ordain. The difficulties that they may face after the training period (after they ordain) may be different from those they have to face during the training. However, they will certainly have 227 monk's rules (the basic Theravada code of monastic discipline) to comply with.
 
"Actually, it is generally agreed that the monk's rules laid by the Lord Buddha are considered great thing to keep; they are not a problem at all. However, they possibly cause difficulties for the future trainees", said another monk from America.
 
According to monks at Wat Pah Nanachat, three most outstanding challenging monk's rules for them were relative to speech, gestures, and damaging living plants. They said that these rules were difficult to keep.
 
Why rules about speech were challenging for the monks is that they had to be well mindful about their speech such as to avoid complaining, telling a lie, talking too loud, and saying something that might cause the break among them.
 
The next challenging rules were about gestures. In any habited area, they had to avoid swinging their arms, head, and body when they walked and avoid tiptoeing or sitting with arm akimbo.
 
The last outstanding challenging rules for them were about damaging living plants. They said that when they did the chores such as sweeping floor, it was hard to knowingly avoid damaging living plants like grass and other small plants.
 
Therefore, it will be very useful for prospective trainees to study about monk's rules before they come to the monastery. It will be faster for them to learn about the monk's rules when they ordain.
 
Thus, it is quite necessary that the future foreigners who want to ordain at Wat Pah Nanachat should prepare themselves well before they come to the monastery. There may be difficulties caused by monastic activities, rules or regulations, and the daily routine during the traditional monastic training. If they can prepare themselves well beforehand, they will be able to live in the monastery successfully.

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Cycling in Laos

cycling_in_laos_1
Cycling in Laos
Cycling in Laos
cycling_in_laos_4
Cycling is fun in Southeast Asia; it has become a way of life for me. I can't even imagine a trip without my bike. I have had many adventures and lots of great experiences. There are so many new things to see and learn from. This story is just a glimpse of what I have done, how I have felt and where I have gone.

A couple of years ago, I was lying in a bed. It was cold, the kind of cold you get on crisp English mornings in winter time. I was wrapped in my guest house blanket, a blanket of dubious history. These are the kind of things you must deal with when you are cycle touring, or backpacking, around Southeast Asia. Blankets and sheets in guest houses often give you a strong indication of the economics of the guest house you are staying in. If the bed linins are old, dirty or smelly then it doesn't bode well for your stay. If the blankets or sheets are crisp, clean and new (ish) then your stay may be full of care and attention. I have found that the blanket rule often supersedes the pricing rule, prices do not necessarily reflect the quality of your stay.
 
My journey to this blanket had begun on khao San Road in Bangkok. I had battled through the Bangkok heat, pollution and traffic on my bicycle. This is never a safe or healthy thing to do, but it is a necessary journey. I boarded my train to Nong Khai at Hualompong Station as I was heading for the Plain of Jars in central Laos, close to the town of Phonasavan. My cycling would start in earnest in the northeastern Thai town of Nong Khai. The journey had been planned for months; my goal was to see the mysterious jars of central Laos.
 
Getting off the sleeper train in the cool morning haze of northern Thailand, I collected my bicycle from the front luggage compartment and assembled the various parts (panniers, bungee cords etc.). The ride to the border point was a gentle 4 Km. The Laos border crossing was as user friendly as any good border crossing in the region. Everything is detailed for you with clear instructions and the wait for the slow bureaucratic clogs of the immigration police is minimal.
 
The ride into Vientiane was excellent. The welcome from the people is always good. You pass the Beer Laos factory on your right after about 10Km. This, after my first visit to Laos 10 years ago, was to become a place of worship and awe. I stopped and took some photos, I already have plenty of photos from previous trips, I just can't help myself. This time I went on the tour of the brewery. The free samples went down well and provided an excellent break for my ride into Vientiane. Beer Laos truly is one of the worlds great largers.
 
The ride into Vientiane is a relaxed affair; you pass the old communist work slogans on advertising boards on the way into the sleepy capital city. These act as a reminder that you have entered a 'workers' paradise', although I doubt Marx would agree with the 21st century version of his dream.
 
The local folk are very unobtrusive in the interest in a
western cyclist riding through their neighborhood. Vientiane is one of my favorite capitals in the world, primarily because you feel the lack of bustle and hustle of the place; you get the sense that the tumbleweed will float passed at any second. The place is small, there are no high rise developments (bar that huge new Chinese hotel) and the place has a sleepy, relaxed feel to it.
 
Leaving Vientiane the next day, the ride to Phonasavan took me north to Vang Vieng in a 2 day ride through the central plains of Laos. The ride to Vang Vieng is flat and one of those great little stretches where you can take a gentle pace, stop and chat with the locals over a meal of rice and fruit and feel good on a bike. There are no difficult mountain stretches and the scenery is beautiful.
 
Vang Vieng itself nestles in between a few mountains and is an idealic spot to stop and recharge for the coming ride to Phonasavan. I stayed for 2 days as there is plenty to do, not least the fun day out tubing down the river or taking in the nearby caves and wonderful swimming in clear, fresh lagoons.
 
I set off early on the next leg of the trip, the most difficult part of this tour. This is a monster stage, much like the Alp D'huez in the Tour de France. There is a 130Km ride to Phu Khun in the mountains. The wind was blowing fiercely; I was battling the head wind until the town of Kasi. At Kasi the challenge began in earnest. Here each assent to a higher plateau left me exhausted. At each peak there was a Hmong village waiting to welcome me, invariably selling the same lukewarm cola refreshments. The refreshments were lacking, but the locals' reception definitely made up for the lack of cool coca-cola.
 
The day climaxed in a stunning uphill section that really took my breath away. About 10Km from my destination of Phu Khun I began the final assent. I did run out of energy and water at some point and had to stop by a mountain stream to fill my water bottle. In the process I managed to scare some Laotian ladies who were taking a wash in the stream, naked. I don't know who was more embarrassed, the naked Laos ladies or the sweaty, sun burnt, limping semi-naked white boy. After both parties covered their dignities we managed to have a chuckle and communicate together, they even offered me some of their food.
 
I have christened this style of riding 'whirlwind riding' as you just have to go at it as quickly as you can come-what-may. I was definitely on my last reserves of strength, but still I needed to get to the village and a bed. I had to get on with the ride, there was no other option. Everything was hurting me, but between the fresh water and the stunning views across central Laos I was revitalized enough to push on.
 
Eventually I found the down slope in the road and headed into Phu Khun and I ventured into the first guest house that I found. I took a look at the room, and the all important blanket, and did the (not so) complex equation of cost vs comfort vs tiredness. My legs made the decision for me, virtually screaming at me that they couldn't go on to the other guest house 100 meters down the road.
 
And so it came to pass that I awoke wrapped in the dubious blanket on the cold, crisp Laotian mountain morning at the end of December. I was being welcomed to the hills of Laos at Christmas time by a smelly blanket and guest house which didn't have a shower. The bed bugs had been kept at bay by my sarong; my legs felt better but were still aching a little. I stumbled out of my room, threw some water over me from the bucket in the 'bath'room and repacked my bike.
 
The reason for putting myself through the previous days' pain and the ache in my legs really hit me when I cycled away from the guest house; the air was fresh, the mountains surrounding me looked like they had been taken from a movie set and the roads were empty. I will never forget me exit from Phu Khun, it was made even more special by the locals who all waved and shouted 'sabaii dee' as I past. It really does make you feel special and alive.
 
I set off for my destination, the town of Phonasavan nearly 140Km away. The first assent of the day left me delirious with joy, so much so I was laughing and sweating at the top of the first peak. The views across the valley which unfolded before me were spectacular. Any soreness in my legs was replaced by adrenalin. The climbs continued, punctuated, thankfully, by a few great descents. At one point I descended 19Km in one long downward free wheel. This is truly and exhilarating experience. These kinds of days are what you start (and seemingly I can never stop) cycling for; upward challenges, downward enjoyment, stunning scenery and friendly local villages.
 
The 140Km stretch is punctuated by villages, both Hmong and central Laos villages. I stopped at one point at a village which seemed to be full of AK47 toting Laos army cadre. I decided to have my morning tea (you can take the man out of England but you can't take England out of the man) in the middle of the village. I was immediately surrounded by Laotian soldiers carrying guns. However, the threat level did descend a few notches when I looked down and most of them had dispensed with the customary army uniform boots and instead were wearing flip flops. These guys certainly didn't look menacing but there was a threat in the air as they were all carrying guns, albeit in a relaxed fashion, slung over their shoulders.
 
Now, the situation may seem to be a worrying to some as I was miles from any main town, alone and surrounded by soldiers. However, my survival skills were not required as, to a man, the soldiers were laughing and goofing around. They were obviously curious about my presence, but they soon settled down, sat on their haunches and watched me brew my tea from a polite distance.
 
At one point I opened my map and asked the guys where we were. The most senior officer was pushed forward to answer my question. Apparently the village wasn't on any map, presumably for military reasons, but I am only speculating about that as my Laos conversation skills are not what they should be.
 
After my tea I packed up and handed my rubbish to a young lad who took it and held it with a confused look on his face and I rode off with the bemused military men staring at me.
 
My cycling was becoming better; I was becoming used to the merciless hills. I eventually stormed up the last hill. Getting onto the plains of central Laos was a joy I have felt only a few times in my life. I cycled into Phonasavan at dusk, a tired, sweaty, aching cyclist nut with a warm glint of joy in my eyes. I had battled with some big mountain stages and I had won.
 
My hotel was luxurious in comparison to my previous night's encounter with the blanket. I collapsed in my large bed and slept the sleep of the dead.
 
Early the next morning I awoke and got out of bed with a bounce in my step. This was the final leg of my tour, the finish of my tour was within grasp. I asked at the reception for directions, never underestimating my knack for geographical embarrassment, and headed out. I soon found the road and cycled the short distance in under an hour. I found myself at the reception hut for the Jars and paid the small entrance fee. Walking up the small slop and arriving at the crest of the hill I caught my first glimpse of a stone jar. The round, skewed, moss covered jar was a sight that gave me a euphoric high. I enjoyed the sight, but not as much as I had enjoyed the journey to it. This trip was, as most are, about the journey, not the destination.
 
The jars are impressive for their mystery, they are strange and intriguing. The recent history of them is as interesting as the speculation about the origins. There are hundreds of these large man size stone jars strewn across the Laos plains. No-one knows why they are there, and therein lays the intrigue.
 
Cycle touring has become a way of life for me. I enjoy the sedate pace of the bike; you get to see so much more of the places you are traveling in. You also interact with the locals more, often seeing a friendlier, and more helpful side to a country or culture. Cycle touring can be tiring, it can make your body ache, but cycling is fun, healthy and a great way to see a country.
 
About the author: Simon Stewart is a cycling evangelist who has made it his mission to spread the gospel through the excellent tours he organizes.

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Slowly Down the Mekong

Slowly down the Mekong
Slowly down the Mekong
Slowly down the Mekong
Slowly down the Mekong
In Southeast Asia, smug backpackers parade their Laotian transport horror stories like war medals. Mention Laos to a group of travelers and you will no doubt be entertained by a playful one-upmanship, with stories of buses catching on fire, boats capsizing, innocent tourists becoming unwitting drug mules. Each survivor's tale is a testimony to their own fearlessness. Now I'm no backpacker princess, I've endured my share of spiders in the bed and pickpockets in the markets. But even in the adventurous travel game, the risk of injury sends me clutching my first aid kid like a baby blanket. This cautiousness was tested when I crossed the Thai-Laotian border into Huay Xai, a tiny border town that people enter in order to leave again. Here, the travel options were a spine-rattling bus, a deafening speedboat, or 2 full days on a longtail slowboat. And so I signed on for a two-day slowboat down the Mekong, from Huay Xai to the reputedly charming Luang Prabang. For better or worse, it would provide an up-close introduction to Laos.
Day One

My fellow boaters and I have stuffed the vessel with enough baguette sandwiches, Pringles, and water bottles to last us days. Also aboard are every model of ipod, ipod nano, and mp3 player possible, six copies of The DaVinci Code (in six different languages), and two dozen Lonely Planet books. Armed and ready, we set off down the river.

The land around the Mekong is mostly unspoilt, with a few sparse hilltops that are clear-cut for local farming. It's a peaceful change from the hustle of Thailand, seeing the countryside unfold at each bend in the lazy river. With an economy dependent on agriculture and a topography where arable land is sparse, the land surrounding the Mekong accounts for a good portion of Laos' rice production. This is a staple of the Laotian diet as well as its economy, and in a country with limited roads and no railways, the river is a hub of transport. And yet, while the Mekong is a hub of sustenance for the country, today the waters are calm and the scenery is tranquil.

The boat stops on a sandy bank and local children bustle on board, their arms full and voices loud. Cold soft drinks, Beerlao and water; cigarettes, cookies, and potato chips, and the odd bag of pineapple, are all for sale by the quick and persistent children, whose fearless vending tactics make them tiny, pushy adults. I start to wonder what poor impressions the Laotians have of a Western diet. Apparently, they have been led to believe none of us.

Biscuits and snacks are passed around as we sail on. I barely notice the darkening sky as we dock in Pakbeng, a tiny riverside town ripe with English-speaking vendors and foodstalls stocked with more Western goods. At the rickety wooden dock, the whole street seems uniquely catered to

slowboating tourists on their evening stopover. The slow parade of backpack-laden figures spills into town, everyone happy to be up and moving after a long day of sitting on wooden benches. Back at my hotel, other slowboaters sit drinking beers at the open-air restaurant. The hustling noise of the town, vendors yelling, dogs barking, old cars coughing, makes me eager to be back on the calm river again.
 
Day Two
 
In the morning, there's camaraderie on the boat as cheerful but weary travelers compare guesthouse notes (mine had Indiana Jones bedsheets, but only a trickle of cold water in the shower) . My hunch to arrive early proved correct - there are limited cushions on the seats today, but my boatmates are getting creative with sleeping bags, towels, and sweaters. No one comes onto the boat today to sell snacks. Instead, we are all are quietly occupied with books, diaries, and card games. Some people are at the back, cold bottles of Beerlao in hand, chattering in that good-humoured way that large beers allow.
 
Two days on the Mekong is a vivid introduction to Laos, in terms of scenery but also character. Here, the pace is steady but relaxed, the breeze cooling, the landscape fantastically unspoilt. Apart from the splash of the boat's wake, and the occasional tinny Jack Johnson tune from a backpacker's ipod, the only noise comes from the odd roaring speedboat, splitting the calm. Their racket confirms our thoughts: to roar speeding through Laos would be all wrong. Go crashing through a country and you'll miss the fine details; the mountain goats on clifftop, the thatched huts dotting mountain peaks, the clusters of children splashing and waving on the riverbank.
 
Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.

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Taking it Easy in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang, Laos
Tourists arriving off a 2-day slowboat bustle around the town, eager to stretch their stiff legs. Trekking enthusiasts use the town as a base point for their ventures north into the dense jungles and tribal villages. Buddhists and curious scholars flock to Phou Si, a sacred hilltop site where Buddha's footprint is still pressed into the side of the mountain. Luang Prabang may be a mere stopover point on your trip through Laos, but this town merits a few days for exploring. Veteran travellers praise it as a place they'd visit again and again, UNESCO named it a heritage site, and KhaoSanRoad.com applauds it as one of Southeast Asia's most charming sites.

The remnants of French colonization are still visible on Luang Prabang's main streets, where colonial architecture coexists with the gilded or teak points of traditional Laotian buildings. Old churches stand beside older wats, and the result is a picturesque mix of architectural styles. While the city is in rapid development thanks to tourist exposure and foreign business, it still maintains a picturesque, European feeling. On a clear day, the city's winding streets and pretty rivers make it a photographer's dream.
 
For accommodation, Luang Prabang has a competitive guesthouse market, and touts will greet you no matter where your arrival point may be. The Merry Guesthouses (1 and 2), on the northern end of the downtown, are fantastically clean, spacious and quiet, with kind and helpful staff. Those looking for a view of the Mekong should try Vong Champa Guesthouse, which is clean, cosy, and impressively cheap.
 
By day, the Phou Si mountain offers beautiful views of the surrounding landscape, as well as ornate Buddha statues, a Buddha footprint, and a solemn cave shrine. Near the main street, the former royal palace of Haw Kham is the stuff of postcards; opulent shrines, murals and furnishings, showing many different traditional styles of Laotian art and decoration.
 
For a bit of downtime, L'Etranger is a two-storey gem with a used bookshop/book exchange on the bottom floor and a comfortable teahouse on the top, which plays smart artsy films on weeknights at 7pm. Located on the north side of Phou Si mountain, the great selection of books, teas and snacks make it well worth a visit.
 
Those looking to get out of the city should book a taxi or rent bikes to get to Kuang Si Falls, 30km outside the city. These perfectly blue, multi-layered falls are set amidst lush jungle, and tourists may find themselves lounging all day in these pools. At the entrance, by the odd yet heartwarming bear zoo, stalls of food and drinks ensure that visitors will not go hungry.
 
Come nightfall, restaurants illuminate their patios, inviting travellers to eat and drink while people watching on Xiang Thong, the main street which hosts a vibrant night market. Here, tourists stock up on anything from handmade quilts to ubiquitous Beerlao T-shirts. Foodwise, baguette is a local specialty, and many restaurants go the mile in western offerings by boasting full French menus, with wine and cheeses among its fare. While the food is indulgently delicious, cheaper and fresher fare is available at the many night markets in alleys branching off Xiang Thong. Here, a vegetarian buffet of fresh produce from the Laotian countryside will cost a mere 5000 kip. These markets host a more local nightlife, where Laotian families gather to eat at tiny plastic tables.
 
Though the city is relatively quiet at night, there are still a handful of good bars. Young and thirsty tourists flock to the funky Hive Bar, beside L'Etranger, or the breezier Laos Beer Garden. When the bars close at midnight, tuk-tuk drivers are ever-available to take tourists to Vietnam Bar, an after-hours speakeasy of sorts with good music, plenty of seating, and the liveliest crowd in town.
 
Though Luang Prabang serves as a stopover point for many, its languid pace and compact downtown make it an easy spot to relax. In the midst of the eco-tourism that makes Laos so famous, this city is a great place to spend a few days sipping good coffee, exploring old buildings, and feeling immediately at home in Laos' most welcoming town.

Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.
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Swimming in Sihanoukville – Have a Weekend Getaway, Cambodian-style

Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Sihanoukville, also known as "Kampong Som," is like a Florida resort town dropped oddly on Cambodia's southern coast, on the Gulf of Thailand. Founded a mere 50 years ago as a deep-water port, Sihanoukville experienced a tourist boom in the 1960s when local and visiting beachgoers headed to the coast, looking for sand and sun without crossing into Thailand. As a result, much of the shorefront property has been scooped up by moderately luxurious resorts. Budget tourists still have plenty of options, however, with a few backpacker hotspots sandwiching the posher hotels.

 
Victory Beach's charmingly weathered bungalows hearken the area's heyday as a gathering ground for 70s hippie backpackers. The guesthouses are cosy and the people are some of Cambodia's friendliest, though the port on the northern end of the beach makes for a mediocre swimming experience. Occheuteal Beach, nicknamed Serendipity Beach, is the newest traveller hangout, with a long stretch of restaurants and bars opening out onto beautiful turquoise waters.
 
There is no shortage of guesthouses on either beach, each with rooms ranging from the basic 3$ fan room to the more luxurious 10$ group-sized suites with A/C. On Occeuteal Beach, GST Guesthouse and Rega Guesthouse are two standout names, located a few paces inland on the road behind the shore. Both have clean rooms and tourist services at the front desk, where adventurous beachgoers can book diving and snorkeling trips to neighbouring islands down the coast. Down on the beach, Sunset Cafe arranges trips to the exquisitely remote Bamboo Island for about 5$.
 
The clean sand, shallow water, and smooth ground on the beaches makes Sihanoukville a popular holiday spot for Cambodian students and young families. Every weekend, the beaches fill up with crowds of people swimming by day and dancing by night. Unlike the party islands in Thailand or the old French resort towns in Vietnam, Sihanoukville is a unique vacation spot where Western and local tourism co-exist along the shore. Chatty restaurant staff practice their English, pick-up games of football are played out on the beach, and children sit beside groups of backpackers to build temples and chedis in the sand. Interactions aren't all amicable, however.

With tourism as its economic backbone, the beach is a well-trodden path for vendors, encouraging visitors to buy their cold drinks, handmade jewelry, and bright sarongs. The cute-but-aggressive boys who weave bracelets for their customers speak some of the best English in Cambodia, and they'll use it persistently to make a sale.

  
Pushy merchants aside, Sihanoukville invites a rare social amalgamation of Cambodian and foreign beachgoers. This is the best place to skip the pan-western menu at your guesthouse bar and head to the beach with the Cambodian vacationers for some inexpensive and fantastically fresh barbecued seafood. Tasty prawn, crab, and tuna are par for the course, but daring eaters can sample the more avant-garde local delicacies of fresh-caught shark and jellyfish.
  
The city itself is fairly unexceptional, offering the standard amenities of banks, post offices, and small markets. If the weather takes a turn or travellers get waterlogged from the beach, the town has some standout restaurant/bars that will revive one's spirits. Angkor Arms is a British pub that fares well with expats. It boasts a comfortable, vibrant patio and all the draught you may be missing from home. Down the street, Dusk til Dawn is a rooftop bar whose liveliness that lives up to its name.
  
Back at the beach, a busy weekend means no shortage of activity along the shores of Occheuteal Beach. It may be difficult to separate the bars from the impromptu dance parties as you walk down the strip, but you will be welcome into either. At the southern end of Serendipity Beach, the Dolphin shack (look for the neon blue dolphin sign) employs some of the nicest Cambodian bartenders you'll ever meet. Take a seat with the witty owner and let her funny, sentimental stories entertain you all night.

Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.

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Laos Lifts Us Up Where We Belong; the Gibbon Experience of Bokeo

The Gibbon Experience of Bokeo, Laos
The Gibbon Experience of Bokeo, Laos
The Gibbon Experience of Bokeo, Laos
When globetrotters book their tickets to Southeast Asia, they usually anticipate weeks of lounging on beaches, eating delicious spicy food, and touring stunning temples. But as any traveller can tell you, the most rewarding and memorable experiences are often found off the tourist trail. For some people, it's hard to tear through such beautiful countries without giving something back. Well, eco-minded adventurers take note of the most exciting conservation project on the map; the Gibbon Experience in Bokeo, northern Laos.
The premise sounds a bit like a boyhood Tarzan fantasy; guests climb up to treehouses and don't touch the ground for days. Instead, they zipline between huts and throughout the conservation area in attempts to spot the elusive-but-adorable black gibbon. But as thoughts of Swiss Family Robinson come to mind, remember that this project is operated with nature and wildlife conservation in mind. The Societe Animo is the brains behind the operation, working with the Bokeo Nature Reserve to help promote environmental awareness and conscienciousness through this hands-on style of eco-tourism.

The organization is located in Huay Xai, across the river from Thailand's popular northern border crossing. Here you can book your Gibbon Experience package and catch the 3 hour ride into the reserve (trucks leave every other day at 7:30am).

Once you've arrived, you can spend hours touring the camp and its environs by zipline, eat delicious fire-cooked meals, and chat with local guides who will dazzle you with their bottomless knowledge of the forest and its animals. A 3-day stay (approx. $110 USD) includes all food and accomodation, plus hiking excursions and visits to stunning waterfalls.

When you're not swinging through the trees, monkey-style, take a moment to ask the Gibbon staff about their environmental efforts. Animo encourages grassroots conservation; a common goal that should be realized by local inhabitant, not imposed upon them by foreign organizations or NGOs. The emphasis of the project is on the protection of the black gibbon, a species that was once thought to be extinct before it was discovered again. This is different from the hilltribe tourist treks of "ethnotourism," which Animo believes is an exploitative move to peddle a tribe's otherness for tourist profit. Animo wishes to draw awareness and respect to the environment itself, not simply the people. All profits of the Gibbon Experience go towards the conservation of the forest, to help prevent logging, poaching, and scorched-earth farming in the area.

If you're interested in stepping off the beaten path in Laos, why not forego the tribal treks in favour of the Gibbon Experience? Your money will go towards an important cause, and your three days of tree hut living will be an adventure you won't soon forget, even when you're back on the ground.

Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.

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Doi Suthep: Exploring Chiang Mai’s Spiritual Side

Doi Suthep: Exploring Chiang Mai's Spiritual Side
Doi Suthep: Exploring Chiang Mai's Spiritual Side
Doi Suthep: Exploring Chiang Mai's Spiritual Side
They say that if you only see one temple in Thailand, Doi Suthep is the one to see. Set on a mountain plateau overlooking the city of Chiang Mai, this site is steeped in history and religious significance. It's also visually stunning. Granted, if you're in Chiang Mai, odds are good that you stumbled upon at least 3 temples on your morning bottled-water run to the Family Mart. Believe me though, this is a temple that lives up to the hype, scenically, spiritually, and even pop-culturally (the opening to Rambo 3 was filmed on the temple steps).

A 40 Baht songtaew from the city centre takes you up the winding mountain road where Doi Suthep lies 1676 metres above Chiang Mai. The last dozen or so must be trekked on foot, up the 306-step staircase with carved dragon handrails and cool forests on either side. Of course, lazy sightseers can always opt for the 20baht cable car. While the base of the steps is swimming with chatty local vendors peddling paintings, carvings, fruit and Fanta, the temple itself is big enough to allow even the largest crowd of tourists some breathing space.

The history of the temple is a tale of monks, kings, elephants and relics. According to legend, a 14th century monk from Sukhothai found a relic from Buddha, and the Lanna King Keu Naone offered to enshrine the piece. The relic was placed on the back of a white elephant, a sacred symbol. He carried the relic up the mountain, stopped on the site where the temple stands today, and died. The temple was constructed in 1383, with a statue honouring the white elephant inside the front gate.

Your ticket (30 Baht) allows free roam of the temple grounds, though tour guides are plentiful and very helpful. Amidst Buddhist statues, jackfruit trees, and rows of metal bells (rung constantly by curious children, despite the signs warning visitors not to push the bells), the outer area is cool and spaceous, with plenty of gilded doors and ornamental carving to admire.

The bookshop and cafes allow visitors a chance to rest their feet (and cameras). It's also a chance to take in the views of the evergreen hills and exotic birds which make up the 260 square kilometres of Doi Suthep National Park. On the other side of the entrance gate, a lookout point offers an impressive view of sprawling Chiang Mai and the distant Ping river.

The middle of the temple is the more sacred cloister area, and visitors can remove their shoes and admire the golden Lanna-style Chedi, standing 79 feet high and housing the famous relic of Buddha. Ornametal umbrellas and Buddha statues, all gold, stand around the chedi. The surrounding walls are painted with murals depicting the life of Buddha. If you have the fortune of witnessing this sight on a clear sunny day, it's easy to get lost in a trance with this shining gold scene. This area is considered to be one of the holiest in Thailand, and makes the trip up the mountain well worthwhile.

Those in search of a spiritual stay in Chiang Mai can book into Doi Suthep's International Buddhism Centre and stay in the temple itself, finding meditative peace in the natural and spiritual beauty in the temple and its surroundings. The website provides further information at http://www.fivethousandyears.org/

Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.

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Penang, Malaysia

Penang, Malaysia
Penang, Malaysia
Penang, Malaysia
Penang, Malaysia
Penang, Malaysia
Penang, Malaysia
Situated just off the mainland of Malaysia to the very north, the pretty island of Penang – known as Pulau Pinang in Malay – is a great place to spend a few days. Bordered by Thailand to the north, many people head straight to Penang after taking the train through Thailand and across the border.
There are many reasons to visit Penang. With its beautiful beaches, Kek Lok Si – perhaps the largest and finest Buddhist temple in Asia – and spectacular scenery, it is easy to see why the island has earnt the nickname Pearl of the Orient.

Don’t miss Kek Lok Si, the terrific pagoda-style temple situated atop Penang Hill. Not only is this a great place to relax and meditate, but the views from the top are spectacular as well. Another good place to visit is the Botanical Garden. This 30-hectare garden was created in 1884 and features a sparkling waterfall as well as beautiful wild Rhesus monkeys.

Also known as Foreigner’s Rock, Batu Ferringhi is a picturesque beach resort. Take a break from temple hopping and trekking through the jungle to simply lie back on the sand a soak up the sun for a while. The Penang Butterfly Farm is located nearby at Teluk Bahang. The butterfly farm is set in picturesque tropical gardens and has thousands of species of butterflies and insects.

In 2004 Time Magazine announced that Penang had the ‘Best Street Food in Asia’, a fact that many dedicated gastronomes have known for some time. People flock from all over Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand to sample the wide range of cuisines available, which include Malay, Chinese, Indian, Nyonya, Thai and a sprinkling of Western dishes such as pasta and hamburgers.

The Indian district of Penang features a large number of stalls bearing dishes from all over India, and this is a great place to dine on portions of daal, biriyanis, tandori chicken and a wide range of other dishes.

If you fancy a treat, take a spin in the Revolving Restaurant on 25A Lebuh Farquhar. It takes an hour for the restaurant to make a complete revolution, allowing you to enjoy spectacular views of Penang.

Some of the best and cheapest accommodation can be found in Georgetown, especially on Lebuh Chulia, where there are several guesthouses offering rooms from RM 200 per night.
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Pad Thai (Fried Noodles): The Stuff of Life

Pad Thai (Fried Noodles): The Stuff of Life
Pad Thai (Fried Noodles): The Stuff of Life
Pad Thai (Fried Noodles): The Stuff of Life
Pad Thai (Fried Noodles): The Stuff of Life
Pad Thai (Fried Noodles): The Stuff of Life
I first tried Pad Thai several years ago in a restaurant in London. It was my first experience of Thai food and I had no idea what to expect. Shortly after ordering, I was presented with a plate of thin noodles, vegetables and tofu, topped with group peanuts and lime. The dish was beautifully presented and it seemed a shame to demolish it, but I was glad that I did. The food was delicious; full of rich flavours, interesting textures and just a little bit spicy. For me it was love at first bite.

When I first arrived in Thailand I was delighted to discover that the Pad Thai I had enjoyed in London for 5 pounds UK could be bought for as little as 20 Baht - 35 pence! Not only that, but the delicious dish can be sampled right on Khaosan Road, allowing you to soak up the atmosphere while you eat. Of course, the price varies according to the quality of ingredients and where you eat it, but a large serving of Pad Thai made with quality ingredients can be bought for 40 or 50 Baht, which is about 1 pound.

I quickly discovered that the ingredients, flavours and presentation of Pad Thai dishes vary significantly between restaurants and areas. Before long I had sampled the dish at most of the restaurants in my area of Bangkok and found my favourite places to eat.

I have found that the tastiest Pad Thai is located not in fancy restaurants but in small, traditional Thai restaurants or from carts on the street. Eating on the street also provides the opportunity for people watching, always a welcome diversion.

One of my favourite places to eat and watch the world go by is on Soi Rambhutri in the heart of Bangkok's Banglampu. Here, the blend of Thai people, seasoned travelers and hapless tourists makes interesting and often comical entertainment.

One of the very first people I met in Bangkok was Tip as I was wandering down Khao San Road looking for refreshment. The vibrant Thai woman drew me to her with her bright smile and the mouth-watering aroma coming from wok and told me to sit at one of her folding tables next to the curb. I watched as she tossed noodles, sauce, vegetables, tofu and dried shrimp into her wok, talking animatedly with a friend as she cooked.

Within minutes, Tip had produced a large plate of Pad Thai. It smelt great and was very tasty - slightly spicy with the deliciously contrasting textures of chewy noodles and crisp vegetables. Tip stood watching me eat, smiling broadly when I showed my appreciation.

When I finished eating, Tip told me that she had been cooking Pad Thai at her stall for over 15 years. The stall was given to her by her husband's parents as a marriage present. Tip gradually bought the tables and chairs from her profits and has gradually been adding little touches to personalise the stall.

"I don't make much money," Tip told me. "But I am very happy. I can talk to many foreign people and practice speaking English every day." Tip told me that the best part of her job is watching people enjoy her food. "Everybody likes to enjoy," she said with a broad smile.

Noodles were first brought to Thailand by Chinese immigrants. They also brought chopsticks and woks, essential equipment for enjoying Pad Thai. However, Thai people traditionally eat rice three times a day and noodles were overlooked for a long time.

The Prime Minister of Thailand, Luang Phibunsongkhram; introduced Pad Thai and made it a national dish during World War II. Thailand was faced with a rice shortage and budget crises at this time and the Prime Minister promoted the eating of Pad Thai to combat the problem.

Today, Pad Thai is enjoyed all over Thailand and indeed all over the world. It is loved by Westerners because it is not spicy like many other Thai dishes and can be eaten at any time of the day or night.

In Bangkok, many Westerners consume Pad Thai after a few beers. As veteran backpacker Dan states; "You can't beat Pad Thai. It's cheap, tasty, and the women who cook it are easy on the eye, too!"


About the author:


Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!
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Mr. Thailand – Khao San Road’s Own Superhero

Mr Thailand, Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Mr Thailand, Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Mr Thailand, Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Mr Thailand, Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
This man is not only a brilliant character and a great bloke, he's a genuine entrepreneur. Mr. Thailand provides advertising services to some of Khao San Road's establishments and has turned a rickshaw novelty into a paying job. In the process he's made himself pretty famous! Kirsty Turner gives us the full details.

My Date with Mr Thailand

I've seen him around for years, driving his saamlor up and down Khaosan Road. With the music blasting from the saamlor's speakers and flashing fairy lights, it's pretty hard to miss him.

Then there's the outfit. Like a colonial soldier crossed with Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Mr Thailand is one of the most interesting and unique characters in Khaosan Road.

My heart is beating slightly too fast as Mr Thailand takes my hand in his and helps me into the back of his saamlor.

It had never really occurred to me that beneath the crazy outfit and huge glasses Mr Thailand might be handsome, but as he flashes me a seductive smile I feel myself melt a little.

Mr Thailand reaches around and turns on the music. Everyone turns to look as we make our way down the road blasting out loud rock and pop music. This may not be the most romantic 'date' I've ever been on, but it's certainly one of the most interesting.

We pull out into the busy Bangkok traffic, Mr Thailand turning around in his seat every few minutes to change the music and ask if I'm having fun. 'Number 1 in Thailand, there is no number 2', he tells me modestly.

I don't want to be a backseat driver, so I let Mr Thailand call the shots and take me where he will. People wave and cheer as we glide slowly past. I try hard to hide my embarrassment, painfully aware that we are the main attraction.

Mr Thailand steers the saamlor slowly into Soi Rambhutri and I wait for the ground to open and swallow me up. Everyone is staring at us, not even bothering to hide their amusement. As backpackers salute me in my carriage, I try to console myself with the fact that in a few days they will have moved on and I'll be able to show my face once more.

Unlike me, Mr Thailand is loving the attention. He stops and poses while backpackers take photos, making a point of greeting all the pretty women as he passes. Being with Mr Thailand is like stepping into the spotlight. Everyone knows him, from tuk-tuk drivers to pad thai sellers, and all greet him warmly.

As we go along, Mr Thailand points out his favourite places to eat street food and drink beer. He tells me that he loves drinking with Westerners, announcing that they are a lot of fun. The best part of his job, he says, is all the Westerners he meets. Make that all the Western women. When we stop, Mr Thailand shows me a selection of pictures of him posing with his arm draped around beautiful women.

Although he may look strange, I am quickly coming to the conclusion that Mr Thailand is one of the cleverest people around. The man - who mysteriously refuses to tell me his name or age - comes from Si Saket in Isaan, north-east Thailand.

Mr Thailand was working as a farm labourer, earning less than 100 Baht a day when he first visited Bangkok. He quickly realized that there was good money to be made, downed tools and relocated to the city.

Mr Thailand has now been living and driving his saamlor around Khaosan Road for five years. With no family ties either here or in his home town, he is free to peddle people around the city as he wants. The most popular destinations are Patpong and Sukhumvit, but Mr Thailand will happily take people anywhere they want to go. The fare depends on the generosity of the passenger but he generally receives 500 Baht for 1 hour of peddle power.

Our 'date' draws to a close as we stop in the middle of Khaosan Road. I somehow manage to ignore the backpackers' stares as I climb down from my carriage. But Mr Thailand has one more humiliation in store. With a grin he introduces me to the stuffed parrot that sits atop his saamlor, motioning me to wai to it (putting my hands together and bowing a little in Thailand's customary show of respect).

Then, with a toot of his plastic flower horn, Mr Thailand is gone. For anyone looking for a memorable experience and a moment in the spotlight, Mr Thailand will give you a ride you'll never forget.

Getting to him:

If you want to find Mr. Thailand just wait around KSR and wait for all the head's to turn - it'll be him… His English is good enough and he is very willing to please. He's a massive asset and brings a lot of joy to people's lives, so be generous if you use his services!

About the author:

Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!
Read more...