Daily Archives: May 1, 2005

At the Beach in Bangkok

In the spirit of adventure, I decided to kick off the new month by going somewhere that not many people have gone before. I went to the beach in Bangkok! Yes, you heard right. Bangkok actually has a beachside resort. Not many people know that. It is not even in the Lonely Planet. I first heard about it last year and then I saw a brief mention on tv the other day which reminded me. So, I decided to go and do some exploring.

Bangkok Beach is at Bang Khunthian. It is only about 5 kms wide and is squeezed between Samut Prakan and Samut Sakhon. You saw on my map the other day that this whole area is just shrimp farms and canals. Hardly any roads at all. On my map, there is a road that goes that direction from Samut Prakan but then suddenly stops. So, Bang Khunthian isn’t the kind of place you would pass on the way to somewhere else.

Like before, I had to take the expressway into Bangkok and then cross the river on the King Rama IX bridge. (Incidentally, there are some great views from the top of this bridge and it is a shame you cannot stop to take pictures!) I then drove along Rama II road towards Samut Sakhon. I have driven down this highway before. I have done several weekend trips to Cha-am and Hua Hin as well as a massive drive down to Phuket a number of years ago. After a while I started seeing road signs that said “Talay Bang Khunthian”. Some of them were really big. But, as usual in Thailand, they are good with signs that say straight on but they are not so good at telling you when to turn off! So, I missed the turning and had to do a u-turn. Twice!

I didn’t really have many clues about where to go or what to expect. I knew I could join a boat tour. But I didn’t really know where. Also, the road marked on my map suddenly stopped a long way from the sea! But, it turned out a little easier than expected. I eventually found the correct turning from Rama II road onto Bang Khunthian Road. After about 8 kms or so I saw a small sign on the left that said “ta reua” which means jetty. I wasn’t sure if it was what I was looking for, but there was a big parking lot and a number of factory outlets. I went in and eventually found the jetty. I was just in time, a tour was about to leave. For the record, the boat leaves at 11.30 a.m., 12.30 p.m., 2.30 p.m. 4.30 p.m. on weekends only. It then returns 90 minutes later. It only costs 100 baht for adults and 50 baht for children.

There were about a ten of us that climbed into the very long long-tailed boat. They gave us life jackets and took our photos. That reminded me of a newspaper report after the speedboat tragedy near Koh Samui. The government said that they would now make it compulsory for people to wear lifejackets and that everyone would be photographed. Of course, that made me a bit nervous. How far out to sea would we go in this flimsy boat? But, on my return, I soon discovered that they were taking pictures for a souvenir plate!

I enjoyed the boat trip very much. We went down some small canals passing houses on stilts and many many people fishing. In the photo above, the lady is using this contraption to catch fish. She lowered it into the water for a while and then quickly lifted it up hoping to catch some fish! The mangrove forest was lush and green. The wildlife was plentiful, we even saw some monkeys! On either side were fields of water! These are shrimp farms. You can probably guess that the main occupation for these people is fishing. And the main means of transportation is boat. Just about every house we passed had a boat moored underneath it. Some had two!

After about an hour we finally reached the sea. The concrete marker you can see above is the boundary between Bangkok and Samut Sakhon. It is a famous landmark which I have seen on tv. I guess this is what we all came for. We circled around it for a while. Our guide pointed east and said over there is Chulalongkorn Fort. Too far to see but it made me wonder how long it would take to get there by boat. Maybe quicker than the roundabout route I had to take to get here. If only I had my own boat! Actually, that is one of my dreams. Anyway, back to reality. In the photo on the right, you can clearly see a line of electricity poles. Apparently fishermen used to have huts here but the sea has long since eroded the land. From what I can tell, a lot of this shoreline has disappeared over the last number of years. Our guide said that you can sometimes see dolphins. But, we weren’t lucky today.

It is funny about the electricity poles. You are in the middle of no-where, but they have tv and electricty. Even the small wooden huts made from bamboo had a telelvision set. But, it looked like they didn’t have running water. Outside every house were about six or so large klong jars to catch rain water. This would be their only source of clean water. The houses also had numbers, so I wonder if the postman came down here in his boat to deliver the mail? Some canals in Bangkok even had mobile banks!

Near the stone marker, we stopped at a restaurant built on stilts high above the water. There were quite a few people here eating lunch. Our guide only gave us 15 minutes to get out and stretch our legs. While I was walking around, I noticed several more boats arrive with tourists. It was too soon for another boat to come so I deduced that there must be another company operating boat tours. I decided that when I got back to the car I would drive further down the road as far as I could and see what else was on offer. I also wanted to see if the road between here and Samut Prakan had been built yet. If it had, then that would be a quicker way of getting back.

I will tell you more of my explorations tomorrow. Find out what happens when I literally drive off the map!


Still…..a life upcountry

Well, after you readers out there having been engrossed with stories from our Thai friends living over there in the Land of The Bushes and Budweiser I thought I’d take you back once again to that common ground of….. ‘a life upcountry’.

In last week’s episode I mentioned that Thais have a loving fascination for a few things and they included ‘breaking the law’ and ‘scruffy scragg dogs’. Now for all you Farangs out there who have had the pleasure of living in Thailand for while will know well enough that one more thing the Thais have a infactuation for, is: Noise.

How many of you readers out there have been tortured to the likes of a Luk Thung CD played non-stop on the bus to Phuket for the whole night while all the other passengers have long fell asleep. I must admit that ive witnessed a few farang in my time here literally blowing their heads at this monstrous noise on the upcountry night buses and having a right run in with the drivers at one in the morning to the likes of ‘Turn off that darned tape, its driving me crazy!”

Even the local temple, usually a place of peaceful tranquillity is now and then transformed into the right rowdy village fair with speakers meant to blast so loud that those in the village half way down the river will on hearing the commotion going-on, make their way up to the fair. Next, after the end of the fair the head monks can be heard giving a sermon over the oldest and clumsiest of speaker systems at an awful hour of the day to the not-so-delights of your ear-lobes.

Another source of nightmarish-like noise pollution here upcountry has to be ‘construction’ and the workers involved. I know perfectly well that fair enough a job has to be done but perhaps more suitable working hours ought to be promoted. At the end of this blog you’ll read that I’ll be away from school for a while and one reason is well, the darned noise here at the moment cause of this dome-like pavillion being built (no idea what to call it cause I havent seen the end result yet!). I know its gotta be built, but is 6:45 on a Sunday morning not lacking a little sympathy to the listeners 50 metres away asleep in bed?

Just a few days ago after having been tormented constantly all day with this barbaric hammering, drilling and banging was sworn mad when at seeing 5:40 on the clock hastily called the School director with a serious word of complaint. Well, he must have listened to my irritations and the noise ended soon after. Anyway the workers for some weird reason or another on realising that it was that Farang teacher who had complained about them decided so to give him a ‘funny look’ for the rest of the day. So what, I didn’t give a darned.

Well, the workers here had better hurry up with completing the job, as Thailand’s construction workers are more famed for sitting around all day looking at the potential construction site than actually doing any work! I know a few Thais and even Farang over the years who on getting a house built have literally had to sit there all day and make sure the crooky construction workers actually do some work and not doze off from mid-day til 5 o’clock.

I had a student once who on being an engineer informed me about the ‘biggest’ problem concerning construction workers and that was “The end of the month, after they get paid the construction work comes to a halt for 3 days as all the workers go on a bender, get constantly drunk and womanize as much as possible until all their money is saturated and then go back to work!
A little sympathy and understanding has to be shown when the balaclava-workers have to sit out there in the sun for a measly sum of 165 baht a day.

One other group of under-paid workers we have to be thankful to, are our friends over here from the Indian region. Until just a year or so back it was a sad fact that most of them working here were in fact illegal immigrants. Once in Pathumthani on getting friendly with the local Roti vendor asked him in Thai “how do get around the law of not being arrested?” to which he replied “Oh.. just go to the local cop shop every month and pay them 250 baht!” Sounded darned cheaper and easier I thought than actually living and working here on the right side of the law!

One day I bought a small bottle of whiskey for him and a bunch of his Roti friends came to enjoy the party before half of them passed out after a single glass of ‘on the rocks’. Then another one of his friends showed up and did nothing for the next half hour but boast about the quantity of Roti and nuts he was selling to all the foreign tourists up there at Bang-pa Inn Palace in Ayutthaya to the obvious envy of his Indian counterparts in Pathum!

One spectacular sight that is often witnessed here upcountry, not being the Elephant round-up in Surin is in fact: the mathematically virtually impossible scenario of managing to get the whole of ones family on the back of a Honda Dream 100cc. This practice has gladly been brought to a halt in the nation’s capital but getting out of the big city this awesome-like extremely dangerous stunt is enjoyed daily by half the upcountry folks.

If you were just wondering to why most Thais enjoy ‘speed’ so much, it is because they have been brought up with the excitement of riding on the back of a moto-bike at 100 km and hour since the age of two months! Every day I see the likes of a tiny toddler plonked on the back of a bike in the company of his aunt, auntie and granmum and the daily groceries, revving away at the lights the toddler has a beaming smiling on his face obviously loving this earthly daily routine!

Talking about toddlers here in Thailand it has to be agreed that Thais and Farang have a very big difference of mentality in regards to ‘bringing a kid up’. Here in The Land of Smiles, no sooner is the toddler out of his diapers and he’s being hassled around helping out on the daily chores which include popping into the local shop and buying a crate of beer and cigarettes for the elders.

While in the west the young girls who still at Primary School are brainwashed to the likes of “Don’t talk to strangers’” etc.. fortunately it’s the opposite here and the kiddies are encouraged to go practice their English skills with any old white-face that’s seen walking through the village to the likes of “You, where you go?” “It is a book” and “5 baht please”.

Looking beautiful is another factor with most Thai girls and this conditioning has been drilled into them since again still in their diapers. Just how many toddlers have you seen been paraded around a Bangkok shopping mall for the sake of only the mother’s ego, showing off their little one to every passer-by having virtually no sympathy for her little one himself who is seen shivering away in his mother’s arms completely perplexed to the frosty temperature of the mall’s air-conditioning.

For the upcountry folks, since having no frosty malls to take their little loved ones, do instead have their 4 year-old daughter dressed up in high heels and a mini skirt with make-up plastered all over her face up on stage bopping and singing away doing a rendition of some famous country music star for the hysterical enjoyment of the villagers. I could only imagine if some show like this was put on there in my home country, the promoters would soon be called over and arrested on-spot by the local authorities in-charge.

Thai toddlers, it has to admitted, look a lot darned happier and cheerful than the Farang kiddies seen back home. If you are asking the reason to this, the example is a simple one and that is they can enjoy playing, running, screaming, shouting, crying and making as much darned havoc and noise as they like all day long to the complete indifference of the elder family members. As for Farang toddlers, since the older generation love their peace and quiet are taught straight away after uttering their first words to the likes of “Shut up, be still and don’t say a word”.

Well, that’s another part to the ‘a life upcountry’ series and be warned yet once again, it’s not the last!

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) stevesuphan here, will be away from the blogging scene for a while as he has decided to get away from it all, wear all white and disappear off to a local forest monastery for ten days or so for an annual routine of dhamma and meditation practice.