Daily Archives: February 17, 2006

The Positive Power Of Doing Absolutely Nothing


Many years ago I had returned to my home in Australia after a six week holiday in Thailand and was speaking to an Aunt of mine who lives in Sydney about the trip. Over the years my Aunt had always taken a great interest in my travels from Australia, but this day she threw a question at me that totally stumped me and I struggled for an answer. The question was actually a very simple one – “how do people in Thailand fill in time”.

The question came after I had described where my sister-in-law lives in Bangkok, which is across the river from Chinatown. Basically an extension of Chinatown, this area of Bangkok is a rabbit warren of Sois, busy roads, and markets with a mind boggling number of people living cheek to jowl. Soi 13 off Tad Din Daeng road where my sister-in-law lives leads into a large market. Like all such markets in Thailand it sells a vast variety of produce including ready cooked food including satay, fish, noodles and an endless choice of sweets. As a consequence, the only cooking that my sister-in-law has to do is turn on the rice cooker. Combining this with a shoe box sized home in Soi 13 means that the amount of housework required is miniscule.

This of course prompted a veteran housewife like my Aunt to ask –how does she fill in the day? I could only offer a feeble “I don’t know” Of course in Australia like other western countries time is a commodity constantly measured and evaluated. As an:”advanced” society we don’t waste time anymore talking to our neighbours over the back fence as we don’t have the time because we are preoccupied with our children complaining that they are bored because they have to much time on their hands etc etc. In contrast my experience of Thailand, is that time is not the ruthless dictator it has become in the west. Thais seem to simply treat time as a commodity that is there to be used.


Of course this is not to say that Thailand is a “Manama” society that is often suggested. My observation of Thailand has always been that it is as busy and time conscious as other societies e.g. Thai airways usually takes off on time, and the national anthem is played on the dot at 8am and 6pm each day. The main difference between Thailand and the west is that Thais are so much more adept at dealing with the peak and gullies of stress and boredom. Some of my fondest memories of visits to Thailand over the past 28 years are about times where I have done absolutely nothing – just kicked back and done just that – nothing. My mentor in this practice is my 82 year father in law who lives in the Isaan village of Ban Phutsa. Still fit and healthy he potters around the house and the village but still has a lot of time on his hands. He deals with this down time with an equanimity that I would love to emulate.

With the benefit of hindsight, my answer to my Aunt’s question should have been – “don’t worry about it”

Anyway that’s enough windy nonsense. I just checked my watch and I have exactly 9.5 minutes before my favourite TV show comes on. After that I have penciled in some quality time with the family.

That Phanom

According to the That Phanom Chronicles, eight years after the Buddha’s death 500 Arahants and five lords of the five states headed by Maha Kassapa constructed the reliquary in the shape of a four sided kiln, eight to ten meters tall, and in it placed the breast bone relic of the Buddha. Over the past 2500 years the shrine has been restored several times and now stands 57 meters tall overlooking the town of That Phanom.

The That

People visit the shrine throughout the year, but the most moving and auspicious time to visit That Phanom is during the festival that marks Magha Puja. This small town on the Mekong River, half way between Mukdahan and Nakhon Panom grows from a few thousand, to the size of major city, as tens of thousands arrive each day to make merit and worship at the shrine. This was my 5th visit to the festival.

Circumambulating the That

The first place to stop is the museum. It houses some quite interesting artifacts and information about the history of the shrine. There is also a set of murals that explain Buddhism in Isaan. From there, west of the shrine about 50 meters is a Bo-tree that is a branch of the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment and was brought here in 1952. Now it’s on toward the shrine. As you pass through the first door-way you’ll enter the cloister that makes up the outer wall where many of the monks at the festival will spend the night and in front of you will be the inner wall that surrounds the shrine. This wall has first built in the second century B.C. and has been rebuilt numerous times. Remember to take off your shoes when entering the inner wall. The That itself is surrounded by statues of past abbots and sometimes Buddha images from the cloister are placed around the That.
More about That Phanom and other Isaan places in following entries.


Of Flight and Feathers

Fishing boat and memorial float at Baan Naam Kem fishing village

Hi all. I’m back stateside. I actually stayed in Bangkok until February 14, but it was a busy 4 extra days that I didn’t have time to tell y’all. I’m so sorry! (Especially to you, Richard S!) And I went straight to work, clocking in at 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday after having arrived on US soil at 8:30 p.m. on Valentine’s day.

I am a little jetlagged, but not too horribly. Thanks too the new Thai Airways’ non-stop flight which I will tell you more about later on.

To top it off, We are moving to Los Alamitos, just a city over, this weekend. Oh yeah. No rest for the wearies!

Now, that Thai Airways flight. For the $1085 I paid for my round trip tickets on the non-stop LAX-Bangkok flight, it’s worth every penny.

THAI offers direct flights from LAX, NYC, and soon Moscow, to Bangkok on the plush Airbus A340-500. There are 2 flights each week, Tuesday and Friday.

What I love about it most is that even in economy, you have your own entertainment unit! As in, YOU have control of what you want to watch, listen, or play. The programmings will keep you entertained through the flight. And of course, there was none of that annoying layovers.

Economy seatings have a little bit more leg room and larger seats. The lay out is 2-4-2 instead of the cramped 3-5-3 configuration.

The Premium Economy gives you even more leg room an wider, more comfortable seats, similar to Economy Deluxe I’ve flown on EVA Air.

Once you get into Business and First classes, it becomes a whole other ballgame. These guys have that modular seats that can lay out flat. Services up in these classes is other worldly, and I’m sure the food would be absolutely divine.

How do I know? With my dad’s mileage gold card, we got upgraded to Business Class on the flight back from Phuket. Tea was served in real cup, and cake on real plate. And that was only an hour flight! I was so impressed. No wonder folks who can afford it fly business/first!

The non-stop flight is 17 hours from LAX to BKK, and 15 hours from BKK to LAX. They provide a meal shortly after take off, again somewhere over Japan, and one more time just before landing. Without stopping, that saves about 4-5 hours out of the entire flight.

This non-stop flight saved me precious time as my original stay was only 10 days, losing one day already on traveling. And I must say that the shorter flight time cut down jetlag considerably. I barely suffer any jetlag on my way over–a little sleepy in the afternoon but could be staved off by some coffee. On the way back is still pretty severe as always, but not as much. At least I wasn’t waking up in the middle of the night too much, but I was absolutely useless at work after 2 p.m.

The only semi bad thing about the flight is arrival and departure time in Bangkok.

You arrive at the crack of dawn at the airport, giving you a whole day to run around the city and effectively fighting off jetlag. But the traffic trying to get back into the middle of town is THE legendary Bangkok gridlock. The flight leaves again in the evening, which you’d once again be in traffic. Worse yet, if you have the Friday night flight, plan to leave the city very very early.

Summary: If you’re tight on time and a little loose on the budget, I’d suggest coughing up a little more and go with THAI non-stop flight.

We’ve talked flight. Now, feathers.

Since I won’t be able to type up the story of my visit down in Khao Lak as yet, I’ve put up photos on my Khao Lak 2006 Flickr album. There are captions there that would tell you a little bit of the stories.

Until then!