Monthly Archives: April 2006

Old Patong: One Baht Dance

Thai Garden Dao and Paradise Dawn knew the One Baht Dance in the village would be fun!

The premise of this party would be the local villagers of Baan Nam Sai Yen would arrange many 55 gallon petrol drums, put flat boards over them, and charge the local men one baht to dance with the ladies attending. All the funds would go to local school charity.

Naturally there was some type of Karioke also. The party went on from dusk til early in the morning, closing a few hrs before sunrise.

On the way back, Dao driving Crazy Dave little Honda 125CC twin, complete with 007 trademarks over both exhaust pipes, and Dawn holding on as she sat on the back, as Dao weaved thru the village, maybe too fast, as a water buffalo crashed into them, throwing both from the bike, and goring both ladies!

The bottled gas man drove them back to Thai Garden late that night, all bruised, beaten, torn and gored!

Thai Garden soon looked like a MASH emergency unit, with the local Doctor patching up the maimed as best as he could, they were injured, but no broken bones, just extreme road rash, and various puncture wounds from the buffalos sharp horns!

Both ladies lay in web lounges for the next few weeks along the north side of the restaurant. The Doctor visited daily, attending them and they were miserable, moaning, crying, Dao often uttered a sound that was like “oh-eee” but were healing properly, bandages changed daily,etc, all was entirely professional, but we were heart broken around them and always tried to cheer them up and never show in our faces what we really thought.

Dao was up and cooking back in her kitchen within a few days, then would return to her web cot between shifts, Dawn, only 18 or 19 at best, didn’t mend as fast as Dao, although Daos injuries were much more serious.

A few of the patrons had tee shirts made of Dao and Dawn, entitled “Buffalo Hunter”, that seemed to cheer the lasses up some, but both ladies knew they’d skip the next One Baht Dance!

Over the next decade, we saw way too many results of motorcycles and their folly with water buffalo, “moving” coconut tree, sometime just plain bad luck, other times the result of mixing riding with booze, the tales of road rash and destruction are many.

When we acquired The Spirit Of Patong, we always maintained that having 3 wheels vs 2 was in itself a more reasonable chance of finishing a run to town or the beach without just falling over, but we were also paranoid and would quickly move off the road when those GIANT tour buses would play chicken with those foolish enough to be in their path!

Often, driving back to the Waterfall house late, late at night, I’d especially take care on those nights without moon light, the water buffalos are a grey/black and many was the time when I screeched to a halt only inches from them just meandering in the middle of the road!

Driving anything in Thailand is an eye opening experience where the wise took their time, the speedy often didn’t finish the trip!

We rarely used our little horn on the scooter, most everyone else more than made up for it. The hierarchy of the road on ALL roads in the Kingdom=survival of the fittest! The bigger the vehicle, the more “right of way” they enjoyed…

In our short decade, we were most fortunate that we never got in a wreck, although I flipped the scooter with sidecar several times the first week while “learning” to do “figure 8’s” in a dirt parking lot, I’d just crawl back up, attach my forearm crutches between the scooter and sidecar until I perfected the handling and didn’t get thrown again!

Having benefitted greatly from “instant Karma”, we knew we were blessed!

Songkran DC Style….one year on

What a year. It was one year ago this month I wrote my first blog on here. Hard to believe it’s actually been a year. Even harder still to believe what kind of year 2005 was! Starting with the Tsunami disaster in Thailand and the horror the whole world saw I began 2006 in shock and disbelief. Night after night seeing the pictures on TV was wrenching my farang eyes and my (Thai?) heart. I long since stopped being superstitious when I was little but like many people in the back of my mind was the feeling this was not a good omen to begin the new year. Little did I know how true that feeling was (and how it was one I should have heeded)?

Eight months later the American Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, jabbed America in the chest as if to emphasize the point that we should have gotten the hint last time. It seemed like everywhere the news was the same, the floods waters never reached me but it shook me upside down just the same. Say goodbye to what you knew because nothing, not even the earth and sky and planet we thought we could depend on, would ever be certain again.

This year would also prove to be the worst I ever lived through

As winter closed in on the Easy Coast so did my life close in on me. I stopped seeing friends and going to Wat Thai for class or even just to see the monks, fellow classmate would e-mail and ask when I was coming back because the monks kept asking about me. They finally stopped after about 4 months.

I was 7 when I badly cut my arm. I smashed my fist through a window in the kitchen door trying to get the door open for my father coming home from work. I was so excited to see him and welcome him home. But by the time I was 9 I was lying in my bed at night in terror listening to my parents battling it out in the hall. My father was forcefully trying to get at me and I didn’t know why and or why Mom was so scared that he did. She desperately tried to make him stop and not wake me up. My father had come home late again and was drunk. Again. It was an occurrence happening more and more at my house. He wanted to wake me up that night just to give me a stupid wooden toy horse that he got from who knew where but the whole experience terrified me just the same. From those first frightening nights all the good in our relationship eventually vanished. As years past he became more and more about getting his next drink than being a father to his son. The blind love I had as a son for him as a father was swept away like all those lives lost in Katrina and the Tsunami. In it’s place remained contempt and hate for him. As I grew older fear gave way to rebellion and as he grew older belligerence gave way to raw bitterness. It was a long and slowly drawn out deterioration into hurt, then panic then retaliation and finally desperation with each confrontation we had, many times over nothing but many times accented by sudden, out of nowhere explosive bursts of violence. Then the eerie calm of dread wondering what’s or when would trigger the cycle again next. Is it any wonder all of us in my family live like shell shocked zombies until we each could finally get away? The last time he hit me was the first time I hit him back. I think I was by that time about 18 then.

As I shook my head of its revere I sat on the top step of the temple and looked around at all the people and the fun. Church never was like this when I was a kid and a “Southern Baptist”. If I didn’t understand anything else I knew then that in that moment this was what it was all about for me. Even if I had no clue where I was or where I was going I knew Thailand and I loved it. This was not just a part of me, my brain or even my passion it WAS me! This is what I do and what I love and I know everything about even though I had never been to there before, a country and people and way of life that pleaded with me. Come and you’ll be happy, come and you’ll belong, come and you finally find peace and your place in it all. Crazy stuff huh?

Looking down at the crowd I saw George a new member to our Thai Meetup group he had just arrived and it was his first Songkhran. I waved and slipping back on my shoes I clambered down the steps to meet him. We hung out and I showed him all the ropes. It was his first time at Wat Thai and I was a two year vet by now. He took pictures with his nice expensive camera and we talked and ate and walked and looked. We also shopped and poked and prodded (the merchandise not any cute Thais) but didn’t buy anything. George makes some pretty good money in his business and has been to Thailand many times before, often more than once in a year in fact he’s going again next month. I doubt what we saw that day might have impressed him compared to the real thing but he didn’t say and I didn’t ask. He enjoyed telling me his stories of adventures and friends in Bangkok and Pattaya and I enjoyed eating them up with envy. We spent the rest of that day together and got sunburned together; well at least I did, anyway.
Finally after several hours we left with the other hot, tired and tuckered out folks both Thai and farang waiting for the shuttle bus to take them back to our their and then home. We had been e-mailing each other for months planning a get together for some Singhas somewhere but I was always sick or distracted or whatever so we never did it until that day. I liked George and we are much alike so we decided once we got back to his car we’d drive down to his place in Virginia, hunt up some Thai beers then go get a nice Thai dinner at his favorite restaurant down there. Like I said George has done pretty alright by himself so I was expecting it but still impressed with his Penthouse condo overlooking the Virginia countryside. Not to mention the beautiful pieces of Thai art and tapestry from Thailand that he showed me. but what really got me was the satellite dish! He had not one but two and one with 500 channels including several from, you guess it, Thailand! It was too cool sitting on his expensive leather couch drinking expensive German wheat beer and watching real kick boxing on his wide screen TV. I want my Thai TV! We watched a few matches and some the Thai news downed a few beers then headed off for some spicy Pud Gra Pao Neua at his favorite Thai hideaway restaurant. It was a small quiet place squeezed into a strip mall with Vietnamese Pho shops and Chinese grocery stores. The hostess and waitresses all knew George by name and what to bring him without ordering. I had my usually stir fried beef and basil but “Aow kon Thai phet, mai chawp farang phet” and boy they didn’t disappoint! The sweat was dripping off me but that’s ok I was loving it, let some of my excess baggage and, Girl Scout cookie fat, roll off too. Me and George talked, laughed and cut up for hours – serious and thoughtful one minute, silly and irreverent the next. I was having a good time and I had forgotten what it was like to have fun and be part of the human race again. Silly as it seems it made me think all the times I could do this again and again with friends for the first time in a long time I was feeling winter thaw and spring start to come alive in me again. I guess maybe I could be hopeful for the future again. I don’t pretend that there aren’t crashes and collisions in this life I can still see coming but where can anyone go that life won’t touch you? All we really have I guess are the days we have to live and how we choose to fill them. There will always be shake ups and change and disruptions. Even at my age and most certainly living in the wonderful chaos of Thailand I know that uncertainty is still there waiting for me. There are so few fairy tale endings anymore should we believe in fairy tales anyway? Long before Clash, Labanoon or Modern Dog one of my favorite singers in the 80’s was John Mellencamp a folk rocker from the American heartland. I always really felt these lines in one of his songs so much. I felt it fit me so well but always looking from the down side of the equation, now maybe for the first time in a long time I’m looking at the upside. You be the judge.
from ‘The Real Life’
by John Mellancamp

Jackson Jackson was a good kid
He had four years of college and a bachelor’s degree
Started workin’ when he was 21
Got fed up and quit
When he was 43
He said, “My whole life
I’ve done what I’m supposed to do
Now I’d like to maybe do something for myself
And just as soon as I figure out what that is
You can bet your life I’m gonna give it hell”
He says


I guess it don’t matter how old you are
Or how old one lives to be
I guess it boils down to what we did with our lives
And how we deal with our own destinies
But something happens
When you reach a certain age
Particularly to those ones that are young at heart
It’s a lonely proposition when you realize
That’s there’s less days in front of the horse
Than riding in the back of this cart
I say

I want to live the real life
I want to live my life close to the bone
Just because I’m middle-aged that don’t mean
I want to sit around my house and watch T.V.
I want the real life…
I want to live the Thai life!

-Words and Music Courtesy of Mr. John Mellencamp
-Last verse courtesy of you-know-who


The Building Of Village Temples

The age of Cathedral building is probably well and truly over in the west but in Thailand the desire to engage in temple construction shows no sign of abating. The landscape of Thailand is already covered with Wats, Shrines, and spirit houses. These of course include iconic Wats such as Wat Phra Kiew, Doi Suthep and Wat Tat Phanom.

But at the same time new constructions and renovations are going on all the time. Travel around the country and you will see new temples rising out of the ground and bamboo scaffolding around existing buildings. More often than not this will be happening in Thai Villages.

Ban Phutsa Temple

Virtually ever Thai village has a temple in its environs. The village temple holds an iconic place in Thai culture. The size and construction of these temples reflect both the economic status and the spiritual imperatives of each individual village. As such the Temple buildings can range from simple timber to quite grand constructions that can rival similar temples in Towns and Cities.

The decision to build and renovate temple buildings has much to do not only with economics and spiritual desire but also with Village politics. Thais place great store in earning merit which includes both the giving alms to members of the Sangha and the upkeep of their temples.

ban ta ban meditation huts

But sometimes the decision not only to build but how to build involves subtle “logger heading” between the Lay and the village monastic community. A Case in point is a village that I know called Ban Ta Ban in Isaan. The Achaan of the village temple is a former Phra Tudong (wandering ascetic) who recommended that a small meditation complex be built. The Financial movers and shakers in the village wanted an ordination hall. In the end they compromised and built both.

This reflects the enormous respect that Thais have for the spiritual leadership of the Sangha. Although it’s the Lay community that appears to initiate Temple projects – in the end it’s the monastic community that determines how the temple complex is used. The village of Ban Phutsa in Isaan where I spend much of my time during annual visits to Thailand once had an Abbot who was – how can I put it kindly, leant towards the grand. As such on his recommendation several quite expensive buildings were erected in the village temple complex. The new Abbot is more of a traditionalist and who places more store in Vipassana meditation and a market garden that he has established to feed some of the poorer people in the village. As such many of the grander buildings are rarely used.

Another aspect of the Thai character is the desire not only to contribute to the construction of new temples but to build one in its entirety. This does not appear to come from personal ego but instead is the ultimate in spiritual fulfillment. There are numerous projects of this nature all over the country. I am aware of two of these projects.

Khorat Temple

The first is a large temple being built outside of the City of Nakhonratchasima by a Thai “action hero” movie star. Apparently he does most of his own stunts, which has involved a few narrow escapes. As such he felt compelled to initiate his project as a way of giving thanks for the “good luck” that he has been endowed with.

The other project (which I have only visited once back in 2003) is Wat Pa Nam Yoi, which is located on a hill on the border of Roiet and Mukdahan provinces in Isaan. From the hill you have sweeping views over the Isaan landscape.

This project can only be called “huge”. It came about after the Abbott of a small village had a dream, which apparently told him that a new temple needed to be built on the hill,and who then initiated it. I have pasted two photos above that I took in 2003, but they don’t do justice to the staggering dimensions of this temple. It is being funded by donations from right across the country. The irony of it is that the Abbott is from the forest tradition of Thai Buddhism and lives simply in a hut in the forest outside the new temple.

As a Farang with an “Ikea Furniture” love of simplicity I am often perplexed by what drives Thais to so heavily invest in temple construction. I often believe that the literal billions of Baht spent in this manner would be better spent on eradicating poverty in the country.

On the other hand although I don’t quite understand I have in turn learned to appreciate both the desire and the spiritual fulfillment that Thais get from their involvement in building Temples.


Thai Dessert Festival

Thai dessert

If you like Thai food and are in Central Thailand at the moment then make an effort to go to the Thai Dessert festival that is happening this weekend in Chachoengsao. In the field opposite the city hall you will find many stalls set up selling a large variety of Thai desserts and meals. Of course I went in order to take pictures for the photo albums at And also to taste some of the delights. You already know my favourites if you have been reading my food blogs. At this stall you can see some miniature fruits that are for sale. They look like the real thing don’t they? Though, they taste a lot sweeter! Chachoengsao is famous for their delicious mangoes,  so make sure you try these with sticky rice. Yummy! The festival starts at 5 p.m. Just make sure you don’t eat too much for lunch!

Thai dessert

The Bat Temple

Bat temple

Today I visited Bang Khla district in Chachoengsao Province. The “Unseen Thailand” attraction here are the thousands of fruit bats (or flying foxes) that inhabit the temple at Wat Pho Bang Khla. This is another one of those unique places that you won’t find in any Western guidebook. In fact, the Lonely Planet doesn’t even mention Chachoengsao Province. This was my third visit here. You may remember me writing before about going on a boat trip to see the dolphins. There is a lot to see in this province and I have only scratched the surface. You do sometimes see foreigners here but they usually come with Thai friends and they only seem to be going to pay homage to Luang Pho Sothon. You never see independent travellers which is surprising as it is only 90 minutes away by train from Bangkok. And the cost of the ticket? I think only 20 baht or so.

Bang Khla is about 23 kms away from Chachoengsao city. You leave the city on highway 304 for about 17 kms. You then turn left onto highway 3121 for a further 6 kms. This area is famous for the mango orchards and they have an annual fair in March. It also marks the spot where King Thaksin stopped briefly with his troops after the fall of Ayutthaya. In the town they have a statue of King Thaksin as well as a memorial on the banks of the Bang Pakong River. However, the star attraction for this district must be the fruit bats. To be honest, I wasn’t too sure whether it would be worth driving out there today. In the Thai guidebook there was a picture that only had one bat! I was thinking that maybe it would be just our luck that the day we visited, that bat would be away or something. But, we weren’t disappointed. There were thousands!

Bat temple

When we arrived at the temple it was the sound that first caught our attention. We then looked up and we could lots of dark things hanging from the trees. Then a huge bat flew over our car and landed in a nearby tree. I was actually quite surprised because I had always presumed that bats were nocturnal creatures and liked dark places during the daytime. But, these were pretty active. We were going to park right there under the tree but then I suddenly remembered my encounter with fruit bats in Australia. The liquid that comes out both ends is pretty foul and makes a mess! So, we parked around the corner and walked back.

Just about every tree in the temple compound had bats hanging from the branches. We asked a monk about the bats and what they ate. He said they ate fruit such as mango, tamarind and guava. They also ate the fruit and young leaves from the sacred boh trees in the temple. This is the tree that Siddharta Gautama became enlightened underneath when he became the Buddha. There is speculation that this has actually affected the bats behaviour. For example, they never touch the mangoes in the orchards of Bang Khla. They always go to a neighbouring district. Also, in 1957, the temple was having a special ceremony for 9 days and 9 nights for a sacred stone. During that entire period the bats just disappeared and weren’t around to bother the local people who had come to make merit. Then, in 1966, a revered abbot at the temple died. For days many of the bats refused to eat and didn’t fly out at night-time. A few days later, some of them started dropping dead out of the trees.

Bat temple

Wat Pho Bang Khla is actually quite an interesting place. The oldest building dates back to 1767. Also, in the compound, there is an array of extremely beautiful Buddha images. These seem to be based on famous Buddha amulets. I took some really good close-ups which I will get blown up and framed. The temple is alongside the Bang Pakong River which also runs through Chachoengsao city. I believe you can hire a longtail boat to bring you here or alternatively you can come by bus. If  you do get a chance then do come to visit this temple before any of the guidebook writers find out about it. Once that happens the place will change. Just don’t tell anyone else about this place! Let it remain in the “Unseen Thailand” category.

(I posted a few more pictures over at our sister site at