Monthly Archives: November 2007

A Trip to Luang Prabang

Almost on impulse, I decided the other day to take a four day trip to Luang Prabang in Northern Laos. I’ve wanted to go for quite a long time, so when an opportunity arose the other day I jumped at the chance to book a trip. This is probably actually the best time of the year to go to Laos. The rainy season has now come to an end and the weather has turned dry and cool. Perfect conditions for travelling. I checked on the Internet and the maximum daytime temperature at the moment is 22 degrees Celsius. During the night it is dropping to a very chilly 7 degrees Celsius. Luang Prabang is about parallel with Chiang Rai which is also going through a cold patch at the moment. Before I left I made sure I packed my jacket and sweater.

Luang Prabang is in many ways cut off from the outside world. Travel options are limited. If you are feeling adventurous then you could try a slow, two day boat ride from the Thai border. Or, if you are like me, and have limited time or are eager to get to your destination, then you could always fly there! However, it is not cheap. From Bangkok you can fly either Lao Airways or Bangkok Airways for about 8,000-10,000 baht return trip. I decided to fly the former as it was slightly cheaper. Though I didn’t know at the time why. I should have guessed when I arrived at check-in at the airport when I saw that there was no-one else in the queue. At the departure gate there were exactly ten other people waiting. A bus took us out onto the runaway where we were greeted by a two propeller airplane. I haven’t flown on one of these for a while.

The flight from Bangkok to Luang Prabang only took about 100 minutes. I had a window seat just behind the propellor. I had some great views though I was a bit worried that the propellor would fly off and hit me in the face! Though I suppose if that was to happen then everybody else on the plane would die just as quick so I didn’t bother to change seats. The only city I recognized along the way was Lopburi because of the two very large and distinctive roundabouts. I had spotted them on Google Earth and so recognized them straight away. They are already marked on our site if you want to go and take a look. Coming into land we had some great views of Luang Prabang. In particular, the temple on top of Phu Si hill and the Mekong River behind.

The air stewardess had given us our immigration forms and also a form to apply for a 30 day visa on the airplane. This turned out rather fortunate that we were able to write this in advance. A Vietnamese Airline plane had just landed before us full of tourists. However, as we entered the small airport building we saw that they were busy filling in their forms and so we were then able to go straight to the front of the queue for the visa. You don’t need to go to the trouble of applying in advance. Just make sure you bring along a passport size photo. If you don’t have one, they will photocopy your picture in your passport for a fee. Listed on the board were the prices for the visa for all the different nationalities. Strangely, although both England and USA were US$35, Canadians have to pay US$41! Eastern Europeans are US$30.

Immigration itself was quick and painless with only a few people in the queue. Next door was baggage claim and my bag was already waiting for me. On the way out, I passed an exchange booth. I made a mental note that Thai baht was 286 kip and US dollar was 9.4 kip. I didn’t change any as I thought the rates here wouldn’t be that good. However, the place I changed my baht at this afternoon was only 281 kip for one baht. In contrast to Bangkok airport, I wasn’t bombarded with taxi touts as I left the airport building. Outside I found a table for booking taxis. The guy asked where I was going. I already had the name of a guesthouse and I told him. The price was fixed at US$5 or 200 baht. It was slightly cheaper to pay in dollars. I was under the impression that it was $5 per vehicle however the receipt clearly said “per person”. If this was a meter taxi in Thailand then it would have cost me less. The guidebooks suggest that the return trip to the airport is a lot less. I didn’t really mind. Having a fixed price takes out the stress of being cheated.

I was at my guesthouse and checked in by about 1 p.m. As I still had a good part of the day left, I decided to set off on foot to explore the area. I also wanted to try and get my bearings. My guesthouse was alongside the Meklong River. Behind me was Phu Si hill and so I decided to climb that first to help orientate myself. The entrance fee was 20,000 kip which sounds a lot and I almost didn’t go up. I had to sit down and work out some benchmarks for buying things while in Laos. A good marker would be 100 baht. This is about 28,000 kip. So the price wasn’t too bad after all, though maybe a bit more than what it would be in Thailand for a temple in Ayutthaya.

As expected, the views from the top were spectacular even though the temple itself was only of passing interest. I reckon there would be some good views of sunrise here as well. From the hill top I walked down the other side to the Buddha’s Footprint. Along the way I passed a series of Buddha images that represented different days of the week. Interestingly they didn’t match the Thai version. I will share with you these pictures later. The footprint turned out to be a large indent in the rock. Nothing too exciting. I continued walking down to the bottom of the hill where I come out at a small temple. They seem to be everywhere.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon wandering around the town admiring the French colonial architecture. I didn’t really visit any temples as such. I will explore those properly tomorrow. After several hours of walking I ended up at a small restaurant overlooking the river. I was parched and so ordered a bottle of Lao Beer. The price was probably inflated as it was a restaurant with fine views, but at only 10,000 kip I wasn’t going to complain. I think sometimes in order to enjoy your holiday, you should just pay the price and don’t waste energy trying to find the cheapest source in town.

I will talk more about the town in a later blog. It is early evening now and I am back at my guesthouse typing this up on my laptop. I will save this on a thumbdrive and try and post it at one of the internet cafe which are scattered around the town. It is already getting very chilly. Luckilly I didn’t pay extra for an air-conditioned room as I am not even using the fan! I am wearing my thick jacket now. There is a night market in town and I will go and explore that shortly. I was planning on sitting down to a nice meal of Lao food. But on the way back I saw a stall selling some baguette sandwiches for only 10,000 kip. Obviously a French influence. I must say, it was not only superior to subway sandwiches in Bangkok, but was a hundred times better value for money.

For more information, please visit the Laos Guidebook forum and also our new website.

Just Legalize Gambling…

(The following blog/article was published in The Nation newspaper last Saturday. Here below, however, is the originally un-edited submission)

(Steve’s neighbour enjoying a game of Hi-Lo…with the front door bolted!)

Well, just one more month to go before yet another terrific showdown between Thailand’s brainiest bunch of so-called intellectuals. For the voters this time around, it’s gonna be one extremely tricky task to select their party of choice, as all the policies promised by each and every party are truly wonderful.

Wow, all the kids could be getting a funky new free education for 12 years and all the poor old-pensioners, a groovy welfare system of some sort. Where all the money is going to come from, to implement such policies – well, that’s a story for another day. Now, if I were one of the lucky few to be in charge of writing up some practical economical policies, I might propose doing away with that law concerning having to wear motorbike helmets. Since most Thais in the provinces never adhere to such a regulation, hundreds of millions of baht ends up in the wallets of dodgy traffic law enforcers each month. What a true waste of money! Ok, perhaps I’m only kidding, but on the subject of transport, how about attempting to solve Bangkok’s horrendous traffic congestion by charging motorists 300 Baht to take their vehicle into town every day? That way, perhaps folk will be more inclined to jump in taxis instead. I mean, the capital already has 100,000 taxi cabs too many.

Now, governments for donkey’s years have continually tried to indoctrinate us about the health hazards concerning smoking and drinking. And, to encourage folk to give up, have annually bumped up the cost by the likes of a staggering 3 Baht. What a load of nonsense! If any government were honestly serious about such health concerns, then they’d double the prices overnight. Oops, but then again, if half the population gave up such habits, where would any government get most of its tax money from?

Well, we all know that besides eating spicy papaya salad, a hefty percentage of the population here, also has an amazing infatuation for none another than ‘breaking laws’. Tell them that something is now illegal and by jove, they’ll go out of their way to enjoy it. Now, what is the point in having a law then, if most people are simply going to ignore it? Most Thais are seriously going to disagree with what I have to write today, but I would honestly propose that most laws on gambling be done away with.

(Second only to watching soap operas, Thailand’s most beloved pastime – gambling on the lottery!)

Let’s start right at the top of social ladder and all those folk with plenty of spare cash. One of their favourite weekend retreats, besides some ritzy over-priced department store, is no other than the Cambodian border. What a fine place that is on a Saturday morning with thousands of people fighting to get across first and into their swanky casino of choice. Have a good look around at all the folk and you can be rest assured that you will spot some familiar faces from the news – they are of course, some well-to-do politicians. Then, when the rather wealthy, get bored of the likes of Poipet, they can be witnessed instead boarding an airplane to another Asian gambling destination. I hasten to add that such foreign governments can literally be heard laughing at the amount of tax being earned at Thailand’s expense.

As for the average middle-class urban lad, he has plenty of options to semi-legal gambling without having to exit the country – he needs only a credit card and an online connection. The government deems it correct to block naughty rude websites but it doesn’t bother with blocking betting websites! If you don’t believe me, get out your Internet connection and see for yourself – no anonymous proxy server needed! As you could well imagine, most of the online betting is to do with football. Even if you aren’t much of a computer fad, never mind – pop into some restaurant or bar showing the football on a Saturday evening and there will be plenty of guys pointing you in the direction of a reputable bookie. This kind of illegal gambling is so rampant in Thailand that it was even estimated that Thais bet more money on the last World Cup than the whole of the UK.

Now, if you are female and football isn’t exactly your cup of tea, then you can always join half the upcountry village population who love nothing more than gambling on cards. Quite easy to spot a destination to play, just look around for a house which has 50 pairs of flip-flops laid out front, with all doors and windows closed shut. Should you be wondering to why the police often don’t bother clamping down on such illegal behaviour, just ask the local cop chief and he may explain that monthly donations to the station’s whiskey fund just don’t simply fall from trees.

A lot of Thais would be up in arms at my proposal, by declaring that since this is a Buddhist country, it would be awful to legalize such a bad habit – gambling is a sin. But then again, there are countless holy temples scattered around the country which indulge in gambling and the practice of foretelling the lucky numbers for the thrice monthly government lottery. In fact, you can bet on it, that there are several sensational stories every month in a Thai language newspaper about thousands flocking to see some monk who has miraculously forecast correctly, the recent two-digit number for the underground lottery. Of course, such heavenly advice doesn’t come for free and a nice donation to the temple fund is much appreciated.

(Monks getting fined for playing cards, after being caught by special detectives!)

On the subject of the lottery, and especially the legal government one, can you explain to me the difference, if any, there is between gambling on that and say on football? The only difference I can think of personally is that the latter pays out far better odds!

In fact, besides the government lottery, Thailand is actually home to lots of legal gambling but instead of cash pay-outs, the prizes are instead in the form of nice prizes. Just turn on your TV any time of the day and there is a decent chance that you maybe encouraged to send in a stack of 5 Baht SMSs to win the likes of a new mobile phone or even a splendid holiday in Bhutan. Moreover, just pick up any newspaper daily and you may find adverts for some attractive competitions offered by the likes of some airline company. But again, since you have to spend money to have a chance of winning you can be assured that that is also a form of gambling. So, why is that legal and playing cards for money isn’t?

Even the kids love a bit of gambling, check out some fun-park and you will be seeing droves of children flocked around the prize stalls. For just forty baht a time, they chuck flimsy darts at balloons with the chance of winning a teddy bear. In fact, there is even plenty of this kind of gambling in the land’s temple fairs, just pop along sometime and you may be perplexed at how incredibly popular the Bingo game is. Again, no such prizes in the form of cash, just the latest flat-screen TV sets and bicycles.

Thailand has to accept the fact, that illegal gambling is rampant and embedded within modern Thai society. So, instead of simply sweeping the problem under the carpet and pretending it just doesn’t exist, it ought to be legalized and so controlled, at least to some extent. And finally, can just imagine how much money would reach the state’s coffer in the form of tax, instead of falling into the hands of corrupt law enforcers and local Mafiosi?

The Great ‘Loy Krathong’ Myth!

(A girl dressed as the founder of Loy Krathong, the legendary Nang Noppamas. A legend she really is. Noppamas was in fact, the leading character in a nineteenth century novel)

Beyond a doubt, Loy Krathong is Thailand’s most beautiful festival. Thais and foreigners alike are taught that Loy Krathong originated something like 700 years ago in the northern province of Sukhothai. We are also meant to believe that the person who discovered this tradition was a King’s consort named Nang Noppamas; that she was the first person to make a kratong and float it.

Unfortunately however, there is no evidence whatsoever that Loy Krathong dates back to the era of King Ramkhamhaeng and Sukhothai. That is because it really is all legend, one supposedly completely made up at the end of the nineteenth century by the Department of Fine Arts.

What proof there is however and there is a lot of it, is that the Loy Kratong festival originated from the Loy Khom festival. According to the evidence available, Loy Khom (Float the lantern) surfaced in the mid eighteenth century during the Ayutthaya era and was probably based on a very similar festival which had already begun in Nakhorn Thom in Cambodia. The first person to seriously write about the Loy Khom festival was in fact a foreigner named ‘Lu Lubber’ or something like that (unsure of the transliteration from Thai to English). In contrast to the legend taught, he wrote that the Loy Khom festival was held mid-way through Buddhist Lent and not on the 12th Full month (unlike Loy Krathong in its present form). And unlike the Loy Krathong festival of now, Loy Khom was celebrated for several days to several weeks. What is the same though, is that the Loy Khom festival was a thanksgiving to the Goddess of Water and possibly the Buddha.

A water khom certainly looked different to a present day krathong. They came in various sizes from very small to huge and in them were only lanterns, there were no candles or incense sticks – those were recent innovations!

Now, one of the nicest Loy Krathong festivities is the Nang Noppamas beauty contest which is to pay homage to the one and only Mrs Noppamas, the founder of Loy Krathong, a king’s consort. Again, there is absolutely no historical evidence that Noppamas even existed, and she didn’t. Mrs Noppamas was instead the leading character of a novel released during the nearing of the reign of King Rama III – around 1850. Her character was written as guidance for all women who wished to become civil servants. Prince Damrong Rajanubhap, Thailand’s most influential historian, petitioned the government several times during his exile in Penang to revert Loy Krathong back to its original Loy Khom format and to also educate the people about the truth of Noppamas. His advice was simply ignored.

Several Thai language books concerning the truth history of Loy Krathong have been released over the past few decades, but the Ministry of Education have disallowed them in their Thai history classes. Recently, a few academics have attempted again to encourage the truth to be taught and have continually asked the Ministry of Culture to promote the real facts. They have adamantly asked that Thai school history books be re-written and explain that Noppamas really was just a legend. The Ministry of Culture have failed to even listen to their claims and turned a blind eye. But, as one academic put it, if the truth was taught, then Thailand as a country would….. ‘lose face’.

Steve’s views: I never did believe the legend about Sukhothai and Noppamas anyway and so i’m not too sure whether these academics should make such a big rant about the truths to be taught. What i found ironic, was also all the fuss Prince Damrong made, as it was he himself who invented the story of King Naresuan’s great battle taking place at Don Chedi in Suphanburi. He also wrote and published a lot of other rubbish. All in all though, it does however prove yet again, how much of the Thai history taught at schools is just clearly made-up.

Source: The Thai language Manager newspaper.

Loy Krathong at Chang Erawan

Loy Krathong

One of the most beautiful festivals in Thailand is Loy Krathong which takes place during the full moon night in November. The festival takes place all over the country. They usually advertise Bangkok, Sukhothai and Chiang Mai being the main places. But most towns and villages throughout the country have equally beautiful festivities. In Samut Prakan we have three main areas: City Hall, Navy Academy and Chang Erawan. It was the later where I spent most of this evening. However, I also visited a rather smelly klong alongside a temple where people were floating their handmade krathongs. It was a beautiful site as the candles in the krathongs twinkled in the darkness. Overhead giant lanterns were floating away in the sky. In the distance I could see the firework celebrations at the city hall. When people ask me where to float their krathongs, I say it doesn’t really matter as there are events going on al around the country wherever there is a stretch of water.

Loy Krathong

At Chang Erawan, which is the giant three-headed elephant, they had many cultural shows for people to sit and enjoy as well as a beauty contest for Miss Nopamas. They also had a pond where you could float your krathong. This was my first time here for Loy Krathong. I usually go to City Hall. I thought it was very good and I think I will come here again next year. Please enjoy a selection of my photographs.

Loy Krathong

Loy Krathong

Loy Krathong

Please visit my other stories about Loy Krathong at At the Paknam Web Forums, there are also free mp3 downloads of my students singing Loy Krathong in Thai and English.

The Thai Youth & Online Chat

(The following blog is a brief translation of an article published today in the ‘Scoop Page’ section of the Thai language Daily News newspaper.)

“I know it’s risky but i like it”

Last week, a whole load of different folk from all walks of life got together for a seminar on technology and communications and ‘Youth & Problems’. They agreed that regardless to whether it’s the telephone or Internet, the information which can be exchanged is extremely worrisome. Most hazardous of all however, according to them, was the ‘chatline’ phenomenon.

It was stated by many grown-ups at the seminar that ‘Chatlines = Danger’and they felt that chatlines were terribly dangerous for girls, in particular. “Girls may be deceived, cheated and coaxed into having sex with a complete stranger”

But, we at the Daily News wanted to hear from the youth, on this issue of supposed danger and what they really thought. Well, to them ‘chatlines’ are simply fun and convenient. They are a great way to make loadsa of new friends, relax and escape from the world around them. They feel a sense of freedom on chatlines.

For those who look for boyfriends or girlfriends on ‘chatlines’ they may be in for a nasty surprise though, if they themselves aren’t good-looking. It seems that boys who chat, only want to do so with beautiful girls. And as for the girls, they only like to converse with handsome guys.

One group of female university students we spoke to, said “Chatlines save money, they are cheap. We can make friends and if our friend is a foreigner, we can also practice our English language skills”

But, another group of university girls had this to say “Chatlines can be dangerous if you place too much trust in someone you have never known before. Girls may be cheated into having sex, getting robbed or even murdered. Other folk on chatlines sell drugs, pimp prostitutes or enjoy ‘sex on the phone’. And not forgetting some people who are very vulgar, rude and use explicit language”.

One forth year university girl told us “I like chatlines because I can escape from reality, use my imagination and be someone totally different. It’s all a bit of fun – I have no intentions whatsoever of ever wanting to meet chatfriends in real life. Chatting helps me relax and be less stressed-out. Then, if I have friends upcountry in the provinces, it’s far cheaper for me to chat online than it is by telephone”

Well, instead of just getting girls’ points of views on chatlines, we decided to hunt done a couple of young guys for their thoughts on the matter.
Mr Witsanu, a 21 year-old went on “ I think a lotta people who chat online are a bit lonely, they want to have friends, exchange opinions. They would like to meet all different types of folk, from all sectors of society. On the other hand though, it is possible that they be maybe fooled because of their naivety. Personally speaking, I think chatlines are quite nonsense, a way of escaping from society. It is also possible to fall victim to deceptive people, I mean it’s not easy to trust anyone in this day in age”

Another guy we interviewed Mr Narong, 25, wanted us to know “In concerns to chatlines, chatters ought to be split into two different categories – those between the ages of 18-25 and those 25+. Most men between the age of 18-25 who go on chatlines, only do so to find new girlfriends and get free sex. But for guys over the age of 25, they enjoy chatlines because they get the chance to share opinions, experiences and swap knowledge etc… They know how to use their brains.

All in all though, we found that most youngsters see chatlines as a ‘useful tool’ but yes, they were a little dangerous.

(This article may or may not represent my own personal views or those of other bloggers at
By the way,, a sister site of thai-blogs, is a place for some online chat. But be warned, if you go there looking for some naughty hanky-panky, you will probably get an instant banning!)