Monthly Archives: June 2010

Smiling Fruits Festival at Suvarnabhumi Airport

Mr. Nirun Thiranartsin, the Suvarnabhumi Airport Director, presided over the opening ceremony of the “Smiling Fruits @ Suvarnabhumi Airport” this morning at the airport. The fruit festival is for promoting the various Thai fruits to international passengers arriving and departing from Suvarnabhumi Airport. Between 16th-30th June 2010, passengers and visitors will be able to experience the taste of a variety of different Thai fruits for free. This will take place at two different locations at the airport. For departing passengers on the 4th floor you will find the Thai fruit stand near Row D. For arriving passengers on floor 2, you will find the fruit stand near Belts 19-20.

In each season in Thailand, there is an abundance of fruit, but the month of June is when there are the most kinds of seasonal fruit. This in turn has created a fruit festival in various provinces of the country.

  1. “Fruit” demonstrates the abundance, freshness and happiness of Thailand and is one of the many characteristics of the country.
  2. “Smiles” displays happiness. The warm welcome is a symbol of the Thai people and shows the joy in all regions of the country.
  3. “Smiling Fruits” is an image that is exceptionally beautiful in the welcoming of passengers who come to Thailand through Suvaranabhumi Airport during the 2010 Fruit Festival.

Escape to Tarutao Island

One of the first books that I read about Thailand was called “Pirates of Tarutao” by Paul Adirex. It is loosely based on a true story of prisoners on a penal colony that were forced to become pirates due to food shortages during the Second World War. The real name of the author is Pongpol Adireksarn and at one time he was the Minister of Education in Thailand. I enjoyed reading that book and thought that I would never get a chance to visit this remote island off the coast of Satun in Southern Thailand. So, I was really pleased when the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) invited me to join them on a trip to that area.

Tarutao Island is part of the Tarutao National Marine Park, the second of its kind in Thailand when it was created in 1974. The marine park consists of 51 islands scattered over an area of 1,490 square kilometers in the Andaman Sea. The southern edge of the marine park borders with Malaysia. Out of the 51 islands, there are only seven large islands. These are: Ko Tarutao, Ko Adang, Ko Rawi, Ko Lipe, Ko Klang, Ko Batuang and Ko Bitsi. During our trip we stayed on the island of Ko Lipe which I think is where most people stay. It is unfortunate that we only had a brief time to visit Ko Tarutao but from what I saw there is enough to warrant staying on this island for a few days.

Ko Tarutao is the largest of the islands and has never been permanently settled by people. It is mainly mountainous with evergreen forests. But, it also has mangrove forests and beautiful sandy beaches. You can join long-tailed boats tours to explore some of the bays or go on walking tours along mountain trails. They even have bicycles that you can rent for the day. The island is home to a large variety of wildlife that includes bats, crab-eating macaques and even dolphins in the clear blue waters. During our brief visit we were shown some of the accommodation which seemed quite reasonable. The cheapest was about 500 baht and had room for four people. Bungalows with bathroom for two people started at 600 baht. There is also a camping ground where you can either pitch your own tent or rent one from the park office.

Near the park office there is a small museum which gives more information about the ecology of the park but also the history of the prison. Apparently the first prisoners arrived here in 1938 and were a mixture of common criminals and political prisoners. Probably the most famous was So Setabutra, the author of the first Thai-English Dictionary. He wrote some of the book while in prison. During World War II, food and medical supplies were unable to reach this isolated island. In desperation, some of the prisoners and guards banded together to raid passing merchant ships. This continued until 1946 when British naval troops were sent in to put down the pirates. From what I understand there is very little evidence left today of the prison which is a shame.

Ko Tarutao is also famous for being the location for the popular TV programme Survivor: Tarutao in 2002. Which probably gives you some indication of its remoteness. The best time to visit is between November and April. During the rainy season you will most likely find that there are no boats heading to the island. The nearest mainland pier to Ko Tarutao island is at Pak Bara which is about 22 kilometers away. A number of boats leave daily and there are quite a few travel agents at the pier selling tickets. When I get a chance, I would like to go here again and spend more time exploring the island. I like it when there is a combination of natural history and historical events. Maybe next time I will take the book Pirates of Tarutao and read it while I am there!

iPhone Guidebooks for Thailand

I have said it before, but no-one believed me. This year will see the start of a significant number of people using e-guidebooks instead of hefting around large bricks that the Lonely Planet books are starting to resemble. Lonely Planet actually started to go the right direction when they offered as downloads certain chapters in their guidebook. But this was meant mainly for people to print out before they travel. In theory, you could put the files on your smart phone, but the text would be far too small. Now comes some innovative and thoroughly researched guidebooks for the iPhone produced by the guys at TravelFish.

What TravelFish have done, together with the creative genius at Bytesizecreations.com, is to bring you an interactive guidebook with everything that you will ever need to know during your holiday. At present, they have iPhone apps for the islands of Ko Lanta, Ko Phi Phi and Ko Samet. In addition, they have apps for Luang Prabang in Laos and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. They are priced at $3.99 each. Recently they have released a free “lite” version of Ko Phi Phi which I have been testing out for the last few days. Though of course, the best test would be to actually go to one of these places with the e-guidebook!

When you enter the main menu, you are given icons with eight choices: Background, Sleep, Eat & meet, See & do, Transport, Photos, Bookmarks and Maps. In the first background section, you are given a run-down on the history and main locations around the island. There are also tips on planning your trip. This is not a five minute read as a lot of time and research has gone into producing these guides. It is also beautifully illustrated throughout with thumbnails which you can tap on to see a larger picture. In my lite version there is only one photo gallery. Apparently there is more in the full version. The lite version also doesn’t review so many hotels and guesthouses.

The next section is places to stay. They have reviewed a wide variety of accommodation which gives you basic information, prices and also a location on the map. With the GPS on your iPhone, it can also tell you where you are in relation to that hotel! Though obviously I am not able to confirm this myself. There are also links for the hotel’s website if they have one. Another pretty cool feature are the telephone numbers which you have to just tap and it will start dialling for you! The hotels are sorted by location but there is also a map of the island so you can find out which hotels are nearest to where you are standing.

The other sections are self-explanatory. It will help you find places to eat, give you suggestions on what to do and finally tell you how to get to the island as well as how to get around once you are there. I was a little disappointed with the map section as it seemed to only have pins for hotels. It would have been nice if they also marked other places. Like walks you can go on and the lookout to see grand views of the island. But, then again, it is only a small island. Overall, the concept and execution is excellent. They have certainly raised the bar for travel apps on the iPhone and I hope in the not too distant future we will be seeing more people producing applications such as these. At present, Travelfish have three free guides which you can use to test out first before buying the full version. I am sure you won’t be disappointed.

Old Patong: Texas Larry & Crazy Dave Have Lunch At Coral Beach Hotel

The new, ultra cool Coral Beach Hotel was put up at the extreme south end of Patong Bay.

Before this, Sea View Bungalow was the last place to stay. Rumor had it that the far south end of the beach, “pirates” hung out and some had robbed Sea View Bungalow of it’s TV set and shaken down a few tourists before they “disappeared” back into the jungle.

The sleepy area didn’t have much tourist biz, usually a handful of those tourist that really wanted to get as far away from Soi Bangla[Bar Rd]as possible tended to stay at Sea View, where the remains of a somewhat tidal flow to and from the rice paddy behind Patong Beach let out into Patong Bay.

The new, ultra big Coral Beach Hotel was at the time, the largest hotel to be built on Patong Bay, they breached the rice paddy run-off creek with a super steep cement ramp highway that led from Patong Bay upwards into the low hills on the south end of the beach. It was often called “the rocket launcher” because an underpowered 50cc Honda of Dutch Jeff wouldn’t make it to the top!

Building went on for over a year, big lorries and other trucks a constant along the once nearly deserted Patong Beach road.

Finally the hotel was ready to open and it was a BIG deal in Old Patong!

The Governor of the province, driven along side of then country leader Prem Tinsulanonda were driven slowly along the beach road in the Governors big “Kennedy” Lincoln. A big white beauty, proceeded by Thai Military and followed by local government officials.

As the large caravan sauntered past Thai Garden Restaurant, Crazy Dave grinned and looked out and said to Texas Larry and FatBob,” hey, there goes Prem in that Lincoln, up to the Coral Beach Hotel, what-da-ya say we go up there and have lunch today”!

It really didn’t take much to rock the boat in sleepy, barely anything ever happened Old Patong.

FatBob backed out of the deal, saying “I gotta take off on a Visa run”, actually he was heading for amusement in Hat Yai, but Texas Larry agreed and both hopped on Crazy Daves “007” equipped Honda 125CC dual exhaust wonder, you could hear the pipes roar as they sped after the caravan and up the ultra steep incline to Coral Beach Hotel for lunch.

The big Texan, slowed by an early morning bout of chugging Singhas sat down, almost falling out of his chair, but Crazy Dave grabbed the big guy and steadied him down on a chair just a few tables from where Prem and the Governor were enjoying a great feast.

Crazy Dave, always the instigator mentioned that “they should just go over and have a beer with Prem and the Governor”, this info quickly sifted through the big Texan’s noggin, he almost turned white, then red and he said “David, ABSOLUTELY NOT”, but Crazy Dave kept egging him on and the fear on Texas Larry’s kisser proved that he might be hung over, but he wasn’t stupid enough to barge in on govt big shots just to amuse Crazy Dave.

They went back and forth for nearly an hour before Crazy Dave let it go, much to Larry’s relief.

In Old Patong, those that “made waves” especially to the embarrassment of ANY official weren’t around for long. Passports/visas/papers/licenses,etc could be denied, persona non grata before you knew what hit ya!

The Coral Beach Hotel offered an upscale retreat, where many of locals/expats would visit as needed to impress their significant others or just to hide out for a few days from the beach crowd.

Here are a handful of pictures of the usual suspects in the days of Old Patong, where progress turned a sleepy bay area into the hot spot of Asia within a decade!

btw, this is about the smallest FatBob ever got in Old Patong, he’d just arrived from Middle East where he’d been an electrician.

ALL photos courtesy of Peter Barrow, a true friend of Old Patong… Thanks Pete!

Respect for Thai Teachers Ceremony

The most important event to be held at Sriwittayapaknam School is the annual Wai Kru Ceremony. Like other schools around the country this always takes place towards the start of the new academic year and always on a Thursday. The students pay respect to their teachers by presenting them with flowers and going down onto the floor to do a krab which is the most respectful way to show respect. The students hope to gain merit and good fortune for the coming year.

Every student came to school with a bunch of flowers for their teachers. The flowers used in the arrangement are symbolic. Dok Ma Khue (eggplant flower) stands for respect because when the tree is blooming its branches bend down in the same way a student pays respect to their teacher. Ya Praek (Bermuda grass) stands for patience or perseverance because although the grass looks wilted it is still very much alive. Khao Tok (popped rice) stands for discipline because the rice is placed in a pan together and heated up to become popped rice. The Dok Kem has the same name as the Thai word for needle. So it means the student will be sharp-witted and brainy.

We have had quite a few foreign educators visit our school over the years from many countries such as America, England and Australia and a few closer to home such as Singapore and Malaysia. All of them agree that Thai students are far better behaved than their counterparts in the West. They often commented that they were surprised how one teacher could control a class of 45 students. While I was taking them around the school, we sometimes came across a class where the teacher had popped out to do something. Again they were amazed how quiet and diligent the students were in the classroom even without their teacher.

Of course, this is not always the case, and in the 16 years that I have been teaching in Thailand, I have sadly seen the discipline of the students getting closer to what it is like in the West. We are starting to see the students being more rowdy and talking back to the teacher. Traditionally in Thai schools, students were taught by the rote method which is ideal when you have such big classes. It is easier to maintain discipline when everyone is doing the same thing at the same time. However, a downside of this method of teaching, is that the students are being taught what to think instead of how to think.

Someone in government then had the bright idea that we should copy some teaching methods from the West. So, we then started to have “child-centered” lessons where everything revolves around the student. Sitting in rows and repeating after the teacher went out the window. In came group work and free thinking. Not so bad in the long run as the students will be more developed and be able to think outside the box more. But, with the students doing different things at the same time it became harder for the teachers to maintain discipline. Couple this with the teacher no longer being able to hit their students, then you start to see cheeky students like you have in the West who are trying to stretch the boundaries to see how far they can go.

I remember when I first started teaching here, I wasn’t too happy to see the students coming to my desk and having to kneel down. In Thai culture, the head of a child shouldn’t be higher than that of their elders. I kept telling them to stand up. I thought I should teach them some of my own culture at the same time as teaching English. But then, I later found out that the students were starting to get in trouble with some of their Thai teachers for not behaving properly. The students were trying to do the same for the other teachers. I do miss the discipline that we had before, but that is a small price to pay to have students that can think for themselves. Instead of blindly following their elders, maybe in the future, we will have people who will make up their own minds on who to vote for in general elections. Then maybe we will then have real democracy in Thailand.

You can read more about Thai School Life in my website www.thaischoollife.com. Also, follow me on Twitter for the latest news from Thailand.