Category Archives: Guest Writers

Nothing Much Has Changed

Ban Ta Klang Elephant Village

It’s 2013. The time when information is available at the tips of your fingers. The time when the world is so connected, whatever trends at one end of the world would catch on in the other in the matters of hours and days.

Not too long ago, a person I just met asked me just about all of the routine questions.

Her: So, what nationality are you?

Ding. Routine question #1.

Me: I’m Thai.

Her: From Taiwan?

Ding. #2

Me: No. Thais are from Thailand. Taiwanese are from Taiwan.

Her: Oh. So, Bangkok?

Me: (surprised, actually) Yes.

Her: Do you ride elephants?

Me: Yes. My dad only uses our rickshaw on the weekend.

Her: Really?

Me: No.

Sure, she skipped “What nationality is your husband? American?” and that “Oh she must’ve been a mail order bride and/or rescued prostitute” look that briefly registered on her face before moving on to, “So, how did you guys meet?”

True, she also skipped, “I LOVE Thai food! Pad Thai is my favorite!”

But it’s 2013. Six whole years after this incident.

Elephants?

Really?

United We Stand

My dad, who is now on Facebook, posted this today.

Surprised to see me? Yep! Still alive and kicking in the sunny Southern California over here. The Return of Khun Stephen Cleary spurs me to start planning my return to Thai-Blogs as well. It’ll take me a while to put my multicultural hat back on, but I’ll see what I can do. :)

How have y’all been?

Jungle Flight – the best adventure in Chiang Mai

I enjoy getting lost. Taking a map, my camera, some water, and follow some deserted mountain road, looking down on valleys, looking over mountain ranges. This is how I found the beautiful little village of Baan Namkhong just a few weeks ago at the end of a winding road, in an area where my maps show absolutely nothing. They couldn’t be more wrong. At the altitude of 1050 metres, this little community is surrounded by ancient lush jungle, huge timeless rubber trees, amazing green scenery, and deep silence and serenity.

That is, until an adrenalin-fuelled scream breaks the silence.

This is the home of Jungle Flight, Chiang Mai’s ultimate jungle adventure: sliding from giant tree to giant tree on cables for over two kilometres, sometimes as high as 40 metres above ground. It is difficult to let go, to jump into thin air at first, but then, the flow carries you away quickly. If you are longing for some thrill, but bungee jumping is a bit steep for you, I think Jungle Flight is just what you have been looking for. However, you will find yourself at the end of a rope all the same, and I tell you that tree is coming real fast as well!

tree up close!

Take a deep breath. Just let it happen to you. Once the first adrenaline rush is over, and those shaking legs support you firmly again, you will find yourself looking at the jungle from a completely different angle, surrounded by treetops, wild orchids – and the word “depth” gets a whole new meaning. There is something timeless and ancient about Jungle Flight, which in a way reminds me of snorkelling.



silent giants

Our guides Pang and Yud are great with people, they know how to make people relaxed, how and when to tease or encourage. We all received lots of personal attention. The guides showed us coffee beans, flowers, a bees’ nest, gave us plenty of time to stop and admire the view, there was time for joking and fun.

When I asked what happens if someone doesn’t have enough momentum and stops in the middle of the cable, they showed me – they left me hanging there in the air, like a giant bird stuck in the canopy. That was the most carefree moment of my past couple of months, in the middle of nowhere. It is amazing too how quickly strangers bond on top of a tree.

It is a crazy idea to slide between trees when you first look at it, but at second glance, it looks perfectly safe. The longest and highest ziplines have two cables running parallel, and you get secured to both during your flight. The three abseil sections also have double safety lines. You are always attached to a wire while standing on any of the 22 platforms or walking the two wobbly skybridges. The guides hook you to the right places all the time, you cannot make a mistake. All equipment was imported, complies with international safety standards, and so does the safety training received by all the guides.

down here?! – no way!

At the very end, to descend from the last platform, you have no choice but to leap into the abyss – an eight-storey gap in the middle of a platform. You can ask to be lowered slowly or to have it with more of a free-fall twist. All I can say about this bit is that screaming actually does help.

There is a little bit of steep jungle walk back to the village, where a tasty lunch awaits the returning members of the expedition. You may also buy locally made herbal tea, honey, herbal pillows, or a Jungle Flight t-shirt. The restaurant overlooks the jungle and more giant trees, where you may wind down and share your favourite moments.

my favourite trees

The tour price is 2,200 baht for the entire 7-hour adventure, and includes round trip transfer, water, insurance, and a short stop at the local hot springs on the way back. You need to pay extra for lunch. If you choose an early pick-up time (6 to 6:30 a.m.) or a late afternoon adventure (leaving at 1-1:30 p.m.), the discounted price is 1,980 baht. You need to be taller than 120 centimetres and weigh less than 150 kilos to sign up.

that’s me at the end of my rope

Seven additional platforms will be completed by the end of April, including the longest zipwire in Thailand – 260 metres. There are plans for a daily ticket with unlimited number of rides. Personally, I can hardly wait for that one!

the longest cable at the moment – 130 metres

I think it is great value for money. First, it may sound too much for a daytrip, but just compare it to what the normal price of a bungee jump is. Jungle Flight takes three hours, you get to ride the longest zipline in Thailand, marvel at the jungle up close and from a bird’s eye view, and actually feel like a bird. It is as close as you can get to flying, something we all dream about. It is an adventure of a lifetime. The only problem is, you may get addicted!

jungle staircase

Your money also helps the local community. This little Khamu hilltribe village of 30 families is too high in the mountains for rice farming, so, the coffee plantations provide the main income. Jungle Flight brings in much needed income and jobs to the village while respecting the community. Part of the profits go towards funding a school van and school lunches to all children in the village, as well as towards maintaining the narrow winding road and providing clean water. Socially responsible businesses like Jungle Flight benefit local people, give them alternatives to cutting down the precious jungle, and are worthy of your support.

Baan Namkhong village

Also, a homestay scheme will be up and running in the near future, which should attract people looking for peace and quiet away from the city, overlooking the mountain ranges. The climate is noticeably more pleasant at this altitude, the trees are still green, an ideal place to escape to in the upcoming hot season.

The price includes transfer but if you would like to “get lost” on your own, head out of Chiang Mai on the Chiang Rai highway for 27 kilometres. At the sign to the Sankamphaeng hot springs, turn right and go a further 4 kilometres. Then follow the Jungle Flight signs for another 13 kilometres up the hills. It takes one hour to get there. A 105 cc motorcycle can just about make it, but that is not something I would like to try again.

Jungle Flight has an office opposite Thapae Gate (47/2 Moon Muang Road). You can also book your flight online at http://www.jungle-flight.com/index.html . The website has some stunning photos and videos of the trip – check it out.

I posted some more photos and a map at our Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand forum.

I would like to thank the owner of Jungle Flight, Mr Songsai Mangklad (Sonny) for inviting me for a site inspection. Sonny gave me the grand tour personally and took care of me all along the way.

If anyone reading this runs a tourist attraction or guesthouse and would like to invite any of the Paknam Web team of bloggers for a site inspection, then please contact us through the www.PaknamWeb.com website. We will then promote the location on www.thai-blogs.com and other related websites in our network.

How to travel by bus in Thailand 2.

Once you made a decision to be brave and break away from the perceived safety of a convenient tourist bus coming with pickup from your hotel or guesthouse, you will need to figure out how to get to the bus station and how to buy the right ticket.

The most important thing is that prices are fixed for all routes, so, no need to shop around the counters of different companies for a better deal, you merely need to find the right departure time and class for your needs. Cashiers and touts are usually quite good at pointing you at the right directions if you are confused, there is no need to be paranoid or feel cheated. If you are upcountry, it will be assumed you are heading for Bangkok. Counters usually only have signs in Thai, but on a large cardboard sign, they usually display their next departure time, so it is easy to make comparisons between fifteen competing companies. Cashiers speak enough English to sell you tickets for the class and time you ask for; however, if you are buying in advance, it is better to write down the required date and time just to make sure.

Ok, this is a tough one – bus schedule in Udon Thani

Bangkok is the most difficult. Absolutely no travel agencies would sell you tickets to government buses; they would even laugh at you and pressure you very hard to buy a ticket to a tourist bus. Then, new arrivals will be easy preys for scams like dropping people off in Surat Thani instead of Ko Samui or Krabi. Your best bet is just to turn up at the bus station. Buses leave at all hours to major long-distance destinations such as Phuket, Surat Thani and Chiang Mai. With other destinations, such as Krabi or Nong Khai, departures are early in the morning (6 to 8) and in the evening (6 to 9), with no or very few buses in between. For destinations that do not require a full day or full night or travel, such as Kanchanaburi or Trat, buses usually leave at regular intervals during the day (every 30, 60 or 90 minutes), but there are no overnight buses. Even if you check out the schedules online (e.g. at http://www.transport.co.th ) or call and ask ahead on the very same day, the actual departures are going to be different from what you were told. If there are lots of passengers, extra buses are added to the schedule. Unless it is a long weekend or a holidays, when seats are all sold out well in advance, you could simply go to the bus station and you will get a ticket for a bus leaving within two hours. It sounds slightly crazy to make the long way out to the bus station and merely hope you can get a ticket, but it has always worked for me in years of travelling thousands of kilometres.

In Bangkok, you need to know which of the three major bus stations to go to. The Northern bus station, or Mo Chit, serves Northern and Northeastern Thailand; it also has a number of buses to Trat and Pattaya on the Eastern seaboard. It is a HUGE bus station, with hundreds of counters and stands where buses leave from and arrive at all hours of the day and night. Unfortunately, it is not within walking distance of Mo Chit metro station, definitely not if you are carrying a lot of luggage or have no idea which way to head. You can get a taxi from the centre for about 120-140 baht, or take the metro to Mo Chit station and take a taxi from there. The taxi very conveniently drops you off right in front of the counters of bus companies going to Chiang Mai, the most important destination in the north. There is an air-conditioned waiting hall with restaurants, convenience stores, bookshop, left luggage service, shops. It is an overwhelming, confusing place to enter, with thousands of people, signs mostly in Thai: you might have the impulse to run away. However, there is an information counter where you can ask the counter number to your destination, and as there are very few foreigners in the crowd, cashiers easily spot them from a distance and show them which counter to go to.

Anything may happen at Mo Chit bus station! – Can you find out what class this bus is?

The Eastern or Ekamai bus station serves destinations on the Eastern seaboard, including Trat (for Ko Chang), Ban Phe (for Ko Samet), Rayong and Pattaya. Buses to Aranya Prathet, however, leave from the Northern bus station! This is a small, run-down bus station with only a handful of counters and stands. There are food shops and a 7-eleven, but no air-conditioned waiting area. The biggest advantage of this place is that it is right next to Ekamai skytrain station, almost in the centre of Bangkok (a 130-baht taxi ride from Khao San road though). Lots of tourists heading for the beaches in the east actually do make the effort to come here.

The Southern bus station, or Sai Tai, was relocated to a new spot in late 2007. Anyone who was familiar with the old location must agree that it was a nightmare, with potholes deep enough to swallow up double-deckers and traffic jams in the taxi queue even at 2 a.m. Its current location is on Borommaratchachonnani road, at the intersection with Phutthamonthon Sai1, far enough from central Bangkok not to be on any map. For Google Earth enthusiasts, here are the coordinates: 13°46’50.00″N, 100°25’35.01″E Now, this one is very difficult to get to, you definitely need a 200-baht taxi ride. This bus station serves the south, including Phuket, Surat Thani, Krabi, Hat Yai, Hua Hin, as well as the popular destinations of Damnoen Saduak and Kanchanaburi in the west. The huge bus station complex contains a food court (8 a.m. to 9 p.m.), KFC, McDonald’s, bag deposit service (5 a.m. to 9 p.m, 20 to 60 baht), internet cafe, bookshop, massage shop, and several shops selling all sorts of goods ranging from gold to fishing rods. It is easy to while away an hour or two waiting for your bus to leave.

In Chiang Mai, the bus station is a 30 or 40 baht taxi ride, or 10 minutes from the centre. Buses to Bangkok leave throughout the day, until 11 p.m. at night, with two peaks: there are literally dozens of buses leaving in the morning and in the evening, when cashiers will be competing to sell you a ticket (unless it is a holiday!) There are also buses to Chiang Rai, Pai, Sukhothai, Mae Hong Son and Lamphun at regular intervals. To Udon Thani, there are buses in the morning and in the evening only. I think in Chiang Mai, it is easy to opt for a government bus instead of a tourist bus. I have read and heard reports of tourist buses making the 9 to 10 hour journey in 14 hours because they included market detours! And I would not try to save 100 baht for the privilege of being stuffed into a 48-seater instead of the promised VIP bus.

In Surat Thani, all buses to Bangkok leave in the morning or in the evening. There is a peak between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., with about a dozen sleepers heading for Bangkok. The only problem is that they arrive before 5 a.m., or, rather, maybe it is not such a big problem because you can catch a taxi to your hotel in Bangkok before the morning traffic jam. The bus station is outside town, accessible by local taxi (songthaew). The tourist bus station is in the city centre, of course, making very strong competition: I have never seen any other foreigner at this bus station.

In Krabi, the bus station is 4 kms from the centre, a fixed-price 20 baht songthaew ride. All the night buses to Bangkok leave between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., the same time as tourist buses, with one big difference: you do not need to change buses in Surat Thani and wait around for hours. The only bus company running buses to Bangkok has an office in town, opposite the market. In addition, it is easy to get from Krabi to Phuket, Phang Nga, Surat Thani or Trang by second or third class buses, there are several departures a day.

Amazing view on the way from Krabi to Phang Nga – from the open door of the bus!

In Phuket, the bus station is in the centre of Phuket town. Local taxis mounted on large trucks instead of the small pickups get to the bus station from the beaches for 30 baht – instead of the crazy 400 baht or so quoted by the taxi drivers. As usually, most departures are in the morning and after sunset.

In some smaller towns such as Trat, Sukhothai and Ayutthaya, bus stations have been relocated outside town. There are always regular fixed price taxis to bus stations: ask at your guesthouse or hotel. When there are fewer tourists to hunt for, receptionists and agencies are more willing to tell you about government buses and sell you tickets as well. Small towns such as these are very easy to arrive at or get away from using government buses.

I think it is maybe too many details now :-) If you have questions, do ask at http://www.thailandqa.com/forum , somebody will surely be able to help you.
Generally speaking, I would advise you to go for it: when travelling around in Thailand, it usually looks more confusing than it turns out to be in the end. If the above photos do not absolutely scare you away, you can definitely do it.

thai american boy going home

Well, its been a while, but its good to be back…writing on thai-blogs. My little brother has been going back to Thailand every summer since he was 7, and that was over 20 years ago. Family members and close friends of the family always remarked on how “Thai” he was. He controlled his emotions, and never got mad. It is said that it is un-civilized if you do not have the cognitive powers to control your emotions. No one ever understood that he just had a good heart, except me and my parents.

The kid has loved Thailand more than anyone else I know. Seems like he has always loved going and hanging with my cousins, playing sports and games. At first it was simple things, like playing cards with my cousins, our aunt and her friends. Then tennis during the day, or golf. Which all led to a life in pursuit of enjoying your life. Cliche’, I know. However, looking at my family, its the truth over there.

When my parents were here in the great midwest. There were not many family members in the US of A. However, those that were here, all worked hard and many hours. I know that the same things exists in Thailand as well. However, it was very different from our views here and there. My parents worked at times from 8AM till 2Am, 6 days a week. Sometimes 7 days. Never really getting any vacations. Possibly a golf game on Sundays. Thai function at the local temple. Not really enjoying life, though providing for their growing family. Getting their pleasures when there was time. By the way, they are now back in Thailand.

Now growing up and glimpsing at a diffent life each summer can effect you. Watching your cousins enjoy life…seeing your aunts and uncles come home at reasonable hours…hell, watching family get together more often. Not just one or two cousins either, I mean a family. Several generations…Americans call them second and third cousins…the Thai call family or cousin..if not older brother or sister. Well, its a wonderful life and Jimmy Stewart never saw it.

I guess thats what has attracted many of us to Thailand. A different life, one where you have time to really enjoy it, where it seems that no one takes things tooooo seriosly. Its a good life. Last time I was there, my wife and I were ready to take the plunge after being hooked to our desks, blackberry between meetings, and looking at our respective computers in our virtual office while at home. All the time having our cell phones ring about that next always upcoming meeting.

Now don’t get me wrong. My cousin leaves at 6:00AM or earlier to avoid the traffic that Bangkok has, and doesn’t get home till 7PM cause the same thing. She is usually working at home to boot. However, she has also scuba dived on vacation, has a “summer home” and does fun things that are more exciting than spending a day grabbing coffee at the local Starbucks and looking for a good book at the Barnes and Noble down the street. Its a much more luxurious life.

So my brother has bought a nice home, and is moving to Thailand. God bless him.