Category Archives: Teaching in Thailand

Loy krathong – searching for a moment of peace

As the fireworks and firecrackers are going on non-stop for the third day running, and the city is celebrating with the biggest and most colourful parade of the loy krathong festivities, I am at home listening from a safe distance. I feel full, saturated with images and experiences, enough to last another year.

Yesterday I decided to drive all the way to Lamphun (28 kms) to check out the parade and the activities in this little town. I was hoping for less crowd, less noise, something more inspired, I’m not sure. Maybe just something different after all these years.

I arrived shortly before sunset, when the krathong and fire lantern sellers and the little food stalls were getting ready. Lamphun does get a steady trickle of foreign visitors, I was one of about two dozen on this day, a novelty enough to attract the attention of the vendors. They were all happy to pose for pictures, eager to ask a few questions, welcome me – it doesn’t happen any more in downtown Chiang Mai, of course.

Wat Phrathat Haripunchai, in the middle of the activities and on the bank of the Kuang river, was surprisingly abandoned, with only a handful of monks and worshippers. A young couple was walking around the scaffolded golden chedi holding lotus flowers and candles quietly. As it was getting darker, dozens of fire lanterns appeared in the sky. It was as close as it gets to an uplifting experience – a moment of peace.

At the river, a few youngsters were helping people push their krathongs further into the current, wading in the water. A little boat was taking more krathongs to the middle. As always at this spot, there were fish up for sale, many like to make merit by releasing them. More and more people were firing firecrackers over the water. I loved the scene of a thousand fires in the water and in the sky but it wasn’t my moment.

I had spotted some floats on a road near the temple and followed the queue to find out which way the parade was heading. The atmosphere was visibly building up, people lit rows of candles in front of their houses, gently placed the old folk in chairs to watch the spectacle, kids were playing with firecrackers…. and then for an hour, nothing happened. The candles died. People were puzzled. The parade started very late in the end – from the number of police attending, it looked like some important local figures were leading the procession of local people carrying krathongs down to the river.

There were fifteen floats in all – not quite as creative and sophisticated as the ones in Chiang Mai, but all nicely done and accompanied by a large number of average people dressed up in beautiful Lanna outfits, school marching bands, members of a farang association, reflecting more the actual local population. Not everyone in Thailand is glamorous and princess-like, as you would think in Chiang Mai. Too bad only the princesses get enough floodlights for my camera to manage….

The parade went round the tiny old city and arrived in front of the temple, at the river, very slowly. The crowd was building up and the firecrackers were getting louder and louder – thankfully, only over the river. It was getting too much, “my” quiet little town was shattered into pieces, and it was getting late anyway.

The old Chiang Mai – Lamphun road was illuminated by tens of thousands of candles, like a tunnel leading home. It was scary and comforting at the same time.

After getting back to Chiang Mai province, I found a little rural road to get me down to the Ping river. I passed by and squeezed by large fairs, small markets, loud shows, illuminated temples, hundreds of krathongs floating down, hundreds of fire lanterns in the sky. A whole world still awake late at night and partying as if it was the last day of the world. I enjoyed watching from the sidelines.

After a bend in the river and in the road, I saw a little platform balancing over the water. I saw that the krathongs go a long, long way from there, they don’t get stuck in the nearest bunch of weeds. I remembered what I was asked to do, I lit a candle, pushed a krathong away, thinking of people who are not here this time. I watched it float by.

I was feeling drained and relieved, was ready to collapse and pass out.

At three in the morning, I sat up in bed with a start. It was different – it was quiet. I got my moment of peace at last.

Longan harvest around Lamphun

I have never been a fan of longan, or lamyai, as it is called in Thai, but it is difficult to avoid the plant and the fruit altogether if you are in Chiang Mai these days. Market stalls are laden with bunches of the fruit, and the heavy, sweet, sticky smell clings to your nose.

One of my favourite roads is the narrow and winding riverside route from Chiang Mai to the south – lush, colourful, peaceful. If you look at the satellite map of the area on our Chiang Mai map, you can clearly make out millions of lamyai trees in neat rows. They bloom in February, and the fruits ripen in July and August. Lamyai is one of the most important cash crops of the region; 70% of the fruit is exported fresh, dried or canned.

The plantations surround picturesque little villages made up of a few wooden houses, there are no barbed wires, fences, mad dogs or men with guns protecting the crops. The trees are all groaning under the weight of the fruits, bending to the ground. Most of them are supported by thick wooden sticks. Extended families sit in the shade, there is no rush to get all the fruit picked today – men up in the trees, women sorting and packing fruit into sacks, children chasing dogs. It would be hard to go unnoticed. Less than an hour’s drive from Chiang Mai, it feels very remote. People smile, wave and shout hello, they try to show me the way to the main road, thinking I am lost. I am invited to take a bunch of fruit here and there, the sweet juice sticks on my hands. I wish I was more outgoing, or had friends around here, I would love to join in the fruit-picking, it reminds me of a century long gone, a time of coming together and sharing.

Once the fruits are picked, they are delivered to weighing and sorting stations that pop up everywhere – temple yards, markets, back yards. The prices seem to be the same at every one of them. It is worth stopping and contemplating them just for a second, comparing them to the prices you pay for your fruits in the supermarket – this is where they all come from. Noisy, ancient-looking contraptions sort the fruits into different baskets according to size.
Of course, the people are all laughing at me. If they had cameras, they would be taking pictures of this weird farang for sure.

Some good news: This year, the usual lamyai festival is scheduled to take place on August 6 in the Lamphun Sport Centre – in the world’s lamyai capital. I have never been, but I presume it is the usual OTOP fair, fruit contest, beauty contest, music and funfair. If you are around, it is a good time to take a dirt road instead of the main road, see it all happening in the plantations, buy the fruit, have some fun in the meantime.

Sister chedis from ancient times

Long before Chiang Mai was founded some 700 years ago, the Mon people set up the legendary kingdom of Haripunchai in the area that is today known as Lamphun.

Wat Chammathewi (also known as Wat Kukut) dates back to the 8th century. The spire on top of the chedi is said to have been lost during an earthquake, hence the alternative “nickname”. According to the chronicles, the founder Queen Chammathewi is enshrined in the magnificent five-tier Suwanna chedi itself. Some of the Mon-style Buddha images are in good condition, showing the posture known as “dispelling fear”. They are more robust than later depictions, and the robe somehow appears transparent.

There is a smaller, octagonal chedi beside the temple hall, which is about 700 years old. Respectable old age at this climate – even if you consider all the maintenance and restoration needed over the centuries.

It is a peaceful temple with a beautiful garden, approximately one kilometre outside the town moat.
Lamphun is less than thirty kilometres away from Chiang Mai, easily accessible as a daytrip by local bus, train or songthaew. There are few tourists around.

In the Chiang Mai area, ruins of temples and chedis with Haripunchai influence can be visited in the Wiang Kum Kam historical park. Even though it is only a few kilometres south from the city’s bustling night bazaar, it is like a little village, with herds of goats munching on the grass surrounding the ruins of ancient chedis and horse carts taking visitors from temple to temple. All the ruins were found under a thick layer of silt just a few decades ago, long lost and almost forgotten after the river suddenly changed its course during the Burmese occupation.

Wat Chedi Liam (Liem) is a replica of the chedi in Lamphun, constructed during the Mengrai era (13th century), when the city itself was founded. It was renovated in the 1980s.

You may clearly see from the photo that the sixty Buddha images are relatively new and intact; however, it does not take away from the ancient feel of the monument. The photos were taken shortly before sunset, when the images almost come alive in the strong, colourful light. This is my favourite time to take pictures, the only problem is that it is over very quickly.

Wat Chedi Liam is for some reason really difficult to find. All signs to “Wieng Kum Kam” take you to Wat Chang Kham, the other major temple in the park. I would never have found the chedi without locating it on a map before setting off. The best way to approach it is from the superhighway. The turnoff is about 200 metres before the bridge (you need to approach from the east), with a large sign saying “McKean hospital”. Go straight ahead and ignore the “Wiang Kum Kam” signs trying to send you off to the left, and you will be in front of Wat Chedi Liam within two minutes. It is actually right on the eastern bank of the Ping river.
I posted a map at the forum.

As for Wat Chammathewi, my favourite route to Lamphun goes on the western bank of the Ping river. It is a scenic road with surprisingly little traffic, passing by plantations, villages and offering great views of the meandering river. The turnoff to Lamphun is not signposted, you need to keep an eye on your meter and cross a bridge after 30 kilometres or so, then drive straight ahead. The road passes by Wat Chammathewi as you approach the town centre. It is also easy to proceed straight on after visiting and reach other sights of interest, including the Haripunchai National Museum, which gives a great overview of the era that gave us these two “sister chedis”.

Thailand’s Teachers…Part One

(Typical ‘in-company’ English teacher)

Well, there was certainly a slight delay there with this new blog of mine as it was that time of the year again to run around like an intoxicated beaver to renew my visa etc.. For those of you readers who have had to do this yourself, you will know just how painstakingly boring the procedure just is.

So, im back as soon as possible after a dear Farang friend of mine from the Nation newspaper in his last e-mail quoted: “You will have to start blogging more frequently and catch up with that Mr Richard fellow who posts at the rate of 27 blogs a day”.

For a lot of you students out there just wondering to the ‘ins and outs’ of that spotty white-faced teacher of yours I thought I would enlighten you today and give you all, in part one, a behind the scenes look at that not so endangered species: the hungover Farang teacher.

Having spent a heck of a long time teaching here in the Land of Smiles you could well imagine how many frivolous Farang teachers ive had the pleasure of knowing. Here is the story of just a few of them.

A long while back I had a ‘journo’ friend of mine, Tim, who on realising he wasn’t exactly going to strike it rich writing, decides one day to put on a shirt and tie and go look for a teaching job out there in the concrete jungle of Bangkok. Unfortunately for him he wasn’t the most popular of teachers and hastily got himself sacked from four jobs within the spate of four weeks. On one occasion it was cause he had all the kids stand on their heads for half an hour as punishment (of course half the class went on to vomit their breakfasts up!) and then another time after he locked the kids out of the school’s back door, unluckily for the kids a rain storm soon arrived.

He had also scooped an evening job at a private snobby school on Silom which was far more to Tim’s liking as most of the classes were adults. Sadly for him he wasn’t too popular there neither with the grown-ups and was nicknamed ‘smelly sock’ before getting the boot cause of the air-pollution he was causing! Feeling deflated Tim soon struck it lucky when a couple of pretty uni. students asked to study with him at his gaff on Samsen. The class went well but his girlfriend was berated that she had been relegated to stay put in the bedroom for the whole two hours. A punch-up soon followed after his girlfriend claimed that he had spent the two hours admiring his students’ legs and flirting with them. To this day Tim is still here in Thailand, writing.

Talking about keeping a job, or the lack of being able too, I know this Farang over there in Thonburi that once boasted to me that he had taught at over a hundred schools in his ten years in Bangkok. Nothing too much to brag about when he’s been sacked from every one. On our last meeting I heard him groan on “I just don’t know where to apply now”. On top of that, he informed me last year that since he spends all his earnings on beer and girls, his visa is well over due so being of a rather paranoid nature, locks himself up in his room in his spare time hoping Bangkok’s finest aren’t going to single him out and bang him up before deportation

I remember at my old school a couple of funny teachers we had come in there. The first, a Scotiish guy who on getting the job decides to get sick five days in the first three weeks. Furthermore he wasn’t too popular with the kids as he would call them ‘buffalo’ for not understanding his commands such as “You stand up”. When I asked one of his kids “Well, why don’t you just stand-up then ?” replies “We don’t know who he is talking too”, of course the poor fellow was actually cross-eyed!

Then at another school of mine we had this Australian come to teach, but she only lasted a week. Why? Cause she refused to take out this stupid looking ring of hers prodded out of her eyebrow. Being her boss, I was the one left to explain to her that such jewelry just wasn’t acceptable at a government school, only to get a right ear-bashing of “Bla bla bla women’s rights bla bla bla” and walked out never to be seen again.

“Hey mate, gimme a teacher job”

Then after her, in comes this funny looking big bald-headed Dutch guy, who is a friend of mine to this day. His idea of a lesson plan to wake the kids up was for them to sing along while he played the electric guitar. “Well that’s a bit different I thought” but after a couple of weeks of this the kids did get fractionally bored. His other two passions in life were cooking and Buddhism. Now this guy could talk, I mean he could go on and on and on. For a whole darned hour he could stand there and just waffle on about the best way to make sweet green curry while half the class fell asleep while the other half read cartoon books. As you could imagine he wasn’t invited back for the next school year.

Quite a few years ago after a longish stint up there in the north-east and a nice lengthy holiday to go with it, I had arrived in Bangkok at a hazardous time of the year for finding a decent teaching job. Before long however, after plodding around looking for the odd bit of work here and there I soon picked up a couple of hours at a branch of ABC schools.

One evening, shortly after just starting, I was informed ten minutes before one of the classes by the receptionist “Mr Plonch from HQ is here today and he wants to observe your class”. Oh no… as my students were a bunch of randy guys from a company nearby, my lesson plan for the day was something like ‘dos and don’ts of chatting up a Farang girl’. Knowing this wouldn’t be taken too well by Mr Plonch I decided instead on the spur of the moment to have all the students ask Mr Plonch 3 questions each using the language I had taught them.

So in comes this sturdy serious looking English guy who sits down at the back of the class as if no-one had noticed. Perplexed as the students were, to which bus he had just fallen off, I explained to them in Thai who he was. After a few of the students asked Mr Plonch questions such as: Do you like Thai girls?” “No, then you must like Thai men then?”, “Why you come to Thailand?” and “When you go home your country?” it was obvious that Mr Plonch was getting rather irritable. As for me and the students, we were having a right laugh as usual.

A few days later I was handed by the secretary a ‘letter of observation’ from Mr Plonch himself. It went something like this.

Dear Mr Stephen,
I’m writing in regards to that class of yours of which I observed a few days ago. Firstly, when I go to observe a lesson, I go to observe it and observe it I do and NOT assist in the teaching. Even though your students enjoy your classes that is not the policy objective of ABC schools, but learning is. Having me sat in your class and to be made a mockery of is not to my liking. Furthermore any distasteful jokes about my neck-tie and hair-style are completely uncalled for.
Finally, NEVER speak Thai in class, the students have paid their money to learn English NOT for you to practice your Thai. When I next come to observe you I want to see a vast improvement in your teaching techniques.


Mr Plonch

As you could have imagined, ABCs aren’t as popular as they used to be and now half of their upcountry branches are now defunct.

Fortunately for Mr Plonch he never did have to observe another class of mine after I landed a ‘proper’ teaching job a couple of weeks later. Ever since then it has been me myself that has to do observations and hire the applicants.

Talking about just some of the foreigners ive met hoping for a job, well… I could go on and on about a few of the bad-breathed quackwacks ive had the not so enviable task of interviewing. My main criticism is that so many of them come along to the interview with a stick-insect so-called girlfriend of theirs who is obviously some Nana Plaza a-go-go dancer! There she is stood outside with a frightening short skirt half way up her bottom, covered in tattoos and smoking away. I’ve honestly had to tell a couple of guys “The job, should you get it, is at a government high school, so sorry, whatever you do, DON’T have that girlfriend of yours pick you up at the school gates after work!

Another thing I really hate to say about govt schools and most other schools is the fact that they are not in the habit of hiring our friends from Africa just cause of their skin colour. Ive had the unfortunate task of having to turn a few of them down, who were real nice guys and had to make up excuses over the phone of why they weren’t recruited. Just a few days back on responding to my ad at a teacher’s website I had one guy from West Africa repeatedly call me about the position available and didn’t well believe me on how the position had so suddenly been taken.

Finally, the guy gave up but not before brawling down the phone “It’s cause im from Africa, isnt it?, you don’t want me just cause its my skin colour right?, shame on you man” and hung up. I felt rather saddened for him and a little hurt myself but what else could I do when the Director had instructed me to the likes of “No Africa man, he would scare the living daylights out of the grade one children!” So, I just didn’t want to have the poor fellow travelling all the way from Sukhumvit to Suphan for nothing.

Finally, going back to Farang. The couple of English guys we had teaching here last year did such a fine job that we decided that for the next school year we would hire a couple of Filipino girls instead.


Painstakingly (adv) = extremely
Fellow (n) = man
Ins and outs = behind the scenes facts, usually best not to be known
Journo (n)= ‘journalist’, ones of the likes in Bangkok who think us teachers are a right bunch of losers.
Gaff (n) = room, flat or condo etc.. usually found in a right mess
Flirt (v) = to put on a show in front of someone of the opposite sex, hoping therefore that he/she will be attracted to you (usually has the opposite effect to the one wanted when performed my the male)
Paranoid (adj) = very afraid
Sack (v) = dismiss from the job
Glutton (n) = someone who eats far too much
Binge out (v) = eat (with a resemblance to a half-starved dog)
Doze off (v) = unintentionally falling asleep for a while
Waffle on (v) = to talk and talk and talk, to the complete boredom of the listener
Plod around (v) = walk around, with no real direction in sight

Thailand’s Teachers…..Part Two

In the second part of this two part series I thought I would go on to write about that other odd bunch of teachers: the Thai ones.

To say that I have had a run in with a few of my Thai colleagues over the years would be a heck of an understatement. Even stevesuphan himself has been on the other end of the telling off stick a few times, a fave of which has to be ‘Don’t speak Thai in class!. Well all right it does defeat the objective in a way but it does help in controlling the class at times and at getting just a bitta more respect out of them. Plus, if the students are a herd of kids or adults who hardly speak a word of the English lingo then it only makes sense to use Thai!

Then at one well-known private High school over there on Samsen last year, I was during the summer, hired to teach their snotty grade nine class who were only in there to listen to their walkman, read cartoon books and chat about a three letter word. For the first ten minutes they were already bored of my face as they had done nothing but study with other Farang for the past three years. To grab their attention, I just had to resort to speaking some Thai. When I started waffling away in Thai it completely freaked them out as they’d never learnt with a Thai speaking Farang who spoke better Thai than they did English before and from that moment onward I was raved to by the Thai teachers downstairs “The kids luv ya can you come to teach on a full-time starting in May”, I did turn the job down however.

Next, at me old High School over there in Thonburi I was told off just a little by my friend the asst. director who came up and said to me one morning “Ajarn Steve, I heard yesterday that you have been playing snooker lately with some of the lads from grade twelve, well I regret to inform you that that is against school policy im afraid, but just wait til next month when they’ve graduated”. I was a little disappointed to hear this as I had been winning loads of cash from them. Next she went on to inform me “Ive heard that a couple of your grade twelve girls have ‘the eyes for you’ well, if you care to any extra-curricular activities with your girls, again pls just wait til they graduated in march, when they are no longer considered ‘our’ students” Well, thanks for the thoughtful advice! (Now who were these girls!)

(Down South…some good old-fashioned caning!)

Talking about Thai teachers breaking school policy well I could go on all day! There was I time once when I asked one of me older mature students to give me the lowdown on what it was like when he used to study at his temple primary school in the jungle. “It was fun all right but I do remember our Thai language teacher an old guy who on giving us a page to read would get out his packet of cigarettes, ice bucket, soda and whiskey and a snack of dried squid” . On top of this he said “Many of the parents would come in to see him too as he was the local moneylender”.

Well, things have certainly changed over the years but some of their antics still bewilder me! A few years back I was hired at a govt primary school up there in Bangkapi for a few months. It was a great school and I was the first Farang ever to teach there. Now the science teacher was this randy gay teacher who being popular with the kids told me once “Just like week on bringing me science videos from home got one mixed up and when I turned on a video I left the room for ten minutes only to come back and see the whole class in open-mouthed disbelief watching this obviously dirty movie! Well, im sure the kids will remember that biology lesson for a while. Now if that were a Farang teacher I darent imagine he would be showing anymore such vids, instead just be shown the back door and a boot to go with it.

A lot of Thai teachers, especially the females have a fascination for one thing and it isnt the “present perfect tense’, its called ‘playing cards’. Now gambling is actually illegal in Thailand but in the soi near my school a group of them would gather each evening at one of them’s house and play cards for the rest of the night, even one time on a boat trip down the Chao Praya, with a whole stack-a-kids onboard there they were playing away with a bottle of whiskey to go along with it!” The dealer I just mentioned, well her husband happened to be the wife of a Police Superintendent, now you gotta problem with that?

At the same school and in the same soi we had this classic Art teacher who painted so well that the school invited him to continue teaching after his retirement. Now this guy must have been good in class to have been kept on as some of his antics outside of class can described as strikingly bad! Right outside of the school in the evenings outside of the ‘teachers soi’ on many an occasion could be witnessed ‘absolutely plastered’, so drunk that the local shop who on seeing him dressed only in his undergarments refused to sell him anymore beer that evening. I asked his girlie students about how he was in class and was told “He often sits there in his office with a few bottles of Beer Chang with a copy of the latest mens magazine ‘Penthouse” and I am NOT joking!

Talking about the same school and same soi, now there was the husband of one of the English Teachers a high ranking Airforce officer whose liking for alcohol was as bad as the Art teacher’s. Living in the same soi he too could be seen at times at night walking up and down the soi wobbling away with a bottle of scotch in-hand and to be found the next morning sleeping under the tree in full view of all the students. Then on one occasion his wife the English teacher came storming into the office ranting “the big boss is on the phone saying” “A guarantee of sickness was to be brought to his office straight away or he would be kicked out of the services”, we all found that he gone on a bender and be completely drunk for the past two weeks and not gone to work!

Now her herself can also go down as a ‘classic’, even though she was an English Teacher she was pretty ‘anti’ anything Farang and had a heck-of-a dislike of anything American. I remember full-well the day after September 11 and she’s there in the office dancing around laughing at the fate of the World Trade Centre while the voluntary teacher from New York was downstairs bawling her eyes out not knowing to the fate of her dad. One time one of the students told me the antics of her lesson last week when on arriving in class decides to give the class a full-on lecture, in Thai language on ‘Thai bananas’. She was pretty much ‘bananas herself’.

At another one of me High Schools one time, we got in this good-looking respectable English teacher, who is a friend of mine today’. After a month or so I very much mistakenly upset one of the Thai English Teachers, a divorcee. I did nothing to try and upset her but for a few months she would completely ignore me and rant on to the other teachers about how I arrived to class five minutes. No worries for me, as they all knew she was a bit on the ‘loony’ side. As she was pretty lonely she decides to chat up my friend the other teacher as she had realised that she wasn’t to MY taste. She wasn’t exactly to shy about showing her ‘feelings’, and was there in the office eyeing and touching him up before the first morning class when the other Thai teachers had yet to arrive.

After this episode I was pulled over one day by the Head of Languages and asked “Is it true that Miss so-and-so has a big fancy for our Farang teacher” to which I replied “Sure, too right she does”” and gave her the rundown. Well lusty Miss so-and-so must have found out that I had grassed on her and refused to look me in the eye from that day on for a few months!

Talking about attitude, Richard here can also tell yous, im sure about some of the discipline that goes on in Thai High Schools. Now we had this other English Teacher, who was actually a very kind woman to us all but certainly not to her grade eleven girls. My God did she have a temper! She would blow her rag every week and take it out on them and gladly not us teachers. One day I sees her with all her girls lined up outside the English Dept and there she is cutting away at her all girls’ hair giving them all a more than laughable haircut. I found out that just one of the girls had put in highlights, against school policy, punish the lot of them!

Then at the same school we had this old male English Teacher who had to teach the naughtiest and not so clever snooker playing class of grade 12 made up of nearly all boys. Having to teach this class personally once a week he would ‘sometimes’ come in to observe, of which he did, for about five minutes before completely falling asleep and snoring away to the amusement of the whole class. Im sure he would have killed me if he had known, but at the start of the school year I told the class that he looked like Mr Bean only for this to ‘stick’ and that was his nickname for the whole year! To his complete ignorance.

Thai teachers, I have to say, have a right tendency for stealing other peoples lessons plans and games and especially mine. Right in my school here I got one teacher on helping out with me weekend classes has decided throughout the year to copy up each of my grade 4 lesson plans. When I asked her “Why you doing that?” replied “Oh.. just for me to use them next year, saves me a lot of time and energy making up my own lesson plans!” Then there was another teacher that I witnessed at me old school who own enjoyed my scrabble game that I played with grade 9 so much takes it upon himself to play the game non-stop with every single one of his classes for the next two weeks, I think he liked the game more than the kids.


Odd = strange
Have a run with = to have a confrontation with
To tell of = ดุ
Fave = favourite
Snotty = posh
To freak out = to be completely shocked
Lowdown/rundown = all the information
Plastered = very drunk
To bawl = to cry
Bananas/loony = a little crazy