all that jazz

james' blog about scala and all that jazz

Back to Bangkok

My trip is now starting to come to an end. After my last blog entry, I spent a night in Mai Sai, took a bus to Chiang Rai, and then stayed there the night. Chiang Rai was kinda boring, I got a 2 hour massage, and then wandered around for a while. The night markets were good though, I bought a few last pressies for various people. One big thing I've noticed is the further north you go in Thailand, the less and less English you see. In Bangkok, everything's in English and Thai. But, there were hardly any English signs in Chiang Rai or Mai Sai. There is also a much larger population of Chinese in the north, a lot of the markets have chinese food in them, and a lot of the restaurants, particularly the more western ones, are owned by Chinese.

The next day we took the bus to Chiang Mai, where I had one last walk around, had lunch, and sat in a cafe reading the paper, before we took the overnight train to Bangkok. There were hardly any people on the train, compared to our first train ride which was full. So, there was nothing really much to do and I got an early night at 7pm. The train arrived in Bangkok at 6am, where I took a taxi back to the Khao San Road, and checked into a hotel. So now I'm here, and I'm waiting for everything to open before I go out and explore. I think I'll take a river boat ride again, seeing as I missed out on my last one.

Tomorrow I'll be departing from the new international airport in Bangkok. It is said to have the largest terminal in the world, and once all its extensions are finished, will be the biggest airport in the world, handling 100 million passengers a year. There have been big problems with its opening 2 days ago though. People were waiting for hours for their baggage, and apparently 200 items got sent to the wrong destination. The problem was due to the fact that they didn't transfer enough baggage wagons from the old airport to the new. There were also computer problems for Thai Airways, but seeing as I'm traveling with British Airways, that won't be a problem.

Haven't seen any tanks, or any soldiers for that matter, since coming into Bangkok. Maybe, just as the coup appeared overnight when I was on the train to Chiang May, disappeared overnight on the way to Bangkok. Or maybe it just never happened. Hopefully I can find some tanks today to have my picture taken with.

Thai Cooking

One of the best experiences I've had so far on this trip was doing a Thai cooking course. No one from my tour wanted to do it, instead I ended up doing it with an Intrepid group, there were 6 of us in all. We started off by going to the markets and buying most of the ingredients needed for what we were cooking. Our instructor explained to us what the different spices were, and showed us different vegies, and taught us how to recognise which ones were good and which weren't. We also saw them make coconut cream and coconut milk fresh for us.

At the cooking course, I made pad thai, thai spicy soup, green curry, and banana in coconut milk. The food was amazing, best Thai food I've had in Thailand! It was also incredibly quick to cook, I never realised it was so quick to make Thai food properly. When I get back to Australia I am definitely seeking out all the ingredients to make the food, it's almost as quick as unfreezing the frozen meals I usually make.

Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle

How does deep friend silk worms, bamboo worms and crickets sound? Well, last night I tried them all. for about 60c I got a platter of them with chilli sauce, mmm.... The taste was ok, but the texture… A taste was enough, I went and got some prawn cutlets, spring rolls and basil chicken. That was last night in Chiang Rai.

Today we took a local bus to the Golden Triangle. The Golden Triangle is the intersection between the borders of Thailand, Laos and Burma. I'm told it used to be the opium capital of South East Asia. The Laos border is defined by the Mekong River. I was amazed at just how much water is flowing down this river. It is wider than Lake Burley Griffen, looks quite deep, but it's flowing at quite a rapid pace, too fast to swim against. It flows down from the Himalayas.

We crossed the Mekong and landed at Laos, though, it was only a large island on the river, no border control or anything. Nevertheless, there was a Laos post box there, and I sent a postcard to my parents from there, therefore I was in Laos. Something weird there was that the people put snakes - king cobras, and scorpians, in their whiskey. There were all these whiskey bottles with snakes and scorpians in them. I didn't try it.

After that we went to Mae Sai, the northern most point of Thailand. It is here that we crossed into Burma. This time, we did have to officially leave Thailand, pay $13 for a visa into Burma, and then get a new visa when we came back into Thailand. Burma was a huge contrast to Thailand. The streets were covered in mud, I almost slipped over it was that muddy. In the worst parts, the mud had been scooped up into piles on the roads, and drivers had to weave between the piles. The people were very poor, there were a lot of beggars, particularly young children, much more than in Thailand. In Thailand, there are little food stalls everywhere, in Burma, there were hardly any, and they were much more dirty and run down.

We went shopping in the markets, the people were much more persistent in trying to sell us things, particularly cigarettes, porn movies and viagra. They'd follow you all the way down the street, not like Thailand at all. Coming back into Thailand, I was amazed at how clean it was. Previously I had been thinking Thailand was quite dirty, but now that I'm back here, I look around and it's so clean. It just goes to show the cleanliness of a place is all relative.

The Trek

Well, 4 days of trekking through the hilltribes, do I have something to blog about!

Day 1

The first day started with a stop off at the markets to buy food for the journey, then we headed up into the mountains in the back of a ute. The road was incredibly steep and narrow, while it was sealed, there was only really room for one car on it. There were heaps of blind corners, everytime our driver came up to a corner he would beep his horn to indicate to anyone coming around the corner that he was coming. We drove along this road for almost an hour, before coming to a village, where we met our porters. We then hiked to our first village, in just over an hour. My group was all very fit, we did the hike in about half the time that the groups usually do it. Our guide struggled to keep up with us, while the porters had no problem, because they are locals to this area and used to it.

In the first village, the women all dressed quite well, wearing purple and lots of bright colours. There were around 20 people in this village. They all came to us and did a tribal dance for us, where we joined in. The interesting thing about this dance was that the music was very simple, they had a 3 string guitar, and only played 2 chords, with plain straight strokes the whole time. The dancing was just holding hands in a circle around a fire, and stepping sideways, stopping every few beats to stomp on the ground. Our guide told us this is the only dance and song that they do, and they will do this over and over all night. And they loved it. I found that really odd that they could get so much enjoyment out of the same simple thing over and over and over again.

Our dwelling was a simple grass/bamboo hut, where all 15 of us slept. The beds were simply a raised floor on each side of the hut, with grass matts. It was very uncomfortable, I hardly slept that night. Our guide made us a really nice tofu green curry for dinner, I think it was the best green curry I've had since coming to Thailand, it was very spicey.

Day 2

I was woken up at 5am by the roosters crowing. All the villages we went to had chickens, cows, pigs and dogs. I slept in as much as I could before breakfast. When I went outside, women from the surrounding villages had come and set up little market stores on plastic matts in a circle to sell hats, bags, drink holders and jewellery that they had made. The funny thing was that every single store was the same, each woman had made exactly the same stuff. So, after looking at one womans products, you had seen them all. But, we still felt obligated to have a look at every store. It was quite painful, saying no I'm not interested 10 to 12 times.

The toilets on the trek were probably the hardest thing to deal with. The toilets were squat toilets, in a little room, some of the rooms were made out of bamboo and so if you went at night, you had to turn the torch off otherwise everyone could see in. There was no flush, the flush was a big bowl of water beside the toilet with a scoop, you would scoop the water into the toilet to flush it. To shower, there was another bowl of water with a scoop, and you would scoop the cold water over you. And it was all very dirty and muddy. Needless to say, I was very relieved to be able to use a sit down toilet when I got back to the hotel.

The second day was the longest trek, though we did it in about half the time of most groups. I think our guide said that there are usually some older people, 50 to 60 year olds on the hike, that slow the group down. Our oldest people were early thirties, and they were all very fit. For lunch we stopped near a waterfall, and swam there. Seeing as it was the rainy season, there was a lot of water going down the water fall. The bottom of the waterfall was all pebbles, and the pebbles would be moving about in the turbulant water so that it was a little painful to be in front of the waterfall. But exhilarating none the less.

At times the hike was very steep. Going up hill, this was ok, I enjoy walking up hill. There was a really long up hill bit, usually it takes the group 90 minutes but we did it in 40. That was great. But the down hill was painful. The track was very muddy and slippery, and so it was very easy to slip over. Fortunately, I never did slip over, but I busted some pretty mad dance moves.

The scenary was incredibly green, mud aside, the wet season really is a good time to go trekking in Thailand. I got a number of very nice photos. The village we arrived in that evening was very basic. There were 2 teenage girls there that we tried to talk to in their dialect using our phrase sheet, but they just laughed at us. That was probably the hardest night, because it rained a lot, the roof of the hut leaked, and everything was just very wet and muddy. And by that time, everyones clothes stunk. There also wasn't as much room in the hut.

Day 3

Day 3 was meant to be a fairly quick bamboo rafting trip. Unfortunately though, the river level was too high and moving too fast, it would have been dangerous, because there water was flowing through fallen trees, if the raft turned over and anyone went into the trees, they would have been dragged under the branches, and if they got caught underneath, they would have been dead. So, instead, it was a 4 hour hike. The hike actually wasn't too bad, it just followed the river, went up and down as tracks that follow rivers do, but nothing too steep. Everything was very wet though and a number of people, including myself, got leaches on them.

Our campsite that night was not in a village, it was at a hut beside the river. Compared to the previous 2 nights, this hut was 5 star luxury, the beers were cold! That afternoon we went for elephant rides. It was kinda fun, but elephants are big smelly and disobedient animals, they kept stopping for food. We had a great night that night sitting around the campfire playing games and drinking.

I actually had a good nights sleep that night, they had (thin) mattresses in the hut, and it had a proper tiled roof. The beer probably also helped.

Day 4

Day 4 wasn't much of a day, basically we just said goodbye to our porters, and drove back to Chiang Mai. Our porters were great. Because of the language barrier, having fun with them meant really basic jokes, mostly about being gay. The word for lady boy in Thai is ka-toi. So we were telling our porters they were katoi, and they were saying no, I'm rambo, you katoi. It was all lots of fun.

After getting back to Chiang Mai, most of us ordered masseuses to our rooms. We then went out in the evening and went and saw some Thai boxers sparring, and drank a lot of cocktails.

The Thailand Coup

Rather than saying bits and pieces about the Coup in my blog entries, I thought I'd make one blog entry that I'll graduatally add to with all my thoughts on the Coup, that way the rest of my blog can stay unpolitical.

I've seen a bit of what the Australian media and the Australian government has been saying about the coup. The official advisory said diplomats shouldn't send their kids to school, other things have said that people should stay indoors, keep away from busy areas and don't take any photos or do any filming. I think the coup leaders are justified in being upset with the foreign media for saying things like that.

Today, I saw on the front cover of the Bangkok Post, Thailands biggest English newspaper, a photo of a kid dressed in kahki gear, holding a toy gun, posing in front of one of the tanks. If there was any issue with taking photos in public places, a photo like that would never have made it to the front page of a local newspaper. Rather, I think the coup leaders are very happy for images like that to be posted, because they want everything to be as transparent as possible.

I read that a survey of 1550 random Bangkok residents, http://www.bangkokpost.net/News/25Sep2006_news02.php, showed that something like 97% of residents welcomed the coup, while around 90% were "comfortable" with the military presence, and around 80% said it made them feel "safe". Being here on the ground in Thailand, I completely agree. There is nothing intimidating about the military presence, they are all very friendly, and they want everything to be as smooth as possible. My impression is that they regret that things have come to this, and so want to do everything they can to avoid any inconvenience to residents and especially tourists. Indeed, while we have such a strong military presence in and around the place, and in light of the recent terrorist attacks, I would say that Thailand is a safer place.

As for whether the coup is right or wrong. I read a very interesting opinion column in the Bangkok Post this morning: http://www.bangkokpost.com/News/25Sep2006_news15.php. The writer argued that the reasons for the coup were all right, but morally, the coup was wrong. I think I have to agree with the writer. It is however, very easy for us, knowing nothing of Thai politics, to simply say because it is a coup, it is wrong. One thing I've noticed since coming to Thailand, is that Thai people are very smart, and very friendly. This is not a third world country, where the people don't know what is good for them. Many of them are educated, and they have a very strong desire to help out others. Anytime I was looking unsure or lost, someone would ask me if I needed help. And, they are definitely not a violent group of people. Many of them are very religious, strong Budhists, and believe strongly that what goes around comes around.

So here we are in Thailand, a non violent country, with a military coup that is welcomed. That in my opinion is a very strong sign. If there was any shred of doubt in these people that a military coup was a bad thing, you would think they wouldn't welcome it, that they would strongly oppose. Rather, we see that soldiers are given flowers and cold drinks on the street.

So, my overall opinion of this coup, is that while it is sad that it came to this, it is not a bad thing. I can't comment on the cause, because I am not Thai, but I trust the Thai peoples judgment that it was necessary. And certainly, from what I have seen on the streets, I have every confidence in the coup leaders will resolve it quickly and peacefully.

About

Hi! My name is James Roper, and I am a software developer with a particular interest in open source development and trying new things. I program in Scala, Java, PHP, Python and Javascript, and I work for Lightbend as a developer on Lagom. I also have a full life outside the world of IT, am a passionate Christian, enjoy playing a variety of musical instruments and sports, and currently I live in Canberra.

I also have a another blog called Roped In about when my wife and I lived in Berlin for a year to help a church reconnect with its city.