March 2007 Archives

I just happened to be at the Hualamphong Train station today (after a short visit to pick up some of my company's red tape documents from a government office nearby) and I decided to stroll through the terminal. This train station is always packed full of people loading, unloading, or just sitting around waiting.

I noticed today, though, that they have a new exhibit up in the middle of the main waiting area. It gives some updates on the new Airport Train that is being built out to the new airport at Suwannabumi. The line is being built by the State Railways of Thailand, and so they wanted to toot their horns a bit about what a great train it's going to be.

I am pretty excited about this train as well, since there will be a station a very short taxi ride from my house. It will definitely make getting out to the airport a lot easier, once it starts operations next year. And good news for tourists to Bangkok, the line will connect with the Skytrain at Phayathai station. So getting from the airport on the outskirts of town to downtown Bangkok will just be a quick train ride away.

And even more exciting, a very ambitious map on display showed the SRT's plans. Basically they have mapped out two lines -- one North-South and one East-West -- to cut through the middle of Bangkok. The Airport Link is the East line. But eventually (according to the map) it will go west all the way to Nakorn Pathom province. The North-South line will stretch from Ayutthaya in the North, past the old but newly reopened Don Mueang airport, and go all the way to Mahachai near the coast of the Gulf of Thailand. SRT already owns most of the land to make this happen, so I hope that it will eventually come to pass.

But in 2007, the Suwannabumi Airport line is a reality and is currently under construction. A few days ago, 2bangkok linked to a few pictures from the design drawings for this new line. I noticed that the exact same photos are on display at Hualamphong now. Here are my favorite links:

It looks like the closest station to me will be the Ramkamhaeng Station. But it's not nearly as cool looking as the main terminal at Makkasan. The entire system map (in Thai, but you can get the idea) shows two lines -- one local line with eight stations and one express with just two (Makkasan and Airport). Very cool!

(If you can read Thai, you can see more information about the airport train -- both design drawings and construction updates -- from the Airport Rail Link website)

Notifier Reinstalled (I hope)

When I moved this website over to a new host, I forgot to reinstall the "Notifier" plugin. In other words, no one was being notified that the website had been updated. So now that I think the problem has been fixed, this is a small post to test out the Notifier and to invite everyone to check out the last few posts I've made about my recent trip to Nan, including the first video I have ever posted to this site.

You might want to check out them all on the Homepage.

Friday, March 16

Now, we are finally back home in Bangkok. On the way back from Phitsanulok we spent a couple of hours in Sukothai checking out the ruins, then some time visiting the ruins in nearby Kampheng Phet. I had been to both of these places before, so it was a re-run for me. But it was still fun to show Todd and Jason around the sites.

So we are back, after driving 2000 kilometers from Bangkok to Nan and back. We ended up visiting seven provinces: Phitsanulok, Uttradit, Phrae, Nan, Lampang, Sukothai, and Kampheng Phet. Three of those were new ones for me, so I am still making progress on my goal of visiting all of the provinces in Thailand.

Now it's back to work in Bangkok. I have a couple of weeks to prepare for my new employee at my company. She will start in April, and I have to make sure I have a lot of stuff for her to do. Not to mention I still have to buy office furniture for her. We have a lot to do before my next trip to Baan Samkha, afterall.

A Return Trip to Baan Samkha

Thursday, March 15

Since there was nothing else to see in Nan due to all of the smoke, we left town and headed back south, Our next stop was Lampang, another favorite provincial capital of mine. On the way into town, we stopped at the amazing Wat Phrathat Lampang Luang, which is perhaps my favorite temple in all of Thailand. I think this is my 4th or 5th trip to see this temple, and I always am very glad that I came.

At night, we headed to the river for some excellent grub at the Riverside Restaurant. The band playing here also was dipping into the 70s material, as usual, but with a more mellow tone. We heard at least one Carpenters song. (See a pattern here?)

This morning we woke up and hit the road again. On the way out of town, I pulled off the main highway to visit Baan Samkha (Three Leg Village). I came here in January of last year to visit the school to learn more about their government-sponsored e-Learning projects. Since I am starting to build out my e-Learning company, I thought I should visit them again to see how they were doing.

The next hour or so was a lot of fun for all three of us (Todd, Jason, and myself). We hung out in the amazingly well-equiped (for a small village school) computer room, where the students were playing with the infamous one-child-one-laptop machines from MIT. Of course when it was my turn to try the tiny green computers, the first thing I did was view this website. I was very happy to see that it looked great!

Todd and I ended up teaching the kids a few English songs: "Jingle Bells" (by request) and "Row Row Row Your Boat". The latter was a popular choice, especially the line, "Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily", which was sung with great enthusiasm, morphing into more of a "MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW!"

Life is but a dream, indeed.

Jason just happened to take a video of the scene, and he posted it to YouTube. If you want to hear my beautiful voice singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat (with a loud MEOW chorus) then click on the video below. Check out the cool green MIT laptops as well.

Update 4/4/07The Thai government has decided to ban YouTube from Thailand, and so for now there is a big white space here where the video should be. Sorry about that!

Update 8/31/07Almost five months later, YouTube is back on in Thailand. Yay!

Unfortunately, we had many more miles to go today. I promised I would return someday with e-learning games to teach English to the students. I am not sure exactly how I am going to pull that off, but I am going to give it a try.

The road south was uneventful. We headed to Sukothai for the night, but after seeing that all of the guesthouses were full of farang backpackers, we decided that one more night in Phitsanulok (just 45 minutes away) was much preferable. Tomoorw, we will visit the ruins at Sukothai. But tonight, there's a beer garden with Christmas lights on the Nan River calling our names.

Tuesday, March 13

I was awoken this morning in Nan at 7:30 AM by very loud Chinese opera music coming through my screened-in windows. I laid in my not-so-comfortable bed, under a spinning ceiling fan, feeling nauseous and having some trouble breathing. When the Thai National Anthem started blaring at 8, I strugged out of bed and into the bathroom, only to discover that this hotel didn't have hot water.

By this point, I was very worried that I had something seriously wrong with me. It felt like food poisoning, which I know meant that the next few days would be no fun at all. Eventually I made it to the door and went out into the extremely smoky air outside. I wandered around town for a while, feeling mostly miserable. Several people stopped me to chat -- Nan is a friendly town for sure, but I was in no mood to talk. I forced myself to eat at a nearby hotel even though I wasn't very hungry.

But luckily, as the day wore on, I felt better and better. We ended up driving around town and checking out some of the historical temples in town. Wat Phumin was especially interesting, with a cruciform-shaped temple. In the center of the building is four seated Buddha images sitting back to back. So no matter which of the four doorways you walked through (north, south, east or west), you would be faced with a golden Buddha smiling down on you.

We decided to stay in Nan one more night, but to move to a better hotel. We found one -- a three-story building made of all wood, giving it a homey, comfortable feel to it. It also had air conditioning and hot water, and still was only 400 baht (US$11) or so.

For beer and boy bands tonight, everyone we talked to recommended the Varachon Pub on the Nan River. Sure enough, it was a happening place. This band, however, gave us a break from the US pop from the 70s and 80s and instead played all Thai music. They were also quite good musicians. Even though we didn't know any of the songs, it was great fun to just listen and watch the crowd enjoy themselves.

The Road to Nan and Mu Ga Ta

Monday, March 12

The trip to Nan was mostly uneventful, however, we did make a few stops as planed. Our first one was in Uttradit Province. And believe me, that stop was especially uneventful. The next one, in Phrae Province was much better. Phrae is another example of an old, Northern Thai city that had a city wall and a moat around it. There are a few interesting temples inside the old city walls, and a lot of old wooden houses. We had a good time just walking around town and checking out the old architecture.

We finally made it to the mountainous province of Nan, on the Lao border. As we started to climb the hills, we started passing various fields and mountain sides that were being burned. As we went farther and farther, the air became more and more smokey. By the time we reached Nan city, the air was so full of smoke it was actually a bit difficult to breathe.

As we found out, a state of emergency was being called in the neighboring provinces of Chiang Mai and Chaing Rai because of the smoke. The Thai Government first tried to blame it on Myanmar, but it was obvious from our trip that Thai people were doing a lot of burning themselves.

But we walked around town at night anyway. Nan city has its charms, although though the downtown is made up of mostly modern concrete shophouses (as one usually finds in Thai provincial capitals).

Eventually we stumbled upon a all-you-can-eat, grill-it-yourself mu ga ta restaurant with another boy band. This band was a bit better than the one in Phitsanulok last night, but their set was almost exactly the same. For some reason, James Taylor's "Handyman" and CCR's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" are very popular in Thailand. They finished off their set with a quite impressive full instrumental of "Hotel California".

Full of grilled meat and beer, we headed back to our very cheap (180 baht, or $5) but not very nice hotel. We definitely were getting what we paid for tonight! Tomorrow we will explore more of the sites in Nan and then decide where to go from here.

Christmas in March in Phitsanulok

Sunday, March 11

This week I have a small window of opportunity to do a little travel inside Thailand, so Todd, Jason, and I rented a small car and hit the road this morning. Our goal was to make it to Nan, to see (as the Lonely Planet Thailand book describes it) "green hills and lush river valleys."

We didn't want to drive the entire 600+ kilometers to Nan in one day, so we stopped half-way to spend the night in Phitsanulok. I have written about this small town a few times, and it really is one of my favorite places in Thailand. And that is partly because it is the home of one of my favorite guesthouse/hotels in Thailand -- the Lithai Guesthouse.

Phitsanulok is a festive place, for a small town. They have a lively night market on the banks of the Nan River that stays open late. After dinner, we found ourselves here listening to a band of college-aged guys play English and Thai hits while we drank Singha draft beer and enjoyed the breezes blowing off the river.

Phitsanulok might also have the distinction of being the only place in Thailand that still has their Christmas decorations up... in March. Santas and reindeer were spotted all over town, and every street had strings of colorful lights above it. Fantastic!

So tomorrow we will make our way to Nan, stopping at a few provinces along the way just to "see what's there."

Long Break After a Long Trip to Nan

Since I haven't written any thing here in over two weeks, I figured I was overdue for a little message. Last week my friends and I had a little opportunity to hit the road, and hit it we did. Todd, Jason (Todd's friend from SF) and I rented a Honda Jazz for a 6-day trip to Northern Thailand. We ended up driving all the way to Nan Province on the Lao border and back to Bangkok for a total of 2000 kilometers (1240 miles).

It was a great trip, so I will try to write a little bit about our experiences over the next few days. And of course I'll try to get some pictures up as well.

Oh, and by the way, I have now moved this site over to A Small Orange web host. Let's hope that this one turns out better than the previously recommended but now shunned, Dreamhost. Things should be running normally, but please let me know if there is any weirdness.

Shortly after dinner last night, Francois and I were preparing to board the Skytrain at Siam when Todd called and talked us into meeting him and Hoang out at Silom for a drink. It was Macha Bucha Day, a Buddhist holiday, so our drinks ended up being fruit shakes, but it was still fun to sit outside and enjoy a much quieter Silom scene than usual.

Francois and Hoang both go back home to the US at the end of the week, and so we were talking about what tourist sites they should see before they go. Someone mentioned the Floating Market. I don't care too much for the main touristy one at Damnoen Saduak, so I recommended going to Taling Chan

Now, I haven't actually been there myself, but I have heard about it before, so we headed there this morning. Piyawat was kind enough to drive, and Francois joined us. Then we rented a regular taxi for 100 baht (US$2.80) per hour to follow us and to carry Todd, Hoang, and another friend named Kevin.

It turned out to be a great day. The market at Taling Chan is not very big, but there is a great selection of food, fruit, and plants for sale. There is a floating restaurant on the canal where the six of us ate a delicious and amazingly cheap lunch -- 600 baht (US$17) -- which included a huge fish, lots of big prawns, and various other Thai food goodies.

We then rented a long tail boat for a personalized tour of the Thonburi canals. It was a one hour trip that set us back 800 baht (US$22.50) and was well worth the money. No matter how many times I take boat rides along the canals, it's still fascinating to see how people live there -- watching some fishing for dinner, or passing by rows and rows of orchids being farmed, or admiring the gymnastic skills of young boys doing flips off their porches into the water, or old ladies going house to house selling ice cream from their boat.

After the boat ride and wandering through the market tasting various fruits and snacks (and having one amazingly refreshing apricot/strawberry/black currant shake) we loaded up again and hit the road, going farther west to the province of Nakorn Pathom and the famous Buddha Monthon.

The Buddha Monthon is a huge 1,000 acre park with a 15 meter-tall Buddha statue at its center. The park is well landscaped with man-made ponds and fountains and is quite beautiful. It was built to commemorate the 2,500 year anniversary of the start of Buddhism. (This year is the year 2550, so that means that the park was started in 1957). Even though we were quite far outside of downtown Bangkok by this time, the park was still full of picnicing Thai people, most of whom were now sleeping on grass mats under the trees.

The highlight of the park, though (other than the huge walking Buddha image) was the large wiharn building. In it, there were hundreds of bright colored paintings showing stories from Buddha's life, as well as the usual folk scenes and even some modern scenes of Thailand and its people. There are also 1418 big marble stones that have the words of the Pali Canon (the Buddhist holy scriptures) carved into them in gold letters.

So all in all it was a great day trip for the six of us. I highly recommend visiting the Taling Chan floating market and the boat rides through the canals. And if you're a fan of Buddhist art, then the trip to Buddha Monthon is well worth your time as well. And as always, pics to come soon!

New Computer, New Music (Garuna)

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I am very excited today because my IT tasks at work are now complete -- I am writing this on my new Mac Mini, using a new widescreen monitor, and connecting through a new wireless network. Getting a lot of new toys Setting up a new company has been fun this week.

And what would be better for all this new equipment than to play some new music? On the way to the office today I stopped by the Emporium and picked up a copy of the CD by Garuna. It's an Thai/Farang electronica group, and it's quite good, actually.

But the coolest thing about the CD is that one of the group members is a former colleague of mine at the University. And he just happens to be one of the initial shareholders in my company. So it is fitting that Garuna is the first CD to be played on my new equipment.

For more information about Garuna, check out the Garuna MySpace page. I love the way they describe themselves:

We don't have tattoos. We don't do drugs. We're not angry. We don't perform live. Most of the time we're at home with Mom or in a cubicle reflecting about life in the big city. We spend a lot of time in airconditioned shopping centers. Life is not so serious when you are in Garuna.
The video for "So Hi" on the MySpace page is especially good... at least to me since it stars a former student of mine and another company shareholder / university colleague. Nice work, guys!

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

February 2007 is the previous archive.

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