July 2007 Archives

The Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival

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Every year, around this time, I hear about the huge candle festival in Ubon that just happened the week before. And every year I say to myself, I have to remember to go next year! So, at the end of my fourth year in Thailand, I finally made it to see what it was all about.

After arriving back in the city of Ubon last night after our tour of the countryside, most of the huge candle floats were lined along the streets waiting for tomorrow's parade. Finally, we were able to see what we came 600 km to see -- huge wax floats!

Each float was intricately carved will all kinds of Thai symbols made from wax -- elephants, Buddhas, garunas, kinnaree, monks, nagas, and even (at least) one life-sized wax King. We were exhausted after our day of driving, but we decided to walk around the parade area to get a close look at the floats anyway.

And I am glad we did. The actual parade this morning was a bit of a let-down. The floats went by our hotel, but did so very slowly. And each float had all kinds of Isaan music blasting, so you could hear the music from four floats at a time. It was certainly not a peaceful and relaxing place to be. After about 30 minutes and seeing 4 or 5 floats, we had seen enough and we decided to hit the long road back to Bangkok.

Tonight we had decided that instead of going all the way back to Bangkok, we would stay at a resort outside of the Kao Yai National Park. And it was another great decision. By the time we reached this area, which is about 160 KM from Bangkok, the traffic was just about unbearable. It probably would have taken us four or five hours to make what should be a two-hour trip the rest of the way.

But instead, we stayed at the very relaxing and quiet Bonanza Resort, and had a delicious steak dinner at the brand new Outlet Mall nearby. (Both are highly recommended, by the way.) It was a perfect ending to a very fun 5-day road trip through eastern Thailand.

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In lieu of my own pictures, which I will hopefully be able to post soon, I will point you to the " Life and Times in Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand" blog. The author, an American living in Ubon, posted tons of picutures of the festivities. See the following links:

A Festive Morning At Tung Sri Muang Park Ubon

The People Make The Festival in Ubon Ratchathani

Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival 2007 Parade)

Our main purpose for driving all this way (600+ km) to Ubon Ratchathani is to see the annual candle festival and parade. The parade is tomorrow, so today we decided to spend our time by driving around the province to see some of the sights.

We headed east about one hour to the Mekong and the border with Laos. On the way we stopped for a snack in Phibun Masahan. We bought a sack of freshly cut mango, and decided to be adventurous with a stick of two inch wide, deep-fried buu hin (rock crabs). They were actually pretty good, shell and all. Our taste for adventure stopped there, however, and we decided not to sample the fried frog skin that was for sale.

Our next stop was the Mekong, and a National Park called Pa Taem. The highlight of this park, other than the beautiful views over the river and into Laos, are a collection of prehistoric paintings on the side of a cliff. They looked exactly as you would expect "cave paintings" to be, but it was still pretty cool to imagine that someone was at this spot 4,000 years ago drawing pictures of elephants and fish traps.

We also stopped by the Pak Moon Dam (pak moon means "mouth of the Moon River, where it flows into the Mekong). This dam is quite controversial because it has allegedly killed off many fish species who used to travel up and down the river. The dam itself is unremarkable, but since it is in the news so often, I wanted to see it. (For more information on the controversy, see the International Rivers Network website.)

On the way back to Ubon we stopped by a unique waterfall that pours through a hole in the side of a rock. It's hard to describe, so I will try to post a picture here sometime soon. Another highlight of the trip was visiting a temple complex housed in a cave over looking the Mekong. This temple was unique in that the mummified remains of the former monk abbot are on display in a glass case for all to come and pay their respects to.

In any case, we finally made it back to the town of Ubon long after the sun had set. The big candle parade is tomorrow, so in my next post I'll give more details about the huge wax floats that were lined up outside our hotel when we returned to the town.

Even though I have lived here for five years, there are still a few items on my "Places I really want to see" list. So, Piyawat and I are taking advantage of the long holiday weekend to make a little road trip to Isaan to cross off a few of those items.

We left Friday afternoon and drove east from Bangkok, through Korat and Buriram, and finally decided to stop for the night in the provincial capital of Surin. I have to say that my brief time here didn't leave a very good impression. It was probably the most "down and out" province I have been to in Thailand. The streets were dirty and the shops were all dingy.

As we walked through the streets near our hotel on the way to and from dinner, we were greeted with a lot of unwelcoming stares. In fact, we both felt a little unsafe. It was very strange to have that feeling in Thailand -- Land of Smiles. The only reason I could think of was that we were so close to Cambodian border, and I think a lot of the people there were Cambodian, and we all know that Cambodians haven't exactly had an easy time over the past few decades. Maybe that's why no one was smiling.

This morning we headed out and continued our trip east to Si Saket province. One of the "to-dos" on my list was to see the Khao Phra Viharn temple on the Thai and Cambodian border. The temple itself is officially in Cambodia, but literally 500 meters over the border. In fact, Thailand and Cambodia went to the World Court in the 1960s to fight over this temple, and Cambodia won.

Just as a side note, I disagree with this ruling. The easiest way to access the temple is from the Thai side, while on the Cambodian side there is a huge cliff. So the temple seems like it is more attached to Thailand, being hundreds of meters above the plains of Cambodia. But when the ruling was made, no one asked me.

In any case, I am really glad we had a chance to see the temple. It is an old Khmer-style temple, perched as I said, on top of a mountain next to a tall cliff. It's a great location. Unfortunately the temple ruins themselves are a mess. It's a huge complex (850 meters long) but it has not been restored to the grandeur of the temples at Angkor or even the ones in Thailand like Phanom Rung and Phi Mai.

The only other downside was that I had to pay the farang tax of 400 baht (US$11.75), because the Thai side is a National Park. Then I had to pay another 200 baht to enter the temple. Luckily, there was no passport or visa needed, even though I was officially outside of Thailand for a couple of hours.

After a lot of picture taking and waving off kids selling postcards and shady Cambodians selling cigarettes, liquor and "Khmer porno" (!) we were back in the car and on our way to the next province over: Ubon Ratchathani.

Refusing To Act Like Senior Citizens

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Who is afraid of getting old? Apparently not my parents. After I dragged them on a whirlwind tour of Southeast Asia (5 cities in 14 days) they went back to the US and continued the active lifestyle. Mom is competing in a golf tournament this weekend, while my Dad completed the swimming leg of a team triathlon.

The local newspaper reported, "The male team of Jim McInturff, Wilbert Dawson and Stuart Towns, finished third in their division and probably took top honors as the oldest team in the race."

According to Dad, there was no "probably" about it. He says, "We were the oldest team by far -- 193 years combined."

So hat's off to both of my competitive parents who refuse to get old! (Hope I say the same for myself someday!)

oldest_team.jpg

The full story can be read at 24th Mightymite has first time winners from the Forrest City Times-Herald.

Alpha Testing at Its4Thai

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It's been a busy couple of days in the Its4Thai HQ. The pieces of our website are starting to fall into place, and on Wednesday we were actually able to upload some of our flash games to the Internet for the first time. I invited a few farang friends to come in over the last two days to be our "Alpha" testers and to tell us what they thought of our progress.

So today, I am breathing a sigh of relief, as the feedback we got from them was mostly positive. They pointed out a lot of little things that we overlooked in the interface that will help improve the games, but in general they really enjoyed learning Thai Language by using the games. They also had a lot of great ideas for future services, which I look forward to implementing someday.

its4k%20illustrations.jpgYesterday was also a big day for us for another reason, as our two Thai freelance graphic designers stopped by the office to show what they have been working on. I think they are doing an excellent job of illustrating some of the 1500 words that we have in the database. Having nice pictures in the games really adds a lot to the experience, I think. Along with the excellent sound files we have recorded, we are hopefully building a good learning experience for both visual and audio learners.

I've posted a few of the illustrations here, just to give everyone an idea of the look and feel we are going for. Like I said, I think they are pretty cool. But feel free to give your opinions in the comments! (You can click on the picture to see a bigger version.)

So that's where we stand now. I hope we can release some examples of our new approach to learning Thai Language to the public soon... stay tuned!

(And just as a reminder, if you haven't signed up for our email newsletter yet, you can do so at Its4Thai.com.)

Writing code, not prose

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I broke a personal record last month, not that I am proud of it -- but I wrote something on this website only ONE time during the entire month. But this was not an isolated event, my writing output has been steadily going downhill all year:

February: 11 posts. March: 10 posts. April: 7 posts. May: 3 posts. June: 1 post

See a pattern there?

But now that I think about it, I guess that my writing output hasn't really changed, but just the medium has changed. In the last three months, instead of writing stories about my life, I have written code. Lots and lots of code, at least for me. It comes out to about 2000 lines of code so far. And I am not even a programmer.

But if I am coding that much, that means we are making progress on our "Learn Thai Language" website. We are running a few beta tests this week, and really hope to be able to launch something by the end of this month. I can hardly wait.

punk_rock_ava.jpgI did get a chance to do some traveling over the past month, however. My annual faculty meeting in the US was held in Denver, so I made a quick one week trip a couple of weeks ago. It worked out great for me, as my sister and her family will be moving there soon, so they were all in town looking for a house to buy. And Mom and Dad couldn't be left out, so they joined us as well.

We did quite a bit in the few days we were together, including going to a Colorado Rockies baseball game and hiking a bit through the Rocky Mountain National Park. The Denver area is a beautiful place, and so I look forward to having more family reunions there soon.

And perhaps the best part was that I was able to spend some time with my 5 month old niece, Ava Marie. She is an adorable little roly-poly. And of course she is the cutest and smartest punk rocker on the planet! Hopefully the Thai Language lessons I gave her will stick.

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

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