Monday, 29 June 2009
We took the over night bus on Friday evening from Pattaya to Khon Kaen. It was a real VIP bus, complete with luxury wide ‘business class’ seats with massage switch. Dinner was simple just a sandwich and fruit juice. Departed 9.30 pm and arrived fresh and rearing to go at 06.00am in Khon Kaen. All for Baht 420. Fantastic value.
Met on arrival by Sai, one of Wanna’s cousins. We had on one of our earlier trips last month to Chantaburi bought about 20 small trees, or saplings, mainly fruit and some Thai peppers. They got packed and came up on the bus with us. We had planned to plant them on the farm. They traveled without any damage and on arrival in KK were promptly put in the back of the pickup along with yours truly.
Got home to the farm and had a walk round the place. Felt really good to be back. The bread fruit tree had got two fruits on it. We had planted 5 trees and the other 4 had dies so to be getting fruit as well and just surviving was a big deal. We then fed the fish and decided it was time for breakfast.
Off up to the village and bought some rice, chicken stew and assortment of kebabs.
Took them round to Wanna’s parents and tucked in. While there we watched the new puppy getting a bath! Sort of side show while eating….
One of the things I had been planning on doing this time up was visit the Governments Bee Keeping Extension Programme. It serves the whole of North East Thailand and amazingly, or fortunately it is situated only about 5 kilometers from our house.
Really great little set up in such a tranquil location, where you can have a good look round and get advice, very helpful couple of guys there, and also you can go on a bee keeping courses. All courses in Thai of course… Wanna booked herself in for January 2010. The bees up here are quite docile and very unlike any I’ve kept before. If anything, they are a bit smaller and as I say harmless. One very interesting set of hives had ‘miniature’ bees. They were about the size of a match head. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before.
I rushed round to get a few photos etc. And sure enough there was more. They also running an insect breading programme. So we had a chance to look into this as well. Seems a straight forward thing to do, and might work well on our Farm. We had had a couple of tries several years ago and ended up with some excellent grass hopper curry. Really good.
Basically you get the insect eggs and put tem in a storage area in this case round concrete sections, and add food and a few egg boxes Yes Egg boxes as something to ‘play’ on. Leave them for however long than harvest them. Straight forward and lots of protein.
While there we saw a 2 meter long snake which crossed our path and disappeared in the bush. I ran after it, and they can move fast! Could not get a photo as it kept hiding in the bushes or the longer grass. But not to worry I was told it was good luck to have seen one so close like that. Sure?.. Really?.. OK if you say so.
Following on from the Bee Keeping we went on to the local petrol station as this the place to buy fish and prawns. I know strange but apparently the chap has been selling here since the place opened years ago. We have last year bough about 300 fry to stock our pond. Now we’ve got 2-3 kilo Cat fish swimming around so it was a good investment. 300 fry cost 100 Baht. That’s USD 2.5. Ridiculous really.
Earlier in the morning we had been to see Steve, a chap in the village who breeds fish. He has some floating nets and we wanted to buy one and see how it would work for breading prawns in our pond. Well we bought one frame and netting and needed now to get some fry.
Hence ending up at the fish shop. Well of course, you guessed, he did not stock the small prawns. Need to go into town for that and Khon Kaen is about 10n kilometers away and necessitated wearing a helmet on the bike. Here in the sticks it’s OK but there in KK, lot of Police and all waiting for ‘Khun’ Alan to turn up and pay a fine. No way. So the prawn farming experiment will have to wait till next trip. We did buy some fully grown ones, about 2 kilos. The ones that survived the trip back to the farm we put in the pond and others put straight on the Bar B Q. No wastage there….
(As an after note we saw one dead prawn in the pond this morning).
As if that was not enough we rounded the afternoon off with some Som Tam and cold beer.
Sunday saw us plant the 20 trees we had brought up with us. Also bough along hose pipe so that they can get watered properly every day. Wanna’s Sister ‘Mem’ has this job and looks after the place in our absence. Works well.
We again tried to sit for a while but t here always seemed to be something to do.
The garden was alive wiht Butterflys. Big ones at that. I tried to film one as you can see but the effect is not so good. There must be some special way to catch these beautiful creatures on film.
So I rang Steve to enquire where does one buy an ATV in KK. “You don’t need an ATV, I’ve got an old motor bike I’ll sell you. Will do all you require up here”. Sure enough, quick inspection and done deal.
I’m exhausted just writing this and realize yet again what we had planned for, was a quiet weekend, but was again just go go go. All good fun.
Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Monday, 22 June 2009
We spend Sunday on a fabulous trip to Katchanaburi which is situated about 90 minutes west of Bangkok. Martin, Kevin, Wanna and I had decided to have a day trip of visit the famous Bridge over the River Kwai and Hells pass.
My Dad has a friend who was a POW on the bridge. He is one of the fortunate ones to come out alive, Syd Aylott, is his name and he’s still alive a kicking, in Thetford, UK. When I was young he taught me all I know about car mechanics, and was the one to buy me my first beer. I mention this not because of the trip, but as a realization after the trip to know and only partly understand what he must have gone through. Syd never mentioned it except to say he was off again each year to the memorial dinner in London. I never gave it much thought then, but now I can only begin to understand what he went through.
I am not writing this as a miserable monolog on POWS and their keepers but to let you know whilst we had a fabulous day out and I mean tremendous fun, there was a great and very sad historic reason, in the first instance that even gave us a thought that we would go to the river Kwai. If not for this history why bother? For its sustained infamacy we need in no small part to thank the makers of the old Movie “Bridge over the River Kwai”. I’m sure that are other places with a bad if not worse history of human atrocities which have just not been immortalized as this.
Anyway enough of the emotional stuff, on with the story.
We set off in high spirits leaving Bangkok west on route 4. Our driver was pepped up on a couple ‘Red Bulls’ a local ‘health’ drink. Fortunately he did not wash it done with Vodka or similar. Mind you, I’m sure he was trying to impress to us that he could give Lewis Hamilton a run for his money. And I would have taken odds either way. Add in the bonus we did not sleep on the way, to busy watching the road!!!! Missed most of the scenery.
Katchanaburi, which appeared very shortly after leaving Bangkok,… (Lewis did well…) is a small country town. As you leave the flat flood plains around Bangkok and head west you come up against a mountain range which forms the boarder between Thailand and Burma. Its all still jungle and agriculture, so 50 years ago there were no dual carriageways, no 7/11s just lots of mosquitoes, and I suspect it was sparsely populated. Now a thriving little town.
Our plan was to view the Cemetery, Bridge on the River Kwai and Hells Pass, in that order. Entering Katchanaburi we passed almost immediately along side the cemetery and made our first stop. Stretch the legs, Stop the knee trembling from bracing myself in the car the whole way… Relief. I’m beginning to thing Lewis really does have competition…..
The Cemetery, accessed through a stone arched entranceway is a beautiful place, serene and well cared for. It’s adjacent to the main road but as you enter, all road traffic sounds seem to fade away. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission looks after it and clearly does a good job. The visitors along with us are from all countries, and while there I noted many Europeans and Asians including Japanese.
One of the most notable things about walking through and along the rows of head stones is the age of most of the dead. Reading the head stones they were all such young men. Anywhere between 20-30 years old. Not sure how I would have coped when I was 20 years old, being stuck in a jungle, building a railway. I’m pretty certain I would not have chosen Engineering as a profession afterwards…
“Alan you’ve got to lighten up here…..you’re writing a Blog not an epitaph”…
We past over the adjacent museum, as we had heard it was not really worth the time, but instead should head for the Bridge and Hells Pass.
Next stop ‘The Bridge’. It’s a small bridge by most standards spanning about 100 meters of river. Originally it was a timber bridge and then rebuild with circular steel trusses. Two or three of the original circular steel ones had been blown up by the Allies during the war. Hence the newer lattice girder sections as more recent additions having been installed by the Japanese after the war. It was a busy stop over with all of Katchanaburi hawkers out in full force, offering us the ‘worlds best’ deals on guide books and hats and souvenirs. Taking no for an answer was also something they were not used to. First thing to do, having forced ourselves through the armies of hawkers was to get the photo. Yes, us in front of the bridge. Second thing was to fight back through the hawkers to reach the bridge. Exhausted already.
The bridge was packed with tourists. I assume they had fought their way through the hawkers to get here as well. There is main rail line on which runs the daily train, so on the bridge there were side areas to stand aside as it passes. Not the most comforting of feelings if you are at all nervous of heights and are one of those people who require 100% safety on everything. No worries there for us, we had left the 100% safety ‘Mantra’ back at work, a slight lowering of standards would be acceptable in this case, so we all set off. About 20meters along the bridge, the hoard of people disappeared, from what can only be described as having been full crowded to empty. Seems everyone was happy just standing on the bridge to say they had ‘done’ the bridge. We, having come all this way were not going to be so easily defeated. On we went, with open rail track to the end. And we were rewarded.
At the end was an old chap playing the Violin. Clever move on his part. As we approached he played ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’, ‘When the Saints go Marching in’, and The theme to ‘The Bridge over River Kwai’.
Of course he got a good tip from us. He would have made a small fortune if the other 10,000 or so visitors had bothers to come across, as it was, he only got us….. Might just have made enough for his dinner.
This excursion was followed by some cold coconut juice and then a Brunch.
SomTam and various Thai snacks were ordered and within a few minutes the exhaustion had fallen away and the tummies full. Ready for the next step. Hells pass. Well almost.
I did not mention that Katchanaburi is also very famous for sapphires. Place is full of them, and of course retail outlets…
Never one to give up a good opportunity I left ‘her in doors’, Wanna to go shopping. I did manage to take a quick snap of Martin, giving expert advice on which items, not item, to purchase…. And the advice was followed. Wanna got a couple of beautiful items.
But before we move on. A short toilet break Difficult to miss the place given the number and size of the signage! It’s 5 Baht to use the ‘public’ bog. Might add that you are expected to remove your shoes before you enter! Imagine that back in UK in a public toilet. You’d more like expect to be given a pair of wellies and find your shoes missing when you got back. Best I’ve seen in Thailand so far.
Next stop Hell’s Pass. Need to struggle through those Hawkers one last time.
Now where exactly is it? Hells Pass is about 55 kilometers north of Katchanaburi. Not far in a car, but going back to thinking about the POW’s. It would have been one hell of a walk. (Excuse the pun, not intended). Although I doubt such walking was done with the jungle being so dense, each group of POW’s would be positioned in one place until the rails were completed.
Hells Pass is not so easy to find. We drove past the entrance to the place and carried on for about 50 kilometers. Quick U turn and we found it. The sign’s clear enough. For most people looking for it, probably clearer that the toilet signs we left behind near the bridge…. Just us being a bit stupid…Or Lewis going so fast…..
The Australian Government had funded a good modern museum with audio visual etc. Well laid out and with free entrance. We spent a bit of time in there and then off to see the Hells Pass. A real feat of engineering, more so given the fact it was all done by hand and no machinery. Blast holes were made by hand using a hammer and drill rod. All excavation by hand and cane baskets. What made it all more impressive was the solitude and it let you imagine what it must have been like for all those poor Bastards working under the Japanese. There did seem to be minimal commnuication with the outside world by using a small home made radio.
Enough of the walking. We needed a cold beer after being just an hour down there. Not to worry. as I know our Driver is still trying to impress, and we’ll be back in Bangkok for a cold one in no time….In fact possibly quicker that I can say Lewis Hamilton! Well not quite but good enough. And we were.
What a great but humbling day. Thanks to Martin, Kevin and Wanna.
Wednesday, 17 June 2009
I was about to delete the photos etc on my hard drive once I had them safely uploaded. But then I found this short sequences of clips, which I had forgotten about. It's of a chap on the ferry who could do the Rubic Cube. Took him a few minutes only. On completion he had to rush off, as he was one of the deck hands and we were coming into Koh Chang. Amazing and it all happened so fast.
I have not added any music but you can watch the way he gets it done without any effort. I've tried for several hours. Finished it once. But that was by taking it apart and rebuilding it. Can any of you do it?
Tuesday, 16 June 2009
So here we go with Part 2.....
Returning from Koh Chang was not just a simple ferry trip, stops at restaurants and then slog it on home. No, far from it. We did indeed take the ferry and had a great lunch as I outlined earlier. What I left out were the additional stops for the trees, yes we bought trees and also went for a walk in the mountains including taking a swim in the the pools below some beautiful water falls.
The plan to purchase trees had been forming for months, ever since we completed out house in Khon Kaen. This trip to Koh Chang seemed to be ideal timing for such purchases. So where to go and how to buy. We started off with a simple purchase of some Durian fruit from a road side seller. We had see so many fruits for sale along the way and had put off buying Durina as we considered it would made the car stink. If you know Durian you know what I mean and if you don't know it trust me it has the most amazing smell which lingers forever.
The seller told us there was a very good road side seller about 3 kilomters on from her shack. Of er went. Found it and proceeded ot buy trees. They all got deposited in the boot of Clements new car. Had to wrap them up with plastic to avoid loaded of dirt flying about. We bough 20 trees, Durian , Rambutan, Thai Pepper and some I cannot name....
The nature trails take you up the mountain passed several waterfalls. Really beautiful and tranquil. You can read all about it on the Thai link. http://www.trekthailand.net/central4/index.html
We, Clement, Oyi, Wanna and I had planned for a weekend on Koh Chang. It’s the second largest island in Thailand and over the past 5-6 years has all been geared up for tourism. We left Pattaya mid Saturday morning and headed out south east down route 36 onto route 3. The distance one way for us to Koh Chang was about 200 kilometers maximum. All down dual carriageways. In fact roads in Thailand are generally of a good quality. We went in Clements new car.
Our plan included stopping along the way and taking in some of the sights and of course making sure we stopped at any good restaurants. So successful was the plan that it did not leave much time for Koh Chang! We got to the ferry about 6.00pm…
First stop from Pattaya was for fuel. It being the middle of the Durian and Rambutan season the place was jut full of trucks selling fruit. Some were wholesaler selling 50 Kg upwards and they would not sell us just a few kilos. With the retailers we did buy some really fresh sweet fruits and enjoyed each and very one of them. Good start to the trip. We took a few photos and it was amazing to see the organized chaos going on around us. And sitting in the middle of it all was a petrol pump attendant (yes they still have them here!!), he we sitting under the main pump canvas eating his lunch. Seemed without a worry in the world, oblivious to all the goings on around him…. Way to go.
We stopped for some beers and snacks before getting to the ferry terminal. Everyone else could have a beer except me as I was driving. Good Boy! The shop was on a back country lane and even the cat was laid back.
On to the terminal and with tickets purchased waiting for the ferry. Everyone (except me of course!!) enjoying the cold beer.
Good trip over with some rolling and the wind have been blowing for some time generating a slight swell. Landing brought back memories of our last visit which must have been about 3 years ago when Dad and Gulshen were over. Part of the reason for this visit was to look at and follow up on developments for the land he had purchased back then. Well it had changed and some builds were no longer shells but really smart houses. So that’s provided some food for thought. What do we do with ours? Develop it or wait another 3 years for a buyer. We’ll have to make a decision on this sooner rather than later.
On up and over the hills to the east coast and down to the southern end to Ban Bao. Ban Bao is a small fishing community which has many of the houses sitting over the water. I say fishing village. Since Koh Chang opened up its doors to tourism it to has developed to meet demand. Gone are the pretty little huts to be replaced by shops containing every possible souvenir you could possibly want, add in a few dive shop and coffee huts and you have everything you need. Well maybe.
In between all these shops the Ban Bao locals seem to also carry on their normal life with people constantly eating and sitting around watching the world go by.
We found a small hotel on the main road at White Sands Beach, which is the main strip for all the tourist hotels and bars restaurants etc. Only Baht 500 for a clear room with A/C and on suite plus fridge, TV and towels. Not a bad deal at all. Once booked in we set off to find a restaurant. Again few tourists so there was a very strange almost quiet feel to the place. Really needed more people to give some atmosphere and get a sense of liveliness. Obviously not to be.
Still it did mean the restaurants were keen to have our business and we chose a good Thai/Issan place for some hot SomTam (Pappaya salad) and Tom Yum Soup and various assorted dished the names of which I cannot remember. All very very delicious. (Reminds me I need to ask Wanna to write the name of these down for me, about time I learnt). Getting lazy.
Sunday morning and out for an early morning swim. Was woken up at 7.30am. Supposed be on holiday… Anyway across the road to the beach. All of 10 meters. Exercise in deed!! Low tide and the sea way to rough and it was windy. So cancel the swim and have a coffee. Back to hotel, checked out and set off for the main land. We had decided over our coffee to take off without taking in much more of the island. Seemed ad good opportunity to drive back at a slow pace, stopping as planned at sites and restaurants.
We passed back up over the hill. Oyi was a bit worried about the steep inclines but after a few corners managed to keep quiet!!! Surprise as we passed over the top, we were in luck. The ferry was waiting down on the quay side. Some quay looked more like some old piles of rust held together by rubber fenders.
Back to Pattaya. First stop for a meal and we wanted to buy some tees, yes trees for our home up in Khon Kaen. And this area around Koh Chang and Trat is one of the best areas in Thailand for fruit growing. So it also makes it one of the best places to get small trees. Subject of another Blog otherwise I'll never finish this one...
Lunch was not as quick and easy as we had anticipated. We though as usual there would be restaurants every 100 meters along the way. Not so. We eventually stopped at a place, one of the few open, which looked most uninviting. That is until we went in. The ladies were lovely and cheerful making us feel instantly at home. This place, on idea of the name was situated just outside a town called Chanthaburi. It served ‘Chan’ food. Interesting stuff it was to. Cold noodles with chicken feet in a sort of clear sauce. I missed out on that, I just don’t do chicken feet. We then had some hot pots of beef and port.
Fabulous and special salted boiled rice. Had a completely different taste. All was served on earthen ware pottery adding to the ambiance. Add in the usual ‘somtam’ and we had a really delicious meal. All well fed and relaxed.
Great weekend. And as I said at the beginning: "It's the Journey not the Destination".
Monday, 8 June 2009
The journey was over night from Pattaya by overnight Bus to Khon Kaen and then on to Ban Muang in our Pick up. Wanna had been up there already for a couple of weeks and I joined her, accompanied by Kevin, Clement and Oi.
What an action packed weekend it turned out to be as well. Arriving in Khon Kaen at 07.30 am Saturday morning we headed straight for a coffee and breakfast. But ended up eating Som Tam and Sticky Rice… Good start.
Proceeded along to Ban Muang which is about 15 kilometers west of KK. We passed through Ban Tum a small village where we turn off the main road to Ban Muang. Its only about 3 kilometers from home. We stopped off to buy some stuff for the house and of course some cold beer. Yes I know it’s only 8.30 am and a beer…. We're on holiday who cares. It was long and cold and went down every well.
At Ban Tum we also managed to take in a practice ‘Cock’ fight. I say practice as the birds had their beaks tied up and the claws well covered. It certainly made for an interesting start to the day. Unusual sort of entertainment after living the night life of Pattatya. Although I am told on good authority that it is possible to go and watch one in Pattaya if you want to and know who to ask.
All Clement wanted to do was gamble on them. It must be the Chinese in him!! However you look at it, it is a cruel sport.
Well on to the house. Showed everyone the farm and relaxed for a while.
With no sleeping being the rule of the tour, what next ?....
Off to a few friends and then popped into Wanna’s Sister ‘Phu’ for a quick hello and another cold beer. Well, how many beers is that?... Lot count already. We sat down and no sooner had we got comfortable than lunch arrived. Another one of the family, Yar, her brother had the day before killed a cow and already the meat was cut up and shared round the family members. He had delivered some to Phu. We were treated to some Goi Nua (chopped up raw beef still fresh and the blood had not congealed. Served with mint and other spices!), delicious. Add a chicken stew and some sticky rice to the meal. We were full within minutes.
Later, keeping the rule of 'no sleeping on tour' and after a quick tour round the village we found ourselves back home and Wanna’s Dad had arrived in our absence. He decided he needed to make sure we had some fish to eat from our pond. How to catch? No rod and reel for him. He got out his net and jumped in the pond. He used a couple of old plastic bottles, the 5 litre type all joined together as floats for himself, so he did not have to constantly swim. (The ponds about 3 meters deep). First attempt at netting produced one fish. Second time two more. Sufficient to feed all of us for an evening Bar B Q.
What followed next…. The village were having a parade as it was the period of the full moon and the time just before the rice planting season. Everyone was out and about. And in keeping with the rule 'no sleeping on tour' we were off again.
Never seen so many people in the place. I guess at least 5-6,000 people. All enjoying themselves so much. It was an amazing atmosphere just standing there watching and feeling the whole show. And show it was with floats, music, dancing and of course food and drink. The pickup trucks were all loaded to the top of the suspension with heavy duty amplifiers and loud speakers and had to carry their over small petrol generators for power. Issan music could probably be hear all the way in Bangkok!!! Deafening and just great.
We even ended up at one stage, bump starting one of the trucks, all part of the fun.Needed a rest. This is all in one day. Back to the house. No rest... Follow the rules.
Bar B Q was started and everyone got busy preparing food. Wanna prepared the fish. Interesting the preparation of the fish is simple. The fish is basically just washed, salted and placed directly on the Bar B Q. No scaling and only internal cleaning. The logic being that the skin if kept on, stops the fish from going dry over the charcoal. Then, when served the skin is easily removed. It tasted delicious. We also had fresh pork chops and salads etc. Yummy. Now needed a real rest. No to be. Again follow the rules....
How can you sit around when there is a full scale party with live music going on!!! Too true…
Now its 3.00am Sunday Morning. Been a long long day... Wanna, Kevin and I had a small night cap and off to bed…..no sure who will snore the loudest but it doesn’t really matter as we will never wake up to hear each other. But 3.00am is time to break the rules. Sleep, big time.
Kevin off to bed.
(Kevin thanks for some fantastic photos!!!!)