I Love Chiang Rai, but...

As much as I love living in Chiang Rai it is not a bad idea to get out of town now and again.  It helps to remind one of the bigger world which exists outside the boundaries of our little paradise.  Our international travels have mostly been limited to yearly trips to Hawaii.  Traveling within Thailand sometimes takes the form of long road trips but more often than not comes in the form of a three hour drive to Chiang Mai to visit friends.

This last weekend we had friends from Hawaii staying in Bangkok, so we flew down to see them.  We hadn’t been to Bangkok for a couple of years due to turmoil in the part of town where we like to stay.  Even when flying to Hawaii we opted not to stopover in Bangkok to see friends on the last trip or two.  With the end of protests it is now fun to travel to Bangkok again.

Having lived in Bangkok for thirty years, before moving to Chiang Rai, I was astonished by the growth and change we encountered on this trip.  Despite my long history with Bangkok it no longer felt like home.  I am not complaining, much of the change was impressive, it just didn’t feel as familiar as before.

On our first night we had to search for our friends in a teeming mass of humanity at a festival in Lumpini Park.  Fortunately we were looking for someone who is very tall in a crowd of short people, other wise we never would have found them.  I am attracted to the beautiful hotels, restaurants and shopping malls in Bangkok so I found it interesting that people in Bangkok came out in what seemed like tens of thousands to enjoy an outdoor festival in the park.  Our friends really enjoyed themselves and we were very happy to be able to see them before they returned to Hawaii.

The people watching in the Central World, Paragon, Siam Discovery, Siam Center and Siam Square was fascinating.  Siam Square had been completely remodeled and was unrecognizable from the front.  People were generally much better dressed, better looking, more modern, younger and moving at a more energetic pace than one finds in Chiang Rai.  At sixty, I am no longer young but the mindset of many expats I have met here in Chiang Rai is incredibly old, conservative and intolerant so it was like a breath of fresh air to spend time with our more sophisticated Thai friends in Bangkok.

We still find that our best friends live in Bangkok and live such interesting and varied lives.  On popular Thailand forums, foreigners often complain about Thais, saying nasty things about them, but our friends are some of the kindest, most generous, most interesting and well mannered people you could ever hope to meet.  As hard a we tried, they simply refused to let us pay for anything.  Fortunately my wife had brought along some small gifts, as she always thinks of the important little things which I would overlook.

Life in Chiang Rai is beautiful, comfortable and one can enjoy more outdoor activities than one can in a big city like Bangkok.  Except for a couple of months when the burning of crops causes terrible pollution it is a healthier more relaxed lifestyle up here in the north.  Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to attract the kind of people I enjoy the most, at least not as year-round residents.  Fortunately we have friends who come visit us or spend part of the year in Chiang Rai and we can of course take short trips to see them when we feel the need.

During our three nights and four days we were able to catch up with only a few of our very best friends.  Great friends, unbelievable food, beautiful surroundings, stimulating conversation and lots of photos to post on FaceBook, all without the aid of alcohol.  It was a whirlwind of activity and dramatically different to our lives in Chiang Rai.  There are things I miss about Bangkok, and I loved every minute we spent there, but I have to say I am really glad to be home.

Here are a few photos borrowed from my wife's FaceBook page.

High-Tea at The St. Regis Bangkok.

Enjoying an exceptional view in Bangkok.
Bangkok friends.
Hawaii friends.
Late night street food.

Mango and sticky rice.
Good friend.

Great wife.





Another New Year, 2015…

I began this blog so many years ago, amid a time of change and uncertainty in my life.  I had spent thirty years in the heart of Bangkok.  Before that, I had grown up in the suburbs of university towns, in the desert and on an island.  Even though my parents roots had been somewhat rural, I had never really known rural life except for brief summer visits with grandparents on the dairy farm and other relatives in small rural towns.

In 2007 I suddenly found myself living in a Thai village, building a house and writing a blog, all things I had never previously contemplated.  It was a tumultuous time in my life but it was the good kind of turmoil.  We have these moments in our lives where things change inexorably, punctuating our story and separating what came before from what is about to happen.

This can come in the form of moving from one geographical location to another as when we moved as a family when I was three, again at thirteen and when I started my own journey at twenty three, moving to Thailand.  Now that I think of it, we met when I was forty three and my wife and I made our move to Chiang Rai after living together in Bangkok for ten years or at fifty three.  One begins to wonder if ten years in Chiang Rai or the age of sixty three will usher in another change or not.

The death of my paternal grandfather when I was ten, looking back, changed the structure of our entire extended family, though I had no way of knowing that at the time.  The things which punctuate most people’s lives, like career, marriage, children and divorce remained absent from my life, except for marriage, but as I have mentioned before that didn’t happen until I married at forty-five years of age.

Illnesses and health issues are often notable points on the path but other than a broken leg I have seldom crossed paths with doctors or hospitals, usually only while visiting others.  I have dealt almost exclusively with trusted pharmacists and bypassed the other players in the medical profession.

I suppose one reason I have a hard time writing now, is that my muse in the form of turmoil, change and uncertainty has been largely silent, except of course in that I have lost both my parents this year.  That I find, is largely an inner conversation which does not lend itself well to the written word, at least for me.

What was once a new path filled with uncertainty is now an inseparable part of who I am.  Long past is the time of questioning and wonder at where I found myself.  The house we built has become a home and has influenced so many aspects of our lives.  Not everything has worked out quite as we had imagined but I am quite content and have no regrets.  It is now hard for me to imagine a life elsewhere or what we would have done had we remained in Bangkok or perhaps chosen a different path.

Sure there is turmoil in the village which surrounds us but our home is like a fortress of peace and tranquility.  I continue my path of noninterference in the lives of others, while my wife fulfills social and cultural obligations.  I walk my dogs each evening around sunset, stopping to allow children and other dogs to come say hello to Cookie.  All our dogs are getting older but for now are still in good health.  Unfortunately our cat did pass away recently.

This is such an easy life we are living right now, it is tempting to just drift through life completely without direction.  I have no idea what this year holds but I have no plans to force things.  If something new presents itself, great, but if not I am quite content to enjoy these tranquil waters for a bit longer.

I wish you all good health and happiness in 2015.

A Day Trip to Hell Fire Pass and Museum for a Father and Son day

After breakfast Rich and Me started off on a Father, Son day and decided we'd go to Hell Fire Pass, for a walk along the old railroad bed and through the part cut through the solid rock cliff , the POW's used only picks and shovels to cut thru the rock , and buckets to carry the cut and broken rocks in to make the railroad bed. They worked around the clock and at night the cut thru the rocks looks like fire and erie , sooo the name Hellfire Pass , the men said it looked like a scene out of Hell.Many POW's and Asian labors died or were beaten to death by the Japanese soldiers , many also died of starvation and disease. When you walk through this place you can see and feel the horror of war and the cruelty one person can afflict on another person . Was quite a experience.The walk thru ,just about took it's toll on these old bones , soooo off to the Hot Springs we went.
















Off to The Hot Springs wit Rich (My Son )

The Hot Springs were just what we needed to rejuvenate our tired bodies and relax we did before our drive home 





BEST/TOP BUFFETS OF 2014

It is time once again to name this site's best and top buffets. The results this year will likely surprise many of our regular readers. The criteria for being a Best or Top Buffet are, as they have been, the buffet must give excellent value, it must serve quality food, the food must be prepared properly, consistently, the restaurant must be managed properly, and the service must be good to excellent. And all of this must be consistent - meal to meal, visit to visit.  Then it must be a buffet that comes to mind to go back to whenever possible. When the process gets narrowed down to a few choices, they get ordered in priority of the criteria - and what starts to be examined is how consistent were they. Consistency is an extremely important factor and in the end becomes the deciding factor. A few favorites every so often disappoint. Some never disappoint. Every restaurant considered for best or top buffet has been visited several times over the course of the year.

Kamala Beach Revisited

Just before New Year I had a free day and felt like checking out Kamala Beach. There have been a lot of changes to the beaches in the low season with the army helping to provide the muscle to clear all structures off the sand, and helping to enforce new regulations keeping beach chairs off the beaches. Some people think this is great, some want their beach chairs! Just this week there have been moves to allow chairs on some parts of some beaches, but .. are they really needed? I blogged a few months ago about these changes and visited Surin Beach, Layan Beach, and Laem Sing Beach. Kamala used to be a place we visited often as we had quite a few friends living there, but I think in the last 5 years we've only been a few times! Kamala always used to be quieter than the 3 main beaches (Patong, Karon, Kata), but I know there has been development and new hotels. The middle section of the beach always used to have a lot of small restaurants right on the sand. I was guessing these would be all gone. Wrong!

Kamala Beach 28th December 2014

So, as you can see from the photo above, there are still restaurants right by the beach. The change is that the restaurants now have no chairs/tables *on* the beach, which leaves the beach free for people to relax. Between the beach and the restaurants is a concrete path a couple of metres wide, and the path is mostly covered in sand, plus the floors of many of the restaurants are sandy. So .. you're pretty much right on the beach. Nice. I had parked at the police station which is closer to the south end of the beach than the north. There used to be a couple of restaurants there, but they had 100% gone. Walking north is a line of beachside restaurants for about 200 meters. The beach was pretty busy, there were a few chairs, quite a few beach umbrellas and a lot of people lying in the shade near the path under the trees.

Kamala Beach 28th December 2014

(above) Kamala beach on 28th December 2014

Kamala is quite a small beach and development is limited because at the south end you have Kamala temple and school plus the very south of the beach is very shallow and a little muddy. And the north end of the beach has no development since the land that fronts the beach is a Muslim cemetery. Walking north past the row of restaurants the narrow concrete path continues onwards, but there are no buildings. There are a few mobile stalls selling food and drinks and a few people have got chairs and tables on the beach there. Space is limited, and I saw people lying almost on the path!

Kamala Beach 28th December 2014

I mean, the beach is big enough, but people like to crowd the center. If you walk 100m you find some space! And yes sure it was a little crowded, between Christmas and New Year - absolute peak season. Aside from small restaurants there were also lots of stalls selling fruit shakes and juices. One of the lovely things about living in a tropical climate - no shortage of lovely fruit!

Kamala Beach 28th December 2014

(above) Fruit shakes for sale at Kamala Beach

I had been reading how all the little wooden / bamboo massage shacks had been removed from the beaches, all part of the clean-up. With the restaurants and bars having to move everything to the other side of the path - bingo! More space for massage ladies to move in. No fixed structures, just mats on the sand and I saw plenty of people having a massage. Easy to relax here at Kamala - eat by the beach, massage on the beach, beer by the beach ...

Kamala Beach 28th December 2014

(above) Massage at Kamala Beach

After a little walk up and down the beach on a hot afternoon, I think you'll agree nothing hits the spot like a cold beer. So I stopped at "Bob's Bar" for a Chang. Having a place to eat or drink right by the beach is great. I'm happy to see natural looking beaches, but the authorities may have been a little over zealous in some places. Tourists like to sit on the beach, but do need shade and do need food and drinks. Kamala looks like it's got the balance right at the moment.

Kamala Beach 28th December 2014

(above) Kamala beach - Bob's bar is there behind the green umbrellas. I could have very happily sat there and had a few beers, but I did have to drive home! So one cold Chang went down the hatch in about 3 minutes. I was happy to see Kamala prospering. My main memory of Kamala is being there on December 25th 2004 with my wife 9 months pregnant, a little daughter, everyone playing on the beach. And next day was the tsunami. So this was another reason for visit Kamala on December 28th 2014, 10 years (and 2 days) after that day. Good to see Kamala looking busy and the beach looking very well cared for.

Kamala Beach Information and Links

Phuket Blog page about Kamala 2009
Kamala Beach Hotels (at Agoda.com)

Nearby Places

Surin Beach
Laem Sing Beach
Phuket Fantasea

Traveling the Famous River Kwai

RIVER TRAVELS AND SIGHTSEEING

WHAT A WAY TO TRAVEL, AND WHEN IT'S PARTY TIME
THREE STATE ROOMS ON EACH SIDE
GREAT FOR A GROUP OF FRIENDS WHO WANT TO TRAVEL AND SLEEP AND ENJOY THE RIVER IN LUXURY AND STYLE


EVEN A SMALL LONG TAIL FOR EXPLORING THE SIGHTS



THE FAMOUS RIVER KWAI FROM THE VIADUCT IN WHANG PHO

A NICE LITTLE RESORT ,RIGHT ON THE RIVER


THESE RIVER ROOMS ARE NICE WE STAYED FOR A COUPLE OF DAYS IN THE END ONE ,AND I FISHED AND SWAM

ANOTHER VIEW OF THE RIVER RAFT ROOMS

LOTS OF PLACES TO CHOOSE FROM CLOSE TO PEOPLE,OR, IN THE WILDERNESS ALL ALONE.
LONG TAIL BOAT IN KANCHANABURI , FOR A HOUR OR TWO RIDE ON THE RIVER



THE HAPPY BOAT, NOT ON THE RIVER , BUT NICE ROOM AND THE RIVER AND ADVENTURES ARE ONLY A SHORT WALK


FOR A TOUR GROUP OR FAMILY TO TAKE A AFTERNOON TRIP UP THE RIVER


WE'LL STOP ANYWHERE YOU WANT

RIVER TRIP AND LUNCH OR DINNER ,IT DON'T GET ANY BETTER
Well, just as I said"a blast from the past". I am always giving reasons why I love it here in the LOS, and being able to get out and enjoy Thailand and nature and all the beauty that is soooo close by is just another one .

Ever since the beginning of time man has looked for ways to enjoy nature up close and personal, well, here in Thailand and especially here on the Famous River Kwai , there are sooooo many ways you can travel up and down the river anywhere from a hour or two ,to a week long vacation on a real Thai river boat ,complete with all the conveniences of home , while all the time being as close to nature and the outdoors as you can get ,most trips on the river, include,or for a little extra baht, rafting ,swimming,fishing , a elephant ride and even a chance to swim with the elephants ,if you are a really brave soul.
There are lots of different ways to enjoy the sights in Thailand , and I hope you get out of BKK and your hotel room and the comfort of a FIVE STAR HOTEL or Resort and Spa in the middle of town, and that you take a day or two and get up close and personal with this wonderful place we call, The Land of Smiles and Gentle People ,Thailand and what better way to do just that than to get on the river, Mark Twain once said that there was no better way to see the world than on a river boat , and after living here in Whang Pho on the banks of the Famous River Kwai ,I am inclined to agree with him. Have you ever took a boat ride down a river near you ,or spent the night in a floating raft hotel room?, and if so , did you enjoy it? and did you like me day dream of owning a house boat and living at least part time on the river ? I have a few pictures of various ways to travel and vacation on the river , Hope you enjoy,almost all the pictures were shot from the bridge at our village . Malcolm
A couple of the pictures taken in the next village  on the river 

Another Golden Corral

I am pushing this article ahead of some important other articles to follow the Golden Corral article which has been running here over the past two weeks. Since our visit to the Freehold, New Jersey Golden Corral we went to another Golden Corral - one that we have been to before. We took a day trip to Bethlehem, PA for the Christmas events that take place there in the weeks before Christmas and for dinner we decided to drive up to Whitehall, PA to the Golden Corral - one that I have written about here before. We went on a Saturday night two weekends before Christmas. This Golden Corral is in the back of a shopping center and the shopping center was very, very crowded. We arrived at the Golden Corral at about 6:30 pm.