Thursday, January 31, 2013

Eating in Khao Yai - Krua Khao Yai

Aftermath of Lunch
Before arriving at the resort in our Khao Yai trip, we had our late lunch at the very famous Krua Khao Yai (loosely translated meaning Kitchen of Khao Yai) on Thanarat Road. This place is so popular that when we arrived, it was like an army had just had its last meal before the great battle ahead. Heaps of plates piled and leftovers on all tables, the restaurant staffs took their 30 minutes break while we sat on waiting and viewing the unappealing rubble on our table. Eventually we got to order that so famous smoked ham and ribs the place is known for, accompanied by other side dishes that were local delicacies. My ratings for the food was however a medium one, maybe my expectations were set too high. The conclusion was that, Krua Khao Yai is just one of those places "to-be-at" if one visits Khao Yai.

Local Delicacies
Famous For These
From the Outside

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Khao Yai, Cowboy Country

A typical Resort in Khao Yai
The only "cowboy" impression I got from Khao Yai was actually the girls who worked at Chok Chai farm. Until today, their tight protruding buns wrapped in shape hugging outfits remains within the static memory of my brain circuits. They have the perfect ass, denoted by the ability to place a coffee mug steady on their ass if they just bent down forward a little. Khao Yai is a popular destination in the winter months between late November to early January each year. In this highland just 2 hours driver north of Bangkok, large pastures of grasslands hidden between peaks of mountains are dotted with numerous resorts ranging from the simple the ultimate luxurious. We come here chasing winter as well. Resorts are nested within the area left of Mittraphap Road in Pak Chong as well as on the right, deep into the heartlands of Khao Yai. Theme parks a plenty, the notorious Palio known as Italy of Thailand just to name one. Horse riding, milking cows are some of the activities one could do in some of the attractions there. And of course there will be the ever popular sheep petting farms so many sprouting up in Thailand why I no understanding. For the more exciting, there are go-kart centers for one to skid around the course. Venturing deeper into the ranges, you could try engaging wild road crossing aggressive elephants which are known to perform free tensile strength testing of cars.

Palio, so Crowded
So there I was a week ago joining my girlfriend on her company trip. A resort we stayed, very pleasant indeed her name Hommuenlee. Before heading to the resort, we detoured over to Palio. It is located on Thanarat Road. On the complex junction along Mittraphap Road, turn out where the sign says Khao Yai and drive deep passing several resorts and restaurants. You won't miss it as the view of tour buses and slow traffic turning into the compound comes into view. 20 Baht for parking there and on a weekend, looking for a place to park on the vast gravel pit presented some waiting time. It was crowded, very crowded. I never knew Italy had such a huge Asian population. Many shops within, but most were left alone as people were only interested in taking pictures. Only places making business are the small food outlets and a number of coffee places offering limited seating. There's an MK restaurant there, but who in the right mind will go Khao Yai to eat MK? The place was like an overcrowded zoo except that the animals were not in cages, the animals were us humans. We were all over the place, holding the lamppost posing, climbing halfway up steps posing. Something like a scene from Rise of the Planet of the Apes plus lots of cameras. If you can, go on a weekday I would say.

Country Roads
On the next day after checking out the resort, we explored a little. Travelling back to where Palio was, the road lead deep into the mountains and will exit again on Mittraphap Road near Muak Leak towards the direction of Bangkok. Along the country roads, there were developments of all sorts. Condominiums offering that perfect weekend getaway against a backdrop of mountains. Could be a good stay during the cooler months and only those months. Sadly, urbanization had turned parts of the vicinity into dry and arid lands where some wind will blow up a dust storm. The air quality in that area is made worst by the nearby cement mills at Kaeng Khoil. The mountain backdrops were large facade of barren rocks. Amidst pastures of dotty scorched grasslands and occasional tall faraway trees, the white fences meandering alongside the road was however a pleasant sight. It was like we were transported into the country sides of another realm, some storybook pages of distance tales. There were eyesores along the way where large signboards in English told of land on sales, targeting we know who, the money laden farangs of the west.

Why? Why... ??
The Bloom Khao Yai, what is the purpose of this place? A large garden featuring a figurine of Snow White and the seven dwarfs, avenues of flowers and a small maze that if you want to abandon your old grandmother, you leave her there. She will succumb to dehydration in just an hour. It was hot, there were no shades. Yet another park put together by some business mind set to capitalize on the tourist who are already made spoilt for choice by the so many other "what is the purpose of this place" places. Nevertheless, since there is nothing much to do about, we ventured in like bees attracted to the lone gleaming flower in the middle of nowhere along with many others. Flowers of all colors and myriad varieties offered more picture posing opportunities. I think Zeus dropped his huge expensive orange Hermes handbag there after he concluded it looked gay on him. People crowd around this monument for pictures. I did mentioned obsession with sheep in the earlier part of this post and other blog entries, so naturally, here in The Bloom, there is a herd of sheep cordoned off in one area. Buy some grassy plants and we could go in to pet the black sheep. Take more pictures.

Khao Yai Winery
Wineries, there are some. This only meant more picture taking sessions. Khao Yai Winery, that's where we were. Part of the powerful Singha conglomerate whose beer already flowed through the bloodstreams of many here in Thailand (I prefer Leo). I was not there for the wine, but to quench my thirst down with their grape juice. At 180 Baht per large bottle, we gulp down the essence of Shiraz in a wooden setting noisy with foreign crowds lunching their steak and pizza baked from a brick oven. Beyond the shades, the rows of vineyards lined neatly in rows, at a distance the mountains in white haze.

Cold to very Hot
Khao Yai in winter months, a place for relaxation. Choose a nice private resort that offers amenities where possible. In the night the temperatures was a chilly 18 dropping to 14 in the morning when I went. Some whisky to bring warmth chatting among old friends would be ideal. In the day temperatures soared fast to over 30 but remains cool in the shades, an outdoor pool should pull you nicely through daytime. Sipping beer and reading a book soaking in the chlorinated waters would be a great past time if one do not want to venture around building one's modeling career posing with every lamppost and post office boxes. I still prefer the southern seas, or the real far north in winter where nature aplenty, not the man made gardens and the picture posing farms of Khao Yai. And with this trip I close my winter chapter, the short months of cool weather will be over. The searing summer is on her way, Thailand back to her sizzling tropical days.

Turning off to Khao Yai from Mittraphap 
The route to Muak Lek
Italy of Thailand, Palio
Sheep Obsession
Some Nonsense for Picture Taking, The Bloom
The Bloom
Khao Yai Winery
Smoke House
Country Roads

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Buying a Notebook in Thailand

There's always a Catch to Good Deals

Is this a scam? Depends on how you take it. Depends on your mood and your bias towards things in Thailand.

I was at IT City. I was looking for a notebook with very specific specifications for my work. 1600 x 900 resolution at 14", i5 and above, must be Windows 7 (now all of them are coming with Windows 8), memory and hard disk I have no concern of as I can upgrade them myself. I learned it's very rare to find 14" notebooks with that high a resolution, people here don't do much serious graphical work that needed portability. Anyways, there I was, speaking to a salesman who sold me a "clearance" stock notebook that's still on Windows 7. The newer Windows 8 model cost 36,000 Baht. Mine cost 28,000 Baht. Grab. Paid in full, to collect my notebook the next day.

When I collected the notebook, the special VGA cable that was promised to me, not included (my notebook comes with a special VGA connector that needed an external converter to get it onto DB15 VGA). I had to order that myself in a last minute dash to another store before it closed for the night. And so I brought my notebook home to discover only late in the night that there was a dent. The box looked suspiciously old, and the notebook did not have all the protective lamination attached. In Thailand, all goods are entitled one-to-one exchange within 7 days of purchase. So off I went to IT City the next day.

"But i told you this is clearance stock" the salesman said.

There is a difference between selling me a clearance stock and stock which had been damaged, a display set, a used set or whatever I countered. I demanded an exchange.

"We have no more this model, you have to get the Windows 8 one, top up 8,000 Baht extra". That's when I blew my top at the shop.

He went to look for his manager. I mellowed down. He returned to tell me he would offer a full refund. I told him it's simple to resolve the issue, IT City takes the notebook in and send it for repairs, change the dented keyboard, win-win situation. No, IT City does not send notebooks for repairs he highlighted, I have to do it myself. And so off to the service center I went.

"Warranty does not cover physical damage" the service center said, and then added "It will be chargeable". I told them my situation, I told them my whole ordeal. People are nice if your are nice to people to begin with. They brought me to a corner and whispered to me to declare the keyboard as faulty, they will replace it. Wow, karma, I must believe in it. I once helped a customer worked things out by maneuvering the grey areas in my course of work, now someone is helping me.

As notorious complaining Singaporeans, we would treat the whole situation at IT City as a big below the belt scam and the set the place alight in our fireball of loud complains. I tend not to now. Instead, I blame myself for being careless in this whole episode and being a cheapskate buying clearance stock. The outcome turned out good at the end. Me here, blogging on my new notebook.

And here's a previous entry about my trip to the service center, where I encountered someone that was really pissed with the brand of product which I bought.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Quality of Electronic Goods in Thailand

Measuring a Brand's Quality

Just part of the Queue
I was at a service center sending in my notebook for repairs, reasons for which I will elaborate later in another entry. A very pissed customer was on location and his speaking to himself but needed everyone else to hear performance caused quite a situation there. Already many were tired, growing impatient for the 40 or so queue, we did not need him to add fuel to the already burning fire. He went on and on, spoken aloud that he had sent his phone in since 2 weeks ago, and no one from the service center had givenhim a follow up call. He had to call in day to day lately, just so to check the status of repairs by himself. There was one good point he brought out during his self instigated broadcast of many topics. Before buying something, the way to measure the reliability of a brand is to pay their service center a visit. If you see crowd day to day, it indicates that QC is questionable. There are some truth in this marvelous claim. Products used to be made in reliable USA, Japan or Korea but now with the competitive price war, most brands are made in China. Thais perceive made in China goods to have inferior quality. People who were there mainly brought in their large LED TVs and smart phones. Through the chap's questioning some of the customers there, I learned that many had to send their equipment for repairs within one or two months of usage. That chap said, if he had knew, he would not have bought that smart phone. I sat silent and agreed.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Picking up Girls in Pubs

What's real and What's Not

When guys get together over drinks after a day's work, one topic that's sure to abound - girls. Hunting girls from nightspot nowadays in Thailand is a daunting task for my many single and young hot blooded male colleagues here. Firstly, we need to know how to distinguish girls from guys wanting to be girls.

You can't trust a face when you see one too. Double eyelids are created by strategically placed concealed sticker of some sort. Sometimes there's a glitch and we could spot them especially when a fly gets stuck up on their eyelids. And then there is the "big-eye" contact lens trend going on, makes their eyes so mesmerizing to look at. Talking to them staring into their eyes for extended time, you need your mates to bring you to a hypnotist the next day to put you out of your trance. To add to that, there is this thing we have seen too many on YouTube that not so pleasant looking girls can transform themselves into the ultimate desire of guys by heavy makeup. A good long time ago, when all the creative makeup techniques were not that widely practiced, all we needed to do was to bring the girls to the nearest Seven-Eleven. This is because all girls are pretty under the palette of colors and strobes in pubs and a well lit Seven-Eleven will reveal their true features. Nowadays, we need to bring them into the high-beams of our cars just to make sure. To be doubly sure, we need to push them into the pool. To have a hard guarantee revelation in case they use very resilient makeup, we need to tie them to shopping carts and send them into an extended automatic car wash. I have also heard the story of someone who was about to get married only to cancel the whole arrangement. One day, he visited the girl's home when she did not have her make up on, it was like he was about to marry his own mother.

Perfect ass to breast ratio is also difficult to determine at first glance. I attended a wedding with my girlfriend. Her friend of a few years was one of the bridesmaids. Wow, I never knew she have boobs. After the dinner, the bride invited the pack of bridesmaids to her room where they changed to their casual clothing. Looking at her after the change, she was back to her normal figure which I knew. I immediately asked jokingly, where did her breast go. She literally showed me her breasts in her hands, two large pink silicone padding. I wanted to keep them for souvenirs but my girlfriend objected strongly.

The daunting task now is even made more challenging with the popular cosmetic surgery that many Thai girls keenly put themselves under the knives for. One guy then mentioned in the midst of drinks that we can only tell the truth when our kids are born. "So how if our daughter do not genetically inherit the beauty of our cosmetically altered wife which we found out too late?" I asked. They all agreed to one conclusion, send our kids for cosmetic surgery.

Monday, January 14, 2013

How to Travel Cheap in Thailand?

Some Balls Tearing Patience Required

Click - Error - Retry
Wait for deals like these, then spend 1 day just trying to access the AirAsia website. Most of the time, the battery on your wireless mouse would run out first. If you are lucky, you get to travel for below 1,000 Baht, return tickets for 2, domestic. I once had 2 return tickets to Krabi for just a mere 850 Baht. This is how I had been travelling cheap. Most trips are booked 1 year in advance. It's now 8 hours into the deal and I still can't get successfully into their system.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Dangerous Thai Roads

The Death Ramp

Up, Over and then the Downwards Plunge
Right about 2 years ago, a close colleague departed from our world. We were all saddened by that episode. In his mid-thirties and with the whole world ahead of him, he left unexpectedly. His wedding was recent then, in fact he got married for just a few months when his BMW 3 Series decided to take him along with it after it plunged from an elevated highway somewhere north of Bangkok. It was 3am, the roads were dark, he went up the ramp at high speeds, the beamer went airborne, flipped and landed on her roof. The few days that followed, police were there to take pictures and do their routine stuffs. Damaged properties were repaired and with that the case was closed. The funeral soon proceeded and that was the first time in my life I had to hold the cold hands of a corpse that had his head bashed in and cosmetically reconstructed. It was tradition, I held my friend's hand, gave a prayer and bided him farewell. The death ramp awaits her next victim.

Life terminating accidents on roads can be caused by many factors, sometimes not just the driver. If someone digs a 10 meter deep trench in the middle of the road and did not put up warning signs, who is to blame? We can blame the driver, he should have spotted the deep hole and avoided the accident. It is controversial the blaming game. I know for sure that in certain countries, we can sue the shit out of city authorities for having dangerous settings on roads , but not here in our "culture".

What then does it take to get the authorities to look into these death ramps seriously and take preventive actions? Over the course of 2 years passed, there were more reports of road deaths from similarly related accidents of people plunging to their deaths from these death ramps. It was only after a big hoo-haa over the media when someone famous died somewhere along Ratchada Viphavadi intersection that the authorities decided to put up barriers in front of that death ramp. The guy who died was a movie star. We had thought that after the flood of news, all such death ramps that exist in Thailand will have theses life saving barriers put up. We were wrong. Many of them are still as it is up till today. Maybe the authorities do have plans for all such locations to be made safer, but it is to be carried out in phases for budgetary reasoning. We do see barriers put up on other locations too but not many. Maybe we need more movie star sacrifices, maybe we need some tourist to be flying off them death traps. Whatever the reasons, whatever the delay, drive carefully guys, watch out for the death ramp.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

From New York to Bangkok by AeroSvit

Here is an unexpected twist to the ordeal that my girl faced, a continuation to the previous entry From Bangkok to New York - Be Warned about AeroSvit. On her return leg to Bangkok, VV132 from New York to Ukraine delayed by 5 hours. Naturally, when she reached Ukraine, she missed VV171 on the 9 of Jan. All 10 Thai passengers stranded. They were informed they will go on the next flight to Bangkok on 10 Jan instead. Well guess what, a search on the internet revealed that AeroSvit just went bankrupt in the middle of all the hassle. This is insane yet at the same time really funny. We thought things like these only happens in movies.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

The Tamboon Experience

 Loei, An unexpected Journey Part V

Hall in Hospital we Bunked Over In
Tamboon. The act of giving away hard earned cash to aid a charitable constitution. It can be for the construction of a temple, a hospital, a school. Operating cash for running certain foundation, making sure kids in special schools don’t get hungry, making sure monks get fed. Making sure the beds are acquired for patients, money to buy paint for the school. All in the believe that when one does noble good, it returns ten folds later. Extending the virtuousness of such deeds is the tradition of preparing a sumptuous meal for the receivers. The village folks from Bangkok brought along their arsenal of cookery and ingredients.

Village Market
We arrived at Na Duang hospital late afternoon. It was 4pm. For the rest of us, there was nothing else to do as the assigned cooks went about their busy preparations. They left for the temple where the next morning’s ceremony was to take place. The objective of the trip was to contribute cash for the ongoing construction of Na Duang hospital, sponsored by the temple the name of which I do not know. I cannot sit still in one spot for too long on trips, my adventurous side will drive me into mental breakdown. And so off to the village market nearby, we hitched a ride as the head monk was sent over to the temple. Such markets, heaps of umbrellas spread across large empty plots of unused land are rare in central Bangkok. But in the countryside starting just from the fringes of metro is how Thai markets are supposed to be. Noisy, rubbish strewn about the many pots of stew. The crowd, the smell, the odd fermented fish in soiled buckets. The live tilapia, the breathless snakeheads about to be executed. The pots and pans on sales, the clothes that I will never buy on promotion.

Dinner prepared by Temple
Na Duang is a district not known for tourism. We chatted and asked about what tourist can do in the night and all we got were surprise expressions staring back. I am sure activities in the night would include just grabbing the cat passing by and petting it, smacking mosquitoes as they suck on our blood, or to help the local folks slaughter pigs for the next day’s sale. So back to the hospital grounds hitching yet another ride, for there were no taxis of any sort in existence. The temple fed their guest. Set up front of our mass lodging was a meal of kanon-jhin (rice noodles in spicy gravy). Along with chicken and desert we bought from the market, we made the best out of our feast and the mosquitoes exploited the best out of our legs under the tables.

We slept in the common hall, bathed in the common toilet all male and female. Thin sheets of mattress, aging sheets of blankets. Rectangular hard ancient pillows that smelled I rested upon, I gazed into the fanless ceiling. Fortunately it was winter and the cool air crept slowly in. My iPhone charging up for the next day, it was just 9pm and I dozed. The night started early and so did the next day.

I Swear, they are Zombies
Oh elderly gentle folks of Bangkok, oh what mysterious nocturnal creatures you are. Their ancient ancestors must have been vampires or zombies as they started to rise from slumber one by one just after 1am. They started chatting and soon more and more joined. It was then 2.45 am that I was wide awake amidst the yakking of a thousand conversations. Played cards some did, gambled. Spoke of their families, strolled around in the hall. Some vainly powdered on their make up in preparation for the praying session to the monks, scheduled at 6am some 3 hours away. And so I did no sleep and continued to contemplate about driving a giant wooden stick through their hearts.

5am, we were all on the coach heading off to the temple. We arrived, the sky still dark. The elderly occupied the temple kitchen and under the florescence, they cook up an aromatic storm. A buffet for the monks in the making, the hunger howled in our bellies. We shall not eat only till the monks had theirs, this the tradition of such. Each helped, I carried chairs. We whisked the trays of cuisines into the main prayer hall. Out the back, a lone skeleton stood, looking back into the eyes of the golden Buddha, in between gastronomy feast. Why the donated skeletons so popular in the temples so many? To fright off the thieves maybe. By works of dark magic maybe, the monks can summon them up, to take on arm of swords and shields, like Diablo III I played aplenty. It’s ok, I am a level 60 wizard that can cast celestial orbs.

On first light, we carried out the Loei tradition of offering gluttonous rice to the strolling monks. That day, they monks did not need to venture beyond the temple for alms, for we were there to overfeed them with our conglomeration of cookery. We lined pathways and overstuffed their alms bowls with sticky mass of rice so difficult to get detached from our fingers. Not very hygiene, but it’s been done for a thousand years. After the tradition we moved into the prayer hall. The praying session started just after 7. The lead monk spoke of the Buddha’s teaching, the pilgrims eyes closed in a state of semi meditation. Me mind wondered away, rearranging skills for extra critical damage should I need to cast a lightning spell at the skeleton back in the hall.

Financial Consolidation
As usual, the finale was the splashing of blessed water from what appeared to be a short broom at everyone in the hall. We gorged on the leftovers after, breakfast for us finally. Left the temple grounds near noon, back to Bangkok in our coach. Maybe we did not do a good prayer because soon after, there was a loud explosion as the coach sped along the undulating roads, we busted a tyre. Fortunately it was not one of the front wheels that blew up, if not I was pretty sure we did crash and burn, be yet another number in the statistics of holiday season related accidents so common this period. I had a look at the tyre treads, most were gone from many of the wheels. Business operators saving cost at the expensive of potential lost of lives. Yes they know it, prevent it they don’t. Welcome to Thailand. Incredibly, we did not have a spare, the coach crept to the nearest town of Dan Sai some 10 km away. More amazingly, we engaged steep slopes to another temple attraction. Passengers were let loose to wonder the grounds as the coach headed for the nearest workshop for repairs. It returned a good two hour later and we headed downhill towards yet another temple. Temples and temples, that’s all there were to do in midday. Soon we were on our 6 hours journey back to Bangkok. Darkness descended, all of us gorgy from falling in and out of sleep from the long journey. Restless, the results of such trips. Never will any of us go for a budget type village organized excursion again. But yet, again and again, we went.

Temple Entrance

Fields of Flowers on way Back

Another Temples Visited

Temple on a Hill
Tradition, going 3 time Around
Busted our Tyre

Chiang Khan in the Day

Loei, An unexpected Journey Part IV

Deserted in the Day
Forget about the legendary Chiang Khan in midday. The streets were deserted as the villagers went about their everyday chores. The lone street of Chiang Khan is only good in the night when it is bustling with makeshift shops of all varieties lighting up the night with colors. Late in the day, long gone will also be the postcard scenes of monks strolling in the early morning mist taking in alms from rows of kneeling pilgrims. The time of noon many would have left this town, in search of shaded attractions escaping the heat. Since our schedule had been screwed and our destinations not well planned by the organizers, we strolled in a ghost town among the wooden heritage basking in broad daylight. The skylabs (Tuk Tuk of this region) whizzed by. The occasional cyclers, flashily dressed tourist that rented bikes, accompanied our mis-timed isolation. Nearby Kaeng Khut Khu spots a congregation of markets. And there next to the rapids, next to the Mekong, some of us caught our late breakfast and many others lunched early.

A Coffee Shop in Chiang Khan

Nearby Kaeng Khut Khu

Boat Operators & a Fisherman

Here’s a fellow blogger’s post who went Loei this season taking a more scenic route along Mekong. Beyond The Mango Juice - On the Road to Loei and Phu Rua Once Again.

Taking in the Sunrise on Phu Tok

Loei, An unexpected Journey Part III

Sunrise at Phu Tok
Because of the IQ test previously encountered, we arrived late on Phu Tok in Chiang Khan. I was once on this peak two years back watching sunset. This peak is where one must go for Sunrise I realized. Be early before the sun breaks horizon at about 6.45 am in December to observe the transition. We however, arrived much later than that, near 8. It was all too late. At the foot of this hill, one would find the many operators of 4x4 trucks. And for a small fee paid at the counter, one joins the hordes of mad visitors clad in winter clothing crammed shoulders to shoulders. We held onto railings in awkward positions as the vehicle ascent and corner the hill at speeds. I wondered was the paid ride a necessity. Yes the incline was steep but it’s all tarmac and normal vehicles should have been able to overcome the challenge. We went up in our own minivan two years back without issues. I did not see any other visitors going up in their own cars this time round. Trickery of the local business opportunist at work?

The View
Phu Tok overlooked the Mekong river. Misty fog engulfed the entire landscape below. The tallest of tress exposed their pointed silhouette and stood out against the enchanting sea of grayish white. Dark lords of mountains towered high above the horizon, the sun hovered behind glowed an incandescent mighty yellow. The Mekong attempted her reflections through gloomy blanket of fog, the cold we breathed, fresh and dense. Mass orgy of people, endless clicks of the shutter heard. A communication tower stood within a large enclosed compound, around her a walkway for one to take in the vista from all angles on the peak. We had missed the timing for the panoramic birth of dawn, but still the spectacle scored an impressive notch. When it was later, we all formed a queue to board the cycle of trucks on the descend. Our eyes were full, but our stomachs were protesting in hunger. Breakfast at the foothills, a timber lodge served out hot delicious porridge. The roads along lined with peddlers of fresh fruits and other convenient cooked meals. I had the hot coffee brewed from kettle on the charcoal fired pits.

4x4 Taxi Operators
Breakfast in the Cold

Coal fired Kettle

Restaurant at the Foot of Phu Tok

Reality IQ Test

Loei, An unexpected Journey Part II

The coach we Traveled In
The driver was presented with a puzzle at a petrol pump we turned into for toilet breaks. The coach on attempting to get out had her front in full blown contact with the tarmac on the slight angular slope, both at the entrance and exit. He attempted to raise the front hydraulic suspension only to realize it was not working. We could not get out. It took him an hour to figure out if he could get in head first, he could jolly well reverse tail out from the petrol station. And in that one hour, he attempted so many times the maneuver, and knocked so many times the engine with a mallet as if technical problems could be worked out with senseless bashing (actually most of the time they do, but in this episode, it just did not happen). I engineer, I solved the puzzle in the first minute of the problem. But my word never did get to him until all the folks were talking about my idea. I was being naughty too, I sadistically wanted to witness reality IQ test. I hate to say this, but this incident further beefs up my point that many professions in this land of smiles lack creativity and are limited to a square border that prevented them thinking out-of-the-box. My engineering career here had been filled with nightmares of all sorts, they smile back at you, and problems are swept under the rug only to be uncovered by end users later.

Getting to Chiang Khan

Loei, An unexpected Journey Part I

Morning in Chiang Khan

Dec 21, 2012, 2000 hrs. About forty old folks, majority women gathered in mass front of an obscure village in what appears to be dooms day mass suicide. Meeting together next to very busy Wongsawang road, they will fling themselves into the path of oncoming trucks and buses. That would be what fanatics of Dec 21 2012 driving by would perceive. No, no bloody ordeal followed. That was just a congregation of village folks for yet another budget tour, organized by themselves, a 1,500 Baht I paid. To northern Thailand, Chiang Khan we headed on an aging ten wheeler coach. I was summoned to be on this journey by my girlfriend’s mum. We must do good, we were going tamboon.

Getting There
Leaving a trial of diesel fumes with every rev of the engine, we roared away into darkness. We exchanged the normal long-time-no-see greetings and many other sat-wa-dee-krups. The coach headed in the direction of Saraburi on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road before branching off into Highway 21. In the northern journey onwards we passed Phetchabun, and on Lom Sak, we headed on route 203 towards Loei. Then in this country of Loei which Thais called Switzerland of Thailand, left onto route 201 towards Chiang Khan. The dark night masked the very scenic drive on route 21 and 203 from Bueng Sam Phan to Loei passing Phetchabun along the way. This route is centered in between the national parks of Nam Nao and Khao Kho. In daylight, when one is not busy navigating tactfully between slow moving heavy vehicles, looking left and right you would see the majestic ranges in green cast out at a distance across the large flats of farmlands. Many blue tourist attraction signs can be spotted along the way and you could detour to visit temples, waterfalls and the countless scenic spots with their guaranteed sea of fog views if in the early winter mornings.

Although there are several attractions in Loei such as Phu Ruea, staying put in a resort in one of these provinces would result in doing nothing except binge drinking which is inherently part of the Thai culture. Attractions are sprinkled here and getting to them requires driving and most essentially, time. Some of these spots which I speak of are only most impressive in winter mornings. When the air is heavy the fog will be aplenty blanketing lowlands, peaks of mountains hovering in misty white. Timing is crucial so the normal itinerary should to be at heights in the early morning for sunrise and fog, to be frolicking in pastures of yellow flowers towards noon when the sky cast her deepest blue and whitest clouds. And after lunch the temples, the others picture posing spots to endorse I-had-been-there and then the waterfalls could follow towards evening so that shots of white flows contrasting on dark rocks and deep green flora could be achieved. Timed right, one should reach Chiang Khan in the night and enjoy the cool walk along the night market enjoying hot after dinner coffee and maybe the beer along Mekong river. We, however did none of that, organizers screwed up the itinerary, totally, really depressing, oh I so disappointed this time round.