Monday, 10 August 2020

No Travels for Timmy

Wow, long time no blog!  Well, what can I say, it is a little bit difficult to go travelling around the world when borders, airports and the like are shut everywhere due to the ongoing situation with the Covid-19 virus.  So, my life has undergone something of a change from the previous five years to say the least, no more living in a tent, constantly on the move.  Rather I am stuck here in Thailand, I have a house, a car, and even a job!

My house and car.
Well - while I do very much miss my family back in England, the prospect of leaving (largely virus-free) Thailand to go back to disease-ridden, expensive Europe wasn't especially appealing.  And in fact I was already thinking of taking a year or so out of travelling, I kind of felt like I needed a break, and having my own place at least a while.  So, it seemed like a good idea to rent a house for a year and get  a teaching job here - these are by far the easiest jobs for a foreigner to get in this country.  In a way, my timing was very good, given that I can't really travel at the moment, I might as well keep my self busy, do something productive and even earn a bit of money.  On the other hand, this is surely the worst possible year for me to start my first ever teaching job, the various regulations the Thai government have brought in cause me all kinds of problems, for one I have to somehow teach a class where half the kids are in the room, and the rest streaming the lesson at home (pretty much impossible to be honest), and also one day a week I have to turn up an hour early to help with the temperature checking / hand sanitising rituals.

With my TEFL certificate.  Totally ready to teach, oh yes.
I could also go on at considerable length about the many, many difficulties involved in teaching here.  The Thai education system, initially created around the end of the 19th century and based on European systems at that time, has perhaps advanced a few decades towards modernity in the intervening century.  It is also hampered by a uniquely Thai tendency towards absurd bureacracy and an extreme, unhelpful deference towards figures of authority - basically no matter how foolish or counterproductive a dictat from on high may be, all the Thai staff will jump to obey and expect the foreigners to do the same.  I will not go into any detail though, for fear of getting in trouble!

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Thai Cycling (again) : 4

Puncture repair in Wang Chin.
From Sri Satchanalai I follow the river Yom north, the going remains flat, but hills are beginning to crowd around me, I will have to start climbing soon.  But not today, although it still isn't exacty easy going, the weather is now seriously hot, it's OK as long as I keep moving with the wind in my face but if I need to stop for yet another puncture - as I regularly do - sweat drips from me.  Destination today is Wang Chin, really not a large place at all, in fact I have broken from my usual habit and booked a room here in advance as I wanted to be sure of finding somewhere.  Turns out to be quite charming with a little balcony looking over the river.

Lampang - still all about the horses and carts.
Nearly there now, but I do have a couple of mountain ranges to cross, firstly to get to Lampang.  I am in fact happy to get into the foothills, the endless flood plains of central Thailand make for easy riding for sure, but not the loveliest of views whereas now I cycle through valleys alongside rushing streams, the unspoilt jungle rising up to either side.  Well, for some of it I manage to cycle anyway - there's a substantial section where I have to push the bike upwards, at least without my weight on the thing I am unlikely to get a puncture!  Well, it isn't too far to the top, and today is a short day, less than 70 kilometres, and of course the long downhill run the other side of the hills gives me a chance to rest and cool down.  In the event I make it to Lampang early enough, and feeling rather better than the last time I was here too.

The high point of the pass between Lampang and Chiang Mai.
The last day!  And, one of the hardest, I have another big mountain pass to get over, and a total distance of around 100 kilometres to do - well, I have done this route in a day before, I can do it again.  Actually it isn't as bad as yesterday, I manage to keep pedalling almost all the way up, assisted at one point by some passing monks who hand me a selection of drinks, Thai versions of gatorade, red bull, and some... interesting... soy based 'milk'.  It is all sickly sweet, and I don't really want to carry glass bottles up the hill but I can hardly say no.  I imagine passing car drivers would be expected to donate in return for this stuff (which has, itself, come from donations of supplies that people make at temples), but I am pretty sure they don't want my money.  Well, I drink it all and find a service area to dump the empty bottles, then just a little bit of pushing and I am over the top, downhill most of the way to Chiang  Mai now, then a few more easy, flat kilometres and I am there!

Well, this was all good fun, cycling is an excellent way to see this country, and I was pleased to see how easy it was to move the bike around on the rail system, which is extensive enough that I can use it to get to any of Thailand's five regions - of which, I have really only seen the northern region in any detail.  Maybe cycle island hopping will happen at some point!

Photos to go with this post can be found here.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Thai Cycling (again) : 3

A view over the Naan at Taphan Hin.
Onwards then, I head north from Nakorn Sawan, more or less following the river Naan towards Taphan Hin, this makes for scenic and flat enough riding, although I am having a bit of trouble with the bike, a spate of spokes snapping leaves me worrying that the whole wheel is going to disintegrate beneath me.  It doesn't though, and I find a shop in Thapan Hin where they replace the spokes and indeed align the wheel for the princely sum of ฿150, or about £4, result.  I can't say Taphan Hin is particularly exciting, I struggle to find somewhere open to eat in the evening in fact, eventually ending up in a self described 'food garden' some way away by a main road, I eat dinner and have a couple of beers while a succession of ladies take to the stage to sing a couple of songs each, interesting.

Bridge over the river Yom.  Why yes, I did cycle over it.
I continue along the Naan, next stop Pitsanuloke, a large enough place this, I manage to find a Thai style bar with cheap beer and indeed cheap Pad Thai, all good.  My next stop is Sukhothai, yes I have been here before, a bit of a struggle to get to it this time though.  I get my first puncture of the trip, and it turns out I am not quite as prepared for this as I had hoped - the spare inner tubes I bought in Kanchan turn out to be quite a bit too small, they do go into the wheel but I have to really overinflate them, and unsurpringly each only gets twenty kilometres or so before going flat.  My puncture repair kit doesn't work too well either, I spend an hour or so trying to fix the various tubes without much joy... and then of course, ride back the wrong way for a bit.  Annoying as in fact I was only a few kilometres from Sukhothai, well, eventually I roll into town with a flat front tyre, not the end of the world.  Nice to see the place again, I return to the Chopper Bar near the river, it seems to be christmas here for some reason.

At Wat Chedi Ched Taeow.  Means something like, Seven Rows of Stupas Temple.
I'm not staying though, been there, done that and all, nor am I heading for Taak as previously.  Rather, due north from here there is another ancient site, Sri Satchanalai, dating from the same period as Sukhothai and the second city of the kingdom at that time.  There isn't really a nearby town, but I am hoping that as with the old city of Sukhothai there'll be plenty of nearby guesthouses etc., turns out not so much, but I manage to find one, pleasantly situated on the bank of a new river, the Yom.  They are most welcoming, I even get some much needed washing done with an interesting machine that requires various switches and valves to be turned at appropriate points...

Impressively large free standing elephant statues at Wat Chang Lom.
Definitely worth a day off here, I spend some time assiduously fixing inner tubes, and also ride around the ancient city, much as at Sukhothai there is a square walled area containing many ancient temples, with more or less restored Buddha and elephant images.  Not nearly as many tourists here, think I am off the beaten track a little, the style is a little different too - many of the temples have 'mandapas', small buildings with surviving peaked stone roofs.  Unusually for a Thai city, there is a fairly substantial hill within the boundary walls - apparently when the city was built, a local hermit advised the king that this hill would be a good location for the 'fire ceremony'.  Nowadays there are a couple of ruined temples at the top, and a fine view of the surrounding area, just about worth the climb up in sweltering heat.  My hope that the cool season would last until I finished this trip has sadly not really worked out...

Photos to go with this post can be found here.

Monday, 9 March 2020

Thai Cycling (again) : 2

Through the paddy fields I go.  Who needs tarmac!
Well, time to actually do some proper cycling rather than sitting on my backside in Kanchanaburi, I ride north through central Thailand, to U Torng, Daan Chaang and then Chai Naat - none of them much of a place to be honest.  Seems very agricultural here, I ride past fields of rice and corn, and several times pass herds of sheep or perhaps goats.  I have not once seen goat, lamb, or mutton on a menu here so I assume they are being bred for export...

Certainly nice cycling country this, while I can see the occasional hill off in the distance, the roads remain pretty much pancake flat, and often my route takes me alongside a canal.  The road surface is generally excellent, although sometimes I've been a bit overzealous in getting away from main roads and end up on gravel, still, I and the bike can take it.  I have no trouble from the Thai drivers, all is good in fact.

The substantial Grasiaow reservoir near Daan Chaang.
I reach a reasonably sized town, Nakorn Sawan (literally, Paradise City - the grass is not terribly green at this time of year but the girls are indeed pretty).  This is Thailand's 'gateway to the north', and also noticeable as the place where numerous rivers, including the Ping and the Naan, which have flowed down to here from Chiang Mai and Naan respectively, join to form the Jao Prayaa (or Chao Praya as it is generally transliterated).  That will of course flow from here to Bangkok and the sea...

Seems worth taking a day off here anyway.  Not a great deal to see, obviously there are some big temples, but mainly I just relax, and there is a big and impressive park to go and wander about in.  I'm amused to see a bunch of locals playing petanque, didn't realise it was a thing in this country.  Nice also to be somewhere big enough that I can actually find a bar in the evening, many of the smaller places I'm basically looking at a little restaurant, then returning to my hotel room with beer from the ubiquitous 7-11...

Dragon at the west end of Utayaan Sawan (Paradise Park, of course), in Nakorn Sawan.
Photos to go with this post can be found here.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Thai Cycling (again) : 1

The giant Monkey Pod.
So, about time I had another adventure of some kind eh?  Well, here I am cycling about in Thailand again, what can I say, it may not be the original of things I've ever done, but I do like this country, it is both civilised and cheap, the roads are good and I can be pretty confident that wherever I end up of an evening I will find a decent hotel and some tasty food with a few beers to wash it down with.

It does help that I already have a bicycle in this country, still parked where I left it a month or so ago in Chiang Mai, but I'm not going to start riding from there.  Rather, I take the train down to Bangkok, with the bike in the guard's van, and then ride a little way through the capital - easy enough early in the morning before the traffic builds up.  I'm heading for Kanchanaburi, so I need to get to Thonburi station, and I am expecting to have to wait there for several hours before the 13:35 train leaves.  But in fact there is a train waiting at the station, this one isn't publicised on the internet but it is perfectly serviceable, and gets me and my bike there in a couple of hours or so.

Wat Tam Gaeow - that is, Crystal Cave Temple.
Nice to be back in Kanchan after three years or so - even so, some of the bar owners here remember me!  Some development has happened, generally of a good kind, new bars and restaurants, and for instance the giant Monkey Pod Tree a little way out of town has acquired a charming garden and walkway to surround it.  I check out various cave temples, including Wat Baan Tam, which has the usual long staircase leading up to the temple proper, but in this case they've built a giant Dragon through whose belly the staircase passes, surrounded by murals detailing the history of the area, very cool.

Insane looping water slide.
A fine relaxing time is generally had, I of course revisit the local water park where once more, I am pretty much the only customer.  This time, being able to read Thai, I can report that the three hundred and sixty degree loop water slide claims to accelerate you to fully sixty kilometres per hour - 'sadly' it is still not operating...  I do notice that for all my ability to read the language, speaking it here is not too easy - the local dialect seems to be substantially different to what I have learned, sometimes I figure out that they are simply dropping a syllable I'd expect to be present, but often I can't figure out a word people are saying.  Hopefully things will improve as I move north.

In the belly of the dragon!
Photos to go with this post can be found here.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Snowboarding in Italy : 2

With the Thai team coach.
Still trying with the snowboarding thing... after my ill-advised attempt to do a red I return to the small blue run, where I do at least have the pleasure of meeting some Thai people - the Thai youth olympic ski team and their coaches no less, doing some last minute training.  They are I think a little surprised to find an English guy here who can speak Thai (a bit)... good luck to them in the competition, given Thailand is entirely without snow the country doesn't have much of a winter sports pedigree!  Still they are going faster than I am, although I do think I'm progressing, actual linking of turns is happening now, so, on the last day here it seems like a plan to drive over and meet up with Dan and family again at another part of the area, Antagnod, where my cancelled hotel was in fact.

There is another small blue here which I do OK on, then the lead me up to the to of a longer blue, this should be good practice, well the top half of it is at least.  But then, the lower half turns out to be an utter nightmare, a long, narrow, flat section which I'm practically unable to get through... I'm simply not able to control the board while moving at low speed in a straight line, and turning at low speed is hard, I keep falling over.  Worse, even if I do manage one turn the result is inevitably that I am heading towards the side of the run, a snow bank on one side and a drop on the other, in theory this requires another quick turn to correct but I can't do that, so just fall over again.  And of course there are several sections where the snow is so flat I can't move forward at all, so I have to unstrap the stupid plank from my feet and walk... after finally getting through this ordeal I head straight to a nearby bar to revive my spirits with beer.

Well, I'm not giving up, we abandon Antagnod, and drive through Champoluc to another nearby village, Frachey, where we get an excellent lunch at least.  There is a blue here for me to get my snowboard mojo back on, and then for my last run of the week I try another red, and this time it goes surprisingly well.  There are some moguls at the top, and I find I'm able to plow through them on the board pretty easily, then quite a lot of decent turn linking happens, and I even get on OK with a relatively flat and narrow bit at the bottom.  I think that a little bit more slope helps, it is simply easier to do the fast turns if I'm moving a bit, but also do really think I am finally starting to get the hang of this... of course now it is time to go home!  Well, after a convivial evening involving sneaking into the rather posh sauna and spa bit of Dan's hotel, and then a fine meal of course.

I think I earned a beer or two this week.
This was an interesting week then.  It's definitely worthwhile for me to be able to properly join in with the family, with all of us on boards.  I'm still unconvinced this is in anyway better than skiing... there are some good things about it I guess, I certainly get the impression that going through deep snow, be it fresh powder on the piste or off-piste action, is easier and more fun on a board.  The business of jumping about and trying to break your legs in the snow parks is probably easier on a board too, you won't have your legs trying to go separate ways while you are in the air, and also you are already used to going 'backwards' so the most basic 'turn about in the air jump' is probably a bit easier to grasp.  Not sure I'm going to be trying any of that mind you.  But anyway... mostly fun, would do again, a bit of a shame about all that driving though.

Photos to go with this post can be found here.

Monday, 10 February 2020

Snowboarding in Italy : 1

The baby slope on which I spent my first day.
Wow, long time no blog entry, I am so lazy.  Well, I can't say I have done anything very exciting this Autumn, some time back in Tenerife and then in Thailand again.  Still, something a bit different now - yes, more snow sports, but this time I am trying something new, learning to snowboard in fact!  It seemed like a thing to do, my brother and all his family 'board, and I have grown a bit tired of waiting for them on my skis while they faff about with bindings and so forth.  So, can you teach an old dog new tricks?  We shall see...

The circumstances aren't exactly perfect for this - we've come at New Year, to the Aosta Valley in Italy, Dan has a hotel in Champoluc but sadly my nearby hotel cancelled on me, and the best replacement I could find was the other side of a mountain, or something like eighty minutes by road.  We do have a hire car but the long drive on mountain roads to meet up on the first morning isn't ideal preparation for my initial attempt at snowboarding.  Dan has very kindly offered to coach me on the nursery slopes, obviously I respond by getting somewhat frustrated with the stupid plank strapped to my feet and yelling at him.  Yes, I can appreciate that one of my feet (the left one apparently) is the 'front', but can't you just call it my left foot?  I can manage to slide down the hill well enough, but the thing doesn't feel at all under control and I'm really not sure about turning.  Maybe I will improve over the course of the week?

With the board.
Well, the next morning I do indeed start to get the idea of turning, maybe enough to try a blue slope?  This proves doable although I do fall over a lot... at least this is my 'local' area, Staffal, so only a twenty minute drive, and it is accessible from Champoluc via various runs and lifts so Dan and family are able to join me for lunch.  Food is good here at least, we are in Italy after all, we consume much pasta and pizza.  In the evening I find a bar which again does pizza, but on several nights they provide me with so many plates of tasty little snacks that I don't bother to order anything - except several beers anyway.

I grow bored with the single blue run I've been doing, but this resort is really not learner-friendly, there is a longer blue higher up which I manage OK, but the only way up from it is a chairlift leading to some a really tricky steep, narrow bit that I don't enjoy at all, so decide to head back down.  I have a choice of returning on the gondola or taking a read, well, how hard can the red be?  Not a great idea it turns out, particularly as I take a wrong turn and end up on a very steep bit, which I have to slowly come down on the edge of my board, and then a combination of board and bottom!  I do very few turns, still don't really have the hang of this at all... I have a pretty nasty fall too, travelling at quite a speed I flip over and smack onto my front, my goggles in a jacket pocket take much of the force and transfer it to my ribs, ouch.  Nothing to do but get up and keep going of course.

Photos to go with this post can be found here.