The Sukhumvit Shuffle

Sukhumvit Road (pronounced Sookoomvit) is one of Bangkok’s main arteries, running generally east-west before turning south to connect to towns southeast of the capitol.  Sidestreets running of Sukhumvit Road are called Sois and are numbered, although the road signs also show their old, seldom used proper names.  Odd numbered sois run north off Sukhumvit and even numbered sois run south.  I lived on Sukhumvit Soi 11 when I worked in Bangkok and always return to that area because of the concentration of good hotels, restaurants and shopping.

Traffic on Sukhumvit Road is awful except from about 2:00 to 5:00 AM.  Of course it’s bad everywhere else in Bangkok too.  Bad enough that if you flag down a cab and ask the driver to take you across town at the wrong time of day they will turn you down and drive off.  It doesn’t pay for them to sit in traffic.  Another time, a taxi driver picked Mai and I up, then changed his mind part way, dropped us off at the next Skytrain station and drove off!

Getting From Point A to Point B

Many times, even driving a short distance on Sukhumvit Road can be a challenge.  For example, I like to stay at the Boulevard Hotel on Soi 5, which is a very narrow 1-way street running north from Sukhumvit Road (see photo below, a Google Streetview shot).

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Looking north on Soi 5 from Sukhumvit Road

My hotel (Point A on the map below) is less than 50 metres from Sukhumvit Road.  I had to make several taxi trips that required getting on one of the main highways (Point B on the map).  The trick is that Sukhumvit road is 3 lanes in each direction, and because they drive on the other side of the road from us, going straight onto Sukhumvit gets you going in the wrong direction.

There are places to make U-turns, but you don’t want to do that because Sukhumvit has a median that divides the two directions and you can’t make a right turn from the westbound lanes onto the highway entrance ramp.  What do people do?

Two of the eastbound lanes have been designated as westbound lanes!  However, this only occurs for a few hundred metres, and you can only get onto those special lanes by making a right hand turn from Soi 3.  I haven’t mentioned what a nightmare Soi 3 is.  It’s 3 or 4 lanes, I’m not sure.  If the shoulder lanes aren’t being used for parking then it’s 5 or 6 lanes wide, and that situation changes constantly.

So, with all those complications, how does one get from Point A to Point B.  Easy, you do The Sukhumvit Shuffle!  Follow along on the map.  You start by driving north on Soi 5 from the hotel.  Follow the road as it curves and meets Soi 7, which is 1-way southbound (it’s the only [legal] way people living on Soi 5 can get back to Sukhumvit Road), then drive south on Soi 7 to Sukhumvit.  Remember, you can’t turn right on Sukhumvit here.  You’re forced to turn left, which takes you to Soi 11, the only way to get over to Soi 3.  Follow Soi 11 north and then make a left, a right and another left through the network of alleys until you meet Soi 3.

You now have 400 metres to cross however many lanes of traffic there are on Soi 3 at the time in preparation for the right turn onto Sukhumvit Road.  During rush hour, The Sukhumvit shuffle alone can take 30 to 40 minutes, assuming you can find a cab who will want to do that for you!

You’re wondering about the short roads that connect Soi 5 directly to Soi 3.  Those roads are extremely narrow and are basically used only for foot traffic.  One more knowledgeable driver I had said that for 30 baht (Cdn $1.20) the guy who operates a parking lot that blocks the road I have indicated with a red arrow, will let you drive through his lot and straight onto Soi 3.  I’ve only had one driver who knew of the shortcut and I haven’t been able to spot the entrance amid all the clutter on the street to show other drivers the shortcut.  So, I just sit back and enjoy doing The Sukhumvit Shuffle!

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The Sukhumvit Shuffle; getting from Point A to Point B by taxi, and the 30 baht shortcut (red arrow).

 

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Buddha Day

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The fireworks have been going fast and furious yesterday and today.  Mai calls it a special “Buddha Day”.  What it is is the end of Vassa, or Buddhist Lent.  Wikipedia says:

Vassa (Pali: vassa-, Sanskrit: varṣa-, both “rain”) is the three-month annual retreat observed by Theravada practitioners. Taking place during the wet season, Vassa lasts for three lunar months, usually from July (the Burmese month of Waso) to October (the Burmese month of Thadingyut).

In English, Vassa is often glossed as Rains Retreat or Buddhist Lent, the latter by analogy to the Christian Lent, which Vassa predates by at least five centuries.

Vassa is followed by Kathina, a festival in which the laity expresses gratitude to monks.  Lay Buddhists bring donations to temples, especially new robes for the monks.

The Vassa tradition predates the time of Gautama Buddha.  It was a long-standing custom for mendicant ascetics in India not to travel during the rainy season as they may unintentionally harm crops, insects or even themselves during their travels.

Read more about this interesting event here:

Buddhist Lent Day

A Glimpse of Buddhist Lent

Mai has brought in some tiny flowers which will be placed at our own little shrine mounted on the wall in a corner of our living room (next to our portrait of the King).  After that she prays for a minute and meditates for a while, then it’s time for bed.

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Whithered Offering

Creepy Crawlies

The end of Vassa corresponds with the end of the rainy season in Thailand.  I noticed a dramatic difference when I returned from my trip to Canada on October 2nd.  Mai told me it hadn’t rained for the past 4 or 5 days, and the rain-free streak continued for another 2 to 3 weeks.   Quite a change from before I left, when it rained almost every day.

I mentioned before that our kitchen is open to the outdoors, and as a result we have geckos climbing the walls looking for bugs, tree frogs also looking for a meal and even the occasional sparrow!

Almost all Thai washrooms are equipped with a handheld shower head, installed next to the toilet to, umm…help with the cleanup!  Simple and fantastically effective.  Yesterday, I went to our washroom to perform a function that didn’t require the use of the shower head.  Good thing!  Parked right on the shower head was the centipede in the photo below!

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This “little” guy is a good 6 inches long and I heard they have an extremely nasty, venomous (but non-fatal) bite.  Mai said she was bitten by one years ago.  Her hand swelled to the size of a hardball, was very painful and stayed that way for a week!   Yikes!

It turns out it’s also snake season!  I’ve seen 3 or 4, always on the road when we are safely inside a vehicle.  The ones I have seen were all pale grey-blue and about 1.5 metres long.  I don’t know what kind they are, or whether they are dangerous or not, but I’ve never been a big fan of snakes and give all of them a wide berth!

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The Random Thoughts Edition

It Was Great To Go Back And It’s Great To Be Back!

I spent most of the month of September back in Canada and had a good time visiting with friends and family.  I got my visa situation straightened out and now have a visa that allows me to stay here permanently with minimal hassles.

The highlight of the trip was watching my nephew Kevin marry Megan, the love of his life on September 29th.  It was a beautiful wedding and the reception afterward was tons of fun, not only because it was a great party with super food but it was a chance to catch up with all of the Peace and Hoover family cousins!

Good times for sure, but I was anxious to get back to my wife of only two months who was waiting for me back in Thailand.  We had a little celebration dinner with my Thai family when we returned from the airport and have settled back into our life in the country!  It’s good to be home again!

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Boy’s Weekend!

Mai’s older son (nickname Man) turns 21 at the end of October.  We’ve been talking about doing some things together to get to know each other better and strengthen our friendship.  With that in mind, we’re having our first Boy’s Weekend!  I’m going to Khon Kaen, where he goes to university, tomorrow morning and staying for a few days.  We’re planning to go see some movies, do some shopping, eat lots and maybe drink a little and sit around and chat a lot.  Man’s English is very good so the conversations ought to flow easily!

KenMan

The Thai Diet

One of the hoops I had to jump through while in Canada was to have my family doctor sign off that I was not afflicted with a short list of infectious diseases.  This required a visit to the doctor’s office where I was weighted as part of the check-in routine.  I noted the reading on the scale and asked my doctor about it.  It turns out I’d lost 7 kilograms since I was last weighed when I visited her last spring!

I have to note that this is through no effort on my part except to eat what I’m served, which consists of fish almost every day, platefuls of fruit and veggies and lots of sticky rice…and minimal snacks.  Mai does allow me to buy the odd small bag of potato chips, and I couldn’t help but to buy a tube of Lay’s Spicy Lobster chips.  They have such interesting flavours here; who could resist?

I’d probably do even better without the sticky rice, but it tastes so much better than plain white rice that I can’t resist it.

More soon!

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On My Way Home

For a visit of a few weeks to sort out my retirement visa and attend my nephew’s wedding. First we fly from Udon Thani to Bangkok. Spend the night there and then I (and not Mai, unfortunately) board a plane to Toronto at 8:45 on Sept 5th.

Lately, the trend in the weather has been for heavy rain overnight and in the mornings. To get ahead of that we decided to drive to Udon the day before and spend the night so we would wake up 15 minutes from the airport instead of 2 hours away (more if it’s raining). For $28/night for the two of us with breakfast included why wouldn’t you?

We arrived early enough to have time to have dinner and do a little shopping at Central Plaza mall. Mai doesn’t like parking in their garage because she’s afraid her pickup truck won’t clear some of the overhead obstructions, so we park on the ground floor, which is “special” gated parking for handicapped people; another area is reserved for VIPs, a third area is for sports cars and a final area is reserved for “supercars”!

Mai has developed a friendly relationship with “The Parking Lady” who acts as the gatekeeper to these special areas. She has seen me hobble around and will give us a handicapped spot if one is available. They were all occupied last night so she gave us a spot in the VIP area. We felt so special! We gave her a nice tip when we left!

The Do Not Start Engine In Parking Area sign left us a little confused. We started the engine anyway because I didn’t feel like pushing the truck out of the garage!

Nothing exciting in Sports Car parking but there was a shiny new Corvette from Laos and a (let me see if I can describe it) iridescent lime green metalflake painted Porsche in Supercar parking when we arrived.

That’s Mai’s pickup in the VIP area.

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Meanwhile, On the Domestic Front

Meanwhile, things are good at home!  Mai and I have been experimenting making pizzas from scratch, with the idea of making them and selling them at the local twice-weekly market.  Thai’s aren’t really big on western/European style pizza because they have weird ingredients.  We decided to experiment making some pizzas with real local Thai toppings.  Not “Thai style” but the real thing!

Our first topping was Laab Moo.  Laab is a Lao dish, and Moo of course is pork…really!  Laab Moo is minced pork with mint, coriander, lime juice, fish sauce, onions, garlic and some ground browned rice to give it crunch.  We also bought some tomatoes and made our own tomato sauce from scratch, adding Thai basil and garlic.  We bought frozen pizza crusts and grated Mozzarella at the grocery store.

The result, pictured below, was delicious!  This may be the start of something!!

In local news, So Phisai got a nice new Sum Tam shop!  Sum Tam is one of my favourite Thai dishes.  Think of it as cole slaw but with shredded green papaya instead of cabbage.  Then add tomatoes, chilies of course, green beans, dried shrimp, garlic, a little sugar and a dressing of fish sauce and lime juice.  Crunchy, spicy, fresh tasting, a little sweet, salty and sour.  You specify how many chilies you want because real Sum Tam borders on volcanic.

Thai Sum Tam has dried shrimp.  They look a little like the dried shrimp you feed your tropical fish.  Lao style Sum Tam has crab.  Don’t think sticks of artificial crab legs.  Think crab legs freshly plucked off a live crab!  See the lady sitting on the green stool to the left of the photo?  She’s plucking the legs and claws of a bucket of live crabs for someone’s Sum Tam!  I don’t eat Lao style Sum Tam.

The shop also sells other prepared foods like Gai Yang (barbecued chicken) and Khao Niew (sticky rice).

Mai’s young son Max is a sweet little kid.  We like each other but we don’t have too many things to do together.  Last weekend I took out a Raspberry Pi micro computer I brought with me, downloaded some new software for it and turned it into a gaming console that plays a few dozen vintage video games from way back in the 80s and 90s.  Remember Atari and those guys?  Then I went to the local computer store and bought a keyboard and game controller and we were all set!  Now we play Donkey Kong, Pacman and a handful of other games.  Max hadn’t seen them before but he picks them up right away and routinely beats me every time!

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Two (!) Visits to the Temple

Monday this week was a rare sunny, warm day after it rained all night before.  Mai asked if I wanted to go to a particularly beautiful temple about 30 km away, Wat Dan Wiwek.  We left shortly after and drove through some beautiful farming country along the way.  I asked if we could stop so I could get a shot of a rubber tree plantation where all of the trees had been fitted with small umbrellas around the trunks to keep heavy rain water from diluting or washing away the latex rubber sap altogether.  A great shot to start the day!

Unfortunately, my camera battery was dead!  All that driving, beautiful conditions and a dead camera!  We continued on and I made mental notes of all the other things I hoped to shoot when we returned.  I wasn’t too hopeful that would be soon, and I sure didn’t expect it would be the next day,  However, the pattern of night time downpour and a sunny morning repeated itself on Tuesday morning and back out we went!  I got most of the shots I was after.

We never got to see the temple building itself because of approaching thunder.  We enjoyed the beautiful grounds then hopped in the car and headed to Bueng Kan city for lunch.  There were several points of interest along the way but by that time the rain was coming down in buckets.  Mai could hardly see the road and ignored my joking requests to stop for a quick photo!

I hope you like what I did manage to get of the farming areas and the temple grounds.  As always, click on any image to view a full size version!

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A Visit to the Market

Lao language and culture are strong influences in the local Isaan way of life (Isaan is the informal name given to the northeastern corner of Thailand).  Here, the restaurants and markets carry plenty of Lao foods, which aren’t always available in central Thailand (Bangkok).

Mai took me to a Lao market in the town of Pak Khat recently so we could pick up a few things and so I could see the different foods.  The market sits on the bank of the Mekong River.  Laos is a stone’s throw away across the river.  The variety of foods was  fantastic and it was fascinating to see all the very different things that Lao and Isaan people eat as you will see in the photos.  Click on the photos to view full sized images.

Fresh ingredients; herbs, spices, vegetables of every kind were on sale.

Plenty of pork, chickens, rats (yes those are rats in the center photo!), different sizes of catfish, several other fresh river fish, frogs, eels, turtles…you name it!

Fresh wild honey, fresh wild bee larvae, roasted bamboo shoots and the freshest coconut juice anywhere!  There were also clothes and shoes for sale, music and movie CDs.  One stop shopping.

As we were about to leave and old guy took me by the arm, led me to the coconut juice stand and signaled for me to please take a photo.  Presumable it was his son’s or daughter’s stand.  I took a few and showed them to him.  He was happy, and giggling all the way and chattering to me in Thai, took me by the arm again and helped me across the highway to where our car was parked!

It was sunny and very hot that day.  I would have stay longer if not for the heat and we’ll definitely go again!

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