Clichéd tourist activity alert

Chuck ingredients in wok - stir - eat. Simples.

It feels a bit redundant posting about Thai food, since it’s not exactly one of the world’s lesser-known cuisines and a Thai cooking course is pretty much de rigeur for anyone who spends more than a couple of days in the country. Despite the alarming quantity of ingredients required by most recipes, the actual process of cooking a lot of Thai dishes is pretty straightforward, consisting as it does of the following steps: 1) throw ingredients in wok; 2) stir vigorously; 3)  profit eat, which is an effort within the grasp of even the most reluctant cooks. I rather suspect that there is slightly more to it than that for things beyond the great trifecta of farang fuel that is green curry, tom yam kung, and pad thai. Not that I’m objecting; all three are delicious, and after three months living kitchen-free it was fantastic to be able to cook again.

Do not eat the crocodile

Just because you can't see the crocodiles, doesn't mean they're not there.

Flood warning of the week: “If you see a crocodile, do not eat it”. This approach would not immediately cross my mind should I encounter a crocodile, but it’s good to be forewarned. Apparently, what you are supposed to do is call the Ministry of Fisheries. Civil servants in Thailand obviously live more exciting lives their British counterparts (although quite possibly if crocodiles started showing up in the Thames, DEFRA would show hitherto unknown levels of intrepidity). Anyway, the flood waters are going down almost everywhere in Bangkok. I took this at Mo Chit BTS this morning: last week the water was nearly three feet deep here, while it can’t be more than eight inches now. I was briefly tempted to go paddling, but the water was kind of green, and leptospirosis reputedly isn’t fun.

Huh, Thai civil servants really do live on the edge. This article about the government snake-catcher and his work during the floods is pretty awesome.

Loi Krathong

Just so you know, this photo is all blurry because of Art, not incompetence. Yeah.

Loi Krathong is one of the things I was most looking forward to seeing in Bangkok. It is the festival of lights associated with the Yi Peng festival in the north. On the full moon of the twelfth lunar month, Thais launch intricately-decorated vessels called krathongs into lakes, canals and rivers. The belief is that the krathong will carry away the year’s disappointment, anger and bad feelings, and if a hair or some nail clippings are added to the krathong, it will carry the bad parts of yourself away too. It is also an offering to the water goddess, and a wish for good fortune and happiness with candles, incense and flowers down a river. Krathongs are traditionally made out of a section of banana leaves and a section of trunk and decorated with flowers, candles and incense sticks (these days styrofoam and, for the environmentally conscious, baked, coloured bread, seem to predominate). In a normal year, Bangkok on Loi Krathong is supposed to be beautiful sight, with the rivers and canals full of lights, and fireworks being let off everywhere in celebration.

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Lighting the sky on fire: the Yi Peng lantern festival

Ten thousand lanterns fly. Photo by Nish, because my camera battery gave out at the crucial moment.

When I am overseas, I try and make a point of not being a slave to the guidebook, but occasionally it cannot be helped and I find myself lured in by a flowery write-up or artfully lit photo and on a bus to somewhere quite out of my way just to see a particularly good waterfall or something. This was evidently due to happen at some point here: for the past two months, I had been preoccupied by the front cover of the Thailand Lonely Planet guide. The bible of the dreadlocked masses’ 2009 edtion is adorned with a photo of blissfully happy people launching huge paper lanterns in what seemed to me to be an excessively picturesque manner. This, the caption briefly informed me, was the Yi Peng festival held in northern Thailand in October or November each year. Further research unearthed online writeups of the festivities which dwelt lovingly on the majestic sense of awe that accompanied the sight of thousands of floating lanterns drifting upwards into the night. The phrase “like a school of luminous jellyfish” put in an appearance.  When it became apparent that the festival would happen over the long weekend granted to us poor indundated (or yet-to-be-indundated) Bangkokians, I knew that come hell or high water (and of course there was plenty of the latter) I was going to be up in Chiang Mai letting off skylanterns. So thus it was that while back down south central Bangkok was busy Not Flooding in the most frenzied, dramatic and media-friendly way possible, I was squeezed in the back of a pickup truck with sixteen couchsurfers and a baby, trying to locate the right filed in the right suburb of Chiang Mai to set the sky on fire.

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For now sits expectation in the air

Is this the right way to panic-buy? I'm not very used to shopping for emergencies.

After weeks of false alarms, panic-buying and twitter hysteria, it looks as though central Bangkok will in fact be flooded this weekend. Observing the media reaction, one could well be forgiven for assuming that this means that residents should be fleeing a towering tsunami bearing down on the city, laden with a cargo of venomous snakes, poisonous chemicals and escaped crocodiles; in reality, as Bangkok-based journalist and blogger Richard Barrow (who has been doing sterling work on twitter sorting out facts from hysteria) points out, calling the ankle-deep tidal surges currently assaulting parts of the centre of the capital a flood is an insult to those parts of Thailand (including many Bangkok suburbs) where people have lost houses, lives and incomes under two or three metres of water.

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Buddha statue at Wat Mahathat, Ayutthaya. Pre-flood.

Ayutthaya was the capital of a Thai state for over four hundred years before it was destroyed by the Burmese in the eighteenth century. Just north of Bangkok, it is an attractive melange of tilting stupas and headless Buddha statues scattered around a rather tatty, low-rise Thai town centred on an island in the middle of three rivers. In its heyday it must have been an extraordinary place; I always forget that Europeans had been in contact with Thailand for the best part of half a millenium, and Ayutthaya was the Venice of the East, and always full of Dutch and Chinese and French and Malay and Portugese and Japanese and British traders, and generally wildly cosmopolitan. Lucy and I spent a peaceful weekend there ten days ago, ambling around temples, admiring nineteen-metre-high gold-plated Buddhas (size matters) and filling up on palm sugar roti. We did comment, as we were crossing the river, that the water levels seemed pretty robust, and a brisk trade in sandbags seemed to be going on around some of the larger temples.

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