The flight was long, but surprisingly painless! Good meals, plenty to drink and a Dick Francis I hadn’t read before made the time pass quickly… I even didn’t watch the movie !! Through Passport Control and Customs, straight to the taxi rank (not realising the Head and his wife were waiting for me… oops !), and on my way to the apartment.
Coming from the greenery of The Netherlands, with parks, canals, trees, greenhouses and fields of flowers to here, is a sharp contrast! Here the general impression is of a "dirty" and "poor" area. In fact, that is unfair. The streets are incredibly clean… considering the number of dogs all over the place, I have yet to find any "dog muck" on the pavement/road ! But, main electricity cables are just strung along the streets in no apparent order, houses/flats/shops etc are old, tenement style, and the outsides are "no-ones responsibility", so they get run down.
My apartment promised luxury…. But first impression was that this too is a little run down and dated, my first hours were of disappointment.
Now, I’m getting used to it, and I have to say, the apartment is perfect! It is clean, quiet, well run, within easy travelling of school and the city, and I really like it a lot!
This is the layout. The main room is on the right, with kitchen area along one wall. The wall opposite the kitchen is actually glass, making the room very light and airy. The bedroom next to it is what I am calling the guest room! Again, the one wall is glass, so another nice light room. Down a few stairs and you have the bathroom, and "my room" with its en-suite. I ended up here because there are bigger cupboards and surfaces for my computer etc, but the view here is not so good, the other side of the apartment is definitely the better side! The three main rooms are all air-conditioned, and the maid comes three times a week to clean, empty bins, and take away the dirty washing, bringing it back washed and ironed… that’s what I call a real bonus!
Some views of the rooms - as you can see, all my "junk" has arrived and been found a home!
No oven … so I had to buy my own! Cable TV is provided though, and also the Internet is free – useful as I am always on it! Note the breadmaker in the kitchen – a FABULOUS gadget! The "Guest room" is possibly my favourite room! It really is so spacious! So, let me know if you are coming over, I think my parents are going to be first, they are expected in mid-November. My room is actually not so beautiful or spacious, but has useful spaces for my computer and bits and pieces. The TV is not connected to cable so is not really used, especially as I no longer have any videos !
Yes – it’s a lovely pool, especially when arriving home after a long day at school, hot and sweaty! Ten minutes in the pool, and you feel a completely different person! The pool is visible from both the main room and the guest room. There is also a fitness room and snooker room, which I haven't used yet - but I will!
So there you have it. I am going to be writing a number of these reports to share my life here with you. The next few are likely to be "My local neighbourhood", "Shopping – Thai style", "Thai food", "Bangkok Transport" etc, and of course reports from all the tourist places I visit. I hope you enjoy seeing a bit of my life in Thailand.
Keep in touch!
On the 15th September, I had my first "tourist trip" and took the Bangkok River Tour. This is an all-inclusive trip for tourists, taking half a day, and visiting a famous temple, the Royal Barge museum and the Royal Palace. Departure is at 9:00am from "Central Pier", one of the many piers along the Chao Phraya River on whose banks Bangkok is built. Cost, 780baht, approximately £11.50. The trip is organised by the Chao Phraya River Boat company, a family business owning most of the river taxis and tour boats used in Bangkok. The boat used for this tour seats around 40 passengers, but is rarely full … our guide was happy to have so many customers, and there were around 15 of us! The guide speaks perfect English, and gives a non-stop spiel of Thai history and culture, in a very light-hearted and humorous way as you travel up river.
Wat Arun - The temple of Dawn
Wat Arun was so named as it the first temple the king saw as he travelled down the Chao River one day, seen in all its glory as the dawn broke. The temple dates back long before Bangkok was built, and is still a highly revered Buddist site. The approach from the river gives a stunning view as you can see - all the pictures on this report were taken by me! The steps leading up to the temple get incredibly small and steep, but at the time of writing only the first level was open to the public. You are given 15 minutes here before it is time to get back on the boat. This is where you discover how thoughtful the Thais are... first you are given a chilled towel to mop away the sweat from your sightseeing in the sun, and then a bottle of iced water to drink en-route to the next stopping point.
The Royal Barge Museum
The Royal Barges used to be used in an annual procession of some 42 barges! Now they are used only for special occasions, it is thought the next occasion will be the crowning of the new King, whenever the present one gives up the throne! They are still impressive to see though, even in the shed/museum where they are stored.
The Grand Palace Complex
The temple is the holiest site for Buddists in Thailand, and all Thai Buddists are encouraged to visit the temple at least once in their lifetime. The temple contains the statue of the Emerald Buddha. No one knows exactly when the statue was made, or who by. According to a reliable chronicle, it was discovered in 1434 when lightning struck an object in a temple, and a statue of Buddha, covered in Stucco was found inside. Later, when the stucco began to peel, a green colour was noticed, the stucco fully removed, and the remarkable Buddha, carved from Jade found underneath. The statue is dressed in one of three costumes depending on the season, as can be seen in the picture above taken from a postcard.
Hope you enjoyed this trip!
"Saint John’s International School was opened in May 1992 as a direct response to a cabinet decision that allowed Thai students to attend foreign medium schools for the first time. The school has the honour of being the first to respond to this initiative and the first of the new international schools to be recognised by the Thai Ministry of Education. The school is operated according to the Private Education Law. The School is owned and operated by Saint John’s Company for Education, which also owns and operates two Thai Schools, an American Diploma Class, a Business School and a University. The school opened in 1992 with three classes, one each at Year 1, 2 and 3 levels.
In 1993, a pre-school, Reception Department was opened and Year 4 added. Subsequently, one year group has been added annually and extra classes created at each year level to meet demand.
The school’s mission and philosophy reflect the Catholic nature of its foundation. Saint John’s International School occupies its own dedicated campus with excellent facilities."
So reads the opening of the Parent Handbook! It’s certainly unique of all the schools I have taught at, for this school caters to 95% Thai students, all learning through the medium of English, and following the National Curriculum of England. However, as it says above, the school has excellent facilities, seems well run, and students are polite, friendly and well behaved, so what more could a teacher ask for?!
The school is layed out as a quadrilateral,two five storey blocks of classrooms facing each other, and linked on the other two sides by walkways connecting each at each level. One side is used by the Primary School, the other by the Secondary.
In the centre of the quadrangle is a multi purpose grass pitch, surrounded by a running track. Separately to one side is the Basketball Court, open-air canteen, and the "building site" which by Christmas should miraculously turn into a full size gymnasium and swimming pool ! Luxury hey?!
The school has the luxury of spare rooms, so every teacher has their own teaching room, there are separate rooms for examinations, and each department has its own office space or resource room. To read more about the school itself, please do look at the website, but do not take any notice of the pathetic rubbish written under the heading of Mathematics, it is very soon going to change!! The school website can be found at http://www.stjohn.ac.th/International/ and amongst other things, has copies of the "Fortnightly", the regular newsletter to Parents.
People often ask me about my school day. I’m an early bird, so I usually arrive in school around 6:00am at the latest, which gives me time to do some preparation and marking before the official start of school for staff at 7:25. Generally I teach 4 out of 5 periods during the day, and leave pretty soon after the kids, at around 3:00p.m.
Secondary School Lesson Times
My job as Head of Mathematics has been made exceptionally easy as I have two excellent teachers in the department, both very capable, extremely committed and already achieving excellent results! So, I just hope I can live up to their abilities! One way I think I am able to help is in increasing the use of resources other than written materials. I am a great believer in ICT, and have just purchased a projector and interactive whiteboard for my room!! I also like to use video and games where possible, and it is sharing these resources/ideas which I believe is being the most useful at present. I’ve also been playing with the schemes of work, which I think are beginning to look pretty good!
Classrooms ought to be lively and interesting places. I certainly feel this school have been exceptionally good at that compared to other places I have worked, as I hope these pictures of my mathematics classroom go to show! Of course, no point in talking about school without having some students! So, here they are – happy lot aren’t they! This is my form group – a delightful Year 8 ! (non-uniform day)
"....Loy Loy Kra thong...Loy Loy Kra thong........"
The sounds of singing voices mark the celebration of one of the most famous festivals of Thailand, which takes place during the night of the full moon in November. During this evening, many people will go to their local klong(canal) or river to float theirkrathongs. They believe this will bring them good luck. There is a simple but important meaning to the festival name. "Loy" means "to float" and "Krathong" means a lotus-shaped vessel made of banana leaves.
The krathongsusually contain a flower, a candle and at least one incense stick which is lighted before being placed on the water. The krathong may also contain a hair or nail of the person floating the krathong. People usually make a wish at the same time and it is believed that if the candle remains burning until the krathong is out of sight then their wish will come true. By the end of the evening, there are hundreds of flickering lights bobbing up and down on the water.
The Loy Krathong festival dates back to the time of the Sukhothai Kingdom, about 700 years ago. It marked the end of the rainy season and the main rice harvest. It is based on a Hindu tradition of thanking the water god for the waters. The farmers of Sukhothai used to hold a festival of floating candles. One year, a beautiful woman called Noppamas, who was the chief royal consort, made some special lanterns for the festival. She made them from banana leaves and shaped them like lotus flowers. The king was impressed with what he saw, so he announced that krathongswould be floated on the water every year from then on. The festival is also marked by "Noppamas Beauty Contests" in almost every Thai town or village.
On Loy Krathong night, all access points to the river in Bangkok are crowded as everyone, young and old, Thai and foreign come to float their krathongs! The party atmosphere lasts all evening, and fireworks from the various riverside hotels usually round off the event in the late evening. My parents were here in Bangkok with me for Loy Krathong, so I got tickets for one of the main dinner cruise companies and we spent the evening on the river.
After a hectic journey by bus, sky train, ferry boat (and when I missed our stop) tuk tuk, we arrived late, but not too late to join the boat! Problems with tickets were ironed out… and the "nice" part of the evening began.
The boat sails up the river, while passengers enjoy a buffet meal of Thai and International Cuisine … quantities are pretty much unlimited, and there is always something that you’ll enjoy. The desert selection was good too… just ask my mum ! Entertainment is provided on both decks by live singers. We found the singer downstairs to be pretty awful… and were therefore surprised to find the singer upstairs had a lovely voice !! She had a good selection of songs too, from golden oldies to the latest hits, so, after we’d finished eating, we spent the time on the top deck, enjoying the sites, and listening to the music.
The boat passes three major landmarks, Wat Arun, (The Temple of Dawn), The Grand Palace compound and Rama VI Bridge. All three are lit up beautifully at night and look pretty spectacular! Then, as expected on Loy Krathong night, there were plenty of fireworks to enjoy before going downstairs to "loy" our "krathongs" !
Over Christmas and New Year 2002-2003 I took a holiday visiting the South of Thailand. Organised by Intrepid, it aims to allow small groups the chance to experience more unusual parts of Thailand. The trip is called "Treasures of the South" and this report covers the first part of that trip.
Having met the group the evening before, Sunday was the first day of the holiday, and the morning was spent visiting the Grand Palace, something I have done before. In the afternoon I took a few of the others to Wat Arun, and then the main weekend market at Chatuchak, and we all met back at the hotel at 6pm, for taxis to the station, and an overnight sleeper train to the South.
Monday 23rd/ Tuesday 24thDecember
Arrived in Surat Thani around 8:30 this morning, in time for breakfast, and then the ride to the Khao Sok National Park. From the pier, a one-hour journey across the lake took us to the Tore Tuei Rafthouses where we stayed for two nights.
The rafthouses are very basic, just a mattress on the floor, and a toilet block up the hill… but waking up in the morning you just jump in the water and have a lovely swim in the lake!
We had a walk through the forest to a waterfall, saw a few monkeys in the trees, took out canoes on the lake and spent the evenings chatting and getting to know each other.
Wednesday 25th/ Thursday 26thDecember
Christmas morning in the rafthouses! No sign of snow, no sign of Santa, no real feel of Christmas, more like a summer holiday with the clear blue skies and sunshine!! After an early breakfast, the boat and songthaw took us back across the lake and around the Park to our next destination, Arts Jungle Guesthouse! An afternoon walk in the National Park to another waterfall for a swim, and then back for a lovely Christmas meal (Chicken and Ginger with Cashew Nuts) overlooking the water and plenty of drinks to round off the day.
Once again, accommodation was basic, but this time we had beds and an en-suite squat toilet and cold-water shower! The guesthouse feed the wild monkeys, so they are often out playing, just across the water – great fun to watch! Thursday morning some of the group went for an elephant ride… I had another walk in the National Park and a lazy afternoon reading my book. In the evening we walked out as a group to a local bar for a few cocktails!
Another transfer, this time to a family farm, for an overnight stay amid the rubber trees and pineapples! Fantastic thai meal… the best of the trip… we sat in a circle with many Thai dishes in the centre and just stuffed our faces!!! In the evening we went into a local seaside resort (Ao Nang) for a bit of shopping and more cocktails!
Woken early by Cockerels – given the chance to "harvest" some rubber and then off in the Songthaw, leaving the jungle, for part two of the trip on the beaches. But for that, you’ll have to wait for the next report !!! Keep writing !!!
You’ll remember Part 1, this report covers the second part of the trip – the "beach" holiday!
Saturday 28th December
After breakfast at the homestay – we travelled to Krabi, for lunch. Beautiful spot, great beach, horrible food!! Then, on to the pier, and the boat transfer to Koh Mook, one of the many Thai islands.
Sunday 29th December
Our "home" on Koh Mook was the Rubber Tree Bungalows, just 5 minutes walk from the beach. So, this was a lazy day! Lying on the beach, reading, swimming, lying in a hammock drinking Diet Coke (yes – at last – a restaurant with Diet Coke!). Unfortunately the rain arrived at 3pm, and lasted for hours, … so it was a case of staying indoors from that point onwards.
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Monday 30th December
The plan today was for all to transfer to Koh Rok for a two-day camp. Unfortunately, the poor weather led to the group splitting, some preferring to stay on Koh Mook. This is a beautiful island, surrounded by coral and amazing snorkling!! I loved it, but again, unusually for Thailand at this time of year – we had a major downpour, and some people were not at all happy. So, the camp was cut short, just one day and night on the island!
Tuesday 31st Dec / Wednesday 1st Jan
Back to Koh Mook, and then, for some, straight on to Trang where we would be in a warm hotel! Some stayed on Koh Mook, so again the group was split. Arriving in Trang, after a bit of discussion – we opted for two nights of luxury, in a "real" hotel, including the New Years Eve Party with a Thai pop-star !!!
Thursday 2nd Jan
Horrible weather again, so we visited an underground Buddist Temple, and some limestone caves, before packing and meeting the overnight train back to Bangkok. A great couple of weeks … and I will return to this area again!!
Keep in touch !!
For a change, this report is not about any special trip I did, or place I have been, but is simply background info about life in Bangkok! Anyone who has heard of Bangkok, has heard of the traffic problems, so I thought I would write a few words about transport in the capital city!
Bangkok has one of the busiest airports in Asia, and Thai Airways one of the most comfortable fleets of aircraft. My flight here started in style, and with surprise … the plane was painted to look like one of the royal barges! Most national airlines fly into Bangkok, and there are a number of Domestic airlines such as ‘Bangkok Air’ that fly from Bangkok to other cities and islands within Thailand.
As planes are expensive, most Thais use trains for long journeys. On my winter trip, the main journey South (and back) was taken by overnight sleeper trains. These are quiet, comfortable, and use a great system of seats that fold to make beds!
With the river being so important in Bangkok, there are plenty of river taxis, and boats to hire, the most popular being the long-tails. There are also the "cruise" boats giving dinner cruises in the evenings, and the traditional rice-barges, now used as educational boats for school groups. This is also a great way to beat the traffic!
Opened only two years ago, the BTS Sky train has proved a revolution for Bangkok traffic! Basically this is an "underground or metro" type solution, but runs on elevated tracks above the roads of Bangkok. Clean, quick and air-conditioned this is THE solution for being traffic jams!
On the Roads
Choices are plentiful! Buses are cheap, and there are air-condition buses for an extra cost. Taxis are in unlimited supply, both "normal" metered cabs, and the famous local tuk-tuk (basically a three wheeled motorbike with a seat). Motorbike taxis also abound, particularly on the smaller streets and sois, great at weaving in and out of the endless traffic jams, as long as you don’t put too high a value on life!
Hua Hin, located on the Gulf of Thailand's western seaboard, has long enjoyed Royal associations. The once sleepy fishing village was first marked for development by the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) who built and operated a handful of bungalows. Hua Hin became popular as a rainy season retreat in the 1920's with the construction of the railway line from Bangkok. The beautiful, colonial style Railway Hotel was built near Hua Hin's famous rocks in 1923 by the State Railway Authority, which also built Thailand's first public golf course in Hua Hin in 1924.
In 1926, King Rama VII built the Klai Kangwon (Far From Worries) Palace on the beach a few km north of the Railway Hotel and this palace is still frequently used by the Royal Family. This set the stage for Hua Hin's popularity and unique ambiance which remains to this day. With its Royal connections, sense of history and laid-back charm, Hua Hin is deservedly riding high in the popularity stakes as one of Thailand's premier resorts. That said, the beach side town remains a relative backwater when compared to the mega-resorts of Pattaya and Phuket. It retains a certain old-world panache and this is reflected in the constrained and sympathetic approach taken to the development of the resort.
Golf tops the list of recreational activities on offer. Water sports are well represented, with water and jet skiing, parasailing and boating readily available. Spa treatments are also very popular. In summary, Hua Hin is a great seaside destination for families, or for those who don't want or need the brash, in-your-face entertainments offered by Pattaya and Phuket, but who desire a quieter, more relaxing break by the sea.
Yuka, a friend from Japan came to visit me at the end of March, and to have a break and get out of the city – we decided to spend a weekend in Hua Hin. The trip down by train was meant to take 4 hours – but delays turned it into six, so we were late arriving on the Friday evening. I had booked a room in the A and B Guesthouse, so it was simply a case of getting a taxi to the guesthouse, checking in, and going up to bed!
Saturday was spent on the 5km white sand beach, with a walk into town in the evening to visit the night market, to have a look around, and to sit in one of the many restaurants for an excellent meal!
Sunday was a repeat of Saturday – more lazy hours getting burnt on the beach! We caught a bus back to Bangkok, taking around 3 and a half hours. The craziest thing about the bus journey is it cost only 120 baht, or around £2 for a 200km (125miles) journey! All said and done, a perfectly lazy weekend away! I will have to do it again sometime soon!
Wat Po, or Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm Rajawaramahaviharn as it is officially known is a royal monastery located on a 20 acre site, just South of the Grand Palace. Exploring the site can take some time, as it seems to sprawl on in all directions. Just when you think you’ve finished, you go through another gate and find whole new areas you didn’t know existed!
The many halls and temple rooms house Buddha images, from many styles and eras. The most important in religious/historical terms is ‘Lord Buddha in the posture of concentration’. He sits on a three tier pedestal, and beneath the pedestal are found the ashes of King Rama I of Thailand. Indeed, most of the chedi (the pagoda type structures shown in the first picture were built to contain ashes – in this royal monastery there are 71 of these structures built to contain the ashes of royal descendents.
The reclining Buddha
Although the most important Buddha in religious terms in the one shown above, this is not the image that has made Wat Po famous. For Wat Po houses the "Reclining Buddha", an amazing 46m long (and 15m high) golden Buddha image. Made from stucco covered bricks and concrete covered in gold leaf and with feet inlaid with mother-of-pearl. If you are receiving this in a letter, rather than reading it on the web, you may well get a postcard of the reclining Buddha too!
Of course, there are many other images! Chinese rock pagodas, statues representing massage and health positions and remedies (Wat Po houses a traditional Thai massage school), and many images of Buddha in other poses. As this is all laid out among herb and bonzai collections, in courtyards surrounded by chedis and ornate gateways, with places to sit, and places to get the necessary Diet Coke, it makes a very nice day out and is highly recommended to you all!
Another nice day trip, is to visit the Summer Palace. We set off at 8:00am on Sunday morning, for a gentle trip up the Chao Phraya river. Cold water is provided on board, and the views are tremendous! It is only on journeys like this that you appreciate just how many temples there are in Thailand, for as one is passed, the next approaches!
The journey is broken on the way up river by a stop at a Handicraft centre where all the traditional crafts of the Northern tribespeople are kept alive. Although mainly for tourists, the centre also houses a craft school, exhibitions and demostrations are available in wood-carving, silks, basket weaving and pottery, as well as a large shop for souveneirs and purchases!
Wat Chumphon Nikayaram
The royal palace at Bang Pa-In has a history dating back to the 17thCentury. According to a chronical of Ayutthaya, King Prasat Thong (1629-1656) had a palace constructed on Bang Pa-In island in the Chao Phraya river. A contemporary Dutch merchant, Jeremias van Vliet, reported that King Prasat Thong was an illegitimate son of King Ekathotsarot (1605 – 1610), who is his youth was shipwrecked on the island and had a son by a woman who befriended him. The boy grew up to be Chief Minister and having usurped the throne became known as King Prasat Thong.
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The King founded a monastery, Wat Chumphon Nikayaram on the land belonging to his mother on Bang Pa-In island, and then had a pond dug and a palace built to the South of that monastery. These pictures were taken walking around the grounds of the monastery.
Bang Pa-In Summer Palace
The present day royal palace dates from the reign of King Chulalongkorn (1868 – 1910), when most of the buildings standing today were constructed between 1872 and 1889. The palace is used occasionally by King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit as a residence, and for holding receptions and banquets.
As a final trip, in my last weeks in Bangkok, I booked myself on another tourist trip, this time to Ayutthaya, one of the previous capitals of Thailand. It’s an early start, travelling by coach from Bangkok at 7:30am, visiting the summer palace en-route (see report 10) and then on to Ayutthaya. In Ayutthaya we visit three of the main temple sites, and have a quick stop at a tourist gift shop/handicraft centre, and then it’s down to the pier to join the boat, for the leisurely cruise, with dinner, back to Bangkok.
From the mid 14th century until its catastrophic destruction by the Burmese in 1767, Ayutthaya enjoyed enormous prestige. By the 17th century it was a cosmopolitan trading centre of world renown with a population composed of 40 different nationalities and greater in number than contemporary London. Unfortunately the Burmese war saw almost total destruction of Ayutthaya, the city is home to the ruins of some 375 monasteries, 29 fortresses and 94 city gates. The whole area has been designated a World Heritage Site by Unesco.
The first temple we visited is now impressive ruins, with hundreds of sandstone Buddha icons, all with the heads removed, the result of the Burmese invasion and the desire to destroy what was dear to the Thai people. This wat (Thai for Temple) dates back to the 14th century. Built in three distinct styles, the site gives a real feeling of historic importance. The temple also contains one of the most photographed sites in Ayutthaya, a Buddha head around which tree roots have grown.
Wat Na Phra Meru
The second wat we visit is the only temple to have escaped destruction in the war, this is because it is slightly to the North of the city, and was used as a base by the invading Burmese army. The picture of the Buddha image above is from inside Wat Na Phra Meru.
Wat Lokaya Sutha
The third temple houses a large reclining Buddha, the third largest in Thailand. (The second largest is in Wat Po – see report 9). This ends the trip – but there are often surprises, on this one, it was the elephants!
After a busy first eight weeks of settling into new routines, meetings, boarding duties, new syllabuses, new children - it was time for our first short break. We didn't travel far but we did hire a car for the week and head north, enjoying the Thai countryside.
Pai was once a quiet market village primarily inhabited by 'Shan' or 'mountain' people, whose culture originated in Burma. As it lies at the feet of the mountains it's a good base for trekking and has become well known among backpackers for its relaxed atmosphere, cheap guest houses, souvenir shops and restaurants. In the proximity of the town are spas, elephantcamps, hotsprings and areas of natural beauty. The road to Pai meanders up, around and through a large number of hills and around waterfalls. We tried visiting two falls... one was easy enough as the first photos will show the other was a long trek crossing the river at different points and we didn't actually make it to the falls. Still, it made a good day out, although the shoes never did recover!
After 3 days in Pai, we travelled back to the main road, and then further north to Ban Thaton, a small town on the border with Myanmar, to visit an educational resort center that we hoped to use with students later in the year. In Ban Thaton a lot of the time was spent observing schools in action, so we didn't get out to explore as much. We did however drive up and through a hillside temple complex where the following photos were taken.
Accommodation in both places was good! In Pai we stayed at the Belle Ville resort, a small and new resort within walking distance of the town, but with a very country setting. In Ban Thaton we stayed at the Maekok River Village Resort. We can recommend both places, the 'Balinese bathrooms' were very special - although ants were a bit of a problem. The final photos are general shots from both places.
All in all, a good week - a true break from school, a chance to enjoy the freedom of being off campus and out in the countryside (we really will have to buy a cheap secondhand car). Meanwhile things are settling well. All our boxes arrived from Shanghai, curtains arrived from Shanhong's parents, sheets were sent by her brother and we are borrowing a drill this weekend to be able to hang some pictures. The apartment is beginning to look like home and so the next report will be pictures from Prem! (We were even given a car to use yesterday).
All the best - keep in touch!
Trevor & Shanhong.
So, where exactly are we and what are we doing? Prem Center is a large campus 25 km north of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. Within the campus is a growing International School (with boarding facilities, a Visiting Schools Programme, Tennis and Cricket coaching facilities, and a conference centre. We are working in the Intenational School, Shanhong as the Junior School Music teacher and Trevor as the Deputy Senior School Principal. Our website introduces the International School as follows.
"Prem Tinsulanonda International School opened in August 2001. It has, in a short time, attracted students from Thailand, the region and beyond, and as of August of this year enrolment K 12 is over 400 students. A fast growing section is boarding, where, unlike traditional dormitory residences, our students enjoy the privacy and comfort of apartment living. Because our teachers also live on campus, the care and support for our boarders is of a high quality. A family style ethos, where the older students know the younger ones and where teachers are able to devote time to get to know the whole student, has created a secure and happy learning environment".
The following pictures were all taken around the campus and reflect the beautiful environment in which we live and work, and our students learn.
The school is an IB World school offering the three programmes of the International Baccalaureate Organisation. That has meant a few adjustments for both of us as neither of us has taught IB before - the content is not a lot different, but the style of delivery and learning does have some big differences. Imagine writing essays in Maths - that's IB!
As a boarding school, staff live on campus and so we found ourselves allocated a particular apartment in one of the clusters. Obviously it is a lot smaller than the place we had in Shanghai but is certainly clean and comfortable. On moving in it was very empty indeed - see the pics below!
It stayed that way for the first six weeks, with just minimal changes. But, as promised, (Asian Tigers continue to provide excellent service), all our things arrived from Shanghai early in October, and that was followed by a package of curtains and sheets from Shanhong's parents. A couple of trips to 'Index' (an 'IKEA' like furniture store), a bit of thinking, and the borrowing of the school drill enabled us to transform the place and I am very happy to say it is now looking like a real home.
Here it is then, the apartment AFTER all our things arrived - I imagine you can spot the difference with the pictures above!
Nice hey? We like it! Keep in touch.......Trevor & Shanhong (& Teddy) xx
This will not be too much of a surprise to those who knew we were looking – although there will be BIG surprises even for those. This week we signed documents and paid a deposit on a house – we now have a permanent home!
The house is part of a new development, and we were fortunate to be able to buy the showhouse which means we have it fully furnished from day one. So, for those who are wondering just where in Chiang Mai it is… it isn’t! It turns out there are laws here preventing foreigners from owning property – and so, after examining prices in various places – we have bought in the South of China, just a boat ride from Vietnam
Beihai is currently not very developed, but like much of China, as it opens up to the west, there is growing demand both for tourism, and for homes. Beihai is a coastal town with a 25km white sand beach (incidently – less than 1km from the house we have bought) and a climate where temperatures are rarely outside of 20 – 30 degrees. The following photos are all from the city and surroundings of Beihai. Doesn't it just look perfect? You can even take a boat direct to Halong Bay, and those who have seen my pics from Vietnam know how good that place is!
So, what about our home? Obviously the ‘real’ pics will have to wait – we’ll be there at Easter – but here are the plans. The home is semidetached and on three floors, with a basement for parking. The ground floor is split level, providing an extra little quirk that we liked a lot. It is part of a large compound of other houses and apartment blocks with a central 'mini beach' and other facilities. We are less than 1km from the sea – and are on one of the few public bus routes for getting into the city itself.
Trevor & Shanhong xx
February saw a long weekend and the chance to ‘get away’ for a short break. Ever mixing work and pleasure, I booked a weekend in Koh Samet, the destination for a school camp at the end of the month, and so an opportunity to see what was available on the island and do some planning.
Koh Samet is an island just 3 hours from Bangkok. We flew down to Bangkok with one of the low cost airlines (approximately £25) and had booked a taxi for the transfer from the airport over to Ban Phe near Rayong. From Ban Phe a free boat took us over to the island (approximately a 30 minute crossing). All travel arrangements went very smoothly and we were soon checking in to our hotel for the weekend, the Sai Kaew Beach Resort. Here we stayed in one of the ‘cabins’ close to the pool and just a few steps down to the Northern Beach. A slightly further walk led directly to the Eastern Beach – a much longer expanse of white sand gently sloping into the water. The Beaches in Thailand really are very beautiful – and there is always plenty of space!
All of the photos below were taken on Koh Samet by Shanhong or myself.
Of course, knowing both Shanhong and myself, our holiday was filled with good food… the fact that we sat on the beach to eat it all, just made it even more special! The rest of the holiday, apart from trying to arrange things for camp was spent relaxing by the pool, relaxing by the room, relaxing on the beach, relaxing…… you’ve got it – it was a lazy weekend!!
All in all, it was a nice trip – we got a bit of sun, had a good break… and did get contacts for Grade 10 camp – now I just have to persuade school to pay some of the expenses and we are made! Next break is April, when we’ll be off to see our new home in Beihai! Keep in touch. Trevor & Shanhong xx
We had another long weekend in March – and so decided to have a night away. This time we didn’t want to spend much or travel so far, so I got the maps to see where we could drive, and had a nice surprise to find a lake I didn’t know about just two to three hours from Chiang Mai. So – we got up early on Saturday – and after calling for Shanhong to have her hair cut and to check all camps were back safely at school – hit the road for Phayao.
As can be seen from the map – Phayao is to the North East of Chiang Mai – a very beautiful ride up and across the mountains. Most of the road was great – although one part was due to be relaid shortly – and was currently a dust track. No problem for driving – but boy did the car need a good clean when we got back. Fortunately the Prem Center gardeners have found a new way to supplement their income – they wash cars for 50baht (approximately 80p) a time. They think it is worth it, and we find it very cheap – so the car had another good wash on Friday!
Dating back over 900 years, Phayao is a pretty town located on the edge of Phayao Lake, but well off the normal tourism track. Phayao Lake is the largest freshwater lake in northern Thailand and is surrounded by beautiful hilly scenery. It is a great breeding centre for fish, supplying many excellent restaurants that line its shores. It’s a little short of hotels and guesthouses, so we stayed at the Gateway Hotel – just 10 minutes walk from the gate – and although dated, still comfortable. We were fortunate that the Thai holiday had brought a special event and there were many market stalls set up and stages where childrens’ dance groups were having a competition.
We only stayed the one night – coming back Sunday via the hot springs and a local temple, neither of us had been before so it was an opportunity for a few more photos. Even the dogs like to rest on a Sunday afternoon – although Teddy had a bit of an adventure – poor guy!
I end with news from the school apartment – all our plants on the balcony have been flowering – the pictures below are the proof! Being married must be good for me – the plants live!
You will remember from an earlier report that we bought a house in Beihai, southern China just before Christmas. April saw our first opportunity to go and see the house in person. Fortunately it was as lovely as we had hoped from the pictures we had seen, and this report is one of proud new home-owners showing off their new home! Hope you like it.
The home is semi-detached in a compound, just 5 minutes from a long beach. We have three floors, with 4 bedrooms (one being used as a computer room), bathrooms for every room, and lounges on every floor. Here is the third / top floor – note the attic space in the first photo!
This is the second / middle floor – the floor we are mainly living on, with the all new curtains that Shanhong loves and the themed ‘yellow’ and ‘blue’ bathrooms! If you look closely, you’ll find teddy came with us – as always! The bath was a huge bonus – big enough for us both to enjoy!
Below is the first/lower floor – there is also a basement for the washing machine, cleaning materials etc, and a nice garage for our electric bike!
Hope you like our home - let us know if you would like to visit! Trevor & Shanhong xx
In the last report, you saw the house we bought in Beihai, in this one I want to show you the area of Beihai itself, the area immediately around our home. Firstly, as is common in China, the house is built as part of a compound, which means an area which is walled with gates and security, the idea being only people that live there can get into the compound making it more secure. A compound always has a communal outside and ours is no different… this is our compound:
Nice, hey? We bought an electric bicycle to get around, and just five minutes from our garage door takes us past a local market to ‘our beach’. These photos are all on ‘our beach’ and yes, it is normally this empty!
The crabs are excellent – they scamper over the beach in front of you, diving down into holes as you approach, popping back out as you go past! Thank you, Juliet, for this superb photo – mine didn’t work! Beihai is famous for an area called ‘Silver Beach’. This is a little further from our home, perhaps 15 minutes on the bike. It is a glorious long white-sand beach, a little busier than ours, but still with plenty of room as the photos show.
Beihai is also famous for its old town. Zhongshan Street and Zhuhai Street are the two oldest streets in Beihai, built around 1883. Since Beihai became a commercial port in 1876, a number of western companies from countries such as Britain, France, Germany and Holland set up their businesses around this area. The architecture reflects its colonial past with an interesting mix of Chinese and European influence and some extraordinary contemporary structures. It's also the ideal place to stock up on bargain-priced souvenirs.
So there you have it, Beihai – our new home. Hope everyone likes it.
Trevor & Shanhong
This report was written in Beihai in July 2007 – but unfortunately got left on the computer there! As we were back in October, I managed to copy it onto a portable hard-drive, and so here it is, better late than never! Enjoy! We spent the first half of the Summer 2007 break back at home in Beihai, an opportunity to update a few things around the house, and explore the area further. Changes to the house included adding extractor fans and heat lights to bathrooms, adding net curtains, putting up a few pictures, and buying a new bed and 'office' furniture. The pictures below show some of the 'afters'.
We also decided to do something for Shanhong's parents. They have also bought a house in Beihai, but an older house... we decided to update the kitchen. The before, during and after follows! I have no wish to upset my own mother who has wanted a new kitchen for years - but this whole thing cost just £170 !
Apart from the above, it has been a restful time! I completed two modules of my course, and watched every episode of Cadfael ever shown. I've also read three books and completed a new computer game. We were sent some DVDs and also found a DVD shop - very cheap (although quality varies). Shanhong bought a DVD which had over six hours of a Chinese soap opera - so she has been happy too! We've been to our local beach often, both with miles of sand when the sea was out, and watched the waves crashing over the wall when the tide was in and a tornado passing. It really is fantastic to have the ocean so close! We've been to see the 'famous?' fountains - and enjoyed the show - watching from the beach as 'important people' were exclusively using the proper seats. We will have to go back with a video camera to get some photos, the one in the middle below was the only one I could find on the net! The other photos were daytime with the fountain not in use.
We made a few little trips, one was to the nearby island of Weizhou. A 50 minute journey by fast catamaran took us directly from Beihai (5 minutes from the house on the bike) to the landing pier of Weizhou. Quickly selecting a motorbike 'taxi' to take us to all the places of interest, we were off! The sun was hot, the scenery good... and then the heavens opened... we were soaked - thoroughly drenched... never mind! One more surprise... our 'taxi driver' insisted on giving us a gift - a whole hand of bananas! Photos are all ours.
Another day saw us taking the free supermarket bus out to the old town of HePu. Here we thought be clever and hired another motorbike taxi to take us to all the famous places.... she didn't know any - and there is certainly no tourist set up - most turned out to be inside school grounds or other private places. We still took lots of photos. Perhaps the simplest trip, with the nicest photo - was a ride on our own bike, up the coast to the National Park - just 30 minutes cycle and lovely views of the coast and city.
View the embedded image gallery online at:
So, there you have it, our latest visit - we'll be back at Christmas to finish off! A 'video' of the fountains and of the house will added to the website soon! Keep in touch.
Love to all, Trevor & Shanhong xx
Having seen all the family in the summer for our wedding, we came back to Beihai for our first Christmas in the new house. Shanhong had ordered a whole pile of decorations from Ikea, duly collected, boxed, and forwarded by her long-suffering brother, which together with what we found in local shops and what we had already got together - meant we were able to 'decorate' properly - my mum will be proud!
We also bought a tree and decorations for Shanhong's parents - so they could also celebrate! On Christmas Day however, they came to us and opened a few presents we had kept for them under our tree. The Christmas meal certainly wasn't traditional - Shanhong had just bought a hotplate - so it was a 'hotpot' for lunch and a cake full of tinned fruit and cream rather than dried fruit and brandy!
It may not have been quite the same as a Christmas in Shrewsbury (although due to illness and a death in the family, Shrewsbury didn't see its normal Christmas this year), but we had fun all the same! Quite a lot has changed in the house since the first house report, and so I thought I would take this opportunity to send an update! Hope you like the changes (those of you who actually remember what it looked like originally!).
The final photos were taken during the Christmas break outside Shanhong's parent's house and in front of the musical fountain. Oh - and Teddy wanted to show you a new outfit!
As I write this, we are about to return to Thailand - it is likely we shall be moving next summer, probably to work in Beijing, so getting home will be a lot easier. No doubt the house will continue to develop - there are plans for window seats and if only I can persuade Shanhong, a new bathroom downstairs!
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