More Snake Sir?

Popped down to the night market to have a look see at the place. it is at the end of the strip almost in the old fishing village. Now night markets to me conjure up stalls ladened with cheap clothes etc a la Thailand  but this one is in fact made up of an endless line of small restaurants and guess what they sell. Yup BBQ squid, prawns and Kingfish. One after the other all doing pretty much what every other restaurant is doing on Phu Quoc.

At the bottom of the street there are 2 or 3 stalls selling clothes but that is it. Not really worth the 100,000 dong cab ride but there are a couple of very local bars with yet more infant school seats and beer in cold boxes so all was not wasted.

It seems you can get some interesting food served at the night market

IMG_0259

 

Never mind the heering salad or hot pod. Hows about what you get to go with your fresh seafood. That will bring you back for seconds without a doubt.

There is one other thing they catch off the beaches here and a few people have been bitten by them. These also go on the BBQ but at least you can keep them fresh and alive before cooking them

Night Market Snakes

 

Yes, sea snakes and very tasty they are too, just like eating chicken.

The hotel we have moved to is the newest on the strip having opened last November . I had looked at it with some envy as it is right next door to the Paris Resort but had presumed it was much more expensive. But when we declined to move rooms my friendly tour operator in Saigon got me a room here for US$30 more a night. It is to say the least chalk and cheese . The Famiana Resort has fully trained staff who go to school to learn their jobs and attend English lessons for 3 hours a week. it is professionally  managed by an hotel General Manager and is not amateur hour like the Paris. So a couple of shots as always. The view from the breakfast table :

Famiana Gardens

 

and from the bed chair and please note it has it’s very own sea based assault course.

Famiana Play Ground

 

all very It’s a Knockout from the 1970’s on BBC TV with the now imprisoned Stuart Hall and Eddie Warring the rugby league commentator . Boy the BBC could make some rubbish and we watched it .

We also have our own 18 hole gold course in the grounds and so you can play a few rounds before the sun gets too hot. Tee times are easy to book and to be fair you don’t need too much gear to carry though I’m sure this hotel would give you a caddy !!!

Famiana Golf courseW

We’ll okay I accept it’s not St. Andrews or Pebble Beach but with a cut down putter for a six year old it is quite a challenge !

So this hotel is  the newest on the strip but 5 hotels down towards town is the oldest built in the 1980’s when there was nothing on Long Beach but a few run down old French Colonial houses . In those days there were no roads on the island so you had to come by boat from the mainland and so did building materials . So you needed a pier that would survive monsoonal seas .

Pier Thousand Stars

 

and so The Thousand Stars Resort as it is called boasts the only pier on the whole strip.

It is a weird hotel built by an eccentric with his own idea of what things to put around the place. The gardens and the beach are dotted with oddities

Sculptures Thousand Stars

 

The place has certainly seen better days , much better days and is still open but up for sale and awaiting some developer to come and do it a favour and put it out of it’s misery by knocking it down.

If you go onto Tripadvisor and look it up there is not one review that doesn’t start with the first line in massive capitals. DO NOt STAY HERE. and then the poor person goes on to list a litany of problems they have encountered. One poor couple who stumbled on it one evening when the taxi dropped them at the wrong hotel had to pay to get their passports back once they had checked in and realised they were in the wrong hotel. We’ll phone the police they told the manager. Great he said they don’t speak English and you signed a booking form for 7 nights accommodation. Pay up to be able to leave. Now there’s customer service for you.

Wouldn’t happen at the Famiana ……. Would it????

 

 

All Quiet

In case your worried that is snow falling on the blog and not a problem with your eyes. I can jazz up the site for Christmas. Apparently I can even add Christmas songs to it but have resisted that at the moment.

No protests today as the protesters decided that they would help clean up the areas where the they have been active near government buildings. It is all to do with the King’s birthday tomorrow and both sides seem eager to not offend him . So it will all start again on friday by which time we should be long gone. Still it has certainly livened up the past couple of days.

Whilst up in Chiang Mai and staying at the Opium Apartments I had some trouble getting this laptop to link with the hotel internet. Luckily there were an army of people staying there who were eager to help and eventually a South African lad Jerry got it all worked out for me. He had just spent 4 months in Vietnam  and advised me to get a booster for the internet signal as many hotels there have lousy signals. An American lad Zac who works at Best Buy as a computer salesman told me it is all to do with the number of routers the hotel installs. Good ones put a couple on each floor poor ones hardly any at all. Each router can run so many customers and then rejects the rest or gives them lousy connectivity . I have to say it all goes over my head but having had problems throughout Thailand I thought I should get a booster.

Bangkok is awash with computer places. The biggest is the MBK Centre with floors and floors of shops selling anything you need. Nearby is the Siam Discovery Centre, the Siam Centre and the Siam Paragon . All these malls are almost dedicated to the I.T. industry as well as having tons of DVD and CD copies as well.

However they are all near the protest area in fact they are on the road where all the tear gas and rubber bullets were fired over last weekend. Well worth a miss I thought. so instead I went to the Fortune Town Mall well away from the troubles and six stops on the metro from Si Lom .

Well I don’t know about the others but this one was four floors full of I.T. stuff. The only drawback was that almost no one spoke english and sign language for an internet booster with an ariel challenged even my charades game expertise. Sound like, 5 words, first word etc. Still i am now the proud owner of a Tenda booster with a very smart ariel. I ‘m not sure it does anything but boy I look suitable geeky now.

I was also looking for a Jawbone Jambox mini as I can’t get my iPod music on to this new MacBook Air . In fact no one had the new one which gets rave revues on Amazon.co.uk . They haven’t arrived yet over here but I did get an exact copy of one made by OnBeat.

The papers here cover today the Transparency International corruption survey. Thailand didn’t come out of it too well ranked 102 out of 177 ( least corrupt at the top and most at the bottom). The problem here seems to be mainly the political parties and the police as being the most corrupt.

Dear Italy comes in at 69 and there the survey shows people believe that almost all the corruption is with political parties, politicians and parliament. Perhaps surprisingly the only other body considered very corrupt are the medical services most especially the doctors. Only 47% of people agree with Il Cavaliere Berlusconi that the Judges are corrupt.

The UK by the way was at number 14.

So we are ready to move on tomorrow. Another travel day for us .

Yellow is the Colour…

Near this hotel is the Silom Complex mall . It is not a big mall but has lots of western shops including a Boots, Marks and Spenser and a big department store. It is also where the front desk sends you for anything you ask their advise on. ” Go Silom Complex” they say especially when it is clear they haven’t understood a word of your question. God only knows what they have sent unsuspecting guests up there to try to purchase.

There is also a large Starbucks and it was there I was sent this morning while Geraldine went shopping. I am barred from such expeditions , mind you I go willingly to sit them out.

So today I sat with my Bangkok Post newspaper and a Grande Capuccio for company. I was reading about yesterday’s protests at the government building and congratulating myself on a sound choice of hotel away from the main protest area when I started to hear whistles and car horns growing louder. Soon a full protest by the Yellows was in full swing down Silom road and right past my Mall indeed inches from my table. From the mall people came pouring as they did from office blocks and lunch stalls to cheer them on and for 20 minutes they filed past waiving Thai flags and dressed in riot type fatigues. So my first view of a protest and me almost on the front line though with so much support around them they just seemed pleased to be the focus of attention and it all seemed very friendly and well Thai I guess.

After the excitement everyone came back and continued doing what they had been doing before and the protesters went on to seize the Royal Thai Police Compound down the road. In yet another change in direction the government has said that the protesters can now occupy any government building they want without any opposition. This is to supposedly defuse the tension of the last two days. The police are back to handing out flowers to them as they march in. Fine I guess as long as they don’t wander off to the two major airports here and occupy them.

At the table alongside me a large Nigerian guy settled down and was soon joined by a Thai lady for a business meeting. I couldn’t help but overhear the entire thing ( by leaning close and hiding behind my paper ) but I’m not nosey despite what Geraldine says.

He was a buyer of some sort and what ever the product was it was being made near Bangkok. I was fascinated when he started by saying his bosses were interested in buying lots more product but were worried about the level of English spoken by the office staff at the factories so making conversation difficult and leading constantly to misunderstandings on the production line. It has been something we have noticed this time. The explosion in call centres, major hotels and tourism generally has not been kept up with by the Thai education system. Indeed Thailand sinks dramatically each year in the Asian table of English ability. Rightly or wrongly English is the language of trade now throughout the world and to be a player a country needs to have plenty of students with the ability to speak it well.

Despite the poor english on the front desk here at The Siri Sathorn ( english lessons ? Go Si Lom Complex ) it is a nice place to rest your head. Let me canter you through our place

Entrance hall

Hallway Siri Sathorn

Living Area 1

living Siri Sathorn

Kitchen Area

Kitchen Siri SathornAnother area of living stuff

More Living Siri Sathorn

and a separate bedroom and bathroom

Bedroom Siri Sathorn

What I love is the big workstation

Work Desk Siri Sathorn

Loads of cable channels and a full stereo system as well and all that for €85 a night. Now when I think what I get in Italy or France for that price well it is mind blowing. The gym has every machine a fitness fanatic could ever dream of and the pool is huge as well.

Thursday when we fly is also the King’s birthday and is a national holiday here. The protesters had originally said that if they had not succeeded in toppling the government by then they would stop. However today they said that as they had made progress but not yet achieved their goal they will fight on.

The Royla Family here is much revered and almost worshipped so I am hoping that it will be after the birthday that they start again.

Bus, Plane, Taxi

Travel day today. We drove the 3 hours back down to Chiang Mai from the Mea Kok River Resort and headed to the airport.

Any lingering thoughts of Chiang Mai as a sleepy northern town were dispelled by the 6 lane highway complete with under passes and fly overs to the airport. With 8 feeder lanes running alongside it it is bigger than the motorway in from the main airport in Bangkok. How soon before we see a sky train here?

Air Asia surprised us again by offering food and drink this time slowly wheeling a trolley the length of the aircraft. Michael O’Leary of Ryanair would be tearing his hair out at the lack of sales technique but at least you could buy a drink if you wanted.

There is now almost a half hourly service between Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Air Asia have been joined by Nok Air and another new entrant Lion ( check them out by clicking here ). A couple we met in Chiang Mai last week had just bought their tickets on Lion for US$15 each including taxes for the week after next.  Nok Air have cleverly at Bangkok grabbed the internet rights at the terminal and so you need a booking number on them if you want to connect while waiting at the Low Cost Airport here ( it’s the old airport that closed and then re-opened in 2010 ).

The taxi into town took 25 mins to the Siri Sathorn and even though we passed the Ministry of Energy we saw no protesters. Disappointingly there was no visible security at the airport when we left it . In 2008 protesters seized it and held it for 3 weeks forcing people to trains, buses and ferries to get to an airport in another country to get home.

I will be checking out a few happy hours in the area around the hotel to pick up any news on how things are going and let you know.

I booked an early morning call for 7.30 this morning at The Maekok Resort and at 7.40 the guy was knocking on the door to collect the bags ! Now there’s speedy packing but that was expecting quite a lot considering the car was booked for 9 a.m.

Bryan was on parade to wave us goodbye and told me Christmas week they are full to the gills. Having seen it struggle with 26 of us quite how they handle 72 I have no idea. Still the school was quite something.

Nice Weather for Ducks

The Germans and two other small groups left yesterday after breakfast so today it was good to go back to a menu instead of the buffet that had been on offer for two days during their stay.

I’m not a great lover of buffets myself. Too many sales conferences and Travel Agent functions over the years as well as when at Thomas Cooks visiting loads of all inclusive hotels throughout the Caribbean ( tough life but someone had to do it).

Firstly I tend to get greedy and take more than I ever intended and more importantly there is always a nagging feeling as to how long it has all been hanging around in those big containers with little candles underneath them keeping them tepidly warm .

Most non inclusive hotels tried to get away from buffet breakfast for similar reasons. They could better control customers and costs by controlling what went on the plate. Lots of people me included tend to look at a breakfast buffet where no other meal is included in the cost as a way of saving on lunch and therefore bring commodious bags to breakfast to load up with stuff to eat at lunchtime. Hardly what the hotel had in mind when it thought it might save the cost of a few staff. These guys have yet to learn that lesson and especially when here labour is one of their lowest costs whereas boat loads of american bacon isn’t.

The weather that was bad  yesterday decided to show it’s ugly side today as some Chinese high pressure system sweeps through from the east. Buckets of rain all night and all through the day today . I found a place to sit undercover and started on my third book since we got here on the trusty Kindle and thank god. The books people have left here are clearly ones they just didn’t want at all and dumped. I said yesterday that with over 20 people the Resort couldn’t cope but let me add in the rain there is nothing to do at all except sit and watch it come down. Even a gym would be good or maybe some DVDs.

Just after lunch it stopped for a while and having just said to one of the staff lovely day for ducks they duly obliged

ducks

They seemed to really enjoy the pool though as the heavens opened again they too retreated under cover.

I had by yesterday taken a few photos of the gardens. They are quite lovely if you are into gardens though I guess being near water and with a soil made up of silt  anything you plant grows like a weed here especially given the rainfall !

The resort boasts a croquet pitch

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which I have to say I haven’t seen anywhere else except in old country house hotels in the UK. Mind you they also do tea and scones at 4 p.m. here as well.  Croquet is apparently quite a nasty game the object being to send your opponents ball off into the nearest hedge row at every opportunity nothing refined and gentile about it at all.

Gardens 1

There are pleasant walks with lots of arches  both to walk under and dispatch your opponents ball to but apart from some very hard wooden benches no where to sit or better still lie and enjoy them when the sun is out.

We had hoped to take one of these out today

Longboat

You can do an hour long cruise to the Burma border and back. I think going up must take about 45 mins against a really strong current and back down about 10 mins. However even when not raining the air temp at just 16C would have prevented it. We haven’t got the right gear with us. Amazingly two other guests that arrived late last night appeared to go on their boat trip looking like they had been decked out by the Royal Lifeboat Association or the by the crew of a Newfoundland cod trawler . Where did they get it all I wonder and what on earth will they do with it all for the rest of their trip around Thailand. It’s 36C in Bangkok today so they might look just a little out of place there or on the beach in Ko Samui.

The riots are worse in Bangkok today with tear gas etc being used. We head there tomorrow so can give you first hand info on the situation. I, like war correspondences of old will position myself in a suitable watering hole and as the beer and scotch flow compose more and more exciting reports than I can see on the local TV station in said bar whilst keeping the bills for expenses and await my nomination for a Pulizer .

Down Town

We are back by ourselves in the hotel after the German invasion. Yesterday I was out flanked by them by over sleeping and by the time I was up every pool lounger not only had a towel on but a fraulein as well. Of course 11 loungers and a group of 24 germans doesn’t compute either so the guys were on the grass.

Lunchtime we make our play I said to Geraldine but not a soul moved. I was positioned behind some trees thinking any time they will head off but instead they all ordered Thai massage and that kept them and the bed chairs occupied all day. One thing is for sure this hotel and groups don’t work, there isn’t the space if most are sun worshippers.

Today the weather turned positively chilly and so it was time to take a look in town but first let me just finish on the school I went to yesterday. One thing I hadn’t really thought of but should have done given that in Puglia there are loads of dialects that bear no relationship at all to Italian. It is true here too with the different peoples who make up the local population. Therefore not only do they have an English room

English Class Room

but they also have to teach most of the kids Thai as well in the Thai room

Thai Class Room

Now I’m sure something that has been on your mind for sometime whilst reading all this is what is the crop rotation used up here in Northern Thailand. Well I wasn’t out with an ex geography teacher for nothing team. We drove back alongside acres of paddy field and so I can now tell you. It is rice, then garlic, then herbs, then corn and back to rice. So there’s something to enliven conversation in your pub or bar this week.

The local town is called Thaton and it is on the River Kok one kilometre from the hotel. Visits are not encouraged by the hotel which is strange. They charge an eye watering 400 baht ( £8)  each way by taxi and so you walk. Route 1089 is not however some pleasant country road . It has bloody great trucks thundering up and down it as well as a varied assortment of flat bed trucks. It seems everyone in the area must own at least one and spend all day thrashing up and down to Thaton. So the walk is not for the faint hearted and colourful clothing is essential. I am amazed at how few Thais up here wear glasses whereas in Bangkok loads do. The taxi drivers we had in Chiang Mai always had trouble reading the addresses in Thai and both receptionists at the Grand Napat couldn’t read the print ( in Thai) on my iPhone, too small they kept saying. So those squinting drivers hurtling towards you in an old pick up truck aren’t worrying about the sun they are trying to figure out what the blob is in front of them and the blob is me !

Like so many Thai small towns the entrance is gloriously understated

Entrance to Thaton

The local council are especially pleased with their bus terminus which boasts a fine restaurant

bus station

However the town has no less than five yes five coffee shops of which the Sunshine cafe is the largest and the place we gave our custom too. They serve ” Italian Coffee ” but the milk is canned so we plumped for expresso .

Espresso in thaton Chiang Rai

No disrespect to the lovely if toothless lady owner but it was truly the most awful coffee I have ever had and once her back was turned it went out over the balcony. Maybe when they get an expresso machine things might look up.

I did however meet a lovely Dutch lady who lives in Thaton and has done for 8 years. There are eight expats in the little town and they must lead a very quiet life though she seemed totally happy here and loved her large rented house with it’s completely open plan and cool winds. Today I would have thought she was very cold.

The place boasts the ubiquitous 7/11 store as does every town and village almost in Thailand. They are useful especially for tourists as the everything is priced.

I bought water from the local guy

The local store

After a bit of head scratching he came up with 20 baht a bottle. Same stuff in 7/11 14 baht, so much for supporting the local guy !! Mind you his bananas as 10 baht (20p) a kilo were good.

Behind the town on a hill are 6 temples that are placed going up the steep road to the top of the hill 300 metres up. So dear reader knowing you would want a picture from the top with no concern for my own safety and well being up I went and here it is

Thaton From the Hill

I didn’t bother taking photos of all the temples as to be fair I am now templed out and am rather wanting to get back on a beach but that must wait for another 6 days unfortunately.

Oh and It wasn’t a Spitfire beer ad it was a Carling Black Label beer ad with the towel

Education. Education, Education

So said a young Tony Blair when asked his priorities for his first government. Like so many politician’s promises or in Blair parlance ” sound bites” I’m not sure what happened to that one but up here near Chiang Rai on the Mae Kok River it has a certain resonance.

There are some 10 different peoples populating this area and most are a few notches up from what my geography master used to describe as subsistence farming e.g. these guys have stuff left over to sell. The way clearly to get them moving upwards is to ensure that the children get a sound education and can then makes life choices ( good buzz word don’t you think !) as to whether they want to stay or head off to the city because with it they will  be able to make the decision.

There are plenty of schools up here built by the Thai Rangers elite border control section of the army. They built them during the period when tension was high along the Thai/ Burma border and it was a way they hoped to stop the local peoples offering assistance to the Burmese forces that infiltrated across the porous border to attack the Rangers.

Tensions are now very low and the schools have fallen into disrepair. Step in Bryan Massingham the amiable owner of the Maekok River Resort and the Outdoor Adventure school for International School students from around the world who also was a geography teacher before building the resort.

Each week he has about 40 International school students here and because community service is now high on the education curriculum in many countries it seemed a natural to offer such an experience to his visiting students where they could add value ( I’m full of buzzy stuff today ) . It has worked a dream as they say.

When I was at school eons ago community service was done as a punishment for bad behaviour and we all considered it far worse than a beating with the cane. The idea of hours weeding some ancient pensioner’s garden was enough to almost dissuade you from say smoking. Indeed one new enlightened house master decided to do away with the cane and use the community service punishment alone. He was surprised to receive a petition signed by all the cadets in his house begging him to re-instate the cane immediately.

Now it is the normal part of being at school it seems and here the students do it in the local schools and Bryan took me to one today to see them in action.

The foreign students and this lot were from Hong Kong are split into two groups each day. In the morning one lot do painting or repairing of buildings

Int Students Painting school

 

Three days ago these were rusty unused school playground equipment. The students have sanded them down, oiled them, repaired them and now have painted them .by tomorrow they will be back in use and loaded with happy 5/6 year olds.

the other half teach English in the class room

Int School Teaching

 

Some like these guys are very good and the local kids pay real attention. I didn’t like to photograph the other room where the students had lost complete control of the children who were running amok. Byran with his head master’s hat on took control immediately and I found myself calling him “sir” for a short period as did the kids.

The real benefit though comes when the students go home having seen first hand the type of conditions the kids are taught in and start to raise funds to be sent back to the schools they have worked in.

Bryan has established close links with 38 schools in the area and since 2004 over 120 school improvement projects have been funded by the international school students to the value of over 15 million Baht ( £3 million ).

At this school he found that many of the very young students 5-7 years old were walking 5 kms each way to attend school each day. The funds have built two dormitories and now the youngsters weekly board and merely walk down on a Monday and go home on a Friday. The funds also started a small farm nearby to provide food for the boarders. Classrooms have been built , sports facilities  laid out and more teachers bought in.

They also provide funds to allow bright students to stay on at school when  the parents would normally take them away from school at 11 years old to help on the farm. Now they can stay on till 15 years old.

To increase fund raising Bryan loaned money to 6 local women to set up a small   pashmina business working on local looms.

Making Scafes Local Village

 

 

Now International school students buy the stock and take it home to sell there and we parents all know how good kids are at doing this. A school from Tokyo bought up 15,500 baht worth a few weeks ago and this week sent Bryan 57,000 baht having deducted the original outlay !

Since seeing Sri Lank a few years after the tsunami had hit and the almost total lack of new building despite the millions sent to the country I have grown sceptical of charities. Especially as I met in the Hilton in Columbo 50 or so so called NGO leaders living there on the executive floors making the odd visit to the the Galle area where the devastation was.

To see this little operation in practise was great . Blair was right of course but to him it was just a clever thing to say. Bryan and his small team are doing something very practical to improve the lot of the local people by providing education, education, education.