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We leave for Singapore early tomorrow morning.  I'm really looking forward to the short holiday — the main purpose is to obtain my multiple-entry Non-Immigrant (O) Visa (which will allow me to remain in Thailand for another year without any further immigration worries) but I'm also treating this as our honeymoon (we never had a real one since Tim's daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter stayed with us in Ayutthaya right after our legal marriage).

We land in Singapore a bit after eleven in the morning; too late to get to the Royal Thai Embassy before their visa application deadline so we'll spend some time sightseeing after checking into our hotel (near Fort Canning Park just north of the CBD).  I plan to be at the embassy before they open on Tuesday morning (Ben went last week and said the queue was very long when he'd arrived shortly after their opening time).  We then have the rest of that day as well as Wednesday morning to sightsee or shop (the Thai embassy is surrounded by many, many shopping centers).  I have to collect my passport (complete with new visa) after 2:15 on Wednesday.  Our flight doesn't leave until late Thursday night so we'll have seen just about all there is to see of Singapore before departing.

I'm not taking the laptop with me and I doubt I'll want to hole up in an internet cafe during this trip.  So, it may be a little while before I report back (even when I'm at home, I'm posting less and less these days)...


Early this morning, Tim, Nadia, and I made our way over to Saphan Hin to watch the Vegetarian Festival prosession by Kathu Shrine.  It was unlike anything I've ever experienced — plenty of devotees in trances with all manner of objects protruding through their cheeks and other parts of their bodies.  Not only were there the expected knives and swords but items such as umbrellas, large spring-coils, etc. were dangling from their mouths.  Definitely not for the faint-of-heart!

In all, the parade lasted almost two hours and was quite a spectacle with many participants, clanging Chinese drums, and plenty of fireworks (with no regard to the safety of any humans or animals in the vicinity).  I took almost 200 photos and shot about 40 minutes of video.  Here's a small selection from the still pictures (I've included 12 photos; please allow time for them all to load):


In Thailand, some things are easy and some things are fairly difficult.  Collecting one's mail here sometimes falls into both categories.  Usually, if a package arrives from overseas I'll receive an EMS notice in my mailbox and have to claim it from the Rawai Post Office.  I enter the loading dock and pick up my packages in the back room, often digging through the piles of parcels to find mine, and then signing my name in a book.  If I happen to be at home when a parcel arrives, I usually have to pay the postman a minimal fee (between 5 and 10 baht).

But the largest package to arrive so far created a lot of drama in it's delivery.  This was a box of books, accumulated mail, various odd-and-ends, and a few grocery items that my sister had been gathering to send over the past six months.  When it came time to ship the parcel, she also added our wedding present.  The postage came to just under USD $200 (it was very heavy, weighing in at 35 pounds or 16 kilos).

Last Saturday, we happened to be at home when the postman came by with the mail.  I had a couple of overseas letters and he had me sign a document without any explanation as to what it was.  I figured I was signing saying I had received the letters.  It wasn't until an hour or so later as I was throwing away a few things that I noticed that this was a notice to pick up a package.  We hopped onto the motorbike and raced over to the post office only to be told we would have to retrieve the parcel in Phuket Town when mail service resumed on Tuesday (Monday being a public holiday with Chulalongkorn Day).

However, our assumption that it would be at the main post office proved wrong and we ended up going to Phuket Customs House instead.  I handed over my notification document and soon a very battered cardboard box was hauled out of a holding pen.  A group of officials in starched white shirts and epaulets surrounded me as if I was some sort of drug dealer.  I was handed a box-cutter and told to open the parcel.  Each item inside was duly scrutinized (they even opened a packet of Kool-Aid my sister had included at my request).  Even the books were closely examined (I suppose to ascertain I wasn't importing anything deemed socially inappropriate or politically sensitive).

But the item that caused the greatest commotion was the wrapped wedding present, a considerable-sized box within the larger carton.  It was nicely wrapped in high-quality paper.  I was told to open this as well.  By this time, my patience had worn thin (my copy of Bangkok: Inside And Out and two bottles of mosquito repellant had already been confiscated) and I told the officials that this was a wedding present for my wife and myself and we planned to open it at our traditional ceremony among family and friends.  "Open it now," the head official demanded.  Again, I tried to explain that I wasn't about to open our wedding gift in such an environment without even my wife present (Tim had decided to wait outside, leaving me to the lions as it turned out).  Finally, I reached a compromise and asked if I could have my wife come inside to open it.  They agreed and then the entire Customs staff (including the security guards who had appeared after my first refusal) watched as Tim (confused as to why she had to open a present here) tore the paper off of a very nice set of Waterford Crystal champagne glasses.  A very nice gift but we didn't have time to enjoy them as first I was grilled about their value.  I had no idea and gave an amount of USD $50.  The box with the glasses in it was then taken to another desk where an official consulted a large book to determine a more realistic value.

Anyway, to make a long story a bit shorter, I was soon handed a bill for an exorbitant customs/import duty tax based soley on the wedding present (the other items in the box were deemed to have no real value).  Tim told me later she could hear some of the officials discussing how much they could get out of me without me becoming too suspicious.  I ended up paying a little over 5,000 baht (about USD $125); it was my first personal experience with the infamous Thai bureaucratic bribe.  Hopefully, it will also be my last.

Other expats I've talked to about this have told me that they usually have their friends and relatives send things over in small, light packages that escape the notice of Customs.  Oh well, live and learn...

the parcel in our sidecar once we got it released from the Phuket Customs House



One of the biggest annual events on Phuket is the Vegetarian Festival.  From the official website:

The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is an annual event held during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar.  It is believed that the vegetarian festival and its accompanying sacred rituals bestow good fortune upon those who religiously observe this rite.  During this time, local residents of Chinese ancestry strictly observe a 10-day vegetarian or vegan diet for the purposes of spiritual cleansing and merit-making.  Sacred rituals are performed at various Chinese shrines and temples and aesthetic displays such as walking barefooted over hot coals and ascending ladders with bladed rungs are performed by entranced devotees known as "Ma Song".
Indeed, the biggest attraction for observers — Thai and farang alike — are the prossessions featuring people in trances, often with swords and other sharp objects protruding through their cheeks.

Tim and I, and several friends of ours, attended the grand parade on Monday which celebrated HM the King's 60th anniversary of his reign and marked the official beginning of this year's festival.  The prossession travelled from Queen Sirikit Park on Thalang Road down to Saphan Hin at the bottom of Phuket Town.  It ended with a mass prayer for the King (featuring kneeling in silence for 60 minutes!) and a large fireworks display (which we missed due to a desire to return home before it began to rain).  We were somewhat disappointed by the absence of trance-devotees but plan to attend a demonstration of the facial spearing tomorrow morning and fire-walking tomorrow night.

Here are a few photos from this past Monday's kickoff event:



Last Friday, Tim and I returned to Bang Pae Waterfall (see An Attempt To Catch Up) with Nadee, Jiab, and a new friend — Mary from Chicago — in tow.  This time, I had to pay the National Park fee for farangs (100 baht; avoidable if I had a Thai driving license) but it was well worth it since we had the upper pools beneath the falls virtually to ourselves.  Tim didn't swim as much as the rest of us, opting to take photos from the shore.  She actually shot almost a hundred photos but very few of them are in focus (I've selected the "best of the bunch" to display here); a little more instruction on how to use my camera is in order, I'm afraid...

Mary was actually someone that Jiab met at local market a few days ago and invited along at the last minute so I'd have a native English-speaker to converse with (I'm actually very happy being trying to talk in Thaiglish on these excursions).  It turns out that she had recently graduated from one of the other TEFL courses on Phuket and had spent the previous six years living in Japan.  She was a nice addition to our little group, if a bit reserved because we'd all just met.

I spent most of the time playing pranks with Nadee and Jiab and trying to coax them ever closer to the main waterfall.  It was difficult to get under it because the waterflow was extremely strong and the spray stung our eyes.  After some trial-and-error, I managed to perch on a few rocks at the base but the girls only made it to a large boulder about 20 feet away.

We left Bang Pae after a couple of hours of swimming and made our way to Surin Beach on the west coast.  The surf was almost non-existent and Tim even swam out rather far from the shore.  It was pleasant but I missed the excited of Laem Sing with it's massive waves.  I tried to teach Jiab and Tim how to float on their backs but without much success; I, on the other hand, float TOO easily and can fall asleep gliding on the water's surface...

Here are the best of Tim's photos (and one by Jiab) from the falls at Bang Pae:



I've managed to recover access and most of the files for my personal website.  However, the "service has been suspended" page still comes up.  A workaround is to point your browsers to which will bring up my homepage.  I've sent an email to's customer service department so, hopefully, I can get rid of the notice page.  I just wish I could find the time to update the site properly and add the many Phuket and Thailand-themeed pages that I have planned...


Heeding an invitation from Doug, Nid, and Ben last night I took Tim bowling for the first time at Big C.  I hadn't been bowling myself for at least ten years (probably during the last family reunion I attended — for my grandpa's 90th birthday in July 1996); I was a bit rusty but did okay.  We had a blast and I was surprised at how quickly Tim got the hang of it.  In all, I played four games with my wife (scores of 43/81, 61/82, 48/115, and 92/107) plus two on my own (95 and 101).  My final game was with Doug (who had won games against Ben and Nid) but we were both tired by then and neither of us broke 100 (I think Ben was around a 97 and I bowled an 85).

2549-10-16 PROBLEMS

As some friends and family members may have already discovered, I'm currently having some problems with the server hosts for my website,  I only just discovered the problem yesterday morning; not only was the site disabled, but also the email services (affecting only my wife and myself).  I thought I had resolved the problem tonight — email at least has been restored — but all of the files, etc. on the server are now MIA and the homepage still has a nasty "this service has been suspended" greeting on it.  It'll probably take at least another expensive call back to the States to get this fixed.  Sorry about the inconvenience...



After doing a bit of research on Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, I decided the latter would be a better place for Tim and I to go and apply for a multiple-entry Non-Immigrant (O) — the so-called "marriage visa."  I just booked our airline and hotel reservations for the end of this month and managed to get some fairly good deals.  I did screw up a bit, however, in that we fly out of Phuket the morning of October 30 — the day after my current visa-on-arrival stamp expires.  Rather than risking the overstay fine & passport notation (may or may not be imposed), I think I'll try to get an extension at Patong Immigration the Friday before our trip.  Having an overstay on record could possibly be grounds for them to deny my Non-Imm visa application (depending on the mood of the officials on the day I go to the embassy); getting an extension (which is in no way guaranteed) is cheaper and easier than changing the reservations.  At least that's what I've been advised...

At any rate, Tim and I are looking forward to visiting someplace different.


Laem Sing Beach seems to have become our favorite over the past few days.  Located between Kamala and Surin on Phuket's west coast, this one requires quite a trek down a mountain to get to it but it's worth the hike.  Pinned between a tight valley, the beach attracts some serious surf and it's quite fun to brave the breakers and ride the waves.  We spent a few hours there Thursday afternoon and then most of the day and into the night on Sunday.

In between, we also visited various other beaches (although we didn't swim at those).  Mark and Jiab spent the weekend at our house and we managed to cram in rides to Ao Chalong Tourist Pier (where we had an excellent dinner — I had the deep fried prawns), a tiny beach between Laem Promthep (where we also ventured) and Naiharn which still has plenty of uncleaned-up tsunami damage, drinks and crabs along the Rawai waterfront, and an after-midnight picnic at Kata across from Club Med.

Although we had a lot of fun in the wake of our graduation, I've paid a price in that I've received over 40 mosquito bites in the past few days (giving new meaning to the term "eaten alive") as well as a nasty sun burn.  But, I'm not complaining as the small bit of discomfort is minimal to the enjoyment I've received.

Mark, Jiab, and I on the Ao Chalong Tourist Pier

sunset on the unnamed (possibly Ya Nui or Nai Ya?) beach between Promthep and Nai Harn

Tim and I enjoying a cool evening on the beach

your's truly on the receiving end of a triple massage given by Jiab, Nadee, and Tim (who took a break to take the photo); gotta love Thailand...

Nadee tries to be sneaky and pour buckets of ice on unsuspecting sun bathers

Michael, Doug, Adrian, and Chris soaking up the sun at Laem Sing


A couple of weeks ago, "the gang" went on an elephant trek at Kok Chang Kata Safari, between Rawai and Kata Beach.  Tim actually set aside her fear of elephants and joined me on the back of a large one for a 30-minute ride through the jungle.  I even got to play mahout for a while as I drove the elephant during the second half of the trek, steering from atop his head.  I didn't feel as secure up there as I appear in the photos; I especially thought I was going to tumble off as we descended a steep hill at the end.

Mark, Jiab, Tim, and I getting ready to ride some elephants

Tim befriends the resident gibbons

These photos are dedicated to my elephant-loving nephew, Spencer

Tim is lifted up by one of the smaller elephants at the safari company



Last weekend was our most active yet with back-to-back parties and my visa run to Ranong.

Friday night, the majority of my fellow TEFL students ventured out to Chalong where Tim and I hosted a dinner and party.  Chris, Doug, Adrian, Michael, and Ben were there for the duration; Mark and his friend Pooky arrived later.  We grilled some steaks I'd purchased at Tops in Central Festival (Thai-French beef which is very good), cooked brautwurst and Italian sausages, and French fried potatoes served with salad.  Everyone was very impressed with the meal (the first farang-style home-cooking many had had since arriving in Thailand).

The party lasted until the wee hours of the morning; I hadn't planned on the lateness of it due to the fact that Ben, Mark, and I were leaving for Myanmar around seven (which ended up being closer to eight).


Pooky, Mark, and Tim

Doug, Michael, and Adrian

Tim waving "goodbye" to our guests

Saturday morning dawned cold and rainy and the first couple of hours saw us driving north in a torrential downpour, the result of a particularly stubborn typhoon which had been stalled over Burma for several days.  We saw a lot of flooding along the way but it began to clear up by the time we reached Khao Lak.  We found the patrol boat that had been thrown about 2km inland by the tsunami, stopped and took a few photos.

We arrived at Ranong shortly after one in the afternoon, got our exit stamps at Immigration, and picked up our guide who sold us U.S. five dollar bills (to pay the $10 consular fee in Myanmar).  We made our way to the harbor where we boarded a longtail boat for the trip across the channel; it was a lot more fun than my previous passage on a much larger ferryboat.  The waves were fairly calm and we didn't get very wet on the way over to Kawthung.  They now make you get out of the boat rather than having a runner take your passports up; we had our passports perused, received the Myanmar entry and exit stamps, paid our USD $10 fees, and got our photographs taken (new procedures at this checkpoint).  The return to Thai soil was a bit wetter than the crossing to Myanmar and the skies threated rain by the time we arrived back in Ranong.  Another stop at Immigration and we were making our way back south to Phuket by 2:30.

The return journey saw us going through many more Royal Thai Army and Police checkpoints than my previous visa run, a visible reminder of the coup two weeks ago.  However, since it was raining, most of the soldiers simply waved us through after a cursory glance inside.  We stopped for dinner at a very nice resort in Kuraburi; I was so impressed by it that I plan to take Tim there for a weekend away at some point in the near future.

swollen river from the floods near Khao Lak

Royal Thai Police patrol boat which was thrown to this location by the 26 December 2004 tsunami; it's around 2km inland now and is being left in place as a reminder of the tragedy — more people perished in Khao Lak than anywhere else in Thailand

Ben doing his best Jack Nicholson impersonation

Mark and Mark in the back of our longtail boat to Burma

Thai Immigration checkpoint on the Ranong side of the strait

Myanmar Immigration checkpoint on the Kawthung side of the strait

Kawthung (Myanmar/Burma) waterfront

approaching the pier in Kawthung

on our way back to Thailand, Royal Thai Army soldier make sure we don't have any illegal Burmese workers stowed in the bottom of our boat

the longtail boats tied up at Ranong harbor; you have to walk across the rows of boats when you dock to reach the pier

we had an excellent dinner at the Kuraburi Gardenview Resort, north of Khao Lak

We finally got back to Chalong after eight in the evening to find Tim was hosting another party for several of the Thai students of our free English classes.  Ben's wife Nit was there, as were my two sisters Nadee and Jiab with Joe and Opat from the class.  They were singing along to Thai karaoke VCD's and the remains of a picnic dinner were still on the living room floor (along with numerous bottles of beer and Thai whiskey).  Mark, Ben, and I joined in and it soon became an all-night affair.  With drinking and the weather being a concern, we let everyone stay the night and set them up with blankets and pillows.

Sunday morning, I woke up to find everyone asleep on the living room floor, except for Nadee and Jiab who were sharing the small bed in the back bedroom.  It really reminded me of a typical Thai household where the entire family sleeps in the same room together.  I tried to quietly begin doing some laundry (it had been piling up all the previous week as Tim and I had been so busy) and to clean the kitchen.  But my sisters soon woke up and shooed me away, insisting they would clean up.  The others began waking and soon everyone was helping out with either laundry or dishes while Tim remained asleep in the master bedroom.  The place was spotless by the time she woke up and she was really pleased!

We all spent most of the day talking, eating, watching a movie ("The Incredibles") and a VCD (footage of the tsunami aftermath), and looking at photos.  It really was nice to be surrounded by so many genuinely nice people.  I'm especially enamored with Nadee and Jiab who worship the ground Tim walks on and really seem to look up to me as well.  They aren't you're typical Thai girls who don't know anything of the world outside — Jiab, particularly is very well-informed (we were having a fairly extensive conversation about the breakup of Yugoslavia the other day!).  Anyway, I had a nice time hosting everyone during the entire weekend but Sunday was definitely the most enjoyable.


the usually very shy Jiab dancing

Nadee helping to clean our kitchen

Jiab manning the washing machine

Jiab trying to wake up Mark as Joe sleeps on into the afternoon; the dog is a new addition to the "family"

Tim wakes up from a well-deserved nap taken while we were watching a movie

Nadee, Mark, Jiab, and half of Opat

the gracious hosts of the weekend

Joe, Nadee, me, Jiab, Mark, Opat

Opat, Joe, and Nadee wave goodbye on their way home (after 3pm on Sunday after they'd arrived sometime Saturday afternoon)