Travel and Leisure

Moving home?

I have recently moved from a 5 bedroom house on 3 storeys in Bangkok to a much smaller condo on the fourth floor of a condominium in Hua Hin.

Was it worthwhile trying to manouvere the quality king sized mattress down the stairs and then onto the fourth floor of the condominium – I made the judgment not to.

I looked at various alternatives but then stumbled across www.sleephappy.co.th online and I am glad that I did. Reading their website I saw that they delivered your new mattress in a 7’ long x a 18” square box!

The removal company probably could have struggled down from the third storey of my old house but I wasn’t able to move straight into my new apartment as it was being refurbished, so it would have had to have been put in storage for a month. Then moved again when I was able to move in. Sleephappy delivered it via a courier company. The topper that came with it in a 3’ long 18” box.

The mattress I chose is the same one used by JW Marriott – and they know a thing or two about beds. The topper makes it even softer and gives me a good nights sleep.

When we opened it up it was heavily wrapped and compressed in vacuum packed plastic. As it was released from its bond it sprang into action and was finished off beautifully. No scuff marks on it from the dirty floor outside and perfectly clean and ready for use. This is obviously the future for mattresses.

I can heartily recommend www.sleephappy.co.th – it is an evolution of Dreammaster, a company that has been selling beds in Thailand for years.

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The biggest news this week is that Thailand is gradually reopening to tourists. Starting from 1st October, quarantine has been reduced from 14 days to seven days for fully vaccinated international travelers. Not only that, people can now come from any country. Yes, there is still quarantine of sorts, but if you go to one of the sandbox destinations like Phuket or Samui, then you can spend the seven days sitting on the beach or exploring the island. After that, you are free to go anywhere in Thailand. There is no guarantee, but maybe in November or December, fully vaccinated visitors, may be able to enter Thailand without having to do quarantine.

For more details about newsletter please suscribe here – https://www.getrevue.co/profile/richardbarrow/issues/letters-from-thailand-issue-4-775990

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I reached out to a friend who is visiting Hua Hin this week thinking he was still staying at the Hyatt Regency, one of my favourite five star hotels in Hua Hin, but after messaging me back he said that he was at the Sundance Beach Club. A destination that I have never been too and will not bother visiting in the future.
He had invited me there for breakfast before but I was waylaid and unable to make it so I felt that i owed him a visit. I Googled it and saw that it was on Soi 19 in Hua Hin and drove past as it is not clearly signposted. I turned round and parked outside. I read the sign stating ALL GUESTS MUST MAKE A RESERVATION IN ADVANCE BEFORE ENTERING but thought that they would welcome my business. There is a pandemic – but no?
It seems that the business is owned by ItalAsia and not seeing the, cleverly hidden entrance, I went to the wine shop upstairs. I drink a great deal of wine – frequently a bottle a day, so had they been more attentive I could have spent a lot of money there. But the three ’staff’ if that is what they were, seemed rather put out that they should be interrupted by a client. I asked “how does one get in to The Sundance Club” whereupon a young girl came round the counter, opened a side glass door telling me to wait.
“Can I not come with you” I asked? “No wait here” was her reply.
Sorry but for years I have been a ‘mystery shopper’ employed by FMCG, hospitality, retail, automotive companies and I never ‘wait here’ to spend my money. I actually had a copy of one of the print magazines I publish with me so I held it up and said “please do not bother… I will go and write about somewhere else”.
 
Othello Benedetti with his range of premium brands would have felt most uncomfortable. Their loss…
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I have owned condos in Hua Hin for 12 years and rented them out occasionally and stayed maybe 3/4 times a year but recently because of Covid, lockdowns in Bangkok, air quality, traffic gridlock and various other reasons I moved full time to the resort city.
I have to date always been a supporter of Market Village shopping mall. Mainly because of Tesco, Boots, Let’s Relax, Minor Group’s Restaurants etc and have been almost a daily visitor. However due to a recent regrettable incident there I will not be frequenting the complex in the foreseeable future – more of that later…
Today I went to Bluport and did my shopping in Gourmet Market. Because of its later build it is better designed from the car park to the escalators and the choice of brand name retailers. It is not as busy as Market Village which for me is a plus. The staff seemed to be more appreciative of my custom and I wandered round the three floors unhindered and or without being hassled. 
I parked my car conveniently near to an entrance/exit, was saluted with respect by the security man who realised that as a consumer I have a choice and spent roughly 10,000B on groceries, a wine rack, electrical goods, wine, etc. I may have had to pay a few Baht more on certain items in Gourmet Market but there was forgive me a better class of consumer there that was more polite and genteel than in Lotus’s (who on earth came up with that name – sorry but it does not make sense)!
Next time I am going to try Tops on Petchaksem Rd., and I already visit Villa Market/Index on a regular basis to get comfort foods that I cannot obtain elsewhere. Sadly their fruit and vegetables are overpriced…
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Welcome back to my weekly newsletter which has now been renamed as “Letters from Thailand”. I really appreciate all the messages of encouragement that I received after the last newsletter went out. It really helps with motivation when it comes to doing things like this. Hopefully you will enjoy the third edition too. Thanks!

Better life ahead for expats?

For a while the other week, a lot of us were getting excited about the news of long-term visas, no 90-day reporting, and being able to buy both house and land. Well, it was all a bit short-lived as we woke up in the morning to the news that the government were trying to attract multi-millionaires and that regular expats, like you and me, wouldn’t be included. I guess no surprise there.

My opinion is that they cannot look after the expats they have here now, how can they attract more? Take a look at the case of the people who had bought into the Thailand Elite visa. The most expensive option cost them over two million baht. When Covid-19 hit last year, they were barred from re-entering the country when people on Non-B visas were allowed in. That made a lot of people angry.

Then, how about the foreign men who are married to Thais? Particularly the ones with children. Why do they have to jump through so many hoops to extend their stay? Why can’t they been given permanent residence or even citizenship after a certain number of years? But then, naturalized citizens aren’t treated that well either. One contacted me to say that he wasn’t allowed to register for vaccine because he was told he is “not a real Thai”. He has a Thai ID card but the numbers on it gave him away as a “farang”.


I am not sure if we will ever be allowed to own land in our own name. Particularly as there was a big outcry among some groups of Thais who called the prime minister a traitor for selling the country to foreigners. If it does every happen, it will probably be for property that is more than 10 million baht and only in certain areas. However, we can buy a condo which is exactly what I did this year. In a future newsletter I will tell you the steps I went through to do that.

Every year on 20th September, it is National Canal Conservation Day (วันอนุรักษ์และรักษาคูคลองแห่งชาติ). On this day in 1994, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn visited people on both sides of Saen Saeb canal between Bangkok and Chachoengsao. Therefore, the Thai government decided to mark 20th September as the National Day for Conservation of Canals.

Did you know, Saen Saeb canal was built by King Rama III in 1837 in order to transport soldiers? It is 72km long and goes all the way to the Bang Pakong River in Chachoengsao. However, it is not navigable all of the way. About five years ago I took a boat along the extension from the end of the Saen Saeb canal boat route to Minburi. Towards the end we had to change boats as our way was blocked by a water gate.

I have a plan to map the canal paths in Bangkok and I will share news about that with you next month.

Thai Island Times

Eating lunch with my friends Chin Chongtong (left) and David Luekens (right)

This week I want to give a shoutout to my good friend David Luekens who is the creator of Thai Island Times (thaiislandtimes.substack.com). He is on a quest to visit every island in the country, and Thai Island Times is his way to share that journey with everyone through regular newsletters. However, he doesn’t just cover islands and coastal areas, he also does a good wrap-up on travel and Covid-19 news. His newsletters are a mixture of free and paid. I can assure you, they are worth your time. Check out the links below for more information.

Thai Island Times

Sharing the beauty, challenges and distinctive identities of Thailand’s islands and coastal areas.
thaiislandtimes.substack.com

I will be joining my friends David and Chin (she owns the company Chili Paste Tour) next weekend to do a bit of exploring along the coastline of Samut Prakan, Bangkok and Samut Songkhram. Yes, you heard right, Bangkok has a coastline. Hopefully I will have lots of pictures to share with you including map links of all of the places that we visited.

Nang Loeng Park in Bangkok

The former Royal Turf Club of Thailand (Nang Loeng Racecourse)

Bangkok will be getting not one but two big parks next year. I already told you about Benjakitti Forest Park in #Issue 2 of my newsletter, today I want to tell you about Nang Loeng Park. This used to be the Royal Turf Club (Nang Loeng Racecourse). It was founded in 1916 and used to be popular for horse racing for many years. But the popularity waned and eventually the Crown Property Bureau evicted them in 2018. For a long time no-one knew what the CPB had in store for the land, but then in 2020 came the news that it would be transformed into a public park in commemoration of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

I would love to fly my drone here to get some shots of the progress, Unfortunately it is right next door to Suan Chitlada palace and so very illegal. There are also no tall buildings in this royal district. However, this picture that I found on Wikipedia, was taken with a long lens from Baiyoke Tower. I am not sure if the observation floor is open at the moment, but I will make a note of going there on a clear day to see if I can get some photos to share with you.

Question from a Reader

Henri Dunant (Picture: www.silpa-mag.com)

Why is Henri Dunant Road in Bangkok named after a foreigner?

Thanon Sanam Ma (Racecourse Road) was renamed Thanon Henri Dunant on May 8, 1965, at the request of the Thai Red Cross Society (TRCS) to the Bangkok City Municipality, as the BMA was then known. The road passes TRCS property on both sides. On one side stands the TRCS National Blood Service Centre; on the other are the TRCS College of Nursing and Chulalongkorn Hospital of the TRCS. The road connects Surawong Road to Rama I Road via Chulalongkorn University and the Royal Bangkok Sports Club with its racecourse. The request of the TRCS to change the name was based on a proposal of the International Federation of the Red Cross, at its meeting in 1963 to celebrate the centenary of the Red Cross, that something should be done to commemorate Henri Dunant. Meanwhile, most Thais continue to call the road by its pre-1965 name.


– Tej Bunnag, Assistant secretary-general for administration, the Thai Red Cross Society
You can send your questions by filling in this form and I will do my best to answer them: https://www.thailandqa.com

Yaowarat – The Dragon’s Lair in the Capital City

I love exploring Bangkok on foot and so I was really happy when TAT Bangkok produced a book called Walking Bangkok. It was initially released in the Thai language but they now have an English version. These maps and guides are a good starting point for doing your own exploring.

FREE DOWNLOAD: Each week I will be giving you a link to download different areas of Bangkok. This week it is YAOWARAT, which is more commonly known as Chinatown. Click on the link for the free PDF file.


If you are posting your pictures on social media, use the hashtag #walkingBKK as I would like to see what you discover.

Bangkok Breaking

Bangkok Break on Netflix

If you are looking for a worthwhile drama to watch on Netflix, can I recommend Bangkok Breaking which was released this week? I have only watched the first two episodes so far and it has already gripped me.

Bangkok Breaking is a character-driven drama centred on Wanchai, who moves to Bangkok to save his family from poverty. Following in his brother’s footsteps, Wanchai joins a local ambulance foundation and is quickly pulled into the mysterious high-stakes world of the rescue services. Desperate for justice and answers, Wanchai realises he must unravel a city-wide conspiracy with the help of a determined female journalist.

From the Archives of the Bangkok Post

July 1963: Introduced in an attempt to end Bangkok’s traffic chaos, Thailand’s first six sets of automatic traffic lights began turning red in Bangkok. Visit the Bangkok Post website for more.

Street Art along Prem Prachakorn Canal

It is always good to see new street art in the city. This one is along Pracha Ruam Chai Song Canal in Chatuchak district of Bangkok. It is just south of Khlong Prem Prison and Don Mueang Airport. I haven’t been there yet, but I think I have managed to find the location on Google Maps.

Green Bangkok 2020

The Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA) have a ten year plan called Green Bangkok 2030. The aim is to increase green areas for Bangkokians from the present ratio of 6.8 square meters per person to 10 sqm before 2030. This means adding another 4,349 acres of green space. Nine parks and green spaces will be opened over the next two years. The latest is Vibhaphirom Park in Chatuchak district. It was originally vacant land and was donated to the BMA to be turned into a green space. Here is the Google Map link. It is not too big so don’t expect too much.

Every Sunday I have been visiting public parks around Bangkok. I am taking photos and mapping them for a blog post which I will share with you in a future newsletter.

Rendering of MRT Silom Station

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It is easy to feel like you are at the Mediterranean or on some back small coastal road in Hawaii while cruising around Uluwatu, the southern surf town on Bali. These days, as we all make decisions where we want to be based if one cannot travel, I have decided to ease my small Ubud village life by integrating some “Uluwatu-vibes”. I am still here on Bali dear expats, missing Thailand here and there but have made a decent life here as I await where in the world can I go if I even want to go. I am pleased that Nick, our editor and publisher, has moved to the coast and that we can still share online our stories and interests. Living in SE Asia is a wonderful life as we all know but we are all being challenged for I am sure, like me, we all enjoy popping to Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines and Laos sometimes for a bit of a change, even Singapore! Finding one other place within Thailand could be an answer to keep travel in your life and some varied interests. Below I share some ideas and ways I have been managing.

Uluwatu holds interest for me even though I am not a surfer. There are upscale cafés and restaurants, small boutiques for a different style dress than the yoga wear life I lead upcountry in Ubud. Over the last 6 weeks I have found a 5 star hotel to stay at for $23 a night due to no tourists here (yes, we have a vaccine only entry from Jakarta and at present a 14 day quarantine). The hotel boasts two huge lap pools and a gym, a golf course and has easy “small road” access to the various beaches by scooter. (Le Grande, Uluwatu) From this space I can zip to my favourite coffee café, Drifter’s, a surf café with surfboards, barefoot kids and tussled blonde locks all over, coconut milk lattes and avocado on toast. The holistic health food still permeates Uluwatu as it does in Ubud so that is an easy transition as to not strain the diet!  Bingin and Uluwatu beaches are the best for sunning and being able to grab a cold drink. They have stunning rock formations in which one can enjoy some wonderful photography, mollusc admiring, sea urchin gazing and swimming through these tall structures to get to the wide open sea.

For early evening, I go to Ulu Cliffhouse. This is the friendliest high style place to see and be seen, which I like to do sometimes living on a small island and slightly missing the urban way. Most of the restaurants on the coast have a pool and lounge chairs, Mana is another of these with an open, friendly feeling. Ulu Cliffhouse put effort into a bit of a social scene however, with Monday night movie night. They bring out a huge screen for everyone to sit and watch as evening falls. The décor at Cliffhouse is also very modern and clean, reminds me of a Malibu home with all the white, blue and views! Management there is kind with no pretentious feel so even though the atmosphere is “expensive”, the kind of people it draws are very “chilled”, softly spoken, mature and easy on the eye too I must say! Because of the swimwear industry here on Bali, there are young Ukrainian and Russian models swanning around with their elegant style, tanned surfer’s and some posh Europeans in their white and cream linen. With the sun touching people’s complexions and a relaxed feel, one can forget the turmoil of the world we are all going through for the evening. I myself have started a swim/activewear  lifestyle items line (MEJSPIRIT) using my own designs from my paintings and taking in inspiration down here in Uluwatu to inspire me. 

Again, as to the feeling of the Med, while scooting around all the small roads to the beaches and such, bougainvillea pours over the walls, prickly pear cactus sprouts up into the air and hibiscus colours drench the hills. The police aren’t on the streets here checking people’s masks and driver’s licenses. In Ubud and elsewhere, they are on all the main corners to, what I feel, hassle us expats/tourists, to get their monthly quota, which is a real shame. There are very strict laws here repeated over and over that if a tourist is caught without a mask they will be deported. We also must buy a local driver’s license for $200 if we don’t want to be ticketed for not having a license, or make sure you get an international one based on your at home license before you come. This is the unpleasant side to living in paradise here on Bali. You would think they would cherish having us here and bringing in money but instead, I can rightly say, we are hassled a lot. To deal with this issue, a lot of people are actually leaving and not many are coming in. This is why, in order to ease the strain, I am commuting between the beaches and jungle a bit more often now. I won’t move to Uluwatu for I enjoy my Ubudian village life in general and have established quite a community of friends here and with the Covid prices, my rent is almost halved so going to the 5 star makes for a lovely 5 day break a few times a month that I can afford. 

If you’re feeling restless in the area you are living and want to travel some, this option to create a second home within the same country could be a great way to continue to live in joy during these times. A positive thing that has come out of the various lockdowns around the world could be that people are making home more, developing close friendships more and realising how important community is. I hope wherever you are these days you have support and good friendships around you. It is nice to have some change once a month or so to keep creativity and interest alive, get a feeling of some travel and perhaps make some new connections. 

Drifter’s Cafe surf boards with a collage of cute shops in Uluwatu

My creative side has been bursting with my new line of items; swimwear, active tops, flip-flops, water bottles, loads of different bags and a day backpack, notebooks, coffee mugs, throw pillows and yoga mats… all made from my watercolour paintings. The service is called “print-on-demand” (there are many print-on-demand companies to choose from). If there are any other artists/photographers out there that would like to try their hand at developing items on a website through Shopify or similar and connecting all the different print-on-demand companies to it, this is something you may want to experiment with. If someone goes to your website and clicks on and item and buys it, the print-on-demand company you’ve chosen will make the item and send it to the person and you get a direct deposit once a month. It is something to think about for passive income once you’ve created your chosen items with your designs and set up an Instagram and Facebook Business page too. It sounds complicated but all things can be done one small step at a time. Once your website is developed you then just do one Insta post a day and share it with your FB Business page and slowly can begin to get followers and surprisingly, buyers! If you would like to see my sight as an example, I will list it in my bio below. Anything, these days, to turn your creations into an income is welcome I am sure, across the board for everyone!

Manager Dedy at Ulu Cliffhouse.

Another way I am “staying sane” (I prefer this saying over “stay safe”) is by keeping my fitness up. If you have a gym open next to you, please join and go. If you can walk the cities or the beaches, please do. We all must stay healthy and vibrant as the world collective is learning how to cope individually and collectively as time moves into the end of 2021 and who knows what is in store for 2022. 

This “postcard” is meant to be a stimulator, a fresh idea zapper and maybe even a mover and a shaker if you’re an artist wondering what to do next! I hope you enjoy the pictures I’ve included with this message of love from Bali to you in Thailand. I’m eating dragonfruit like nobody’s business these days too, one of the best fruits for vitamins, minerals and lots of fibre. Enjoy the season as it comes in and let us stay positive and bright as we make decisions daily that can affect our futures. Perhaps you’ll pull out that map and choose another destination within Thailand you would like to begin to create a new community or home. Enjoy the process of discovery, exploration and seeing parts of Thailand you’ve been meaning to see. There are always different ways and styles to live and it can be fun having an urban and a country life or the country mixed with some beach life. You may even find a good hotel that you can leave a large suitcase with the concierge in their storeroom and stay one week a month and experience the “hotel lifestyle” for a while. Once you’ve gone a few times, they get to know you and you can develop a lovely rapport, a second home. Thailand has so much to offer and even though I am not there, I am making the most of my small island life here on Bali. Ciao for now!

******************************************************************************

Margaret is enjoying Bali continuing with her painting and writing however is excited to share her new passion with us at www.mejspirit.com. If interested to know more about “print-on-demand” online income, she is more than happy to share what she knows with you, Expat Life in Thailand reader. She can be reached through her website. Meanwhile, surf vibes and jungle life fill her days as she stays sane!

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The world’s largest monument to love is undoubtedly the Taj Mahal in India. But Bangkok also can claim its own monument to love, if somewhat smaller, but no less in deep affection: the Neilsen-Hays Library.

The origins of the Neilsen-Hays Library can be directly traced to the Ladies’ Bazaar Association, a charitable organisation. In 1869, thirteen American and British women, who were members of the Ladies’ Bazaar Association, established the Bangkok Ladies’ Library Association, also called the Ladies Circulating Library. Due to the Bowring Treaty being signed in 1855, and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, expats started to pour into Siam in ever increasing numbers as trade agents, missionaries, consulate and legation officials, businessmen and their families. Life in Bangkok at the time could be harsh. With frequent epidemics and little to do outside of home and office, books and other reading materials were scarce and highly sought after. 

The aim was to circulate and share books. Initially the books were housed rent-free in various personal homes and in 1871 moved to the Protestant Union Chapel. Initially staffed by volunteers, the ‘library’ was only open one day a week. A young woman, Jennie Neilsen, joined the association and became one of its most active board members and the future namesake of the Neilsen-Hays Library.

Jennie Neilson Hays was born in Aalborg, Denmark in 1859. First she lived in America then came to Siam as a protestant missionary in the early 1880s. In an anecdotal tale, while on her way to Bangkok on a ship, she and a friend supposedly heard that two suitable young American doctors were also onboard going to Bangkok. Jennie and a friend were said to have selected their respective future husbands prior to them all disembarking. She began her relationship with the association in 1885. She conducted benefits to raise funds and assisted in the library.

Eventually she married Dr. Thomas Heyward Hayes. An American doctor, he was born in South Carolina, USA in 1854. He arrived in 1885, becoming the Chief of the Royal Thai Navy Hospital and later Consulting Physician to the Royal Court. Jennie remained a mainstay of the organisation for twenty years, serving as President of the Library three times. By 1897 the ‘library’ was open every day of the week except Sunday with a paid librarian. In 1900, Jenny arranged for the books to be all moved to Charoen Krung Road home of Mr. T. C. Taylor of the Gold Mines of Siam Company. The Library continued its peripatetic journey, finding a new home in 1903 on Chartered Bank Lane. The Library was moved several times after.

The Library’s name changed to Bangkok Library Association in October 1911. But by 1914 it was clear that a dedicated building was required. To this end, Dr. Hays bought a plot of land on Suriwongse Road.

Sadly, Jennie died suddenly in 1920 of cholera. Dr. Hays chose to honour his late wife by commissioning a new library to be built in her memory using the plot of land he purchased earlier. It was also a gift of love. Designed by the Italian architect Mario Tamagno, who also designed the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, the Parutsakawan Palace, the Thai Khu Fah Building (the Government House of Thailand), Hualamphong Railway station and other important buildings. The result was an elegant neo-classical building. Dr. Hayes died in 1924. He and his wife are buried in the Protestant Cemetery on Charoen Krung Road.

The Library flourished in its new and permanent home for several decades. However the Library received a grave a setback in 1941. When Japanese forces invaded Thailand they used the building for billeting military troops. More than 1,000 rare volumes were shipped to Japan along with many precious architectural blueprints. Many books were eventually returned after World War II ended. But some of the Library’s rarest books and blueprints are still missing.

In 1986 the Neilsen-Hayes Library was granted “Historic Landmark” status by the Association of Siamese Architects. Apart from the elegant wooden clad 20,000 book Library, there’s also a children’s corner and a Gallery Rotunda. Meanwhile, the spacious garden contains the Garden Gallery and Café. The Library looks almost exactly the same after a century of use. It houses tens of thousands of foreign books, some of them very rare and valuable. It is a regular venue for a variety of art and photography exhibitions. It remains a Bangkok landmark. 

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Three Elephants Publications, 2011, 288 pages. www,amazon.com

Having been in the U.S. military, one thing I (and probably every other military person) do when watching a movie is to see if the film producers got it all ‘correct’ on the screen. That means are the ribbons on the uniform in the right order, are they using the right equipment for the scene and the year being portrayed, is the always colorful military jargon being spoken accurately, regardless of what the plot is – did they get it all ‘right’? (Nothing is more irritating to see if they did not).

Stephen Leather gets it ‘right’ in ‘Bangkok Bob and the missing mormon’. Our protagonist, an ex New Orleans policeman named Bob Turtledove, gets deeply immersed in a simple missing person case. But he also quickly finds is the usual Bangkok situation that all private detectives here constantly face: Russian mafia types, contract assassins, kickboxing thugs and other lowlife, nasty ‘farangs’ bent on his early demise. A real rollercoaster ride of great entertainment. For hardcore Bangkok murder mystery buffs. Five stars plus.

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Metta Visions, 2010, 156 pages. www.amazon.com

Underneath all the glittering temples, dazzling beaches, shop-‘til-you-drop mega-malls, friendly smiles of the locals who rolled-the-red-carpet-out for you, and always over-the-top entertainment here is a gritty, shadowy and hard-as-nails night life revolving around Bangkok’s pool scene (table not water).

Bangkok pool blues’ is a deep dive into this rarely seen colourful world (once you get inside the pool halls) of domestic and foreign pool hustlers, amateur and international green baize table players and those who follow them both gambling for stakes. It is a real insider’s look-behind-the-scenes view of Bangkok’s vibrant night culture including entertainment and gambling. As Bangkok gains in stature as a must-visit venue for international globetrotters, it has attracted all manner of players (in every sense of the word). The book is gripping in its detail of the interplay of all the participants in a well written, riveting series of vignettes. Doused with expert shots by Yoon Ki Kim, a noted Korean photographer based in Bangkok, it is a fascinating look at Thailand’s counter culture. For very hardcore pool players. Five stars.

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About two hours away from Bangkok there is the small town of Kaeng Khoi, off of Highway 2. Just on the edge of the town is one of those small roads that weaves through the countryside full of dogs and of old men puttering along on scooters that should have ended up in a junk heap ages ago. Twenty minutes later you have to strain your eyes to spot the hidden road on your left, tucked behind tall bushes that obscure a small, painted wooden sign. As you bump along the pothole filled road until it turns to dirt, up a rocky incline, down again, and to the end of the forested dirt road, you realise that the fact that this place is so hidden is what makes it so magical. Welcome to Nam Pha Pa Yai; my paradise.

As you step out of the car, the camp’s dogs come up, barking and wagging their tails. You take a deep breath, notice the sun shining through the trees, and suddenly hear the wind. All your senses start to wake up and your vision widens, noticing all the different forms of life around you. Under a beautiful, airy, earthen structure covered with a palm leaf roof Joy, the camp owner, sits. As you set down your bags and take a seat, all the worries you left behind in Bangkok are carried away with the soft breeze and the sounds of nature. Your signal starved phone is turned off and stashed in a bag for the weekend and is replaced in your hand by a coffee or a bag of homemade cookies, and you are at peace. 

Hopefully, you’ve come with a plan, and soon your friends are waiting at the edge of the restaurant with all their climbing gear on, looking more like they’re ready to leave on an expedition than take the easy, 5 minute stroll to the riverside. Until recently the two riverbanks were connected by a zip line and you would grab a pulley, strap yourself on, and fly to the other side with hardly a moment to take in the beauty of the cliff in front of you or the river below. Equipment must be maintained though, so these days you walk down to the sandy beach at the riverbank where a silent, smiling boat man waits to paddle you across to the other side. I’m still not sure which I enjoy more, so I’m glad we’ve had the chance to see the cliff from below lately, where it looks much more impressive. 

The 40 metre high vertical cliff face is marbled with beautiful orange and white limestone and capped with grey karst. The entire cliff face is bolted with climbs ranging from 4 (beginner) to 8b (elite). As you stare from the river or the ground beneath the climbs you can see several prominent limestone tufa’s that have formed over tens of thousands of years, which is exciting enough, but not long after you are standing on top of them, heart pounding and chest heaving, having just danced up 20 metres of vertical cliff face on small edges and pockets. Victory is not yours yet, though, as the ultimate goal in climbing, the ‘send’, means you still can’t fall or rest on the rope as you scale another 15 metres. Of course, the hardest move on the route waits here for you and while telling yourself to be calm and breathe, you must reach high for two pockets only large enough to fit a single finger in each and somehow coax the rest of your body into following. Balance is key here. You move your feet precisely and deliberately and despite all the falls and failed attempts before, you have complete control over your body, and it suddenly feels easy. The elation you feel as you pull past the final move and clip your rope into the chains is unparalleled. You look around at the valley carved by the river, the mountains in the distance, and the vibrant orange of the rock and think that though you know you don’t belong here, that no human does, you can’t help but feel that cliff was made to be climbed. Soak it up. Send days are rare, as they should be. 

Climbing is incredibly addictive. You always have something to challenge yourself with, but you feel constant progression. Even when you can’t finish a route, you find yourself getting higher and higher, sometimes metres, sometimes by just centimetres, but the progress is very real. You see yourself quite literally reaching a new level. Like many sports, it’s more mental than physical, which makes it all the more rewarding when you gain control over your mind, push through the (very rational) fear of falling and find the flow in the movement of your body. 

Climbing has an addictive community, too. You don’t compete with your fellow climbers, but encourage them from the ground to breathe slowly, push hard, and get to the next rest. Your climber is literally putting their life in your hands when you belay, and for the 20 minutes that are connected by that rope when you climb, you can feel their calmness or their anxiety travel through the rope to you. They have the power to calm and relax you, to psych you up, or to make you nervous all by how they handle the rope and without saying a single word. When you send, you celebrate with your belayer, you say “You kept me calm. I couldn’t have done it without you.” Your friends’ achievements are yours and at the end of the day, after exhausting yourselves, getting back in touch with nature, and admiring the beauty of the world, you all share a beer and a laugh together. 

I have so much passion for climbing but it all grew in this place. I love it so much that I’m worried although the climbs that the camp was built for are incredible, maybe you aren’t a climber and feel you aren’t welcome. You are, and you should still come. Perhaps I should convince you by telling you about the hiking, which leads to a stunning view of the river worn valley and, if you time it right, reveals the mountain landscape bathed in the light of dusk or dawn? Maybe you would prefer a more relaxing adventure, and you should kayak down the river and wave to the local fishermen along its banks, take a swim, or just bask in the sun. It’s not unlikely that you already spend enough time running around for work or getting your kids to school and their activities and you just need to glance around the camp on your own long enough to find the hammocks and the yoga mats, and to listen to the creaking bamboo and the breeze rustling the leaves. You can always wander over to the vegetable garden where our friend Natalie is starting to grow Thai cocao for her young and blossoming artisanal chocolate brand, Xoconat. The truth is that you don’t need my help once you arrive. Just get yourself there, and I promise you will fall in love with this little escape.

No matter what your motivations are in going, you should absolutely try your hand at climbing. Climbers are a friendly crowd and are happy to share their knowledge. The camp offers harnesses, climbing shoes, and other gear for rental, as well as guides available for hire. There are routes for all levels of difficulty and please trust me when I say that you do not need to be a skinny athlete to try this amazing sport out. I was a complete beginner when I first came to Nam Pha and I have fallen on every route there. Climbing rock, just like climbing a ladder, is not about strength, but balance, body positioning, and how you use your feet. Try it out and you just might fall in love with it!

Contact information

Bookings at the camp can be made with Joy Sirilak, she is reachable on the Nam Pha Pa Yai Climber’s Camp facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/nppycamp). She speaks English well enough to assist you with any enquiry. Camp information is located on the page as well, such as the location, and she can also provide information and contact for anyone who wishes to visit the camp without their own transportation, such as by train, bus, or taxi. Xoconat by Natalie is also best contacted through Facebook and I strongly recommend her artisanal chocolate: https://www.facebook.com/xoconat/

If you have any other questions about the climbing camp or anything in this article, you are welcome to contact me directly at the email address listed below.

**Since the writing of this article, the river wall has been temporarily closed. Nam Pha is an amazing place with many other wonderful things to experience and I strongly urge all of you to go, but please respect the temporary closure of this part of the camp.

Nick Bernhardt is an American who has been living in Thailand for 9 years. He owns a consultancy firm that performs market research and due diligence work and enjoys climbing, motorcycles, and exploring Thailand’s paths less travelled. He can be reached at [email protected]

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