Saturday, January 31, 2009

Village Homestay Weekend

A few weeks ago, Al and I participated in a village homestay weekend tour. We got to go for free on a trial run for the Tourism Authority of Thailand. Our boss hooked us up. It was in our province, near the Sirikit Dam, only just over an hour away.

I don't have time for many details right now, so I'll put up a few pictures and captions.

The tour was broken into two parts; first exploring Lamnam Nan National Park and Sirikit Dam, then staying overnight at a village nearby and enjoying activities with the locals. The highlight was definitely hanging out with our host family, especially their two young children who enthusiastically took us on a tour of their village.

Sunrise over the Nan River, Uttaradit

Bringing in the catch, Sirikit Dam

Fish farm, Sirikit Dam

Dinner with the hosts at the local wat/hangout

Our buddies, Kip and Gan

Heading home (note, the hut is a bus stop, not a dwelling)

I'd like to say I'll have time to write more about it later but between final exams, mom visiting, five weeks in Australia and New Zealand and then a move to Taiwan... I'm not going to make any promises.

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Remembrance Ceremony

Our friends were kind enough to invite us to a remembrance ceremony in honor of relatives who had passed away. They thought we probably hadn't seen one before and would be interested. It was nice of them to think of us.

I should start by explaining how their Thai-style home is organized. It's a stilt house, where the living quarters are above and open, garage-type area is below. I've seen some stilt-style houses that had living quarters in the lower level as well, but for them, the area was mostly a playground for their nine or so cats. When you take off your shoes and head upstairs, you enter a huge general living and eating area. Smaller bedrooms shoot off to one side and the kitchen and bathroom to another. The houses are usually made of large slats of wood but you do see partial or entirely cement constructions as well. This website about Thai homes has some good pics and info. In the large living area everything is arranged around the walls, TV, shelves, etc. As in other parts of Asia there are not typically any chairs; if there are some they are also pushed to the side. This leaves a huge floor space where you can relax and sit around with each other. The kitchen and bathroom are made of cement and tile, as you would expect with modern day plumbing needs. The biggest difference, I think, between Thai and Western style homes is that Thai homes are very open to the outside. The walls are filled with large open windows or are slatted to be continually open. The kitchen is almost completely open and in some homes it is outside with just an roof overhead (as is the case with our neighbors). It's very comfortable for the climate but I would need some time to adjust to the higher volume of bugs that get in.

Eight monks sat at the head of the house facing all of the guests in a row. They chanted for some time in the names of the deceased. I love listening to chanting monks, it's easy to start being lulled into some sort of a trance. As I don't know the language, I feel like I'm being carried away to an exotic place (as if the setting were not exotic enough). The family prepared a large meal which was presented to the monks after their incantations. We socialized while they ate and then they started another short round of chanting, this time as a blessing for all of us. They ended by splashing holy water on each of us before leaving the home.

Our friends explained to us that they have monks come every year for this ceremony, usually in January since that is when their father passed away. The food is an offering to the monks, as thanks for their service. The ceremony and meal are often held at 10 or 11 because the monks fast from noon until the next morning.

Once they left we were then able to eat as well. Since this was a special meal a lot of dishes were prepared, many that we had never tried before. The highlight was ant egg soup, from the corn kernel sized eggs of red ants. As the soup was so spicy, I can't really tell you what they tasted like. I wish I could have been there when they prepared it that morning though, as they apparently just shook down an ants nest they found in a nearby tree, brushing them off as they swarmed up their arms.

Unfortunately, I do not have pictures from this exciting afternoon-- blame Al, who told me we were invited for lunch, and left out the bit about the Buddhist ceremony and special feast. Haha.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

2009, Adventure #1!

We took off on a road trip this weekend to Si Satchanalai Historic Park, a 13th century ruined city of the Sukhothai Period, famous for its pottery kilns. This is a fantastic spot if you're into history, archaeology, adventure, and ruins. You can ride around the park on your own through trees and hills, stopping at the various walls, gates, and temples that used to make up this city (the park's too large to walk but you can rent bikes at the entrance). It's very similar to Sukhothai but, in my opinion, nicer because it has very few tourists and it is not as "manicured" I guess, as the grounds of Sukhothai are.

You can go to Si Satchanalai on a day trip from Sukhothai or, as in our case, from Uttaradit. It was a 2 hour motorbike ride straight on highway 102, past the Lotus supermarket. The only trouble we had was as we neared the destination, when we accidentally followed signs for Si Satchanalai National Park--- not the Historical Park. Don't make the same mistake as you can end up going pretty far in the wrong direction.

Anyway, we packed a picnic lunch and took off at around noon, as we had slept in pretty late. It was a wonderful drive. It's sort of autumn here, which is strange, I always thought of Thailand as being perpetually steamy and hot. It's dry now and cool, even cold. Leaves are falling from many of the trees and if you squint your eyes the scenery passing by could almost be upstate New York. Let everything come into focus though and you realize it's all completely different-- the red and brown trees are varieties of bamboo and other monsoon forest species (we are not far enough south for rain forests), the cows are not the hefty black and white dairy cows but the gaunt Brahman cattle of Southeast Asia, and the smell of a wood fire is coming from a stilt home along a muddy river. It's these days-- not when I'm plodding along at my office or sitting at home all day waiting for my internet to get fixed, that I'm really glad I chose this lifestyle.

We passed signs (in English) for more historical sites and a museum which we plan to visit next time. There will definitely be a next time since we only had an hour and a half at the park before we had to turn back to beat the sunset.

Below are some of my favorite pics-- enjoy!

Wat Chedi Chet Thae

Al, Wat Chedi Chet Thae

Wat Chang Lom (back)

Wat Chang Lom (front) The animal statues were elephants, but most of the identifying features have eroded.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Random Picture of the Week #10

Railroad crossing, near Sila-at Station.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Random Picture of the Week #9

Phraya Phichai Dap Hak Monument, Uttaradit City Hall, Uttaradit, Thailand.

(the weird light effect is because of all the incense in the air, this was during a festival)

Dukes up 2009, I can take you!

The holidays went by in kind of a blur as we were working for the most part--- but we still managed to squeeze in some fun!

We got more presents and cards in the mail this year than ever before so thanks a ton because it really made it feel like Christmas to have things under the tree! We didn't buy each other presents, mainly because there wasn't anything local we wanted.

We had a few decorations and some Christmas stockings saved from last year. The tree was a fake 3 footer that we picked up at the supermarket. Of course, this being a predominantly Buddhist country, Christmas is not a national holiday--- so no vacation, but a lot of businesses still decorate and some kids were giving each other presents. It was exam time and our bosses were kind enough to arrange our schedules so we could have Christmas day off.

For new years we had an extended weekend, so we shot up to Chiang Mai for some R and R. We stayed at our favorite place, 3 Sis, again and basically spent the days wandering around town, reading at cafes, and eating as much good food as we could! Good times.

On New Year's Eve we found a snug spot at a bar we liked and just chilled out, listening to live music. Chiang Mai is an old city and the moat and city gates are still present. Near the main gate people were letting loose lanterns, like the ones from Loi Krathong, so we made a wish and set one off ourselves. A laid back, pleasant New Year's.

Here are some pics; as usual, you can see more on my Flickr stream:

Al, getting a shot of a wat entrance at night.


The wat by our hotel.

Lanterns at the city gate.

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