Reading up on Myanmar (Burma)

Asia Books is a chain of bookstores in Thailand with a good selection of books on Asian topics, books that are often difficult to find in Europe (even when searching on Amazon). I always look forward to browsing through the different sections because I know that I will likely find some new books.

Having read a number of books about Myanmar lately, among others several by Bertil Lintner, a Swedish journalist with an in depth knowledge on Burma, I now found two other excellent books about Myanmar: one by Andrew Marshall and one by Emma Larkin. These two books had been published already several years ago, but unfortunately I had never come across them.

In Finding George Orwell in Burma, Emma Larkin travels in the footsteps of George Orwell and tries to locate the places where he once lived and worked. Her excellent description of today’s Burma, her travel observations and her reflections on the past and present, coupled with flashbacks on Orwell’s life and personality make this book a real treasure trove.

Andrew Marshall also traces the footsteps of a person, who once lived in Burma, but who is much less well know to the public: Sir George Scott. The diary of this tough Victorian gentleman, who helped establish British colonial rule in Burma, guided Marshall to places which Scott explored, and where he once lived and worked. The Trouser People describes Burma’s colonial past and in an excellent way Burma’s cruel modern dictatorship.

Two other really good books, which vividly describe Burma’s past history and present are
The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma and Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia by Thant Myint-U. Both of these books make it also very clear how large China’s influence and interest has been and is in respect to Myanmar – despite the embargoes imposed by western countries.

Both books are easy to read and keep the reader fascinated from start to end. But – they also provoke strong emotions given the ugly colonial times and the seemingly never ending suffering of the Burmese people. I really recommend reading some of these books before setting out to admire Myanmar’s beautiful ancient temples.

Posted in Bangkok sabbatical, Myanmar, Thoughts and Tales | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Thailand for foodies

Most people love Thai food, although tourists generally want a milder, less spicy version of these delicious dishes. This often means that restaurants aimed for tourists only rarely serve good and authentic Thai food.

Eating is an important part of Thai live, although less time is now devoted to cooking, especially in Bangkok, where food can easily be bought from the local food stalls and where kitchens in the new condos are often too small to really cook. But when Thai families get together, food plays a central role and is always shared. At home or in a restaurant. Many prefer nowadays to go to restaurants, which have huge choices of different dishes (vegetable, meat, fish, rice, noodle, soup, and salads), instead of entertaining guests at home. This is because real Thai cooking takes a lot of time. To cater for a big family and to prepare the many different dishes means to first go to the market early in the morning to buy all the ingredients, then chopping the veggies, meat and fish, preparing the different curries and sauces, and finally cooking everything. Those you cook will however hardly have the time to sit down and enjoy the meal. Thus a restaurant visit is so much easier!

Food has also always played a central role during our fieldwork, and dinner was the pleasure of the day to look forward to, apart from the many sediment cores. And so were the many visits to the many markets with their food stalls and local delicacies.

Posted in Bangkok sabbatical, Thailand fieldwork and travels, Thoughts and Tales, Travels | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

More Thailand favorites

Bangkok is a huge city with a population equaling that of whole Sweden. Many parts of the city are dominated by high apartment buildings, which almost reach the sky. But there are also still parts of the city with lower apartment blocks, with ‘normal’ houses, many of which are surrounded by dense vegetation and high walls (especially in more upscale parts pf the city). And there are areas, where poor people live in slum-like conditions in cardboard houses: under a bridge or squeezed between highways, along a khlong or along the railway.

Bangkok has many touristic highlights and is a paradise for shopaholics with all its different malls and markets. My favorites are however not the malls or the general tourist attractions, but some rather low-key places, which I think still preserve some of the old Thailand, albeit mixed with more modern influences.

Prayer Textiles is such a place. It is located at Siam Square, close to one of the BTS exits. Tucked in between other houses it is a bit difficult to find. But once you have found it, you might spend hours looking at the fantastic textiles, the hand-woven and naturally dyed silk, and the selection of clothes that are for sale. Here, you can order our own specific silk dress, skirt, blouse, or what ever you wish.

Prayer shopping

The Thai House in Nonthaburi to the west of the city is another of my favorites. Here you can experience the Thai way of life, sleep in a house entirely build of teak wood, taste Pip’s excellent food, learn about all the veggies and plants that are healthy, and take cooking classes.

The Bangkok Tree House is located close to the Chao Phraya River, on the island of Bang Kra Jao, which is often called the green lung of Bangkok. Here you can sleep in the tree tops with a view on the river or Bangkok’s high rises, eat good food, watch the fire flies, and bike as much as you can. I have written earlier a <a href="“>post about biking on Bang Kra Jao and visiting the nice floating market there. Bang Kra Jao can easily be reached by local transport. This place is really not a place to miss when in Bangkok!

And (almost) finally, not to forget, my favorite foot massage at MOK. This place has no website, but can be found at the corner between Sukhumvit 22 and Soi Sai Nam Thip 2. The easiest way is to take a taxi either from BTS Asoke or from MRT Queen Sirikit. The foot reflex zone massage they offer for 300 THB/hour is the best I have ever had and well worth a detour.

Just round the corner from MOK is my favorite Hotel, the House by the Pond. There is absolutely nothing luxurious about this place, but it is a cozy retreat from hectic Bangkok, has a nice garden and the staff is wonderful.

Posted in Bangkok sabbatical, Thailand fieldwork and travels, Thoughts and Tales, Travels | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Some of my Thailand favorites

I have probably spent almost 9 months in Thailand during the past seven years. Our road trips took us from north to south and from west to east, and apart from all the lakes we have visited, we also managed to see temples, national parks and many other nice places.

Thais are often really surprised when I tell them about all the places I have been to and very few visitors to Thailand know what I am talking about, because few explore Thailand beyond its islands and beaches. Yet there is so much more to see and experience! Here are some of my favorite spots, which are still off the beaten track:

For example beautiful Lake Kumphawapi in the northeast, where pink water lilies cover almost the whole lake during November and December. Watching these flowers from small boats has now become a tourist attraction and provides villagers with some income.


Also in the northeast and around Lakes Kumphawapi and Lake Pa Kho, some people produce salt by cooking the salt-rich soils in water and some make charcoal in clay ovens. These tasks have not yet become a tourist attraction, but maybe in a few years the villagers will realize that money can be made by showing all this to visitors?

When in the northeast of Thailand, why not visit the Sirindhorn (Phuwiang) Dinosaur Museum in Kalasin, where remains from dinosaurs that were excavated in the region are exhibited, together with many reconstructions. A perfect place for children. Further to the west is the large Nam Nao National Park, where one can set out searching for elephants, watch the gorgeous sunset, and sample local delicacies.

Chiang Mai with its many temples, Thailand’s highest mountain – Doi Inthanon, and the border region to Myanmar in Thailand’s northwest are really worth a visit. One can spend days there, walking, watching, eating, admiring!

Another of my many favorites is the historic town of Sukhothai, also in the northwest. Biking around is the best way to explore the old temples!

As to beaches and islands – there I do have some odd favorites: for example Kho Jum, a small island south of Krabi; Kho Tarutao, a marine national park close to Malaysia; and Kho Phratong, on the Andaman Sea coast. Kho Jum is no longer as laid back as it was some years ago, while Kho Tarutao and Kho Phratong let you still experience large, empty sand beaches. Kho Tarutao and Kho Phratong are probably a place only for the more adventurous as accommodation is fairly simple. Just beware of the sand flies and the small jelly fish, should you be allergic to one or both, and the possibility that a tsunami might again hit the islands. The 2004 tsunami was devastating for Phra Thong and remains of it can still be seen in many places.

Posted in Thailand fieldwork and travels, Thoughts and Tales, Travels | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rain, rain, rain

After three months, I see the very first raindrops! Finally – how I waited to see and feel the heavy rain, and to experience something that is close to the rainy summer monsoon season.

It did actually rain heavily in Bangkok several times during the last month, but each time I narrowly managed to escape to a dry and sunny place. The massive rain that fell on Bangkok during one of these days clogged the drainage system (probably all the plastic that is lying around was washed into the system and tapped the small drainage pipes) and led to extensive flooding. People were wading in dirty water up to their knees in many parts of Bangkok. And – I had missed all of that!

Interestingly the Governor of Bangkok, instead of doing something, told the people that they should move to Chiang Mai or other high-lying regions, if they could not stand some flooding. This created an outcry on Facebook, and the second time the streets were flooded a week or two ago, he behaved better and put on the face of a real father of the city, being concerned and trying to avert the situation.

And now it is raining again, heavy rain non-stop and thunderstorms: the perfect start of the Songkran Festival and of the summer monsoon season. It feels cozy to sit inside and to watch and hear the rain hitting the surrounding roofs and filling up the little garden, and to see the big palm trees bend under the rain and the strong wind. Am just curious how long it will take until the roof in my Victorian-style house starts to leak! And – how long will it take until the rain ends? I am hungry and need some food and to get food I need to get out of the house and walk 20 minutes to the next restaurant ….. but the streets are already flooded and the drainage holes are clogged … interesting!?

I did eventually get out of the house and saw all the food-phone-motorbikers in action, who pick up and deliver food to those who do not want to leave their apartment. Now I have the number, just in case for next time!

Rain, rain, rain

Rain, rain, rain

Rain, rain, rain

Rain, rain, rain

Posted in Bangkok sabbatical, Thailand fieldwork and travels, Thoughts and Tales, Travels | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Mosquitoes versus sand flies

My weekend retreat started out really nice. Fresh air, acceptable temperatures, few tourists, an almost empty beach, friendly people, lovely sun rises and sun sets and good food. What could be better! I went for long walks along the beach, made a few videos documenting beach processes for my undergraduate lectures, and did yoga on the beach each morning at 6:30 am. Until I got bites on my feet, legs, and arms. Big ones with a tiny spot in the middle, where the insect had actually ripped off a little piece of skin. The bites became quickly really big and itchy. Treatment with white tiger balm (my usual cure for mosquito bites) did not help, so I changed to yellow tiger balm, tried vinegar and Jiaranai’s miracle cream, but the skin around the bites just kept swelling up until my foot was so big that I could hardly walk anymore.

Are these fire ant bites, I asked myself, and others who should be familiar with all these insects. Maybe sand flies, someone said. Google did not help and all the images that came up when I searched for fire ants and sand flies were just not nice to look at, so I gave it up, resigned to my destiny and accepted the itching and swelling and resumed to more vinegar and yellow tiger balm treatment.

Today, finally I saw the insect in action: a tiny, ugly black and white fly, that bit me and left a little hole on my arm. I quickly left the beach and went back to the house, only to discover that I had got many more new bites also on my legs, arms and neck!

Time to leave the beach and get back into the safe heaven of crazy Bangkok, where only mosquitoes and high temperatures make my life difficult!

Sam Roi Yod

Sam Roi Yod

Sam Roi Yod

Sam Roi Yod

Sam Roi Yod

Sam Roi Yod

Sam Roi Yod

Posted in Bangkok sabbatical, Thailand fieldwork and travels, Thoughts and Tales | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Yoga on the beach

Submitted my research proposal, finished up a manuscript, and can feel the toll on my back after hours of just sitting and writing and thinking. Bangkok’s heat is also just too much for me. Although I really like warmer temperatures, my liking ends when the thermometer reaches above 35 degrees C. Mid-day temperatures here now feel like 45 degrees C. Time to escape from the big city and to take care of my physical and mental well being: Yoga on the beach in Sam Roi Yod, biking, swimming and walking!

Sam Roi Yod is about 300 km to the south of Bangkok in the Province of Pranburi. It is a nice, laid-back place close to a big National Park and is still not overrun by tourists or has not yet experienced the hotel-at-each-spot-close-to-the-beach-building-boom. Sam Roi Yod can easily be reached by train or bus from Bangkok to Hua Hin, from where it is a 30 minutes taxi ride.

This time I took a train instead of one of the mini buses, whose drivers are among the most crazy, one can imagine. The train ride however is nice and fairly comfortable if one chooses the air conditioned express train. Breakfast and lunch (not the best though) is served, the train seems to be on time and it is possible to see parts of Thailand not just from the highways, but from an entirely different perspective. Not so much towns and cities and new buildings, and endless roads and traffic jams, but paddy fields, plantations, canals, small villages and also quite a few really shabby and poor dwellings. Arriving in Hua Hin is also a very pleasant feeling, a bit like stepping back in time, when trains were much more important than cars.

Jiaranai Aroka, a most lovely woman, runs a small yoga school in Sam Roi Yod close to the beach. She also rents out rooms in her big house (or her whole big house with swimming pool), has bikes for rent, makes yummy fruit shakes and prepares delicious food.

Since not many people had signed up for Yoga classes, I was often the only one – what a luxury! 6:30 am may also be a bit early for most people, but it is the best time of the day, cool, quiet and with beautiful sunrises over the islands. My days were thus filled with yoga once or twice a day, biking, swimming, and walking. And since the wifi connection was so good at Jiaranai’s place, I even managed to get quite some work done!

Hua Lampung train station

Hua Lampung train station

Breakfast on the train

Lunch and time to read

Stop on the way to Hua Hin

Train ride

Arrival in Hua Hin

Express train to the South

Express train to the South

Hua Hin railway station

Hua Hin railway station

Baanaroka in Sam Roi Yod

Floating plants

Baanaroka in Sam Roi Yod

Fresh bananas - yummi!

Jiaranai - the yoga teacher

Baanaroka in Sam Roi Yod

Coconuts and orchids

Aroka Yoga!

Baanaroka in Sam Roi Yod

Posted in Bangkok sabbatical, Thailand fieldwork and travels, Thoughts and Tales, Travels | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment