Saturday, June 16, 2007

Thai Visa A Crises That Wasn't

Last October, after 6 years of teaching English in Thailand I decided I needed a break. The 5 years teaching at university level were good but the final year at an elementary school was what motivated my decision. I would stop teaching at the end of my contract and do some other things.

I had met people who have lived in Thailand for 10 years or more with only visa exempt entry and tourist visas. No need to worry about being able to continue my life here in Thailand. Just had to make sure to keep track of expiration dates and plan my trek to the border.

It was past the point of no return for my job when I first heard the rumors. Visa rules had changed and you could only stay here 90 days on an entry and 180 days on tourist visas, which means if no other visa options would have to leave for 3 months. Suddenly I had no idea what I was going to do but I did have some time to explore my options. Rumors, gossip and assumptions were offering little hope as the time passed.

A two month tourist visa, a 30-day extension, another two month visa another 30-day extension. My time was running out and still no clear options seem to have emerged. Then one day by chance I read an interview with a high ranking official of Immigration and Customs. The crises was over. What had appeared to be a crises was clearly only disinformation and lack of information. It was true you couldn't live here indefinitely on visa exemptions, those are limited to 90 days within a years time, but you can, as long as you are in good standing, receive unlimited 60 day tourist visas.

I can live my life here and not worry too much about it being uprooted. Good information has relieved a bit of unnecessary stress. It is amazing what good and accurate information can do.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Chiang Mai Thailand Songkhran Experience

If you are ever in Thailand in April you definitely must travel to Chiang Mai to celebrate Songkhran, The Thai Lunar New Year. The Songkhran is celebrate all over Thailand the Festival in Chiang Mai is the mother of Songkhran festivals.

I had the privilege of celebrating Songkhran in Chiang Mai a few years back. It was a most memorable experience. The good feeling chaos is something you have to experience for yourself to understand. I am happy to report that will all the people interacting with each other in a big water fight I never once observed anybody losing their temper. That included Thais as well as the tourists and expats.

It is the extreme high tourist season during this festival. Hotel rooms are at a premium and if you don't reserve early you might just be out of luck. Try to get in the city near the canal. The canal is the focal point for the activities. Most of the water comes out of the canal. For 3 days people are crowded around the canal celebrating, partying and just having a good time.

Get up around 8 and have a good breakfast and some hot coffee. No need for a shower because most of the day will be a big community shower of sorts. Activities would begin around 10am and continue til evening. So after a few hours and a couple of laps around the canal it is time to break for lunch. It might get a bit soggy but it tastes good and the energy is needed. After the recharge it's time to hit the streets again until dinner. I found the whole experience invigorating.

I would recommend arriving early, a couple of days before the merriment begins. It's worth it as Chiang Mai has a lot to offer besides Songkhran. It is a tourist and travel destination year round. You can experience Eco-tourism, shopping, travel to the highest point in Thailand at Doi Intanon or just hang out in town and watch people at the Night Bizarre. I was happy to find an authentic Mexican restaurant there. Nightlife offers, discos, pubs, restaurants, karaoke and shopping.

From my personal experience I would highly recommend you schedule Songkran Festival in Chiang Mai on your travel calendar. Until I actually went there to see for myself it was just one of those things that are hard to envision. Happy Travels.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Songkhran Warrior In Phuket, Thailand

If you don't know already, Songkhran is the Thai New Year Festival.This festival is celebrated in accordance with the full moon in April each year. It lasts from 1-5 days depending on the area. It is a time of renewal, to wash off the old year and prepare for the new. It's also a time to honor your elders and hope for a blessing from them. It is a time of tradition and many ceremonies and rituals. Songkhran is very interesting and exciting, culturally and socially.

For many Thais, expats and tourists, it is also a time for the biggest water "fight" in the world. People, young and old, male and female, rich and poor, local and foreign, line to streets of Thailand and use a variety of methods to propel water onto other people.It's like being a kid again. So much fun to get crazy for a few days. One thing I learned quickly while participating in this festival is you must waterproof anything of value, such as your wallet, passport, and mobile phone.

The weapons used for this celebration come in all shapes and sizes. I have seen large water rifles water tanks attached, water pistols, bowls, hoses, water guns attached to tanks you can strap to your back with plenty of water, and even buckets. There used to be a cylinder that resembled an air pump for balls or tires but the pressure was so great it caused injuries so it was banned. My weapon of choice is the water rifle and a water pistol for emergencies. Shops and some private residences keep plastic trash cans or other receptacles full of water so it's easy to keep your weapons full.

A few years back I had to pleasure of spending Songkhran in Phuket. The authorities limited the water playing activities to one area near Patong Beach and only for one day. The streets were closed to traffic which made the playing more enjoyable. Bands were playing, cold beer was flowing, lots of food available but expect to eat it soggy. It was a great time roaming the streets and engaging other water soaked people washing away the previous year. When I got a bit tired I would find a spot, sit and enjoy a cold beer while watching others having fun. All in all a great time. After a day of revelry, sun and water I hit the sack early, my body drained but my heart and mind content.

The water playing aside, this is a very important holiday and festival for Thai people and Thai culture. A time for families to come together and renew, a time of blessings and honoring, please keep this in mind at you are celebrating. Songkhran is during the full moon in April. If you want to join in this festival you should plan early. It has peak travel time for locals and tourism alike. It is truly a unique experience.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Wrong Day In Pattaya

Pattaya is a fine place to visit. It is unique in it's atmosphere. There are many things to keep you busy and occupied during the daylight hours but it's reputation is built on it's nightlife.

The beaches there are adequate but filled with umbrellas and beach chairs. The sand is rocky and the water could use a good clean up. Shopping is good in Pattaya and you can get almost any food you want to dine on.

For other daytime fun you can rent a jet ski or take a ride on a banana boat. Paragliding and bungy jumping are available for the brave too. Tourists also seem to enjoy the Crocodile Farm and Mini Siam. Back to your hotel for a shower and dinner and than the real Pattaya comes alive.

I decided to do a quick one night trip to Pattaya on March 3. I forgot to look at the calendar though and it just happened to be a Thai Buddhist holiday, Macha Bucha Day. That is all well and good but it does change the environment for a night. The usual bustling Walking Street had many lights out and fewer than normal visitors. Most of the visitors were either only dining or sitting at the few bars that were open sipping sodas or water. I did find a couple of bars open willing to sell cold beer, but the bottles couldn't be visible on the bar so it had to be poured in and drank from a glass.

The night in Pattaya was still enjoyed but it wasn't itself. It wouldn't have mattered much if spend a few days and nights there but this was strictly a one-nighter. A lesson learned by me to include calendar checks before planning trips. For sure I will go back again another time.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Enjoying N-Joy in Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand

A sultry Sunday afternoon in Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand. It was hot but the humidity seemed to exceed the temperature. I don't really like using the airconditioners and as I was moving about the house the electric fans were all but useless. What to do? What to do?

Ah I know. I was in dire need of a cold beer and my periodic English language fix. There is a sexy little pub/cafe here in Ubon Ratchathani that will solve all my challenges. It's name N-Joy. And enjoy I do. It is owned and operated by the Thai wife of an Australian dude. She provides a friendly, sexy environment and he provides good conversation and good stories.

The beer is always cold and in supply. If you get the munchies too while talking and drinking there is a good menu that a competent cook serves up tastely in short order. If you need a bit of action there is a snooker table in the rear. But as for me I enjoy just sitting, sipping my ice cold beer, listening and doing a bit of talking too.

The other mates who drop by are decent and provide stories and entertainment. N-Joy is a nice place in Ubon for us expat types to come get our batteries recharged before deploying back out into our alien expat world for more experiences and adventures. When you visit Ubon you are more than welcome to join us.

I headed back to my castle that Sunday afternoon, refreshed and not noticing what the weather was doing. All in all a good day among many good expat days.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Nong Bua Public Park - Ubon Ratchathani

One of the places in Ubon Ratchathani I go to relax is Nong Bua Public Park.

Nong Bua Public Park, Ubon Ratcathani, Thailand

It is a fairly new park here in Ubon Ratchathani. It was well planned and is maintained well too. During the day it is fairly empty and very quiet. I enjoy just sitting there at one of the many tables and relaxing.

Nong Bua Public Park is one of my favorite places here. I like to walk around the pond and sit to think. The grass is colorful and well kept. There are gazebos if you want to get out of the sun. A great place to eat lunch or just enjoy a cold beer.

Nong Bua Public Park, Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand

There is a path around the pond for jogging or walking. There is a baskeball cour. There are exercise stations featuring various exercises. So if you want to relax, exerise or spend some quiet time with yourself or a special friend it is well worth a visit to Nong Bua Public Park. Nearby are many places to eat and also Nong Bua Market and Nong Bua Temple.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Thailand Travel - Mukdahan to Savanakhet and Back

What a wonderful trip. I just recently needed to leave Thailand to get a new visa. My place of choice was Savanakhat, Laos. It is near and it is convenient. Normally I can go there, apply for my visa, pick it up at 3pm, then back to Thailand. All in one day. But recent events have changed things.

In the past I would take the ferry from Mukdahan to Savanakhet, but the Friendship Bridget II has now opened for business to I had to go use it for my border crossing. It was painless but just a bit less convenient than the ferry. There were more suprises in store for me as well. As of January 15, 2007, the Thai consulate no longer does one day processing.

So since I arrived Friday morning I was stuck in Laos until Monday. At first I was pissed because I didn't have prior knowledge of the change. But then I thought, what the hell, I might as well enjoy my weekend in Savanahet.

I did a lot of walking. I met an Irishman and we hooked up on the Mekhong River enjoying a delicious lunch and some cold Beer Lao. We met again later that night and enjoyed the company of some lovely Lao ladies.

Saturday I spent walking around exploring the city. A contrast of old and new. Asian influence mixed with a touch of French. That evening I found a pub which made great cheeseburgers and had cold Beer Lao as well. The owner is a Dane name Alan and we quickly became friends. I consumed several cheeseburgers and many Beer Lao over the weekend.

I enjoyed the slow pace and quiet atmosphere. Many people still ride bicyles and there are a few cars and motorcycles. For me it was like traveling back in time. I enjoyed very much. The people we kind and friendly. From the cooks to the little 3 year old girl who wanted me to play with her and her elephant doll.

What started as a problem ended in an enjoyable weekend near the bank of the Mekhong River. If you get a chance you should spent some time in Savanakhet, Laos. It is worth your time.

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