Family Visit Part 2

The second half of my family’s trip to Thailand was spent in the south, in the Andaman coastal province of Krabi.


For midwesterners, a trip to the beach is a highlight of any trip to Thailand. Amber waves of grain don’t have anything on the warm tropical waters in Thailand.


For the one-hour flight to Krabi, we once again flew Nok Air (“Bird” Air) which was a big hit with the girls. The planes are painted like birds, which they thought was pretty cool.


We stayed at a resort right on the beach, giving us a spectacular sunset view every evening.


The resort is small – only about 50 rooms – and quite out of the way. While this limited the ease of travel elsewhere in the province, the two pools and the beach provided enough attractions.


We did sneak out one day for an elephant ride – here, my sister and youngest niece pet a baby elephant – and a visit to a spectacular crystal clear natural spring in which you can swim.


While out, we had a chance to stop in the main town for authentic southern Thai food – Hat Yai style fried chicken, a steamed fish mousse, and “Chinese style” rice noodles with curry sauce and fermented vegetables. I’m glad that everyone gave the food a try and for the most part, seemed to like it. Well, the fried chicken at least.


Every day at sunset we were on the beach. Here, recreating some picture from a childhood, I give my sister a push on a swing.


One of my nieces also provided the gymnastic antics to create this beautiful picture.


Our last full day there, we hired a long-tail boat to take us to a pair of islands about 10 kilometers off the coast. The nieces weren’t too happy about the boat ride but the rest of us enjoyed the experience.


One nearly-deserted island had an interesting isthmus that largely disappeared at high tide but provided a comfortable spot to enjoy the breeze and take in the views of the steep limestone cliffs.


At a second island, we cruised into a lagoon in the middle of the island that is only accessible during high tide. The water was less than three feet deep and the cliffs surrounded the lagoon on all sides except for a narrow opening to the sea.


Finally, we docked at the other side of the same island (called Koh Hong) where there is a large protected beach. It is part of a national park on employees keep a careful eye on visitors to ensure there is no littering. While the waters were a bit cloudy because of the monsoon season, we did a little snorkeling near the large rock and were able to see quite a few schools of fish.


All in all, I think it was a very enjoyable four days for everyone and a good final experience for Thailand. I’m glad we saved the beach for the end of the trip.


The Clevelands Arrive

My childhood friend Brad and his wife Donna arrived Wednesday with their two children, E and C. 


We’ve been running around the city and surrounding area, seeing as many sights as we can while keeping in mind that jet lag can be especially disorienting for children.  The first evening we were out at dinner and E and C both fell asleep at the table.  It was all we could do to wake them up so we could take them back to the hotel.

As I mentioned in my last entry, I prepared a series of activities for E and C designed around a top secret agent/spy theme.  When they checked in at the hotel, the clerk gave them a folder with their names on it with “Top Secret” stamped on it.  They opened it to discover a mission overview and their Day 1 assignment.

Agents E and C:

You have been selected for an elite mission.This mission is strictly top secret, although you can use your parental units to support your mission objectives, if needed.

Your goal is to gather intelligence about the language, culture, transportation, and markets in the Kingdom of Thailand and send it to the headquarters of the United States National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, or USNGIA for short.

It turns out that the USNGIA is real but I went ahead and used them since their cool looking logo is readily available on Google.  Agents E and C were assigned Thai cover names: Pi Chai (Big Brother) and Nong Saao (Little Sister), respectively.

Agents Pi Chai and Nong Saao had an initial assignment that involved looking at a map, located their hotel, and answering a few questions about the surrounding area: Where is the nearest park?  What is the name of the street their hotel is on?  Etc.

Their assignment for day 1 was to learn a few words of Thai, which Agent Nong Saao had already done as part of a school report she did on Thailand last year.  “Yes”, “No”, “Hello”, and “Thank You” were enough to prepare them for their visit… er, secret mission.

Day 2 dawned after a good night’s sleep with nobody waking up too early.  The top secret agents had another envelope and another assignment waiting for them:

Your assignment is to gather intelligence about the culture of Thailand and to report it back to headquarters.Complete the following information and include it in your report.

Your destination Thursday is the most important cultural and religious site in Thailand.It is a complex of buildings on the eastern bank of the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok. It served as the official residence of the Kings of Thailand from the 18th century onwards.It is also where the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is housed, the most holy Buddha statue in Thailand.

There was a word-scramble (er… “code to break”) that listed the name of the destination: The Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.


As part of the assignment, they used pictures to identify some of the mythical creatures represented on the grounds of the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.  By asking questions of their guide and listening carefully, they would learn what all these creatures were and what they represent.

The creatures include the ones holding this golden chedi, or stupa, above, as well as the towering giants like the one below, that protect the entrances to the temple.



Another two mythical creatures they needed to learn about were the garuda – the bird-man holding snakes in the center of the above photo, and the multi-headed snake called a naga, which line the edges of the roofs of temples and palatial buildings.


We saw these mythical creatures represented again and again, such as in these temple murals.


We also saw an artist attending to the fine details of the temple, keeping the paint fresh and bright.


The Clevelands posting with a royal guard at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.


Does the cloud in this picture look like a chicken?  Tail on the left, head on the right, with two claws on the bottom.  I think it does and even though I didn’t tag the photo as a chicken, when I uploaded it to Xanga, the Google ad at the top of the screen was for a company that will help you grow your own chickens in the backyard.  It’s a sign, I tell you!


We saw the changing of the guards, who must be very hot in those outfits!


As the secret agents and their parents started to wilt under the strong sun and high heat, we wrapped up our Day 2 assignment, headed out for some lunch at a nearby air conditioned restaurant, and then took the boat back down the river to the hotel for some swimming… and to await Day 3’s assignment!

A Whole Family of Visitors

Earlier in the week, we had the pleasure of entertaining a family of four from Hong Kong including two- and four-year old children.  There is nothing to make you look at your city through a different set of eyes than to see it with someone of an entirely different age.

But first, catching up on other news:

Kenny was curious what the flowers that Tawn buys and arranges look like.  I’ll try to include more of them over time, but here is the $2 bunch of orchids:


Also, from one of the English-language papers in town comes this advertisement about various elective medical procedures you can have done by the Pratunam Polyclinic, the same one that did work on Miss Tiffany Universe 2007.   Please note that the orchiectomy is no longer available.  Instead of just revising the advertisement they simply crossed it out.  “Nope, we sold ’em all out for today.”


Like me, you might wonder what an orchiectomy is.  A quick Google search removed the mystery: the procedure is more commonly known as castration.

Which explains why it is no longer available.  See this entry from April about the debate over teenage castration by young men who think they may end up being women.  (Interesting side note: when I browse through my blog’s footprints, at least a few times a week I find people who linked to my blog by performing a search similar to “teenage+castration” or “teenage+transsexual”.  That’s food for thought, isn’t it?)

Back to my guests.  Tehlin and I went to school together in California, studying the same major, and have stayed in touch throughout the years.  Tawn and I attended her wedding to Chris (same name, different bloke) in Manila in January 2002, where I actually did one of the readings.

After picking them up at 4:00 am thanks to a typhoon-delayed flight, I was back late that morning to meet them in their hotel lobby so we could set out for a little sight seeing.  They stayed at the Peninsula, a hotel so nice I felt guilty waiting for them in the lobby lounge.  Not so guilty as to forego an order of tea, served in this beautiful silver tea set:


The Peninsula is on the west bank of the Chao Praya River, opposite the core part of the city.  The hotel is designed so all the rooms have a river view, below:


We took the public river taxi to the Grand Palace and discovered that a nearly five-year old really isn’t interested in glittering spires and jade Buddhas.  Especially on a hot day.  Here are some shots from along the way.

Below, at the Oriental Hotel pier, directly across from the Peninsula, I saw what I thought was an interesting picture: a cross-river ferry completely surrounded by the water hyacinth that chokes many of the waterways in Thailand.


I’ve been to the Grand Palace at least twenty times but I try to find one new angle from which to view it each time I visit.  Here, a kinaree – a half-human half-bird creature, stands in front of four Khmer-style chedis.


Despite all the interesting things to see, Sam was most interested in the minnows hiding under the water lily pads.


By the time we finished with the Grand Palace, there wasn’t much energy left to see anything else.  We returned to the hotel for a rest and then went out to dinner at a riverside restaurant with a great view.

Not wanting to wait for the public taxi and hoping to add some excitement to Sam’s life, I hired a long-tail speedboat, below:


If you have enough people, it is actually a pretty affordable way to catch a breeze and zip around.  Sam was alternately thrilled, terrified, and tired.  Here’s a brief video:


While Chris and Sam went swimming at the hotel’s beautiful pool, Tehlin and I caught up and had afternoon lattes.  Forgetting my senses for a moment, I ordered an apple tart to go with the latte:



The next day we did some shopping as Chris and Tehlin were looking for home furnishings.  Having just spent a lot of time going through our own remodel, we had some ideas about where to take them.  Several hours later, passing through Central World Plaza, I decided to stop for one big bite of sushi:


Sam and Chris returned to the hotel after Sam took a rather nasty header running directly into a bench at the Paragon mall.  Don’t know why he didn’t see it, but he side-swiped it and did a forward flip, landing squarely on his back.  Chris and Tehlin decided it didn’t require a trip to the emergency room, though Sam did look sore the next day.  Hopefully he is back up to speed soon.

Meanwhile, Tehlin and I kept shopping and then stopped in the afternoon so she could see our house firsthand.  Isabel loved walking on the jute rug, after first being a bit cautious about its texture.


After an hourlong foot massage during which three staff members handled Isabel and kept her from injuring herself as she jumped from massage chair to massage chair, we headed out and regroups with Chris and Sam and Tawn for dinner.



So nice to have visitors in town.  In fact, the day after Chris and Tehlin headed back to Hong Kong, we were able to have dinner with Steve, who was in town from Los Angeles for business.  You can check his blog to see if he gives a fuller account of the pleasant evening.


Another mysterious visitor

Quite a number of people read this blog, few of whom I actually know.  Every so often I will receive a random message from someone and it invariably starts out, “You don’t know me, but I read your blog…”.  This has led to any number of interesting acquaintances and more than a few friendships, so on the whole I think it is a good thing.

A few weeks ago I received another one of those messages, this one from Mario in Chicago.  A United Airlines employee (my former employer, Tawn’s former employer, my father’s former employer, the former and current employer of many friends, etc.), Mario stumbled across my blog while reading trip reports on  As he was heading to the Big Mango on a business trip, an opportunity existed to say hello and to meet up.

P1060665 Friday evening, Tawn and I picked up Mario at his hotel and then met Ken (who is also a former UA employee who also met me through at the Saladaeng Cafe.  This restaurant, run by the Jim Thompson Foundation, is a pleasant nice-but-not-stuffy Thai restaurant located off Thanon Sathorn. 

Right, Tawn with the food, which was tasty but definitely seasoned for western tastes.  No chilies at all!

We had a fun time visiting and of course the common aviation industry background provided plenty of fodder for the conversation, what with merger speculations and rumors being the news of the day.

Ken and Mario actually know several people in common, so we spent a while playing the “do you know so-and-so” game.  I’m not sure who won.  Also, since Mario used to live in San Francisco there was another point of commonality there.

Below from left: Mario, Chris, Ken and Tawn.  The picture behind us is pretty strange, I think.  The green and blue long-necked women look like zombies.


After dinner we stopped by the Millennium Hilton for a drink and some jazz music at 360, their top-floor bar.  It was a pleasure meeting Mario and we’ll have to find ourselves in Chicago one of these days for another visit.

Speaking of visitors, a spate of them are arriving.  Darrin will be in town very briefly on his way from San Francisco to India.  He arrived last night late and leaves early Monday morning, so I think we’re meeting up for lunch.  Big Michael will be in town from Hong Kong the week after next, and we’re already looking ahead to Bruce’s visit in October.


Visitors from NY

Over the last week we’ve had a trio of visitors in town from New York City: Malcolm and Sally and their friend Biing.  Malcolm is a film maker whom I met working about six years ago at the SF International Asian American Film Festival.  We’ve stayed in touch since then and I’m very glad they had the opportunity to come visit.

Their friend Biing arrived first, two days ahead of them.  Malcolm put us in touch and he was able to join us last Saturday at Pune’s farewell party.  Having never met Biing before, I was initially concerned whether he’d feel comfortable at a dinner party that was half women and the other half gay men.  Within thirty seconds after meeting him I realized my concerns were misplaced.

Pune decided to cook for us, as she’ll be heading off to her new life in Germany soon and won’t have the opportunity to cook for us anymore.  The menu was Thai: spicy ground pork dip (with pita bread, the only non-Thai item), rice noodle nests and chicken red curry.  Tasty!

Below: Pune toasts the pita bread; Tam goofs around.



Below: Tawn and Issara, Tam’s childhood friend.



Above: Tawn and Bing.  Below: Pune poses with the food, Tam, and Frederic.





Above: Me, Tawn and Biing.

It made for a very fun Saturday evening and, thankfully, one that wasn’t too late.  Sunday morning we were up at a reasonable hour and picked up Biing at his hotel for a trip to the Jatujak Weekend Market.  We started on the food side of the market, technically another market altogether as it is open seven days a week.

P1050812  P1050814

We bought a range of tasty food including a mackerel in curry and a stir-fried pumpkin and egg dish, above.

Below, Biing enjoys the food.


P1050816 Right, outside the market we saw a group of young men in painted faces out to advertise some product.  Don’t know if they were looking so down because of the weather or because of the product they were advertising, but they were definitely sad clowns.




P1050818 Tawn tried on some shorts at a tiny vendor’s stall in the market.  There was no changing room or even a changing corner, so the vendor had an elastic-waist skirt you could wear to cover yourself while slipping shorts on and off.  At one point Tawn almost forgot he hadn’t put his shorts back on and started to remove the skirt!








During their time here, I was able to meet up with Malcolm, Sally and Biing several times.  Finally, Wednesday evening Kobfa, Tawn and I joined them for dinner at Tae Ling Pling then met up with Vic on top of the Banyan Tree hotel for drinks.


Above: Tawn and I wait at Surasak station for our guests to arrive.  Below: On top of the Banyan Tree Hotel from left to right, Biing, Vic, Tawn, Kobfa, Malcolm and Sally.


The view:




Between work and my visitors, I haven’t had as much time to update my blog, Facebook, etc.  But that’s okay as it was a fun time.