adventures in Thailand

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3 Days of Bliss followed by FRUSTRATION

My Weds. & Fri. night plans to stay at Bueng Pai Farm turned into three consecutive nights. It seemed crazy to check out on Thurs., a.m., walk 10 minutes home, and spend the night on my coconut husk mattress on the floor when for only $14 another night in paradise could be had.

I am totally in love Bueng Pai Farm and its owners, Run and Orn. Such delightful and accommodating hosts. Their website ( has great photos and descriptions if you’re interested. A reservation for Dec. 10-11 at high season rates has already been made by me. I can’t imagine a better way to awaken on my 65th birthday than to look out the bungalow window on my right and see water or on my left and see a “sea of rice paddies” on the left. Altho’ by Dec. the rice will have been harvested. That’s OK because about 600 yards/meters beyond the rice fields sits a lovely wat (temple). The translated name of the wat is: Rice Beach Temple. Honest. No beach other than the “sea of rice.”

In addition to the fantastic surroundings, it was a pleasure to share that great place with friends. On Thursday my new Australian friends–Carolyn, the adventurous mother who returns to Aust. tomorrow, and her 21-year-old daughter Maddy came over to see the place and then we went out to lunch at Sunset View Restaurant. As you can imagine from the eatery’s name, it has a magnificent view of the Pai Valley. The next night Tierney joined me for an overnight in my bungalow’s second bedroom. We returned to Sunset View where she and another new good friend, Kiera from Toronto, had eaten dinner on Thursday night. BTW, I had take-out lunch from Sunset View on Weds. so that was 4 meals in 3 days. Maybe that’s why the lovely owner let Tierney & I order off the low-season lunch menu where entrees were $1!!! In contrast our drinks were $3 each. Sunset there on Thursday night with Kiera and Tierney was magnificent–not as good on Friday.

The pool at Bueng Pai Farm uses no chemicals–just filtered with sand, lava rock, etc. Thus, insect repellent or sunscreen must be showered off before entering. Also there are little fish living in it. (They sometimes bit the swimmer’s feet.) As a result there are multiple new mosquito bites but it’s worth it. Due to my sensitive skin, I tried to swim before noon and in late afternoon. No sunburn, happily.

Friday and Saturday brought some major frustrations re: the school. My biggest one was a wasted hour with an inappropriate Thai teacher candidate. Turns out she had a degree in tourism, not education. My colleague kept talking with her about other job possibilities–i.e. cook or accounting/booking for the school. It frustrated me because she: 1) had no experience cooking for large numbers 2) had never taken an accounting course 3) another person was waiting for the next interview. Oh well, the interview took place at Bueng Pai Farm, so the environment offset the frustration.

Meanwhile, Maddy, the young Australian, had a great interview with Jake and will start volunteering at our school for the month of November. She’ll be landscaping, building a compost and putting 3-4 piles of debris in it, and build above ground garden beds. She’s an amazingly hard worker and very strong. Plus a delightful personality.

More school frustrations that don’t need to be enumerated here. Opening Jan. 2 per the advice of several Montessori experts. They suggested that three weeks of class in Dec. followed by a 12 day break to resume class on Jan. 2 would be difficult for the students. On the plus side, I think we’ve found our English speaking teacher who will move here from South Carolina after Thanksgiving.

Thanks to all of my Woodstock area friends for keeping me posted on the freak October snowstorm. One Lake Hill (hamlet of Woodstock where I lived) resident had about 8 inches of snow Another friend who lives on the other side, toward the top, of Mt. Tobias (the Catskill peak that could be seen from my living room windows) had a foot of snow!

Let’s keep this one short. Will do a separate blog post about my upcoming travel plans.





Motorbikes #3 and Heaven again

Well, my decision not to rent a motorbike was reinforced on Saturday when Jake started to make a turn into our driveway and a Canadian guy decided to pass him—the young man fell and we brought him into the house to clean his wounds (not horrible–no stiches and nothing broken). It was his first day in Pai and first day on that motorbike.

Discovered yesterday that there’s a bicycle shop in Pai. Plan to buy my adult trike either here or in Chiang Mai on Nov. 3-4. My plan when still living in Woodstock was to buy a motorized adult trike. But can’t find one in SE Asia except direct from manufacturer where one must order 10 or 25 units. That’s 9 or 24 too many! Sure hope an adult trike comes with at least three gears. Going from the school house to town is great–mostly downhill but you know what that means for the ride home. Will probably walk the trike at least part of the way home.

As for Heaven…so excited…returning to Bueng Pai Farm tonight, Weds., and again on Friday. Check out my earlier post PAIRADISE for details on my first overnight there. The reason for tonight’s stay is that on Nov. 1 “high season” begins and the rates double. Tonight is the only time that there was a bungalow available directly on/over the lake. Turns out I’ll be there again on Friday night. Tierney, the lovely and extremely bright and mature intern from Columbia University, will be my guest in the two-bedroom bungalow where I’ve stayed in past visits. It’s spacious but not over the water.

On Sunday–since I couldn’t go to my Sunday “old stomping grounds” in Kingston (UUCC), I made the 10 minute walk to Bueng Pai Farm for breakfast. Turns out the kitchen is closed for two weeks so that the chef/co-owner can “recharge my batteries” to quote her. Mai pen rai—no problem. It was absolutely wonderful to spend an hour-plus there reading next to a big koi pond and eating a yogurt and banana. You have no idea how happy I am that tonight and Friday night will be spent in this “little slice of heaven on earth.”

GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS: Good news, we’re down to two finalist for the native English speaker teaching position. Peter and I have done the last interviews and will make a decision today, Bad news is we still need a Thai citizen for the other teacher and don’t have one. So school opening is postponed from Nov. 1 to either Dec. 1 or Jan. 2. To be determined, TBD.

Just in case staying overnight at Bueng (Lake) Pai Farm isn’t enough, this morning I’ll have a two-hour Thai medical massage. The practitioner taught Thai massage for a year at an orthopedic hospital in Oman and for four years in the USA in LA and NC. Her training is in traditional Thai medicine and therapeutic massage. She diagnosed and helped me recover from a fairly sharp pain in my lower right abdomen that hurt only when I was lying on my back. It started in Chiang Rai–thought I had appendicitis at first. But googled it the first night and thought maybe it wasn’t that. A few days later dear cousin Rob, an ER doctor in the Boston area, sent me an email diagnosis that precluded that problem or the need for surgery. After 12 days and a two-hour massage last Weds. the pain has subsided. My plans for the CM trip next week will include a medical consult with the GI specialist who saw me in Nov/Dec ’09 at Chiang Mai Ram hospital, a state-of-the art facility that attracts many Westerners (medical tourism is a huge business, especially in India, Brazil and here).

Now for the weather report. It’s quite cool overnight. Have on more layers than normal for sleeping–a sleeveless cotton top (my normal sleep attire here) covered by cotton PJs. Will get considerably colder at night in a month or two. In contrast, the temperature in my bedroom reached 91 yesterday afternoon–the hottest measured inside temperature since my arrival at the school house 5+ weeks ago.

By now you should be familiar with my typical blog ending—-comments and private emails to me are GREATLY APPRECIATED.


BAAN = House: the joys and challenges

You know me, the perpetual optimist. So let’s start with the joys.

JOYS: Internet at last (listening to classical music on WHMT now–thx, Scott, for the Tuned-in Radio app. on my iPad2). Great views: front porch- mts. often covered with mist in the a.m.; back porch – colorful sunsets beyond the rice paddies and the mts. Spacious: huge kitchen and living room plus 3 bedrooms – one to sleep in that will become the guest bedroom after school opens, another that’s 100% empty which will become conference room and storage, another which will become my office but now has school supplies and dresser/wardrobe. Wooden wall paneling in most of house. Western toilet in house. Friendly landlady next door (usually a plus). “Corner store” 100 yards/meters away with fresh eggs (deep orange yolks), yogurt and other necessities. Beverage stand 50 yards/meters away where for 50 cents a refreshing “shake” made with ice and flavoring awaits (can buy bananas there sometimes). 8-10 minute beautiful walk to Bueng Pai Farm, the 14-bungalow colony and fishing farm where I sometimes stay overnight to use its natural pool (no chemicals, has a waterfall) or meet friends for incredible organic breakfasts (when high season begins on Nov. 1 price doubles and it’s usually fully booked so no more stays there for 3–4 months). 15  minute walk (steep hill for last 1/2) to Sunset View Restaurant with incredible views, decent food and excellent fruit shakes. Fairly quiet (except when dogs howl/bark in the middle of the night).

CHALLENGES: Pipe missing under bathroom sink so a bucket catches the water (in theory it will be fixed today–why it wasn’t fixed when I was gone for 2+ weeks is anyone’s guess). No hot water in shower since return from Chiang Rai (fixed this a.m.–YIPPEE). more bathroom/water problems – leak from somewhere that keeps the floor near the toilet wet at all times, leak where shower and water filter are turned on so that floor is VERY wet when filling the drinking water storage tank. Western toilet is flushed by dumping a container of water in bowl—no flushing apparatus, not unusual in Thailand. Used toilet paper goes into wastebasket–as in most of the world (got used to this in Palestine). Very long walk to town–about 1.5-2 miles, uphill on return (usually call a motorbike taxi for 8-10 minutes ride for about $1.20 to go in). Ants – no matter what one does unless you’re willing to spray which I’m not–but they’re everywhere in Thailand. Other insects, snakes and animals – i.e. 8-10 inch lizard on the top of a wall about a month ago (always dozens of small geckos/lizards which don’t bother me) – landlady was here and got it out of the house (let me know if you want pics from my iPad of her with a long-handled broom encouraging the lizard to the front door). Lizard poop – everywhere in Thailand–took me a couple of weeks at Ing Doi Guesthouse to figure out what those little black things were…bigger than mouse dropping–lizards hang out on ceilings but gravity takes care of what they haven’t digested. (As an aside, yesterday while having a pedicure in town a darned gecko pooped on my left arm—a first, which hopefully won’t be repeated too often). No sink in kitchen–use bathroom sink (off of kitchen) and two faucets outside kitchen door plus a bucket of fresh water that’s changed every day on kitchen counter. No working stove–bought a microwave out of my own pocket–a two burner stove will be installed for school.

Hmmm, as an optimist let me end on a positive note. Today (in theory) Jake, our operations manager and father of 4 y.o. Pansa, is going furniture shopping with me for shelves (20) and (3) small tables for the school. Also, tomorrow there’s a big annual event in town—raising money and new or gently used winter clothing for the Hill Tribe children in the Pai Valley.  It gets cold (45 – 55 degrees farenheit)  at night here in December-February and exterior walls are very thin with no insulation or heating source inside). This year the cash raised will go to flood victims in the south. I plan to buy sweaters and sweatshirts –hopefully with Pansa accompanying me so he can learn that not everyone has money for warm clothing–and donate some more baht for the flood victims. It sounds impressive: 1000 baht for clothing but that’s only about $32 and the items will only cost $3-6 per piece. Thanks to social security that kicked in 1+ years ago and a small living allowance, it’s easy to support good causes. There’ll be live music and food vendors at the fundraiser on Sunday. Plus a lot of my new friends–both Thai and farang (Western) will be there.

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Internet at home–HURRAH

It’s been a long time since my last blog—a month tomorrow. A lot has happened, especially in the past 2 1/2 weeks. The first two weeks of October were spent at a marvelous Montessori training in Chiang Rai (CR) sponsored by the Khom Loy Development Foundation (google it if interested– great organization). The first week consisted of morning lectures interspersed with brief activities and in the afternoon we learned about specific Montessori materials and how to teach with it. There were about 10 teachers and 10 teacher/trainers from the Foundation. Class was from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.–very intense and exhausting. Also VERY worthwhile. One woman from Ireland the first week and the trainer was from Kenya so she spoke in English most of the time and a staff person translated. The second week the trainer spoke mostly Thai and occasionally translated for me if it was important.

The second week only five of us were left plus the 10 teacher/trainers. We spent 6-8 hours a day making materials for the classroom. Each of us left with a big box of aids for teaching reading, math, colors, geography and lots more. It would have taken me about 3 months to make all the stuff on my own or at least $500-$1000 to buy the materials from a vendor.

While at Khom Loy I met with the local woodworker/carpenter and paid the remainder of our 11,000 baht bill (about $375). He’s making about 30 items for our classroom which will arrive before the end of October. We also ordered a half-dozen Montessori more complicated teaching aids  from a manufacturer in Thailand. We’re trying to keep our costs as low as possible in order to have the money raised for purchasing land and building the “green” school. The two professors in NYC are trying to come up with $250,000—quite a stretch from the $5000-$6000 annual budget of the Burmese Refugee Project’s first 11 years.

Two weekends were spent in CR. I tried to find an organized small tour to the Golden Triangle and the Hall of Opium Museum, which had been highly recommended by the Irish woman in the Montessori training. Unable to find a tour, on Saturday I hired a driver and car (actually it was a pickup truck!) and had a lovely day. Let me know if you want photos from the Golden Triangle—Laos (pronounced Lao here, no S), Thailand and Burma/Myanmar. There’s a park with huge gold Buddhas, larger-than-life elephant sculptures and more. Then Sunday an hour was spent at the small but interesting Hill Tribe Museum.

Instead of returning to Pai after the course, I stayed in order to head north for a “visa run,” a term heard frequently here. For some reason the Thai govt. only gives 3 month permits even if you have a year visa. (It’s possible to get a year-long retirement visa but one must have $20,000 in a Thai bank account—doesn’t seem worth selling stocks just to do that.) So I took the public bus an hour north from CR to Mae Sai on the border with Burma. Typical border towns on both sides—shopping, shopping, shopping! I’m told that some enterprising (?) Thai’s go to Burma for the afternoon and buy cheap electronics and other goods to sell at higher prices in Thailand.

My visit consisted of walking past the many vendors on both sides of the border for several hours. Among my purchases were: a Pooh/Tigger/Piglet/Eyeore beach towel for Pansa, the 4 year old grandson of my dear friend Dianna, a small brass bell for the Montessori classroom like the one my trainer at Khom Loy had, a small brass Buddha, “cheater” eyeglasses for reading, and a new bath mat. There were a number of beggars–something I’ve never seen in Thailand so far. The first two young boys (perhaps 7 and 9) asked for money which I refused. However, I went to a store and bought a couple of yogurts, milk containers, toothbrushes and toothpaste, tracked them down and gave it to them.

Sunday was simply a long day of travel—bus from CR to CM for 3+ hours, couple hour wait at the bus station (because the first bus to Pai was sold-out), 3+ hou ride to Pai, arriving around 7:30 p.m. after my 11:30 a.m. departure. Ironically, Pai and CR are quite close as the crow flies—but cars can’t fly and there are no roads over the mountains from NW to NE Thailand. It wasn’t possible to catch an earlier bus because a job interview was scheduled with a teaching candidate in Alaska at 9 a.m. in Thailand.

Speaking of job interviews…the woman in Alaska was well qualified but our low salary didn’t fit her needs. However, today I did a second interview with a young American who taught Montessori in Korea followed by an amazing 75 minute interview with a fantastic candidate. My fingers are crossed that she’ll want the job–not sure if the salary is enough. She’s about my age with loads of Montessori experience. Her husband has lived in Singapore for the past year and she was planning to move there from Berkeley, CA. But she seems quite interested in Pai now. Will keep you posted. If she says “no” the young woman with Korean experience might work out.

Other than finally getting some good job candidates my most exciting news is that upon my return from CR, there was internet service and wi-fi set up in the school house. HURRAH. Truthfully, the two weeks I lived here prior to the CR trip were depressing and very isolating. The school is about 1.5-2 miles out of town. Having the internet—WAMC and WMHT radio plus CNN, etc. on iPad2—makes all the difference. Am in a GREAT mood now!

Whoops, just noticed this is running long—over 900 words. So will end for now. I promise not to wait another month for the next blog posting.