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Successful Thai Language Learner: Steve Stubbs

Successful Thai Language Learner

Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

Name: Steve Stubbs
Nationality: British
Age range: 20-30
Sex: Male
Location: London, UK
Profession: Management Consultant / Teacher
Twitter: @SteveAStubbs

What is your Thai level?

Upper Intermediate.

Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, or professional Thai?

Street Thai.

What were your reasons for learning Thai?

To be able to speak with locals, to make people laugh and smile and so that I could read menus and signs! Wherever I ended up with my teaching abroad, I was always going to give the language a go.

Do you live in Thailand? If so, when did you arrive?

I lived there for 11 months during 2012/2013 but am now in the UK. I’m looking to move back over if I can find the right job!

How long have you been a student of the Thai language?

I’d say from the summer of 2012 onwards.

Did you learn Thai right away, or was it a many-pronged approach?

I was eager to start learning the language as soon as I had booked my place on a teaching course over on Koh Kood. In the UK we have long summer holidays so I spent a lot of my time learning the foundations at home.

Did you stick to a regular study schedule?

I wouldn’t say it was a planned schedule but I tried to do a bit every day in the past. Now its harder working around a job and living in a non-Thai speaking country.. but I try to expose myself to the language each day.

What Thai language learning methods did you try?

I started using Youtube with channels like Kru Mod / Kru Wee / Kru Mia. They were all very useful and I cannot praise them enough. I then used the Thai for Beginners by Benjawan Poomsan Becker (a great series for anyone starting out) and the rest in the series. During my time in Southern Thailand, I lived in the sticks with a home stay family.. certainly this was true immersion and was really beneficial to my progression!

Did one method stand out over all others?

YouTube is great in my opinion. You can tell the teacher to pause and to go back as many times as you want! And it’s free. Also you are fully engaged visually and through sound. I find that if I am listening to just the audio, my eyes will wander.

How soon did you tackle reading and writing Thai?

After a few weeks of learning some speaking and listening, I was curious to know how this was represented using the Thai alphabet. I knew that if I wanted to truly learn this language, relying on a non-standardised transliteration script wouldn’t be the right approach.

Did you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

Initially I found it fine. It is an artistic language and fun to practise. I also had a system for memorising the three different classes. I also like that each letter is named after an object / person / animal – another boost to the vocabulary and it makes some imagery. The parts I found hard were: Learning the ending sounds for consonants, memorising the tone rules, the different fonts!

What was your first “ah hah!” moment?

Certainly when I first showed up at Suvarnibhumi airport. I had learnt a language for 3 months or so without even practising it with anyone! I started speaking to ask someone where the Taxis were and I had that ‘ah hah!’ moment when I realised he could understand me.

How do you learn languages?

I’m a visual learner, I like using mindmaps and pictures where I can. At the moment I am using flashcards on my phone which I can flick through during tube/train journeys. I also like to watch videos in Thai on Youtube.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Strengths: Confidence in speaking foreign languages with others, being able to pick up accents quickly, motivation to learn and try new methods.

Weaknesses: It used to be fonts but I am now more confident after practice. Now my biggest weakness is listening (especially that colloquial teenage tongue)! I need to get back to Thailand to practise this…

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

Many people are scared of the tones and the alphabet. The tones are actually not as hard as you may believe and once you crack them, they are fun to practise and to explain to fellow Westerners! They also make for a few funny mistakes down the road (Hee Maa = Snow or something else?). I believe that the Grammar in Thai is what makes picking up the basics quite simple. Once you know a verb, it stays like that for all plurals, genders, tenses – no conjugation! (I find Asian languages easier than European!) As for the alphabet, take it step by step. Perhaps learning a few new characters a day.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

Everywhere I go I like to learn the language. This has left me with a little bit of knowledge in things like Turkish, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Italian etc. I studied French in high school but it was seen as a subject in my teenage head rather than an interest and hence I haven’t been able to keep it up.

Were you learning another language at the same time as Thai?

I tried to learn a bit of Chinese at the time just out of curiosity. I didn’t pursue it in the end because I wanted to focus fully on one language.

What advice would you give to students of the Thai language?

Try and find a method that you enjoy. Overall I think mine is utilising videos as much as possible as this is what I have found most effective and engaging. Be confident! Go out there and speak with anyone and everyone. The first 5 minutes of speaking with a Thai person usually have the same questions in (I was going to put a ‘same same but different’ line in there). So if you are prepared for these and they understand, this will boost your confidence for the rest of the conversation! In my opinion, making the effort to learn the writing system really will pay off in the long run. Of course transliteration is a good starting point, but don’t rely on it for too long because you will soon encounter pronunciation issues (Transliterated karaoke lyrics look horrible to me).

Steve Stubbs,
Twitter: @SteveAStubbs

The Series: Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners…

If you are a successful Thai language learner and would like to share your experiences, please contact me. I’d love to hear from you.

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Hang Lek: Fortune-telling Numerals of Thailand and Cambodia

Hang Lek

Fortune-telling Numerals of Thailand and Cambodia…

I first came across the numerals know as หางเลข when attempting to ascertain if the system of marking tone in Thai was influenced by a previous tradition of using cantillation markers to mark tonal variation in Buddhist chanting manuscripts or by the familiarity with svara markers, found in certain chanted Sanskrit manuscripts. An issue I will however, save for another time.

Hang Lek

In some such manuscripts, numerals were used to mark tonal variations. Thus my obsession with numerals and their development was born, collecting anything remotely connected to the numerals in Southeast Asia and India that I could get my hands on.

German polymath Adolf Bastian, who traveled in Southeast Asia during the 1860’s, writes of a shortened form of the full numerals (rendered as “Hong-Lek” by Bastian). His remark set me on the quest to find samples of such numerals. It was something that proved more difficult than I had first thought, which added to my joy when I finally found the first samples in a reprint of an article entitled Boransueksa Lae Rattanaphimphawong [Ancient Education and the Chronicle of the Emerald Buddha] first published in the Wachirayan Journal in 1896.

Although the numerals previously used in arithmetic and divination seem to have been largely overlooked by both Thai and Foreign scholars, they are still known; although rarely used, in some astrological circles. One might come across these numerals on the cover on some of the modern fortune telling manuals known as ตำราเลข ๗ ตัว, yet few Thais will be able to recognize these symbols as numerals even when shown images of them.

Hang Lek

As these numerals were customarily used when doing calculations with chalk on blackboards, samples are generally not found in manuscripts or printed texts. And as their name implies, the หางเลข are a shortened form of the Thai/Khmer numerals, with only the tail of the full form being retained. They eventually lost out to the Hindu-Arabic numerals during the end of the 20th century. My paper is a humble attempt to draw attention to these numerals and provide a summary of my findings.

Numerous people have been helpful in locating sources and answering my questions. Special thanks to Luke Bruder Bauer for reading and critiquing a draft of the paper. Any mistakes are of course mine alone.

Download pdf: Hang Lek, Fortune-telling Numerals of Thailand and Cambodia

Fredrik Almstedt
Almstedt Översättning | Thai – Svenska – Engelska

Hang Lek

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Interview: Ben Bradshaw is Getting by in Thai

Interview: Ben Bradshaw

Ben Bradshaw is getting by in Thai…

Name: Ben Bradshaw
Nationality: American
Age range: 25-30
Sex: Male
Location: Bangkok
Profession: Entrepreneur
Web: CikguBen.com

What is your Thai level?


What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand?

About 80%. I can follow most conversations and fill in the final 20% with just guesses based on context and experience.

Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, professional Thai, or a mix?

I speak mainly street Thai mixed with some professional Thai that is used in English instruction.

What were your reasons for learning the Thai language?

I have a brother that is an amazing Thai speaker. I see Thailand as a land of opportunity for foreigners willing to learn about the culture and master the language.

When did you become a student of the Thai language?

May 2014.

How much time do you currently spend learning Thai?

About 30 minutes per day reading a Thai grammar and language book. Then I speak and use Thai and learn new phrases at least 5-6 other times throughout every day.

Do you stick to a regular study schedule?

No. I just pick up my Thai book when I have the time.

What Thai language learning methods are you using?

I rely on English speaking friends to explain phrases and concepts, a pocket dictionary, google translate, and a Thai grammar book.

Does one method stand out over all others?

Yes. The most effective method for me is to speak and make mistakes. Then I will be corrected and I will then be able to remember how to say it correctly the next time. Half the battle is just remembering the new words and phrases when you want to say them.

Have you started reading and writing Thai yet?

Yes. I can read at a very basic level but I can recognize all letters but when reading a block of Thai text then I struggle.

If so, do you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

I think it’s difficult how there are no spaces between words. Also, so many of the characters look so similar to the others that I often confuse one for the other. I think through time and more practice this will be less and less true.

How long did it take you to pluck up the courage to actually try using your Thai skills?

I started speaking the first day I was taught. I was never scared to try to speak Thai.

How soon was it before you could make yourself understood in Thai (even just a little bit)?

I could be understood within about the first week. I have experience in other Asian languages so putting together basic thoughts and phrases for simple communication came easy to me when I had established a basic vocab and a sense for the tones.

What are your most embarrassing moments when speaking Thai?

I am always scared that if I say something incorrectly, with either the wrong vowel or wrong tone that it is going to have some reference to male or female parts. It’s like this always in language learning so I’ve learned to just laugh at the times when I might get close to saying something incorrectly and hopefully the person listening knows that I am a student in the language.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

That speaking is hard. I think, in fact, that Thai is quite simple to speak. I think the script makes people feel like the language is going to be so difficult but when you really get down to it, thoughts are simple, grammar is basic, and the tones are doable.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

When I realized that the tones are relative to each other. Just because you have a lower voice doesn’t mean you need to go to great lengths to make your voice sound higher or more “Thai”. You simply need to change your tone in relation to your other tones. It was difficult at first to so many consecutive words with different or similar tones but once I realized it as just in direct relation to your previously said tone, then it started to become much easier.

How do you learn languages?

I learn a few phrases, build a vocab, start speaking to people, carry a pocket dictionary, carry a small notebook, and always ask questions like “how do you say ‘to go’ in Thai?” It really helps to have a person explain things in your native language at the beginning.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

My strength is being willing to talk to anyone. My weakness is not wanting to talk to people sometimes out of sheer laziness.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

Yes. I am fluent in Malay and Indonesian. I can “get by” in Mandarin.

Has learning Thai affected your knowledge of the other languages you speak?

Yes. Thai being a tonal language, often times start to come first to my mind when I am speaking Chinese. I’ll try to think of the Chinese word but the Thai word will come first. My Thai has actually overtaken my Chinese skills now.

How many foreign languages have you attempted to use?

At least 4 different foreign languages. 1. Malay. 2. Indonesian. 3. Thai. 4. Mandarin Chinese.

Are you learning another language at the same time as Thai?

No. Although I am always trying to improve my Malay and Chinese, I am not actively studying these languages at the same time as learning Thai.

Do you currently live in Thailand, or have you ever lived in Thailand? If so, how long for?

Yes. I am currently living in Bangkok.

Are you a computer programmer, or do you have programming experience?

Yes. I have a degree in mechanical engineering and have experience programming in a few different languages like C, MatLab, JavaScript, and Arduino.

Do you have a passion for music and or you play an instrument?

Yes. I love listening to music and almost always want it to be playing in the background of whatever I am doing. I grew up learning to play the violin and was quite advanced as just an elementary school student. I moved then into the trumpet and later into piano. Nowadays I don’t actively play any instrument but sometimes do get a feeling like I should get back into playing and making music.

What learning advice would you give to other students of the Thai language?

Get out there and speak. Be confused. Be frustrated. Make mistakes. Write things down. Don’t worry if you forget something you learned 3 minutes ago. Look it up again. Use what you’ve learned and it will finally be cemented into your mind. Oh and of course, try to mimic Thai people, not your Thai-speaking, native English speaking friends.

What is your Thai language study plan for the next six months? The next year?

I plan to continue on the same course that I am on now, that is, read a little of my grammar book, ask questions to my friends, and then try to practice and speak with Thai people as I go about my daily life.

Ben Bradshaw,

Getting by in Thai…

If you’d like be involved in the Getting by in Thai series, contact me. And please remember: the whole idea for this series is interview those who are either new to studying Thai or renewing their interest in learning Thai. It’s all good!

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It’s Cherry Blossom Time in Khun Chang Khian, Chiang mai

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry trees are blooming in Thailand – hurry if you can…

Depending upon traffic, an hour from Chiang mai is the Khun Chang Kian Highland Agriculture Research Center. Around this time of year (Jan/Feb) visitors squeeze up a hairy one lane road to see the Center’s cherry trees in bloom.

Siam and Beyond: The variety of sakura growing in Thailand is the Wild Himalayan cherry (Prunus cerasoides). Its name in Thai is นางพญาเสือโคร่ง /naang phá-yaa sǔea-khrông/, which means “Tiger Queen.”

Thailand isn’t exactly known for its cherry trees, but as the story is told, over 50 years ago China’s defeated Lost Army planted the trees in Santikhiri (สันติคีรี) to remind them of their homeland. Looking to attract more tourists to the region, in 1974 Thailand extended the planting to other suitable areas in the north of the country.

Cherry Blossoms On Sunday (the day after Children’s Day) I attempted the drive up the mountain to Khun Chang Kian but turned back due to the massive amount of cars trying to do the same.

The grade is fairly steep and traffic goes both ways so you are constantly forced off into a dirt shoulder. That’s if there is one. If not, one of you will need to reverse. And if there’s a long line going up and another coming back down, it can be a nightmare.

My car has an automatic transmission with a button for a break (weird, huh). The combination of a steep hill and constantly having to stop and start did me in! The cars behind crowded too close, leaving no room to go from brake to accelerate. Turning around at the overlook, I promised myself a Monday return.

The trip up the mountain can be made in a regular car if your timing is right. Sunday was a wash but going back on a weekday worked out great.

Tips: If you don’t have access to either a truck or motorbike, at the scenic overlook partway up the mountain transportation is available. But do know that parking there is limited. And if you do go in a regular car and a truck (four-wheel drive) comes the opposite way, stay on the road but give them enough room to go off the shoulder on either side. Sometimes it works and sometimes not but it’s worth a try.

How to get there…

As per the map below, drive out of Chiang mai, heading towards Doi Suthep. A few km past the Phuping Palace and Gardens (zoom in to see it on the map) is a three way junction. At the junction is a hard to miss sign to Khun Chang Khian telling you to turn right. Keep on that small road all the way to the Khun Chang Kian Highland Agriculture Research Center.

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms

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Interview: Jeff is Getting By in Thai

Thai Style

Jeff is getting by in Thai…

Name: Jeff

Nationality: USA

Age range: 30

Sex: Male

Location: Bangkok

What is your Thai level?

Hard to say. It depends on the subject matter being discussed, but for regular day-to-day dealings, I would put myself squarely in “intermediate.”

What percentage of conversational Thai do you understand?

I’d say I can at least get the gist of at least 70% of what’s being said.

Do you speak more street Thai, Issan Thai, professional Thai, or a mix?

I speak polite Thai with some working knowledge of slang and Isan.

What were your reasons for learning the Thai language?

It’s annoying to live in a country and not know the language.

When did you become a student of the Thai language?

About one month before I moved to Thailand.

How much time do you currently spend learning Thai?

Everyday is a lesson – but specifically studying Thai – maybe about 2 hours per day.

Do you stick to a regular study schedule?

Not at all. I think this is one reason I’m not taking part in the successful Thai learners series.

What Thai language learning methods are you using (resources needed)?

I am reading and studying vocabulary from a couple books written in Thai.

Does one method stand out over all others?

I only know the self-study and immersion method. Having someone constantly correct me is rather discouraging. I prefer to learn from my mistakes (i.e. notice Thais saying the word differently than I am and working to mimic them).

Have you started reading and writing Thai yet?

Yes, of course. I got into reading and writing almost as soon as I landed.

If so, do you find learning to read and write Thai difficult?

I wouldn’t say difficult – just time consuming (it took me about 3 months of 3-5 hours per day to get comfortable with reading and writing in Thai).

How long did it take you to pluck up the courage to actually try using your Thai skills?

I’ve been using Thai from the first day. It’s a matter of politeness and convenience.

How soon was it before you could make yourself understood in Thai (even just a little bit)?

I think everyone could understand สวัสดีครับ right away ☺

What are your most embarrassing moments when speaking Thai?

I don’t get embarrassed from making mistakes. I like a good laugh.

What is the biggest misconception for students learning Thai?

That tonal languages are some sort of insurmountable obstacle.

What was your first ‘ah hah!’ moment?

Going out with Thai friends and realizing at the end that I was fully engaged in the conversation we were having that lasted well over three hours.

How do you learn languages?

I like to study grammar and get a basis of vocabulary down while doing grammar drills. Then it’s just about using what I know and adding more vocab.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

My strengths are that I am quite good at learning grammar and I’m able to think in whatever language I’m learning. My weakness would be my own laziness. I really should be at a very advanced level for how long I’ve lived here.

Can you make your way around any other languages?

Yes. I am fluent in German and also speak French as well as some Spanish and Norwegian.

Has learning Thai affected your knowledge of the other languages you speak?

Sometimes when I’m speaking German, a Thai word will creep up to my lips.

How many foreign languages have you attempted to use?

With natives in their own countries, I have used German, Hungarian, Thai, Lao, and Tagalog.

Are you learning another language at the same time as Thai?

Yes, I’m concentrating on Tagalog and also working on getting at least a rudimentary knowledge of Lao and Burmese and mixing a bit of Norwegian in there.

Do you currently live in Thailand, or have you ever lived in Thailand? If so, how long for?

I have been in Thailand for about 5 ½ years.

Are you a computer programmer, or do you have programming experience?


Do you have a passion for music and or you play an instrument

I love music and used to play violin.

What learning advice would you give to other students of the Thai language?

There is a direct correlation between effort and result.

What is your Thai language study plan for the next six months? The next year?

Keep on trucking.

Getting by in Thai…

Thank you Jeff, Terry, Dan, Tod, Snap, Talen and Greg. And for others out there – if you’d like be involved in the Getting by in Thai series, contact me. And please remember the clincher: the idea for the series is interview those getting by as well as regenerate an interest in learning Thai.

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Wishing You a Very Merry SET Christmas

SET Foundation

Here’s wishing you all a very Merry SET Christmas…

It’s now been six years since I discovered The SET Foundation, and five years since I turned over WLT’s ad revenue to SET as well.

What’s the SET Foundation?

The SET Foundation has a very specific aim: to make a difference. That difference is between a youngster being able to study at a vocational college or university, or instead having to labor in the rice paddies, on a Bangkok building site, or in some other mundane, dead-end job.

By giving scholarships and other practical support, SET is making the difference for an increasing number of disadvantaged Thai students. We do it voluntarily, enthusiastically and very cost-effectively.

Have you noticed that each year there’s a shocking charity scandal? After discovering SET I’ve been confident that WLT’s donations go direct to the Thai students in need. So there’s been no more worries about supporting fancy skyrise offices, big fat black cars, or expensive vacations to tropical places.

And nothing makes me happier than when I receive an email about a WLT reader donating to the SET Foundation. And as this is the season of giving, I wanted to give my thanks to those donating in WLT’s name (or just plain donating).

Who’s donating to the SET Foundation?…

Since 2010, instead of sending money for sidebar ads, Benjawan (Talking Thai-English-Thai Dictionary) and Achim (L-lingo) have been donating direct to SET. Can you just imagine how many Thai students have benefitted from their generosity? Megga thanks to both of you!

Learn Thai Podcast is an intermittent sponsor of both SET and WLT (LTP recently helped get WLT back in shape). Recent affiliate donors are Glossika and Jcademy. And a onetime donation came from HelloTalk. Thank you Jay and Jo, Mike, Stu, and Zachary!

Many individuals have donated to SET in WLT’s name but have requested to remain anonymous. Many thanks to all of you as well!

As each donation arrives, Peter Robinson (Director of SET) sends me an email of thanks. I guess you could say that it’s like Xmas for everyone, but all year around.

Peter Robinson: SET receives terrific financial support from many members and sponsors of WLT. That increasing and generous support enables the foundation to help many more impoverished Thai youngsters every year.

In 2015, SET will be awarding long-term scholarships to 1,500 students at school, college or university and an additional 1,000+ one-off welfare grants to those with unexpected financial difficulties. That’s quite an achievement which is made possible only because of the generosity of our friends around the world, including followers of WLT.

We at SET – and our students – offer you our sincere thanks and best wishes for a happy 2015.

Donating to the SET Foundation via Paypal is dead easy. On their sidebar select a number from the paypal dropdown, or type a different number in the box below.

Other posts about the SET Foundation…

The SET Foundation: A Season for Giving Back
Inciting Acts of Kindness: The SET Foundation
Feel Like Donating? Give to the SET Foundation Instead

In WLT’s Sidebar: Feel Like Donating?

Ho ho ho everyone. Merry Xmas and Happy New Year. I thank you all for your support.

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Loi Krathong (Yee Peng): An Unexpected Pleasure in Chiang Mai

Loi Krathong in Chiang Mai

Celebrating Loi Krathong and Yee Peng in Chiang Mai…

Wikipedia: Loi Krathong (Thai: ลอยกระทง) coincides with the Lanna (northern Thai) festival known as Yi Peng (Thai: ยี่เป็ง). Yi means “two” and peng means a “full moon day”. Yi Peng refers to the full moon day in the second month according to the Lanna lunar calendar (the twelfth month according to the Thai lunar calendar).

I had no plans to join the Loi Krathong / Yee Peng festivities but last night I was persuaded. Twenty minutes before my ride showed up I was googling instructions on night photography.

We first went down by the river, slipping and sliding through the mud churned up by the thousands of people who were setting off fireworks, letting Krathongs go in the river, and releasing lanterns into the sky. Most of the westerners were crowded around the moat in the middle of town (they missed a real Thai time – seriously).

I found night photography to be unnerving as well as exhilarating, and now I’m hooked. Below are just a few of the shots that came out.

Loi Krathong in Chiang Mai

Loi Krathong in Chiang Mai

Loi Krathong in Chiang Mai

Loi Krathong in Chiang Mai

Loi Krathong in Chiang Mai

The last photo is of a guy chest deep in the river where the Krathongs were set off. Several theories have been put forward but I’m not sure what he’s doing. Does anyone know?

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An Ideal Weekend Getaway in Bangkok or Expat Disasters Guaranteed?

Expat Disasters

An ideal weekend getaway in Bangkok or expat disasters guaranteed?…

Just what would your ideal weekend getaway in Bangkok be? I’ve lived in the city nine years so you’d think that there wouldn’t be much left of the city for me to experience fresh. After ticking off touristy things that everyone ends up doing, and local things usually not found in guidebooks, for sure, I’m left with things that are either too boring to bother with, or exciting and possibly dangerous even.

But back in 2012, snafus ranging from being merely uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing, to potentially life threatening, forced me to step away from the “exciting and possibly dangerous” options. And not just in Bangkok.

Here are highlights (only) of my expat disasters in 2012:

Expat Disasters

  • On the night before a return flight from Italy the man decided to partake of beef Carpaccio (thinly sliced raw meat). He was violently ill from Dohar all the way to Bangkok. It was awful for him (bless his heart). And with nowhere to hide, embarrassing for me.
  • Continuing on with food poisoning … When scouting my neighbourhood in Ari for a post about eating street food, both of us (the man and me) ended up with the worst case of food poisoning I’ve ever had (I’ll skip the visuals). The man suffered for three days – I lasted six.
  • On trips to Singapore (where they had to cut the lock off my luggage), Penang, and Chiang mai, due to smog from regional burning I was mostly confined to hotel rooms and rented condos. Being an asthmatic, not being able to breath was no holiday.
  • There were booking snafus to both Siem Reap and the Thai Ghost Festival (minor irritations, but when setbacks like this keep happening they can change the tone of a trip).
  • Then, in Cambodia, after friends and I went for a long-awaited fish spa experience, I broke out in oozing blisters from my knees to my toes (sexy – not).
  • And on a visit to Laos (by myself – my dear friend bailed due to an injury acquired from an overly ambitious Thai massage), I was bedridden with formaldehyde poisoning from a bogus bottle of white wine. My first episode of formaldehyde poisoning was in Cairo, so luckily, my tongue (but not my head – that came later) recognised the taste and I didn’t finish more than a small glass. Still, I couldn’t move from my hotel room let alone crawl far from my bed.

Expat DisastersEven after all that, it was only after I got fogged in for three extra (expensive) days in San Francisco that I emailed Talen to protest “ENOUGH ALREADY!” and that I was backing out of our planned skydiving adventure. Oh. And any other adventures that involved even the slightest potential of landing in the hospital or being out of commision for any length of time.

I’m terrified of heights, and being terrified is exciting. But with that long run of mishaps, I figured being miles off the ground was tempting fate. Not being superstitious either, Talen agreed.

Yet here we are, two years later, and the run of bad luck has mostly ceased shifted focus. My crazy desire to jump out of planes never fully went away, so of course I’ll include it in my ideal weekend getaway in Bangkok. Talen, are you ready for this?

Skydive Bangkok: On your life changing Tandem Skydive, you will be briefed by your Tandem Instructor about the jump, and then you’ll be on the aircraft enjoying the scenic ride up to altitude … enjoy the freefall and the adrenaline rush as you fall at speeds up to 200-220 kilometers per hour!!

For an additional fee you can get videos of your long decent to the ground. I’ll pass. The real possibility of screaming and/or upchucking at 200 kilometres per hour isn’t something I’d want anyone else to see. Landing in one piece after a 16,000 foot drop would be enough of a memory for me!

My next thrill of the weekend would be sampling a few drinks at the tallest bars in Bangkok. “What kind of thrill is that” you say? But you have to remember, this is Thailand. And Thais don’t worry so much about safety. How exciting is that?

Rooftop bars are all over the city so I’ve compiled a shortlist from bangkok.com’s top 20 rooftop bars in Bangkok. Throwing out the wimpy under 40’s, eight are left:

63rd Floor: Sky Bar (lebua at State Tower Riverside)
63rd Floor: Distil Rooftop Bar (Riverside)
61st Floor: Vertigo and Moon Bar (Banyan Tree Hotel Sathorn)
55th Floor: Red Sky (Centara Grand at CentralWorld Siam)
47th Floor: Cloud 47 Silom (United Center office tower)
46th Floor: Zeppelin Bar (Sukhumvit)
45th Floor: Octave Rooftop Bar (Marriot Hotel Sukhumvit)
40th Floor: Zoom Skybar (Anantara Sathorn Sathorn).

I’ve only experienced one, the Sky Bar. That’s where I discovered why some rooftop bars advertise having “no interrupted views”. It’s because they don’t bother with what us westerners call “safety measures”. Like, adequately situated handrails at waist height, to stop you from plummeting off the side of tall buildings.

Not having something secure to grab onto is truly terrifying. You must try it.

Expat DisastersThe only other time I’ve been seriously scared of heights as an adult was also in Bangkok. It was during the Red Shirt protests. There I was, on the rooftop of my condo, taking photos of Bangkok burning. As I started clicking away I remembered the sniper in my area taking his own deadly shots. I froze, then sunk to the ground as slowly as I could (I didn’t want him noticing) and crawled on hands and knees to the stairwell and back to safety.

Exciting stuff, but not something you can sign up for during your average tour of Bangkok. Sorry about that.

There are many other death defying adventures you can experience in Bangkok, so don’t despair. I asked on twitter, “what’s the scariest thing you can think of doing in Bangkok?“ The replies came back with:

@Saksith: Recreating The Hangover II in a weekend!
@KristoferA and @gjmarshall: Taking a motorcycle taxi (on Sukhumvit).
@mkukreja1988: Going out with a ladyboy.
@Ajarncom: Riding a bicycle.

Other adventures to consider (tame and not so tame):

Expat DisastersTo finish off, here are a few relaxing choices to calm down even the craziest of weekends:

What are your suggestions for an “ideal weekend getaway in Bangkok”? What about the “scariest thing you can think of doing in Bangkok“? Or would you rather wimp out and relax?

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Unlikely but True Origins of the Thai Script

Unlikely but True Origins of the Thai Script

Origins of the Thai script…

We can trace the Thai script back in time and space (mostly going West) to the Phoenicians, whose alphabet is the mother of all European and Indic systems of writing, including Greek, Hebrew and Arabic! These people were great traders and had links to lands beyond the river Indus. So East went their written words…

But back to the Thai script (we are NOT referring to the language here!). Modern Thai letters are an evolution from the old form used in Sukhothai and they were devised under the King Ramkhanhaeng transforming the Khmer characters in use at that time, when the Thais broke free from the Khmer kingdom. Some were just inversed, others had to be doubled to accommodate the different tones (see the difficulty of adapting a non tonal alphabet previously only used by polysyllabic tongues for a tonal, essentially monosyllabic language!). Strict concern for the faithful rendition of Sanskrit and Pali vocabulary was applied (not the case with Lao). That is why we find those “useless” letters at the tail of Sanskrit and Pali words.

Old Khmer was itself derived from the Pallawa of South India of about the 6th century.That was a local evolution from the Gupta script of North India (4 AC) which itself came from the Brahmi used by Emperor Ashoka (circa 2 BC).That Brahmi alphabet had been sequenced under the very logical and clever Sanskrit system (a language and NOT a script!) By classifying each letter according to the area of the human organs of speech where they are formed, into five series of five letters (plus some): Guttural, retroflex, palatal, dental and labial (thus moving from the throat to the lips). Brahmi itself came from the writing of the land now known as Lebanon: Phoenician, circa 1000 BC.

Now going in the sense of time and going East, we see that its evolution in diverse regions gave birth to forms as diverse as Devanagari of North India, Ranjana, Tibetan, Bengali, Panjabi, Gujerati, Orissi, Telugu/Kannara, Tamil, Malayalam, Sinhala, old Javanese and Balinese, Mon and Burmese, Khmer, Lao, Tham and related Shan and Dai, old Cham.

The amazing fact about all those scripts, apart from the fact that they are traceable in an almost unbroken line across time and space, is that they still all follow the original Sanskrit ordering (except for Old Javanese and Balinese because a very clever poem was created using the phonemes for easy and fun memorizing). So,just allowing for the small changes to the specific phonemic necessities of each language, we always find these five series of five sounds, plus some: YA RA LA WA HA SA SHA ShA A, mentioned earlier (starting with Guttural: KA, KHA, GA, GHA, NGA of Sanskrit, becoming, for instance: KA, KHA, KHA, KHA, NGA in Thai).

Are we amazed?… Well, I, for one, am!

Michel Boismard

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In Search of a Thai Clock

Thai Clocks

Thai Clocks are difficult to find!…

This week I got it into my head that I just had to have a Thai clock. I didn’t want anything fancy, but I did want a clock I could use for years, preferably in wood, but I’d take a metal of some sort.

I started looking in an area of Chiang mai with a small clock community. There were only about six stores but they were chock-full of clocks and watches of all sorts.

Only two stores in that community had wall clocks. Both plastic. One store had wristwatches with Thai numerals (and only one of those were made for women).

Tesco Lotus. Nadda. Asia Books. Nadda. And just one store in Central Mall (airport) had a beautiful King’s 60th anniversary watch. For men.

I’d march into watch shops and we’d all have a good laugh. No Thai clocks in Thailand? Are you kidding me? What happened to loving all things Thai and all of that?

Googling, I was able to find wooden clocks on amazon.com (not .co.uk) and on ebay. Doing a search for the name of the company (Laan-Gao) I was able to track down a few decent clocks. But is that all there is?

Thailand is loaded with creative people – surely there’s more available – yes? Does anyone know where the quality Thai clocks can be sourced? I’d love to have one. And I’m not alone.

Thai Clocks

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