Tag: thailand

(From the archive) Tha Uthen, Thailand 2014

8 September 2014

Tha Uthen/Nakhon Pahnom

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Tha Uthen is a small village on the Mekong about twenty-five kilometers north of Nakhon Pahnom in the northeastern area of Thailand that lies on the border with Laos.  I’ll be here until February which will make it a bit over a half of a year and I plan on making the most of it, after spending ten years in Bangkok.  This area has been known for two things: fighting off the communist insurgency in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and smuggling. What a charm to be living in a small village after escaping the jaws of Bangkok.  You can actually have conversations with neighbors here.

Wanjan, the co-owner of the Siriporn Homestay where I stayed my first month regaled me one evening about growing up in this town in the fifties and sixties when the United States was working closely with Sarit Thanarat, Thailand’s notorious post War War II dictator, to stop communist aggression in Southeast Asia.  I had no idea that route 212, that runs all along the northeast border of Thailand and the Mekong River was built with US money in the late fifties as part of the US Army’s infrastructure plan.  The airfield in Nakhon Phanom was small yet big enough for F-4s to fly from during the Vietnam War.  During the Vietnam War he saw US navy riverboats with big 50 caliber guns patrolling the river all the way north to Vientiene, Laos and saw B52’s bomb Laos across the river. Another interesting fact is that Ho Chi Min stayed in Nakhon Phanom between 1928-1931 and his house is still there.

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In Nakhon Phanom there is a big border crossing between Laos and Thailand and thus the potential for transport of a lot of illegal things.  Every year dogs, cats, methamphetamine, marijuana, tigers, elephant ivory, and other exotic animals are smuggled either from Laos to Thailand or from Thailand to Laos to all points eastward to Vietnam or northward to China. Unfortunately there are bribes and kickbacks to the police and the army so much of these items gain easy access to their destinations.  At night Wanjan told me the police and the army let their boats drift with no lights on the river trying to catch smugglers.  The Thai Border Patrol is also on the riverbanks looking out and in cars all along route 212.  Wanjan has said that he has seen the DEA shooting at smugglers from planes on the Lao side.

Tha Uthen is in a separate universe than Bangkok with its pollution, exhaust plumes, grit, grease, traffic, and overcrowded everything.  In Bangkok everyone is going somewhere, working, making money, studying or iphoning at coffee shops, taking taxis, waiting for taxis, going home to their apartments or condos. Tha Uthen feels like Zen retreat in comparison with its simplicity.

An older woman asked me the other day about swimming in the Mekong. “Mai me crocahdie!”(there are no crocodiles).  Not something I heard often on my bike in the traffic in Bangkok.

Bangkok-Tha Uthen.  What a dialectic.

 


King Bhumibol Adulyadej 1927-2016

 

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A few selected links from Denis Gray, Paul Handley, and Christine Gray reflecting on the death of Thailand’s King Bhumibol after a 70 year reign:

Denis Gray described his encounter with Bhumibol on a trip up north with him:

The king clearly savored such encounters, bantering with rural dwellers and trying to solve their problems, even marital ones. He once told me the story of a hilltribesman whose wife ran away after he had purchased her with two pigs. The king decided the husband deserved compensation which would allow her freedom. “The only trouble was I gave the money,” he joked. “So the woman belonged to me.”

Paul Handley offered a more sober account of Bhumibol’s reign:

Yet like Tito, Bhumibol failed at securing a stable future for his kingdom. He had made his throne dependent on its alliance with the military, an institution that remains thoroughly corrupt and convinced of its right to arbitrate power. Amid this, the other key institutions of a modern parliamentary democracy have shriveled.

While Christine Gray was more optimistic:

The end of Bhumibol’s reign is an incredible historical moment, one of genuine grief for the late king, if not for opportunities missed during his reign. But also an opportunity for change.

 


Thai Floods: Great photos from the blogosphere

 

Drew Vattiat Oregonian

A selection of great shots from a wide selection of photo blogs listed here.

This one above was the best of the lot in my opinion from Drew Vattiat of the Oregonian.  What else can be said?  What a masterpiece.

APTOPIX Thailand Floods Sunti Tehpia/AP

 

Getty Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty

Pantip This one from Pantip.com (in Thai)

 


Bangkok Floods: November 4th

 

I left for a five day junket to the south coming back today to check up on fleeting images I saw in airports and guesthouses.  The water has come to the Lad Prao-Don Muang Tollway-Phahonyothin junction right north of Chatuchak Market.  Notice that the underground entrance is shuttered.  We’ll see what happens when the water hits the underground entrances in the next few days.  Notice too the level of water at the canal right south of Chatuchak Market.  God help the people who live or have businesses right next to this water way.  The biggest sandbag bunkers have been built around banks and mini malls.

On the other side of town right on the other side of the Prah Pinklao Bridge it looks like Venice while on the other side on Ratchadamnoen Road and Suan Luang it’s business as usual.  Waters have actually receded.  Westbound traffic of the Pinklao Bridge has been closed with people hitching rides on any large vehicle passing by from ambulances to army trucks.  Thais and the army are improvising the best they can.  Lord knows what kind of havoc this neighborhood is undergoing.  Tomorrow I intend to wade in the water and check it out.  Families displaced.  Businesses shuttered.  Eating and sleeping wherever and whenever.  It will be interesting to see how Yingluck deals with the fallout from “sacrificing” neighborhoods like these so downtown Bangkok remains dry.

Floods of course are nothing new to Bangkok.  Bangkok lies in a vast delta where canals have long played a role in draining water into the Gulf of Thailand.  Some great pictures here.


Flooding

Right off the Chao Praya River today around 5pm there was slight flooding, but it was under control.  Street vendors at the Tha Pra Chan Pier improvised simply selling their wares on elevated wooden benches.  Overflow from the river was channeled to drainage areas with sandbags.  These images are from the Tha Pra Chan neighborhood right next to the Chao Praya River and Thammasat University.