Saturday, 24 January 2009

Songkran - What's that all about?

My thoughts turn to our next visit to Baan Bophut which, this year as last, will coincide with Songkran, the buddhist Thai New Year and the most important festival in the Thai calendar. It's also the most fun.

Much of the religious significance has been lost, but the occasion is still used by Thais to pay respect to elders by washing away their sins with a small amount of scented water poured on to the hands and head and symbolises a start to the new year with a clean slate.

The word Songkran originates from the sanskrit, meaning to move or pass and marks the period when the sun is moving between the zodiacal signs: from Pisces - the twelfth sign, to Aries - the first. This usually occurs between 13th - 15th April in the western calendar.

Follow this link if you are interested in the origin and history of the festival, which is also celebrated in Laos, Burma, Cambodia.

The first day of Songkran is an important day to do good deeds. People visit the temples and give alms to the monks. On the second day of the festival Thai people carry sand to the temples to build a small pagoda as part of a merit making ritual. This is called Phra chedi sai and the small sand piles represent the return of the temple dust which worshipers take with them when they leave a temple. People also place flowers or flags on these sand pagodas to enhance their anticipated good luck in the coming year.

The temples themselves traditionally move their holiest of Buddha statues to an outside pavillion for the people to sprinkle water on to purify it. You’ll also see people driving through the streets with Buddha statues in pickup trucks so they can be purified by the people.

Other than these last remnants of tradition, the event has gone mainstream with people of all ages; locals and farangs, lining the streets, or aboard cruising pickups, armed with buckets, hoses and super-soaker squirt guns to dowse all passers by - with a special eye towards foreign tourists.

Double retribution for Mark

I don't know when rice flour and coloured powders became legitimate ammunition - perhaps during a water shortage, but these now are much in evidence, so in addition to becoming soaked, these days, you're also likely to be powdered.

A few things to remember: It's all in good fun; keep your phone, wallet, camera in a taped-up polythene bag, and keep your mouth closed - you don't know where the water has come from, but it's unlikely to have been bottled.

The '7 dangerous days' of the Songkran festival period is traditionally the week with the highest carnage on Thailand's roads. Last year almost 400 people perished in traffic accidents during the period, 85 per cent involved motorcycles.

You can't stay dry, but you can stay safe.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Not good news for the neighbourhood, but not as bad as it could be...

As one development (and source of noise) completes next door, another starts across the road. I should say, re-starts, because the site has been idle since casting the foundations and basement car park concrete, for over a year. Whilst we're pleased that Spikey Pete and his partners have found the necessary finance to complete their resort development, I'm not happy about the potential for noise and disturbance the construction will bring.

The project, a mixed-use, low-rise development of serviced apartments, a hotel and retail units, is due for completion in October 2009. Working hours are said to be from 08h00 to 17h00 Monday to Saturday.

With the building site located across the road, the potential for disturbance to the hotel's usual somnolent atmosphere is much less than when the buildings either side were constructed and every hammer-blow would be funneled along all three guest room floors. Fortunately, the main access to the site is at the far end of the development on the main road to Bangrak/Big Buddha, limiting the traffic noise and dust reaching the hotel.

We no longer have any road facing rooms, having converted these in to store rooms, which is a blessing, so we're much better off than our friends at B 1 Villa, Carpe Diem and Cocooning, who are now in the thick of it.

In the longer term, the completed development will be good (I tell myself) for the small hotels, like ours, at the eastern end of the Fisherman's Village, that can offer choices of restaurants and bars to the increased number of visitors that may choose to stay down our end of an evening.

Monday, 19 January 2009

A belated and rambling New Year update...

I've finally uploaded all the Christmas and New Year photos and have an hour to call my own, so a shortish, belated update on our recent visit.

Christmas Day and lunch was spent with Lucy and Jonny at their lovely house with guests Mark and Tan. Used to bigger facilities, cooking and keeping warm all the components of our traditional lunch in Lucy's galley style kitchen was much, much harder than cooking for the 25-30 guests and friends we've catered for at the hotel in past years. But well worth the effort and ... we all felt better after a lie down.

Lucy's goddaughter - Maisie - came over to open-up her presents, and morphed into a mischievous looking imp the instant she pulled on her new angel outfit.

As previously posted, the weather was atrocious for the rest of our stay and I really felt sorry for our guests, but Brits and Canadians are a hardy bunch and they would shuttle in and out of their rooms several times a day to catch whatever weak rays would appear, and in spite of the
chilly onshore wind. When it was too overcast or even during rain, two stalwarts - Brit Colin and Canadian Al would invariably join me on 'beach watch', the mesmerizing and wholly pointless occupation of observing and trying to second guess what the sea would next do to the beach.

Concerned at what the high winds might do to our coconut palms or, more properly, what our coconuts might do to our guests, we used a few hours break in the weather to have the nuts and over-abundant fronds cut back. We normally need this treatment three times a year to ensure the safety of unsuspecting visitors, and now seemed like an opportune time.

In a previous post, I described how trained monkeys are often used to twist-off ripe nuts at harvest time. One of our guests already in possession of this information and anxious to share his knowledge asked, as we watched the old boy that had just finished his romping free-climb to the crown of a 25m palm, start to hack away at the heaviest fronds, why a human was doing this work. I took some small satisfaction in reminding him of the first rule of coconut men everywhere - you don't give a machete to a monkey.


New Year's was lovely. The wind dropped and the drizzle stopped long enough for our staff to enjoy their 'Secret Santa' gift giving to each other and a beer or two with the seldom indulged northern Thai delicacy of fried duck tongues (yummy!)


The evening stayed calm and balmy, and so did we. I'd made pea and ham soup - tongue shrivelingly salty, but it disappeared down the necks of many of the guests who decided our bar was as good a location as any to watch the village's firework displays. And so we remained for really, quite a special night with some wonderful guests.

Viv, Jonny, Olwen, Colin, Brit/Greek artist and Paxos shopkeeper Hartley, Tik, who finally left at 03h30 and Canadian Cathy, who's husband Al, was doubtless beach watching.

Lovely people Viv and Colin - absent, son Garrulous Greg

And finally, to update recent posts...

The palm was rescued and, since this pic was taken, relocated to replace the old stump - foreground; camouflaged with plants.

The villa next door was finished, so no more noise... from that direction.

The beach is almost back to normal, the sun has come out and today, Baan Bophut has a full house.

Congratulations to Lucy on finally getting her Thai motorbike driving licence, after 5 years on the island.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Healing hands - Khun Sa-ard Sarayan...

Leaving UK for Dubai the day after she had her wrist cast removed denied Olwen much needed physio for her wrist and, more important to her mobility, her right leg/ankle and fractured heal. Having recommended his medicinal massage service for guests over the years and seen the wonders he can work after a few treatments, we took her to visit Sa-ard at his modest treatment room in Bangrak.

After her initial treatment Sa-ard claimed he could have Olwen walking unaided within a week and although only for short distances and in some pain, she did.

His treatment to improve her ability to walk focused on 'stretching' through massage, her calf muscle and Achilles tendon which had atrophied through lack of use.

Jonny and guest Gemma, a chronic back pain sufferer, both took advantage of Sa-ard's visits to the hotel, to seek relief.

Previous beneficiaries of Sa-ard's treatment include a guest who, as a victim of a stroke 18 months earlier couldn't touch his forhead with his right hand. After five weeks of massage and exercise our guest regained almost full movement of his previously paralized right side.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Coastal geomorphology at work... hey dude where's my beach!

From before Christmas until we left Samui on 2nd January the weather was not good. Uniformly grey, overcast skys allowed only infrequent periods of weak sunshine to filter through. We had a couple of nights of bucketing rain and several days of that fine, heavy drizzle that wets you through before you know it. To make matters much worse, the whole meteorological ensemble was accompanied, on most days, by strong onshore winds, choppy seas and high tides.

If we had intermittent rain at sea level it must have been chucking it down at the top of Samui's mountain on what remains of its rainforest. I know this not because of my passing familiarity with the water-cycle, but because the volume and velocity of water in the stream (klong) that appears during every monsoon and usually exits to the sea close to our near neighbours at The Waterfront, decided this year to straighten out and carve itself an new anus through our beach.

Planted when the hotel opened four years ago, this palm required Tik's intervention to survive. We have to hope the bar's decking doesn't need the same treatment in the coming days.

Tik directs kitchen staff and guests to lash our threatened baby palm to our biggest

Saved for now, but survival not assured

Assuming a mass of around 2000kg/cubic metre for our wet-packed, beach sand I reckon that we lost at least 500 ton to the combined effects of the weather and tides over a ten day period. Baan Bophut's beach will, of course, return to its normal, gentle slope to the sea once the klong's velocity and pressure gradient reduce. And that requires the period of clear, post monsoon weather that Samui is about to enter.
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