The Bridge on the River Kwai

This is the bridge over the Kwai river. (It actually was the bridge over the Mae Klong river, but the river was renamed the Khwae Yai in the 1960s to “bring geographical fact more in line with the fictional association with the name River Kwai,” according to Wikipedia.) It was a link in the Burma-Siam railway, also known as the “Death Railway,” that the Japanese Army built using POWs and local pressgangs during the second World War: after the Japanese seized Burma, they realized they needed an over-land route to supply their forces. The British had considered building such a…

Elephants, or an excuse for lots of elephant photos

One of the big attractions in Kanchanaburi is Elephants World, a sanctuary for elephants that have been rescued from work in logging camps or on the streets, where they are frequently employed in begging schemes. The sanctuary offers two programs, a one day visit in which you feed and bathe an elephant in a large group, and two day visit with an overnight stay, in which your small group of overnighters gets extra, up-close time with the elephants. Naturally, we chose the two day visit. First, let’s start with elephant feeding pictures. It’s not simply that the elephants look very…

Kanchanaburi

This past weekend, Abby and I finally made it to Thailand. “Now, wait,” you might say, “aren’t you already in Thailand?” In the sense that we live in Bangkok, we also are in Thailand, but in another sense, we’re not. Bangkok. Thailand. We went to Kanchanaburi, in the western part of the country. Kanchanaburi is the home of the bridge over the River Kwai, which I’ll get to later; for now, we’ll look at other things to see in Kanchanaburi. The area has many temples that are tourist attractions as well as religious sites. First we visited Wat Ban Tham. Entrance…

Let’s learn Thai! – part 6, in which it gets worse

Thai has three types of consonants: “middle” consonants, which are simply regular consonants; “high” consonants, which follow certain rules; and “low” consonants, which follow certain other rules. Within the low consonant class, there are “single” low consonants and “paired” low consonants. Paired low consonants match the high consonants, so we start with these. For simplicity’s sake, I am including in the below table only the primary consonant, rather than (for example) all the different ways one can make the “s” sound. “kh,” “th” and “ph” are aspirated k, t and p, respectively. /kh/ /ch/ /th/ /ph/ /f/ /s/ /h/ high…

Loy Krathong

A girl carries her krathong to the lake; a boy with his edible krathong; a variety of styles for sale. Last weekend, Thailand celebrated Loy Krathong. Loi krathong (ลอย กระทว) literally means “to float a basket,” and during the Loy Krathong festival, people make or purchase elaborate little baskets that they put into the river or lake while saying a prayer. Symbolically, when a person releases a krattong into the water, one also releases one’s problems and sins. The baskets are made from banana leaves and flowers or, for the more environmentally-conscious, fish food. Many Bangkok residents head down to…

Spirit houses 2

Spirit houses in their natural habitat. In my quest to find out where spirit houses come from, I started with a visit to the website of K.T. Spirit House (http://www.kt-spirithouse.com). Unfortunately, the store is located far outside Bangkok, and the proprietors didn’t answer my email. I considered heading out and taking my chances, but then I found a store in town that sells spirit houses, and the woman running it spoke English so I didn’t have to struggle with Thai to explain my interest. In response to my first question, she told me that hers are made from molded poured…