Thursday, July 23, 2015

Volunteering At Baan Ayui In Chiang Rai, Thailand - June - July 2015




I discovered Baan Ayui's website by accident in a travel forum when I was searching for information about Chiang Rai. There was no turning back the moment I started to read their newsletters. Initially I just wished to visit Baan Ayui for a few hours. I changed my mind by the time I finished reading all of the newsletters - I decided to be a volunteer for 2 weeks.
On the first day of arrival at the hotel, Wilacha Hotel, I was caught by surprise that the staff of the hotel didn’t know the location of Baan Ayui which was nearby. My friend and I had to search for the location ourselves. We got so lost in front a school that a boy on a bicycle spotted us and offered to help. He told us that he could guide us to Baan Ayui. He walked us to Baan Ayui. Eventually we found out that he was a new boy staying in Baan Ayui and his name was M (unrelated to any character from James Bond movies).


Wilacha Hotel was about 10 minutes walking distance from Baan Ayui. There was a market nearby which was opened entire day including at night. The goods sold at this market is cheaper than those sold in Chiang Rai town. Example: Camouflage shorts I wanted to purchase cost around 200 baht or more in town but I could get it for 150 baht without bargaining in this market. I could get cheaper one at a shop opposite the market at 100 baht but the stock was limited. The fruits/food in this market were cheaper too. Near the market was a noodle stall that the price was reasonable at 35 baht. The stall was often packed during lunch hour. I spotted the stall by observing the crowd. There was Tesco Express Lotus outlet that you can shop. If you are a simple person that does not have to do a lot of shopping, Wilacha Hotel is a nice place to stay because the location has almost all the basic stuff. Clock Tower is about 30-45 minutes away on foot. The shopping complexes Big C and Central Plaza are probably too far to walk there under the hot sun. Steamed Pork Leg With Rice at the food court of Central Plaza is probably the delicious meal you do not want to miss in Chiang Rai.
At the Chiang Rai town’s night bazaar, try to avoid the food court. The food is more expensive. Try the stalls outside the night bazaar for better cheaper food such as Khao Soi. I fell in love with a shop selling rock t-shirts costing 770 baht for 3 t-shirts. At the street, you may find another stall selling lower quality Heavy Metal t-shirts at about 200 baht (I forgot the exact price).
At King Meng Rai Monument, free tour tram is available daily from 9.30am till 1.30pm. I didn’t have time for this during my trip.
A trip from Wilacha Hotel to Clock Tower would cost around 80 baht by taxi. A trip from the hotel to Big C or Central Plaza would cost around 100 baht (Found out from the staff of the hotel that I was over charged for 150 baht by a tuktuk).
Drivers in Chiang Rai were not as crazy as Malaysian drivers. A car rental shop worth checking out is Chiang Rai Car Rental located at the left lane of Clock Tower. Mazda 2 or Honda Jazz cost 1000 baht per day. A manual Isuzu truck cost around 700 baht per day (good for fetching the kids – they loved sitting at the back of the truck under the sun). Website: www.bankcarrent.com
Being a volunteer was a decision I would not regret as the experience is beyond the expression of words. Without any experience in teaching, initially I was a bit sceptical of myself but it went on smoothly. I still remember on the first day of stepping into Baan Ayui, the first question popped up in my brain was, "How will I remember the names of 26 children?" (The number dropped to 25 when one of them left) and "What if the kids throw rotten tomatoes at me for being a lousy teacher?" Of course, the tomatoes throwing incident did not occur as they were very well behaved kids.
Most of the time, I spent time teaching the children English and art, as well as playing various indoor and outdoor games such as Jenga, card games, throwing/catching water balloons, takraw, soccer, badminton, cycling and chasing & catching games. I almost created a “riot” when playing card games with the kids – they seemed to enjoy it so much that they got over excited by yelling the names of animals I showed them in the cards competition. I felt like a child again whenever I played with the children in the field and I could run around chasing the children. It was a wonderful experience.

During the last weekend in Baan Ayui, we went to the beautiful Huay Maesai Waterfall that the children loved. As I walked towards the waterfall and returning from the waterfall, I realised some of the children were very caring and helpful. Some of them often checked whether I was too tired of walking and some offered to carry my bag. The boys caught some small fishes with their nets. I didn’t expect anyone would eat those small fishes that Malaysians normally kept as pets but I was told that they ate them.
With the donation money contributed by my friends and family members, I managed to shop for various items required by Baan Ayui such as art materials, writing materials, a fan, fruits, computer keyboard and a battery replacement required to get a PC fixed.
Based on my experience in Baan Ayui, it was good that I could make use of some simple Thai language that I learned from watching Thai television programmes when I was a boy (I used to live near the Southern border of Thailand). In addition, I managed to learn some extra Thai words from the children that will be handy whenever I travel in Thailand.
By the way, I got a new nickname, Nongkran Soong (Nongkran Number 2), from the children because I imitated one of the girls, Nongkran, for bouncing the takraw ball with hands illegally during the outdoor games. Despite not following the official takraw rules, the games often drew laughter and it was always fun.
In my English class, I unofficially made one of the girls as my assistant. Her name was Angkana. She was always the curious and helpful one in the class. Sometimes she helped to translate to the rest of the children in the class after reading the English-Thai dictionary for words I had difficulties making them understand.
Gigi was another interesting girl in my class. She was always a happy-go-lucky type of girl. She seemed to enjoy laughing and having fun. A very cheerful girl indeed. She enjoyed posing for the camera too. I consider her as the “model” of my photography sessions.
I had been told that Nongkran cried easily. I didn’t see this as her weakness. In fact I considered that she was a very kind person with compassion. She often tried to help in the class too. I have a gut feeling that she will grow up to be a very good kind hearted person.
Amy was an adorable girl. She was a little bit quiet but she was always ready to help. I really appreciate her that she offered to help many times on simple chores. Whenever she sensed that I was a bit bored, she would offer me something to keep me busy. I jokingly told my wife that she was the “daughter” I always wanted.
Ameerat was another happy-go-lucky girl. She could be poured with water till she was soaking wet and being targeted by everyone, but she did not shed her tears, showed her anger or complained. Sometimes I felt bad for her but she seemed to be having fun. I salute her attitude.
The boys in my class were rather quiet. They seemed to stay away from the limelight. Unlike some boys in Malaysia that I called “monsters”, these boys were better behaved than those “monsters”. Asong seemed to enjoy our “kung fu fighting games”. Apichart was a good soccer player and he seemed to be interested in technical stuff – proven when he observed me fixing the PC and I taught him to connect the wires of the PC.
Unfortunately, all the good time had to come to an end. I had to leave Baan Ayui to return to Malaysia. It was very heartbroken to leave the children on my last day.
As I have promised, I will be returning to Baan Ayui again next year. Possibly I will be bringing in another group of volunteers. I definitely miss all of the children at Baan Ayui. Thanks to Sue for accepting me as a volunteer. A big THANK YOU goes to the children of Baan Ayui for making my life wonderful in Baan Ayui. Meanwhile, I would also like to thank the house parents, Wit and Tam, for the guidance in terms of Akha culture and talked about their lives as well as their help in language translation. The sound of “Pi Siang” (older brother Siang) with children voice will always be remembered because that’s how the kids called me. 

Useful Information For Volunteers


When to Volunteer:

 

The children are likely to return to their our villages during school holidays. Therefore, you need to plan for your volunteering service at Baan Ayui. Their long summer holidays start around in the middle of March (include Songkran in April) until first week of May. They also have almost all the month of Oct off for term holidays, and 2 weeks off in Dec-Jan around Christmas/New Year. The nicest time to go is Nov-Dec because the weather is nice and cool/cold at night, and so they can do outdoor activities like campfires and camping at the boys' land.

Summary of When to Avoid Volunteering:

- Middle of March till May
- October
- 2 weeks around Christmas/New Year in between Dec and January


What Can You Help?

Baan Ayui is one of the least fussy NGOs I have come across. Any help you can contribute is useful. You can teach the children English (They can teach you Thai/Akha in return). You can also teach them art, handcraft, cooking, playing guitar, singing, sewing, carpentry, gardening, fixing PC, etc. You can play indoor games (i.e. Jenga, card games, etc) and outdoor games (takraw, soccer, badminton, cycling, hide & seek, etc) with them. You can even invent your own games. Spend some time chit chatting with them. You can create a discussion topic about teenagers, culture, education, etc (but you may need the house parents or Sue as translators). You just need some creativity to suggest something which is fun/useful for you and the children.

Daily Schedule:

During weekdays, the children return from school around 4.30pm to 5pm. Volunteers usually arrive around 4 to 4.30pm. At 5pm, normally volunteers can conduct English class till 6pm. Those in charge of cooking will leave the class earlier. 6pm will be their dinner time. The children will be having their shower after dinner. At 7pm those with homework will be doing their homework. Those without homework will be playing games. Volunteers can help them with their homework or play games with them. 9pm is their bedtime.

On Friday and Saturday, the schedule is slightly different. No English class but the children are allowed to go to the nearby school field to play. Volunteers can spend time playing takraw, soccer, volleyball, badminton, cycling or simply running around with them . Trust me, this is the fun time. On Saturday morning, you may opt to visit Huay Maesai Waterfall which the children enjoy swimming, splashing and catching fishes.


On Sunday, volunteers will be having a break. If you insist to go on duty, I am sure that nobody will oppose. There is sewing activity between 1.30pm to 2.30pm that you need to be aware though. I am not sure whether I was interrupting them or not but I personally find that when they were sewing, it was a very good time to have casual chit-chat with the house mother, Tam, as well as the children about their lives in general. It's good to learn about their lives and volunteers could share theirs in return too. At about 4.30pm till 6pm, you can spend time with outdoor activities with the children at the school field.


Summary of the Daily Timetable:

Weekday:
4.30pm: Children return from school. Some will be doing house chores
5pm: English class
6pm: Dinner followed by shower
7pm: Homework/Playing games
9pm: Bedtime

Saturday:
4.30pm: Outdoor activities at the nearby school field
6pm: Dinner followed by shower
7pm: Art, handcraft or any activity you can think of
9pm: Bedtime

Sunday (An officially off day for volunteers):
1.30pm - 2.30pm: Sewing activity
7pm: Hostel meeting
9pm: Bedtime


Sample of things you can donate:

It's best to discuss with the houseparents or Sue to find out what they need before purchasing. You should also keep an eye to observe what they need. So, that you won't waste money purchasing something unnecessary.

- Clothes (children, adults and baby's clothing will do as they are donated to the villagers, not just for the kids)
- Fruits (watermelon, honey dew, papaya, rambutan, durian, etc)
- Food (ice cream, snacks, candy, rice, etc)
- Stationery (pen, pencils, paper, dictionary, etc)
- Art material (art paper, glue, water/pastel colour, colour pencils, etc)
- Balloons (the kids are crazy about them)
- PC/laptop
- Household items
- Small guitar amplifier

To check out more details of Baan Ayui, please visit:

https://sites.google.com/site/ayuiorg/home
OR
http://www.ayuifoundation.org

Note: Check out their newsletters especially because it has plenty of information
 

Useful Information For Shoppers:

I am not a hardcore shoppers but here are some tips of what are worth checking out in Chiang Rai.


At Chiang Rai town's night bazaar:

- Hilltribes' handcraft such as bags, purses, etc
- A shop selling Rock Music t-shirts (3 for 770 baht) and a street stall selling Heavy Metal t-shirts (1 for 200 baht I think)
- Look for a rather nice Khao soi (special noodle of Chiang Mai) stall beside the bus station


At Chiang Rai town's market:

- Local homemade junk food 
- Fried insects/worms (if you dare to try) 
- Cheap socks (3 pairs for 50 baht) 

Shops near Clock Tower:

- Near the Clock Tower, there are some shops you can purchase art supply, balloons & stationery for the children 
- Chiang Rai Car Rental 

At Big C:

- Small unbranded pouch costing 100 baht

At Central Plaza:

- Steamed pork leg at the food court is yummy
- You can find dictionaries for the kids 

At the market near Baan Ayui:

- Cheap camouflage shorts (between 100 baht to 150 baht) & pants (2 for 500 baht)
- Fruits are cheaper than town area (the children love fruits)
- Cheap household utensils

At Tesco Express Lotus near Baan Ayui:

- Soap
- Tooth paste
- Mineral water 
- Soap powder
- Snacks at 150 to 200 baht (snacks in Thailand are not as salty as the ones in Malaysia)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Travel Information of Krabi, Thailand - July 2014

Flew to Krabi via Air Asia a day before MH-17 was shot down. Stayed in Ao Nang throughout my trip. July was low season in Ao Nang. It was safe to walk around in Ao Nang even at night. I had no issue at Krabi town either.

The following day after arrival, we traveled by longtail boat to Hong Island (5 persons). Price was 8000 baht I think. We chartered the boat for the sake of flexibility. We ordered some kind of rice with chicken for lunch which was not part of the package (price was forgotten). The visit at Hong Island and the lagoon was worth it. Due to the Monsoon season the sea was a bit choppy. Remember to bring some plain bread either you go to Hong Island or the 4 islands hopping in order to attract the fishes by feeding them. Kids will love it...so are some adults. Please take note that bread was often sold out at the end of the day. So, it's better for you to shop for bread in the morning. We skipped the 4 islands hopping because my family members were concern about the sea was being choppy. I was told that feeding fishes were possible in Poda Island (Koh Poda) and Chicken Island (Koh Gai) too.

We chartered a van to Krabi town for 800 baht if I remember correctly. We didn't climb the Tiger Cave Temple (Wat Tham Sua) because there were old folks with us and I hated the steep staircase as well as the height. It's 1237 steps - the highest temple I have come across so far. Wat Kaew which was located at the night market area was relatively beautiful from the outside but it's nothing to shout about if you have visited the White Temple in Chiang Rai. There was no entrance fee for all of the temples in Thailand unlike Laos but you could provide donation. There's nothing great about the night market at Krabi. The one in Chiang Mai was 10 times better and cheaper.

Food, clothes and everything else were more expensive than Chiang Mai. Even in Kabi town itself, everything was more expensive. So, I would not recommend shopping if that's your intention of going there. I only purchased a t-shirt at 180 baht (150 baht in Chiang Mai), a military short at 200 baht (150 baht in Chiang Mai), a Feelfree waterproof 30 litre backpack at 1800 baht and a Feelfree waterproof 15 litre bag for a price I could not recall (probably around 500 to 600 baht). Spotted the tiny pineapple that I was hunting for but it was not as cheap as I expected - 50 baht per fruit. Maybe I got rip-off. The small Durian and mangosteen were cheap though. Durian was about 300 - 500 baht per fruit. I could not remember the price of mangosteen unfortunately.

Overall, if you are interested in beaches and snorkeling, the islands will be interesting for you and you ought to stay in Ao Nang. Never consider staying in Krabi town as you will be bored to death. If you are not keen in beaches, you should skip flying into Krabi altogether.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Travel Information of Chiang Mai, Thailand - Sept 2013

Chiang Mai is a relatively cheap place to visit comparing with Bangkok. It is also safe. Nobody actually attempted to con travelers as in Vietnam. The 3 important thing to remember is bargain, bargain and bargain for anything you need to pay for except accommodation.

The cost of the trip from Chiang Mai Airport to Seriwongse Hotel was about 120 baht by legal cab that you could pay at the airport. The journey was probably less than 30 minutes. Very convenient indeed.

Throughout my trip I was staying in Seriwongse Hotel (somehow the locals called it "Seriwong" by eliminating the "se"). Don't ask me what is the meaning of "se". The hotel was located near the famous nightly night market. The carpet in the room was slightly old but I had no issue with that. The room was generally good and the service was good as well. The staff were friendly and helpful. When my mobile phone failed to reach a local cab driver's mobile phone, one of the female staff even called him on her personal mobile phone for me without charging me any fee.

It was a relaxing slow pace trip for me. So, the first day, I basically did nothing except for exploring the night market.

On the second day I went to the following places:

Tiger Kingdom - you have the option to choose big tigers, medium tigers and small tigers to hang around with. I decided to pick big tigers as it was cheaper but higher risk I supposed. Anyway, I am still alive today. It costs 420 baht per person.

Maesa Elephant Camp - Entrance fee was 120 baht. 800 baht for 30 minutes elephant ride. 1200 baht for an hour elephant ride. 

Note:
The above 2 places are nearby. So you could take a half day trip there by cab. I took the risk by taking illegal cab which cost me about 150 baht. He took me to some factories which was not part of then plan but I didn't mind. It was a norm for illegal cab drivers to do so in Thailand to obtain some sponsorship I supposed.

The following 2 places which I visited near Measa should be avoided especially the long neck Karen village:

Long neck village - It cost 500 baht to see some Karen vendors. Yes, vendors! There was no village. I personally think it's a rip-off. Yes, the dressed up in their native costumes but you would be very disappointed if you expected a village. I am still wondering where is the actual village.

Mae Rim Monkey School - It cost 200 baht. I was not that amazed as it was nothing unusual for me to watch a monkey show.

On  the third day, I went to the white temple which was about 3 hours drive from Chiang Mai. You can skip the hot spring on the way there as it's just a resting place. The white temple was amazing though. There was no entrance fee. The journey cost me about 460 baht for two way by van. The driver took us to a honey factory which was not part of my plan but again I didn't mind.


On the forth day, I went to Doi Suthep which was relatively far from the town. There was Wat Phra That Doi Suthep which was located on a hill. It was the same temple that my grandparents visited decades ago as I could recall the photo I saw when I was a kid. The climb was very pleasant comparing to other temples I had visited in Laos and Cambodia. It was not too high. So forget about taking the cable car unless you are too old or have heart problem. There were some food, clothes and art vendors nearby. The prices were surprisingly not too costly unlike many tourism spots that rip off tourists. The journey cost around 200 baht. The old man (cab driver) didn't take me to any places I did not plan to go. The trip was about 1 hour plus from town.

The rest of the days, I was just loitering around the old city of Chiang Mai by walking from the hotel. The places I visited were:

Three Kings Monument

Wat Phra Chao Mengrai

Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Phan Tao

Wat Chiang Man

Wat Phra Singh

There are 2 walking streets that are worth checking out if you're into shopping:

Saturday walking street - also called Wualai Walking Street which occurs on every Saturday night.

Sunday walking street - it ran along Ratchadamnoen Road at the old town.

The following markets are also worth visiting if you are curious about local markets:

Somphet Market - It's located in the old city near Tha Phae Gate. Basically, you can purchase some local food, fruits, vegetables, etc.

Warorot Market - It's located near Seriwongse Hotel. You could purchase local food, fruits, clothes, etc here.

The following are some prices of various items for budget purpose:

Fried rice - I managed to find a food stall with good food near Night Bazaar. It cost around 30 baht for fried rice.

Fried chicken wing - It cost around 10 baht for a fried chicken wing. You must try fried chicken/pork in Chiang Mai as they are delicious. Forget about KFC which sucks!

Khao soi - It looks like curry noodle served with pork or chicken in Chiang Mai style. It cost me around 30 baht.

Shorts - It cost me around 150 baht for a pair of military shorts.

T-shirt - It cost me around 140 - 150 baht for a t-shirt. 140 baht one was located in Night Bazaar not far from the place I had my fried rice.

Additional Info added on 22 March 2015:
Based on information I have gathered in 2015 after 2 years of my previous trip, the prices do not seem to have hiked. So, it is still a good place to visit comparing with Krabi which I won't go back again. In fact I got some information from my friends who are familiar with Thailand to avoid places like Phuket & Krabi which are too commercialised. 

To those who are keen to know when is the right time to visit Chiang Mai, I was told to avoid the months of February, March, April & May due to the haze caused by burning of paddy fields during dry season. 

Between May to October which is the rainy season, it's not too bad to visit because it normally does not rain the entire day. You can always rest in the hotel when it rains and go out when the rain stops. The weather is cooler with the rain. More often you will get rain at night which is very pleasant to sleep. It's not so crowded and everything could be cheaper because it's not peak season. My trip to Chiang Mai in 2013 was during this season and I don't mind the rainy season at all. Based on my experience, sometimes it rained pretty heavy in the late afternoon but the rain took only about 30 minutes. I would encourage you to have a rain coat ready, wearing shorts and sandals if you're traveling during rainy season - you may get a bit wet and flash flood may occur.

November, December and January are the winter months. I have been told that the weather is colder. Temperature may drop to 10 degree Celsius. This is the peak season when price of everything is likely to hike and you are likely to compete with the crowded tourists wherever you go. Probably this is the season I wish to experience in the future but I dislike that it is the peak season.

If I ever visit Chiang Mai again, I would really love to spend more time at Chiang Rai. I would be interested to spend some time at the villages of the hill tribes such as Karen, Hmong, etc. Mae Hong Son & Pai are some of the places I hope to visit.
















Saturday, June 15, 2013

Travel Information of Laos in June 2013

Laos is a safe country. I personally feel that it's safer than Malaysia/Thailand/Vietnam although I've heard about a German lady being a victim of attempted robbery at Luang Prabang. Everyone seems to be not in a rush. There's a joke that Laos PDR actually stands for Laos Please Don't Rush. Food is not cheap in this country comparing with other South-East Asian countries. Each meal costs minimum about 15,000 kip (about RM6) without any drinks. If you are worried about flies, you will be starving in Laos. So far I have never fallen sick by eating their street food despite of the flies. The Laotians are generally friendly although there are some not so friendly ones too - the unfriendly ones are minorities anyway. I encountered more beggars than my previous trip - it kept me wondering whether they were parts of the syndicates seen in Malaysia as well. It is a country that you can easily travel on your own without any tourist guide especially you don't mind hot sun and walking long distance. The waterfalls and Hmong Village are reachable by tuk tuk. Remember to negotiate for the price before spending your money in Laos, especially taxi/tuktuk and during shopping.

Places of Interest

Vientiane

Chao Anouvong (statue)
King Srisavangvong statue
Wat Sisaket - not so impressive in my opinion
Ho Pra Keo (old temple)
Chao Fa Ngum statue
Patouxay monument - must visit
That Dam stupa
That Luang stupa - must visit
Revolutionary monument
National Museum (near That Luang stupa)
Wat That Foun
Night market at river side at night (varieties are less than Luang Prabang but sometimes cheaper)



Luang Phrabang

Wat Visoun
Wat Aham
Royal Palace Museum
Phousi Hill/That Chomsi (wat)
Night market
Wat Xiengthong
Wat Sene
Kuang Si waterfall
Hmong Village (on the way to Kuang Si waterfall)
Tad Sae waterfall (rainy season only - best time is August to September) - I missed it due to lack of water at the waterfall
Pak Ou Cave - I didn't visit this due to lack of personal interest
 


Language

The language of Laotian is very similar to Thai with minor differences. The following are some useful Laotian words:

hello - sabaidee
thank you - kwop jai
how are you? - sabaidee baw?
yes - maen leeo
no - baw
goodbye & take care - sohk dee deuh
how much is this? - anee tor dai?
expensive -phaeng
cheap - tuke
soap - saabuu
shampoo - saapom
pen - bik
writing paper - jiia
0 - soon
1 - neung
2 - song
3 - saam
4 - sii
5 - haa
6 - huk
7 - chit
8 - paet
9 - kao
10 - sip
11 - sip et
12 - sip song
20 - sao
21 - sao et
22 - sao song
30 - saam sip
40 - sii sip
50 - haa sip
100 - loi
200 - song loi
300 - saam loi
1000 - phan
2000 - song phan
10,000 - meun OR sip phan
100,000 - saen OR loi phan
1,000,000 - laan
1,000,000,000 - teu OR phan laan
1,000,000,000,000 - laan laan
number (train, bus, etc) - nam boe
half - kheung
less - nawy kwaa
more - iik
now - diow nee
later - lai gon
morning - dthawn sao
afternoon - ton tang
evening - ton lang
night - kaang keun
today - meuh nii
yesterday - meuh wan nii
tomorrow - meuh euhn
this week - aa thit nii
last week - thit laeow
next week - thit naa
sunday - wan aa thit
monday - wan jan
tuesday - wan ang khaan
wednesday - wan phuut
thursday - wan pha hat
friday - wan suk
saturday - wan sao
red - sii daeng
orange (colour) - sii som
yellow - sii lueang
green - sii khiao
blue - sii faa
purple - sii muang
brown - sii nam taan
gray - sii ke thao
black - sii dum
white - sii khao
pink - sii bua
chicken - gai
pork - moo
fish - bpaa
naam - water
warm water - naam yen
eggs - khai
rice - khao
bread - khao jii
rice noodle - pho
wheat noodle - ba mii
coffee - khaa feh
hot tea - saa hawn
juice - naam mak mai



Accommodation

In Vientiane, I stayed in:
  • Family Hotel at 39, Pang Kham Road - Friendly & helpful employees. Free wifi in the room. The breakfast is reasonably good - even noodle is served. Nearer to Patouxay Monument but further from night market. This hotel has improved a lot since my last visit. It has an elevator now. Pain in the ass to climb the stairs at the entrance of the hotel if you have a heavy luggage.
  • Sinnakhone Hotel, Francois Ngin Road - Not so friendly & helpful employees. Free wifi in the room but my netbook failed to connect to their wifi. Breakfast is nothing to shout about - just 2 slices of toast with margarine & jam with self prepared Boh tea or coffee. The room is larger than Family Hotel.
In Luang Prabang, I stayed in:
  • Villa Suan Maak, 92, Noradeth Road, Ban That Luang - Very friendly & helpful employees. It's a family run guesthouse. They treated visitors like family members if you're not stuck-up. The staff even turned my sister into a model and used their office as a photo studio. I am amazed! The chicken crowing in the neighbourhood at 4am may annoy you. It may be further from the town centre and you may be concern about the windows in the toilet that can be seen from a coconut tree/rooftop if someone climbs up but this is a typical village life that I miss in my own country. Breakfast is simple baguette with butter & jam, egg (scrambled, fried, boiled or omelette) with green tea, Boh tea or coffee.

Expenses

It is advisable to look out for banks for exchanging currency as the rate is better. You may change the currency at the airport too as the rate is better than private currency exchange companies. You can only exchange to Laotian currency in Laos. Exchange the currency as you see the need to use them. You will get better rate for the notes of USD50 and USD100. Dirty and old notes are not acceptable. The currency rate was between 7681 kip to 7692 kip per USD during my visit.

Currency conversion rate as of 09 June 2013:

USD1 = 7681 kip = RM4.04

The following are some hints to assist you with your expenses estimation when traveling to Laos - to be more specific Vientiane and Luang Prabang. The information provided is dated June 2013.

Vientiane
  • Airport to hotel in Vientiane (purchase taxi coupon at the airport)  - 60,000 kip (4 persons)
  • Hotel in Vientiane to airport (got a tuk tuk/taxi at the roadside by negotiating the price) -  50,000 kip (4 persons)
  • Admission fee to Sisaket Museum - 5,000 kip
  • Admission fee to Ho Phra Keo Museum - 5,000 kip
  • Admission fee to Phra That Laung Museum - 5,000 kip
  • Rice with chicken/pork - 15,000 kip
  • Woman's silk scarf - 40,000 kip 
  • Tigerhead drinking water 1.5 litre - 5,000 kip
  • Tigerhead drinking water small bottle - 300 kip
  • Cheap t-shirt - 15,000 kip
  • Places I missed out:  Buddha Park, National Museum near That Luang Museum (Note: there are 2 national museums), King Srisavangvong Statue
 
Luang Prabang
  • Airport to hotel in Luang Prabang (purchase taxi coupon at the airport) - USD6.50 (4 persons)
  • Hotel in Luang Prabang to airport (got a tuk tuk at the roadside by negotiating the price) - 50,000kip (4 persons)
  • Hand made queen sized blanket (took 8-10 months to make 1 blanket. Purchased at the night market from a friendly couple in their late 20s or early 30s at a stall facing a massage parlour at the right hand side [2nd row on the right side]) - 400,000 kip
  • Less complicated queen sized blanket (Purchased at the night market from two ladies at the left side [2nd row]) - 160,000 kip 
  • Tuk tuk to Kuang Si Falls & Hmong Village - 170,000 kip (4 persons, 2 ways + 3 hours at the waterfalls [exclude traveling time])
  • Admission fee to Kuang Si waterfall - 20,000 kip
  • Admission fee to Phousi Hill - 20,000 kip
  • Tuk tuk to Tak Sae waterfall (best time is August - September) - 150,000 kip (I didn't go due to lack of water at the waterfall)
  • Tigerhead drinking water 1.5 litre - 5,000 kip
  • Fried rice 20,000 kip
  • Cheap t-shirt - 15,000 kip 
  • Woman's simple bag - 3 for 80,000 kip
  • Native's purse (medium size) - 3 for 40,000 kip, 1 for 15,000 kip
  • Native's purse (small size - not the super small one) - 1 for 10,000 kip
  • Vegetarian dinner buffet style at Night Food Street - 10,000 kip regardless of the amount you take to fill up a plate
  • Laotian rice noodle with pork floss, peanuts, lots of vegetables (similar to laksa) at Night Food Street during lunch hour - 7,000 kip
 
  • Tiny packet of shampoo at the end of Night Food Street - 1,000 kip
  • Place I missed out: Tad Sae Waterfall



Monday, December 31, 2012

DIY Pond Filter

Thanks to the following site for giving me ideas to build my own pond filter:

http://www.interall.co.il/filter.html

I had been unhappy with the lousy pond filter designed by the crappy contractor because it didn't filter the water properly. The damn guy just partitioned a small section of the pond with a piece of plastic and pump the water into it and expected the water to be filtered. In reality the plastic kept falling apart letting all the debris escaping back into the main pond.

Please take from my experience not to trust any contractor to design a pond. Make sure you have personally done your own research on building a pond with proper filter. Design it yourself and ask the contractor to build it. Fire him if he refuses to follow your design. DO NOT ever trust any contractor!

I have decided to build my own DIY pond filter with some ideas gained from the website stated above on Christmas eve. The duration to build one took a few hours - most of the time was "drilling" holes on a plastic container purchased from Tesco. It is an easy task even for a DIY noob like myself. Just have to be careful not to melt the holes too big at the plastic container or burn yourself with the soldering gun.

Tools:

1. Soldering gun - I use this to melt the plastic container to "drill" holes. You could use a drill for the same purpose.Soldering gun costs less than RM30.
2. Old cloth soaked with water or old newspaper for wiping plastic sticking on soldering gun. Costs RM0.

Components:

1. A square plastic container. Costs RM6+.
2. Three PVC bulkheads - one for water to flow in, one for water to flow out and another for overflow. Costs RM1.50 each.
4. One PVC "hose connector". Costs RM1.50 each.
5. One PVC adapters to join my hose connector and bulkhead that have different diameters. Costs RM1.50 each.
6. Water hose that fits your "hose connector" for water to flow into your filter. I use 2 types of hose to fit the powerhead and the PVC bulkhead. Costs RM2 per meter.
7. Filter media you wish to put inside your filter. The cost depends on what you put.
8. Powerhead. Costs RM0 because I re-use old one.

PVC bulkhead:




PVC "hose connector":



PVC adapter:



Here are the steps to build the filter:


1. Mark the diameter of bulkhead by drawing circles on the plastic container. One circle for water inflow (near the top of the container). One circle at the bottom of the container for water outflow. Another circle slightly lower than the water inflow circle for overflow. The overflow circle could be at the side of the container or any place you want (depending on your requirement). The overflow is optional but it is good to overcome water overflowing in case the outflow is blocked.

2. Melt the plastic container where it is marked with the circles with soldering gun. You may want to wear a mask. You may need an old newspaper or old cloth to wipe off the plastic sticking on the soldering gun every now and then.

3. Install the bulkheads into the holes.

4. At the bulkhead of the water inflow, connect the PVC adapter and hose connector. Your filter is completed!

5. Test the filter by filling in water to test for any leakage at the bulkheads. Fix it if necessary.

6. Connect one end of the water hose to the powerhead and the other end to the water inflow bulkhead.

7. Add the filter media into the plastic container aka your new filter box.

8. Turn on the powerhead when it's placed in the pond to test run the filter.

My DIY Pond Filter:

Internal Section of The DIY Pond Filter:








Monday, August 13, 2012

Stop 114A


Check out what the ridiculous 114A is all about here:
http://stop114a.wordpress.com/what-is-section-114a/

Friday, June 15, 2012

Love-Hate Affair With Britpop

Looking out of the window, I saw haze that reminded me of the mist of England in 1996-1997 era when I was there. Upon stepping on the soil of England, it was like being in heaven with the ability to tune in to the good old BBC Radio 1 (outside London, I didn't have XFM's radio reception) to be able to listen to alternative music bands rather frequently. Malaysia had Time Highway Radio (THR) playing a bit of those stuff then but they were insufficient.

After 3 months I began to feel sick of day-in day-out listening to something they called Britpop especially bands such as Oasis, Blur and Pulp (the sequence is based on my hate priority) that I would not hesitate to turn off the volume whenever I heard them on the radio. You could hear these bands on the airwave more than 10 times per day. To make the situation worse, sometimes the same songs were being repeated multiple times per day. Soon, the Britpop phenomena turned worse as Oasis and Blur started their stupid childish verbal wars on each other. These news were all over the media (radio, newspaper & music magazines) in England. Soon, I added bands such as Suede, Echobelly, Menswear, Dodgy, Sleeper, Supergrass, Ocean Colour Scene, Cast, The Verve, etc into my hate list. Manic Street Preachers, Elastica and Ash were not in my hate list because Manic had that American rock sound and the other two bands had the punk sound as well as the right punk attitude. The Boo Radleys also escaped my hate list because they sound very refreshing, catchy and unique in their own way despite being labeled as Britpop. Those days I missed non-typical British sound so badly. So bands like The Cardigans, The Wannadies, Sepultura, Smashing Pumpkins, 3D's, The Fall, etc were very refreshing to me.

Today, I don't hate Britpop as I used to anymore due to the fact that I have started to miss my former number one hated bands Oasis and Blur after returning to Malaysia for more than a decade. I guess when you have been overfed with similar sounding music, you tend to choke, vomit and tend to stay away from them. As you take them away for decades, you may start to miss what you have not heard for a long period.