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Battye Family’s Travel Diary

Friday, 19 Jan 2007

Location: Rasi Salai, Thailand

MapHEADING WEST
Just getting to our hotel in Kanchanaburi was magical. From the bus stop we rode in a sawngthaew to the Chukkadon Pier where a ferry picked us up. It was late afternoon and the river was quiet and peaceful. Our hotel was on an island in the middle of the River Kwai-just a collection of small thatch huts along the shoreline. They looked to be of the type of construction that blows over in a strong wind-but simple and charming. Bunnies roamed the island freely and we saw them hopping, burrowing in the soft dirt, eating greens, and, most often, creating new bunnies. There was even a swimming pool (what luxury!) that John and the kids amused themselves with. Their favorites were the relay races and the games involving diving catches in the three foot water.
The next day we never left the island-focusing instead on writing, homework, and playing cards. John is teaching Tim, Chris and I how to play the challenging game of bridge (I think I remember actually making three no trump.) We spent the entire day under a thatched lanai listening to the birds and watching the river flow. The peace was interrupted whenever a Thai party boat came by with music at full blast. Coming to Thailand? It will help if you like Karaoke! The party boats were ten times the size of a pontoon boat…more floating disco than watercraft. Jennifer and Emily amused themselves by attempting to get every passenger on board to wave to them. With their fair hair, this was not hard to do.
By the following day, we were ready to explore. We walked into town and hailed another sawngthaew for the day. Heading north, we made our first stop The Tiger Temple. Giant iron gates creaked as we opened them to get inside. We walked down into a steep limestone canyon, at the base of which were a dozen tigers, a monk, and the animal handlers. We were each allowed, one by one, to enter the area and touch the tigers. Some might think, “What an alarming family activity-to take your young children in amongst the tigers!” All I can say is, it seemed perfectly safe and we saw no evidence of any recently eaten foreigners. Jennifer was granted the privilege of actually sitting astride a huge male tiger. Although she would have constituted a tasty hors d’oeuvre for him, he never batted an eye. The temple featured other free roaming animals- everyone got a chance to get close to a sun bear and feel the horns of a water buffalo.
From there we walked along The Death Railway tracks to visit a cave temple. This particular cave was unusual in that it was the site of the murder of a tourist by a monk. I don’t know the whole story…perhaps the tourist was there climbing on the sacred Buddha, snapping photos like mad, and shouting, “Doesn’t anyone speak English around here?!” Just a guess. Chris and Tim got the chance to bottle and hand feed an elephant before we drove back into Kanchanaburi to see the JEATH Museum before it closed.
Housed in a replica of a WWII POW bunk house, the photos and articles gave a sense of the horrific conditions these men endured, or weren’t able to endure for long (three fourths of them were buried there.) Placed there to build a railway link between Burma and Thailand for the Japanese, the work force was made up of captured Allied soldiers and, to a much larger extent, Burmese, Malaysians, and Javanese who were tricked (or forced) into joining the work crews.
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THE DEATH RAILWAY
By Timothy Battye

During World War II (1939-1945) the Japanese and Germans were attempting to take over the world. The Japanese were taking over Asia and islands in the pacific while Germany was taking over the rest. The British, Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, and French tried to stop\prevent them. Burma and Thailand, two bordering countries, were taken over by the Japanese. The Japanese set up POW camps over all over Thailand and Burma. The Japanese had to get all the oil from Burma to Thailand to use it as fuel. They were forced to build a railway instead of using a boat because it was too dangerous to transport by sea. The Americans kept blowing up all the Japanese ships.
It was extra challenging to build the railway because huge mountains and vast jungles blocked the way. The POWs were forced to do all of the work while being tortured by the harsh treatment of the Japanese. They had to clear thick jungle and tunnel through HIGH mountains using only pickaxes and hammers (and occasionally some dynamite.) Their work was strenuous and took years to finish. They got all sorts of big cuts and diseases like malaria and dysentery and cholera while working. They found ways to try and heal their cuts with the resources they had. The work was extra challenging for the POWs building the railway because all they got to eat was a small portion of white rice and occasionally meat (usually rotten) so they were very unhealthy. Most were sick or dead by the time the railway was built but the war was still raging on.
When they finally got done the railway, they still had to work more while they waited for the war to finish. The Americans could not come and free the prisoners because the Japanese said they were going to kill ALL the prisoners and flee if the Americans, or anyone else, tried to free them. Finally the Japanese surrendered because the Americans dropped two atom bombs and the Japanese were afraid they were going to drop more. That allowed the POWs that were still alive to be rescued. By the time the prisoners who lived got back to their country, most were wounded and weak from disease. Although they were in such bad shape, they rejoiced anyway to finally be rid of the camps and the war. The POWs were very courageous and strong to endure the harsh treatment of the Japanese soldiers.
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We started our day at Thailand Burma Railway Center. Only three years old, the museum chronicled, in amazing detail, why and how The Death Railway was built, the experiences of the POWs and what has transpired there since the end of the war. From the museum, we headed north again, this time to an elephant camp that was blissfully far from the beaten tourist track. Oddly enough, the only Americans we’ve met so far on the trip were two people in Sangkhlaburi. One was Steve, who was volunteering there with his wife.
Five years earlier, they had sold all their possessions and headed out to make a difference in the world. They’d arrived in Sangkhlaburi by way of Ecuador and Tokyo and discovered the needs of a small orphanage across from the border at Three Pagodas Pass. The children had unclean water, no food, and begged for their meals in the streets. The roof of one of their two bathrooms had caved in two years earlier. The other was permanently flooded-the children walked down the steps to water level and went to the bathroom there. There was no drainage that allowed the fetid water to escape. Steve and his wife took on the project and had managed to set up food and water sources for the children, built a useable bathroom, and were at work on an outdoor kitchen. I observed to Steve that it sounded like he and his wife were doing just the sort of thing they’d set out to do. He waved off the recognition, “It’s just that it’s the right thing to do…they’re children who need help, you know?” We feel so grateful to meet the people we are meeting here, the people who are doing extraordinary things with very little resources. How significant is the difference between writing a check to a charity and really being there to see a starving child finish a meal?
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THE SECOND AMERICAN
By John

Propped in front of a shop that opened onto a sleepy village street was a sign in scrawled letters that said, “Bakery Vegetarian,” very surprising for a place like Sangkhlaburi. Even more surprising for me as I stood there choosing between two kinds of pastries and a few loaves of bread, was the sight of a tall man (a farang or foreigner) with a bushy black beard. He spoke in good old mid-western English and I found out his name was Richard. He’d been living in the Thai jungle for five years. Despite being co-patriots in a strange land, our information exchange did not happen easily. Although he looked friendly, he simply answered the questions I asked. “Good thing I’m not shy about asking lots of questions,” I thought.
It turns out he is a Christian missionary planted in one of the local hill tribes. Most foreigners who live in the rural parts of Thailand, we’ve discovered, are missionaries. Richard looks at “conversion” as a long-term process and does not adhere to any specific doctrine. He introduces concepts and hopes the native people slowly adopt Christian practices. Richard, his Irish wife, and their three children (all under age five) live in a very modest hut in the tribal village. When I imagined his living conditions, I could see why he might indulge himself every once in a while by patronizing this shop with its English sign and recognizable food. Despite the hardships, he has no intention of leaving the country and told me of home schooling his kids and plans to send them 200 kilometers away to Chiang Mai for their formal education. Richard spoke to me of the value of a simple life. As he walked away with his four loaf purchase, I thought, “What would it be like…”
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At the elephant camp, we climbed aboard Mr. Suriya and Mr. Thomgen, two large male elephants, and headed into the jungle. Three of us rode on each elephant, in a sort of platform on their back. A mahout rode on the neck of each elephant, keeping them moving forward on the path. John’s rather feisty mahout was from Burma and although he was only 29, he was missing half his teeth and looked more like an aging Mowgli. Everyone was shocked when he started singing, “In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight…” I guess if you lead lots of farang on elephant rides, it helps to develop a shtick. Little did he know that the Battye family has their own repertoire. We had him singing “ Oh balaway balawah balaway” and “Agga, flagga, fleega, flugga, ishkanaga, neega, nuuga…” accompanied by lots of laughter.
At a small clearing the mahout slid down the elephant’s neck onto the ground and motioned for Jennifer to slide into “the driver’s seat.” Jennifer’s mouth opened into a big round “O” and then she scurried up to the mahout’s spot before he changed his mind. She was now seated between the elephant’s ears with her hands, palms down, on this head.
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ELEPHANTS IN THAILAND
By Jennifer

I sat on the elephant’s neck and held onto his head. His skin was roughf. His hair was prickly. I picked up his ear. It was floppy. I could feel the bone. I had a lot of fun! We went in the jungle and water. The elephant sprayd Chris with his trunk. He cooled himself down by suking water in his mouth and spraying it on himself. Elephants are a big hit in Thailand. Pepol used to go to wor with the elephants. Elephants have bells on them. A elephant can make a screaming voice and can stand on his hind legs. There are only 5000 elephants in Thailand. They are endangerd like pandas. Some are wild but most are working elephants. Baby elephants can be kids for 5 years and then they get traind and when they are 61 they get set free. Most elephants live up to 80 years old.
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All of us were eventually allowed to experience driving the elephant over the course of our hour-long elephant trek. We moved out of the jungle and passed through a Karen village before descending toward the river. The elephants lumbered into the swiftly flowing water and took a long, thirsty drink. Chris was enjoying his view from the neck of the elephant when Mr. Thomgen lifted his trunk in a graceful arch and doused himself (and Chris, who was simply in the way) with cool mountain water. This hosing down was not the thing that brought the most laughter, however. It was, of course, the wonder of elephant elimination. For well over an hour after we’d left, there were still bursts of hysterical laughter and talk of whose elephant had pooped the most.
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IF I WERE AN ELEPHANT, I’D EAT CORNFLAKES
By Emily

Elephants eat food but I don’t know what kind…maybe watermelon and cantaloupe and fried eggs and small cornflakes. Elephant poop is green and black and I see a lot of it. Elephants make a lake when they go pee. My elephant went potty in the river.
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Erawan was our next stop, the most visited waterfall in Thailand. It is actually a series of seven waterfalls that extend over a distance of two kilometers with a pool at the base of each. The water was the color of sea glass and clear enough to see the many fish exploring each pool. Once we got above the second tier, there was no one else on the trail. It was late in the day so we picked up our pace (I’m going to say here and now that Emily is an amazing hiker…no nap, short legs, and steep terrain would seem to signal triple trouble but she made it with ease.) We were all desperate to get in the water. Tim, the brave one, was the first to jump from a big rock into the water. The other “boys” soon followed.
I brought the girls to a shallow pool that looked to be right out of a story book. I expected a fairy to alight on my shoulder at any moment. When we entered the water, the fish headed toward us, rather than swimming away as expected, and started nibbling on our toes. Jennifer, who for a number of her preschool years was convinced that EVERY fish was a piranha, was sure her fears were being realized. The boys tried to convince her it was safe by climbing onto fallen tree trunks, scrambling up the falls, and jumping into the deeper pools (while retaining a reassuring amount of flesh on their bodies.) We agreed it was a place we could happily spend more time.
We sped back down the trail, racing the clock until the gates closed for the evening. As we rounded a bend, Timmy stood still and pointed to a spot a few feet in front of us. There, on a branch, was the first monkey we’d ever seen in the wild. It was a rhesus monkey, we think, and it regarded us with absolute calm. Timmy and I kept our eyes open the rest of the way down the trail in case we should happen upon a tiger or a tapir…you never know what you will come across next in magical Thailand.
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ANIMAL LEARNINGS
By Tim Battye

Tigers

Tigers are the largest of the cat family. They are they only striped cat. There are only 5,000-7,000 today. They live in: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, Sumatra, Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Tigers are territorial so they guard their land. They are also very social. Tigers hunt alone using trees and tall grass as camouflage. Males and Females have different territories but sometimes they overlap so they can mate. A male’s territory is bigger than a female’s. Tigers hunt between dusk and dawn going out 6-20 miles for food. Tigers eat about 35 pounds of meat a night.

Tapirs

The Malayan Tapir’s body is half black and half white. It is a relative of the horse and rhino. It loves rolling in the mud and washing ticks off. It’s color is good for camouflage.

Rhesus Monkey

Rhesus Monkeys live in the forests of Afghanistan, India, China, and Southeast Asia.
Rhesus Monkeys can live on the ground or in trees. Rhesus Monkeys are social and feed on veggies, fruit, insect/bugs, and small animals. Rhesus Monkeys have been used in medical research so their numbers have decreased.



BACK IN BANGKOK
From Kanchanaburi, we had a rollickin’ four hour sawngthaew ride to Bangkok to await transportation to the Isan province, our volunteer location. Everyone needed a haircut and we felt sure that would be an adventure in a foreign country.
There appeared to be only one person working at the hair salon when we arrived and I was concerned that it would take him all day to get through haircuts for six but he was smiling and pleasant and said, “Yes” when I asked how much the haircuts would cost. We sat down to wait. As if on some hidden cue, the doors to the back room opened and a parade of staff people emerged. I should have known-no where in Thailand is only one person working. There are always whole packs of people-it seems that half a baseball team helps you at the gas station and in the supermarket, two workers man each aisle in the store to help you decide which kind of cracker you want. At the department store where we bought a dress for Emily, I counted ten people behind the register ringing up our purchase-one to work the register, one to fold the dress, one to remove the tags, one to open the bag, and several to sneak surreptitious looks at the only farang customers they’d seen that day (month…year?) The eleventh staff person had the job of handing us our bag. All of this attention for an $8 purchase. The shopping trip was initiated by Emily, who is perhaps the only backpacker who shuns pants and shorts and wants only to wear “beautiful dresses.” She is like a magpie-drawn to anything that sparkles.
So at the salon, the parade of staff emerged-male hairdressers wearing leather satchels that housed their tools and women with brooms and shampoo capes in hand. The effect was that of a musical production and I barely stifled a burst of applause. The man who cut my hair was fascinating to watch. He was flamboyant in the extreme and each time he moved into a new position, he would pause, scissors in hand, as if to allow a photographer to capture the moment. I felt I had a front row seat at a Paris fashion show-he moved like a runway model. He spoke no English and I did not know how to talk about hair in Thai so we agreed on a style via sign language. I pointed to pictures in the hairstyle book he gave me (I knew it was mine because it said “for lady” on the cover.) He would squinch up his face like he was sucking lemons if he thought it was not good for me and point instead to something impractical that would require multiple hair products and long periods of blow drying to maintain. Naturally, I went with his recommendation. As if to illustrate the folly of my decision, he proceeded to spend an eternity getting my hair styled just like the photo in the book. Chris and Tim walked away with great Asian styles-spiked on top and short on the sides. Jennifer’s haircut ended with a good half hour of styling as they (yes, more than one person) used brush and dryer to get each strand perfectly straight. Perhaps it was just an excuse to play with her blonde hair, so foreign looking in a country where every single person has black hair and brown eyes. The reaction we all get is roughly equivalent to the reaction I might have if I came across an alien walking down the streets of my hometown. People literally stop and stare. They point and whisper. If they are brave, they reach out and touch the kids’ skin or hair. All the while, they smile in a warm and friendly way that seems to say, “Even though you look awfully strange, you are very welcome here.”
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Bargaining in Thailand: Tips and Tricks
By Chris Battye

How would it be to walk into Pacific Sun, see that a T-Shirt is $30, and then manage to buy the T-Shirt for $20? Having the ability to negotiate a lower price is an invaluable skill and in Thailand it is very big. In America, it is most commonly found in car sales (even more so in used car sales) but is almost never seen in other parts of American shopping. In Thailand, almost every aspect of shopping involves bargaining.
You are considered farang (foreigner) and many times shop-keepers will give you the farang-price, which is considerably higher than the price for native Thai people. The thinking here is that farang have lots of money to be able to come here to Thailand and will pay lots of money to get things. Farang are surprised by how cheap things are in Thailand but after a time start to know what is a reasonable price and what is a farang price. If you know it is a farang price, you’ll have to be tough and negotiate it down (most times if they’re giving you a farang price, they will negotiate). Some Thais will not negotiate at all and adamantly repeat the same price over and over. If in this situation ( through long persistence) you cannot get them to lower the price, either walk away or ( if you’re really interested) pay up. Malls and large stores do not usually bargain but there’s no harm in trying. In general many Thai people are not very well off so if you’re not being ripped off, you should agree to a little extra
The finer points of bargaining are important to know in a foreign country. The most important rule is to always keep smiling because to get angry or upset is unacceptable in Thailand and people will look greatly down on you if you show anger or frustration.
When you first enter a shop’s general area, give a friendly smile and say “sawati krup” (guys say krup and girls say ka). If you see something you really like, ask about different pieces before asking for the thing you want. Don’t show how much you really want it. Speak in Thai as much as you can, using a phrase-book or whatever, because Thais are more inclined to give you cheaper prices. When they give you an initial price, have a price fixed in your head as the MOST you will pay, this will help in bargaining.
When you have “how much” you’re willing to pay, say something considerably lower, then try to get them to that number. For example: You see an excellent souvenir for Aunt Mabel back home, the guy in the stall tells you that it is 500 Baht. You think to yourself, that you would pay 350 baht for it, so you tell him 200 Baht. He tells you 480 and you repeat 200, he relents and says 450 and when you look at him in silence he moves to 400. You say 300 with an air of finality and he tells you he cannot do that! You finally say 350 Baht and he says 380. You start to walk away, and he quickly agrees to 350. Souvenir successfully bought.
Sometimes bargaining does not work out so well. Although Thais appreciate a good bargainer, they have their limits to how low they will go. If you won’t go higher, and he won’t go lower, say “Mai korp kuhn krup” (for the gents) or “Mai korp kuhn ka” (for the ladies.) This means “No, thank you!”.
If, by some lucky chance, you have less cash in your pocket than the stated price, communicate that you only have however much you have. If they are interested in a deal, they will take your offer. Another way to get a cheap price is to look at the item in different shops and choose the cheapest one or tell a shop-owner you saw it for a cheaper price elsewhere. They may lower the price for you then. This can border dishonesty though if you say you can get it cheaper elsewhere but are not quite sure where.)

DOLLAR-BAHT CONVERSIONS:
38 Baht=$1
500 Baht=$12½
1000 Baht= $25

15-30 Baht=a meal for one on the streets
600 Baht= a Thai brand pair of leather sandals
2000 Baht=American brand sandals (in Thailand) e.g. Timberland
5 Baht=Thai candy
20-50 baht=American Candy (in Thailand)

Bangkok is the heart of Thailand. It contains the King’s palace, dozens of temples, and thousands (maybe millions) of street vendors. In short, it’s a good place for a bargain. Unfortunately many, many farang come here, so you’ll get much higher prices. Also a warning, if a thief or pickpocket in Thailand wants some easy farang money, to Bangkok they go.
Thailand has many large malls (very similar to American malls) with some great stores where you can get stuff you couldn’t get anywhere else, but prices can be high and they do not like to negotiate. Malls=Bad Bargaining
Outside large tourist attractions (e.g. the Palace, the Reclining Buddha, the Golden Buddha, etc.) you can find surprisingly good bargaining places, especially near Chinatown. Also if you show the slightest preference to a souvenir, you will be swamped by a veritable army of bloodthirsty trinket-sellers. I recall one man followed me and my family 2 blocks and across the street persistently trying to sell us a hand-painted umbrella. He eventually stopped when we determinedly shut the car door blocking out his offers of “cheap cheap discount” Big Tourist Attractions=Good Bargaining
The best bargaining places (in my opinion) is around the small temples. They sell the same things as the people around big tourist attractions, but they sell them for considerably less money. Also they are eager to bargain and are usually in booths so they can’t follow you. Remember the man trying to sell me the hand-painted umbrella? Near a small temple, I bought that same umbrella for 4 times less money! Small Temples=Best Bargaining
Anywhere you see with a cash register that they actually use, is almost positively a no-bargain zone. Cash Registers=Worst Bargaining. Finally, in stores geared towards native Thai’s, the odds of bargaining are about 75%. The risk is that they will either speak no English or speak no-bargaining. Shops for Thai’s=Ok Bargaining
Rural towns contain mostly shops for Thai people and items of practical use. However you can still find unique items of interest in many shops. In convenience stores such as 7-11, bargaining is a no-no, but they contain several useful items. In Thailand, 7-11 contains a wide variety of useful items, and there are thousands all around the country.
They have several small clothes shops in small villages and bargaining is very good in these places. Small shops with seemingly random items are also scattered throughout the town, and bargaining there is just as good as in the clothes shops.
The regular way for a Thai person to get food is by going to the outdoor market. The market has many food stalls and the prices are usually so low there is no need to bargain. Sometimes there is a market for clothes and other items and it is the best spot for bargaining. This is where most Thai people get their clothes.
In terms of my own bargaining, I’ve learned through experience. Near a small temple in Bangkok I saw a fan that could turn into a hat, and was mildly interested. I asked the price, and it was 60 Baht. Unfortunately, I had to go, and left the area. At the Bangkok night market, I saw the same fan-hat and asked the price and he told me 160 Baht. I almost laughed in his face, but instead told him another man offered it to me for 60 Baht. He said to me “Is an extra100 baht to much to pay for an excellent-” Before he could finish, I turned around and walked away.
In a small coconut farm, they sold jumbo-sized fans and I asked the price. The lady said 500 Baht and I set in my mind the price of 350 Baht. I kept bargaining down and finally got her to 350. I bought the fan, and walked away happy. A couple of weeks later, I saw the same fan in a shop near a railroad and out of curiosity, I asked the price. He told me 350 Baht and then said, “How much will you pay for it?” Clearly telling me he would bargain… Dang!
In a small shop, I asked the price of a very good backscratcher. He told me it was the best quality, and he would part with it for 50 Baht. I thought that was too much and he wouldn’t lower it, so I walked away. From that same shop my parents bought 3000 Baht worth of massive hand-carved elephants. I asked him again how much the price for the backscratcher was, and he said “You have it for free!”… Yes!