tourists posing with soldiers

Tourists are lining up to pose with the soldiers in Chiang Mai’s Sunday Market

I have lived through two military coup d’etats here in Thailand. They were both very uniquely Thai style affairs. Normally we associate coups with violence, shooting, arrests, and political prisons, in other words very unpleasant events.

However Thailand has come up with what I call “velvet coups”. I remember the first one in 2006. The army rolled out tanks in the streets of Bangkok. But instead of creating an atmosphere of terror among the citizens, many Thais took it as a fun event.

They climbed up on the tanks, handed flowers to the soldiers and had their pictures taken while posing on the tanks with the soldiers. No shots were fired and nobody got hurt. Read the rest of this story

Crazy House in Dalat, Vietnam

Would you believe that you are looking at a house?
Yes, you are – the Crazy House in Dalat, Vietnam.

I went to the Crazy House today here in the city of Dalat in Vietnam. No, not to the loony bin – I did not go crazy.

The truth is that there are no crazy people in the Crazy House at all. But there are plenty of tourists who are happy to pay the entrance fee to see this really unique house. Actually it is several houses, not one. Read the rest of this story

Hanoi in the north is Vietnam’s capital and political center whereas Ho Chi Minh City in the south is its economic engine and power house. Many people still refer to it by its previous name, Saigon.

Since Ho Chi Minh City is a little cumbersome to write, it is generally abbreviated to HCMC, kind of like Los Angeles is often spelled as LA and New York City as NYC. Read the rest of this story

traffic gridlock In Saigon

Wherever you look in Ho Chi Minh City, there is always an
overwhelming number of scooters around you

Ho Chi Minh City used to be known as Saigon. Many locals are still using the previous old name which rolls off the tongue much better than the new name. And the one area where I am staying is officially called Saigon, a district within Ho Chi Minh City.

So what brought me to Vietnam? I actually live in Chiang Mai, Thailand. That’s a great city with one BIG exception. During March and April the weather is extremely hot. And at the same time there is lots of agricultural burning going on during that time. The result of this is extremely high air pollution which is dangerous for your health. Read the rest of this story

Motorbike parking at the mall in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Motorbike parking at the mall in Chiang Mai, Thailand

There are lots of motorcycles in Thailand. Most of them are of the variety which we would call a moped or a scooter. They have small engines, between 100cc and 125cc in general, and they cost somewhere in the neighborhood of US $1000-$1300. They are easy to drive, easy to park and they are very maneuverable. And surprisingly they can carry quite a lot of weight despite their small size.

The Thais have been quite ingenious in coming up with lots of methods to use them. I have identified 8 methods how I have seen them used, but this list is by no means exhaustive. Read the rest of this story

Thai/Burmese border post

Thai/Burmese border post

Here in Thailand there is a kind of visa which requires that you leave the country once every three months, even if only for 5 minutes. It’s called a non-immigrant visa, and like thousands of other foreigners I have to make a “visa run” to the Burmese border (The country is called Burma or Myanmar) to get my new stamp. Read the rest of this story

Are you living on a different planet?

What if I told you that I live in a place where the year is 2559? No, I am not schizophrenic, I did not watch too many science fiction movies, and I do not live on another planet.

But I do live in Thailand, and the year is 2559 for the simple reason that they use the Buddhist calendar instead of the Christian one. The Christian (Gregorian) calendar starts with the birth of Jesus, 2016 years ago.

The Buddhist calendar starts with the birth of Buddha, 2559 years ago. Most dates in Thailand are written with the Buddhist year which tends to be very confusing for westerners. The trick is to subtract 543 years and you are right back to 2016.

Read the rest of this story

elephants playing

The elephant has always been one of the the most important animals in Thailand. They were used for warfare, for doing heavy work like logging, and they were a symbol of power, wealth and prestige.

To this day the king of Thailand keeps a stable of white elephants which are very rare and considered highly auspicious. Well, they are not exactly snow white, but they are much more light skinned that the usually very dark skinned animals.

However training elephants to become domesticated work animals can be a traumatic and painful experience for the animals since it takes quite a lot to break the will and the sense of freedom of those giants. Read the rest of this story

colorful thai temple

Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second largest city. It is also the second most important city with a huge tourism industry. The latest push is to turn it into one of Asia’s main convention centers.

Chiang Mai’s population is exploding since it is one of the most appealing cities not only in Thailand but in all of Southeast Asia. Why? It still has a laid back atmosphere which has fallen by the wayside in Bangkok already. Despite being a major city, people are still friendly, courteous, helpful, and always ready to flash you a friendly smile. Read the rest of this story

Wat Rong Khun Thailand

Wat Rong Khun, the white temple near Chiang Rai, Thailand

By contributing author Meghan Pierce

Like most people, I felt a strong urge to flee the nest right after high school and to go and experience life on my own. Going to school at a university wasn’t enough. I didn’t want to just learn about the world, I wanted to experience it. I had my mind set that the only way this was ever going to happen was if I traveled.

I wanted an experience that was unlike anything that would ever happen to me in Western civilization. I had an imaginary globe spinning around in my head and it wasn’t going to stop until I stepped foot on a plane and headed to a faraway land. Or at least that’s what I thought at the time. Read the rest of this story