Friday, 27 January 2012

Koh Phangan Film Festival

One of the few cultural events to occur on Koh Phangan Island, other than the regular moon parties (if they can be described as cultural), is the Koh Phangan Film Festival. This will be the fourth Phangan Film Festival and it promises to be as good if not better than last year’s.

The film festival will be held over a long weekend from 24th to 26th February. The films will be shown on a large outdoor screen on Ban Tai beach. The host for the event is the Holiday Beach Resort. You can book a room at Holiday Beach Resort directly by following this link.

Each year the independent film festival has had a different theme. This year the theme of the festival is Nature and Spirituality. Independent films will be shown from all over the world exploring these and concomitant ideas.

The organizer for the event is filmmaker and traveler Julian L Balmer who directed the 2007 film, Through the Easter Gate. It is a story of 3 young people on a spiritual quest.

Other notable films to be screened in the past at the festival include: Bag It – Is Your Life Too Plastic?, Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love, and Agrarian Utopia by Thai director Uruphong Raksasad.

There have been world premieres at the Koh Phangan Film Festival. Although some of the movies have not benefitted from a large budget they all seek to be thought provoking.

The 2012 Phangan Film Festival kicks off with an opening party at Ando Loco Mexican Restaurant located on the road between Ban Tai and Thongsala. The party is on 23rd February.

If you are in Koh Phangan at the end of February you should and make the effort to get to the festival to not only show your support to this worth-while event but also to be entertained. What better than watching a movie on the beach?

Here’s the trailer that was made for the 2009 Phangan Film Festival.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Hualamphong Dining

The video says it all really. It's not a bad restaurant if you have time to kill before getting on your train down to Suratthani. The food was rice and chicken or pork. It cost about 40 Thai Baht a plate. The beers were reasonably priced, too. Next door is a handy convenience store to stock up on snacks, cigarettes etc. for the journey.

Remember that the train doesn't actually go to Suratthani. It goes to Punpin Station that is about an hour from a ferry port to take you to Koh Phangan. When you get off the train you get rushed by steerers trying to sell you tickets for the Seatran. This is one of the irritating things about traveling in Thailand: they tend to try and herd you around.

There is a man outside the row of cafes who sells tickets for all the transport companies. I prefer waiting at Punpin for an hour or so and getting a bus/boat ticket for the Raja Car ferry that leaves from Donsak. This is the biggest boat and rocks around the least when the sea is rough.

The worst boat to take when the sea is rough is the Lomprayah. It's a high speed catamaran and bounces over the waves. Last time I took it was January 9th 2012, just after the Full Moon Party. I have never seen so many people sick. I was heaving too. Those who had spent all the previous night drinking buckets must have rued their decision to take the Lomprayah the next morning.

The good thing about the train from Hualamphong to Punpin is that you get a better night's sleep than the bus. Also the prices go up less often than for the bus/boat deals. 

There is a dining carriage on the train where you can get food and beer. You can also smoke there. The beer and food is expensive, though. There are also vendors (legal and illegal) that sell meals that go up and down the carriages.

For a description of the First Class Air-Con Carriage and the journey between Hualamphong, Bangkok to Suratthani click on the link.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Ban Tai in 2012

Above is a short video I took from the taxi going from Thongsala to Thong Nai Pan. This stretch covers part of Ban Tai up until the Thong Nai Pan turning.

Things to Note

1) Niras Bakery is still going. Good news for all bread lovers.
2) The bar on the corner has re-opened. I think this is now called 'The Sound' and has live music on Fridays and Sundays. There are also a couple of rooms to rent above the bar.
3) For better or for worse the girly bars are still in Ban Tai
4) Chai Motorbike has expanded. The best place to get your motorbike repaired for a reasonable price. Recommended if you rent a bike and scratch or damage it in any way. If you take it back unrepaired to where you rented it from they will ask for lots of money before they return your passport.
5) There's now a big pharmacy in Ban Tai opposite the 7-11 called 'Nopporn Pharmacy 7'. A recommended place to buy medicines.

Many of the old traditional wooden houses remain. The speed boat pier is still running but gets very little custom. Things change slowly in Koh Phangan but often for the better.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Chatuchak Weekend Market

The chances are that you are going to have to visit Bangkok before you make it down to Koh Phangan island. One of the experiences you shouldn't miss in Bangkok is Chatuchak Weekend Market.

Chatuchak Weekend Market is quite far out from the center of Bangkok. You have to sit on an overhead train for about 30 minutes to get there from Sukhimvit. Once at Mo Chit Station (BTS) you just follow the crowds heading to the market. The heaving masses of people don’t start to thin out before you get into the heart of the market.

Chatuchak Weekend Market covers 27 acres of land and has more than 15,000 booths. It is a square with a walk way around the market. It can be very disorientating at first. Around the walk way there are shops, bars, food stands as well as musicians, buskers and the sad sight of children begging. Around the outer fringe are many shops but the majority are in the center.

The shops are set out in a grid system that confusingly goes off at acute angles. There are meant to be areas in the market to help people find what they want, but of course these are only rough guidelines. There are sections for electronic devices, flowers, antiques, clothes and pets. The latter is attractive and repulsive. Lots of cute dogs and kittens are cramped into small boxes and cages. The further up the evolutionary chain you get as an animal the more you no doubt hate your captivity, not to mention the heat and the constant parade of prying fingers through the bars.

When you first enter the center part of Chatuchak Weekend Market the numbers of people are overwhelming. It is very difficult to move; if you have a backpack or kid in a pram even more so.

Following the crowd or just going wherever grabs you can be fun. You are sure to come across a shop selling something that interests you. It is a great place to find souvenirs, clothes, spices, art work, decorations, small furnishings, silk and hundreds of other things. There isn’t much hi-tech stuff. This isn’t the place to go for iPods or pirated software or movies.

If have something particular in mind that you want to buy it can be infuriating. You just seem to find shop after shop selling the same things that aren’t quite right. If you do find what you want the chances are that the price will be wrong. Since becoming a favorite tourist destination many of the shop owners have got wise to the fact that they can charge more and haggle less. As a general rule the further in you go, the cheaper the prices seem to get. You can pay in one shop 750 THB for an item that costs 100 THB at another. If you hold off buying thinking that you could get a cheaper price only to discover that the first place was better value you might have a headache retracing your steps. It all starts to look the same after 40 minutes in the market.

However, for the experienced shopper and professional shopper there are still some real bargains to be had in the market. It is much cheaper for many items then the big shopping malls such as MBK. Many make good relations with shop owners and go several times a year to stock up on goods that they sell on for a tidy profit. As is often the case in Thailand establishing friendly relations and bulk buying makes the chances of getting a big discount far more likely.

The smells of the market are interesting. There is incense and the smell of deep fried food in the air. You can smell plenty of cologne, perfume and body smells. There are the smells of animals and the occasional unpleasant whiff of vomit. Like a bazaar, masses of people are perched in small boxes with their wares facing the narrow walk way. Many of the shop workers are chatting or playing with their smart phones.

Americanification has set in at Chatuchak Market as with most of Bangkok. There are no smoking signs everywhere. Even outside the market huddle there’s no lighting up. The park outside upholds the same dictate. Naturally, it is not hard to find a few Thais surreptitiously defying these edicts. As in many of the late night spots there are ashtrays at every table.

Other than the smoking issue, Chatuchak Market remains one of the most interesting places to visit in Bangkok. It is like Camden Market in that the market has character and provides a barrage of sights, sounds and smells; moreover, you might find some great bargains.
Chatuchak Weekend Market