Thursday, January 29, 2009

2 Days in Bangkok for $100


There are lots of places you can stay in Bangkok for 280 baht ($8) or less. Check out Asha Guesthouse ($8 for a private double, meaning just $4 per person per night) or Sukhumvit On Nut Guesthouse (205 baht for a bed in a 4-bed dorm). Use sites like to find the best option for you. If you're traveling with a friend, you can get even cheaper deals by sharing a room. Set your budget around 280 baht per night for 2 nights to stay in the $100 overall budget.


You can easily eat in Bangkok for 300 baht ($8.50) per day or less. Choose a hotel or guesthouse near a shopping mall and eat fresh, authentic Thai food for just 35 baht ($1) per meal. Both lodging options given above area near shopping malls. Small bottles of water from the 7-11 are only 7 baht (20 cents), so avoid paying double the price in tourist areas or restaurants.

Continue reading how to get the most for your money here

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

First ESL Workbook & Teacher's Book Almost Finished!

Today I'm about to finish the first book/workbook/teacher's resource kit in an ESL series for the Ali Institute. The course is called Everyday English 1, and it's an 80-hour course for advanced beginners. I've got some minor editing to do, but the student workbook is 101 pages, the teacher's lesson plan book is 170 pages, and there's also 149 pages of photocopiable materials for quizzes, games, activities, and visual aids. Now I've got to figure out how to organize it all and get it published! Then I'm on to work on the English Language Teaching (ELT) post-graduate certificate program (3 months) and Everday English 2 (intermediate level English).

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Family Outing to Old Lahore

Yesterday we went with Sergio (the stranded Italian traveler) and our landlord's family to Old Lahore. Despite dark clouds threatening to dampen our day, the rain held off and we had a great time. We checked out the Red Fort (Lal Qila - tickets for Pakistanis 10 rupees, Foreigners 200 rupees), Badshahi Masjid, Makro, and ate at Kashmir Continental on Jail Road. Our landlord insisted that we should pay the Pakistani ticket price at the fort, because we are "just like Pakistanis" but the ticket collectors thought otherwise. If you are going with a Pakistani host, let them know that no matter how long you've been living in Pakistani you don't stand much of a chance of getting in without a Foreigner ticket. We've tried it, twice. We ended up getting the Foreigner Tickets and going in.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Loadshedding - An Integral Part of My Daily Life

Before I moved to Pakistan, I'd never heard the word 'loadshedding' before. I actually remember the moment when I learned the word. I was starting a new adult ESL class and we were statements with the verb "like" in negative and positive. One student, Kamran, made the sentence, "I don't like loadshedding," and I had to clarify what it was. At that time, in 2006, the power cuts were only a few hours a day. Several people who have been following this blog are planning to move to Pakistan, so here's a little snapshot of the daily loadshedding as of January 2009.

The power cuts are generally on the hour and go out for 60 minutes. Each neighborhood has a different schedule that changes after a few weeks. The schedule always seem to get out of whack when it rains for some reason. For the last week, the loadshedding schedule in Phase IV Defence has been as follows during the day:

6am - 7am Electricity
7am - 8am Electricity
8am - 9am Loadshedding
9am - 10am Electricity
10am - 11am Loadshedding
11am - 12pm Electricity
12pm - 1pm Loadshedding
1pm - 2pm Electricity
2pm - 3pm Loadshedding
3pm - 4pm Electricity
4pm - 5pm Loadshedding
5pm - 6pm Electricity
6pm - 7pm Loadshedding

Then a real treat, from 7pm to 1am (5 whole hours) there is electricity! Between 1am and 6am I'm not sure what the schedule is as I'm usually sleeping. I go to sleep around 9 or 10, so having such a long stretch of electricity so late at night doesn't do much good for me on weekdays. In a few weeks the schedule will change and we'll adjust our schedules all over again!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Lahore College MA TESOL Gold Medal Award 2009

During my time in Lahore, I’ve been able to be part of the MA TESOL program at Lahore College. I taught a few courses as visiting faculty and served as a research advisor for three students on their final thesis projects. After a long series of delays, the students defended their theses early this month. My group had finished their papers for the due date in September of 2008, but many of the other students did not complete their papers until over a year later. By the time the defense came around, the three students I worked with were all worried that they’d forgotten what they’d research or concluded. Despite having had such a long time lapse from the completion of the papers to the defense, they did fine before the panel.

Today I found out that one of my advisees, Sannia Hussain, got top marks on the thesis and the got the highest average GPA of the entire class. While most of the students in the program were fresh BA or B.Ed graduates, Sannia came back to do her masters after her children had grown up and were on their way to college themselves. After working on the thesis together, we’ve become good friends and I’m very proud of her for this accomplishment. Congratulations to Sannia and the entire graduating class of MA TESOL!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

4 hours and 1200 rupees later

Well yesterday I finally did get my bag out of customs. For anyone else crazy enough, or patient enough, to deal with picking up cargo in Lahore, I'll have an article about how to do it up in a few weeks. The short version is that I left my house at 9:30 and returned at 1:30 with my bag and less 1200 rupees for the delivery order, storage and handling fees, customs clearance, and customs paperwork fees. I arrived at the airport at 10:00. The customs officers arrived at 10:45, although the office opens at 9:00am.

In other news, we still haven't been able to apply for the authorization code for Sergio's visa, as he doesn't have any internet banking or credit cards and American accounts can't be used due to the sanctions on Iran. We've been trying for three days just to pay the fee to get the code. For anyone thinking of traveling to Iran, start the visa process early! Give yourself at least one month to get the code and visa, and make sure you have access to a non-American credit card or debit card.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Why Did I Believe ANYTHING in Pakistan Would be Easy?

I had a bit too much baggage when I left Bangkok, so I decided to take advantage of shipping 10 kg via ThaiPac Cargo on Thai Airways. When I got the final price for the baggage, it was totally not worth it, but by then I was on my way to my flight and had no other options. Anyway, today I got a call that my bag had arrived safely and I could come pick it up. I naively thought this would be a straightforward process. Well, after at least an hour at the airport and an hour in traveling there and back, I still don't have my bag. I spent the afternoon getting calls on my mobile from some random guy telling me to meet him because he supposedly had my bag, being misdirected all over the cargo complex (a huge area), and having men harass me telling me I needed to hire them as agents. By the time I paid for my delivery order (yes you have to pay 400 rupees just to pick up your baggage, even though you've already paid $60 for it to be shipped) and found the customs clearance, there wasn't enough time to complete the process. I was told the paperwork for customs take at least two hours, most likely more, and that I would need to come back tomorrow. Joy!

I'm bit concerned as other customers were telling me it's impossible to clear customs without agent. I have no idea what they could charge me for my half-used toiletries and dirty clothes, but I'm sure they'll find a way to get some money out of me and certainly a LOT of time. There goes my day tomorrow...Remind me NEVER to ship anything by cargo to Pakistan, or any developing nation, ever again in my life. This is ridiculous!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Asha Guest House: A Great Budget Option in Bangkok

Asha Guest House may be a bit removed from Bangkok's main attractions, but it really is a gem when it comes to comfortable, clean, budget accommodation.


Located in a suburb in the north of the city, Asha Guest House is a 15-minute walk (or 40 baht taxi ride) from the Saphan Kwai BTS (Skytrain station). The Saphan Kwai station is right next to a Big C mall and food court where you can get cheap food and buy anything you forgot at home. If you take a taxi to Asha Guest House from the airport, it should be about 350 - 400 ($10 - $11.50) baht, including the tolls. From Saphan Kwai station, you can get anywhere you need to in the city. The Skytrain is cheap, efficient, and comfortable. For just 40 baht ($1.15), you can go all the way to the other end of city by train. Asha Guest House's location is great because it's quiet and there's not so many other tourists around. Staying here you get to see a normal Thai neighborhood, and you won't come across any touts or scammers.

Continue reading review here

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sergio: The Stranded Traveler

Well it's two days later and it looks like our surprise house guest may be in Lahore for a while. Our household has been a mix of communication between Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, some French words and English, and we haven't been able to find the part for Sergio's Fiat RV. Our landlord had the idea to purchase a whole new front suspension system from a Japanese vehicle and put it in place of the current suspension system in the RV. This would take less time than getting brake discs custom made, but would it even work? Sounds a bit risky when he's got two continents to cover.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Surprise House Guest

Duarte returned from India yesterday with a surprise guest, an Italian overlander trying to drive from Calcutta back to Italy. All seemed well when I heard Duarte had caught a ride from the Wagha border to Lahore, until an hour later he called to say they'd broken down. Now, the car they were in was no normal car, but a massive Fiat RV with a full bed and stove set up inside! After I rescued them and got them some lunch, they spent the rest of the day driving around Lahore trying to find a match for the broken brake disc on the Fiat. Since nobody drives Fiats in Pakistan, and nobody drives RVs, the parts guys were not optimistic. Our new Italian friend, Sergio, may need to have a piece custom made or order it from Italy.

On top of that, he's trying to cross the border into Iran and doesn't yet have his visa authorization code. To get a visa to Iran, you need to first apply for an authorization code via private company, like Persian Voyages, and then wait a few weeks to get the code. When you apply, you tell them where you want to pick up the visa and then you can get it stamped in your passport at that location. If you don't have a code, it seems it can take quite a long time to get it from an Iranian embassy or consulate.

Traveling is always an adventure, especially in this part of the world!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Back in Lahore, Bangkok Photos Up

Now that I'm back in Lahore I only have internet when there's electricity (12 hours a day), but it's faster than the connections I had in Bangkok. So here's links to some of the albums of Bangkok photos:

From Grand Palace

From Mall Madness

From Buddhist Temples (Wats) in Bangkok

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Care for Some Hot Chili Squid Chips?

I always think it's interesting to see what flavors of chips Lay's has in different countries. In Pakistan and India, many of the chips are red hot chili flavored like local snacks. Here in Thailand, many of the snacks are fish or seaweed flavored. People eat seaweed as a snack, or they might munch on dried fish. Lay's has followed suit with these two flavors shown in the picture: Hot Chili Squid and Garlic Soft Shell Crab. The other day I tried the Nori Seaweed flavored Lay's and they were quite tasty!

Bangkok Grand Palace Trumps Taj

People say the Taj Mahal is the most magnificent building in the world, but they must not have seen the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok, Thailand. The Taj costs about $20 to get into, while this giant complex of buildings costs only $10 (350 baht) for foreigners to enter.

Quite honestly, I was a bit bored after staring at the Taj waiting for the sun to come up for over an hour. At the Grand Palace, there are so many buildings and little details in the decor and architecture. It could keep you busy for hours. Not to mention there are numerous museums housed inside the palace complex.

I was a bit wary to pay the 350 baht to get in, but after reading about the extensive reconstruction efforts that take place every 50 years, and seeing all the exquisite stone work and mosaics, I didn't regret paying the admission fee!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

My Day with May Kaidee

From Thai Cooking with May Kaidee

Today I learned how to make 10 Thai dishes at the May Kaidee cooking school. It was lots of fun and I really learned a lot. One of the dishes we made was green papaya salad. See more photos by clicking on the link below the picture.

From Thai Cooking with May Kaidee

Some Like it HOT!

From Tourist Boat Views in Bangkok, Thailand

Thais certainly like their red hot chili peppers! When I hopped off the Tourist Boat yesterday I found myself wandering around in a huge fruit and vegetable market next to Pak Klong Tarad, the city's largest fresh flower market. Both are located near Memorial Bridge. You can get flowers for as little as 10 to 15 baht, so if you're in Bangkok be sure to buy some for someone special. : )

From Tourist Boat Views in Bangkok, Thailand

Street Food

From Chinatown, Bangkok

Everywhere in Bangkok it smells of fresh food being cooked. You can hear the sound of stir frying and noodles sloshing in hot pans as you walk down the street. Since arriving here in Thailand, I've seen street food within walking distance of every neighborhood. It seems that many Thais prefer to bring food home than to cook, and many times it's much cheaper to do this than to prepare it yourself. Near the guest house I'm staying at, every morning I see vendors setting up their shops and start cooking up tasty treats. They have sausages, meats, seafood, noodle dishes, rice, soups, and all sorts of fresh vegetables ready to cook. Most have one or two stools and small metal or plastic tables, but the majority of buyers take the food in plastic bags with them and bring them home or to their offices.

The top is a picture of seafood ready to buy for cooking, and the bottom is a picture of "take away" food in plastic bags. Both of these photos were taken in Chinatown, but you'll see similar scenes all over the city.

From Chinatown, Bangkok

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Day on the Tourist Boat

Today I took the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat for 120 baht ($3.40). For that price, I was able to hop on and off the boat traveling back and forth between about a dozen piers for the whole day. The cool river breezes were a great way to get out of the midday heat, and there were so many things to see I only managed to do about half of the main sights! If you're in Bangkok, this is a great way to see the city, especially because the Skytrain (BTS) and the Underground (MRT) don't have stops along the river.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Lost in an 8 Floor Mall - MBK

I think I visited the largest mall I've ever set foot in today, MBK near National Stadium in Bangkok. I entered on the 3rd floor and neglected to take a map with me to navigate the mall. Yes, in this mall, you actually need a map or tour guide to get yourself around! I'm sure after a few times you'd get the hang of it, but at first it just seemed to go up, down and forward forever. I was totally overwhelmed.

Despite being a bit lost, I was able to find a lot of things I was looking for. I trekked back to my guest house with three large bags filled to the max. In Pakistan, it can be very expensive to buy Western clothes. Aside from the cost, most styles available in women's clothing are only suitable for teenagers or going out to a club. In Bangkok, you can find everything for a fraction of the cost it would be in the United States. While looking for suits, I realized that many Thai school girls wear skirts, blouses and sometimes jackets to class. There were entire stores filled with every size and style of black, gray, navy and brown skirts. Short, medium, long, A-line, pleated, pencil, mini, whatever in any size that a Thai girl may be. I had to go for the medium sizes, but by buying a few items at the uniform shops, I was able to get those things cheaper than getting them made to order at a regular tailor.

Phew! I'm exhausted and I only did the 3rd floor, the food court and the ground floor. I didn't even get to the other five floors. Can you believe there are several other big malls and shopping centers just a stone's throw from MBK?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Discovering Bangkok

I think I'm starting to really relax for the first time since I arrived back on the subcontinent in July 2008. I forgot what it's like to walk around outside without beggars following me everywhere, people pushing and shoving in line, and having absolutely no personal space. To the credit of the Pakistanis, there was a bit of drama yesterday at the airport when the courteous line-standers gathered together to make the notorious queue jumpers (line jumpers) get at the back of the line where they belonged. This was the first time I saw Pakistanis, most families, come together to put rude and impatient people in their place. I must admit I joined in with the courteous line-standers and asked a few people myself what line they were standing in. It just takes one person to say something, because everyone is bothered when they're standing patiently in line for hours and impatient people just push and shove and go in front of everyone else like they're someone important. If they think they're that important, they should fly first class. Anyway, back to Bangkok.

Today I met up with another Associated Content producer and teacher, Fabletoo, and she helped me navigate Chatuchuk weekend market. It was incredible! There was just so many things to buy in so many colors and sizes. Shopkeepers weren't pushy and nobody was noisily hawking his wares. Sellers offered discounts from the marked prices before we even asked for a deal. It was a very pleasant and relaxing experience! I did not feel uncomfortable or pressured at all while shopping. In Pakistan and India, I'm always tense because people stand two inches away from trying to "assist" me. This makes me feel SO uncomfortable that I generally make a beeline for the exit and don't buy anything. Thais certainly give more personal space while shopping.

Chatuchuk Market is something you must see if you visit Thailand. It's just overwhelming how much stuff is for sale, and the quality and presentation of everything just makes you want to buy more and more! Aside from all the clothing, accessories, and household wares, there a pervading aroma of street food being cooked up all around. Those of you who know me, know that I'm not much of a shopper, but I was so excited to see so many cool things I just didn't know what to do with myself!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Arrival in the Land of Smiles

I think I'm in culture shock! When I left the Bangkok airport, I did not have to fight through crowds of taxi walas and rickshaw walas. I actually got helpful information from a cheerful man selling bus tickets, even though the bus I needed was not available through his company. Then I stood at a shuttle bus stop, with about 50 Thais, and nobody even talked to me! It was crazy, compared to being in Pakistan. I was in for another shock when I was in a taxi and the driver had the meter working before I asked him (or begged him) to use it. He even offered to use his own phone to get directions to my guest house. The highway from the airport felt like a superhighway, and I saw brightly lit skyscrapers as I drove towards where I was staying. Can you believe, there's an automatic washing machine that I can use for free!

You may not get excited about that, but I haven't used a washing machine to do my normal washing since June of 2007. I'll have to use it just for fun.