Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Book Review: Off the Rails in Phnom Penh: Into the Dark Heart of Guns, Girls, and Ganja

A book review I hear you're engaging in intellectual persuits rather than getting inebriated and watching the Gooners!!!

What's wrong with you Penfold? Have you suffered some kind of cranial trauma or been visited by the ghost of Evelyn Waugh?

Actually, it's a book that will appeal to a broad range of people and not just pipe smoking English professors!!!

Far from being an artsy-fartsy critique on the works of Proust or Dostoevsky it's a simple review of Amit Gilboa's best-selling book, entitled, "Off the Rails in Phnom Penh: Into the Dark Heart of Guns, Girls, and Ganja".

As the title suggests, it's a lurid exposé of the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, vividly describing the daily lives and exploits, of a "colourful" group of expats.

It caused a real stir in South East Asia, when it was published in 1998, due its disturbing content, searing honesty and its darkly humourous portrayal of modern day Cambodia.

The poweful combination of alcohol, drug abuse and prostitution, coupled with the brutal picture that it painted of violence, social degradation and human immorality, upset our delicate 20th century Western sensibilities!!!

Critics have said that the book is nothing more than sensationalism and tabloid-style trash, which glorifies the undiginified behaviour of perverted, pot-smoking slackers, which, to a certain extent is true, with its tales of visiting brothels, casual violence and drug taking.

But, from the moment Gilboa put pen to paper, this book was destined to challenge the writers of more genteel travelogues and he never intended to regale us with erudite prose à la Bill Bryson or Ernest Hemmingway.

For a first time author, the book is well very written and an extremely worthwhile read. It is funny and shocking in equal measures and also touches nicely on Cambodian history, society and the current political and social problems.

Gilboa is a very observant writer and the book is full of a quirky mix of styles, from narrative to diary entries to bizarre character sketches. He skilfully introduces the reader to the duality and fragility of life in modern day Cambodia and it is possible to draw some faint parallels to the work of Joseph Conrad and William Golding.

What becomes evident, is that he is trying to make sense of world in which all standards of behaviour and decency have completely broken down and the abnormal has become the norm.

I particularly like his non-judgemental perspective on the situations he encounters and the people around him. There is a sense of worldliness about his writing (which is unusual for a Yank!!!) and he approaches his subject matter with impartiality. He doesn't try to impose his own beliefs or values on the reader which is sometimes the case with the works of other writers who tackle similar subjects.

I highly recommend "Off the Rails in Phnom Penh" and for those of you contemplating a trip to Cambodia, it should be essential reading!!! Forget the Lonely Planet.....this book is the real introduction you need!!!!

The following excerpt gives you a taste of what to expect.......!!!!

".....Phnom Penh is a city of beauty and degradation, tranquillity and violence, and tradition and transformation; a city of temples and brothels, music and gunfire, and festivals and coups.
But for many, it is simply an anarchic celebration of insanity and indulgence. Whether it is the $2 wooden shack brothels, the marijuana-pizza restaurants, the AK-47 fireworks displays, or the intricate brutality of Cambodian politics, Phnom Penh never ceases to amaze and amuse. For an individual coming from a modern Western society, it is a place where the immoral becomes acceptable and the insane becomes normal......"

If you would like to know more about "Off the Rails in Phnom Penh", please visit Amit Gelboa's website at.....

Friday, January 15, 2010

A dog's life

A dog is supposed to be man's best friend, but a monk from the Sam Toei Temple in the Northern Thai town of Pitsanuloke, has taken this to a whole new level!!!!

The randy sexagenarian suffered a stroke, after playing a game of "hide the sausage" with one of the female temple dogs!!!
Locals living near temple were alerted to the unholy goings-on by blood-curdling howls (I don't know whether they were coming from the dog or the monk!!!) and fearing an axe-murderer was on the rampage they summoned the local constabulary.

When officers arrived they found Khun Phrapan Chitutasaro slumped on the floor, in a state of arousal, next to a bottle of washing up washing-up liquid.

Mmmmmm kinky!!!!

When and if Khun Phrapan regains consciousness, he is more likely to be facing criminal charges than receiving an invitation be a guest judge at next years Crufts Dog Show!!!

Officials at the temple quickly distanced themselves from the canine loving cleric, by saying he had refused to provide references from his previous temple and they were preparing to ask him to leave.

Khun Phrapan is now going to be the surprise recipient of Penfold's "Dirty Boy of the Year" award. I was going to give the gong to Tiger Woods, but, even his misdemeanours have been eclipsed by the shannanigans in Pitsanuloke.

Thanks to our friends at the Phuket Gazette for this rib-tickling story and if you would like to read the full report please click the following link.......

Friday, January 8, 2010

Celebrity Interview Number 3: Tony Blair

Joining me in the hot seat today, fresh from bringing peace and stability to the Middle East (well almost!!!) is former prime minister Tony Blair.

Tony, my readers will appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to have a beer with me and put the world to rights.....

I agree Penfold, this is a chance to connect with your readers and is not the time for shameless political point scoring and sound bites......

But I must say that I'm disappointed David Cameron has yet to grant you an interivew and...I feel the hand of history on my shoulder, when I sit here with you today, discussing South East Asian development...

Righty ho Tony......moving swiftly on!!!!

With the on-going Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war, aren't you anxiously looking over his shoulder in case representatives from the International Criminal Court pay you a visit?

Penfold, I thought I was here to discuss the merits of ladyboy threesome's and visits to soapy massage parlours in Bangkok and not to get involved in the drudgery of political inquiries!!!!

I see you've not lost your ability to duck a question since retiring from British politics, Tony!!!

Before inviting you here today, I asked my readers to submit any questions they would like me to ask you.....

The first is from G. Brown in Kirkcaldy, and I think it says, although I can't be 100% sure because the hand writing's so bad.......Do you have any advice about how to improve your popularity with the ladies?

Ah, this must be another of your readers trying to score with more hot chicks when they go to Thailand.

Well, its rather easy. You have to smile inanely, wear a nice suit and simply tell the girls what they want to's a bit like politics really!!!

The next question for you is from a Mr. A. Darling in London and he says.....your wife is a minger, have you ever thought about running away to Thailand?

Cherie has many fine qualities and is a wonderful human being, but standing next to a Soi Cowboy go-go dancer most ladies would look like they've just lost a fight with with a wombat!!!

Talking of running away to Thailand, I must admit that I have a secret crush on Tata Young and I do occassionally think of her as I'm slipping Cherie one!!!!

But if Cherie ever found out about it, boy oh boy, I'd be strung up quicker than David Carradine!!!

The next question comes from the unfortunately named Edward M. Balls and he says.....When visiting Thailand, do you have any advice on how to spot a ladyboy?

It is very difficult to spot them here in Thailand as they are often very nice looking and after a few drinks they can easily be mistaken for the real thing.

Unlike most trannies who look like a cross between George Dubya Bush and Margaret Thatcher!!!

My tips for spotting a ladyboy are:

1) Always look for the disproportionately large hands and feet.

2) Check the way "she" walks. If there is an exaggerated swing of hips, then she is a he!!!

3) The Adam's apple is a dead give away!!!!

4) The last resort is to listen to the voice and if she sounds like the Walrus of Love, Barry White then god help you.

The only way to be 100% sure, is to do a "Crocodile Dundee" and have a thorough feel!!!!

That seems like an ideal point to end the interview, Tony.... all that's left is to thank you for your time today.....

Friday, January 1, 2010

Thailand Events Calendar 2010

Welcome to my first post of this new year and new decade.

I hope you enjoyed the festivities and are recovering from your over indulgences!!!!

I thought the best way to kick-off 2010 would be with a "What's on guide", highlighting some of the most exciting events taking place in Thailand this year.


The Phuket International Boat Show (7th - 10th January)

If you have some spare cash in your piggy bank and are looking to splash out on a yacht, or even if you just fancy a nice day out, then I would like to point you in the direction of the Phuket Marina Exhibition and Conference Center. The annual Phuket International Boat Show markets itself as "Thailand's premier boating and lifestyle event" and this year it features over 80 exhibitors and 45 yachts.

The Royal Trophy Golf Tournament (8th - 10th January)

This is one of the premier events for golf fanatics in Thailand. The annual Europe vs Asia contest is held at the exclusive Amata Spring Country Club. It is a 3-day team match-play event, similar to the Ryder Cup, with both sides aiming to get their hands on the Royal Trophy.

The Bor Sang Umbrella & Sankampaeng Handicraft Festival (18th - 20th January)

For those of you who like a little more refinement and displays of traditional Thai culture, a trip to Bor Sang or the "Umbrella Village", on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, is a must.

Every year the inhabitants celebrate their craft skills during the eponymous "Bor Sang Umbrella Festival". The festival features contests, exhibitions, a Miss Bor Sang pageant and market stalls selling umbrellas and other handicrafts.


Chiang Mai Flower Festival (5th - 7th February)

This annual festival, which has been running since 1977, is a real spectacle and one that I had the pleasure of witnessing 5 years ago.

The event takes place over a 3 day period and includes competitions, a food fair, live music and floral displays. The most eagerly anticpated part of the festival is the beautiful "Grand Parade" from Nawarrat Bridge to Suan Bok Haat. I can guarantee that visitors will be awestruck by the ornately decorated floats and sculptures of animals, temples and folkloric characters that are made entirely of flowers.

Bangkok Chinese New Year Festival (14th February)

The Chinese New Year celebrations in Bangkok are a riot of colour, culture and noise!!!

Thailand's large Chinese community ring in the New Year with spectacular firework displays and cultural performances including dragon processions, lion dancing and Chinese opera.

It is also a great opportunity to to enjoy some authentic Chinese cuisine.

Magha Puja (Sangha Day) (18th February)

This is a very important Buddhist holy day and celebrates the occasion when 1250 of the Buddha's Arahantas or disciples spontaneously gathered to hear him preach.

Ceremonies and prayers take place during the day, at temples throughour the country. At night, candlelight processions are staged around monastery chapels. Magha Puja, as with many Thai festivals, is governed by the lunar calendar. Magha is the third lunar month of the old Indian calendar and usually falls somewhere toward the end of February or early March.


World Thai Martial Arts Festival & Waikru Muaythai Ceremony (10th - 17th March)

The ancient capital of Ayutthaya is home to the annual World Thai Martial Arts Festival and Wai Khru Muay Thai Ceremony.

For individuals trained in the ancient Thai art of boxing or ‘Muay Thai’, the annual Wai Khru Muay Thai Ceremony held during the annual Thai Martial Arts Festival is the most important date on their calendar. Muay Thai boxers from around the world return to Ayutthaya to pay respect to their teachers, and to pay homage to the legendary Muay Thai folk hero, Nai Khanom Tom.

King's Cup Elephant Polo Tournament (15th - 22nd March)

Teams from all over the world come to the Anantara Resort in the Golden Triangle to compete in the week long tournament. Spectators can watch the opening parade, feed the elephants and watch "Chukka" or two.

All profits go to the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre in Lampang, Northern Thailand, which provides welfare for more than 4000 wild and domesticated elephants.

Pattaya International Music Festival (19th - 21st March)

Each year Thailand's famous beach resort of Pattaya hosts a 3-day music festival. Music loving tourists and locals can boogey the night away, at one of many free concerts staged by popular Thai and International artists.

Pattaya City's International Music Festival also features food, floral floats, beauty contests, a traditional craft market and a spectacular fireworks display on the beach.


Chakri Day (6th April)

This is the anniversary marking the founding of the present Chakri Dynasty, by King Rama I, and is celebrated with great enthusiasm throughout the country.

Bangkok gets especially festive during this public holiday, as it also marks the day it was established as the capital city in 1782.

Phra Nakhon Khiri Muang Phet Fair (10th - 19th April)

Between 10th -19th April the Phra Nakhon Khiri Muang Phet Fair takes place in Petchaburi.

It will feature a parade to honour the Kings of Thailand and performances from the Department of Fine Arts celebrating the traditional way of life in Phetchaburi. Other higlights include ox cart racing, nightly firework displays, cooking demonstrations and displays of local sweets. The event is organised to raise funds for the Phetchaburi Red Cross.

Songkran Festival (13th - 15th April)

The Songkran festival celebrates the Thai New Year, with three days of parades, parties and pageants, throughout the country.

The festival starts with Wan Sungkharn Long, which, like the Chinese New Year preparations, involves house cleaning and sweeping out the old in preparation for the New Year.

The following day, known as Wan Nao, sees the preparation of food for the following day's religious ceremonies. It's also traditional for people to go down to the riverbank and make chedis - little pagodas made of sand and decorated with flowers and streamers - each grain of sand is said to wash away a sin.

On the third day, Wan Payawan, is celebrated as the first day of the new year. There are early-morning ceremonies in the temples, with offerings of food and clothing, while at home images of the Buddha are cleaned with scented water. This is also the day when the water-throwing starts and the drenching of passers-by with water has become almost obligatory.


Yasothon Bun Bangfai Rocket Festival (5th - 9th May)

The festival originated as a way to worship the Rain God Vassakan and to stimulate the clouds, so there would be plenty of precipitation, thus creating ideal conditions for rice planting.

For the duration of the festival, teams launch their massive rockets into the skies in an effort to reach the greatest height. The rockets, often hazardous bamboo contraptions, containing up to 25kg of gunpowder, are enough to give a poor health and safety inspector a coronary!!!!

Traditional feasting and beauty pageants add to the merriment of the occassion.

Visakha Buddha Bucha Festival (22nd – 28th May)

This is the holiest day in the Buddhist calendar and Thais celebrate in style by offering donations and prayers and taking part in candelit evening processions at temples all over the country.

Vesak Day held on the first full moon day in May, marks the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha. Thais believe that they must build up positive karma by doing good deeds and this provides the opportunity for communal merit-making.

Chanthaburi Fruit Festival (24th May - 1st June)

This annual festival takes over the town of Thung Na Choei in Chanthaburi and is a must for fans of tropical fruit. Highlights include fruit floats, agricultural exhibitions and contests and the Princess Cup Dog Contest. The action kicks off with an impressively coloured parade.

Koh Samui Regatta (31st May - 5th June)

The Koh Samui Regatta features yacht racing, cocktail parties and beachside fun in Chaweng and is popular with Thailand's great and good.

With over 300 international participants, the regatta promises plenty of entertainment and some fantastic live sailing action.


Hua Hin Jazz Festival (12th - 14th June)

This popular event attracts world class jazz musicians from all over the world.

Thousands of visitors gather to enjoy "jazz on the beach", a series of concerts staged by local and international bands.

Other activities on offer include jazz workshops, local food stalls, markets and prize draws.

Asia International Guitar Festival (17th - 20th June)

From the 17th to 20th June, the Siam City Hotel in Bangkok plays host to world renowned international guitarists including Roberto Limon, Roman Viazovskiy and Leon Koudelak.

There will be a series of morning masterclasses followed by afternoon or evening concerts and the opening day will also feature a "Fiesta Mexicana"!!!!

Tour de Isan (27th June - 7th July)

The 3rd Annual Tour de Isan is an 11 day charity bicycle tour through the Northeast region of Thailand, known as "Isan."

This event starts in the town of Nong Khai and the Thai/Laos border and then winds 800 kilometers along the mighty Mekong River to Ubon Ratchathani with some days off along the route for rest, relaxation, and sightseeing.


Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival (15th - 16th July)

With the commencement of the Khao Phansa or Buddhist Lent, the northeastern city of Ubon Ratchathani put on a show presenting beautifully carved beeswax candles, some of them several meters tall. They are put on parade before being presented to local temples.

Pattaya International Marathon (18th July)

The yearly Pattaya International Marathon is one of the most famous marathons in Thailand. There are three races ; the full marathon, the half marathon and the quarter marathon which attract runners of all standards.

Hua Hin Regatta (Dates to be confirmed)

At the end of July, over 300 competitors from Thailand and around the world gather for the annual Hua Hin Regatta, organised by Yacht Racing Association of Thailand.

It takes place at Hua Hin Naval Yacht Club and is an exciting and colouful event.


Hat Yai Nature Run (9th August)

Fun runners gather outside the Prince of Songkla University for the Hat Yai Nature Run. Choose between the half marathon, quarter marathon, fun run and family run. There's no age restriction, making this a fun day out for all.

H.M. the Queen’s Birthday Celebrations (12th August)

In honour of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit's birthday, coloured lights and decorations adorn Bangkok's Ratchadamnoen Avenue and the streets around the Grand Palace.

Head to the Sanam Luang field, for a huge fun festival of music, Thai arts and culture.

Bhumibol Dam International Mountain Bike Championship (29th - 30th August)

Bhumibol Dam near Tak in Northern Thailand, is the backdrop for Thailand's Invitation International Mountain Bike Championship. The race is divided into categories, according to standard, sex and age. Drop down steep slopes through jungle terrain, or opt for the steadier pace of gently rolling hills.


Bathing Buddha Ceremony (17th - 21st September)

The people of Phetchabun in central Thailand stage an ancient Buddhist celebration complete with a spectacular procession, cultural performances and the Bathing Buddha Ceremony or "Um Phra Dam Nam" in front of Wat Traiphum. The festival is held in honour of the Phra Buddha Mahadhamaracha image.

International Swan Boat Races (19th - 20th September)

Over 20 international teams glide down the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok during the International Swan Boat Races. The elaborately designed, narrow boats are a spectacular sight along the river with their bows shaped into mythical swan heads.

Bangkok International Film Festival (24th - 30th September)

Delve into Thai and South East Asian life on the big screen in cinemas across the capital at the annual Bangkok International Film Festival. There are over 100 feature films and documentaries squeezed into the programme.

Chon Buri Buffalo Racing (28th September - 4th October)

Water buffalo are used to ploughing fields in Thailand, but at the Chon Buri Buffalo Racing festival they are put to a very different use!!!!

The races are taken very seriously by the buffalo owners and they go to considerable lengths to ensure their buffaloes are in tip-top condition.

Side events include a folk music displays, a buffalo fancy dress contest and the ever popular Miss Buffalo Pageant.


Sakon Nakhon Wax Castle Festival (1st - 4th October)

The people of north-eastern town of Sakon Nakhon celebrate the end of the Buddhist Rain Retreat, Ok Phansa, with their Wax Castle Festival. Miniature Buddhist temples and shrines are moulded out of beeswax in order to bring good karma.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival (18th - 26th October)

Every first day of the ninth lunar month the streets of Phuket come to life with the Vegetarian Festival. Devotees push steel rods through their cheeks and tongues in a gruesome display, marking the start of a purification period.

The ceremonies date back to the mid-19th century when a travelling Chinese opera company fell gravely ill. Fearing that they had let down their Gods, the actors performed self-mutilation rites to try and cure themselves. It is also celebrated by devout Chinese all over the world, although the island's five temples are the most famous venues.

Naga Fireballs at Nong Khai Province (Full Moon Night only)

The Mekong River is home to a strange, beautiful and baffling phenomenon - the Naga Fireballs.

On the full moon night of October, coinciding with the end of the Buddhist Rains Retreat, hundreds of colourful fireballs rise out of the river.

The unexplained nature of the event and its coincidence with such a religious day has led local residents to believe the fire comes from the mythical Naga (a serpent), produced as a gesture of homage to the Lord Buddha.


Loi Krathong Sai Festival - River Ping near Tak (1st - 2nd November)

Activities will include the floating lanterns of the Royal Family, the procession of the Royal Krathong and lantern, the illumination of Krathong Sai, light and sound presentation, fireworks, water curtain presentation in “The Legend of Krathong Sai”, the longest Krathong Sai, local cultural shows and food.

The 22nd Monkey Party - Lopburi (27th November)

The annual festival takes place on the last weekend in November and is a major attraction for locals and foreign visitors alike.

Festivities include a monkey ‘tea party’ where macaques tuck into a spread of fruit, vegetables eggs and other treats all prepared in their honour. The monkeys devour about 2,000 kilograms of food, all provided by locals who believe donating the food will bring them good fortune.


Thailand International Balloon Festival (3rd - 6th December)

Thailand International Balloon Festival The Thailand International Balloon Festival, held in the ancient city of Ayutthaya, attracts thousands who come to watch gigantic, brightly coloured hot-air balloons drift up into the sky and the night-time display is a particular favourite.

Phuket King's Cup Regatta (provisionally 4th - 11th December)

The Phuket King's Cup Regatta is Asia's leading yacht-racing event, attracting competitors from as far away as the USA. Races are held in several class divisions, with trophies for the winner in each class

H.M. the King's Birthday Celebrations (5th December)

H.M. The King's Birthday takes precedence over all celebrations. As with the Queen's birthday, the area around Ratchadamnoen Avenue and the Grand Palace in Bangkok will be beautifully decorated and there will celebrations of Thai culture up and down the country.

There are far too many events happening in Thailand to list them all!!!! But I hope this cross-section gives you an idea of the wealth of things to do when you're in the Kingdom.

Please also be aware that the dates of some of the events listed will be subject to change, so it's wise to double check before you decide to attend any of them!!!!

If you would like me to list a new event or feature something in particular please let me know.