High food prices in 2010 – Grow your own veggies!

In 2008, food prices soared,along with fuel prices, reaching their highest level in 30 years. This created the worst food crises in recent memory. In 2010, food prices grew again, amidst natural disasters and drought hitting countries around the globe. Of course, high food prices make farmers happy, as it encourages them to plant more crops. But, what is the typical consumer to do when food and fuel prices continue to rise.

Source: http://www.fao.org/worldfoodsituation/FoodPricesIndex/en/

One answer to this problem to grow some of our own food. This can be done, even on a small scale, if one can grow vegetables and herbs in containers or a small garden. All it takes is a little soil and a little care to grow your own food.

Luckily, in Thailand, we are blessed with great conditions for growing food all year round. It’s been said that you can throw seeds on the ground and things will just grow. However, to get a good production of vegetables, it’s best to do a little preparation to make sure you are improving the conditions for your plants, since it will all determine the quality of the products that you get out. You need to “feed” the plants for them to produce well.  It’s all going into your body, so we want to grow high quality vegetables.

Of course, when you grow our own vegetables you do not want to use pesticides. This is another benefit of growing your own vegetables. Many growers use pesticides to make sure their crops are unblemished since those are the beautiful fruits and vegetables we all look for when we got to the market. Some of the crops which use the most pesticides are watermelon and cabbage (at least in Thailand.

If more people grew their own food, it would help promote food security and development. As we saw with the recent flooding, there are times when food production areas are hit by disasters, thereby reducing the supply of food at those times. In think this idea is something that is well promoted by HRH King Bhumphipol’s Sufficient Economy (Por Peang) and goes in line with leading a sustainable lifestyle.

It won’t solve all of the problems resulting from high food prices, but spending a little less at the market each week will all add up.

Vespas are Useful Delivery Vehicles

Old Vespas are commonly used in the Yaowarat (China Town) and Pahurat (Little India) areas of Bangkok. They are useful as delivery vehicles because they can carry large, bulky and heavy loads while zig-zagging through traffic. Unlike modern motorbikes that are more commonly used for transportation these days, Vespas have a low center of gravity which makes them ideal for hauling these heavy loads without losing balance. The space in front of the ride provides additional space for placing items between the rider’s legs. If you are in Yaowarat or Pahurat, keep your eyes out for Vespas as they are zooming around. You’ll be surprised the size of the loads that they carry around!

5 Free Thai iPhone Apps

1. BKK Transit

Bangkok’s BTS Skytrain and MRT Subway systems are not very extensive compared to London’s Tube or the Paris Metro, but this handy app can make it easier to find out where you want to go. BKK Transit lists the attractions at each stop, such as local markets. Even more useful is its Chao Praya Express boat route info.

2. iTraffic

The most useful app for battling Bangkok’s daily gridlock, this graphic-based program lets you see what the traffice situation looks like using a simple coloring code: green means “go” and red means “stop”. iTraffic is only available in Thai, but it’s still handy for showing to taxi drivers.


3. Major Movie

The helpful app makes it possible to get correct movie programs and showtimes for movies showing in any Major Cineplex movie theater. It has Thai/Eng languages and provides information about movies as well as where they are being shown. This app makes planning a night at the movies possible on the go.


4. Bangkok Post News

Even the Bangkok Post, Thailand’s largest English newspaper, has a dedicated iPhone app. To keep up with current events in Bangkok and the region, this app is worth the download.


5. Nation News

This new app from the Nation newspaper is packed with real-time news about Thailand. Keep up with the local news easily with this iphone app.


Strategic Car Ditching to Avoid Bangkok Traffic

As a Bangkok commuter living in the suburban areas of the city, I find travelling by private car a necessity. Most days travelling to and from work is the main priority, but things get more complicated on the occasions I need to go into the Sukhumvit or Sathorn area of Bangkok.
Whenever possible, I’d suggest using the BTS skytrain or MRT subway lines if it is convient. There are designated parking lots situated at the certain stations like Mochit, Thailand Cultural Center, and Queen Sirikit Center for BTS and MRT passengers. When using these parking lots, remember to stamp your parking cars at your destination station to get the lower parking rate. One word of caution, check the times of operation for these parking lots since most close at 1:00 am. If you have not collected your car, you will have to pay a rediculous overnight fee.

Bangkok Traffic Pictures

Here are some photos to help people visualize traffic situations in Thailand. All of these pictures were take along Pitsanulok Road heading towards Thammasat University and Ta Praatid on a Friday afternoon. I normally commute between Ratchadapisek area and Thammasat in the late afternoon. This takes roughly 45 minutes on average, but there have been occassions where it takes 2-3 hours!!


Colorful Bangkok Taxis

In New York the typical taxi color is black and yellow, but in Bangkok you’ll get a full range of colors from bright pink and orange to combinations of orange and green or blue and red. Taxis run 24/7 in Bangkok, although it can be hard to find an available taxi during morning and evening hours. It is especially difficult to grab a taxi when it is raining. The bright colors of Bangkok taxis make them easy to identify in the jumbled mess of Bangkok traffic.

rightMake sure you use metered taxis whenever possible as the taxi fare is calculated using a system of distance and/or time that is standard. However, if you do get in a taxi and the taxi driver doesn’t want to turn on the meter you can either get out and try to get another taxi or negotiate a flat fare beforehand. Metered taxis generally have the picture and license information of the driver posted in the taxi car. The license of the taxi is also posted in the taxi car in case you have difficulties with a certain taxi driver and need to make a complaint.

Thai-style Car Wash

I love getting my car washed in Thailand. There are always so many people working on my car and it’s 100% hand wash. There’s an entire range of wash and cleaning services to choose from. You can even get your engine or undercarriage washed and upholstery shampooed. Most car washing services are located at gas stations and lots of times there are minimarts or little coffee shops where you can grab a drink or a snack while you wait for your car to be washed.

The best thing of all is the price. For 80 baht, roughly $2.50, I can get a basic wash and interior vacuum. For 300 baht, roughly $10, I can get a wash, interior vacuum and exterior buff. For a bit of extra nice treatment, I can get a wash, interior vacuum, exterior buff and wax for 600 baht, or $20. I was accustomed to paying $10 before tip for the most basic car wash in the United States, so the car wash prices in Thailand are very reasonable.
Anyone driving a motorcycle can also use the car wash services to get their ride washed and detailed.

Parking Cars the Thai Way

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Take a look around most parking lots in Thailand, you’ll notice that most people park by backing their cars in. This took a little for me to get used to as the skills required for backing a car into a parking spot in a crowded parking garage is not something your typical American knows how to do. After much practice, I think I’ve grasped the basic idea, but I do struggle when I’m in a hard to maneuver situation.

Why do Thais back into their parking spots? Most people I’ve talked to say that it’s easier to drive out of the parking spot when you are parked with the front of your car facing the way you need to go. In this case, all you need to do is put your car in gear, take a look in front of you and drive away. But, if you parked with your head in first, it is difficult for you to see the cars behind you when you are pulling out to leave. This can be especially frustrating in parking garages or when other cars don’t want to stop to let you back out.

The other thing that Thais say is the benefit of backing into a parking spot is that when you find your parking spot and start backing in, you have a very clear view of the cars around you. Other drivers are aware of what you are doing and those behind you have to wait for you to finish backing in. They think that backing out of a spot is more likely to cause accidents since the driver has a much more restricted view of the cars behind him.

The Thai viewpoint on parking by backing into a parking spot is well taken and in the case of parking in Bangkok, where drivers tend to be a bit impatient, makes a lot of sense. Generally, I try to follow what other people who are parked are doing in order to keep in line with the parking norms. Parking in Thailand has definitely improved my ability to maneuver in tight places and drive in reverse. Now, if only I could fine tune my ability to parallel park.

Horrific Traffic on a Rainy, Friday Night

I experienced one of the most trying traffic situations this evening as I spent almost three hours sitting in my car. I was trying to go from my work in the Meng-jai area of Bangkok to Thammasat University for my Friday evening lecture. Normally, this journey across town takes around an hour or so. I usually leave a good hour and a half to get to Thammasat and a little more time to find parking in order to be in class by 6:30 pm.

Of course, I was running a little late today and the rain complicated matters. I tried to bypass traffic by taking the Ramintra Motorway to the Rama 9 Motorway and then getting off on the Yommarat exit. This tactic normally works very well and gets me through rush hour traffic with relatively few problems. But, I soon as I was within a few kilometers of the Yommarat exit, I knew something was wrong because cars were already stopped and waiting to get off.

I spent over an hour simply inching along the motorway, trying to get off at the Yommarat exit. I soon as I could see the intersection at the end of the motorway off-ramp I saw the reason for the hold up. The lefthand lanes which were head to Lan Luang were at a stand still and the majority of the cars were trying to go in that direction. I made the decision to go down Pitsanulok Road, even though I knew it was block off by the protesters a few intersections down.

Once I got past that crazy intersection and found an alternate route on Si Ayutthya Road, I arrive at Thammasat twenty minutes later without any further difficulties. I must say though that spending so much time stuck in a car can make one a little stir crazy. Traffic is one of the most frustrating things about living in Bangkok and trying to get around the city, especially in the rain.

U-turns in Bangkok

A friend of my who visited Thailand once commented on the number of u-turns that exist in Bangkok. It seems that Thai civic engineers love using u-turns instead of allowing intersections. The logic behind this decision may be that instead of using red lights, which stop traffic, using u-turns allow traffic to flow continuously at all times. U-turns are used especially in conjunction with flyovers and bridges. This is especially true in the city where traffic conditions are especially bad and u-turns are used frequently. Large roads like Vibhavadi-Rangsit Road even has u-turns that go overhead in order to avoid stop traffic on that busy street.

The use of u-turns in Bangkok often restricts going straight on a road or making a right hand turn. For example, when I drive on the Ekkami-Ramintra Road and want to head towards my house, I have to make a left hand turn onto Kaset-Nawamin Road and then a u-turn at the next traffic light. Additionally, I cannot make a right hand turn into my soi because there is a cement center divider. I have pass my soi and make another u-turn in order to make a left hand turn at my soi. All these u-turns means that driving in Bangkok is often more difficult to maneuver than simply knowing where your destination is because you also have to figure out the complicated roads.

U-turns are places where drivers should be very carefully. Tonight on the drive home I saw an accident at a u-turn where the car making a u-turn obviously pulled in front of traffic and caused a collision. Cars making u-turns need to take care to stay to the rightmost lane as much as possible and watch for the cars heading towards them. Likewise, the cars which are going straight would be wise to change lanes as they approach u-turns. There are usually signs posted at 100 meter intervals starting at around 500 meters to let you know when the next u-turn is coming up. Of course, you should also slow down a bit and keep a watch out for those who are trying to make a u-turn.