National Geographic Photo of the Day

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Kingdom of Thailand – Day 3 (16th June 2009)

Breakfast and we were in a taxi to the outskirts of Pattaya. Got to the “Million Years Stone Park and Crocodile Farm” at 10.30am. Went in and got onto a toy train which took us around the park (read – huge area of 70 acres). This park has a large variety of fossilized wood and big rocks that are nearly a million years old – all in different shapes and sizes.

There was this guy who threw in some fish food – frankly, it looked like pellets of Pedigree dog food – didn't know how those fish would get something that big down their throats. And then...... my question was answered. Out of the water from amongst the smaller fish arose 10 or 15 gigantic catfish, consumed the pellets and then became shadows beneath the surface once again. They were huge, almost as big as a shark.

Next, we saw a large number of crocodiles in a similar pond and the food that was thrown to them was gulped down whole.

There we watched a crocodile show. The show takes place in a big arena with different tiers of raised seating on the sides and a rectangular area in the middle with glass walls, some water, a cement strip towards the centre and lotsa crocs in it. This guy in a red dress, that we'd associate more readily with a Bruce Lee movie than Steve Irwin's Croc Files, steps out and into the tank while some of use brave souls with cameras stood just outside the glass walls (the walls came only up to my shoulder and we were all holding our digicams over the walls, hence the adjective).

The red dress guy dragged a few crocs about the place by their tails, narrowly avoiding being bitten on several occasions. All the while both he and the announcer went on in Thai, we had absolutely no idea what they were on about. He also put his hand in a crocodile's mouth all the way down to its throat, even removing the flap that seals off a croc's mouth from its throat. On top of that he would run and slide down the wet concrete floor from several metres away (on his belly) and end with his head between a croc's jaws. Now this guy had balls, but I don't see how he's gonna avoid getting them bitten off one day or another. Once the performance was over, we were invited to take a snap sitting on a crocodile.... for a 100 Baht (no picture you take with anything is ever free in Thailand). Took one myself :D

Beyond this croc pen there were elephant stables, with elephants of different sizes – small and large. Bought some bananas and gave a few to all of them. Then took another picture with one of the elephants lifting me up with his powerful trunk. A majestic animal indeed. My last close encounter with an elephant was back in my home state of Kerala (at Thekkady to be specific).

Following this we went around seeing all the wondeful animals they had here – tigers, lions, albino bears, usual bears, albino horses, camels, llamas, hornbills, cockatoos, macaws.... its a long list. A few 100-200 Bahts and a few more photos followed – with a bear, with a cuuuuuute little tiger (who jumped on me when the handler took away his bottle, but he was so cuuute and soft), and with a big Royal Bengal tiger (yes, a live one and she was named “Kamala”). Kamala would have had me for lunch if her handler wasn't there ;) , she was roaring inbetween pictures. But you get the true idea of the power and the majesty when you sit near this wonderful creature. Their numbers are down by about 90percent since the dawn of the century to about 2000 tigers remaining in the wild in India. To think that the Indian subcontinent is one of the last places where the tiger still stands a fighting chance and the Government is in the least bit worried about the sorry state of affairs in National Parks – forest guards defend themselves and the animals from poachers with single-shot rifles older than those of the Mumbai police constables. This is one animal that we cannot afford to lose, something that must be preserved for future generations.

Getting back to the trip, we saw everything that the park had to offer, all kept in neat and very spacious enclosures – unlike Indian zoos, of which Chennai's Anna Zoological Park is one of the better ones. Mum was too scared to sit anywhere near the animals, in her own words “I love animals and I admire them, but I'd rather do the admiring from a distance.” Around 1.30pm we left Million Years Stone Park and went to Pattaya's Walking Street, though we stopped at the entrance of walking street and walked along the Beach instead. Now this is a street which sees a lot of people ... ahem let's say “selling what they've got to offer” once the sun sets. But the stretch extends alongside the beach and you'll find every kind of restaurant you can imagine here – Persian, American, Indian, Japanese, Korean, German, French. There's everything from Burger King, McDonald's, KFC, Ristorante Italiano, Pizza Hut, Subway and other chain stuff to Swensen's Ice Cream (this is paradise I tell you), Food Wave, Deli France, Starbucks, Zen and Aka (Japanese places), and Haagen Daasz. This is just a smaaaaaaal sample of the numerous names here.

If you're shopping for footwear and clothes, you're spoilt for choice with bargains left, right and centre. Of course, I think its cheaper to buy stuff in India if you come from India.

We had lunch at DeliFrance and then went to Swensen's Real American Ice Cream. This is as I said earlier Paradise for anyone with a sweet tooth (I'll let the above images speak for themselves). Just a look at their Ice-cream menu will have you drooling. Our stomachs full, we took a taxi back to the resort at 4pm. It rained after that, and the view from the balcony was wonderful.

We had VIP tickets for the 7.30 show at “Tiffany's”. This is a show full of transvestite actors. Stop... check your thoughts, this isn't what you think. Its a family show (and I don't mean one where you come in alone and go out with a family :P). The actors are all heavily 'modified' – all sorts of cosmetic treatments and plastic surgery from head to toe. Though the brochure says “cabaret”, that doesn't really cover it. The objective of this program is not to arouse you, but to show a vast array of costumes from every part of the world - from Japan, China, India, Russia, Italy, Thailand, The British Empire, America etc - accompanied by the appropriate songs and dances.

In between there are some tongue-in-cheek gags which require audience participation too. The songs are arranged such that you initially have a slower or more traditional dance followed by a cabaret style dance accompanied by a faster beat off music from the same region, with costumes being pretty maleable, they can be modified even during the performance. The synchronous nature of the dance, beautiful sets and the stupendous costumes are indeed the highlight of the show. For us Indians, there was even a performance of “Do laare, Do laare” (complete with a palatial setting and customes) starting with filmi style dance and ending with a cabaret style dance similar to Yeh Mera Dil (though with a huge number of dancers). There were a few tunes of old times like “One Man Woman” and some country hits (both slow and fast). The money paid for the VIP seats was well worth it.

Once Tiffany's was over, we caught a taxi back to the hotel and had dinner at a little Thai restaurant next to the hotel. This was a small family-run place with lotsa animals – a few dogs and cats and cute little kitties too. We spent some time throwing tiny bits of food to a black cat and her kitty until we finished dinner and left.

Another day at Pattaya well spent. Damn, if only Chennai had Swensen's, then you'd hardly find me at college. Unlikely, but a man can dream.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Kingdom of Thailand - Day 2

We got up early today at 7.30am (Considering I usually get up at 11am during the holidays). Got ready, had breakfast and left the resort to go to the beach. From there we took a boat to a platform far away from the shore. Accompanying us was a guide who came as part of the package we had taken for today - The Coral Island tour - and an American and a Phillipino woman (nope, they weren't part of the package :P). This platform was essentially a large barge with a covered shelter built on top of it and half of it left open. Its a place from where you could go para-sailing. Around this barge there were speedboats moving in a wide circle and they had people with parachutes attached to them by a line from the stern.

I took a shot at it and it was certainly a nice feeling to fly effortlessly through the air. Of course, if the speedboat slowed down the parachute's altitude would decrease and you'd get dipped in the water before they sped up again and brought you back up to a 100 feet in the air. The guide (a Thai man) was all "Namaste" when he spoke to us, and it was really funny with that vegetable-cutting Thai accent.

After that we transferred to another boat (a slightly bigger one this time) and went on a 1 hour cruise. I could tell from the look on my Mum's face that she wasn't quite enjoying the up and down motion of the boat, a Domstal would set her right. Going past a few islands, the boat stopped at one of them and we took a smaller one to the shore. This boat had a glass bottom and we got to see all the corals on the sea floor before we got to the beach. The beach was the kind you would see on Discovery Channel, clean white sand with deck chairs a bit away from the water, and pristine turquoise waters lapping the sands gently.

On arriving we had something to drink and some fresh corn (yes there were shops just off the beach, Thais never ever miss the opportunity to make money). Following that we spent around 2 hours in the water enjoying the gentle waves and clean, cool water with Mum and Dad trying to prove they could swim (No, they couldn't). But think twice before you take a swim in really salty water – your eyes as well as any slight wound on your body will burn. Then there was lunch – pineapples, different kindsa salads, egg fried rice, fish, chicken and green melon soup.... the list is long. After that we sat around enjoying the breeze till 2.30pm and then left by the same boat that had brought us there. A 1-hour cruise later we were back where on the Thai mainland and we took a taxi back to the resort.

There's this show in Pattaya called Alangkarn. We went to Alangkarn around 6pm for the 1-hour extravaganza which included moving stages, pyrotechnics, elephants, a huge number of actors in an incredible variety of costumes, trapeze artists, and martial artists. It tells the legend of the sun god and moon god, the legend of Ram and Raavan (the Ramayana is part of Thai folklore as well), the creation of Thai lettering, the battles in the formation of the Thai Kingdom etc. This is one thing you shouldn't miss. Photography isn't allowed inside though.

While we were waiting for a taxi it began raining. What started as a light drizzle devolved into a cats-and-dogs downpour before we reached the hotel. We waited for the rain to stop and went to this middle-eastern restaurant for dinner. The food was wonderful. To top it off, we had some Coconut ice cream put inside a real coconut with coconut milk on top of it and lichees in it. Something you have to taste to believe.

Hit the sack around 11pm. Another day of fun awaits.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

India's first Indigenous Nuclear Submarine

Today is Kargil Vijay Diwas, and India salutes those who fell in its defence. (F U Musharraf, you think you won don't you? FYI = no you didn't.)

But there is one event of significance that will occur on this day. Being the military buff I am, I have keenly followed the developments on the ATV (Advanced Technology Vessel). This was a prototype of India's indigenous designs for a Nuclear Submarine.

On this day, the Prime Minister will be at the Naval Dockyard of the Eastern Naval Command in Visakhapatnam to launch India's first indigenously-built Nuclear Submarine. The submarine will displace 6000 tonnes and it will take two years of sea trials and harbour trials before it is inducted into the Navy for active service. In case you haven't got the idea yet, it has a Nuclear reactor inside of it.

Only 5 nations till now have nuke boats in service - the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and the People's Republic of China. Though India had earlier leased a Russian nuclear sub in 1988 for a period of three years, and will be getting two Akula Class Nuclear Attack subs soon from Russia, this will be its true entry ticket into this elite club. Besides even though six nations operate nuke boats, only 5 (including India) will have the capability to indigenously build them.

The Arihant will be an SSBN, and will be equipped with Sagarika missiles and presumably the Agni-III (once the missile completes development). The Sagarika (a.k.a K-15) missile can carry a one-tonne nuclear weapon to a distance of 750 km. The vessels are powered by an 80MW pressurized water reactor (PWR) with enriched uranium fuel. The final production version of the reactor was built at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) at Kalpakkam. The ATV's hull will also feature twin flank-array sonars for being used as a torpedo approach warning system, and a stern-mounted distinctive 'bulb' on top of the rudder housing an ultra-low frequency thin-line towed active/passive sonar array built by state-owned Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), broadband expendable anti-torpedo countermeasures developed by RAFAEL of Israel, as well as a single universal vertical launcher capable of launching supersonic multi-role cruise missiles like the BrahMos and Sagarika.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s wife Gursharan Kaur will crack the auspicious coconut (no, no Champagne bottles here in the Indian Navy ;-) ) marking the launch of India’s first nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine at the Shipbuilding Centre, Vishakapatnam on July 26 2009. The launch, as naval tradition demands is always performed by a lady.

An image of the World's Largest Nuke Sub - A Russian Typhoon

The hull sections of two more ATV vessels have also been completed, and the government has also given approval for the construction of SSNs to escort the SSBNs.


Here are a few photos from the launch event.

Go here if you'd like to read the PM's speech at the submarine's launch. -

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Guide: Getting a WMV-HD video ready for the PS3

In my last post, I’d detailed how you could demux and remux a video from an MKV container into a PS3-compatible format.

This time around I’ll be describing the same operation but with the input file being a high definition WMV having a VC-1 codec video and WMA Pro Audio. Inevitably most such HD WMV movies come with a 5.1 WMA Pro audio track and a 2.0 WMA track as well. The sad thing is that the console will NOT read the WMA Pro 5.1.

Applications Required:

  • Windows Media Encoder (freely downloadable from Microsoft)
  • Boilsoft Video Splitter (this one isn’t a free utility, so use it or some other free tool capable of splitting WMV-HD. If you do find a free alternative, please tell me via the comments)

What we’re gonna do here is basically create a WMV-file with the VC-1 video and ONLY the 2.0 audio track.

First download and install Windows Media Encoder. A quick google search will get you the link.

Once Windows Media Encoder is installed, you’ll see there’s “Windows Media Stream Editor” under Start--> Windows Media --> Utilities. Click on that. Now go to Add Source, and choose your WMV file. Once ‘added’ to the input list, expand all the + boxes until you have something similar to the following picture.

Now, you’ll see two “audiences” (or more if you have more audio tracks) and each one will have a video and audio subcategory underneath which will further expand to reveal the bitrates and the language. Leave all the checkboxes unchecked initially. The audio track that says 384 kbps will most likely be the 5.1 audio. The video tracks will always be in the mbps bitrate range. So check the box next to the other audio track (probably 192kbps or 333 kbps), and check the box to the video track under the same audience as the audio track you just selected.

Click “Add” and the audience you selected should appear under output audiences. Next click “create file” and give the output a name. Hit “Start” and your output should be ready soon. The video from these files will play well in VLC, but then the audio might return an error. There’s no need to be alarmed, just continue.

This file should be playable on a PS3 as such, but there exists a problem when the file is larger than 4gb. As explained earlier, only files smaller than the above stated size can fit on FAT formatted media. Anything more will need NTFS, which again is not supported by the PS3. So you’ll need to split the file.

Whereas tsMuxer has an inbuilt “Split option”, that is absent in Windows Media Encoder. So we need to use Boilsoft Video Splitter to do that task. Open up Boilsoft Video Splitter, and click Open and load your newly created WMV. Use the split into option and type in the number of pieces you want. Once the size of each part is below 4gb, click the split button, and it should give you two WMV files (or how many ever parts you chose).

Finally, copy them over to the PS3 and enjoy your HD WMV videos.

The Kingdom of Thailand – Day 1

As a family, we love travelling and we've gone to a large number of holiday destinations. This holiday season (no, not December, I mean May-June, that's when we have school and college holidays) we decided to take a break and go to Thailand. This time my aunt was coming along too.

Do read the entire series of articles I post on the days I spent in Thailand. Most of it is interesting, but some day you might find this useful when you plan your own trips to a foreign land such as this.

This trip (which was planned several months in advance) was in jeopardy initally due to the civil unrest in Thailand which resulted in martial law being imposed. So we decided to apply for an Australian visa and shift our vacation there. However, my passport expired (in mid April) and no one realised it until we booked the tickets. That obviously left too little time to apply for the visa (the Aussie embassy takes a bloody long time, evident from our previous experience with an Oz visa) and we were left praying that the situation in Thailand would improve sufficiently. Hence there was a mad rush to renew my passport further compounded by the Regional Passport Officer's arrest and subsequent closer scrutiny of all passport applications.

Anyway, it came through and we quickly turned in our passports and documents to VFS Global for Thai visas (which surprisingly take just 1 day to be approved). And with all that's happening now down under with Indians getting beaten up all over the country and little effort from the Australian police to take any action against the culprits. Some of my Mum's friends and one of my Dad's colleagues had their money returned by their travel agents for holidays they'd booked to Australia in light of recent events.

Note: For those of you who plan to travel to Thailand, note that you can avail visas on arrival under certain conditions. Just look it up on the net.

We left home for the airport at 9pm on the 13th of June. The flight was at 0020 hrs. And we had our usual fights with our line cutting fellow-countrymen. Why can't people respect a queue. Is it worth being impolite and unrefined and blatantly not following rules just to save 2 minutes of having to wait in line? We Indians never learn courtesy unless its shoved down our throats.

So back to the trip. A three and a half hour flight later, we were at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport. From personal experience, the buildings at the airport themselves aren't as big as London's Heathrow (though airports like Chennai and Delhi are but specks on the horizon in comparison to this one), but they are extremely beautiful to behold, with a brushed aluminium and glass look to the whole place. It looks a bit like KL's airport and Bangalore's new aerodrome takes its design cues from Suvarnabhumi. A very neat place and all systematically done.

Took a taxi from the prepaid taxi stand at the airport. Leaving this place even by taxi takes quite a bit of time. The airport's area is HUGE, there's no end to the raised freeways running around the airport and between buildings. It takes around 6 minutes of driving at near 100kmph speeds to just get to the entrance of Suvarnabhumi.

Then it was onto the main highway that leads to Pattaya, a wide multi-lane road flanked by greenery and smooth to a fault. The taxi driver hardly knew any English, he couldn't even understand that we were asking him how long it would take to get to Pattaya. "Yeah" seemed to be the only word he knew in English.

And we finally reached Pattaya Hill Resort in under two hours. The staff here were most polite and we got our rooms (always prebooked via RCI or Club Mahindra, since we're members) well ahead of check-in time. Perhaps it has something to do with the Tourist season finishing in the beginning of June and the monsoons here starting towards the end of the month. The rooms were pretty spacious and had wonderful views of the Gulf of Siam and Pattaya's skyline.

After an hour or two to settle down, we had lunch and took a taxi down to Pattaya's Underwater world. This is very much like Sentosa's Underwater world (in Singapore), but slightly bigger. Being the National Geographic and Discovery channel buff I was, I enjoyed the experience.

Apart from the various underwater tunnels and wide variety of sea creatures here (Sentosa had a better range of jellyfish though), there's even this fish large fish tank here with two holes in the middle and glass attachments shaped such that the water doesn't seem to flow completely out when logically it should. Apart from the physical effect, the act of putting your hands in through the hole (don't worry that's allowed and there aren't any sharks in this tank) and letting the little fish grab all the dead skin and dirt from it is pretty fun. The 2 otters here at Underwater World do a number of tricks during their show. But what happened outside the outer enclosure during the display had a greater impact on me. This little boy standing with an ice cream dropped the ice-cream's wrapper on the floor. Without a moment's hesitation, he picked it up and walked right to the dustbin. That is how people everywhere should be, and that's how they are in Thailand.

Once we'd seen all that, we went to the Nong Nooch Tropical Gardens. This is a large private resort with a number of stage shows (showing the history of Thailand and its dance and martial art styles), animals, birds, and eateries (anywhere you go in Thailand, there's always some place to eat). The animals and birds come from all over the world.

The highlight of Nong Nooch is their elephant show. A massive number of these majestic and intelligent beasts go on to perform stunts that you'd hardly thought possible by such a huge animal – football, dart throwing, painting specific things, riding tricycles, bowling, everything you could imagine. And nothing untoward ever happens. While we were walking to the show area, someone brushed by my right side. Looking around I found no one, before I realised there was this orangutan walking away from my right leg to his handler. There are many of these animals performing various displays all around Nong Nooch. Apart from this, the place also has beautiful gardens and displays of several animals.

After a short walk, once Nong Nooch had closed, we took a taxi back to the resort and got some well-needed sleep. For dinner, we headed to the rooftop restaurant (this hotel has TWENTY THREE floors). This Vietnamese and Eurasian restaurant offers a beautiful view of the tourist town of Pattaya, its beaches, and the Gulf of Siam beyond.

A hearty meal and we were back in our rooms for some more sleep in preparation for the next day.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Guide: Demuxing and Remuxing MKV for the PS3

I had purchased a 160gb PS3 a month back, not just for gaming, but for its media-related features as well. Though I do stream (via wifi or ethernet) a bit to the Playstation 3, I tend to load its hard drive with High Definition (720p and 1080p) videos which, initially, were in MKV and WMV-HD formats.

Now the PS3 will not play files in the MKV Container as is. So don't try putting them directly on the HDD. I'd like to share my experience with muxing and demuxing these files and WMVs for the benefit of others in the similar situation.

First, MKVs.

As an example, I will be using an MKV with x264 video and DTS 5.1 audio. Transcoding to a different codec might make this file more compatible with the PS3, but the problem is any sort of transcoding operation WILL decrease video quality. So all we're aiming to do is demux and remux, and convert the audio alone. And I'm not going to deal with subtitles either.
Applications required:
  • MKVToolnix (MKV-extract GUI in particular)
  • WinFF
  • TsMuxer GUI

Load up your MKV file in MKV Extract GUI. The list of tracks contained in the MKV is displayed. Here select just the MPEG4/ISO/AVC and DTS tracks (check the boxes) and hit extract. The destination directory will contain the output in the form of a .264 and .dts file. The .dts file is the audio portion and I downmix that to 2.0 AC3 using WinFF. Open up WinFF and drag and drop the .dts file into it. Select Audio from the drop down menu and AC3 384kbps from the subcategory. The end result after you convert this will be a .ac3 file.

We now have all we need to make the m2ts output that will play on the PS3. Start up TsMuxer GUI. Drag and drop both the AC3 and the X264 parts into TsMuxer. There is one alternative way to do this too, without extracting the video (x264) from the mkv. TsMuxer can directly read the MKV and it will list the DTS track as well as the video track. Leave the video selected, uncheck the DTS audio and add the AC3 audio to the list of inputs. Check the box next to the AC3 track too.

Click on the track that says H.264. If the number next to "Change level" is greater than 4.1, enable the option "Change level" and choose 4.1 from the drop down menu. Else it won't play on the console. Choose "M2TS muxing" as the output option. Also, if your video is greater than 4gb, you won't be able to put it on a FAT32 formatted drive (whether it be a pen drive or an external HDD). And the PS3 cannot read NTFS formatted media.

So use the split and cut tab to choose the "Split by size" option and enter a value less than 4gb. Then go back to the Input tab and hit start muxing. Your output file will be a .m2ts file (or two or three of them if you had a large video to begin with). Copy these to the FAT32 formatted media, and enjoy HD awesomeness on your LCD or Plasma via the black box (assuming you have a HD ready or Full HD screen that is).

I'll post on how to rectify the WMV-HD video for playback on the PS3 in another post.

Till then, I hope this helps. And do note that the tools mentioned are all freely downloadable.

UPDATE: Please note that I'm downmixing 5.1 DTS to AC3 2.0 in the above example. However if you wish to convert the DTS 5.1 to AC3 5.1, just Popcorn MKV AudioConverter (links to tutorial and download), its a free utility. Then use the converted AC3 5.1 audio equipped MKV directly in TsMuxer.

The reason I'm not directly using 5.1 DTS is because the latest version of TsMuxer gives me an output with only video when I use the MKV directly with DTS. Might just be some problem with my computer and TsMuxer not getting along well but thought I'd suggest an alternate.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Thirteen Days in Thailand - General Impressions

Spent two weeks during my vacation in Thailand (Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket). I'll be posting a day-to-day description of the places I saw there and everything I did. With pictures. These posts will come over the following weeks.

For now here's some stuff I observed in Thailand. These are just observations, so don't take them as facts written in stone.

  • POINTS TO REMEMBER: I'm a college-going guy, so my views might at times (in this post and the travelogues that follow) be politically incorrect or socially less conservative. At times only, not always, don't worry. Eg. The following 5 points, after that it becomes alright. So cut me some slack please.

  • Thai women seem to be more dominant when compared to men, they run most of the businesses while the men take more of a back seat.

  • Thai women (all the younger ones atleast) never seem to wear anything more than a short little pair of trousers (really really short) and a tight t-shirt. Rejoice ye testosterone-filled men :D.

  • The Americans and Europeans are consipcuous by their absence. The effects of the recession have thus been made obvious. Its the Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Russians and Indians who form the bulk of tourists here. Lesson: Earn what you want to spend BEFORE you spend it.

  • The general impression about single foreigner men, especially westerners, who come here is that they need an escort for the day, and from all I've seen it definitely seems so. There was this American man in our group when we took a trip to Coral Island who didn't know much about his Thai female companion (from all that he kept asking her) but was “really close” with her.

  • Yeah. Prostitution is *unofficially* legal here (cos the laws against it are not enforced), and its big business.

  • Thais are polite to you as long as you have money. They are verrrrrry polite to tourists, but can get nasty if they try to cheat you and you get wise and stand your ground (happens sometimes with owners of small roadside shops and taxi drivers).

  • The common man almost never knows any English. All they know is Thai, not even most Taxi drivers. Thats bad. If you need to explain something quickly in English to a Thai, you'e in trouble. Of course, guides and a few hotel receptionists do know enough English. Still, India is much better than Thailand in this aspect, we're really good at English.

  • People have a very light skin tone here and the younger Thais are pretty slim. The older ones are sometimes a bit fatter.

  • The Thais revere the Buddha and their King. Insulte either one and you will go to jail.

  • In Pattaya, Taxis are a bit scarce, and the major form of transport here is the minivan. There are lots of these converted pickup trucks with the rear section having seating sufficient for 6-8 people. These are supposed to charge about 10 Baht per person within the town, but when they see you're a foreigner, they will rip you off. Even so, you should bargain and argue and walk away from them, until you get near the price you want to pay.

  • The local currency is the Baht, and its around 1 USD = 33 Baht or Rs1.5-1.6 = 1 Baht.

  • Unlike the UK, Singapore or the USA, internet via wi-fi is not free at restaurants and cafes, you have to pay a premium.

  • Roads are very neat. Even if the house or shops on either side are or aren't, they never ever dirty the roads or litter on it.

  • We hear stereotypes of Thais being terrible drivers. It's all bullshit. They drive pretty fast, but they'll wait even if there's no on else at the signals.

  • Toyota Hiluxes and Isuzu and Ford and Chevy pickups abound in Pattaya. They are far more numerous than regular family cars.

  • There are lots more women than there are men.

  • Getting by as a total vegetarian here would be quite difficult.

  • Thais greet you with “Suwatdee Khaa (female speaker) / Suwatdee Krup (male)” wherever you go and thank you with “Kob Koon”. Sometimes all the girls in some shop will go Suwatdee Khaaaaaaa in unison and it'll sound like a bunch of crows making noise.

  • They don't miss many opportunities to make a profit here, they'll find ways to extract money that you'd think you'd be immune to.

  • Don't go into some shady parlour in some corner of some vague street in Thailand lured by the promise of a massage. You might end up left there lying with just a sheet waiting for the massage while your prospective masseurs would have decamped with your prized posessions :D. Go to the more reputable places.

  • Elephants are ubiquitous at shows and parks here, they're almost as common as they are in Kerala.

  • Keep in mind that safety standards at several attractions (especially water related stuff like jet-skiing and underwater walks and parasailing) isn't exactly up to what Americans would expect. So use your brain and don't get yourself into a position where you have to do something you weren't really sure about just because you paid for it without thinking twice. And Thais will make you get your money's worth, they'll not listen to your protests, which they'll dismiss with a “No wolly, you go you go” (primarily cos they can't understand what you're on about).

  • If you want to get laid, this is the place to be, but unless you don't mind catching something, do be careful ;).

  • Thai electrical sockets are almost always 2-pin. They seem supremely confdent that they don't need any grounding/earthing. Only a few places (like hotels that generally serve internatonaltourists) have 3 pin plugs. Even then all 3-pins won't necessarily go into these.

  • They keep revving upto 3000-4000 rpm even on petrol vehicles here before they shift up. And many cars here are automatics, not manual shifts.

  • Most taxis in Bangkok are Toyota Soluna's or Corolla's and Corolla Altises. They come in a wide variety of colours – pink, blue, yellow, red, white, green - and snapping photos of the different ones became a bit of an obsession for me. I'll put up the taxi colour photos in a separate post.

  • The temples in Thailand are not just neat, they are so calm to be in. Not much noise (and that's amazing considering the Thais talk a lot among themselves too) unlike our temples. I like silence.