By Graham K. Rogers
I am now back in Bangkok after a couple of days in Kanchanaburi with the students and a small number of staff members. I took about 600 photographs over the three days we were away. I posted some of them to the Facebook page that the department has. The text submissions have a different purpose and I use different images for this.
The second day of my trip with students started . . . cold. It was a reported 14 degrees C in the area where we stayed, but my fingers and toes said it was colder. Thank Providence that staying at a dam means the electricity is free, and all the accommodation had water heaters.
I made my way to the restaurant just after 07:00, but I was not the first. A party was just finishing up. I ordered my rice soup (Khao Thom with some coffee and opened the MacBook Pro. Right away I was online. It had been slow to connect the previous evening, but that bridge had been crossed. The connection out here in the wilds was better than I experience in Bangkok. On Friday night I uploaded just under 100 images to Facebook. On Saturday morning I put the first day's notes online, along with another group of pictures.
The upload was so quick that I tried downloading when I saw a bunch of updates for iOS apps, including a new Keynote. This has some changes that will mean the eventual loss of Keynote Remote. There were 8 apps available. It took a few minutes, with the last to arrive being Keynote at 441 MB. The way the download figures were changing confirmed my point about the faster connection here.
Synchronising with the iPhone might be a different matter as this has spent most of the last 24 hours on EDGE. I discovered on Sunday morning why that was so. While taking advantage of the wifi, I had a look through some of the latest IT news and came across a link to Apple's 30 years celebration video. Take a couple of minutes to revel in this.
I noticed at this dam and the smaller Thathungna Dam that we passed on the way to the Vajiralongkol Dam that there were floating solar panel installations in the lake behind the dam. Not large, these were perhaps a way for EGAT to test this type of alternative energy as the exposed area of these lakes have less shadow; and Thailand has sunshine almost every day of the year.
Needless to say we left the Srinakarin Dam after the scheduled departure time and arrived a little late for the 11:00 appointment with EGAT at the Vajiralongkol Dam. On the way, I was able to remind myself of some of the motorcycle rides I had done out here. About 1 Km past the Thathungna Dam we turned right onto a road that linked with the Asia Highway 2.
I had used this route a number of times. There is an elephant camp along here. One morning, as I used this road, I saw a pile of steaming elephant dung at the side of the road. I slowed the bike, and sure enough just round the corner were 4 or 5 pachyderms. These are such graceful creatures, it is a shame to put them in such camps for the entertainment of tourists. However, the alternative of letting them roam wild, means inevitable confrontations now as Man takes over more land for agriculture: elephants love pineapple, for example.
Sitting in the bus allowed me to see a different view of the countryside. Bikes are lower: here I was high up and looking over some bushes and trees. Much more land here has been taken over for farming, but the soil is sandy and not really good. Before it was just scrubland and there is a demand for water. Irrigation is a key to success here. Closer to the road at Saiyoke Noi, much larger areas had been taken over for a mix of crops.
At the intersection, there is a police post where traffic is often checked (but not today). We turned right and a little further on, slowed for the level crossing: the trains still run here. I noticed on Sunday that the line has been extended from the Saiyoke village station to a new stop right beside the waterfall. This makes sense as that is where most using the line want to go. The old train, Number 702, is still visible from the road.
The Death Railway ends here now, but at one time it went right into Burma, crossing the border at Three Pagodas Pass (Chedi Sam Ong), although the pagodas are quite small. After Saiyoke Noi, the road rises steeply for a couple of kilometres. While most of the students were now sleeping, a couple were looking at the surroundings and I showed them where the old track had been. The embankments are still visible in a couple of places. I also linked to a map of the track. On the Mac this is interactive, but the iPhone does not have Flash of course, so the basic map was shown.
We arrived at the area of Vajiralongkol Dam at 11:10. I am always impressed at the way EGAT keeps these establishments in such good order. Some of the buildings and equipment may be several years old, but the gardens and other parts are well-maintained. Most have accommodation that can be rented quite cheaply for a short stay, but anyone visiting would need transport. Although the service at the restaurants is sometimes a bit slow, the food is usually good: especially the fish.
One of the features of these trips is that the students are given a short lecture on the dam itself and some of the technology, which is usually followed by a film made about the specific dam.
The movie shown this Saturday morning was a bit scratched and jerky, but included many old clips dating back to before the time that the dam was constructed, starting in 1979. When completed in 1984, it was known as the Khao Laem Dam and the name was changed to that of the Crown Prince in 2001.
There was also a fairly large working model of a turbine and generator, showing clearly how the water moves the turbine which in turn operates the generator above and sharing a massive steel shaft.
There was a second movie: on the risk of earthquakes and potential damage to this site and others. EGAT is concerned about its public image and when we visited the lignite-burning plant at Mae Moh in Lamphun, there was much made of the way pollution has been decreased to levels that are below Bangkok's. At Srinakarind Dam too, there was a movie on the efforts to preserve biodiversity. There is a fault line nearby, but EGAT tells us the dams are safe.
After the talk and the movie we stopped for lunch at the EGAT restaurant. As we arrived, I saw a BMW F850 outside. Inside it was easy to identify the rider and I went over for a short chat. He was on his way back to Bangkok after some business in this part of the country.
After lunch were taken to the dam to visit the control room, then into the bowels of the construction to walk over and around the three turbine installations. Close up, the size of the machinery never fails to impress me.
Outside the dam several photographs were taken, then we moved to the dam crest. Some of the students decided to walk up the slipway and along the crest. It was harder and further than they had thought. At the end, a security guard had some words with them, but it was all passed off as we had an EGAT man on hand.
The lake and dam here are edged by a massive cliff that is the home to a colony of monkeys. Unlike some of these, the few we saw were not aggressive, at least not to us. Some that are familiar with humans and know that bags contain food, so try to steal these sometimes with much baring of teeth.
The bus took us down to the accommodation area where we were allocated our rooms and I took a shower before walking down to the restaurant early as I wanted to see if I could get online.
Internet speeds are reasonable up here, but there was such a fuss about logging in. The EGAT staff wanted to type in the account details themselves on the panel that appeared in the browser, but the trackpad confused them: I turn off the click function that PC users like. Some of our staff decided to use the ToT (Telephone company) wifi, but the time it took them to register suggested that the service needs some of the edges knocked off: like British Telecom of old, they may still have older tech mindsets.
In the end, one of the staff gave up and used the personal hotspot on his iPhone. Once I was connected via Wi-Fi, the service was available in my room, but there must have been another router as that was about 250 metres from the restaurant where I had first connected.
The next morning in the restaurant as I had my breakfast, the staff were discussing snow. It was cold, but certainly not cold enough for snow, although the north of the country experienced a frost. The weather app on my iPhone reported an early morning 12 degrees Celsius. It warmed up to the high 20s later. My students and friends were suffering, however.
At breakfast, my head of department was playing with his iPad mini and he was clearly online. He used True and there was access here to their 3G service. Our technician said that he also had 3G with DTAC. As I use DTAC and have had only EDGE since we passed Kanchanaburi on Friday, I investigated.
I checked the iPhone first, turning off the 3G, restarting the device and even turning on "Airplane Mode". I was beginning to wonder if something was wrong with the phone, when the technician mentioned that he was using the new DTAC Tri-Net service. My phone was set for Automatic carrier detection, so when I turned that off, there were two DTAC signals shown: vanilla DTAC and Tri-Net.
When I tapped the Tri-Net setting the phone showed, "No signal". I have not yet made that switch. Tapping on the DTAC setting reactivated the signal, but only with EDGE. I put the carrier setting back to Automatic. The technician also uses this, but his phone (as per design, I guess) automatically switches between the two DTAC services. A visit to the DTAC shop is called for.
As usual, the planned 09:00 departure had to be delayed while the stragglers appeared. The Saturday nights of these trips are always set aside for student-student-teacher discussion in order to clear the air of any outstanding problems that may have appeared in the 4 years they study. As usual there was plenty of refreshment. The students sometimes work hard, but usually play hard. Older folks forget just how important this may be and some good lessons may be learned: you cannot make omelettes without breaking eggs.
This year certain students dominated the chats, with one hijacking every student's time. His input prevented others having their time. The teachers disappeared just after 22:00 but the students carried on. Many were tired and late (and cold) on Sunday.
We finally left at 10:00 - an hour late. I took part of the time to teach my colleagues the expression, "Like herding cats." The bus took the road back towards Kanchanaburi and eventually Bangkok. There were a couple of stops planned. Not long after we left Thongphaphum, where the dam is, the back of the bus burst into song: these guys still had energy. The singing tailed off after 30 minutes and I noted that some of the singing reminded me of the rugby songs I had heard (and sung) when I played in England several ears ago.
Just north of Saiyoke Noi, the bus that we had seen on Friday, with the Russian URL on the back, passed us heading towards Kanchanaburi. We stopped for lunch at the Saiyoke Noi waterfall area which has become considerably more commercial in recent years with the selling of local (and not so local) produce. I used to stop here for breakfast on my way out to the country some Sunday mornings. I hardly recognised the place now.
We first walked to the waterfall, passing engine 720, and I realised that the line had been extended from the village. The waterfall is always a bit disappointing with much of it now suffering from the application of concrete in an attempt to give tourists a better experience.
Despite the earlier cold, some children were swimming in the pool there. To keep the area clean, there are signs banning smoking as well as food and drink at the waterfall. Other waterfalls have had similar bans on foodstuffs for many years.
A Russian tourist was sharply admonished by a security guard (perhaps army or forest ranger). While the tourist was wrong to smoke there, the way it was done embarrassed him and he left the area almost immediately.
After some while taking photographs and chatting, we walked along a path to the road, stopping along the way to buy some of the produce, including some dried fruits that I am told can be made into a tea. If the ants do not show interest, I will keep these in a bowl.
Once we reached the road, I saw some large bikes parked. Across the road there were several more shops with odd looking fruits and herbs for sale. The group bought some more of these packs and I picked up some gifts for my students. It took a while until we were ready to eat.
I went to one restaurant with one of the secretaries as there were several students already seated. As we approached, they waved us away. Don't come here: not delicious. We found another place where there was a good selection of food, some of which was quite spicy.
At the entrance, the lady in charge of the place was busy making somtam - the spicy papaya salad - using two massive mortars. As she sliced the green papaya and added the other ingredients, her hands worked the pestle crushing the salad, integrating the flavours.
The room was decorated with pictures of monks round the walls, reminding me of the barber I use in Bang Khun Non.
Returning to the bus, I saw that a train had just arrived at the station. It was a 3-car diesel-electric, multiple unit, of the type that runs on many tracks in Thailand (and elsewhere of course). On some occasions, there have been steam train runs up here, and I chased one once on my bike.
Although I had expected us to visit Prasat Muang Sigh - the ruins of a Khmer temple - we headed straight back towards Kanchanaburi and again taking the by-pass. Going back toward Bangkok on a Sunday afternoon, even quite early the traffic was becoming heavy. I now had 3G again.
We did make a stop at a large establishment that sold produce: mainly packs of dried foods and sweets. Some of the students needed the bathroom, so this made a good place to stop. I brought even more food to add to my Saiyoke purchases. While there, some buses carrying Electrical Engineers from Thammasat University, also on their way back to Bangkok, stopped. Some of our students knew some of the Thammasat students. We left at 15:00.
At Tha Reua, traffic was down to one lane each way as the opposite carriageway was under major repair. At 15:40 we joined the main highway from the south and traffic was now considerably heavier. It moved slower and there were several stops. Speeds picked up when the road widened into 3 lanes near Nakhon Pathom, but as we crossed a bridge on the outskirts of the city, everything stopped dead because of the major roadworks along the road. Once we cleared, the speeds picked up but slowed again briefly as we left Nakhon Pathom as there was a clear-up from an earlier accident. A young man in a red jacket was rubbing his shoulder.
Between Nakhon Pathom and Nakhon Chaisri, the road was wet as a local authority vehicle was watering the plants on the central reservation, in the middle of the day when traffic was heavy. Some flexibility may be needed here.
We stopped at Nakhon Chaisri to let a student out. He lives in the area and would be able to go home more easily. Traffic was again becoming more dense and all lanes were moving slowly. Shortly after we turned onto the road for Pinklao that passes the university. Lane discipline on this stretch has always been atrocious and there is often a slow moving pickup or a Benz driven by an old man who seems to think he is important, with a long line of vehicles moving at a snail's pace behind, while faster traffic uses the inner lanes.
Back at the campus, we unloaded the bus and students disappeared quite quickly. I put some things in my office, then the security guard at the Faculty called me a taxi. The driver recognised me from a while back when I had been injured from a motorcycle accident. All weekend I had been reminded of riding and would love to start again.
See also: A Weekend Away from IT: Visiting Dams with the Students (1) - Srinakarin Dam
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.