The Juniper Tree

In complete contrast to the busy streets of Bangkok, The Juniper Tree is a haven of lush greenery.

View from our bedroom

Delicious food is provided in the dining room 3 times a day and we are staying in a large wooden house in the beautifully tended gardens close to the pool. We hope to explore Chiang Mai while were here for 2 weeks but it may take some effort to leave our tranquil setting.

Tom rides an orca.

Snake Handling

Today we visited Bangkok’s Snake Farm, one of only two in the world. They study all of Thailand’s 160 species of snake, milking venomous ones to assist in the production of of antidotes, and educating visitors about the many positive aspects of snakes (ie that most snakes hunt things we don’t like, such as rats).

String and Rope Emporium

Whilst exploring the back streets of Bangkok (not lost, honest!) we happened across this amazing little shop selling every kind of twine, string, rope and hawser.

I bought half a kilo of 4mm green nylon cord to practise some knotting on the overnight train.

Bats vs Babies

Millions of bats emerge from their cave at dusk.
Laure, Matt and John played peekaboo games with this little lad when they were supposed to be watching the bats.
Lauren wearing a new krama.
Lauren in the stylish Battambang eatery, ‘The Kitchen’.
Lauren shepherding her brothers home through the neon-lit streets.

Bangkok Day 3

We had breakfast in our rooms, since we didn’t have to leave until noon, and in all honesty I didn’t want to leave the Mile High Club hotel – it was clean, homely, very well eqipped and comfortable. Plus, the flashy shopping centers and giant expensive hotels were awesome to look at.

We spent the day wandering the streets, but not on purpose. A word of advise to anyone visiting Bangkok – always take a taxi. Never use the tuk-tuks, as unlike Cambodia, they are just for tourists, so they’re smaller and far more expensive than taxis. And when using a taxi, make sure they use their meter, or they can overcharge to ridiculous extents.

We also added a boat trip to the transport mix, seeing the Royal Palace and various other important places.

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We booked a sleeper train quite cheaply, about $27 for each adult, and the train itself was happily quite hygenic, cool and had wide beds.

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Bangkok Day 1

The coach was mostly our own on the way to Bangkok from the Thai border, and while the ride was predictably long, it was aircondictioned and smooth. The driver was sensible and to our later delight, dropped us off on the same street as our hotel, the Mile High Club, which had a distinct theme of aeroplanes and pilots, was narrow but cozy and welcoming with open, friendly staff who were willing to help whenever asked. The decor was lovely, the dining area polished wood and cream, and both bedrooms and bathrooms clean and organised, with the triple room containing television, full fridge and small freezer, sink and cupboards, kettle, tea with sugar and dried milk. The bathrooms had a hot shower, soaps and fluffy towels in pink and white. The beds were reasonably soft, and we slept soundly.

The first step

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Today, Sunday 21st, we set out on our journey to Thailand. The bus journey was meant to be six hours long, but due to typical reckless Cambodian driving, it was only five hours with a pleasant ten minute stop at a restaurant and shop with clean bathrooms.

On arrival in Battambang, our tuktuk driver snatched us up quickly from the crowd of other drivers offering very cheap fares, compared to ones in Phenom Penh. It was only two dollars from the center of town to our hotel,  RomChang, which is about a quater of a mile away.

RomChang has a very lovely, rustic feel to it, the rooms are spacious, the menu extensive, delicious and cheap. There is a pool table, free bikes and a tuk tuk service, adding to the homely atmosphere fruendly. They serve Khmer, Vietnamese and Western food, an all day breakfast and offer a huge variety of icecream shakes, smoothies ansd fruit salads. The staff are all friendly and helpful with decent skills in English, and the beautiful  swimming pool located to the left of the dining area is salty, not chlorinated, making it much better for skin and eyes, and large with varying depths.

Battambang Day 2

For our second day, we had a leisurely cycle around Battambang, visited the market and had drinks in a stylish little coffee house, as breakfast had filled us up enough to last us to dinner.

Battambang is much quieter and cleaner than Phnom Penh.

We cycled around the market and back streets, and sampled the fried bananas (not as good as the ones from our market).

In the evening we visited the circus – an amazing acrobatic show put on by highly trained local teenagers!

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Deconstructing Khmer

Matt and I are currently writing a program to extract all the legal syllable clusters that can occur in the Khmer written language.

Text is usually represented inside a computer using ASCII, which can handle 255 possible letters. That’s fine for English, but to work with the tens of thousands of characters found in the world’s more exotic languages, you use ‘Unicode’. We’ve never worked with unicode before, so there’s been a learning curve for both of us.

We’re working with Diethelm Kanjahn, a translator and font designer (he created the Khmer font ‘Mondulkiri’). He’s part of the global translation organisation ‘SIL’ which works with non-Roman scripts around the world. We had a chance to meet up with him last week to discuss the intricacies of Unicode Khmer rendering before he returned to Mondulkiri.

Didi needs to check how each syllable looks visually, since Khmer vowels can appear above, below, in front of or behind their consonant (and sometimes in front AND behind!). Runs of dependent glyphs need to position themselves relative to each other, like successive toppings on an ice-cream sundae. Fortunately Didi will handle all of that, we’re just coding a Python script to extract all the possible clusters from a large body of text: the entire bible, plus lots of modern sources of Khmer language, like news sites. 

The SIL team are also using the Khmer glyphs (letter shapes) to give a written form to five other indigenous languages which have never developed their own written scripts. The plan is that our program should also work for them.

This is Matt’s first time coding something ‘real’ for a client other than himself, so he’s learning about testing and quality assurance: the code isn’t finished when you’ve typed the last line, or when it produces something that ‘looks’ right, but when ALL your output tests pass and you can’t think of any new ones to add. 

 

Khmer cluster construction

Battambang Day 1

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On our first day, we went to the Bamboo Train, which was interesting, fun and terrifying. Like a rollercoaster with less safety. It costs $5 dollars each to go 3 km, with a stop off to buy souvenirs and drinks.
The trains themselves are platforms made of bamboo, with a hole for a motor and wheels are placed on the rails under the platforms, not attached to them.

The scenery was breath-taking, made up of a carpet of green grass and hundreds of lush trees and bushes, butterflies often fluttering out of them as we rushed past.

An unmissable experience for anyone visiting Battambang.