Putting their best foot forward

Twenty boys living in Thailand aged 11 and under will don their team colours and proudly head out onto a field on Saturday to do what they love most: play soccer. Only this time they won’t have the advantage of playing on their home country turf. They’ll be hitting a pitch in Singapore, playing against children in teams from Singapore and Malaysia.

After nearly four weeks of serious training, eleven-year-old Marut Srichawala is tired but excited. "Training has been very hard. It’s been intense," he says, sounding almost pleased about a slight ankle injury that’s keeping him off the field for the day. But he’s pursuing his destiny. "My dream is to become a soccer star. I want to play for Manchester when I grow up."

Left mid-field player Rikhi Anandsngkit, 11, says that he’s enjoyed training and has improved. "It’s been good, but also tough. It’s good because I’ve improved my stamina and my skills. When I grow up I want to be a pro." Man U would be his team of choice, but Real Madrid or Barcelona would also fit the bill.

Pongpisut Limgul, 10, a goalkeeper, is looking forward to the three-day trip. "I’m very excited because I’ve never gone to play soccer in another country. And it’s the biggest tournament I think I’ve ever played in."

Thanks to former professional soccer player Darren Jackson, who has been training schoolchildren in Thailand since the end of 1998, all twenty boys might be one step closer to their dream of making it in the professional world of soccer.

"I don’t really know the level of the kids in Bangkok compared to teams outside of here," Jackson says, explaining how the 11 and Under Asia Tournament came about. "I have a friend in Singapore [Paul Masefield] who’s also coaching children and we came up with the idea together of running an international tournament."

A connection in Kuala Lumpur added Malaysia to the plan, which involves holding three tournaments this year, one each in Singapore, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur. "It will give a good indication of what level they’re at," says Jackson.

While there is a Bangkok soccer league that the children could also play in, Jackson says that although the standard of play overall is probably about the same, the coaching isn’t professional.

If all goes well in Singapore, Jackson hopes to run a trip to the UK – where the best soccer players can earn up to 50,000 pounds a week – and where some of the more talented boys might be spotted by scouts. "Boys are picked at age 14, and as transfer fees become more expensive, clubs look to select up and coming players to keep under their wing."

This means honing the skills of the best 11-year-olds for at least another year or two before going.

But in the meantime, Jackson and the boys themselves are pleased with the progress that they’ve made. Just confirming that the trip would go ahead caused a dramatic increase in commitment to training among the 90 children he currently coaches. "Their training had really slumped. They were joking around and weren’t serious about it. When I mentioned Singapore, things really changed."

Anne Sinthunont, mother of Nicholas, 11, noticed her son’s enthusiasm rise when going to Singapore became a possibility. "He loves to play soccer, and as soon as the opportunity came up to go to Singapore, well there was lots of excitement. He started saying I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to try harder."

After the announcement, Jackson trained all of the children for a month, and then selected the best 20 aged 11 and under. The youngest in the team is eight. "They’re starting to play good football, they’re passing the ball around. If you just dangle that carrot in front of them, they will do what they have to do to get there."

Jackson, who has an FA coaching badge from England, has played for England under 21s, Oxford United, Reading, Hong Kong and Finland. His roaming clinic for children aged six to 12 operates at various international schools and on Saturdays for any child interested. About half the children are Thais, and half are from other countries.

But participation in the trip doesn’t come cheaply. Local sponsors Dtac, Global Silverhawk (Santa Fe), Nike, Gatorade and Ecco assisted in providing equipment, but the training and all-inclusive trip has cost each child approximately Bt20,000. While this is a small addition to what a student at an international school pays in fees, for others the sum is huge.

Tongchai Orktachan, or Rambo as he prefers, impressed Jackson so much with his potential two years ago that he’s been attending the clinic since at no charge. When some of the parents and teachers at NIST [where the boys train] heard that his family was unable to fund the Singapore trip, they chipped in to foot the bill. The trip will be both the first time Rambo has travelled by plane, and the first time he’s left Thailand.

Rambo says he’s very tired from the training, but playing soccer is fun. "I’m not really thinking a lot about [the trip]. I’m very excited and I would like to win." He estimates he’s improved by 50 per cent over the past few weeks. And he wants to play for Thailand when he grows up.

Clubs in Bangkok

Networking became big in the 90s as a way of improving your chances at doing well in business, and things haven’t changed. Wouldn’t you prefer to do business with someone you see occasionally at your club bar, or someone whose kids swim with yours in the club pool? One way of getting to know people is to join a club, and Bangkok has plenty to choose from at prices that compare well to other capital cities in the region. Whether they’re called city, dining, recreational or family clubs, their ultimate objective is to allow people to socialise in a comfortable environment. Check membership requirements – most clubs require sponsorship by current members.

City/dining clubs

The Heritage Club’s concept is one of an international private club, but general manager Andrew Christon says there is an emphasis on dining, with a French, Chinese and Japanese restaurant on the premises, along with various function and meeting rooms, a bar and library. The fifteen-year old club is the only one in Bangkok owned and managed by professional club operators. "The idea was to create traditional English-style clubs in Asia offering more amenities," Christon says. "Joining gives people status, and it’s a great place for high-profile people to do business in without being bothered." This includes prime minister Thaksin, whom the club counts among its members.

Thais make up 70 per cent of the 1,700-strong membership, and members are predominantly managing directors and CEOs in their late 40s to early 50s, with female membership on the rise. Christon says that due to the degree of competition in Bangkok, membership prices are cheap compared to elsewhere. A US$2,500 corporate membership in Bangkok, for example, would cost US$50,000 in Tokyo.

The Pacific City Club opened its doors just six years ago, when its Thai owner noticed on a trip to Hong Kong that most people seemed to be members of such clubs. He wanted to popularise the concept among Thais, and so the club was born. Facilities available to the more than 1,000 members include Chinese, Thai and western restaurants, bar, health and fitness club, salon, sauna and steam, library and private dining and function rooms. According to their representative, most members join with a view towards building up networks with other members.

Recreational clubs

The British Club is one of Bangkok’s oldest, opening in 1903 as "a place for captains of industry to get together and socialise", says chairman James Young. Around 20 years ago, however, the non-commercial club began to expand and changed its structure to allow "ordinary" people to join – including women. "To maintain financial viability, we couldn’t remain an exclusive club for the managing directors of British companies," Young says. These days the club is family-oriented, and attracts a wide range of members. Facilities include several restaurants and bars, swimming pools, three squash courts, four tennis courts, a fitness centre, a snooker room, function rooms, massage service, games equipment, and a video library.

"Ordinary" membership is available to citizens of Australia, Britain, New Zealand and Canada, while "Associate" membership is available to other people. No more than one third of the total membership can be assocate members, and of those, no more than one third can be made up of one nationality. Currently 37 nationalities are represented among the more than 1,000 members.

The emphasis at the 6,000 m2 Capitol Club, which is attached to the President Park complex and opened in 1994, is on health and fitness, but it’s also a leisure and social club. Amenities include a gym, salon, massage and therapy rooms, five tennis courts, two squash courts,bar, karaoke, spa, steam room, sauna, a climbing wall and a pool deck with three pools. Membership administrator Apinya Junlaklang advises that the club has around 1,000 members, aged from 23 up. "It’s quite a young group."

There are a multitude of other clubs around – the clubs above are a selection – so it’s worth spending some time visiting several places to see whether they suit your style and attract the sort of clientele you’d like to associate with. In time you’ll probably find you make good friends – and those are priceless.

Swim for fitness and fun

In a city as steamy and polluted as Bangkok, what could be more pleasurable than jumping into a cool, fresh pool to do some exercise? Besides burning off the calories, you’ll feel refreshed and re-energised afterwards as well.

The benefits

"Swimming provides many benefits – it improves your cardiovascular system, your blood pressure, it strengthens your muscles," says Bancha Nonpolgrang, assistant manager of the JW Marriott’s health club, which recently introduced swimming classes. Unlike most other forms of exercise, swimming works all of the body’s major muscle groups.

Swimming is also a non-weight bearing activity. "That means if you’re pregnant or overweight, or have joint problems, it can still be a suitable way of exercising," says Debbie Jackson, manager of the Sukhothai’s health club. "That’s why swimming is used in so many rehabilitation programmes." So that sore back, aching knee or weak ankles – or even that arthritis – can no longer be an excuse for being lazy.

You can, however, do more than just swim in the water – aquaaerobics, for instance, might be more suitable for people who find aerobics difficult due to joint injuries. "The water supports about fifty per cent of your weight," explains Bancha. "If you weigh 50kg and jump on land, you’re putting about a 100kg impact on your joints. If you jump in water, you halve that to about 25kg."

For many people, swimming is also a kind of meditation. "Being in the water can enhance your sense of well-being and reduce stress," says Jackson.

Regularity is the key

Bancha recommends that people who want to get some real aerobic benefits from swimming train three to four times a week. "Beginners should swim for 20 to 25 minutes – that’s non-stop swimming, without relaxing. Intermediates should aim for 30 to 40 minutes, and advanced swimmers can gradually increase from there."

Jackson emphasises that you really do need to work hard in the pool to get the same sort of calorific output as other forms of exercise, such as running or cycling. "You need to look at doing 80 laps or so, because the intensity is just not as great as other activities. You’ll find that 90 per cent of people can’t swim at a steady rate – they’ll go for ten minutes, and collapse."

If you are really serious about burning off weight, there’s always sea swimming, which Jackson says is much more intense. "You’re dealing with tides, currents, waves, so you’ll burn off more weight."

But if you don’t live near the sea, you may prefer to incorporate swimming into a cross-training programme. "You can still make swimming the major focus of your programme, but cross-training will give you better results."

Take a class

If you are serious about swimming to stay fit, consider taking a class to improve your technique and style. Even those who have been swimming for years can benefit from taking a class, says Bancha. "Many members who swim here still don’t know how to swim smoothly. You need to learn how to move properly – everybody has different problems."

Jackson, too, advises taking swimming lessons to get the most from your time in the pool. Your teacher can then give you drills to work on, and start to improve your weaker strokes. Getting proper instruction can also help prevent the injuries that might be sustained if your technique isn’t quite right.

Now try finding a pool

Despite the heat, unless you join a gym in Bangkok, live in a condominium with a pool or have your own, pools aren’t as easy to track down in Bangkok as many other towns. Nevertheless, there are some around, so pick one close to you, grab your swimmers and towel, and get ready to embark on a new fitness regime.

Keeping back with the Jones’

Anyone who’s been backpacking has heard or participated in these sorts of conversations. Not the ones where you compete to see who got to that small town in Vietnam when the children still cried to see a strange face on the street, or who arrived at that beach in southern Thailand before it had a single bungalow on it and you could live there on free pineapples and coconuts.

It’s those conversations about who stayed in the most atrocious accommodation I like best. They always start with "Now, where was I?" and a scratch of the head, while the tale-teller stretches their mind across the many, many towns, countries and continents they must have been to. Then comes the recognition. "Oh, it was Pushkar. Rajastshan. That’s western India," the tale-teller will add.

It will continue: "I was staying in a glorified concrete dog box perched at the top of a three-storey condemned firetrap. There were two blue, wooden doors at the entrance," (shudder, distant look in the eyes) "and there was a chain that you put through two holes to lock them together when you were out. There were hooks on the inside, so when sleeping, you could just wrap the chain around them and you’d wake up if anyone tried to open the doors.

"On the first night monkeys came down from somewhere and shook the doors until the chain worked itself loose and fell off. I was lying in bed when they all came running in, over my pack, my bed and my clothes. They grabbed all the food I had. It was terrifying. From then on I had to padlock myself inside the room so they couldn’t get in. But they would shake the door… all night long. Still, it was only US$1.50 (Bt63) a night."

Animals – vermin, more usually – will often feature in this genre of story-telling. In a creaking guesthouse in Pak Beng, Laos (that’s northern Laos) My Man went to the loo downstairs one night and came back shaking. "I saw a rat and it was the size of a beaver. It flashed its teeth at me. And it smiled." That, I suppose, is why they had chamber pots. Until then we had thought they were ashtrays.

Another friend stayed in a "really hideous place" in Luang Nam Tha (far northern Laos) where rats woke him up as they ate through the sealed cigarette packet lying next to his head. "They ate from the bottom so they didn’t get the filter. *$%#^&?$ clever rats in Luang Nam Tha."

Fast forward to when it’s time to start working in Bangkok: then it’s the Khao San Rd guesthouse with perpetually damp mattresses, dining room/dengue fever treatment centres, share tinea-infected bathrooms, and various characters whom idle away their days talking about well, the above. But this will be where you find your launchpad out of backpacker land back into Real Life. That is, somewhere to live.

Now you’ll expand your social circle beyond those who think leaving Khao San Rd is an adventure, and rub shoulders with freelance photographers, journalists, subeditors, English teachers, self-employed and other locally-engaged staff. You’ll find that something of a transformation has taken place: the favoured topic of conversation has now become who’s got the best place. Who can get the best bang for their buck? Who managed to find a place for under Bt10,000 a month with a direct line and normal rather than fluorescent lights?

Most aren’t that lucky the first time around. Take Rufus. The first place he moved into was a one room hovel he had to share with his travelling companion. "The building was a falang ghetto, full of very low-paid English teachers and, well, Bangkok scum. Down the hall was this English teacher/male model who regularly beat up his girlfriend. Then there was a guy from Lima (that’s the capital of Peru), a big ugly bald guy who looked like John Voight, who did nothing but sit in the lobby drinking beer all day. Other South American friends would drop off mysterious packages, so he was probably a drug dealer. But we can’t be sure about that. Upstairs there were at least four katoeys who would come home at 4am drunk, start fighting, and run screaming through the halls.

"It cost Bt4,000 a month, was serviced and had a filthy, slimy pool. But the English teachers would sit around it and drink beer between classes. They’d get drunk and go swimming. I stayed for six months. It was horrible."

Eventually, you might mix with the expats who are on packages. When you tell them excitedly what you’ve found after looking for months, they’ll smile knowingly, condescendingly or, if you’re lucky, sympathetically. Actually, it’s better to keep your mouth shut to listen to their stories. I tried to smile empathetically once when someone told me how he couldn’t get his airconditioning right despite paying double my average monthly salary in rent (and I don’t do that badly). He checked into a five-star hotel and sent his landlord the bill. I think my eyes widened too far though and gave the game away.

We got what we thought was a fabulous deal on our place when we moved in a couple of years ago. We had been paying a small fortune for a terracotta tiled cupboard, and couldn’t believe our luck when a departing friend offered us first option to move into a place half the price for quadruple the space. And even though when it rains the driveway becomes a knee-deep swirling pool of mud, the dogs are mean and the security’s dodgy, the place is clean and there’s only the occasional bar girl who turns up to ask us if we’ve seen our downstairs neighbour lately.

But when we recently started hearing more tales about better places – Rufus is in one now -we decided to check some of them out. Alas, the ones shown to us were never as fantastic as what the person we knew had snared. Feeling adventurous, we also headed into apartments that looked promising, despite knowing they’d be way out of our price range.

Now, if you’re stuck in a place like Rufus once was and aspire to much greater things, let me temper your enthusiasm. Of the expensive places we saw, not one was worth a job in accounting for; boxy, airless and awfully designed, they provided fodder for their own kind of horror tales. "The built-ins that made me want to cover my eyes in horror, and the pink glass panelling was enough to make a normal human being gag. Sure, there were plastic wooden floors that you could rollerblade across, but they were asking Bt70,000 a month for it."

So in the meantime, I might be paying more than Bt63 a night, and even more than Bt4,000 a month, but I don’t have to put up with monkeys or screaming drunken neighbours. I’m not paying Bt70,000 for the privilege of faux marble in the bathroom or leopard skin carpet, either. Instead I’m living in an accommodation twilight zone. Package expats sneer at my address, new arrivals think it’s nondescript, and backpackers don’t believe for a second that it compares to that place in Mahalibalipuram … (that’s southern India).

Trifle with delicious sauce


In an age when mainstream films like Family Man are promoting staid conservative family values, Chocolat is as deliciously naughty, sweet and magical as, well, chocolate. Sensuous, whimsical and just a little bit subversive, Chocolat will lift you up and make you see the world from a different angle; it will make you rethink your prejudices and feel a bit less guilty about the pleasures you might occasionally indulge in. It’s a crowd-pleasing pseudo-arthouse film that won’t overly challenge the intellect – but that shouldn’t detract from its other merits. Director Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, My Life as a Dog)has created an escapist fantasy that believes in itself, and pulls it off masterfully.

The tale – for despite its poke at traditionalism, this is a fairy tale in the traditional sense – begins with Vianne (Juliette Binoche) arriving in a small and very Catholic French village in the late 1950s. You need to believe that people speak English with French accents (as they do with German accents in Schindler’s List) but rise above your realist demands and you’ll find it’s worth taking the ride.

Vianne and her daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol) breeze into town with their secret Latin recipe of hot chocolate laced with chili pepper; it’s an elixir that elicits emotions and feelings from people, and helps Vianne make at least a few friends when she opens her chocolate shop during Lent.

Which is important, because she’s soon the town pariah. Her chief critic is the sanctimonious mayor, Comte De Reynaud (played wonderfully by Alfred Molina) who oversees both the political and moral health of the village. He even has the local priest, P?re Henri (Hugh O’Conor) under the thumb and practically writes his sermons, which makes for some amusing scenes.

The radiant Vianne provides the perfect model for him of evil in a human form. She’s a proudly single mother, wears irresistably colorful clothes, and doesn’t attend church or even pretend to believe in God. People and their problems are more important to her, and she hopes to spice up their lives with her assortment of chocolate goodies and some fun. "I have a knack for picking people’s favorites," she likes to tell the townspeople who are brave enough to stop by her wicked haven of pleasure.

Except for the favorite of blow-in gypsy Roux (Johnny Depp), one of the "river rats" who arrive in town on their houseboat and must, by their nature, be spreading crime and immorality among the people. Vianne shows them kindness of course, and encourages some of the townspeople to trust them too.

Chocolat is full of likeable characters who are just waiting to be released from the tedium of morality that they have imposed on themselves, with the Mayor as the frightening gatekeeper. Julie Dench grounds the film with her perfomance as Vianne’s grouchy landlady Armande Voizinwith, who melts under Vianne’s insistent good nature. Josephine (Lena Olin), whom Vianne rescues from a violent husband and befriends, evolves into a complete person once she is shown some tenderness. The only character who seems miscast is Johnny Depp, who’s so bohemian and hip for the times that he’s difficult to take seriously. He also seems too immature to play the love interest of the maternal, voluptuous Juliet Binoche.

Connect with people, Chocolat tells its audience; live a little, and what could go wrong? If we were in a town where real arthouse films competed for attention, Chocolat’s syrupy sweetness might not stand out as favourably; but for Bangkok, Chocolat is something special. Treat yourself.


A dress to remember

If you’ve dreamed about a truly unique and special dress for your wedding, you’ll need to track down a good designer to turn your dream dress into a reality. This is the one day where you’ll want to look your best, so choosing a designer who’s in tune with your thoughts will be the key to a fabulous dress.

But be prepared to change that dream, advises designer Valaiporn Bunnag. She recommends keeping an open mind when consulting a designer. "You’ve got to know what style and colour is going to suit your body," she says – and a good designer will be able to tell you. But to start with, it’s a good idea to know whether you want to go all out and have what Valaiporn calls the "Cinderella look", or if you’d prefer something understated that can be modified and worn again later on. It will cost a little extra to convert the dress, but in the long run this will save you buying a completely new dress for that next cocktail function.

And do shop around for a designer whose style you like, and whom you can work comfortably with. But if you already have a dressmaker and she’s skilled enough to make a wedding dress, trust her. "She will know your figure," Valaiporn says.

One thing to check if shopping around is whether the designer can offer you a calico fitting. This will be your chosen design made up in a calico the colour of the dress. It lets the designer learn more about your figure, and lets you see if you really like the style. "There will usually be an extra charge for this, but it’s always a good idea," Valaiporn says. "If they don’t offer, ask."

Research is important, says Rico-a Mona designer Jakrapong Wanchana. "Keep researching! The client should look in wedding magazines, fashion magazines, wedding shops and books to get as many ideas as posssible. Go to shops to touch and look, and try on dresses." Then take along a collection of pictures that you like and your ideas to a designer. "If the cut or the design doesn’t really suit you, we’ll suggest some changes in the design to try to make it enhance your figure. We know how to conceal flaws and enhance assets."

It’s also a good idea to let your designer know about things such as what jewellery you’ll be wearing, whether you’d like a veil, flowers in your hair, your hair up or down and so on. If you don’t have these details finalised yet, your designer should be able to make some suggestions and even introduce you to people they have worked with before.

And don’t leave things until the last minute. If the designer is not busy, one month would be the minimum time to allow, but busier places could take two to three months to finish a dress, depending on the complexity of the pattern. For a plain dress, two or three fittings are necessary, while something more elaborate may require up to four.

Prices can vary. Valaiporn charges a flat rate of Bt8,000 for labour, with materials extra. Obviously the better the quality of materials you use, the higher the final cost of the dress will be. Good quality satin will cost around Bt800 to 2000 per metre, while 2-ply Thai silk will cost upwards of Bt650 per metre, and most dresses take between five to seven metres of material, depending on style. Head to Chinatown or Pahurat to get started, or Shinawatra or Jim Thompson for silk. Rico-a Mona collection dresses start at Bt25,000, but they can alter their designs to suit the customer’s budget – by for instance, allowing the client to bring in her own fabric. "It’s good if the client tells us her budget, then we can work on a design to suit that budget," says Jakrapong.

Buying a printer in Bangkok

No home office or small business is complete without a printer, but there is plenty you should know and understand before heading out to buy or update one.

Determine what you need

There are two main categories of printers on the market suitable for personal use: inkjets, which shoot tiny droplets of ink onto paper to make an image or text, and lasers, a step up all things being equal, in terms of quality, price and speed. Impact or dot matrix printers are still on the market, but their main advantage – that they can print on multiple-copy paper – makes them a viable option for business only.


If you’re printing volume is relatively low, head for an inkjet printer. These offer space for both black and colour cartridges, making them a budget choice for colour. Inkjets are able to print colour photographs in varying degrees of quality. Start with something like the Canon Jet BJC 1000SP for Bt2,900 from Hardware House. It prints at resolution 720x360dpi and for monochrome text prints at 4bwppm [black and white pages per minute]. You can print normal colour text and graphics using the cartridges the printer comes with, but for around Bt1,000 you can buy a six-colour cartridge which prints better quality photos at 120 seconds per page. The Epson Stylus Colour 480 at Bt2,950 from Data IT is another good starter model, printing at 720x720dpi and 4bwppm. It takes 245 seconds to print a fine photo using its normal cartridge – six-colour cartridges are available only with the Epson Photo series. Hewlett Packard’s basic model is the HP630C, printing at 600dpi x300dpi and 5 bwppm. Photo cartridge is extra. Hardware House sells it for Bt3,650.

As the speed and resolution of the printers improves, so does the price. Mid-range models include the Canon BJC3000 (720dpi, 9bwppm) for Bt6,350 from Hardware House, and the Epson Stylus Colour 880 (2880x720dpi, 12bwppm) for Bt10,750, from Data IT. The Epson range steps up to photo quality (six-cartridge colour) with the Epson Stylus Photo 720 (1440dpi, 4 bwppm) at Bt8,560 from CSC. Keen digital photographers should check out the Stylus Photo 875DC, which has a built in PC card slot into which you can put your digital camera memory card. You can’t alter the photo using the printer software, but you can view the photo on your computer screen. It prints at 1440 x720 dpi and takes 110 seconds to print a fine quality A4 page. IT City sells them for Bt16,400.

Graphic artists might head for printers with an A3 printing capability, such as the Canon BJC6500 (1440x720dpi, 9bwppm) for Bt16,350 from Data IT, or the HP1220C (2400dpi, 11bwppm) for Bt19,500 from IT City. Epson Stylus Photo 2000P (1440x720dpi) is an upper end printer, taking 470 seconds to print an A4 photo, or 850 seconds for an A3 photo. Available from IT City for Bt42,690.

All-in-one printers, scanners, copiers and faxes can be a cost-saving combination. The Stylus Scan 2500 scans and copies only (1440×720 dpi, 6ppmbw) and is available from CSC for Bt21,400. The HP Officejet G55 prints, scans, copies and faxes (600dpi, 11bwppm). It goes for Bt31,850 from IT City. Brother has two all-in-ones, the MFC7160 and MFC 9200. The former allows for single-page feeds only, while the latter features a flatbed, allowing books and magazines to be scanned and copied. They retail for Bt29,400 and Bt34,026 from CSC.


For a basic monochrome laser printer start with the Brother HL-1240 (600x600dpi, 12bwppm) for Bt15,500, or the finer resolution Epson EPL 5800 (1200 dpi, 10ppm) and HPLaserjet 2100 (1200dpi, 10ppm), both from IT City, Bt25,145 and Bt27,900 respectively.

As with inkjets, printing on A3 paper adds to the price. Try the Epson EPL 2010 (1200dpi class, 20 page/min A4 or 10 page/min A3) for Bt53,500 from CSC.

Color lasers are expensive, but the best colour lasers can print at near photo quality. Models falling within this group include the Brother HL2400C for Bt100,500 from Data IT (16 bwppm, 2400dpi), the HPColour Laser 4550 (2400dpi, 16bwppm) for Bt102,900 from IT City or the Epson Aculaser C8500 for Bt242,890 (9600x600dpi, 26bwppm) from CSC.

Challenge your mind and your body

Based on various beliefs from China, Japan, Korea, Thailand and other countries, the martial arts are about more than physical exercise: they involve intellectual and spiritual components to help develop the individual as a complete person as well. Objectives may include connecting the mind with the body, or the individual with the universe, and physical practice helps to achieve this. Here’s a list of what’s available in Bangkok.

Aikido: Based on a variety of older martial arts such as jujitsu and judo, Aikido (the way of harmony with the chi force") is relatively new. Morihei Ueshiba, who wanted to follow a disciplined, philosophical approach to self-defense, created it in 1942. It is defensive, and is based on using the opponent’s motions against them; disabling rather than harming opponents is the objective. Techniques include punches, kicks, weapons and hands, and there is a focus on motion and dynamics.

Judo (the way of flexibility): Sometimes called a simplified version of Jujutsu, Judo was developed in Japan in 1882 as a modern sport. It focuses on timing, speed, balance, and falling and is based on numerous grappling and throwing techniques.

Jujutsu (the art of giving way): Jujutsu, one of the oldest forms of Japanese hand-to-hand combat, was developed from several combat systems of warfare that each focused on a type of weaponry. Jujutsu as a term was not used until the 1600s, when Japanese martial arts as were moving from weaponed to weaponless styles, and were collectively named Jujutsu.It’s a grappling art, with practitioners using leverage, weight, and momentum to defeat opponents.

Karate-do (the way of the empty hand): Karate-do or karate developed in response to a ban on weapons in the 1700s on the Japanese island of Okinawa. Physically demanding, it’s a mix of Kung Fu and the Okinawan style of boxing, and is recognized by its wide array of hand and foot strikes, concentration on breathing and repetitive practice of blocking, striking, and breaking techniques.

Krabii-krabong: Considered to be a more "pure" tradition than Muay Thai, Krabii Krabong focuses on several hand-held weapons, the krabii (sword), plong (quarter-staff), ngao (halberd), daap sawng meu (a pair of swords held in each hand) and mai sun-sawk (a pair of clubs). The moves involve Thai boxing techniques and judo-like throws along with the use of the weapons. The weapons, however, are not actually used to hit opponents.

Kung Fu (ability, or skill and effort): Kung Fu is an ancient martial art that originated in China when a Tibetan Buddhist monk taught Shaolin monks exercises to improve their health. This became Shaolin Kung Fu style – but there are now some 1,500 different schools. There are two main categories, external/hard and internal/soft. The former features powerful foot and hand strikes, and is physically intensive, while the latter emphasises inner spiritual development.

Muay Thai: One of the most brutal martial arts and most physical sports in the world, Thailand’s national sport is based completely on combat. It’s said to have originated in 1560 when King Naresuen was captured by the Burmese and offered his freedom in return for defeating the Burmese ; however, some believe the art is older and was influenced by Chinese boxing and the Indian arts. Muay Thai concentrates on hand and leg techniques, using all parts of the body for self-defense including punching, kicking, elbowing and kneeing.

Tae Kwon Do (the art of kicking and punching): This Korean art, where kicking is emphasised over punching, dates back to the seventh century AD. With the invasion of the Japanese, it went underground, but when Korea was liberated in 1945 the modern period of the art began, which saw the elimination of Japanese influences and a return to traditional schools (kwans). In 1955 the name Tae Kwon Do was chosen for the styles that were unified into a national sport.

Tai Chi: Popular with older people, but just as suitable for the young, this is a refined, smooth and gentle low-impact or no-impact art based on relaxation, yielding and non-aggression. It opens up the body and helps preserve physical fitness into the older years. It’s not self-defence – you don’t meet force with force as in other arts – but some describe its power as "steel wrapped in silk".

Homegrown healthy veges

Smile Plants manager Raj Pundarik started his hydroponic garden when his wife challenged him to it a few years ago. The challenge turned into a hobby, and when friends started asking how they could emulate his green garden, he invested around Bt30,000 in equipment and turned his hobby into a business.

After experimenting with lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes and flowers, he now sells mainly lettuce, and also kits for people to grow their own hydroponic plants at home. "It’s not always convenient for people to get out to the farms to buy their equipment," he explains.

When imported butterhead lettuce were selling for Bt60 each from supermarkets, he was able to sell his own produce for Bt25 and make a profit; now that the imported price has fallen to Bt35 to 40, demand has fallen somewhat, but the demand for equipment has stayed steady.

So what is hydroponics?

Hydroponics is the growing of plants without soil. Instead, plants are grown in an inert medium, such as water, and are fed a nutrient solution that provides the elements necessary for plant growth. Hydroponics makes it possible to grow plants in locations where it might not normally be possible – such as on a small balcony in Bangkok. Because all the nutrients and water the plant needs are supplied directly to it, more plants can also be grown in that small space than if dirt were used.

Although with artificial lighting, it is possible to successfully garden indoors, thanks to Bangkok’s good weather – and the expense of the lights – these systems haven’t taken off the way they have in cooler climes.

Other advantages of using the hydroponic method include that you don’t need to weed your garden, plants are more resistant to pests and diseases (thus eliminating the need for pesticides), and that as the plants are grown in a more controlled environment, they will be of a higher quality and often have a better flavour.

Healthy and cheap

Home hydroponics is definitely on the rise, says Ack Hydro Farm’s assistant managing director Pannida Kiangsiri. The company, which has been selling hobby kits as well as distributing its own produce to supermarkets, hotels and restaurants in Bangkok for two years, is the busiest it has ever been. "We mostly sell to mothers who want to grow their own healthy vegetables for their families," Pannida says. Some purchase kits simply to have a green garden and others hope to save money.

Pannida does point out, however, that growing Thai vegetables hydroponically is not yet price competitive. Salad vegetables that used to have to be imported such as red oak leaf, green oak leaf, butter head, red romaine, watercress, cos, and rocket remain the most popular and are usually cheaper.

Beginners usually start with the smallest kit (Bt3,900), which has 18 holes. The kit includes the trays in which the plants sit, a pump, tank, and covering net that helps protect plants from insects and the rain, as well as the first set of seedlings, which take around six to seven weeks to mature from the day they were planted. Later on, seedlings two to three weeks cost Bt5 to 8 each. Buying seedlings rather than seeds to plant yourself increases the likelihood that your plants will grow to be healthy, as most things that can go wrong will happen when the plants are very young. After sales service is also provided.

Ongoing costs include an estimated Bt20 per month to power the pump, and around Bt100 per month for the nutrients. Enthusiasts will often progress to buying the three-metre, 48-plant set (Bt9,500). Due to its size, the six-metre set is not quite as popular.

Colour yourself beautiful

Like the length and style of your hair but tired of your look? Colouring is an option, and the choices available have never been so wide.

The trends

According to one international stylist passing through Bangkok recently, from the mid-90s onwards, styling was "extremely boring, especially colouring. But now you can do absolutely anything. Hair is getting longer, so colouring is more important this season than before. The trend is more definite than it has been for a long time."

In New York and Paris, this stylist says, it’s pretty much anything goes, but there are several notable directions. "Blondes are golden, browns are very light and have some ash in them, and highlights are golden, whiskey or honey." But for Asian hair, the trend is browns: "three to four shades of brown, and the look is now more solid. Full colour is becoming popular."

Director of the Attitude hair salon John Moy says that the trend in Bangkok is for vibrant looking hair. "Strong colour is in, especially for working ladies in Bangkok, even if they don’t have any grey. It’s fashionable, and it fits in with a Bangkok lifestyle."

And Moy says that Thai women are becoming more daring. "They’re choosing some stunning colours now, such as purple-red – they call it Coke colour – and radish reds. But if you overdo the colour, they’re not so comfortable. The Thai market is also now blending dark blonde with a lightening of the base colour, or adding a few streaks of light blonde."

But blonde is one of the most difficult colours to maintain. "For black or quite dark hair, a contrast colour such as light blonde can be stunning for the first couple of weeks. But then in Bangkok, the polluted air, the sun, the hard water – it’s not good for blonde hair. The chemicals fight the blonde."

Your options

So what’s what? A permanent colour, tint or dye are all the same thing: targetted colours containing ammonia, which prepares the hair to take the colour, and peroxide, which lightens the pigment. If you’re trying to cover grey hair, or you’re lightening your hair colour considerably, you’ll need to use such a colour, which won’t go away until cut off. The downside is that when used over many years, permanents cause the hair to thicken and eventually give it a straw-like appearance. This is because the peroxide causes the colour pigment to swell up to 400 times its normal size. However, used occasionally to change your hair colour by only one or two shades, it may dry the hair slightly but will not cause it to become unmanageable.

Highlights blend in with the hair’s main colour. Chemically, they are the same as permanents, but are applied using different techniques, including:

· traditional foils, which are labour intensive and usually the most expensive;

· cap highlights, where the hair is pulled through holes in a skull cap

· freehand foils, which are currently the most in vogue. Freehand foils allow the stylist to place or "weave" colour randomly through the hair, making regrowth less obvious.

Then there are semi-permanents, which gradually wash out after around a dozen washes. These are gentler on the hair, and can improve shine and manageability. If you’re not changing your colour too drastically, this could be an option. However, semi-permanents usually cost the same as a permanent.

Temporary colours lasts until you next wash your hair.

Before and after

Don’t wash your hair for at least 24 hours before you head to the salon, as having oil over your hair shaft will help to protect it.

After the colour, use a colour rinse shampoo once a week, a shampoo for coloured hair the rest of the time, and get regular protein treatments. Before being exposed to the sun and/or before swimming, protect your hair by rubbing an oily substance such as a leave-in conditioner or some baby oil through its top layer.

Return for a touchup around five weeks after your colour, or when around 1cm of regrowth is visible. However, stylist Moy advises that if there’s not so much of a contrast between the regrowth and the colour, you could wait for eight weeks.