Eye Care in Surat Thani

Originally posted on Tar Heel Voyager

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It is an unfortunate truth that I am blind as a bat wearing a blindfold without my contacts or glasses so it was necessary I properly prepare when moving to Thailand.  I made sure to bring a year’s supply of contacts and my glasses just in case but eventually my stock ran out and my specs were scratched.  It was time I visited the an eye care center for the first time in Thailand.  Rest assured my fellow sightless travelers as eye care in this Southeast Asia hotspot is a breeze to find (barring the language barrier).

Contacts are amazingly simple to obtain, comparatively inexpensive, and well made.  Walk into any eye care center and you can pick up one or as many pair as you like.  I use monthly contacts which cost roughly ฿180 ($5) per pair.  I’ll be bringing another year’s supply home with me as the price is far to good of a deal to pass up.

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Glasses are also cheap and simple to obtain, although it can be a bit tough getting to appropriate lenses (such as automatic, scratch resistant, etc.) because of the language barrier.  If you already have the frame you can buy new lenses for as little as ฿450 ($13).  The frames are priced in a variety of ways.  The more local brands can go for less than ฿3,000 ($86) and more popular brands, such as Ray Ban or Playboy, can go for upwards of ฿8,000 ($230).

Eye care centers are extremely simple to find as well be located in any Central Plaza or peppered along the main roads.  One of Thailand’s most popular companies is Top Charoen, easily recognized by it’s light blue signage.  They are almost as abundant as 7/11s… well, that might be a stretch.  Top Charoen has also been offering a “Buy 1 Get 1 Free” promotion for a long time so you may be able to benefit from that.  Unfortunately the options available were not that numerous so I reluctantly wound up with the pair seen below.

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If for any reason you are not sure of your prescription the majority of eye care centers can perform screenings for free.  Just another tick in the affordable healthcare box.

Eye care is one of the more simplistic medical needs that can be taken care of while in Thailand.  Whether you are living here or just a backpacker passing through all it will take is a bit of your time.


Check out more posts about Thailand at Tar Heel Voyager.

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Swallow Hotel

Have you ever noticed the tall buildings all throughout town with little uniform squares circling their exteriors? I found out these are built for the purpose of housing swallows. The hope is that they will like this little condo and build a nest. Swallow nests, particularly from the Swiftlet, are one the most expensive animal products to be consumed. They are used in the ever popular Bird’s Nest soup. It seems the packaged “essence of bird’s nest” is more popular here in Surat Thani. I did a little research, and an average nest sells for $2,500 per kilogram. These factories are best placed near the sea, as the birds like to stay close to it. Here’s a picture of one near the pier that even has a swallow sign.

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New Places in Surat: Jam Bar & Restaurant

Within the past six months or so, a few notable watering holes have sprung up around town. When I moved here just over two years ago, a good beer was hard to find in Surat. Heineken or Carlsberg weren’t too hard to come across in nicer places around town, but when it came to finding anything a step up from those at a bar or restaurant, there weren’t even a handful of options. Now though, a few new bars have joined the ranks in Surat and they’ve both quickly become two of the most popular spots in town to hang out and get a good drink.

The most recently opened establishment is Jam Bar & Restaurant. If you drive down Chon Kasem from the river, you’ll find it just past the Karunrat intersection on the left. The place has a nice ambiance and the vintage decor combined with the two-level open air setup make for a nice place to grab a few drinks with friends. The best thing about Jam though is that the drinks are tasty AND reasonably priced AND  made with good quality liquor. Most cocktails will only set you back 90 baht and they also have wine for 80 baht a glass. A few of us think that the strawberry margarita might be the best mixed drink in town and I can definitely recommend the white russian.

Their food menu is almost completely Thai dishes and while it’s a little bit pricey, everything I’ve tried has been good. The cashew chicken and fried shrimp are both nice. The food menu is not translated into English, but a few of the waiters and waitresses speak some English and can help you out.

With great cocktails, reasonable prices, and a relaxed atmosphere, Jam has quickly become quite popular among teachers and expats in Surat. If you haven’t been, go check it out!

Shrine to the City God

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When talking to my Thai teacher one day, I referred to the large ornate monument near the bridge as the “white temple.” She informed me that it’s not a temple, but a “shrine to the city god” or “city pillar shrine.” In Thai, it’s “Lak Muang.” There are no monks at the shrine, where there would be at a temple. I found out that it is meant to show that Surat Thani is the center, or capital, of the Surat Province. It also serves as a place for newcomers to Surat to pay their respects to the city god and to pray for success in the region. The offerings are what you might be familiar with already: incense, candles (oil candles to prolong your prayer), flowers, colorful fabric (to wrap around the ornament inside), and gold leaf. Thai dancers will often perform at the shrine to appease the city god, showing how beautiful they remain. All of these items are available for sale at the shrine. If you haven’t been yet, go and let your presence here be known!

A Lasting “Impression”

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Between Old Thida and New Thida sits one of the all-time favorites of SE teachers – Impression coffee shop. Run by “New”, a Thai guy who speaks great English, this place is a daily stop for many teachers. I myself visit about 3-4 times each week. Often after lunch, or during a long break in the afternoon, I’m in need of a little caffeine kick. I’ll head over and pick up a “Mocha Yen” (iced mocha coffee). Or perhaps I’m craving a tasty Thai tea or an Oreo shake. New will whip up whatever refreshing drink I want and chat away with me or the other teachers stopping through.

Two things set Impressions apart for me. The first is that the coffee is actually good. New grinds real coffee beans in the shop. None of that instant crap you’ll find in the carts on the street. And he spent a few years living in Portland, where coffee is a serious deal. So he knows what he’s doing. The drinks are fantastic.

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The second thing that makes Impression a great spot for a quick mid-day break is New himself. He’s one of the friendliest people I’ve met here, always asking us how we’re doing, how classes are going, if we enjoyed our vacations or weekend trips. Plenty of Thais are really friendly, but New is fluent in English, so it’s easier to chat with him than most others. He’ll talk about anything ranging from travel locations to Thai politics. I’ve learned a decent amount about Thailand from him, and he’s helped improve my Thai speaking. His shop is flooded with Thai kids after school, and he seems to genuinely enjoy having them all around hanging out at his place.

Sadly – nay – tragically, New is soon moving to Phetchabun, north of Bangkok. He’s passing the coffee shop off to some other guys who used to teach at Thida. They’re also really friendly, but… no more conversations with New. And while we’ll have to wait and see, I doubt the drinks will be as good either. Those of us staying for next year are all sad to see New go. We’ll have a tough adjustment when we come back from the break, but we’re always finding pleasant surprises around here, so we’ll cope.

Here’s to New, his fantastic drinks, his friendly spirit and great conversations! You’ll be missed. โชคดี / Chok dee (Good luck)!

Street Food

I found myself standing in front of many a street food stall holding one finger up and smiling. It seems to work, but if you want to call some of these things by their names, this might help!

Coconut Roasties (available at the Night Market by Super English) – ka-nom krok

Deep-Fried Dough (a breakfast favorite) – bah-torng-goh

Steamed Buns (cross the bridge heading north, make your first right, stop at the lady just a bit up on the left. just do it.) – sah-lah-bow

Mixed Nuts (protein on the go!) – gai sahm yahng

If you’re eating something you like, say “a-roy mahk.” It means “That was delicious!”

Another Awesome SE Event – “Unseen Surat”

We’ve had a ton of great SE parties and events throughout my time here so far. Peter has treated us to pool parties, staying at Rabaingsai resort, nice dinners, taking a trip to the floating bungalows in Khao Sak, yummy Thanksgiving dinner, and a Thai culture party, just to name a few. This month, Peter had the great idea to have an “Unseen Surat” event, the idea being to show us some cool places around Surat that most of us teachers haven’t seen before. Peter decided to keep the planned events for the day a surprise, which was a lot of fun. All we knew is that we would be starting with lunch and going to some places in Surat from there.

We kicked the day off with a tasty lunch, provided by Peter, at a local Thai place near Super English. Lunch was served to us family style and everyone loaded their plates with yummy curries and tasty Thai dessert. Next, walked across the street to the river, where we found a long-tail boat waiting for us that the Thai staff and Peter had arranged. Everyone was really excited, because nobody had been on the river in Surat before. It is something a lot of people talk about wanting to do, but nobody had. We loaded everyone up in the boat, along with some totally awesome hats provided by the boat driver to give us a bit of shade. First we drove to an island in the middle of the river and took a quick tour of this nice vegetable garden. Then we hopped back on the boat and enjoyed a leisurely ride through some of the canals in the jungle, on the non-city side of the river. I particularly enjoyed this part, because our house is in this area, near the canals. At least 7  other teachers live in the part of town too, near the canals, and we actually passed the bungalows where 4 SE teachers live! The ride was really relaxing and the jungle was so beautiful. We even saw a few monitor lizards moving about.

Our last stop on the boat trip was this really awesome homestay that the boat driver runs. It is probably only 5 minutes from our house, but I never knew it was there, as it is hidden on a canal deep in the jungle. Supposedly there is some road or path to access the homestay by land, so maybe I’ll have to look for that sometime soon. Our boat driver also turned out to be an expert in all kinds of Thai handiwork. He spent the afternoon teaching us how to use various leaves from the jungle to make Thai desserts, thatched roofs, and baskets. We also got to try some tasty Thai drinks. Towards the end of the afternoon, he hacked open some young coconuts for us to enjoy, before we hopped on the boat and headed back to the city.

This event is definitely towards the top of the list of the my favorite SE events. Everyone had a lot of fun and really enjoyed getting to see some hidden places in Surat that we wouldn’t have seen if Peter and the Thai staff hadn’t planned this event for us. Thanks to Peter for providing another memorable experience for us, and thanks to the Thai staff for planning the boat tour for us. Enjoy the pictures!

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