What’s your travel style?

No, I’m not talking about the style of clothes you wear whilst travelling – whether you favour Berghaus or North Face, or how many pairs of hippy trousers you own.  What I’m talking about is how you choose to travel – are you someone who believes in truly getting to know a city or country? Someone who believes in looking beyond the tourist trail and craves a more authentic experience?  Someone who wants to feel a place rather than merely see it?  Or does remaining in the same city or country for too long bore you?  Are you constantly plotting and dreaming about the next adventure, the next stamp on your passport?

Or maybe it’s not that black or white.

I find myself often pondering this question, and asking it of myself.  Yes, available time does dictate your travel style to a certain extent, but it’s more to do with how you choose to use that time.  Money is also a governing factor, but if you were to give two travellers in the same location the same amount of money, they may both choose to use that money in very different ways.

I must admit that I am often guilty of trying to cram as much as possible into the time I have whilst travelling, whether that be simply a ‘holiday’ for a definitive amount of time, or an extended trip between jobs.  I have a thirst for new experiences – new sights, new sounds, new flavours.  However, there’s also a strange sense of guilt when I’m not on the go.  I constantly feel that there’s something I should be doing, somewhere I should be going, some time I should be spending more constructively.  I’m the same at home.  I find it very difficult to simply sit down and watch a film or a television programme, becoming so easily distracted by that Photography or Journalism course I’m studying, the Spanish I’m learning, the blog I’m writing, or the next trip away I’m planning.  Odd as it may sound to some, these are the things I do to relax.

Similarly, I don’t feel relaxed when I’m travelling if I’m not doing something to stimulate my mind or one of my senses.  Even during 6 months around south-east Asia, I barely stopped anywhere for longer than 3 or 4 days.  Bearing that in mind, you’d probably think I’d have managed to visit more than 4 countries in 6 months.  I didn’t.  But I did visit more villages, towns and cities in those countries than the average traveller does.  After all, England is much more than London or Manchester.  Undeniably a visit to England is essentially incomplete without seeing London, but there are so many more pieces to the jigsaw.

A jigsaw is exactly as I see cities and countries.  You can’t go to Khao San road and think you’ve seen Bangkok; you can’t go to Istanbul and think you’ve seen Turkey.  The more pieces of the jigsaw you collect along the way, the better your understanding of the big picture.

Bangkok...so far removed from Khao San Road

Bangkok…so far removed from Khao San Road

Serene walks through the grounds of Bangkok's many Wats

Serene walks through the grounds of Bangkok’s many Wats

Paragliding over Pamukkale's unusual and fascinating landscape

Paragliding over Pamukkale’s unusual and fascinating landscape, Turkey

The surreal volcanic landscape of Cappadocia, also Turkey

The surreal volcanic landscape of Cappadocia, also Turkey

Yes okay, travelling within a city or a country does cost money, but there are cheaper and more expensive ways of doing it.  Walking around a city costs nothing, and it’s a fantastic way of getting to know a place – not merely getting your bearings but also learning about the history, the economy, the people, the culture, and the food.  You get to be a voyeur, as well as having the opportunity to interact with the locals if you choose to.  If (or when!) you get lost, people’s kindness and hospitality can surprise and delight you.

So what’s my travel style? I like to scrimp on accommodation and food – I choose to stay in hostels, and for the most part I’m happy to stay in a dorm room so long as it’s secure and I have a comfy bed, access to a shower and somewhere to charge my phone and the batteries for my camera.  I’m not a big eater at the best of times and hot climates do tend to suppress my appetite but I’ll always favour street food – or sitting on a tiny plastic stool at an intimate little local eatery – over dining at a restaurant, or ordering from a café that’s dominated by tourists.  I walk a lot and use public transport as much as I can, which usually means that I use it up to the point that language barriers prevent me from doing so.

I will spend on entrance fees to local attractions if I deem them to be a worthwhile investment, and I will research those that don’t charge for entry.  I will also spend on organised treks or tours to locations it would otherwise be logistical tricky to get to in the time I have available.  There are also of course those activities that you simply cannot do independently. I took a 3-day trek around Mae Sariang in northern Thailand, which happened as a result of a random meeting with a Canadian traveller in a village devoid of other Westerners, and his prior and equally random conversation with a friend of the gentleman who ran a small-scale tour company in the village. That was worth stretching the budget for and was one of my favourite adventures during my 6-month trip.

Our guide on the Mae Sariang trek, Nigorn

Our guide on the Mae Sariang trek, Nigorn

Sometimes I wonder whether I should find a place I like and plant some short term roots there for a while…teach English somewhere in Spain or south America, which would also afford me some time to develop my Spanish, or join a volunteer project where your food and digs are included in return for your input into the project.  Maybe it’s time to try an alternative travel style…

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More fish sauce? Thai culinary delights with crazy Joe!

Ever since my first visit to Thailand in 2002, its distinct, aromatic, but simple flavours have stayed with me, and Thai food remains my favourite cuisine.  Chilli, ginger, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, palm sugar, soy sauce, and garlic – an amalgamation of ingredients that scream “Thailand!”

I learnt to cook with these ingredients back in 2006, during a 6-month solo trip around south-east Asia.  I’d made it up to Chiang Mai from Bangkok, via Kanchanaburi – the pretty riverside town that’s famous for being the location of the Bridge over the river Kwai – and Lopburi – renowned for its wild monkey population – and Thailand’s old capitals, Ayuthaya and Sukhothai. I’d been constantly on the move since I landed in Bangkok a few weeks previously, so having 5 days in Chiang Mai actually allowed me some time to stop.  I had a traditional Thai massage, sat around in street cafes drinking fresh fruit smoothies, and booked myself on a Thai cookery course with Gap’s Thai Culinary Art School.

Being Vegetarian – or more accurately, Pescetarian (but many people look at me rather blankly when I use that description) – what appealed to me about Gap’s is that they are able to adapt their dishes to suit vegetarians, by using tofu instead of meat.  This is advertised on their website, and gave them an immediate advantage over companies who do not offer that. The whole day was expertly and seamlessly organised, informative, hands-on, and most of all great fun.  Moreover the group size is small (never more than 8 students per tutor – we had 5), so you really feel valued as an individual.

The day starts with a visit to the local market for an attack on the senses, and to have a look at some of the vegetables, herbs, and seasoning that we’d be working with.  The market in itself was fascinating – I never realised there were so many different varieties of eggplant (in fact, all of the vegetables traditionally used in a Thai Green Curry are a type of eggplant – bitter, long, and crunchy).  I also learnt that Papaya is great for your digestive system and that rubbing fresh Turmeric on mosquito bites will help to reduce the swelling and itching (still haven’t tried that one though!)

Already feeling positive, excited and inspired, we were then driven to the ‘school’, which is actually a large covered open-air kitchen built in the middle of some beautiful gardens.  I couldn’t have asked for a prettier, more authentic setting.  The kitchen was well laid out, and our individual workstations were spacious and fully-equipped.  Our tutor – affectionately named ‘Crazy Joe’ – spoke enthusiastically about the Thai flavours and how they work together.  He taught us now only how to use all the ingredients effectively but also how to prepare and cook the following dishes creatively:

1. Poh Pia (Thai spring rolls)

The art of rolling...

The art of rolling…

And cooking...

And cooking…

2. Tom Yam Koung (Spicy and sour lemongrass soup with shrimp)

The raw ingredients

The raw ingredients

3. Khai Phat Met-Muang (chicken sauteed with cashew nuts)

This one's all meat-free

This one’s all meat-free

4. Phat Thai Sai Khai (fried noodle Thai style)

More commonly known as Pad Thai

More commonly known as Pad Thai

How it's done in the pan

How it’s done in the pan

All rolled up omelette stylie

All rolled up omelette stylie

4. Khaeng Khiaw Waan Kai (Chicken green curry)

IMG_2546

Some of the ingredients in a Thai green curry…think I was too busy salivating to take a photo of the dish itself!

5. Tort Man Pla (Thai style fish cakes)

The raw ingredients

The raw ingredients

Cooking in the pan

Cooking in the pan

And voila!  On the plate and ready to eat

And voila! On the plate and ready to eat

7. Ho Mok Plaa (Fish souffle)

All prepared and ready to go in the steamer

All prepared and ready to go in the steamer

8. Sang Kai Yaa FakThawng (Steamed whole pumpkin with coconut custard)

All the dishes we cooked, apart from the steamed pumpkin  which was still cooking when I took this photo

All the dishes we cooked, apart from the steamed pumpkin which was still cooking when I took this photo, and the spring rolls which I’d already eaten!

N.B I substituted the chicken for tofu in all of the above dishes

The enormous intensity of the flavours in Thai dishes belies the relative simplicity of creating them.  Preparation is key ; cooking time is nominal.  We even got to show off a bit of artistic flair by making a rose from the peeled skin of a tomato…this did require a significant amount of patience and concentration but when I looked around at the other attempts afterwards, I was feeling rather chuffed with mine 🙂

Looks convincing, doesn't it?

Looks convincing, doesn’t it?

Now I realise that I’ve not sampled any other cookery courses in Chiang Mai, and so my recommendation may be a little biased, but when you find a company like Gap’s who run such a professional, organised, informative, fun, and worthwhile day, then it removes the need or desire to look elsewhere.  This is why – when I returned to Chiang Mai 5 years later – I decided to enroll on the same cookery course with Gap’s.  Not only were the company still going strong (which is a testament in itself to their success), but the whole experience was just as rich and fulfilling as the first.  Moreover, crazy Joe was still running it.  5 years on the trot and he still retains his enthusiasm and energy and humour….more fish sauce anyone? 😉

Useful Info

The cooking school office is located at:

Gap’s House, 3 Rajadamnern Soi 4, Chiang Mai (a few minutes walk from Tapae Gate)

email: info@thai-culinary-arts-cooking-school.com

tel: (66 53) 278140

Or click here to visit the website

Courses are held every day except Sunday

1-day course (10am-4pm) is 900THB and includes all transportation, a visit to the local market beforehand, a recipe book, certificate of completion of the course and a cotton shoulder bag.  Any food you can’t eat for lunch and any dishes you cook after lunch can be boxed up and taken home with you to eat for dinner (although, after the enormous amount of food I had managed to cook by lunchtime, dinner didn’t really happen for me!)  Finding someone to share it with is probably the best idea 🙂

Introducing…

Hi, I’m Kiara.

Greetings from my humble little abode in Shrewsbury, which is where I’m based at the moment when I’m not travelling.  It’s not a bad place to be based, it’s a thriving medieval town with a great music and arts scene, and when I need a taste of city life, I can hop on a train to Manchester, Birmingham, or Liverpool – all around an hour away – or London, which is only a 3-hour trip.

My four passions in life – Travel, Writing, Photography, and Music. In my blog I hope to share my travel experiences with you using the medias of writing, photography and music. After all, countries and cities and cultures are a mixture of all these things…of words and images, and sounds, and flavours. I’ve travelled solo around South-east Asia, I’ve skydived in New Zealand, bathed elephants in Thailand, paddled a little wooden dugout down the Nam Ou river in Laos, trekked the beautiful rice terraces of Sapa in Vietnam, walked the Great Wall of China, ridden a camel through the Sahara – in the rain, taken a hot air balloon flight over the surreal volcanic landscape of Cappadocia, Turkey, cycled the Adriatic coast from Venice to Porec (Croatia), experienced the crazy, colourful streets of Delhi, island-hopped in Japan, walked every inch of the pretty little Greek island of Paxos…and those are just the highlights!   Whenever I have the money and time to do so, I’m continually adding to those experiences….I got bitten by the travel bug a long time ago!

I’ve written blogs previously on www.blogger.com – to view my blog of my 6-month solo trip around South-east Asia visit www.cactuschild.blogspot.co.uk or to view my latest trip to Turkey visit www.turkeyintendays.blogspot.co.uk – but I’m liking the look of WordPress, so I thought I’d branch out.

I’m returning (after 9 years) to Barcelona at the end of the month, which I’m very much looking forward to, so please re-visit my blog in July for some stories, observations, facts and information, tips and recommendations, and some images and (hopefully) music clips to accompany them.

In the meantime I’ll leave you with a few of my favourite travel quotes…

“Travelling – it leaves you speechless, and then turns you into a storyteller”

“I would rather own little and see the world than own the world and see little of it”

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page”

The end is nigh . . .

I was awoken rather abruptly by powerful rumbles of thunder at around 5:30am this morning, and I have never been so scared by a thunderstorm in my entire life. There was a flash, which lit up the inside of my bungalow like a powerful neon light, and the loudest crash of thunder that I have ever heard. I cannot even begin to describe what it sounded like but it scared the s**t out of me! In fact, envisage the worst earthquake you could ever imagine – the ground was breaking in two and buildings were collapsing – and you’re getting somewhere close.
Fortunately the worst of the storm was over by the time I had to leave to catch the ferry back to Ban Phe. In fact, by the time I was on the ferry you wouldn’t have known there’d just been a terrible storm, the sun was shining so brightly that I was in danger of getting a bad case of sunburn on my arms as I hung over the side of the boat breathing in the sea air. At Ban Phe 10 of us squeezed into a mini bus, our bags at our feet and our knees subsequently level with our elbows. The journey took approximately 4 hours, and the moment we pulled into Khao San Road, the skies opened again. Even making the 5 minute walk back to the Wild Orchid Guesthouse would have involved me getting so wet I may as well have gone for a swim in the river, so instead I ran to the nearest internet cafe, updated my blog and emailed Todd (he’s apparently back in Bangkok applying for various chef positions at some of the city’s top hotels).
By around 8pm this evening I still hadn’t heard back from Todd, so I headed out for some food and one of my favourite mango and passion fruit shakes from the vendor just in front of the 7-11 on Soi Rambuttri. I subsequently sat down at one of Khao San Road’s many cafes and ordered a beer Chang, and it really started to dawn on me that I am actually going home tomorrow. It’s a concept that’s always seemed far too distant for me to dwell upon that seriously, and it’s not one that I’m looking forward to. I have a feeling that it will take me longer to adjust to being at home than it did for me to adjust to being out here nearly 6 months ago. Of course I’m looking forward to seeing my friends and family but I’d sooner them being flying out here to visit me. I love Asia : aside from having to barter the price of the majority of your purchases (right down to a bottle of water in Vietnam) and having to deal with people (not everyone by any means, and it’s only a serious issue in Vietnam) trying to rip you off or constantly trying to sell you their wares, I love the culture, the people and the pace of life over here. I love the food, I love the climate (although not the fact that you’re sweating most of the time as a result!) and I love the sights and the sounds and the smells that constantly surround you.
I can honestly say that I haven’t missed any of my ‘creature comforts’ as it were from back home, but one aspect of home that I have been craving is being able to go to the gym. I know it sounds crazy but a trek every now and then does not keep you fit (which I’ve realised having puffed and panted my way through several of them!) and I’ve lost all my muscle tone. So, one of the first activities I shall be persuing as soon as I get back to Shrewsbury is a dam good run (if I can manage it!) and some work on my muscles (namely my triceps, biceps and my abs). Tony, I may have to enlist your help as my personal trainer to get me back into it all! Aside from that, occasional longings for marmite and cheese have entered my head, and I shall certainly look forward to not having to sleep under a mosquito net every night and not being covered in bites all the time.
This is probably the last time I shall visit an internet cafe over here (aside from checking my mail around lunchtime to check whether Todd has got back to me and wants to meet for lunch) so I shall update the rest of todays journal when I return home on monday. Looking forward to seeing you all and boring you with endless tales of my Asian adventures . . .

Here comes the sun! . . . and several playful puppies!

Before hitting the beach in the morning, I collected my laundry from the washerwoman who lives down a little alley next to the 7-11, only to discover that she’d managed to lose one of my bras as well as the bottom half of my pyjamas! I’ll add those items to the long list which currently includes my toothbrush, my alarm clock, my watch (well, actually that broke but at the end of the day I no longer have it!), several pairs of underwear, a memory card, and my mobile phone! I guess losing a few items is inevitable bearing in mind that when you’re travelling you’re packing and unpacking and moving on every few days.
We had another beautiful sunny day on Ko Samet. I finished reading ‘Smoking Poppy’, fell asleep on several occasions and got woken up by a couple of playful puppies running across my stomach – on several occasions! I don’t know what it is with me and dogs lately but first of all I looked around the beach and noticed that, of the many dogs that had fallen asleep on the sand, most of them had decided to do so within a metre radius of where I was lying. Secondly, out of all the people on the beach, a couple of mishchievous little puppies decided to have a playfight on my sarong with me lying in between them. They kept running across my stomach, trying to bite each other and biting my leg or stomach instead, rolling their wet sandy bodies all over my sarong, licking my face, and trying to run of with my flip flops and my shorts. One of the little buggers did actually run off with my shorts, so that i was there tryng to wrench my shorts from the jaws of this puppy in the middle of a beach full of people who were finding this the most hilarious thing they’ve seen in months! The trouble was, the little puppy thought it was all just a game too, and subsequently fought even harder against me and my shorts. I finally threw down the gauntlet and added my shorts too the ever increasing lost property list at the beginning of this entry.
This evening I watched “Ray” (I saw the film about 18 months ago at the cinema but it’s a first class film so I didn’t need any persuasion to watch it for a second time) and then joined Danny, Jesicca, Paul and a collection of other people whose names I can’t remember, at Naga Bar. There was a different D.J on the decks there, who was playing a much better set and mixing the tunes a lot better than the other guy too (lots of the prodigy, which met with my approval). I also had the chance to make up for the appalling pool game I didn’t play the other night : I won the first game with tall guy (well, that’s what I shall call him as I didn’t catch his name due to the loudness of the music) and then only lost the second one on the black ball. Due to not really chatting to anyone in particular and just mingling amongst the crowds (most of whom I recognised from Naga) I drank my way through several large beer Changs and was subsequently bouncing around on the dance floor at the end of the evening! (which was actually around 3am!)
The following morning the sun was already shining with all it’s strength by 10am, so that when the cloud had properly lifted it was so hot I had to go for a swim every half an hour. I sat up in Tok’s Little Bar at lunchtime, and was soon accompanied by a Thai guy who calls himself FBI. I’ve seen him walking along the beach several times, a few of which he’s tried to talk me into having one of the henna tattoos he sells. So, I made polite conversation with him. He was moaning about how quiet it was on the beach now that it’s low season and that no-one wants a tattoo. Assuming he makes little money from selling tattoos in the rainy season, I asked him if he has an alternative job. He subsequently started to look shifty, lowered his voice, and told me he sells marajuana. He then proceeded to open his shoulder bag, produce a large bag of the green stuff and asked me if I’d like to buy some for a “special price”. I have now been offered weed in all four countries I’ve visited over the past 6 months : from members of the hilltribes in Laos, tuk tuk/moto drivers, guesthouses and restaurants (basically pretty much everyone!) in Cambodia, book sellers and market stall owners in Vietnam, and henna tattooists in Thailand!
Later on that day, he approached me to ask if I wanted to watch the sunset with him; he’d take me to a beach around the other side of the island on his motorbike. Maybe his intentions were perfectly innocent but I wasn’t about to jump on the back of a motorbike with a complete stranger, so I told him I was still feeling hungover and just wanted to spend a lazy day on the beach (which wasn’t entirely untrue). The misheivous puppies also made an appearance again, but fortunately didn’t try to steal any more items of my clothing or take chunks out my flesh. They just covered me and my sarong in sand and when i’d shaken my sarong down and dusted myself clean, they came back to do it all over again. Don’t you just love ’em?
Photo to follow.

Island hopping to Ko Samet

I caught the 9:30am songthaew over to the port as instructed but when I arrived on the mainland I still waited around for over an hour for the bus to arrive, whilst watching the rain pounding down on the pavement outside and drinking the largest banana shake I’ve ever been served. It appeared that I was the only person on the bus who was not heading straight to Bangkok and I was subsequently a little worried that the driver may completely bypass Rayong (the jumping off point for Ko Samet), so when we made a refreshments stop after about an hour I showed my ticket to the driver and asked him to confirm that we would be making a stop for Ko Samet and what sort of time we would be stopping. As is often the case when Asian people don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, he simply nodded his head and smiled. So, not feeling at all confident that he could even read the destination on my ticket, I kept my eye on the road for the duration of the journey to ensure that we remained on the correct road. As I suspected, we didn’t. Instead of taking the road to Bangkok which runs through Rayong, the driver took the direct route to Bangkok. As soon as I realised I rushed downstairs and showed the driver my ticket. He acted as if nothing was wrong, yet a kilometre down the road we came to an abrupt stop in the middle of nowhere, and I was offloaded on to a mini bus which subsequently headed in – guess what – the direction we had just come from!

I was driven to Ban Phe, where I caught a small motorboat across to the island. The lady at the port tried to fleece me for a further 100THB for the boat fare, until pointed out that I had already paid all the way to Ko Samet, as it stated on my ticket. I shared the motorboat with several bags full of longans and rambutans, a collection of Thai school children (who had presumably finished classes for the day as it was approaching 4pm), and a Thai mother whose little girl spent the entire journey doing cartoon superhero poses, which resulted in me desperately trying to hold back a fit of the giggles. We arrived on Ko Samet at around 5pm, and as I was the only farang on the boat the taxi driver wanted to charge me 200THB to take me to Ao Hin Kok beach. I decided to walk and I was glad that I did when I discovered that Ao Hin Kok was only around 1.5/2km from where the boat had dropped me off. All the accommodation on Ao Hin Kok is squeezed along a dirt track which runs parallel to the beach and stretches for around 100m. As my choice was therefore rather limited, I chose the cheapest option which was a bungalow at Naga Bungalows with shared bathroom for 200THB. The room is indeed more pleasant that the one at Fisherman Hill but is even more of a mosquito trap – I got bitten about 5 or 6 times simply by walking to the shower. Bearing in mind that getting to the shower involves walking through what can only be described as a jungle of dense vegetation then I wasn’t hugely surprised!

I would truly love to find out the real reason why mosquitoes find some people tastier than others. I’ve heard many theories : that they’re attracted to you if you eat cheese, that they’re attracted to you if you eat sweet foods, that they’re attracted by the surface temperature of your skin, and that they’re attracted to slimmer people. All of these I know are myths because firstly cheese is unavailable in Asia (unless you count the laughing cow processed variety), secondly I don’t eat sweet foods (apart from fruit), thirdly everyone has a high surface body temperature out here as it’s over 30 degrees most of the time (even when it’s raining), and lastly Siobhian and I are exactly the same size and she didn’t get bitten once. Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, mosquitoes can and do bite you through your clothing. How else do you explain the collection of bites on my bum?
In the ‘jungle’ surrounding the bungalows at Naga there are more of the creatures we encountered on Ko Chang who sound like demented cows. They never seem to shut up and although the noise doesn’t scare me anymore I’d love to know what kind of creature it is that’s making it!

At Naga they show a couple of films every evening in the common room/restaurant so I spent my first night on the island watching “21 Grams” and “Oceans Twelve” and then retired to bed, serenaded by the demented cows and the music from the Naga Bar across the road. The folowing day I found the library at my guesthouse, rented “Smoking Poppy” by Graham Joyce and spent the day reading it whilst lying on the beach under a very cloudy sky. I comforted myself with the thought that at least it wasn’t raining. However, later on in the evening it did. I sat in Naga listening to the persistent rain outside and watching “Keeping Mum” and “Cinderella Man”. I got chatting to Danny, one of the long term residents at Naga. He’s been travelling for almost a year and Thailand is only his second destination. He spent several months in New Zealand and didn’t make it further than Rotarua and I’m pretty sure he hasn’t seen any of Thailand beyond Bangkok and Ko Samet! Nevertheless, he was an easy going guy, and equally easy to talk to. I joined him at the Naga Bar once the second film had finished and challenged him to a game of pool. It wasn’t until we were half the way through the game and I hadn’t had a turn at the table that he decided to tell me that he used to play semi-professional.

The heavy rain would have kept me awake half the night had I not drank several bottles of beer Chang, which was enough to send me to sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. The following morning, the weather made a bit of a turn around. It started off cloudy but you could still see the sunshine trying to break through the clouds, and by around midday it had. So I relaxed on the beach and got most of the way through “Smoking Poppy”. Despite the obvious topic inferred by the title – it tells the story of a father who learns that his daughter has been arrested in Chiang Mai on drugs smuggling charges – it’s a novel about much more than drugs. It’s a surprisingly moving story which tracks the journey of discovery between a father and his daughter, and explores the concepts of love, redemption, and letting go.

I left the beach sporting a little red rudolph nose and suffering from a persistent sun-induced headache. As a result I spent another lazy evening at the Naga watching their latest selection of films : “40 Year Old Virgin” (which is not the type of film I’d usually watch but I found myself chuckling throughout) and “Crash” (not to be confused with the original film of the same title where people get off on watching car crashes!).
Photo is of statues of the prince and the mermaid (from Sunthorn Phu’s epic set on Ko Samet) at the southern end of Hat Sai Kaew beach

Rain, a canine companion, and more rain!

After Siobhian left I’ve been unable to do a lot here due to the unpredictable weather. Or perhaps that should be predictable : you know it’s going to rain every day for sure, you’re just not sure how much and for how long. I contemplated booking a boat tour of four of the surrounding islands, but I wasn’t prepared to pay the price the agents were asking merely on the off-chance that the sun may make an unexpected appearance.

Instead I’ve been spending my time reading, either on the beach when it’s not raining (as there are too many mosquitoes fighting for a taste of my blood up at Fisherman Hill) or in one of the nearby cafes. I’ve eaten at The Food Centre every day, so much so that they know what I like to drink and can hazard a pretty good guess at what I want to eat as well (it tends to be either green curry with seafood, fish cakes, or rice noodles with vegetables and seafood). I’ve also made a true friend in the resident dog at Fisherman Hill. I’m normally more of a cat lover but this fellow is making a pretty good job of changing my mind. He’s a beautiful, healthy looking animal : his fur is the rich colour of marmalade; and of the flesh of an overripe persimmon. The darker patches on his body give the impression of the sun casting shadows upon his fur. As much as I love cats, dogs are much more loyal animals, whereas cats will appreciate anyone who feeds them, pets them and showers them with affection.

Whenever I return to Fisherman Hill, ‘Marlam’ (as i’ve decided to call him, variation on the word marmalade) always leaps up (from wherever his resting place may have been) to greet me (which consists of sniffing around my legs and licking my hands as I stroke him, or giving me both of his paws, looking me straight in the eyes and panting excitedly), follows me back to my bungalow and waits on the veranda until I’ve closed my door and am safely inside. If I’ve returned late at night, he’ll often sit outside on the veranda until I fall asleep. I know this because I can see him through the cracks in the wood and I often hear him barking (at passing dogs) or shuffling around. He’s got the cutest brown eyes and when he looks up at you the fur above his eyes wrinkles, creating such a sincere expression of concern and affection. I’ve watched other guests return and have never once witnessed him do the same for them. Even Siobhian said that he would only greet her when she was accommpanied by me. I never realised I had such a way with animals! It’s almost like he’s my little guardian angel, bless him.

I’ve been back to Oodie’s Bar every night as well, firstly because they show a film every night at 7:30, and it’s a great way to kill a couple of hours when you’re on your own, and secondly because I love live music, especially when you’ve got some great tunes being played and some real characters playing them. Oodie (who plays lead guitar and sings lead vocals) looks like a a big (in comparison to the other guys) teddy bear that you wanna wrap your arms around, and he plays guitar with immense style and flair and incredible talent. He’s played with the likes of Carabao, Caravan and Zo Zo, some of Thailand’s biggest rock acts, and he’s also been in several bands of his own. The drummer, Tien (who also plays guitar, bass and provides vocals) looks like a Samuri warrior with a wicked glint in his eye, and his smile is full of mischief and charm. Mai is the good old reliable bassist. This guy takes his music seriously : for the most part his expression and posture remain unchanged but every now and then you’ll catch a spark of recklessness from him. I’m not sure they’ll be together as a band for much longer, as Tien was filling in for the original drummer who’s taken a 3 month honeymoon (it’s alright for some!) and Mai is leaving shortly to get married himself. However, for the time being, they make an excellent trio.

I also got propositioned by the Thai barman at Oodie’s. He kept asking me to stay on late at the bar and then offered to walk me home. I politely declined, being under the – more than likely accurate – impression that walking me home was not all that he had in mind!

Becoming increasingly disheartened with the weather and having spent several days frequenting the same hangouts and seeing the same faces, I was beginning to feel a bit like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Consequently I booked a ticket up to Ko Samet, which leaves tomorrow (300THB, takes pretty much the whole day to get there). Although I’m not expecting that the weather will be much better up there, I could do with a change of scenery regardless.

Photos

Marlam, the resident dog at Fisherman Hill, Ko Chang

2nd photo to follow