Top 10 Thailand

I’m currently in Sukothai, half way between Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Sukothai dates back to the 13th century and was the ancient capital of Siam. There’s temples to rival Cambodia’s Angkor but today it’s raining and I’m sitting in a cafe thinking about how this is my penultimate day in Thailand.

Yes, the end is near! I am leaving for Sri Lanka on Wednesday. I was only meant to be in Thailand for two months but one thing led to another and I’ve been here for three. I’ve compiled this top ten Thai things that I’ll miss.

1. Dodgy car stickers
Seriously, why would Thai people feel a need to dissuade others from certain activities in their cars by using stickers? Take this example on a privately owned vehicle:


From left:
– No smoking is fair enough.
– English readers may think the next image suggests no in-car conker matches. But no, this refers to durian fruit. A stinky, big, prickly fruit that people seem to either love or hate like marmite.
– And onto no sex.
– No weapons allowed in this car… because it’s naturally ok to have them in any other car.
– Now it gets very interesting. Does this suggest that women aren’t allowed to whip men in this car? But can a man whip a woman? It’s all very Fifty Shades. When I was doing my teacher training on Koh Samui, Abu Debbie and I hired a taxi to go to the visa office. It displayed a sticker that crudely told passengers that oral sex was off the menu.
– The final one baffles me totally. No livestock? No hypnotised animals? Answers on a postcard please.

2. Smiley happy people
I would say that nine times out of ten, if you smile at a Thai person, you’ll get a smile in return. You can’t guarantee that they’ll have any teeth, but it’ll be a big beaming smile. The people are so welcoming and if you look lost (like I did in Chiang Mai’s bus station the other day), they’ll ask you if you need any help.

3. Things that go bump in the night…
I talked about the night time noises when i was first at The Sanctuary in July. That was in the jungle but even in Chiang Mai, a bustling city with close to a million people, there was a resident vocal bullfrog that I’m sure was sitting next to my ear as I tried to sleep at night.

4. Hello you want massaaage?
If you’ve been reading my blog regularly, you may have gathered that I’ve really enjoyed getting massages here. They’re so cheap and so good. Who would have guessed that I would end up doing a Thai massage course . And who would have guessed that it’s so difficult to do well. I take my hat off to all the Thai ladies who have massaged me over the past few months.

5. Hopelessly devoted
Thailand is a devout Buddhist kingdom. There are shrines everywhere – at the sides of the road, on top of hills, outside wreckers’ yards, and outside people’s homes. On shrines are offerings including flowers, cans of beer, plates of food and incense.


On my bus ride to Sukothai, we passed a giant gold statue of a meditating monk perched high on a hill. It must have been about five stories tall. As we approached, the bus driver honked his horn and he and all the passengers brought their hands to prayer at their foreheads, bowed, and ran their fingers through their hair. Even the bus driver. Fortunately we were going straight at the time.

And it most definitely is a ‘kingdom’. Man alive, they love their King and Queen. They are everywhere. The national anthem is played twice a day on the radio and you’re expected to stand for it. Stepping on a coin is sacrilegious as you’re stepping on His head. If you’re Thai, it’s likely that you’ll have a photo of them above a doorway in your home and their image sits alongside those of Buddha on altars.

6. Dude looks like a lady…
Nowhere in the world have I seen such convincing transgendered people. I think I’ve used the correct terminology there. Here is a photo of me in Chaweng with a beautiful young lady. I told him that he had better legs than me.


And of homosexuality, when my sister Katharine was with me, we went for a massage at a place run by a bloke from the West Country and his Thai wife. He was telling us that apparently 30% of all Thai men are gay. He then started talking about hormones and why levels of oestrogen may be higher in Thailand but he lost me there. Basically there aren’t enough men to go around and that he’s had Thai women asking him if he wanted a second or ‘lesser’ wife.

7. Beach and boats
When I was growing up, Katharine would talk about wanting to visit ‘see-through sea’. I was so happy to spend two and half weeks looking at the stuff with her. The sand was white, the sea was warm and crystal clear.

I also have particularly enjoyed arriving on these beaches on beaten-up, brightly painted longtail boats. The boat speeds into the shallows and the driver cuts the throaty engine. Whilst bobbing on the gentle waves, you jump over the side into the water and lug your stuff off the boat. You then have to wade ashore trying to look as graceful and elegant as possible with wet shorts whilst avoiding stepping on the occasional stones on the sea floor.


8. Scooters
Scooters are the life blood of this country. Everyone drives one… normally at the same time. The cities are very two-wheeled friendly (as I discovered in Chiang Mai) and people also manage to earn their livelihood from them. Some have umbrellas and food stalls attached and owners set up shop and start cooking wherever they fancy.

9. Did someone mention food?
Oh the food. Where to begin? Probably with a fried egg on top. Whatever you order – be it pad thai, yellow/green/red curry, tom yam soup, noodle with cashew nut, sticky rice with mango, banana in coconut, black rice pudding… sorry got carried away there. Where was I? Oh yes, everything’s better with an egg on top.

10. Pleased to meet you…
And last but by no means least, I have had the pleasure of meeting so many wonderful new people. Even back in July and going to yoga classes with Aurore, Julie and Mathieu at The Sanctuary – that was just the start.

My time on Koh Samui was truly awesome because of the great yogis with whom I shared the experience. I love you all. I well up just thinking about it.

I had the chance to meet more people back on Koh Phang An, and Jay, a Mancunian urban radio DJ and vortex and reiki healer, stands out for sure.

My time with Katharine was brilliant and thanks to my seven massage buddies and Dot Po in Chiang Mai. It was a giggle and at times rather ragdoll-ish.

And so on to Sri Lanka! I have a week there where I’ll catch up with my Sivananda teacher training room mate, Sherylee, and then onto India until just before Christmas when I’ll fly home to London.

Have you been to Thailand? Any thoughts or memories that you’d like to share? Just enter your email address below to post a comment.

Goodbye Thailand’s islands

As I write this I’m on the upper berth of a clattery night train heading out of Bangkok to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand. There’s a Chinese couple on the bunks below and we’re desperate for the sheets and blankets to be given out as the air conditioning is so fierce. Around us, I can hear various languages being spoken – Thai, Chinese and the unmistakable drawl of Australian English. And now a knowledgeable Yank has piped up: ” I rode these trains before and they don’t know how to turn the air-con off. Like, at all.”

This marks the end of over two months loving the islands and beaches of Thailand. Today I said goodbye to my sister on Koh Samui. We’ve had over two weeks sunning ourselves up the east coast of Koh Phang An.

In my previous blog post, I talked about our experience at The Sanctuary and from there we travelled on this little almost dead ferry up to Thong Nai Pan Noi. It sputtered up onto the beach and we stayed in some bungalows next to what Tripadvisor calls the number one choice of accommodation on the island. We learnt that no beach looks nice in the rain, but it can look a bit better when you’re sipping a sneaky smoothie at the Anantara. Boutique chic eat your heart out. Each seafront villa had its own plunge pool… and intercom. The area in between the villas was so beautifully landscaped – think foot bridges, palms and koi carp. Yes, we had a good old nose about. My sister could review hotels for a living.

Then the sun came out and we felt compelled to stay for almost a week.

I also managed to secure my first bit of freelance yoga writing work so I’ve been spending time typing away whilst looking at beautiful turquoise sea. Much better than a desk in Whitehall.

We risked life and limb by getting back on the almost dead ferry to travel back down to the southern tip of the island, just close to the place famed for full moon parties – Had Rin. Thankfully we missed the party but I’ve still managed to see enough neon to last a life time. T-shirts, sunglasses, shorts, even a sign on our bungalow door saying ‘if floresant paint on sheet pay 600 baht’.

We stayed in a rickety bungalow perched precariously on the side of rocks overlooking crashing waves and, in the distance, Koh Samui. It felt like the end of the world.

And then onto Koh Samui for one night. On the island I pointed out every sight that was ever-so-slightly related to my teacher training:

“We ate on this beach one night!”
“We set off lanterns from right here!”
“I bought your ripped-off Muppets DVD from this stall!”

I would like to formally take this moment to apologise to Katharine for being a yoga teacher training bore. She was very understanding and made all the right noises.

I was sad to say goodbye to Kaths. We travel well together. I’d get up early to do my yoga practice and then we’d see each other at breakfast. We’re both very happy to spend time sitting relaxing although I’m much more of a shade-seeker than her. We’d have a dip in the sea, then lie to dry off. It’s a tough life. She’s off home to London in two days’ time but I’ll be seeing her and the parents in Kerala in November.

Anyway, I’m on my way to Chiang Mai in order to do a two-week Thai massage course. I’m intrigued and I’ll let you know how I get on.

Oh and we now have blankets! And I’ve had the opportunity to remember how challenging it is to use a squat toilet on a moving train! Night night sleep tight.

Clackety clack… clackety clack… clackety clack…

Creatures seeking Sanctuary: part two

To give you an update, yesterday my sister Katharine and I left The Sanctuary. I can see how easy it could be to stay there indefinitely but Katharine rightly said it was time to see more of Thailand. The Sanctuary is wonderful – there’s interesting people, the place has a bay to itself, the food is amazing and the staff bend over backwards for you (and they’re not the yogis). It brilliantly caters for people who are interested in detoxing, alternative therapies, yoga and spa treatments. It also could be a great place to get material for some new-age sketch show or parody. I heard both these comments on day one:

“Do you actually like the taste of wheatgrass?”
“My dream is to set up a commune. Wouldn’t that be the coolest thing ever?”

One girl had a daily ritual of topless hula-hooping on the beach whilst doing a great impersonation of whalesong. Another seemed to ethereally float around the place and, instead of saying hello, she’d serenely smile and slowly close and open her eyes and glide on by.

One morning she tried to separate two cats who were fighting outside her bungalow and they turned on her. She was covered in bruises and bloody scratches. This prompted a debate about whether she should jump in a boat and go to nearby Had Rin for a tetanus jab. Katharine, with her obscure medical knowledge, shared how if you contract tetanus your entire body seizes up – hence it also being known as ‘lock jaw’ disease.

The girl decided not to get the jab as she didn’t like the thought of anything unnatural in her body. She saw the cuts as a physical manifestation of the inner torment she’d been feeling over the previous few days. As you do.

At The Sanctuary there were also many women who wouldn’t have looked out of place in Primrose Hill or Chelsea. They had that hippy-chic-effortlessly-cool-yet-bohemian-yoga look. Some of us can only dream of looking that amazing in a mosquito-infested jungle doing yoga in humidity that leaves you a gorgeous shade of beetroot.

Katharine and I discussed the need to invent a word to describe this phenomenon. “We need to smoosh the words ‘yoga’ and ‘glamorous’,” said Kaths. She then had the brainwave of ‘glamoga’. I took it one step further and ‘yo-glam’ was born.

As an adjective: “she’s very yo-glam”
As a noun: “there’s loads of yo-glams here”

Feel free to incorporate as you see fit. I believe that if a word is used in common parlance by many people for a few years (note my use of specific details) it’ll enter the Oxford English Dictionary. Let’s make it happen people.

We left The Sanctuary yesterday on a dinky ferry for Thong Nai Pan Yai further up the coast. Kaths said goodbye to one guy who looked like Robinson Crusoe. Peeking out of the top of his ever-present drawstring bag was a bamboo flute. I never found out whether he could play it. “Where are you heading next?” Kaths asked him. “Erm well, I think it’s more important to live in the present moment. I’ll let the universe decide,” came his reply.

I love The Sanctuary.

Read my previous post about The Sanctuary from when I was there before my training course.

The creatures seeking Sanctuary

I’m going to take you through a typical day at The Sanctuary, Koh Phang An, but with a particular emphasis on the beings that I often meet along the way.

7.25: Alarm goes off and I emerge from under the mosquito net in my bungalow. Before my feet touch the rug on the floor, I quickly scan the floorboards checking that no creepies have snuck in through the little cracks between the floorboards that let in the sunlight and show the grass below.

I get showered and dressed for yoga. I open the front door and almost immediately I can hear Linguine, the black and white cat miaowing. He appears from behind the bushes and strolls up to my bungalow. As bold as brass, he jumps up the three concrete steps up to my balcony and tries to walk into my room. I stand blocking him at the doorway, shooing him and telling the Thai cat “no” in English. I turn my back and he’s inside collapsed by the steps that lead down to the bathroom. “Get out!” I say. “Let me flop here like my namesake. I won’t be a nuisance,” he replies in cat Thai (I’m a fast learner of languages).

I don’t want to catch Thai cat lurgies but I want him out before I leave for class. I wrap the rug around him and push him towards the door. He stays in his exact slumped, deadweight position as I deposit him under the hammock on my balcony. “Why are you being so mean?” he asks as I lock the door and leave for my class.

I walk up the stone steps to the Buddha Hall, passing little ponds containing lush green water plants and black fish. In the undergrowth there’s Ganesha statues and the occasional Buddha.

8am: Yogi Simon teaches the flow yoga class. We do some Ashtanga sun salutations and he likes making us sit cross-legged with our arms straight up in the air. Shoulders relaxed and away from our ears, fingers outstretched, bottom ribs tucked in. “It’s good for you,” he says in his clipped South African accent with his bronzed torso on show. I find myself wondering whether his slightly odd line tattoos have any significance… FOCUS!

9.30am: After class, shiny black millipedes scurry along the footpath obviously on important business. This morning, Julie (Austrian, Sivananda-loving, barmy, Hindi-speaking, ex-air cabin crew) and I discussed whether they’re millipedes or centipedes. She thinks they have more than 100 legs but less than 1000. We settled on selling them ‘twohundredandfiftypedes’.

Myself, Julie, Matieu (French, Bikram boy, big smile and big curly black hair, soon to be covering for Simba in the West End’s Lion King) and Aurore (French, also smiley, likes reading, LOVES yoga) sit having smoothies and discuss yoga whilst swiping at the mosquitoes who are also hungry for their first meal.

From left: Aurore, me, Mathieu and Julie.

I spend time sitting in a hammock under the palms on the beach reading. I might swim out to the platform and lie gazing into the see-through sea watching the Nemo clownfish dart about below. Matieu will probably be on the hammock on the platform. He’s never off the thing. We only get out when our fingers are pruney.

I might go to a talk at the Tea Temple. Yesterday’s was on Ayurveda and the Five Elements. Maybe I’m an Earth person with a touch of Fire. Throw is some of the restaurant’s healthy baked beans and I may become that popular 70’s soul band…

I might go to the 4.15 Yin Yoga class. Spend ten minutes lying on my back in a twist resisting the overwhelming temptation to fall asleep.

6/7ish: back to room, shower. Marvel at the tiny black ants on my bathroom wall, scurrying along an invisible path. They’ll be gone later but back tomorrow. What are they up to?

Dinner with yogi pals. Matieu uses his highly honed navigational skills to get us lost searching for a restaurant over the hill. The explorers emerge from the jungle and secure a spot sitting on a platform on top of a rock with views of the stars and the bay below. We eat by lantern light.

There’s a weekly film night where people lounge in the beach bar on cushions, and last night was the open mic night. Who’d have thought that ‘Ain’t nobody’ by Chaka Khan could sound so good accompanied by didgeridoo.

Then soon to bed. Tuck mozzie net in round bed and the fun really starts. Scrabbly noises in the dark… later there’s a repetitive two-tone noise that’s high then low: a huge gecko lizard. Claire from London (yes, there’s two of us. She’s from Crouch End) says they sound like they’re saying their name: GEH koooooh…. GEH koooooh. The crickets and cicadas join in too. And I fall asleep – well, at least until the gecko starts up again.

Have you been to The Sanctuary? What are your memories? Or perhaps reading this has whet your appetite. Feel free to comment below.

Oh and TTC buddies – you may spot a familiar face on the homepage of The Sanctuary website. Watch the slideshow.