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.

Massage school – week two


I must say that I’m enjoying my Sunshine Massage School experience. I’m also enjoying the studying and the daily routine that goes with it. It feels like I’m actually living in a foreign city.

Every day my alarm goes off at 7am, I do my yoga practice, make some toast and a cup of tea then head out for my daily commute to school.

I’ve hired a bicycle! “Not that unusual” I hear you say. Now let me tell you that the last time I did any cycling on roads was during my Cycling Proficiency Test at Church Hill Primary School. Ok, so it was in my last year, but Gallants Farm Road in East Barnet doesn’t really compare with tackling the mayhem of Thailand’s second largest city. At least they drive on the left.

Picture this: There’s this moat that encircles the old city and a dual carriageway on either side of it. Think London’s North Circular. To get into the old city, you’re on the dual carriageway surrounded by hoards of scooters, tuk tuks and songtaews (little jeeps that pick people up). You have to cross the moat by scooching into the right (ie fast) lane and then whizzing over intermittent bridges over the moat and directly into the oncoming fast lane. Then you do a left off the dual carriageway. Not easy at all. But so far so good!

Oh and traffic lights? What traffic lights? Whole families on scooters just nip across where there’s a gap in the traffic. They seem very adept at it and car drivers are very accommodating of all these two wheelers everywhere. I just pootle along sitting very upright on my squeaky Raleigh, map close at hand in my basket. Even the old blokes cycling rickshaws manage to overtake me. Their calf muscles are a sight to behold.

There’s cobblers (complete with sewing machines) sitting on the pavement and I pass street food stalls selling all sorts of weird and wonderful things. You can buy a bag of fruit for 12 Baht (22p) so I sometimes stop at her stall or there’s always the Thai favourite: 7 Eleven. It beats the District Line, that’s for sure.

Today at school we focused on The Face. All of us took turns to run fingers over temples, rotate thumbs on closed eyelids, stick fingers in ears, do ‘the hair shampoo’ and hold chins. You should have seen us afterwards – hair sticking out at right angles, looking totally spaced out. Bliss.

We’ve now learnt all the moves for a basic Thai massage and now we just have to remember them. We’ll spend tomorrow and Thursday practicing and then we’ll be tested on Friday.

There’s so much to remember – not only the strict order of the body parts, but what things you do to them, how you get the person into the position and just as hard is remembering how you’re meant to be positioned.

And I’m teaching yoga there! There’s a free class taught by one of the tutors and he’s asked me to teach. I haven’t taught for months and it’s so nice to start sharing Michel and Roslyn’s knowledge.

In the evening, some of us may meet up, or we do our own thing. Tonight I went to a local place for a quick plate of rice and veg and I was the only Westerner in there. I spoke to my Mum on Skype and did some dull admin.

But I like that. I like the sense of routine and we’re all creatures of habit. On Sunday, I rode an elephant, went bamboo rafting and did a walk to some hilltribe villages. So there you go. It’s all about balance.


Massage school

I have survived the first week of my Thai massage course. It’s been intense – 9am – 4pm every day with an hour for lunch. There’s eight of us students and we’re taught by Dot Po. Think small and quirky Thai lady in her late 40’s (or early 50’s). She talks slowly and quietly and says things like, “if patient has belly like mountain…” and, “you have beautiful hair but it messy”. When we come back from lunch we find her curled up asleep in the middle of the room – it’s not surprising seeing as she spends her evenings studying for a degree in Thai medicine.

Yesterday she told us that she used to be a Thai dancer. It took no encouragement for her to be up, curling her hands and fluttering her eyelashes whilst singing a funny little song about the energy lines.

I feel like I’ve been pulled in all directions this week and that’s probably because I have. We watch her expertly massage one of us and she talks us through it. We frantically scribble notes and then have a go on each other. “Na-ah-ah-ah!” Dot attempts to shout across the room “What are you doing to her?!”

We have to commit to memory a sequence for the whole body and we’ll be examined next Friday. It’ll take about two and a half hours to perform the entire thing. It’s going to take a small miracle for me to pull this off.

In the meantime, here’s a clip of Dot performing ‘the pike’ on yours truly.

Chiang Mai massage: An eye-opener

I have just had the most amazing massage. Let me tell you about it.

At today’s lunch break of my thai massage course (day two), three of us went to the local cafe on the corner. It was hard work explaining that I didn’t want anything with meat but I was happy when my food arrived. This was an improvement on yesterday when I chose fried rice and kale only to be confronted with a load of pork. Some explaining was required.

Anyway, so we joined Horacio, a Spanish guy who’s also at Sunshine Massage School but is a week ahead of us. He said that they’d been told that they had to get as many massages as possible whilst in Chiang Mai and next on his list was a massage at the School for the Blind. “I’ll have some of that!” I thought.

And so after class finished at 4pm and some Googling later, I was in the back of a tuk tuk heading for a dark street within the old city walls. The driver pointed me towards a white backlit sign and zipped off into the humid night.

A gecko darted across the sign and, as I approached, a lady sitting behind a desk greeted me. “You want massaaaaage?” I chose a standard hour’s Thai massage and I paid the astoundingly small amount of 180 baht (about £3.60).

She led me into a back room with about eight beds lined up. Four were taken with Thai people receiving massages. The masseurs and masseuses skillfully moved around the bodies and the customers were like zombies – dead weights being pulled and stretched in every direction.

The lady pointed to a bed and I was introduced to my masseur – a young guy of probably no more than 20, wearing an earpiece that I guessed went to a mobile phone in his pocket. I’d already said to the woman that I wanted a soft massage as I’d read online that they were known for their needlepoint accuracy and deft touch.

I was pleased I piped up as I dread to think what a hard massage from this guy would be like. But, boy, he was good. We’ve been learning so far on the course about massaging the legs – working with the flows of energy or ‘sen lines’ and you massage along these to remove blockages. Yesterday I was struggling to locate sen line 1 and 2 on Alan, a 6ft 3in muscley American guy. This masseur could have found them a mile away.

He worked around my body using his palms and thumbs and released knot after knot. At times he was standing on the floor and then he would clamber up so he was kneeling on the bed next to me. The fact that he couldn’t see made me feel more able to obviously watch his technique.

The guy on the bed next to me was dying. The woman working on him seemed to be performing some kind of magic fast-fingered combination on his knees which made him cry out in agony. He resorted to stuffing a towel in his mouth to stifle his groans and when he saw me looking at him, he pulled the curtain in front of his face. I’ve always been told not to stare. I never learn.

An hour later and my masseur’s speaking clock told me it was over. I thanked him and walked out. I stopped to talk to the lady on the door and asked where was good to eat nearby. She suggested a place down the dark, silent road and I set out with trepidation. I’m now sitting in what can only be described as a goldmine. It’s a place called Huen Phen and I’m surrounded by beaten up Buddha statues, treadles from old Singer sewing machines, pot plants and wooden Chinese dragons. There’s old french posters on the walls and Nina Simone playing. It’s like sitting eating in an ethnic antique shop in Camden Market. There’s also printed articles on show from when it’s been featured in Conde Nast Traveller magazine and some Japanese magazines too.

I was brave an ordered papaya salad with local crab. I think it was a step too far. The crab was chopped up and its tiny pincers clawed at my papaya. With tea, It came to less than £2. Anyway, good to try these things!

I guess that’s the case with my entire evening – you’ve got to give everything a go or you’ll never know.

So far I really like Chiang Mai. If only it wasn’t quite so steamy hot…