Vegetarian Festival - The Food

The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is not just about skewered cheeks, Chinese gods and firecrackers, although that's the fun part (and the first of the street processions is tomorrow morning). The food is also very important. Local people (not all, I might add) follow a strict diet which is vegan rather than just vegetarian - no meat, no eggs, no dairy, and for some reason (something to do with strong smells) no garlic or onions. The diet is to cleanse the body and spirit.

It all started way back in 1825 when a Chinese traveling opera troupe (or circus depending what you read) came to the Kathu area of Phuket to perform. At that time, Kathu was the main town in Phuket as it was the center of the tin mining industry that helped make Phuket quite wealthy. Many Chinese settled here during the tin mining boom years, and thus you have a huge Thai-Chinese population in Phuket, mostly around Kathu and Phuket Town. Anyway, the travelers got sick, and then followed a vegetarian diet and bingo! They all got better!

The festival has a long history and yes, I do like to go on about it, as this is something that makes Phuket special for me. See - Phuket is way more than beaches and tourists. Phuket has a rich history, and at this time of year you can really get a taste of something special. Do pardon the pun.

Later this week I'll be heading out to see some of the processions, and also some of the other rituals at the shrines such as firewalking and bladed ladder climbing. I want to get some video this year, though my camera is but a simple one... Last couple of years I stuck to still photos - see Vegetarian Festival Photos.

So, for now, I am still at work all day, but will start a holiday on Friday, so there will be time to get around the shrines. I started on "the diet" yesterday. The food is pretty darn good actually, and fortunately there's a good place to eat close to work. If you are on the back road in Karon, just opposite the post office on the corner of the little road that goes up to CC Blooms Hotel, you find a great little restaurant that is very popular at festival time (actually its pretty good year round for cheap Thai food).

Jae food restaurant opposite Karon Post Office

Lunch today started with a vegetarian noodle soup, packed full of all kinds of things, none of them meaty, all delicious ... it's called Yentafo. The meat version I probably would not eat as it tends to include things like coagulated blood and bits of squid. Call me picky.. Little know secret, but I was vegetarian for quite a few years many years ago, so even today I am a bit picky with meat dishes!

Vegetarian Noodle Soup (Yentafo Jae)

And now a close up... And I think the same tomorrow lunchtime!

Tasty noodle soup vegetarian style

Oh, that was the starter... main dish was Phad Gaprao. Looks like meat, tastes just great...

Phad Gaprao - No meat

Oh, and just to make those taste buds long to be in Phuket right now, let's zoom in...

Vegetarian Phad Gaprao close up

Of course I am a hypocrite waxing lyrical about this food. By next week I'll be having eggs, bacon and chips for lunch again! But for now, for a week or so, this food is great! If you are in Phuket during the festival look for the stalls or restaurants with the yellow signs. Try something different!

Sentinels ...

 
Today, a bat joined me on my sunset repose, pond side.  Silhouetted against the slate gray sky, devoid of color , the sun now gone beyond the mountains.  Arial acrobatics at their best, on display for a solitary spectator.  The fish, too busy being fish to notice such prowess.  Alas, today’s tale is not about the bat or fish or any other creatures of the realm.  What I call the sentinels, occupy my thoughts and command my words.
These sentinels stand their vigil over my valley home.  Strong silent beacons for wonderers and adventurers such as myself.  Ceremonial locations for others.  To the North and South are hilltop shrines visible in the distance from window, yard or field.  To the West, looking out over the pond and past the mountains that conceal and nestle the dam and reservoir, on the most distant ridge line, is a lone tree that stands out from all the rest.
To the East the sun and moon must climb the mountain range before their light is allowed to bathe our valley.  On the face of that forest green curtain, is a bright white marker, that from a distance, resembles a small pyramid.  Today I felt the call of that Eastern sentinel and set forth to search out what trail might be leading there.  Left or right seemed to make little difference so I set out, intent on making a clockwise circle route, there and back.
Approaching the area and uncertain which avenue to take, I addressed a stranger with my query.  As one often finds, I had stopped mere meters from the turn.  The concrete lane soon turned to rutted clay and rock.  The rear tyre slipped and fishtailed and I feared my untested skills on a motorbike might be exposed as lacking.  Suddenly there was an opening in the forest.  An idyllic, peaceful setting indeed, resplendent with temple dogs to greet me.
An appropriate gesture of greeting for the presiding monk and his welcoming reply.  Granted permission to take pictures, I was also given directions to isolated bungalows where the monks live.  They pointed out mountain trails which lead to waterfall and catchment in one direction, and a distant hill tribes community in another.  The day growing short, those trails were left for another day.  Assured that they are long and difficult, perhaps waiting a month or two for cooler weather would be prudent.
I visited with two monks on the day.  The younger one was in quiet repose on the front stoop of his little bungalow and beckoned me to sit with him and quench my thirst.  Both were gracious and welcoming and before departing, the elder monk who had welcomed me to their mountain retreat, engaged me in conversation.  Being unapologetically non-religious, I find it perversely ironic that conversation with this monk was so much richer and fulfilling than talking with many a typical villager or many expats for that matter.  Even presenting myself with utter candor, common ground of thought and conviction presented in is such a way that we could almost complete each others sentences.


Weather and trail conditions permitting I will certainly visit this Eastern sentinel with increasing frequency in coming months and each distant glimpse from the village will bring a smile to my heart.


Eating Out: The Lunch Room

Update 2013. Not open any more! But in the same area you can find several good places such as "Bits 'n' Bites", "Da Sandro" and "Green Iguana".

I don't think there's any mention of this place anywhere on the web yet... well, it only opened a few weeks ago. The Lunch Room is in the Kathu area of Phuket, close to Kathu Waterfall (coming from Patong you'd go just past the waterfall road - Soi Namtok Kathu - and The Lunch Room is on the right side). This area of Kathu is being built up rapidly - lots of new houses around here, and it's also just a couple of minutes from the Loch Palm Golf Club. We live in Kathu and we know the owners of The Lunch Room pretty well - she used to work with my wife years ago in the dive shop - and her husband was a dive instructor too!

Lunch Room Interior

The Lunch Room is open every day except Sunday and does Thai food, all day breakfasts, some excellent baguette sandwiches, great big burgers, salads, spaghetti, coffee, cakes... Yes, it's not on the tourist trail, but if you are exploring in the Kathu area, it's a good option for a late breakfast, lunch or early dinner. In fact not too many other options around there except noodles and food stalls around the local market!

The Lunch Room

We sometimes just call in for a chat and a cappuccino - much bigger and better value than Starbucks. Patong Beach has about 5 of them now - I say support your local independent coffee shop! And while you're at it - have a real burger at The Lunch Room and give McDonalds a miss! The burgers are big and bold and chunky and I do like to have one now and then washed down with a couple of cold Chang beers. They have some TV's in the restaurant and I sometimes head over on a Saturday evening to watch the English football.

Homemade Burger

The Lunch Room - Location Map


View The Lunch Room - Kathu, Phuket in a larger map

Blogging Stuff, More Questions ...

I am not a link freak and prefer a lean uncluttered page without adds or flashy bits.  For fun, I do have two different statistical software packages in place.  One is nothing more than a list of countries.  The other is capable of drilling down to the level of city and ISP.  The map zoom feature is quite fun.  That is where the questions begin, however. 

There are obvious limitations to this software.  Sometimes the map location is a specific building or house where other times it is off in the middle of nowhere.  My own location and that of a nearby neighbor is more than 800 kilometers off target.  That is understandable as no doubt the Thai servers are in Bangkok and the local TOT office is simply a bridge to the main center.  It does have me wondering about the validity of some information I get about readers.

Some of my more regular visitors, like Chani, Lloyd and others, standout statistically and are quite obvious as we communicate through comments or email.  There are yet others who remain a mystery.  Texas is a mystery, though I do have relatives there, with San Antonio at the top of the list.  Dallas, Houston, San Diego, Canton, MA., Seattle, Los Angeles, Walnut Creek, High Point, Tallahassee, Council Bluffs, Albany, OR., Bern, Sydney, Kildare, Dublin, Montreal, Saulgauare, and Singapore are some of my top question marks, though there are many others. 

When I see someone reading multiple pages or coming back on a regular basis, I get curious.  Regular readers are of great importance to me.  One time hits are just numbers.  For those who actually read and return, I would like to make every effort to accommodate your interests and perhaps have a conversation.  To that end I invite you to go to my profile page and email me.  That way it can remain more private than the comment page.  Share as little or a much as you feel comfortable with.

I also find the entry and exit pages are sometimes quite interesting and informative.  It shows where people found my link and where they go.  One click led me to a French translation of my site.  I have no idea of its accuracy but it was interesting, non the less, to see my words reproduced in another language.

That’s it for today.  No pretty words or imagery.  Just another blatant attempt to get more feedback.  Thank you for indulging me.

A Normal Day of... “this & that” ...

The stage was set.  A theater in the round of sorts.  This was no stage surrounded by an audience, rather the audience (me) surrounded by a stage.  A table was placed on the freshly cut grass, in the cooling shade of the house.  Around the table, were placed lawn chairs, and upon it was placed a feast.  As the players gathered I took my seat, as is my custom, some distance from the table.  From this vantage the stage envelops me and the action at the table becomes but part of the overall scene.  The smell of cut grass, the dogs doing their best to entertain, birds flying in formation, the deep blues and whites of the daytime sky changing to the pastel pallet of dusk as the sun slips behind the mountains.

My wife and the housekeeper prepared food for the workers.  The gardener left early, needing to care for her granddaughter.  Our contractor and his workers had spent the day finishing the roof on our sala and were ready for food and beer.  My perch was far enough away to be on my own but close enough to overhear and ask a question from time to time.  Watching them drink with such enthusiasm, I asked if anyone had modified their drinking habits after what happened to one of their coworkers. 

He had fallen into an alcohol induced coma, was presumed beyond help and removed from the machines keeping him alive.  His family readied to take him home, as is the custom, to prepare his body for three days of viewing and the eventual cremation.  They had declined the offer to have him injected with preservatives, fortunately.  For as they left the hospital, he miraculously came back to life.  As it turns out, it is not much of a life, for he has suffered permanent brain damage and is unable to talk or care for himself. 

The workers laughed and drank more deeply.  The contractor offered some insight, however.  He explained that when bad things befall others, it registers as a simple matter of fact.  Such-n-such, happened, to so-n-so, and that is all.  There is no real empathy, projection or relating of consequences to their own lives.  It was merely something that happen to someone else.  It reminds me of findings that suggest adolescent brains are not developed to the point where they can understand and foresee the consequences of their actions.  Sadly adolescence seems to be dragging on longer and longer, these days.

About this time the two lads, who had scoured our land with weed whackers during the day, arrived to join the festivities.  One, the village headman’s son, made an effort to impress the farang.  Pointing out that there is a waterfall that should be visited and he could show me.  I had to sheepishly reply that I had most recently been there just two days prior, on my own.  My wife explained that there is hardly a trail, river, valley or mountain top that I have yet to explore in our area, whether by truck, scooter, mountain bike or foot.

As the others ate, drank and made merry, thoughts of the day’s events replayed in my mind.  Today had been a shopping day.  Coffee beans and bread for me, lunch and groceries for the two of us and the plant nursery for my wife, to acquire another truck load of exotic plants for the house.  Another couple of stops to fill the truck with diesel and buy fresh produce at an outdoor market.  Then a leisurely drive home.

Earlier, someone with more traditional color sensibilities than mine had commented, online, about the correctness of using certain colors on blogs.  That got me thinking about my own color pallet.  I seem to remember going black long before it became popular.  I dressed in black to prowl the night till dawn.  I dressed in black to play squash (heresy for the traditionalist).  I wear black micro fibber when I bestride my mountain bike.  Our truck is black, our scooter is black, the granite kitchen countertop is black, the slate patios are black, the windows are black, the built in furniture in the TV room is black, backpack, duffles...well, you get the idea.  To appease my wife’s more varied color pallet I have made wardrobe adjustments and concessions.  Fortunately we both like black, setoff by white and color accents.  We do have light colored floors, walls and ceiling with colorful furnishings.

This got me considering the difficulties of expats whose biases are too firmly entrenched.  If one pisses into the prevailing winds of your host country, the results can be quite unpleasant.  If one insists things be done a certain way, your way, resentment and anger is soon to follow.  I am bored to death with all those, This is Thailand, anecdotes.  All those questions about how much things cost, seem so naive.  Sadly I must acknowledge there is a large market for that kind of thing.

Perhaps I made a mistake in relenting to an interview for a site called expat interviews.  I am in favor of people striking out, into the unknown, and discovering themselves as they discover the world.  I fear most readers, simply want to be told how to do things and how much it costs.  Where is the fun, adventure or discovery in that?  There are just too many variable to give people a price list and these days prices change weekly, if not daily.  To give examples of what I pay is not helpful for I doubt a tourist or newbie would be able to obtain the same price, even at the same place.  Then again, if but one new regular reader happens upon my blog through that site, I will feel as though it was an effort worth making.

The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is Coming!

If you somehow find this old page, it's about the Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2008.

More up to date information :

Phuket Vegetarian Festival - About the Festival
2015 Vegetarian Festival Schedule

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(Update 8th October) - 2008 photos are online:

Phuket Vegetarian Festival Photos 2008

One of my favourite times of year is nearly here! The Phuket Vegetarian Festival starts on September 28th this year. The date is based on the Chinese lunar calendar and varies year to year (last year the festival started on October 11th) - this year is a bit early and I hope the weather holds, as late September/early October has a habit of being rather grotty.

This is a spectacular, gruesome, fascinating festival. There is so much to see, some interesting food to sample, a real sense of history and tradition that many people do not realise exists in Phuket (hey, it's not all beaches, you know!). Over the last couple of years I have tried to see as much as possible, and this year plan to take a week off work in order to better experience the full range of festival happenings. Last year I was in Phuket Town twice for the famous processions which take place this year every morning from the 1st to 7th of October. This is where you see the pierced faces, the purification by pain. The festival is all about purfication of the body.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2007

If you are in Phuket between September 28th and October 7th, please try to see something of this festival. The processions are in the morning starting 7am. Getting up early will be rewarded by an experience of something extreme.

Phuket Vegetarian festival 2007

More Photos:

Phuket Vegetarian Festival Photos 2007
Phuket Vegetarian Festival Photos 2006


Phuket Vegetarian Festival Schedule 2008

Street Processions in Phuket Town - Try to see one!

October 1st Sapam Shrine
October 2nd Samkong Shrine
October 3rd Ban Tha Rue Shrine
October 4th Bang Neow Shrine & Cherng Thalay Shrine
October 5th Jui Tui Shrine
October 6th Kathu Shrine & Yokkekeng Shrine
October 7th Sui Boon Tong Shrine


28th September

ALL SHRINES
17:00 Lantern Pole Raising - the pole is how the gods descend to earth. I intend to be at our local shrine for this if possible!
21 - 24:00 Jade Emperor & Nine Emperor Gods Propitiation

Note: (I had to look it up) Propitiation = the act of atoning for sin or wrongdoing (especially appeasing a deity)

29th - 30th September

Not much goes on for the first couple of days - Gods are worshipped morning and evening. Visit a shrine for a real other-world experience. Eat some of the variety of Vegetarian ("Jae") food on offer all over Phuket (especially near the shrines, but you can even find it in Patong).


1st October

KATHU SHRINE
05:00 / 18:00 Worship of Gods
16:00 Warriors Propitiation
16:30 Food Offering to Warriors
19:30 Birth-Death Gods Propitiation

JUI TUI SHRINE
19:30 Food Offering to Warriors
20:45 Birth-Death Gods Propitiation

BANG NEOW SHRINE
15:00 Food Offering to Warriors

SUI BOON TONG SHRINE
15:00 Food Offering to Warriors
20:00 Worship of Gods

SAMKONG SHRINE
15:09 Food Offering to Warriors
20:00 Propitiation of Seven Stars

BAN THA RUE SHRINE
17:30 Food Offering to Warriors
18:30 Birth-Death Gods Propitiation

CHERNG THALAY SHRINE
15:00 Food Offering to Warriors
15:30 Blessing Bang Tao Village
19:00 Worship of Gods

YOKKEKENG SHRINE
15:30 Food Offering to Warriors
20:00 Birth-Death Gods Propitiation at Koh Sirey Beach

SAPAM SHRINE
07:00 Street Procession in Phuket town
15:45 Food Offering to Warriors


2nd October

KATHU SHRINE
05:00 / 18:00 Worship of Gods

JUI TUI SHRINE
Worship of Gods and Spirit Propitiation of Past Participants of the Vegetarian Festival

BANG NEOW SHRINE
Spirit Propitiation of Past Participants of the Vegetarian Festival

SUI BOON TONG SHRINE
20:00 Worship of Gods

SAMKONG SHRINE
05:30 Worship of Gods
07:19 Street Procession in Phuket Town
12:00 Worship of Gods
18:00 Worship of Gods

BAN THA RUE SHRINE
12:00 / 19:30 Worship of Gods

CHERNG THALAY SHRINE
15:00 Food Offering to Warriors
15:30 Blessing Manik and Cherng Thalay Villages
19:00 Worship of Gods

YOKKEKENG SHRINE
07:30 Worship of Gods
20:00 Worship of Gods

SAPAM SHRINE
Worship of Gods

Carrying the Gods, Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2006

3rd October

KATHU SHRINE
05:00 / 18:00 Worship of Gods
19:00 Oil Bathing & Bladed - Ladder Climbing - You can count on me being here for this!

JUI TUI SHRINE
Worship of Gods

BANG NEOW SHRINE
15:00 Food Offering to Warriors
20:00 Propitiation of Seven Stars

SUI BOON TONG SHRINE
20:00 Worship of Gods
24:00 Propitiation of Gods

SAMKONG SHRINE
05:30 Worship of Gods
15:09 Food Offering to Warriors
18:00 Worship of Gods

BAN THA RUE SHRINE
07:30 Street Procession in Phuket Town

CHERNG THALAY SHRINE
15:00 Food Offering to Warriors
20:09 Propitiation of Seven Stars
23:00 Worship of Gods

YOKKEKENG SHRINE
07:30 Worship of Gods
20:00 Worship of Gods

SAPAM SHRINE
19:00 Street Procession in Sapam Village


4th October

KATHU SHRINE
05:00 Worship of Gods
16:00 Food Offering to Warriors
18:00 Worship of Gods

JUI TUI SHRINE
15:09 Food Offering to Warriors
20:09 Fire Walking at Saphan Hin - I gotta see some fire walking this year!

BANG NEOW SHRINE
07:00 Street Procession in Phuket Town
15:00 Food Offering to Warriors

SUI BOON TONG SHRINE
15:00 Food Offering to Warriors
19:00 Worship of Gods
21:00 Fire Walking

SAMKONG SHRINE
05:30 Worship of Gods
15:09 Food Offering to Warriors
18:00 Worship of Gods

BAN THA RUE SHRINE
17:00 Food Offering to Warriors
20:00 Fire Walking at Shrine

CHERNG THALAY SHRINE
05:30 Worship of Gods
07:30 Street Procession in Thalang District
15:00 Food Offering to Warriors
19:30 Worship of Gods
21:30 Random Selection to Find Servants to Priests in the Next Vegetarian Festival

YOKKEKENG SHRINE
07:30 Worship of Gods
15:30 Food Offering to Warriors
20:00 Fire Walking at Shrine

SAPAM SHRINE
15:30 Food Offering to Warriors
21:00 Fire Walking at Shrine

Street Procession in Phuket Town - Vegetarian Festival 2007

5th October

KATHU SHRINE
05:00 Worship of Gods
16:00 Food Offering to Warriors
18:00 Worship of Gods
19:00 Propitiation of Seven Stars

JUI TUI SHRINE
08:00 Street Procession in Phuket Town
21:09 Propitiation of Seven Stars

BANG NEOW SHRINE
15:00 Food Offering to Warriors
20:00 Bladed-Ladder Climbing

SAMKONG SHRINE
05:30 Worship of Gods
15:09 Food Offering to Warriors
18:00 Worship of Gods
20:00 Bladed - Ladder Climbing

SUI BOON TONG SHRINE
19:00 Worship of Gods
21:00 Propitiation of Seven Stars

BAN THA RUE SHRINE
20:00 Propitiation of Seven Stars
20:45 Oil Bathing, Tying Children's Wrist

CHERNG THALAY SHRINE
15:00 Food Offering to Warriors
19:59 Bladed-Ladder Climbing
23:00 Worship of Gods

YOKKEKENG SHRINE
20:00 Propitiation of Seven Stars

SAPAM SHRINE
20:00 Propitiation of Seven Stars
20:00 Nail Bridge Crossing; Oil Bathing


6th October

KATHU SHRINE
05:00 Worship of Gods
07:00 Street Procession in Phuket Town - See you there! This is my local shrine - they walk from Kathu Shrine to town (about 4km) before parading in the town.
12:00 Worship of Gods
16:00 Food Offering to Warriors
18:00 Worship of Gods

JUI TUI SHRINE
20:09 Bridge Crossing for Purification

BANG NEOW SHRINE
15:00 Food Offering to Warriors
20:00 Fire Walking at Shrine
22:00 Random Selection to Find Servants to Priests in the Next Vegetarian Festival

SUI BOON TONG SHRINE
20:00 Food Offering to Warriors
24:00 Propitiation of Gods

SAMKONG SHRINE
05:30 Worship of Gods
15:09 Food Offering to Warriors
18:00 Worship of Gods
20:00 Fire Walking at Shrine

BAN THA RUE SHRINE
18:30 Street Procession in Thalang District

CHERNG THALAY SHRINE
15:00 Food Offering to Warriors
20:09 Fire Walking at Shrine
21:30 Worship of Gods

YOKKEKENG SHRINE
07:00 Street Procession in Phuket Town

SAPAM SHRINE
Worship of Gods

No pain, no gain. Vegetarian Festival in Phuket

7th October

KATHU SHRINE
05:00 Worship of Gods
09:30 Random Selection to Find Servants to Priests in the Next Vegetarian Festival
15:00 Fire Walking at Shrine - I gotta see this!
16:00 Food Offering to Warriors
18:00 Worship of Gods
19:30 Bridge Crossing for Purification
24:00 Siva & Nine Emperor Gods and Birth-Death Gods Farewell

JUI TUI SHRINE
15:09 Food Offering to Warriors
23:09 Siva Farewell
23:45 Nine Emperor Gods Farewell at Saphanhin

BANG NEOW SHRINE
15:00 Food Offering to Warriors
18:00 Bridge Crossing for Purification
22:00 Siva & Nine Emperor Gods Farewell

SUI BOON TONG SHRINE
07:00 Street Procession in Phuket Town
20:00 Worship of Gods
21:00 Bridge Crossing for Purification
24:00 Siva & Nine Emperor Gods Farewell

SAMKONG SHRINE
05:30 Worship of Gods
15:09 Food Offering to Warriors
19:00 Bridge Crossing for Purification
23:09 Siva Farewell
24:00 Nine Emperor Gods Farewell at Saphanhin

BAN THA RUE SHRINE
17:30 Food Offering to Warriors
20:00 Bridge Crossing for Purification and Siva & Nine Emperor Gods Farewell at Nai Yang Beach

CHERNG THALAY SHRINE
05:30 Worship of Gods
15:00 Food Offering to Warriors
18:30 Bridge Crossing for Purification
21:30 Siva Farewell
22:09 Nine Emperor Gods Farewell at Surin Beach

YOKKEKENG SHRINE
07:30 Worship of Gods
15:30 Food Offering to Warriors
20:00 Bridge Crossing for Purification
22:30 Siva Farewell
24:00 Nine Emperor Gods Farewell at Koh Sirey Beach

SAPAM SHRINE
19:45 Bridge Crossing for Purification
22:45 Siva & Nine Emperor Gods Farewell


8th October

ALL SHRINES
15 - 17:00 Lantern Pole Lowering & Warriors Farewell

After all this, a steak and a bottle of Chilean Cabernet. Hope the schedule is useful. For more vegetarian festival info see PhuketVegetarian.com. I hope to catch some of the other events this year - the fire walking, the bladed ladders, oil bathing, along with a couple of the incredible street processions.

Reminders ...

Just the other day I was reminded of something.  One of the village girls, with her Bangkok boyfriend, is in the process of building a new house, much as we did last year.  Watching a well-to-do, big city Thai, doing what we did is an interesting study.  He is able to call on family, friends, and long established business and social connections, unlike most foreigners.  The ability to network, local style, is a definite advantage.  In the village, people often use the same networking technique but with a much different outcome.  They are limited to a much smaller and less sophisticated pool of contacts.  I will be interested to see how his results vary from mine, if at all

We have met on several occasions.  First time was up at the dam.  I had walked there and they had driven.  Even then the flow of our conversation was distinctly, non-village.  During our most recent encounter, in his front yard, conversation again flowed easily.  Of course there was the talk of house construction which eventually diverged into motorcycles as I was trying out our new scooter.  He has friends in the BMW camp and I have a friend in the Harley camp.  We also talked dogs, as he was given two beautiful Golden Retriever puppies, by a friend in Bangkok, and moved them here.  After they get there shots we may arrange a play date for our dogs, as we have done with the manager of the rubber-wood plantation and his GR puppy. 

Apparently, I am rambling and have yet to get to the point of this writing.  I was reminded by all this, of the vast spectrum, of Thai society and social class.  I have observed that far too often, foreigners, enter into their relationship with Thailand through a very narrow door and remain confined to a very small room.  Obviously it is impractical for the majority of individuals to do as I have done.  To spend twenty plus years developing their own unique relationship with Thailand.  To have a distinct, individual identity separate from any connection to one particular Thai family.  Only then settling down with a partner into a much more balanced relationship.

Whether associating with the dregs of Thai society or the educated and well-heeled elite, marrying into a Thai family with no language or cultural background makes things more difficult than they need be.  It seem, also, to lead to a lot of negative stereotyping and generalizing, about “Thais”, by foreigners.  Often but not always, foreigners are exposed to the poorest, least educated and least sophisticated of Thai society.  You stand little chance of being introduced to a broad spectrum of social classes by a Thai partner.  Even if, they are working or middle class, Bangkok Thais.  Class consciousness remains strong and there is an understandable reluctance to venture outside of the group they identify with and are accepted by.

As lovely as my wife is, she could never have introduced me to the people I have introduce her to.  As an unfettered young foreigner I was able to cross all social lines, in time.  Then, by virtue of my own standing in Thai society and long-term relationships, my wife has been able to slip the bonds of her village upbringing.  To mingle with and befriend those with whom there would have been a mutual reluctance.  Remembering those early encounters still brings a smile to my face.  Me pointing out someone of note as we dined in a restaurant.  Her being embarrassed and admonishing me not to bother, people like that.  Followed by those individuals seeing me and coming over to our table to say hello.  It happened on overseas flights, in hotel lobbies, restaurants and health clubs until she got quite used to it. 

The point being, that with a broader exposure to all things Thai and less emphasis on one limited group, I can’t help but believe there would be fewer of the shockingly narrow minded bloggers and forum junkies generalizing and complaining about Thailand and Thai people.  To me, those rants say more about the raconteur than the people they scandalize and denigrate.  It is unfair and disingenuous to make sweeping generalizations with little if any knowledge.  Perhaps it is just one of those, more unpleasant aspects, of human nature.  That we so enjoy making fun of those who are different or that we do not understand, is sad.  Technologically we move forward in leaps and bounds but as human beings we seem to have stopped our evolutionary development.

The Similan Islands

In 1999, I came to Thailand as a PADI Dive Instructor looking for work and thinking of spending a year here, maybe 2 years if the diving was good. Certainly no thoughts of staying for ever or getting married or raising a family. No, first and foremost, I wanted to dive the Similan Islands. I'd already been teaching scuba diving for a year and had this romantic notion of working on a liveaboard dive boat, cruising the islands, diving every day and getting paid for it too!

It took a couple of months before I got to the Similans, first doing some local diving and teaching courses and even joining a dive boat in Burma for a couple of weeks. There was not that much freelance work and I did think of leaving for greener pastures when finally that first Similan trip was offered. 4 days on a liveaboard, 14 dives. Yes! Now, the local dive sites around Phuket and Phi Phi are good, there's lots of variety, masses of marine life, but... these sites do lack crystal clear waters. I had come from the Caribbean, where 40 meter visibility was normal. I still recall that first moment of the first dive in the amazing Similan Islands - clear water, a frenzy of fishlife, white sand... I say again YES!

Similan Island reef Turtle at the Similans

From that very first dive I knew this was the place to be - the Similan Islands, Thailand and Phuket. The variety of dive sites is amazing - there are beautiful reefs, pinnacles and many sites which feature huge granite boulders with swimthroughs and soft coral gardens. Most liveaboard dive trips also head further north to Koh Bon, Koh Tachai and Richelieu Rock, which is surely my favourite dive site. After about 1000 dives in the area, I've seen everything from tiny ghost pipefish, frogfish and the rare seamoth up to manta rays and a few whalesharks too.

Frogfish

Similian Islands Beach

The Similan Island chain is about 40 miles west of Khao Lak, or 60 miles NW of Phuket (depending where you measure from, as the islands stretch 14 miles north to south). There are are 9 islands, which do have real names such as Koh Miang, Koh Similan, but they are normally referred to by number. Islands 5 and 6 are little more than piles of rocks. Island 4 is the national park HQ and has 2 beaches at Princess Bay and Honeymoon Bay. You can walk between the two in less than 10 minutes. On Island 4 you can stay in tents or some basic bungalows, some of which have aircon. There's also a small restaurant, but no dive operation. All diving ops are based at Khao Lak or Phuket.

Granite Boulders, Similan Islands

The Similans are uninhabited except for the national park facilities. No hotels, no bars, no noise... but in high season one helluva lot of divers and day trippers. There is talk of limiting numbers, but I don't reckon it will happen. Maybe 10 years ago it was pretty much only liveaboards heading there, but these days there are lots of speedboats heading out from Khao Lak on day trips for snorkeling and that "remote island paradise" experience. I must say, aside from the beach at Island 8 in what is called Donald Duck Bay (where you can climb up the rocks for a great view), I have never had a problem with crowds. The day trippers generally all go to the same places for snorkeling, which does not affect the dive boats. You do sometimes get a few dive boats on the same spot (or more than a few at Koh Bon or Richelieu Rock), but I've never found this to be a worry.

Sunset at the Similan islands

For me, the Similan Islands are a special place. My reason for staying here - at least initially - was the diving. After my first season diving the Similans, I was back in Phuket. I met a girl who was working in the office for the same dive company. The rest is history.

Similan Links... You can book diving with me at Sunrise Divers.

Similan Islands Information, Photos, Dive Site Guide
Similan Islands Liveaboards

Back to the Beginning (recurrent cycles) ...

The House in the Field, began with the digging of a very big hole.  Roughly one rai in measure and rectangular in outline.  Excavation to a depth of five meters, produced enough earth to raise the adjacent two rai, to a flood protective height of two meters.  With enough leftover earth, for the foundation of a road, from soi to house.  At that time, the house plans were no more than disconnected images and concepts, in my dear wife’s unfathomable mind.  We did have a vague idea, however, that a Sala over the pond, at some point, might be nice. 

With a dry hole and digging equipment on hand, two concrete poles were placed at a guesstimated distance from what we assumed would be our shoreline.  In hindsight a proper foundation should have been put in place as well, but we were still quite green when it came to construction techniques.

The pond came to life during the first rainy season.  It began slowly at first with the rain, followed closely by the release of water from the dam.  Those concrete pilings seem quite out of place standing sentinel over the otherwise featureless surface of the pond.  They seemed to serve little purpose other than as a perch for the occasional bird, looking to poach a fish from the water’s surface.
Two years on and still standing straight and true, a once vague idea is becoming a reality.  Our contractor has found a way to integrate these once lonely uprights into the design of our pavilion.  Concrete foundation, floor and four pillars now seem to float on the surface of the pond.  Today the welders are busily fabricating a structure that will become a roof, over our deck, over our pond.  Of course there will be a few days a year when the deck will disappear below the surface of the water only to reemerge as if born anew.  The recently stocked fish are already accustomed to the new structure and enjoy swimming in and out of the shadows.  Being out over the pond provides a better perspective for viewing the fish as they swarm to the food pellets on the surface of the pond at sunset.

These days the pond is not always a reflective surface, mirroring the evening sky.  The magical cloud formations and sunset pallet of colors are often distorted and disturbed on the surface of the pond.  Somedays it is the delicate circles emanating from points where fish raise up to break the glassy surface that separates water from sky.  Often it is a more violent disruption, brought forth by our furry little friend, Cookie.  She launches herself from pond’s edge, in an apparent attempt to fly across the surface.  Only to be thwarted by gravity as she breaks the surface of the pond, with a tremendous resonance and displacement of water.  The frightened fish seem to jump in synchronicity yet I doubt their emotion mirrors the unbridled joy felt by Cookie as she briefly slips below the surface of the pond.

This should be our last project of the year but one can never be certain.  It seems fitting, however, that the act of construction should end where it all began.  A symbol of the recurrent and cyclical nature of existence.

Thoreau’s Walden Pond

Jon said:
“...your thoughts gave me flashbacks to Thoreau's Walden Pond writings...”


Sadly, I am not “Thoreau” and for whatever reason, I have not been a great reader of the classics. Perhaps it has to do with my focus on living life as opposed to reading about it. Perhaps the educational system was going through some turmoil, during my time, and said works were neglected. Somehow I have had an awareness of works such as Thoreau’s. Sadly though, never have I visited his pages. So, anyway Jon, you got me thinking.

How could I best continue pursuing my own life and yet have time to visit Walden Pond? I was reminded of an uncle, who listens to educational tapes from time to time. Perhaps my modern toys could be adapted to more learned pursuits. A Google here, a download there, and my iPod library now possesses an audio version of Walden by Henry David Thoreau. There is something magical about walking through my own fields and forest trails, accompanied by my canine companions, while listening to an oral rendition of Thoreau’s work. Presently I am on chapter nine so will reserver further comment until I have digested the fullness of Walden.

So often people allow their toys and gadgets to rule their lives. When with a modicum of thought and planning, they can be put to use as they were meant to be. To expand our horizons and simplify menial tasks. At the same time it has become abundantly clear over the last year, that with each new possession, one surrenders a little bit more of one’s freedom. There are costs to all “things” that go well beyond what is expressed in the barcode. The security, protection, maintenance and storage of our “things” begins to bracket our lives and often affects what we do, when and for how long. This is especially true when some of our “things” are living, breathing creatures that we care deeply about.

Having lived the majority of my years with few if any encumbrances, I am simply acknowledging the divergence between my present and past lives. There are no regrets. No time waisted, wishing things were the way they used to be. No resentment that Cookie or the House or any number of things, now occupy a sizable portion of my time. For all these things have been of my own choosing and not forced upon me by circumstances or other people. There was adequate forethought as to the consequences of my moves, actions and purchases.

Just yesterday, an old friend asked if I didn’t perhaps “...ever miss playing a day's worth of squash in "the big city" the way you used to?”. To which my reply was “never”. One strives to live in the present. To enjoy and absorb every moment, without greedily clinging to the past or fearing the unfolding of tomorrow. Having previously made clear my belief that this is all there is, it would seem foolish to waist time on any pursuit other than relishing every moment of existence. The past is gone and the end will come soon enough.

Katathani Resort at Kata Noi Beach

Well, I was just over at Kata Noi Beach a couple of weeks ago. Kata Noi always was quiet, and still is quiet because there is no through road, so somehow the beach seems like a sleepy backwater even though the rather large Katathani occupies most of the area!

The resort has nearly 500 rooms and is divided into different wings spread along the beach and the very quiet road along the beachfront. The resort does not own the beach exactly, but I saw plenty of signs on the land fronting the beach saying "Katathani Hotel Guests Only". I guess the beach gets some day visitors, but if you are staying there it's almost a private beach. Kata Noi is pretty. You can see Koh Pu, the little island off Kata beach and you have rocky/jungly headlands at either end.

Katathani gets lots of rave reviews which is a good sign (that's reviews by people who have stayed there). Location is great, and you're not so isolated, even if you have that feeling of seclusion. Aside from the resort restaurants (5 of them I think), there are some other places to eat in Kata Noi, and Kata beach is only a few minutes drive away, or a 15 minute hike over the hill. And for all that, I do recommend thee!

Katathani Resort - Booking & Reviews

Katathani Resort - Rates and Reservations at Agoda.com
Katathani Resort - Reviews at Agoda.com


Katathani Resort - Photos

Beachfront at Katathani

Pool at the Katathani

Room at the Katathani Resort

Phuket Hotels - More Info & Online Booking

Jamie's Phuket Hotel Recommendations
Top 10 Phuket Hotels 2016
Book Phuket Hotels at Agoda.com

Burasari Resort (Patong Beach)

Now I admit Patong Beach is not my favourite place in Phuket... I hardly ever go there unless I have to, BUT although this blog is called "Jamie's Phuket", one must concede that many people stay in Patong and many people like to stay in a "lively" location with plenty of bars, shopping, restaurants, Starbucks, banana boats and tailors. Not everyone likes the quiet places, so ... if you DO like Patong, there are some good hotels, indeed some excellent hotels.

The Burasari is quite a fancy boutique resort with about 180 rooms of different styles and sizes. High season rates from 4,000 - 10,000 Baht/night. Low season you can stay for a little over 2,000 Baht! There are many different room types from Classic to Premier and Elite. Then you have the individually designed "Mood" rooms which are huge and have names such as Mocha Spice, Sweet Dream, Serene Sand and Blue Breeze. Patong is outside, but when you are in the resort with several pools, mini waterfalls and gardens, it's very peaceful.

The Burasari got a huge boost last year when Keith Floyd, the wine loving TV chef opened Floyds Brasserie in the resort. Looks great, and if I was feeling rich, I might just go one day!

Burasari Resort - Booking & Reviews

Burasari Resort - Rates and Reservations at Agoda.com
Burasari Resort - Reviews at Agoda.com
More Recommended Patong Beach Hotels

Burasari Resort - Photos

Burasari - Elite Pool Access Room

Burasari - Floyds Brasserie

Burasari Lobby

Burasari - Serene Sand Mood Room

Phuket Hotels - More Info & Online Booking

Jamie's Phuket Hotel Recommendations
Top 10 Phuket Hotels 2016
Book Phuket Hotels at Agoda.com

My Head In The Clouds...

  I spent a solitary day, with my Trek on the trail and my head in the clouds.


   
 


Anyone, Can Scratch an Itch ...

There are abundant sources of news and commentary on the present state of affairs in Thailand.  In this space, there will be no attempt to add to them.  Having lived in Bangkok during many of the previous political upheavals, this all seems so familiar.  My present vantage point feels more akin to another universe, at times.  With the flick of a switch, the outside world is kept at bay.  Little changes, in environs such as mine.  The rhythms of life are anchored in the bedrock of existence, not the machinations of man.

Located in the hinterlands as I am, my view out at the rest of the world, when I do look out, has somehow broadened.  Without a local bias, the entire planet becomes equal in some ways.  Far flung events, all seem of comparable distance and import.  Patterns begin to emerge and one is reminded of the old adage, of not being able to see the forest for the trees.

Surrounded and engaged in the pursuits of our civilized modern age.  Caught up in the competitive race for comparative advantage, covetousness and consumption.  One is not free to discern the boundaries of, or even perhaps, the existence of the “forest”.  Things close at hand, loom large and block our view of the whole.  Each and every day, however, the world is filled with equal measure of wonder and horror.  The only variable being our proximity to said events.

Some will rant and rave at injustice.  Some take up arms, while yet others, throw up their arms in surrender.  Life is complex and for each success or achievement there are untold disappointments, failures and tragedies.  In our tragedies, is often found great compassion and courage.  And so, the story of life evolves in all its variance of form.

Mine is a divergent and uncommon view.  That which drives some to fitful rage, I see as merely an “itch”.  Anyone, can scratch and itch.  Pouring words of outrage and cries of injustice upon the page or blog.  There is perhaps more to be learned by not indulging our reflex to “scratch”.

This may seem counter intuitive to many.  Man’s reflex to scratch can be seen in many examples, but consider if you will, the lesson of fire.  Outraged by the wanton destruction of fire, man has in the past attempted to deny its existence and spread, in the natural world.  The end result being, even larger and more disastrous fires.  Time and again our attempts to control or eliminate one “problem” leads to even greater problems down the road.  We mistakenly believe that ecology, is something that pertains only to distant natural environments and wild animals, and bears no relevance to our political or economic contrivances.  Our ability to manipulate the world around us, seems to compels us, to attempt control over all things.

So sometimes it is best to sit back and observe.  To learn the lessons of time.  Resist the impulse to “scratch”.  Examine the “itch” and our reaction to it.  Realizing that in the vastness of time, a balance will be struck.  Nothing can exist without its opposite.  There can be no day without night and no life without death.