An Interesting Conversation ...

Not everyone reads comments and this one far surpasses the norm, to become more of a conversation.  Hope you don’t mind me reproducing it in the form of a post, but I would hate for anyone to miss it.  It is an excellent example of the conversation of life, filled with observations and questions and a soul searching introspection.

Reader:
So, for introductions, I've just read through your posts from start to finish over the last two days. Something about you, your style of writing, your life lived, caught my eye I guess. So I started at the end, and jumped back to the beginning, then worked by way back to here.

You have an enviable life. And from what I've read, you deserve it. You are a very interesting person. A rare soul. Could be said. I'm still trying to figure you out a bit. You write like who I want to be. Yet you come from where I am. I'm still trying to piece the two together. But still finding it more than difficult to reconcile the two, and to find my way to where you are, from where I am.

You have the dream, with the eloquence to match. Yet it's hard to find out how to make it to where you are, your piece of happiness and contentment, from this reality of messy life. I have the feeling that you were once where I am now, that you dove right in, and past blogs gives me the hint you were.

Life has a funny way about it. You can see where you want to be. Then go the opposite direction. Then find others who found the right path, and give you a bit of a nudge in the right way to go. Your steadfastness is astounding. But inspirational. I do have my doubts you were always this way. But the fact that I do kinda think you were once a little "weak" like the rest of us, but have found a solid base inside to make your life how you imagined, to be inspirational. Yeah. ok, that's a big word. But we're all just scouring the net looking for a little inspiration. Just how it is.

I don't usually have much to say, since blogging and chatting is usually a lot of talking for the sake of nothing. But I read your 1.5 years or so posts in 1.5 days. Funny how your years worth of work can be digested in such a short amount of time. But still, it's worth it, it's out there and it gave me a great deal of enjoyment and inspiration. Most of us are needing some inspiration nowadays, and it's not often we find it so clearly laid out as here.

Village Farang:

Surely there can be no greater reward for a writer, than to have his words read and appreciated. To have someone give up their valuable time to read your work, in its entirety, is an amazing gift. For that gift, I humbly thank you.

It is a safe bet, to assume that I have not always been this person. The strongest steel must truly be forged from fire. My journey is not yet finished I might add and one hopes for the wisdom and understanding to continue moving forward, to becoming a better person.

There can be no static state of being until we cease to be, so there will always be moments of weakness and doubt. I possess no special powers and have surely made my share of mistakes. By not reaching for certainty or conformity, I may have left the door ajar for this life to come and find me, however.

The only inspirational words I can find at the moment are that, as little power as we have over what happens around us or to us, we do possess the ultimate power of how we choose to respond.

Reader:
I don't, by any means, mean to hold you up to a measuring post and say that you have arrived, and have nowhere more to go. I realize you are just at a moment in your life, and still have a lot of learning and growing yet to do. However, from my perspective, I see where you are, and am judging myself against your progress. What would life be if we strived to arrive at a certain point, and lived "happily ever after". Obviously, we never arrive, we just are, and continue to struggle.

My only observation is that you tend to struggle a little less than the rest of us. A little less than myself, at least. You know nothing of me, and yet I know so much of you. Or at least what you put down on these pages, and what you have chosen to reveal.

I once, and still do, dream of the quiet simple life that you left the door open for and find yourself living now. And yet being the perpetual dreamer I found my little foray into thailand life somewhat destructive, both on my personal beliefs and my finances. An all to common theme, of that I am more than well aware.

I am striving for the peace of mind that will allow me to extract what is good and what I find I need from that place, but also the strength of character to forego what is not, and ultimately destructive of everything I seek to attain. I've always prided myself of having the clarity to see what I want, and the moral certainty to go after it and make it so. Recently I've found out I'm mortal, and too easily at home in the sewers so to speak. Turns out it's a little harder to clean yourself off after rolling around in the mud, than I once imagined.

I think what struck me about your writing, is that you don't come across as preaching. But rather, talking from someplace where you are quite familiar, and yet have risen above. I think it's much easier to look at the wind blowing across a rice field in the evening sun and find contentment, when you know there is nothing better, or higher, or more satisfying out there. Just over the horizon. Most people always are thinking, what if? What more? What am I missing? You have contentment which is above what most people seem to have. I can only guess, but I would say that it is because you have seen the other side of the coin, and now know the true meaning of happiness. A house. In a field. In a valley. With your trappings of happiness.

I know no one can ever truly be happy. And there is always the what ifs? I more than anyone know about freedom. I've lived out of my suitcase for the past seven years, lived in hotel rooms in 34 countries in seven years at last count, value my freedom above all else. But yet found myself one days craving a base. Somewhere to come back to every now and then. Which ultimately led to a rather unadvised condo purchase down south from you. Needless to say my attempts at putting down roots haven't gone according to plan, and hence my retreat back to the road to replenish the coffers and reprioritize the future plans.

"The only inspirational words I can find at the moment are that, as little power as we have over what happens around us or to us, we do possess the ultimate power of how we choose to respond."

Funny how you quote the only thing which really makes any difference or sense in life. Your future is what you make of it. Period. Plain and simple. That's it. You are the sum of your actions.

I have always strived to bring my actions in line with my true intentions. But I think I have always hidden behind the one truth that everything I do, everything I've done, has never been done in ill will to anyone. If anyone, only to myself. I've always treated everyone around me as I would want to be treated, despite repeatedly finding that I rarely ever get the same in return.

From what I read from your posts, you say that you always were rather guarded to those around you, that you always kept a safe distance and complete control, and only started to open up with your wife. To soften so to speak. Myself, I've always been a bit of a softie, but only for the girls. and that has gotten me into more trouble than I care to speak about here in a public forum. Not as in a thailand newbie sense, as I've been here long enough to speak the language reasonably well and know the score. But more in general to all girls, thai or not. My dad was a softie, hence so am i. I've always said I shouldn't change, and yet now I find myself debating that.

Anyways, the point is that you seem to have validated for me, intentionally or not, that you can still be a caring human being with respect for your partner and people in general, with an open and introspective mind. And yet still have the iron mask on that allows you to survive in a tough world full of guys that try to drag you down to their level. If you could last most of your adult life in Bangkok and yet still emerge a caring and sensitive soul that you seem to be, then there is hope for the rest of us. Or at least for me.

Village Farang:
Reading your comment, I feel as if I might be glimpsing a previous version of me in the mirror.  Certainly doors once opened can never be fully closed.  Life leaves its mark (or mud) whether we know it or not, as you have found.  I assure you my control and apparent suit of armor were donned only after surviving my share of pain, as self protection to guard what semblance of humanity, that remained untainted.  For some, the pursuit of women, is born of contempt and conquest and primordial urges.  For me it was a romantic and idealized pursuit of perfection.  It took me longer to work through that than most, and arrive where I am today.  Somewhere along the way I came to the realization that happiness cannot be acquired or bought but must be found within.  If you cannot find happiness with what you have, you will never find it with what you acquire, purchase or pursue.  I don’t necessarily agree that there is nothing better out there.  I have not found perfection but I have perhaps perfected my view of what I have.

While it is true that Bangkok has brought many a man to his knees with its well documented temptations, there is no better place to explore the often dark and unseen corners of our being.  Hidden amongst the dangers is the potential for great discovery and self knowledge.  Somehow I do not find myself overly concerned about your path.  Your intellect, instinct and introspection will surely guide you to where you need to be.

Jamie's Phuket 2008 - The Best Bits

Time is money, so they say, but I disagree. Time is life, time is love, time is all you need. And there is never enough. Not enough time to do all you want, not enough time to spend with loved ones, not enough time to spend with friends, and not enough time to update blogs! Thus, on the last day of January I will make a review of 2008.

What appears on Jamie's Phuket depends on what we do, where we go and how much of that precious time I have. I would love to blog full time and write something new and exciting every couple of days, but family comes first, and work takes up most of the week, so do bear with me. I hope that over the last 2 ½ years this blog has been of some help, the original aim, and still the aim - to show the real Phuket, not only the beaches and tourist hangouts. 2008 was a good year, and 2009 promises much. So let's look back at what was blogged last year...

In January, my favourite Phad Thai shop was blogged.. and this little roadside local shop has now made the Lonely Planet! Thai food is great, but I admit to being English, and sometimes need some English Food too...

My favourite Phad Thai shop, on the back road, Karon beach

I have a vague aim to blog all Phuket Temples... 2 were added in January - Kata Temple (on the back road near Kata Beach) and Wat Naka (near Phuket Town).

February - a rare treat at a very nice restaurant called The Ninth Floor in Patong, not our normal kind of place, it was a company dinner. Great food... Next up - a visit to Chalong Temple Fair (which has also been on for the last 10 days).

The floating restaurant at Bang Rong on the east coast of Phuket was blogged - one of our favourite quite places... as is Buddha Mountain, where the Big Buddha is slowly nearing completion. We wrote our names on a piece of marble which I assume is now part of the statue...

Writing our family names on a marble tile to be used in the building of the Big Buddha in Phuket

March - we visited the Weekend Market which is near the aforementioned Naka Temple on the edge of Phuket Town. We also visited the Phuket Food Festival held at Sapan Hin in the south of town.

Satay sticks for sale at the Phuket Food festival in March 2008

There was a little piece about Phuket Weather, although for much more information on the weather, then my Phuket Weather Blog is the place to look.

I was making a point to blog different parts of Phuket Town during 2008. In April I headed to Sapan Hin for a look around...

Bang Yai canal at Sapan Hin, the south side of Phuket Town

And then... highlight of April has to be Songkran! I have learned over the years that you have to be in a Songkran mood to enjoy the day. So we enjoyed it!

Songkran 2008 in Phuket

Phuket has more bloggers you know! In April there was an honorable mention for the Phuket Bloggers - if there are more, do let me know!

May - we left Phuket for a while - holidays! My wifes family is in Chumphon, on the east coast about 400km from Phuket. Further up the coast is the very nice little town of Prachuap Khiri Khan, which I enjoyed visiting. Must blog Chumphon one day too!

Back in Phuket we enjoyed the views from Rang Hill... and found a great restaurant on the north side of Phuket Town - Pak Nam Seafood.

Enjoying the views from Rang Hill, Phuket Town

June - meant to be low season but of course the weather is mostly nice. A couple of places to mingle and exercise with the locals - Bang Wad Reservoir and Suan Luang Park.

Joggers at Bang Wad Reservoir in Phuket

Phuket is trying to head more up market. Yes, it's got a lot of package tourists, but the luxury market is expanding... Nothing left for the budget traveler? Wrong! I wrote a little something about Phuket for Backpackers.

July - we started with another little local temple - Wat Thepnimit (which is just outside town), and later in the month I blogged Wat Sawang Arom, which is close to Rawai Beach.

At Wat Sawang Arom near Rawai Beach, Phuket

Also at Rawai Beach... Nikitas Bar is a Phuket legend. On the beach, small and friendly, good prices. We like!

In July, using TripAdvisor as a guide, I wrote about the Top 10 Hotels in Phuket - this page has become one of the most visited on the blog.

August. At the end of August, Phuket Airport was closed for a day and a half by the PAD. We did not think at the time that the same idiots would do the same in Bangkok. It was a very confusing few days at the end of the month. I tried to do a kind of "live blog" with updates for a few days.

Earlier in the month, the Big Chicken restaurant was blogged - and we have just been there this very evening!

I also took some time to look around Kata Noi Beach.

Kata Noi beach, Phuket

Oh, back in January I mentioned the Phad Thai shop being in the Lonely Planet - in August I did a little review of the Lonely Planet Phuket Encounter Guide... and was glad to note they mentioned this blog :)

Our kids love the Phuket Butterfly Garden - we've been a few times. It's on the edge of Phuket Town.

Phuket Butterfly Garden

September 2008. The year seems almost done... Now and then I add a recommendation for a Phuket Hotel. So in September I added Burasari and Katathani.

I finally blogged something about the Similan Islands, which really was the reason I stayed in Phuket. Great diving.

And then... my absolute favourite Phuket festival started at the end of September. This is something unmissable, something totally unique. The Phuket Vegetarian Festival. Every year I try to see something new, I started with the food...

Vegetarian style Yen Ta Fo soup

And into October... the Vegetarian Festival is awesome. If you can be in Phuket at the right time, BE HERE! You cannot see anything like this anywhere. I was in blog overdrive for a week...

Kathu Shrine
Jui Tui Shrine
Vegetarian Festival in Kathu Village - including face piercing

Phuket vegetarian festival - extreme piercing!

The firecrackers when the procession left Kathu village were earbursting. This is an experience...

Phuket Vegetarian Festival - carrying the gods through the firecrackers

And I took more photos of the Vegetarian Festival in Phuket Town. I love it! I also posted some videos of the festival...

Phuket Vegetarian Festival - procession in Phuket Town

As if October could not get any better.... we flew to Phi Phi. Yes, flew to Phi Phi. There are seaplane flights with a company called Destination Air, and I was asked to write something for them. No payment but at the last minute I was able to get the whole family along for the ride. A great afternoon.

Flying over Phi Phi Islands

November - into the high season for us divers... I took some videos at Phuket Aquarium, praised the abundance of Fruit Stalls, and we celebrated Loy Krathong...

Lantern (KomFai) on Loy Krathong Day

I took my daughter to school - well, an old school which has been turned into a museum in Phuket Town - Thai Hua Museum... and on the edge of town, not far from our house, we found a great new noodle shop specialising in Kuay Jap style noodles.

Kuay Jap noodles in Phuket Town

I have learned something - there are always new adventures to be had, new places to explore close to your own doorstep. It's too easy to turn on the TV, easy to eat at your favourite restaurant, and I am guilty of this too. I thank this blog for making me get off my sofa. Phuket is a great place, but is often rather misunderstood. I love it here, and have no plans to leave.

December - I admit to being far too busy to write much save for some stuff about high season weather in Phuket and a review of the very nice Amari Coral Beach Resort.

The end of December marked a turning point. It has now been more than 4 years since the tsunami... What did I write? Fear not for the future, weep not for the past. Bring on 2009. It has already been brought. Hope January has been good for you. Hope the next 11 months are good too. Keep reading Jamie's Phuket!

Finding Balance ... Thoughts on Life

It struck me this morning, how the trails were once lush, wet and muddy.  Now the dust is like talcum and even the light steps of a dog leave lingering clouds.  There are areas where the silence is broken by the shattering of leaves.  The once lush green foliage, lies lifeless on the ground, to cry out one last time as it crushes under foot.  My wife and I follow, as best we can, our four legged companions to the dam.  Including Momo, who has now made a full recovery from his, date with death, after tasting the poison fruit of our neighbors.  Again he has tempted fate and come out on top.  Somehow, I don’t see him living to a ripe old age, however.

Funny how something far off and distant, can reach us through the ether and send our thoughts cascading from one thing to another.  An email from a nephew perchance, detailing a summer working in Glacier National Park or wintering as a lift operator at a ski resort and the possibility of working on a ship in Sitka that does nature tours.  For us, Glacier brings back fond memories of the beauty and grandeur. 

Alaska still lingers as a possibility, though far off in the distant future.  Our dream of spending a winter in a small mountain resort has surely passed us by.  It seems somehow disconcerting, that I might complete the cycle of my life without ever experiencing one complete cycle of Mother Natures wondrous seasons.  Living in the tropics or big city seems to negate weather cycles as temperature is controlled by a switch on the wall.

On occasion I find myself dreaming of far off places as I did in my youth, forgetting the plodding advance of the years.  Awakening to an awareness of the constrains and limitations that always exists in life, but loom larger as we age.  Every step we take eliminates a multitude of other steps that we could have taken.  They say you can never step into the same point on a river as it rushes resolutely to the ocean.  Life seldom gives us second chances but it continually give us new chances.  The prospect of breaking from the old and trying something new, can be both daunting and exhilarating. 

My move to the village was a monumental break from my past.  We have created a blissful paradise that at times seems almost too good.  We have encased ourselves in a gilded cage that shelters us from the realities that many endure.  From a life unencumbered, I find myself immersed in a life of material and natural indulgence.  The house, the toys, the dogs, the loving wife.  When one wants for nothing, a malaise often settles in.  Something about the nature of man that calls out for challenge and unfortunately even conflict at times. 

I now feel an overwhelming responsibility to my wife, dogs and possessions that while I do not regret, does no less limit my freedom.  We can no longer spend half the year in far off places and I must make do with day-trips on the mountain bike or motorbike.  I know I made the correct choice moving here, yet the mind and spirit does at times yearn to break the bonds of domesticity and sore free and unencumbered. 

Finding a balance in life sometimes reminds me of my youth spent balancing on a surfboard.  A moving object on a turbulent surface, where forward momentum is needed to maintain friction and remain poised and upright, with some semblance of control.  Organized chaos that must remain in motion or all will sink into the murky morass.

Phuket 91.5 FM Radio

Back in England I used to listen a lot to the radio. My favourite shows were hosted by the late great John Peel, and by "Whispering" Bob Harris, along with a blues show hosted by Paul Jones on Radio 2. I also liked Mark and Lard in the mornings on Radio 1.. good for listening on a drive to work. Yeh, I used to be a radio fan. Indeed (little known factoid) back in 1988/89 I even hosted a 2 hour Saturday evening show from 6 - 8pm for about a year on U.R.Y (University Radio York).

Anyway.. enough about the old days! I will admit that I have been very much a CD person for the last 20 years. I listen to the music I choose. My computer has 11,000 tracks to choose from. Radio? Pah!

But last week I received an email that made me turn the radio on again. Yes, good marketing! There are quite a lot of radio stations you can listen to in Phuket, but largely for local people rather than foreigners or local foreign residents.. of which there are rather a lot in Phuket. So, the email from Phuket 91.5 FM had some effect - a new website, live streaming so you can listen online.. well, I had to click! And turned on the radio on the way home (I drive about 25 minutes each way). Rather oddly, the first song I heard in the car was Always look on the bright side of life.. from Monty Pythons Life of Brian. You know... If life seems jolly rotten, there's something you've forgotten - and that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing!



So I have tuned my car radio to 91.5 now. Yeh, some music is not my style, but in the last few days I have heard old rock, Thai rock, jazz, dodgy old pop songs, makes a change from my CD collection! You can click on the banner above to open a "mini player" and listen online to Phuket 91.5 FM

I contacted the radio station as I was interested to have a look around their studio, which is located in Patong on the "back back" road winding along the hillside, officially called Hasip Pee Road. Good views over Patong from up there.

Phuket Radio 91.5 FM

View from back road in Patong near Phuket 91.5 FM

One of the owners met me. The studio tour was fairly rapid - this is not the BBC! The main broadcast studio was a computer and one control panel. Changed a bit since my days as a DJ - we had faders and turntables and tape decks and CD players - now it's all done by computers!

Phuket 91.5 FM Studio

The station has only been running for about 9 months, and they are aware of the need to expand the music library - I was assured a major expansion is coming soon. Also, more live shows are coming soon - at the moment there is a lot of computerised broadcasting. I visited on Sunday morning.. but right now there is no breakfast show. The studio was empty, but broadcasting nonetheless! They also have a small production studio for making ads and voiceovers and promotional videos. Even though it's new, 91.5FM is "the" radio station for Phuket. Have a listen right now!

Phuket 91.5 FM Radio Website
Phuket 91.5 FM Facebook Page

Village Farang and Me ...

How much of he, is me?  How much of me, is he?  Are we separate or one?  I’m not at all sure anymore, that I invented VF.  It feels all the world like I discovered him, lurking in the dark corners of my being.  So perhaps he came first and was the aboriginal being from which I evolved without my knowledge.  Through my writing I have perhaps unleashed something primordial, that was ever present, yet unknown and undiscovered.

Not that it is of any significance or import but one does, from time to time, give thought to what might be the plight of others when pondering these disparate identities.  Those who know or think they know, one or the other, or both VF and me.  What about those who knew me before, in whatever capacity or role, and now visit these pages?  Does VF influence their impression of me?  Perhaps, what they think they know of me, colors the words and meaning of what VF writes.

Then there are those rare souls who knew VF first and only met me at some later date.  What must be their predicament?  Can this be the same person?  Do they separate the two or try to consolidate the different images into one unified whole?  Perhaps in a black and white view of the world, one persona must be chosen and the other discarded like so much irrelevant garbage?

For many, it appears to be not an easy thing, to function in a world that is not black or white.  Contemplation of the complexities of life, or indeed individuals, is far too daunting a task, so they fall back on ideology and rhetoric and brook no dissent or divergent view.  By way of example, I was ever so briefly, of a mind to feel sorry for my neo-conservative relatives.  Their view of the world has been turned on its head, as they suffer the indignity of having a black man as their head of state.  Then I realized that this will just give them greater excuse to forward hateful right-wing emails, which seems to be one of the joys of their lives.

My stat counter often shows activity in towns where I have relatives and I indulge a fantasy of them being closet readers of my dissimilar world view.  Though, I have at times, lamented my lack of contact with distant family members, it is perhaps all for the best.  Any attempt to reconcile their view of me and VF would no doubt cause undue mental and emotional discomfort.

It is not always easy to differentiate ego from curiosity.  I can’t help but wonder, however, about those who visit so often, yet never leave any sign of their coming or going.  I am intrigued when, like last week, there is a sudden surge of visitors from someplace new like Norway.  The names of ISP’s, get me wondering if I am read from work, home or some coffee shop or health-club perhaps.

Though I sometimes make reference to the absence of my muse, and question the value of my writing, I am hopeful that it merely represents the normal ebb and flow of life.  Life and death, day and night, the cyclical nature of existence, no doubt applies in the online world as well.  I do not contemplate the imminent demise of this blog but I do struggle from time to time, with motivation, purpose, meaning, value and subject matter.  Such is life.

Uptown Restaurant (Phuket Town)

I admit to getting stuck in eating routines sometimes. We have a half dozen favourite places to eat (if we are not eating at home) and sometimes it seems I have lost all sense of adventure! Well, on Friday night, my wife and I managed a rare evening out without the kids and we ate at the Natural Restaurant in Phuket Town, we will go back and it will be blogged! Then on Saturday, we went with the kids for lunch at the Uptown Restaurant also in Phuket town.

Uptown restaurant in Phuket Town

Uptown is a popular lunch spot for locals, the menu is quite extensive but they specialise in noodle dishes. There were a lot of tom yum noodle dishes and other soups without noodles - we had one of these, called Kao Lao.

Noodle soup cooking at Uptown Restaurant Menu at Uptown Restaurant

Uptown Restaurant is on the street corner opposite the indoor Expo market, near the old Thavorn Grand Plaza Hotel, about 400m south of the bus station. We noticed it was popular with local office staff, there was a crowd in from the nearby Kasikorn bank and a couple of families having a Saturday lunch out just like us.

Uptown Restaurant in Phuket Town

Here's some of our lunch. I had a Phad Thai Hor Khai, we had drinks (ice tea, ice chocolate), kids had some fried chicken, total bill was... 270 Baht. That was for 5 dishes plus drinks. I do believe we'll be back soon!

Drinks at Uptown Restaurant Kao Lao soup at Uptown restaurant

Phad Thai Hor Khai at Uptown Restaurant

I admit we have been a bit lazy and not really explored new places to eat recently, but it's time to try some new restaurants. There are a couple of new places up on Rang Hill for example, and the well known Dibuk restaurant in the old town. Phuket Town is the place to find more local food. Some places we like in town include ...

Kopitiam by Wilai
Rimtang
Naowarat
Tunk Ka Cafe

More restaurants we like in and around Phuket

Lately ...

The day begins ever so slowly.  The cold air, the misty fog and the pungent wispy smoke of the early morning, all impede the coming of the dawn.  Long after first light the sun is held at bay by the mountains and only shyly peeks through the leaves of the trees at first.  Measuring and grinding my coffee beans, I get my first glimpse of my lazy friend through the kitchen window.  This time of year, the rising is dead center in the middle of my view of the world.  With the mercury hitting multi year lows, the warmth of the sun is not only welcome but sought-after.  For a while the warming beams of light even reach across the room to the dining table.

I have tried to hit the trail without my morning fix of caffeine, but to no avail.  Besides, the temperature eliminates any incentive to beat the sun to the dam in the morning.  My wife doesn’t make it every time but is slowly becoming my morning companion on the trail, with the dogs.  Regardless of how hard we try, still we do not make it out every morning.  Our distance from town enforces the need for an early start, when there are errands to be run or social obligations in the village.  I am at three weeks and counting so hopefully this habit will stick if I don’t get injured.

One attempts to overcome excuses, but as far as excuses go, this morning was a good one.  Someone poisoned one of our dogs.  He wreathed in pain, retching and twitching as we stood by, uncertain how to help.  My wife remembered the local cure of raw eggs pored down the throat to induce vomiting.  For good measure some chilly and salt were thrown on the fire as a curse for those responsible.  Apparently it worked because when we returned home this evening the word was that Momo had survived, but we are not sure he will ever recover completely.  Definitely not what we were expecting.

Writing what I feel more than what I do, I need time between activities to assimilate the experience and for the words to mirror what I feel.  Not being moved to words, the task of writing becomes a chore not a pleasure.  Not that there is too little to write about.  Quite the contrary.  There is an almost endless list of village events, rivers, waterfalls, and mountain tops. 

Long hours have been spent on the motorcycle, caressing the seductive, undulating curves of the high mountain roads.  Knees in the breeze, as they say.  One after another falling fast on the heels of the previous adventure, one hardly has time to savor the experience let alone sit here and write about it.  Even selecting and processing the best of hundreds of photos is a time consuming task. 

When writing I would rather paint a picture, invoke an image, a question, or a thought.  Sadly I am ill equipped to be a chronicler of events.  I do what I do, in the peculiar way that I do it.  I want to give you more words and images to read and assimilate, and perhaps later in the year the words will flow more freely.  For now, here in no particular order, are a few more pictures of where I have been lately.  (Phu Chi Fa, Pha Dai, Huay Mae Sai and Phu Sang Waterfalls.)





Sala Phuket Resort at Mai Khao Beach

The Sala Phuket Resort, located way up in the north of Phuket on Mai Khao Beach, miles from the crowds only opened just over a year ago but seems to have gained a very good reputation very quickly. Luxury, elegance, tranquility, an all-but-private beachfront... er it's not for backpackers by the way. Sala Phuket is one of the new breed of Phuket resorts looking for guests who really do want to get away from it all and be very well looked after, and certainly don't want to be mixing with the hoi polloi on Phuket's busier beaches :) Sala Phuket is already mentioned in my Top 10 Phuket Hotels which was based on Trip Advisor reviews of Phuket Hotels.

I decided to write a bit more about Sala Phuket after seeing that a local online newspaper had declared Sala Phuket to be it's resort of the year for 2008. Someone poetic clearly writes for Phuket Wan... "The villas ... are set well back from the beach rather than overpowering it, the way resort designers once thought they were obliged to. From that premise of co-existence flows a gentle design that delivers greenery, shapes and entrancing perspectives in every aspect of the resort.

With rubber trees dappling paths and occasional Alice in Wonderland oversized surprises in odd spaces, the Sala's Thai design team has broken with resort boredom."

I think that translates as - it's really very nice indeed, something a bit special, not just another hotel on another beach. I don't suppose I'll ever stay there - unless the GM is reading this and wants to offer a free night? :) That's one reason why I like to mention Trip Advisor - you don't have to believe me, you can read plenty of reviews by happy guests and get a feel for any minus points at a hotel. I am sure most savvy hotel managers will read the reviews too!

As if to reinforce this idea of Phuket as a luxury destination, I found an article in the New York Times online : Luxury Destination of the Year.

Sala Phuket - Booking & Reviews

Sala Phuket - Rates and Reservations at Agoda.com
Sala Phuket - Hotel Reviews at Agoda.com

Sala Phuket - Photos

Rooftop Restaurant

Pool Villa

Garden Pool Villa

Deluxe Balcony Room

Phuket Hotels - More Info & Online Booking

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

Riding Elephants, Tourist for a Day ...

Sometimes it does a soul good to huddle with the unwashed masses.  Jar loose from the routines that envelope our existence.  Inertia and complacency, are recalcitrant at best, and can be hard to overcome.  There is a tendency to think that adventure only lies in far off places.  We forget that smaller adventures often lie beyond the bend, around the corner, just out of sight. 

With the business of the New Year now behind us, we have been looking to indulge our own need for adventure.  To that end we are considering a visit to Pai or Mae Hong Son.  Yesterday, however, my wife decided that we should go ride an elephant.  One of those things that every tourist does but longtime residents and locals often neglect to indulge in.  We quite enjoyed our elephant ride and it was interesting to observe the tourists and visit with our mahout.  Taking pictures from the undulating back of an elephant was a new experience for me.  A good time was had by all and I recommend getting on the back of an elephant if you have a chance. 

We also took Cookie to a nearby waterfall but those pictures must wait for another day.  Todays topic is riding elephants so with no further adieu...









Liveaboard Diving from Phuket

So it was back in 1999 that I came to Thailand to dive. The decision to give Thailand a try was based on reports from many people I had met while traveling in other countries who had been to Thailand. Nobody seemed to have a bad word to say. And, since I was already a dive instructor and Thailand has lots of diving, it seemed like a good option... But Thailand is a big country. And there are lots of places to dive, so where to choose?

Phuket ended up as the choice because Phuket was the gateway to the Similan Islands (Khao Lak is too, but 10 years ago Khao Lak was much less well known), and Phuket is home to liveaboard dive boats. A bit of research on the internet was enough to steer me towards Phuket. The Similan Islands sounded fantastic, and liveaboards were the way to get there. So my aim was to get work on a liveaboard, diving, cruising the seas and thinking to save some money and maybe move on after a year. Or two. Or a lot more, as it has turned out!

Why liveaboards? Well, I had been teaching beginners dive courses for a year or so, and fancied a change from that. A liveaboard is a custom built boat, where guests can stay for days at a time (anything from 2 to 10 days or even more). The boat has cabins (well, some cheap ones just have "sleeping areas"), a crew, you eat on the boat, sleep on the boat and move from dive site to dive site. It's all about diving! The liveaboard life is basically dive-eat-sleep, plus of course a good lot of chat and getting to know your fellow divers. This seemed like just what I wanted to do, just dive and talk diving!

Similan Islands - Koh Similan

My first Similan Islands trip was in February 2000, though before that I did a couple of liveaboard trips into Burma, and got to know the local dive sites around Phuket. From the first second of the first dive in the Similan Islands, I knew coming to Phuket had been a good idea. I stayed on a liveaboard boat called the "Koon" for a few months until the end of the dive season. Great life on the boat, great diving. The Koon was a smallish wooden boat, taking maximum 16 guests, had a great local crew who loved "their" boat, nothing too fancy, just right for me!

This is me in the Similan Islands March 2000

Over the next couple of years I went on many other liveaboards like The Junk, Mermaid 2, Faah Yai, Scuba Adventure, Le Mahe and more, but after my daughter was born I did less, as I did not want to be away from home for long periods. When you have kids, every minute is precious! Since 2001, liveaboard diving has become even more popular from Phuket and Khao Lak, there are lots of newer boats.. yes there are still cheap ones, but the average boat is certainly better now than back in 2000. Many offer en suite cabins, airconditioning, and on all you get well looked after by the boat crew and by the dive staff. For the Similans or for the remote Mergui Archipelago in Burma, it's the best way to dive.

I think there used to be a tendency for divers to think that liveaboards were only for experienced divers, hardcore divers, "real" divers... but really the Similan Islands offers diving for everyone. Sure there are some currents and deep water, so it is certainly not ideal for newly certified, nervous divers, but I tell you - on a 4 day liveaboard you normally do up to 14 dives. A fairly new diver gains a great deal of experience in a few days. The boy becomes a man, the tadpole is transformed into the frog, a diver is born. I have seen it many times and I have enjoyed every liveaboard trip bar none. So, if you're a diver and heading to Phuket.. the word for today is "Liveaboard". Happy Diving!

Liveaboard Diving from Phuket with Sunrise Divers - more information:

Phuket Liveaboards - overview of some of the better boats
Last Minute Deals and Special Offers
Similan Islands Dive Sites