A Trip Down Memory Lane ...

As the title suggests, we have just returned from a trip down memory lane, of sorts.  Flight schedules being what they are, it is necessary to spend a little time in Bangkok, both coming and going to Hawaii, from the Rai.  Normally we would stay with a dear friend in Bangkok but with some ungodly flight times and excessive luggage, we opted to stay at the Arnoma, right next door to where we used to live.  It was the most affordable option in that particular area.

It was of course fun visiting old haunts and catching up with old friends.  In the end it reminded me of how I survived in Bangkok for over thirty years.  Mine was not a street level or footpath existence.  It was described by a fellow I was talking with in the coffee shop the other day, as a modular life moving from one pod to the next, not unlike living on the moon, perhaps.  There was a sleeping pod, dinning pods, health-club pods, shopping malls and Skytrain. 

We returned from our trip to Hawaii with well over 500 photographs.  Here are a few from our time in Bangkok.

Wang Pho Tetsaban and Village folks to the rescue

Putting out a plea , and thanking the people for their help

The response was great , people were coming , walking , motor scooters, bicyles , cars and trucks , bringing what they could

food and water and help is on the way from Wang Pho

As most of you know , Thailand and it's people have been experiencing a lot of flooding in the past month and over a million folks have been affected , many people have pitched in and helped to send relief to as many of the people as possible . I take my hat off to all the effort I have seen in the media and the support they have given to the people in need . Thailand loves their own and when there is a need the people of Thailand rise to the occasion. We in the Burgess house whole have sent some monies to help where it was needed . Today it really got close to home when our local tetsaban announced over the speakers that some people in the Sai Yok district were in need of help , you should have seen the response from the folks of our village , almost everyone was giving something and the local police men were loading it into trucks , and as soon as it was full they took off and another empty would pull in and wait to be loaded , I was sooo pleased with the response from Wang Pho and the surrounding villages, and it made me proud to be a part of such caring people. Ciejay and me jumped in and did our part on the local level as well, and we are so glad that we know the people are getting food and water , that is needed sooo bad. Help were you can ,and remember those in need. Malcolm and Ciejay

Visitors from wayyyyyyy down South

Aasa and Phil Brumley
A couple of months ago I got a e-mail from a reader of my blog Retired in Thailand and Loving It, Phil Brumley, who lives in Queens Islands , Australia . He stated in his e-mail that he and his wife Aasa were coming to Thailand for a holiday and to visit family in Bangkok, and while they were here they wanted to look around The LOS for a place that they might like to live for 6 months out of the year. They plan on retiring in a year or so. Phil and Aasa don't want to live in a big city as Phil says they are "country folks" and would prefer to live in a small village not to far from BKK, and Aasa's family , something like a 2 or 3 hour drive.In the e-mail he stated that they planned on being in Thailand the end of October and ask if we would like to get together for lunch while they were here to talk about my thoughts concerning ,moving and living in Thailand . Well you know me I love to meet new folks and especially readers of my little blog on retirement , while I am not an expert on the subject of moving and living in the LOS, I feel like I have a few words of wisdom to impart to ears and hearts that are welling to listen, and he mentioned my favorite subject "LUNCH ", of course I said yes.
Then the other day I got a call from Phil saying they were in BKK and coming to Kanchanaburi for a few days , soooo we made plans to meet for lunch ,and a chit ,chat about lots of stuff. I must say we were delighted to meet them and had a great lunch , visit and talk , they are swell folks and Phil , when they make the move to retire part-time in Thailand, will be a falang we other falangs can be proud to have as a friend living in Thailand . After we finished our lunch and great visit, we took a little ride to our village of Wang Pho , to show them around the area, and all that our little village has to offer, and our ever so humble home . It may be small , but we seem to have a lot of stuff that other small villages I have visited do not have "I'm real proud of our town" and the folks that are elected to make sure that it is always clean , well kept and a safe and happy place to live . I think they liked what they saw and they will be traveling to a lot more places before they make up their mind where they want to settle . As I said before it's always a pleasure and fun to meet new folks and especially, a reader of my blog and Phil and Aasa were a delight. I think after our visit and talk that Phil knows now why "I'm Retired in Thailand and Loving It. Phil and Aasa thanks for the visit, Ciejay says thanks too.

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Early Morning at Kathu Shrine

I always try to visit my "local" shrine in the morning when they are doing their street procession as part of the Phuket vegetarian festival. Kathu is (so the history books say) where the festival originated and the local community take a lot of pride in the festival and their history. I already blogged about our visit to the shrine on the 7th for the opening ceremonies of the festival. I also headed to Kathu a couple of times during the week for food, as I tried very hard to stick to the vegetarian diet for the duration of the festival. On Friday 15th the idea was to be at the shrine nice and early, but the morning looked so grey. I did not rush, got to there at about 6:30am, a bit late to watch face piercing. I had been earlier last year and had some piercing photos like this one. Last year the morning was bright and sunny.

Seemed to me that with approaching rain the participants in the procession were keen to get moving. They walk all the way from Kathu to Phuket Town, through town and end by the sea at Sapan Hin, a walk of about 8km. Barefoot. With sharp objects embedded in cheeks, or carrying statues of the emperor gods. Actually, maybe they were glad for a cooler, wetter morning. Easier walking compared to a hot sunny morning.


I had been shopping the day before and bought a 50mm f1.8 lens for my trusty Canon EOS 20D. Figured it would be good for portraits like the one above, and good in lower light. Using a fixed lens is rather odd when you are used to a zoom, the composition of the photo depends a lot more on where you stand, and varying the aperture can have a huge effect. And if you want to zoom out, walk backwards!


The shot above uses f2.8, as I wanted to blur the face and accentuate the piercing on the arm. Obviously the spikes in the cheeks and lips weren't enough for this guy - give me needles in the arms too! And the photo below, one of my favourites from the day, shows I think why I wanted that new lens.

Vegetarian festival Phuket

The devotees started out of the shrine at about 7am. I had decided not to follow them to town due to the weather plus this blog is still just for fun - I have a dive shop to run! The guy below is a local policeman and a regular participant in the vegetarian festival.

He's bananas

Ma Song with axes

The Ma Song (above) swings axes outside the shrine. Some of these Ma Song really do cut themselves such as this guy at the Bang Neow shrine procession on the 13th. Some seem rather more careful to swing without cutting too much!

The procession left the shrine led by the most important Ma Song who was carried along on a vehicle. Other Ma Song were on foot. Not all cut themselves. I am not sure of the hierarchy, but I think that the most important Ma Song, the ones who really seem possessed by spirits, are the ones who do not impale themselves. They leap about, or walk bent like old men, offer prayers, and I hear them speaking in strange voices. Can be a bit spooky. A lot of attention goes to those with pierced faces, but Ma Song like the one below are fascinating to watch.

Ma Song in a trance

The way they walk, talk and move, I defy anyone to tell me it's all an act. I am sure there is something quite real happening, even if it's sometimes hidden behind the showmen - the ones who stick unusual objects in their cheeks in the hope of getting their picture in the paper! Yes, I mean you, Mr "baseball bat"!

Anyone for baseball?

The rear of the procession is the loudest. While the odd firecracker may be thrown at the feet of the Ma Song, the majority are saved for the gods and those carrying them. As the emperor god images are paraded through Kathu village, I dashed around trying to avoid deafness and too much smoke inhalation and trying to get a photo. The guys carrying the god images are prepared - wearing sports shoes rather than sandals and certainly not barefoot like the pierced devotees. Barefoot would be asking for burns! Firecrackers are thrown and hoisted above the gods on bamboo poles. The noise and smoke are something to witness.


Firecrackers in Kathu village

As the procession left the village that was pretty much the end of the festival for me. I did attend the fire walking event at Kathu shrine on the 16th (photos here) and very very almost lasted an entire 10 days on the vegetarian diet. By the evening of Saturday 16th I was ready for a big ol' burger and it happened that a friend's restaurant (The Lunch Room) had just been renovated and does burgers and they have big TVs to watch the English football! Farewell vegetarian festival 2010. Next year the festival starts earlier (date depends on Chinese lunar calendar), about September 27th. So, only 11 months to go!

More photos from Vegetarian Festival at Kathu Shrine 15th October (Flickr)

Retirement and the Honey Do List

Believe it or not I built this table with my own hands , it is from the wood that we took off of the front of the house when we started the remodel. It has been outside in the weather(under the back deck roof) for 6 years and the finish had wore of and it was looking bad , soooo it was on my list to do something with it . As you can see I've got all my stuff ready to jump right into the project.

I am wearing a mask to keep all the fine dust out of my nose and mouth, and a pair of safety googlies to keep dust out of my eyes too.

I started out with a course sandpaper and then a fine grit, and after I had removed all the old finish , I gave it a once over with a fine wet and dry paper and then fine steel wool for the finishing smoothness.

As you can see the weather had really dulled the old finish which if I remember I only put on one coat of urethane , this time I put on three coats with a steel wool rub between each .

I had slid on and off of this bench , having my morning coffee that all the finish had worn off it or cracked , because of being in the sun and weather for 6 years , so this time I gave it 3 coats too. It is so smooth that you can see the little Kapow bush reflecting in the finish.

Take a look at the finish on this table , here to you can see the tree reflecting in it's finish . It took a lot of elbow grease and a sore arm to get it smooth enough for this finish. I like using urethane instead of a normal wood finish or shellac as it will not leave a water or white ring on the table finish when you set something cold or hot on top of it and it cleans up real good with soap and water which you can't do with some finish products.

Come on over to Wang Pho and we'll sit here and enjoy a little chit ,chat and a good cup of coffee or even a good glass of wine if you come in time for lunch .

While I had all my stuff out and the weather was holding up ,I took this opportunity to put another coat (really two more ) of urethane on the back and front teak doors.

I even took a piece of the jack -fruit scraps and made a sign with our names and address , some I have been going to do for 6 years , Maybe I was spending a little to much time in the hammock ha ha .

Well, I know you've seen me mention Ciejay's Honey Do List in a few of my post and to be truthful , It's my to do list too. Yesterday and today for the most part the weather has been just right for getting a few of the List things done , I don't want to wait to long as the time to really enjoy this paradise called the LOS is coming up real fast , the rain will stop , the humidity will go away , and the travel bug will bite and I don't want to have to feel guilty that I didn't get a lot done when I could have .I got a couple things done that were on the list , By the way nothing on the list is earth shattering , if something is really important,( if I can't do it myself) I pay someone that knows how to do the job for me , I have found out that the best thing in owning a home and anything else , that maintenance is a very important thing the better you take care of something the longer it will last and give you years of enjoyment with just a little TLand C.
I took a few pictures of the couple of projects and will write a little description about each . Hope you enjoy the pictures and also I want to show you that I don't spend all my time in the Hammock.

Bang Neow Shrine - Street Procession in Phuket Town

October 13th was the day for devotees from Bang Neow shrine to strut their stuff. Bang Neow and Jui Tui shrines have the 2 largest processions. I had been to the Jui Tui procession last year, which was huge, and very crowded around the shrine. The weather thus far in the festival had not been great. I'd been along to 2 shrines (see previous blog entry) in the morning of the 10th and 11th under grey skies, and when I woke at 6am on the 13th, the sky looked heavy. I almost headed straight back to bed, but after a coffee, I decided that fortune favours the bold (Latin lesson: fortuna audax iuvat). And, fortune did indeed smile on Phuket Town that morning. It turned out to be a sunny, hot morning. Great for photos, maybe not to great for walking 5 miles with swords in your face under a burning sun.

I was there before the procession hit the old town - they first walked south to Sapan Hin, then back up towards to old town. The procession route was shown on a map from the TAT office so I had some idea where might be the best places to stand for photos. On a sunny morning, the sun shines right along the East-West streets of the old town. I walked around past the market and began taking photos there as the procession started to pass.

Near Jui Tui shrine

These were the first in line (above) walking along the road between the market and Jui Tui shrine. The sunlight was very strong so I tried to find another place where the sun would shine on the faces of the people in the procession. It was one of those hot mornings where it's already roasting before 8am, especially if you're dashing around trying to keep up with entranced Ma Song! Standing in one place does not really work if you want to take photos. You need to walk along with the procession, walk backwards in front of devotees, hope your camera can focus on the move, keep out of the way of sharp spikes jutting from cheeks... sometimes those with pierced faces will stop for a second for a photo, some seem more entranced and keep moving, eyed fixed.

Hot Day for a Walk

I walked and jogged along with my trusty Canon looking for both sides of the festival. There is deep tradition here, one has to be aware of this, I am acutely aware of not getting too much in the way when taking photos. The faces of the local people watching show the respect they have for the participants in the procession and the respect they have for the festival. The respect is passed down to the younger generation...

Prayers and respect

The Bang Neow procession is a big one. I was in town for over 2 hours and the procession was still going on. I actually ran out of memory, filled a 2 GB card on the camera. Too easy to do when shooting in RAW but I had not filled a whole card in a couple of hours before! Will be sure to have a 4 or 8 GB card next time. Of course some were all blurry or not all that great but I have distilled them down and put some of the good ones on Flickr.

Feel no Pain

Oops, sorry, should have warned you about that one. Too late now.



After seeing a few years worth of vegetarian festivals I have got used to seeing the pierced faces, a bit of blood and gore. The participants who suffer in this way are doing it for the good of their community. Their pain brings good luck to everyone. At the rear of the procession, statues of the emperor gods are paraded. It's considered an honour, maybe even a proof of manhood in the community to carry one of the statues. Nothing too hard about it except you're walking miles through a hail of firecrackers aimed at the statue (next to your head) or at your feet. You'll see from the photos below, these guys are not too macho - they wear shoes that cover the feet and cover heads and faces with towels or face masks to avoid too much smoke inhalation. Just walking along with the procession for a while, I was choking on smoke and my ears were ringing from the firecrackers. Quite a buzz really!

Firecrackers again

Firecrackers 2

Unfortunately I ought to be at the dive shop by 9am, and so maybe the full memory card was a good thing or I may have lost track of time and followed the procession for another hour. The watching crowds were big by 9am. This festival is important here, although it is celebrated in other areas where there are Chinese-Thai communities (Bangkok, Trang). My wife was in Chumphon this week and they do it there too, but Phuket is where it's at! This is ground zero, this is the epicentre. Walking along with the procession and being surrounded by the tradition, the noise, the Ma Song and the endless firecrackers - love it.

To come - more from the vegetarian festival, morning of the 15th I was at my "local" shrine in Kathu.. and after that I can get back to blogging about the other, less bloody Phuket! I was on holiday before the festival started so have a few little things to write about.

More photos from Bang Neow procession (on Flickr)

2010 Vegetarian Festival (Part 1)

Well, that's all done for another year. One of the craziest times of year in Phuket.. come to think of it, certainly the craziest. Some people hate the vegetarian festival or are bored by it, or just moan that the street processions disrupt traffic around Phuket Town. Some people hardly notice the festival, as it really only affects Phuket Town and small communities with a Chinese-Thai background like Kathu, Sapam or Tha Reua. If you sit on the beach at Kata for the duration of the festival, you won't see anything. Personally I love it. Love the old traditions, love the way the local community comes together and maintain these traditions, I love the crazy street processions, love taking photos and I also use the vegetarian festival as an excuse for 10 days of detox. I stick to the diet, drink no alcohol.. although I don't wear white and certainly don't impale myself with sharp objects. Leave that to the real devotees.

• Lots of photos here: Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2010 (my Flickr photos)

This blog post covers the first few days of the festival which started on October 7th in the afternoon with the raising of the Go Teng pole at all the shrines. I went along to Kathu shrine with my family. We managed to dilly and dally and just missed the actual pole raising by a few minutes but did watch as the lanterns were raised up. The lanterns would be lit later that night. It is said that the gods descend into the shrines at midnight. I must try to get to Kathu shrine at midnight sometime!

Pulling up the Go Teng Pole

As we arrived the pole was just being tied up with guy ropes before the lanterns were attached to a large bamboo branch which was then hoisted halfway up the Go Teng pole with 9 lanterns hanging from it - 9 lanterns for the 9 emperor gods.

Tying lanterns to the Go Teng pole

Many people come to the shrine on the first evening for prayers. There was also a firework display which we could see from our house - must remember next year to stay in the village for the fireworks! Below - a couple of photos in the shrine. Kathu is an important part of the festival, because Kathu is where the festival started in the mid 19th century. Shrines in Phuket Town like Jui Tui and Bang Neow are larger, but the people of Kathu know their history and take a lot of pride in the old traditions.

Inside Kathu Shrine

Lighting candles and incense

More Photos at Kathu Shrine 7th October (Flickr Slideshow)

Fireworks and especially firecrackers play an important part in the festival. Loud firecrackers are said to drive away bad luck and bad spirits. We bought a few fireworks home - the kids enjoyed playing with sparklers...

Our kids with sparklers

The first main event of the festival was the first street procession on the 10th of October from Sapam Shrine, which is about 7km north of Phuket Town. I went to the shrine before 7am, before the procession left the shrine - they walk all the way into town from there. It was a busy morning at the shrine - Sapam is not a big community but I think they were all there!

Sapam Shrine

* Warning - if you scroll down further, there are graphic images which may not appeal to all people *

The festival is partly about purifying the body by eating the right food, drinking no Chang beer etc... but I hope nobody reads the words "vegetarian festival" and thinks that Phuket is full of hippies and tofu burgers and "meat is murder" t-shirts. Indeed, there is plenty of blood spilled during the festival. Some people are (so I believe) born to be Ma Song, or "Crazy Horses". Some of these Ma Song undergo acts of self mutilation or extreme piercing. By doing this it is said they bring luck to their community. Some of it is quite gruesome, some is more spiritual. Here are some of the Ma Song at Sapam Shrine ...

Piercing underway

Above - this Ma Song has just had his face done. Well, had his face impaled by 6 fairly large swords, actually. Just doing his bit for the local community. So is the guy below, though his chosen torture is pineapples.

Pineapples in the cheeks

More photos from Sapam Shrine, 10th October (Flickr Slideshow)

The next day, 11th October, was the turn of Sam Kong Shrine, which is easy to find on the Northern edge of Phuket Town only 800m from the big Tesco Lotus store. The Sam Kong area is packed with food stalls during the festival - some photos here. Again I was at the shrine early, though maybe not early enough. To see the actual piercing taking place you gotta catch the early bird! I was there 6:30am, should have been there at 6. But it was a grey and slightly wet morning and did rain quite a bit later. I did not follow the procession into town as I had plans to be in town for either the 13th (Bang Neow Shrine) or 14th (Jui Tui).

Ma Song dancing at Sam Kong Shrine


The face piercing above is more traditional using fairly small (but sharp) skewers with Chinese heads on the ends. In more recent years I feel that the piercing has become a kind of competition. And I am sure that the participants/devotees are aware that by piercing your face with something large or bizarre, you're more likely to make the papers! Or at least make it onto Jamie's Phuket :)

What a spanner!

Face pierced by plant

Alongside the weirder piercings you find the tradition and history. It's sometimes hard to imagine, but this festival has been part of Phuket for a long long time. When the festival originated, George IV was King of England. The old tradition is very much alive and I do sometimes feel a bit guilty of getting in the way while trying to take a photo. The vegetarian festival is touted as a tourist attraction and I do think that this year I saw more tourists and more foreigners with cameras at some of the events, but not so many really. This IS something to experience for sure, but I know that 95% of visitors come to Phuket for sun, sea, sand, seafood and other things beginning with S. At the shrines I saw familiar faces of local residents and locally based photographers, and also a few photo pros with big lenses and "my camera is bigger than yours" attitudes :)

Ma Song giving blessings

More photos at Sam Kong Shrine 11th October (Flickr Slideshow)

More photos and words coming soon. I was in Phuket Town on the 13th for the Bang Neow Shrine procession and at Kathu Shrine on the 15th on a grey drizzly morning. More photos on my Flickr page and more information about the festival with links to older posts on this blog here: The Amazing Phuket Vegetarian Festival.