Restaurant Tip: Moo Grob Khun Yai

Oh yes, time for another little local restaurant treat! Forget those fancy places, they're out of my budget! All the restaurant guides I read feature the same old places, all of which will cost an arm and a leg, though I am sure plenty of people love an expensive meal with sauce "drizzled" artistically across the plate... The restaurant section on this blog does not feature too many fancy restaurants. Partly because we are not rich and partly because we feel more comfortable in a more local setting without art deco meals. And .. if you want real local food, you find this in LOCAL restaurants where LOCAL people eat. Food is quite a personal issue, so if you disagree with me, no worries, go find your own favorite place!

Moo Grob (หมูกรอบ) is a bit of a special thing... it's crispy pork belly, and if it's done well, it's crispy, crunchy, crackly, yet retains some soft meat and a little fat, (oh, if you are vegetarian, this place is not for you!) - Moo Grob can be too soft sometimes, or too fatty or too meaty.. I mean, Moo Grob lovers will have their own style, but what I am saying is, Moo Grob is an art. And Tik, the owner of Moo Grob Khun Yai is the artist. The restaurant is on the road between Central Festival mall and Phuket Town, on the left side as you head into town. Looks like this:

Moo Grob Khun Yai, front view

We've known Tik for some years. Her son was in the same class as our daughter at school, but he moved to another school where Tik's husband is a teacher. We'd not been for ages, but met Tik and her son Kane a couple of weeks ago (in Pizza Company, yeh, I know, you own a restaurant and your kid wants to go eat pizza), so we went to eat at her place the next day. The restaurant was run by her mother before her - "Khun Yai" means Grandmother. This is Tik .... she's a happy smiley person :)

Tik is the owner

The menu in this restaurant is basically 4 different options. You have Khao Moo Grob (rice with crispy pork), Khao Moo Daeng (rice with red pork), Khao Man Gai (rice with chicken) and Khao Ka Moo (rice with a kind of stewed pork leg). Or you can mix up the meats. You can get the dishes as a small portion (which is called Tama Da) or large portion (for this you ask for Pee Set). Don't be asking for fried rice or anything else. These 4 dishes are among the most popular simple meals all over Thailand. If you can't guess, my favourite is Moo Grob :) Tik makes it herself from pieces of pork belly, carefully grilled. Looks like this, hanging up at the front of the restaurant:

Moo Grob

Then Tik slices off a section - note use of plastic gloves... my wife is quite picky with little local restaurants, they are not all this clean!

Cutting the Moo Grob

And the slice of pork is cut into smaller pieces, piled on some rice and that's it! On the table are some different sauces, a mix of sweet and spicy, which you can "drizzle" onto your pork. Big plate = 45 Baht, small plate = 35 Baht. The Moo Daeng is the same price. On this day I had one plate of each.

Khao Moo Grob

Khao Moo Daeng

I am hungry now just looking at the photos! It's not just meat, you do get a small plate of greens with the meal too and a little bowl of clear soup. And you can get an ice tea or ice coffee for 10-15 Baht, or just drink water (drinking water and ice is normally free with meals at this kind of restaurant).

Greens and Soup

Don't get me wrong, Phuket has got some very (very) nice restaurants, with 5 star food and wine lists to match. And there are websites which happily let these places advertise. On this blog, you see the places where I eat, or where my family eats. And if you want the "real" Phuket... this is it! Damn, I fancy a plate of Moo Grob now!

Some more Phuket restaurants to get good local food:

Laem Hin Seafood
Tunk Ka Cafe
Kopitiam in Phuket Town
Pak Nam Seafood

Moo Grob Khun Yai - Location Map

View Moo Grob Khun Yai Restaurant in a larger map

Living with the Tiger

Baan Gerda Orphans

Can you imagine the trauma a young child goes through seeing their father or mother slowly waste away and die of AIDS. Quite often a child loses both parents and has to be cared for by relatives, the mental trauma and pain they suffer is unimaginable to most of us.
Many of these children are born with HIV and when their own symptoms develop they are cast aside by their relatives and abandoned by their own communities. A traumatized child alone in the world. Maybe traumatized isn’t a big enough word. But this is happening all over the world today, tomorrow and thereafter. There is however a glint of hope for some.
A small rural village in Thailand and a full length feature film documentary are highlighting a simple fact about HIV and AIDS. Those infected with the disease can lead a good life and one which is fully integrated into society.

Baan Gerda is that village and Living with the Tiger the film which documents the renewed hope and optimism being given to HIV infected orphans at Baan Gerda.
The orphans live in Baan Gerda, a hospice in Lopburi Province originally set up to care for AIDS victims during their last days. Nowadays Baan Gerda is full of energetic kids who hop, skip and jump like any other children. Many of them arrived at the hospice having been abandoned by their extended families and in poor health.

The small village is home for around 80 children who are cared for by foster parents, but the ultimate aim at Baan Gerda is to re-integrate their children back into the communities which rejected them and re-unite them with their relatives once again.

Living with a Tiger is playing a big role in helping make that happen and also in educating people about the mental burden these orphans carry around with them. It also is hoping to once and for all bury the myths and stigma wrongfully attached to HIV and AIDS.

Bruce Gaston, Mike Thomas and around 80 kids with a zest for life have set about changing Thailand’s, and hopefully the world’s, misconceptions about these two diseases.

Bruce Gaston is a composer, performer and music teacher. He first started teaching music to the children of Baan Gerda in early 2007, and then began to develop an idea for the children to perform in an opera. It has been inspired by the best-selling novel by Yann Martel, LIFE OF PI.

Mike Thomas worked as a volunteer after an opportunistic visit to Baan Gerda in 2006. He began to film the music lessons that Gaston had started, long before the idea of an opera or a documentary film had been discussed. Despite no formal training or experience, he went on to record the unfolding events and capture the stories of the children over the next 3 years.

Living with the Tiger is a feature-length film viewed through the eyes of two boys, Oy and Bla who both lost their AIDS infected parents. Bruce Gaston starts giving the orphans at Baan Gerda music lessons and their enthusiasm and passion gives him the idea of writing an opera for the kids to perform.

As the opera progresses, kids from public Thai schools are invited to take part and the orphans re-integration back into local community life begins. The stigmas and myths start to get buried too. The opera and the orphans gel together so well it all eventually leads to a performance of their concert in Khon Kaen.

The film documents the highs and lows of Oy, Bla and their friends over a period of three years, and Living with the Tiger has a special free preview screening at Patravadi Theatre Bangkok on March 17th 2011. Click on the link for ticket details.

If you wish to visit Living with the Tiger’s website follow the link where you’ll find lots of background information about the film and the orphans of Baan Gerda. You can also buy a full length festival edition of the film via the website by making a donation of $28 (21 Euros / 500 Baht).

“Every dime helps make another million dollar smile at Baan Gerda.”
Talen, author of popular Thai blog Thailand Land of Smiles highlighted the story of Baan Gerda’s orphans and Living with the Tiger via his latest blog post. Talen is giving away three copies of the full length festival edition of the film and you can win one by visiting his site. He also challenged his fellow Thai bloggers to publicize and help to get the word out about Living with the Tiger and Baan Gerda.Retired in Thailand and Loving It is very happy to do just that.

These final paragraphs and thoughts from Martyn over at Beyond the Mango Juice Thanks Martyn

Finally I’d like to leave you with an extract from Living with the Tiger’s website which describes a bit about the film’s two main characters, Oy and Bla.

It was only after a year of filming that the idea of making a feature length documentarybegan to take shape. Although the crew had been capturing the developments in themusic lessons, it became clear that it was the lives of the children that was of mostinterest. The decision was made to focus on Bla and Oy as they had prominent roles inthe opera.

After details of Oy’s troubled past emerged, the team managed to secure an interview with the uncle and aunt that had abandoned him at an AIDS hospice. They also asked if Oy would like to make the journey back to visit his relatives. It was several years since he was last in his hometown and the emotional reunion prompted the uncle and aunt to ask Oy if he would come back to live with them again. It was a difficult decision for him to make after what had happened to him before.

Bla had much clearer memories of his experiences when he was living at home. He knew that he had been rejected by his family yet he had this growing desire to return home, even if it was just to bring about some kind of closure on this period of his life. When he mentioned that he wanted to take a trip back to see his land and visit his family he was happy for the film team to accompany him

Four Thai Girls and the Farang...

The girls are gone and my duties diligently discharged.  Day one, saw an early departure from home, arriving at the airport just in time to collect our three guests.  Off to Doi Chaang for coffee and breakfast before starting a day of sightseeing.  Black Village was first on our list before heading off to Doi Tung to visit the Garden and Royal Villa.  While I joined the girls on the stroll around Black Village, at Doi Tung my preference was to find a quiet seat with a view.  From there I could sip my Doi Tung coffee, enjoy the mountain setting and watch the parade of tourists, as I my wife and her friends shared some girl-time without me as a distraction.

After lunch we headed to the White Temple and then to the main market in town, to gather sustenance for the evening meal, back in the village.  We arrived home in time to settle in with a tour of the house and garden before preparing for dinner.  Our friend from Hawaii had stayed with us before but it was the first time for the other two.  The last time these four had gotten together was in Bangkok so it was nice that they went out of their way to fly up here to stay with us this time.

I feel it is important to find the right balance when we have visitors.  This was clearly a chance for the four girls to get together and my role was primarily that of facilitator.  My wife still feels uncomfortable driving alone, over distance or in stressful situations so it is understood that I will be the chauffeur for the duration of such visits, and fortunately I don’t mind, though I do find myself exhausted by the time they leave.  The animated conversation of four very talkative women can be a distraction while driving, however, and I did miss a turn or two along the way, unable to shutout what they were discussing.

Talk of the intimacies of relationships was restricted to when I was not present, I believe, but there was little else off limits when I was around.  Politics, Reds vs Yellows, Royals, family, friends, food, the past, the present and perceived differences between things here and in Isaan, where the three visitors were from, as well differences with the West.  I can no longer imagine what it would be like, surrounded for hours by an unfathomable noise, unable to participate in a meaningful way.

The most repeated observation about me, was how lucky my wife was (not sure if that was in reference to me or the house which they loved), and my inexplicable reserve and patience, in dealing with unexpected occurrences on our long drives and the sometimes long spells spent waiting for them in the truck.  You see I often remained in the vehicle to revel in the quiet and solitude of those moments, free of incessant conversation.  Not that I expressed such feelings to them, of course.

Exhausted from travel and sightseeing all had an early night and rose the next morning at a respectable hour.  We hung around the house until afternoon, before making a trip to the local marketplace followed by a very steep drive to the top of Doi Yao and down the other side, on a new yet even steeper and windier stretch of mountain road.  Sadly the haze has returned to the North and Phu Chi Fah in one direction and our village on the valley floor, in the other, were obscured from view.  Still it is a favorite little rest stop for us, amid a natural setting with a hill tribe village to drive through.

Later to bed and even later to rise the next day, we were off to a late start for a day that would have us dropping our guests off at the airport for their late night flight, before returning to a very quiet house and very lonely dog.  Trying to avoid some of the major road construction areas, we meandered through the back roads from Phaya Mengrai to Chiang Saen.  We came upon the river road very near Wat Phra That Pha Ngao so decided to take our guests up the hill to the chedi and the teak temple.  There is also an expansive view of the mighty Mekong River with Laos on the other side.

After and excellent riverside lunch, we proceeded to the Golden Triangle, where I once again stayed with the truck, while the girls did their thing.  Continuing along the river from there, we soon encountered some of the prolific roadwork in our region.  At first we engaged the four wheel drive and ventured on.  Before too long we were looking for alternatives that got us out of the dirt and back on to some windy backcountry roads.

Finally reaching the main highway between Chiang Rai and Mae Sai, the pace picked up, until we reached the turnoff for Tham Pum Tham Pla or Wat Tham Pla.  Here at the base of the mountains, there are monkeys roaming wild looking for handouts, fish to be fed in crystal clear ponds and caves to be explored.  At first we had the place to ourselves but soon a tour bus unloaded its hordes in our midst.  Even that could not distract from our sense of peace and tranquility in this unique location.

With time to kill before heading to the airport, we found ourselves back at Doi Chaang, this time for a bit of sweetness and delight, in the form of cheesecake and apple pie.  Even with an early drop-off we arrived at our very quiet house, well after dark.  Today has been one of cleanup for my wife, while I have been processing pictures and writing. 

I must be looking very old these days, as my wife even found time to give we my weekly facial, which she recently reincorporated into my personal hygiene regimen.  We used to do that kind of thing more often, living in the big city.  So, now you are up to date with the goings on of the VF household.  Until next time...

The Joy of Gardening in Thailand and growing flowers

I think I have always had a green thumb when it comes to plants and flowers and I always had a great garden when I lived in America and had a small plot to grow a garden of veggies .
One of the things that makes living here in Thailand such a great joy , is that you don't even have to have a green thumb to be a great gardener, they have a saying here in Thailand " put it in the ground and water it and IT WILL GROW ", and this I have found out is so true and with hardly no effort on my part.
Ciejay and me have a great herb garden and a few more plants for fresh veggies, and lots of fruit trees that provide us with more than enough fruit and herbs , and I have planted a few Tomato plants and now they all have small tomato all over them , and we planted a few eggplants and they are doing well , Veggies that like to spead out and take up a lot of ground space (something I can't spare ) we find it still cheaper and a lot less work just to buy them at the fresh food market Tuesdays and Thursdays. All in all gardening is a lot of fun and a small source of much needed exercise. (alto I have started walking a bit every morning with Ciejay and the dogs).We have a large variety of flowers and plants , that bring a never ending source of smells and and smiles.
One plant I had tried to grow while I was in America was orchids and no matter how green I painted my fingers I could never get them to bloom for me , while my Bro Jim had such great success in growing and having them bloom for him when he lived in Florida , but now that he has moved to Tenn. he can not get them to bloom , much to his disappointment, and now envy that I can grow a orchid and with only a little help from me get them them to bloom also , and to my surprise some will bloom several times a year.
Do you live in a climate where you can grow orchids and do you ?? If not I would encourage you to give it a try , most of the common one are not to expensive , while more exotic ones can cost big bucks. Growing a orchid and having it bloom is the "Gold Thumb"for a gardener. If you do grow them and want to brag a little you can always e-mail me a picture of yours I would love to see them. Take care and remember don't lick your fingers after playing around in the organic fertilizer. ha ha ha.
Again as I have said many times before and never tire of repeating myself , this is just one more of the reasons I am Retired in Thailand and Loving It.

Orchids (info from www. )
Orchids, one of the most fascinating, beautiful and peculiar variety among the flowering plants, have always been considered difficult to grow. But given the right climatic and cultural conditions, they can thrive anywhere and will flower regularly.
These plants belongs to the Orchidacae family, with all the difference in size, shape, colour, scent or lack of it. They are the most rapidly changing group of plants on earth with over 880 genera and 28,000 species.
Once the cultural needs of these fascinating plants are understood, growing orchids is relatively simple. It becomes a deeply satisfying and therapeutic activity. If given the right climatic and cultural conditions, they can thrive anywhere and will flower regularly. Some species of orchids may flower two or three times a year and some flower annually.

A walk up Monkey Hill

On late Sunday afternoon after a hot day, and a couple of hours working in the garden, I decided that my original plan to drive to Cape Phromthep and hike down the path to the very end of Phuket was not going to happen due to an onset of laziness. Still can't believe I have never done that after 11 years here! So we took a vague drive into Phuket Town with the idea of a little walk somewhere and maybe an early dinner at Dairy Hut (a restaurant near the Bangkok-Phuket International Hospital which normally has live music at the weekend).

We actually thought of heading for a drive around Sirey Island, but it was getting late, and Sirey is on the far east side of town... we instead headed to the north side of town and the hill which most people call Monkey Hill, although it's really called Khao To Sae. We'd not been here for a while.. could have been a couple of years actually. There is a narrow road right to the top where you find many TV aerials. The monkeys are also nearer the top, where we have been before - this photo taken in 2007:

Monkeys at Monkey Hill, Phuket

This time we drove as far as the shrine - a very interesting little place which I'd like to know more about. The shrine is called Chao Por To Sae.. I need to ask my wife to research a little with some Thai Google searches. The shrine features tigers and monkeys. It's built into the hillside surrounded by tropical foliage.

Shrine at Monkey Hill, Phuket

Tigers roam outside guarding the shrine. Inside at the very back of the wall are 3 figures which are called To Sae Kao, To Sae Daeng and To Sae Dam. (Kao = White; Daeng = Red; Dam = Black). Although it appears to be a Buddhist or Chinese shrine, the figures all have the Islamic crescent and star on the wall behind them. Interesting place. A girl came to say prayers while we were there.

Monkey Hill Shrine, Phuket

Meanwhile my son was more interested in posing with the many tiger images outside the shrine. The whole shrine is full of tigers, this one being the scariest:

Tiger at Monkey Hill shrine

We had no plan to walk to the very top of the hill, that would be foolhardy! We just walked up until we found a view. A little exercise before dinner. Many local people come here to walk, ride bikes or run. The road is quite steep, so even a gentle walk is enough to burn a few calories. These guys were being more energetic, and with all their huffing and puffing still managed a smile :)

Cycling up Monkey Hill

Some way below the "monkey line" we stopped where a gap in the trees allowed views to the east and south. A good place to stop and pose for photos. A number of other people had the same idea. One man was taking photos of his dog. One tree covered hillside looked almost autumnal...

Autumn foliage?

And the same photo with some messing around on Photoshop:

Autumn foliage? Part 2

Good for the kids to get some exercise too. Kids these days are easily distracted by their Nintendo games or watching movies or (God forbid!) reading books... we try to keep our kids active physically and mentally. Not too much.. keep it enjoyable. Now follows one of my favourite photos ever. Our kids. You want to know about my life in Phuket - this is it.

My life in Phuket

And another favourite. Earlier the same day, my daughter and I had been having a long discussion argument about the value of reading books. Not cartoon books, but real books with words. I think that this day was important in my daughter's life. In the last few days since this walk she has read Alice in Wonderland which starts rather wonderfully with Alice stating that she does not like books without pictures. I called my daughter "Alice" for a couple of days. Anyway, here she is with her mum, enjoying each others company, walking back down Monkey Hill.

Mother and daughter

I remember when we last came, a restaurant was being built just below the shrine, not so far up the hill but still quite a good viewpoint. The restaurant is now open, it's called "Green Forest" and we will go back sometime - just stopped for a drink this time. The menu was full of local food - a lot of salads and seafood. Looks good.

Green Forest Restaurant

Update 2012 - Green Forest Restaurant now blogged!

Phuket Town seen from Monkey Hill

The view above looking to the southeast across Phuket Town from the restaurant. You can see the Royal Phuket City Hotel and the Thavorn Grand Plaza Hotel and behind that is Khao Khad hill and view point. Although I live here, sometimes the time is limited for exploring (yeh, I have a job working 6 days a week). Nice to revisit a place and find that there might be a good meal waiting in the future! We do try to get out and explore on days off but some days we have work to do around the house, feel lazy and just head somewhere local. Phuket has enough little places of interest that we can keep going back and there's always something new to see.

Monkey Hill - Location Map

View Monkey Hill in Phuket Town in a larger map

Khanom Khao Lam ( sticky rice in bamboo)

The other day Ciejay and me took a ride out in the country , to a local Thai Temple that holds a flea market every Sunday early in the morning , all the things are sold as is and there is lots of treasures and collectibles to be had as well as a lot of stuff for the handy man around the house.All proceeds from the sale of items donated go to the up-keep of the Temple and they also hire local men to work in the flea market thus providing a little income where there would be none . More on this story next week as I forgot to take any pictures as I was sooo busy bargain hunting , I promise a good story and lots of pictures .
But, back to this story of the sticky rice cooked in Bamboo .
I had eaten a Khao Lam a time or two and loved it , but I could never find them for sale around our village , well today as we were driving I saw a table covered with them and a lady who made them told Ciejay that she makes about a hundred of them every morning and folks come from all over the area to buy them and she said that every once in a while she will get a order for a lot of them as some folks will buy them wholesale from her and take them to their villages and sell them retail, she also told Ciejay that there is a lady from our village that buys from her a couple times a week and sells them in Wang Pho , But, you have to get there early because she sells out fast , I guess that's the reason I have never seen them for sell , as I am not to much at being a early riser.

The lady's husband cuts the bamboo from the mountain behind their house and then cuts them into about a foot long piece and cleans them for her to fill with sticky rice ( white and black ) and black bean and coconut milk and then she puts a plug of banana leaf in the top to keep all the rice inside during the cooking stage . After the are done cooking she puts them in bundles of three and sells them for 100 baht for three. You can buy for a little less if you take a few bundles and she sometimes throws in a few one or two sticks for good will. After you buy them she will take a small hatchet and cut the tops for you so you can pull the bamboo away to get at the treat inside and I must say it is a real treat and a extra treat if you get there early and they are still warm Yum Yum..

Have you ever had them and if so what did you think . I now know where to get them and for sure when I am on the way to the flea market early Sunday mornings I will be stopping to pick some up for my lunch snack and I'll get a few extra for the neighbors ( they love them too ) .
I didn't get there early enough to get pictures of her making and stuffing them , but I got a few pictures of her operation and assembly area , Hopefully I can get more photos on my next trip , I gleamed a couple photos from the www. to show you also .

All this great and New food that I am still discovering , after 7 years living here , make everyday life here in the LOS exciting (to say the least) and Khao Lam is just one more reason why I'm Retired in Thailand and Loving It. Malcolm

The "3 Beaches" Phuket Viewpoint

Phuket, in case you don't know, is full of hills. The highest point in Phuket is over 500m above sea level (I hiked up there a while back), while the Big Buddha sits over 400m above sea level. Around the coast, the roads wind up and down the hills, sometimes climbing up from sea level to give great views. Phuket has many viewpoints, some with names, some without, but the best known and most visited is the 3 Beaches Viewpoint, also called Kata Viewpoint, though the sign by the road says "Karon Viewpoint". And the view is indeed a good one...

Phuket 3 Beaches Viewpoint

I stopped here on the way home from work one day last week... well, not exactly on the way home - a detour needed, but the weather was perfect and I reckoned sunset here would be worth seeing. On the way from Kata you pass the well known "After Beach Bar" which hangs over Kata Noi beach along with several other copycat bars which have sprung up over the years. I want to stop here one evening for a sunset beer and some photos. It's begging to be blogged.

At the viewpoint, there is parking and pathways and a couple of shaded buildings, and some stalls selling food, drinks and such. There are views to the north across the beaches - see photo above. The nearest is Kata Noi, then Kata, and then Karon. Contrary to rumour you cannot see Patong from here. if you turn your head slightly to the north east, you look across the hills and can see the Big Buddha.

Phuket Hills and Big Buddha

Lots of people were there on the evening when I stopped. A party of Swedes had brought wine with them to toast the view, nice. I heard French being spoken, German, Thai of course, and (yes, they are here) Russian. A lot of them about these days, but apart from the language problems the Russian tourists here seem to be well behaved and not deserving of any bad press. And, well ....

Viewpoint model

She noticed that I was sneaking a few photos.. he didn't thankfully :) Hope he doesn't read my blog. Anyway - the viewpoint, a nice place to get a nice photo of your loved ones. The evening light on a nice sunny day is great. There are plenty of great sea views along the west coast. One of these days I'd like to do a drive all the way up the coast taking photos. Phuket has a beautiful coastline.. especially in between the beaches where rocky headlands jut into the ocean.

Sunset at Phuket Viewpoint

Above - the 3 beaches (Kata Noi, Kata, Karon) from the viewpoint just before sunset. As the sun dropped, it was pretty much hidden from view behind some trees. I walked down the path next to the little shops just to the right of the trees to try and snap a view of the sun sinking over the sea... must buy a tripod sometime. The evening was quite hazy as a couple of fishing boats passed in the distance.

Sunset from Phuket viewpoint

Nice view at any time of day from this viewpoint, but it's certainly a good spot for sunset.. or maybe just before sunset and then drive back to the bars overlooking Kata Noi. Easy to get to if you're staying around Kata or Karon Beaches.

The Phuket Viewpoint (Karon Viewpoint) - Location Map

View Phuket Viewpoint (Karon Viewpoint) in a larger map

More hills and viewpoints in Phuket:

The Big Buddha
Radar Hill
Khao Khad Viewpoint
Phuket Hills and Views

Farang/Thai Couples...

Recently I have begun to feel constrained by the fact that I know too many people in the Rai.  This is my third attempt, in so many days, to pen this piece.  The first two attempts fell foul of the delete key.  Though pithy and topical, I felt that individuals we know might see themselves or others in my commentary and perhaps take offense.  Almost makes one long for the anonymity of the early days of this blog.  Let’s try again.

The other day we attended yet another gathering of Farang/Thai couples, in the guise of a friend’s birthday.  There have been an abundance of such gatherings over the last few months.  These events often end up being segregated affairs, with the men and women gathering in separate clusters, eating their separate foods and speaking their separate languages.

When things are going well, the men engage in witty banter, while on occasion pairing up to discuss topics of interest in a more serious and dedicated manner, all the while oblivious to what the women are getting up to.  The women, by contrast, often end up talking about us, as well as food and family.  I often join the women to say hello or introduce myself, lightheartedly stir the pot and perhaps catch a little juicy gossip.  What I am unable to ascertain for myself, will often be elaborated on by my wife, on the way home.  Sometimes, I think I should be spending my time with the women, as their conversations are often more entertaining than the testosterone laden banter of their menfolk.

The average farang male’s mythology is filled with tales of devious young wenches who scheme and pillage men’s hearts, souls and finances.  Of course many of those stories originate in the infamous nightlife of Thailand, and have some validity, but that is not the subject of this post.  It just strikes me that the casual observer will look at a western man with a bit of money, and surmise that the Thai wife or girlfriend has won the lottery and her only concern or need has been satisfied.

Often there is much more going on than what one sees at a glance.  Cross-cultural relationships take work.  They can be wonderfully complex and rewarding but they are not a walk in the park, for either party.  They are not for the naive or lazy.  Both parties are often fearful and suspicious of each other, and for good reason.  That reason being, their inability to read cross-culturally, their own shortcomings and the abundance of baggage they bring with them from their past lives and failures.  I am still an advocate of cross-cultural relationships but wish people would take more time to figure out what they are getting themselves into.

I know I have stated my belief in the past, that more often than not we get what we deserve in our relationships and that it is no one else's business.  Still, when people interact as couples in a relatively small community, one bad apple can upset the balance and harmony of the group.  Then is seems to become everyones business and conversation gets diverted in that direction more often than it should.  Understanding what they have to put up with, I find myself siding with the Thai women, more often than not.

I guess I’m suggesting that it is the woman who often puts much more into these cross-cultural relationships that the man does.  At least those living here in Thailand.  The woman is pressed between two conflicting cultural biases.  It is more prevalent that the man can’t eat the food, can’t speak the language, can’t understand what is going on around them and can’t help but make disparaging comments.  This is Thailand, after all.  Some even appear abusive in one form or another as they are demanding, impatient, intolerant, controlling, jealous and insecure, regardless of how much money they have.  No need to mention old, stubborn and unattractive.  What passes as communication in some of these relationships is absolutely frightening.  They would do better to hire a full time translator to arbitrate their feeble attempts at communication.

There are times when I am tempted to interject some insight or wisdom but then come to my senses, realizing that it would more likely make things worse for the party I would be attempting to help.  So we end up talking behind peoples backs, as we place bets on when and how their relationships will implode.  Besides there are very few couples who seem well matched, yet many of them survive the years despite the odds.  From the outside it can be hard to see what draws people together and even harder to see what sustains them over time.

And, my point is?  Don’t know that I have one, really.  I’m just a little frustrated with some recent goings-on and I’m using this space to vent those frustrations without hurting the innocent.  I feel better now, so time to spend some time with Cookie and my wife.  Thank you for your time and attention.

Taking Flight

"the mother bird never pushes her baby out of the nest

instead, her baby must desire to fly."

- lisa ann edwards

At no point in my life did I ever dream that in my mid-30's, I would drive 2,000 miles away from my friends, family and job, in my Grandpa's old Ford Escort with just 10 boxes of my stuff, to live with a family I had only met on the Internet, through a man met online six weeks earlier.

I'm a practical girl. Pretty much a good and dependable person, but I had a yearning in my heart that wouldn't let me go. And so, there I went, in my Grandpa's car, to a place where life seemed improbable. I knew no one, I had no job and I'd never lived any place for very long, except for the Midwest.

Why I moved is a little bit of a mystery to me, even today. I wasn't unhappy. I had so many friends. I was loved. My family was there. I worked with great people. I had a beautiful home. There wasn't anything bad;'s just that my heart desired more. I felt I had so much to give, so much to do, and so much to experience. I wanted to spread my wings and I wanted to FLY... I had no idea what flying looked like or felt like, but I knew that something was missing, and I knew that if I stayed in Iowa much longer, I might shrivel up and die.

It's easy to make a change when the situation is painful, but it's a completely different experience to change when things are not so bad.

I talked a lot about moving and changing my life, several years before I actually did anything. Not a single person supported me.

"Why would you want to move? We have such a great quality of life here in Iowa!"

"You just need to appreciate what you have-- everyone wants a truly great life, but you have to appreciate what you have."

"As soon as you move away, you will wish you never had and you will be back. I guarantee it."

All good words and all well-meaning intention. Many times, I would believe those words; still.. that pull in my heart wouldn't let loose.

The hardest part of all was that, initially, my mom didn't support my desire to move. I'm an only child and my parents divorced when I was young so my mom and I are very close and winning her approval has always been important to me. What seemed the hardest is that my mom was getting older and moving away seemed like an unloving and selfish thing for me to do.

But, one night, while out with a group of girlfriends-- there were 12 of us-- at a beautiful setting in a gorgeous estate, sitting on blankets out-streched to support all of us, snacking on treats we had brought to share with each other, drinking wine and watching Shakepeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, I voiced again my desire to move, during intermission. Normally, my expression to move would be met by my friends with smiles and nods of understanding. This time was different. My friend Deb (she's German!) said... "Lisa... either move or shut up!"

Yes! She said it just like that.

And shut up, I did. Tail between my legs, I didn't say a word the rest of the night. But, Deb had done the best thing for me. The next morning, I woke up early and got on the Internet. I started researching places to live. I really wasn't sure where I wanted to live, I just knew someplace West felt right to me.

San Francisco seemed like the place I wanted to live. But, a few months later, after visiting over 9/11, with every business meeting being cancelled and struggling just to get back home, it seemed a sign it was not the place for me. I didn't have a lot of money to explore many different options, so I decided to take a chance on a suggestion, from someone I really didn't know very well, to investigate Portland, Oregon. After visiting for 4-days, I knew immediately that in spite of the high-unemployment, Portland was a place for me to begin my flight. I also knew it was a place I wouldn't settle. It's a bit of an uncomfortable feeling to take a step in a direction that you know is not permanent, but is a right step for the moment. And so, six weeks after a short visit there, I moved in with a family I met through a man I met on the Internet, to find a job and start my new life.

I wish I could say that after I moved, everything was perfect, but that would be a lie.

I hated my new job. I hated the constant grey and rain in Portland. I hated the fact that I didn't have any friends. I missed my family. I missed my beautiful home. I couldn't find the nice Midwestern food in the grocery stores and I didn't understand the West coast free-and-easy-go-with-the-flow culture. And, worst of all, I thought I had made a huge mistake. My first job didn't work out very well and I ended up leaving it to join an entrepreneurial company and was laid off 4-weeks after joining. I was unemployed for 15-months after that and nearly ran out of savings to support myself. Many nights I'd call my mom, one of my few close friends at the time, to tell her about my day, and more than a few times, I'd cry and say I wanted to come home. My mom, who I knew was fighting her own desire to have me come back home would say, "You can't. You have to stay there and you have to keep going. You can do it."

My mom had come to understand that though things weren't yet working out for me, I had to continue on the journey I had begun and I needed my chance to soar.

Eventually, things did work out for me; though it took some time.

After three years in Portland and barely a penny to my name, I ended up moving to Seattle on yet another intuitive tug at my heart. And, finally, good luck found me in Seattle-- not all at once, but little by little. I landed a job that suited me and where I found a beautiful, loving manager who gave me just the right amount of wind I needed to fly. I found a soothing, peaceful place to live with a view of the lake and surrounded by eight bird feeders and lots of song birds. I was able to begin my writing career through many lucky breaks and am now able to fly in planes, all around the world and visit many places and make new friends. I have been able to build stronger, deeper and more meaningful friendships with people across the globe, in spite of the distances. And, I've come to understand that the pull at my heart was about becoming my own woman.

For a few years after moving to Seattle, I would remember those years in Portland with anger and frustration; but, today, I see the experience as a time where I learned so much and gained resilience, strength, patience, faith, love and persistence to get up and try again and again and again, to test my wings, fall on the pavement and give it another shot.. so that when just the right moment, just the right opportunity appeared, I was ready... and I could fly and fly and fly and feel confident and strong and happy and know that just a few years earlier, my heart heart knew something more than anyone could ever know. And, I was so glad I had listened to that tiny little tug that gave me the freedom to take flight.

© 2011 Lisa Ann Edwards


I thought I had seen every kind of bug and insect there is in Thailand , BUTTTT !!!!! Ciejay opened the back door and let out a blood curdling scream and I thought we had ourselves another Cobra trying to get into our house this time , I ran an at first look i thought the dogs had bitten a snake in half and left the front half for us to see , I could see eyes and ears and what looked like a mouth, upon closer ---buttt careful examination I saw that it was some kind of caterpillar or something , to me it looked like a Tiger worm , It was something out of the twilight zone as far as I was concerned for a moment. I touched it with the broom and it straightened out like it wanted to crawl away, but when it never did I so carefully got it on the broom and took it out in the field behind the house to let it go , could not bring myself to kill it , it looked like a little animal instead of a worm.
Have you ever seen something like this? I tried to look it up on the net and could not find it. If you have a name for it and what it looks like when it becomes.
I found this on the net with John'a help thanks again John Malcolm
Elephant Hawk Moth Caterpillar
The species is found throughout Britain and Ireland except for the north and east of Scotland, and its range extends across Europe, Russia, and into China, northern parts of the Indian subcontinent, Japan and Korea (though not Taiwan). Introduced specimens have been found in British Columbia. In most of their range, the adults are seen from May to July and the caterpillars from July to September, when they pupate. However in some parts of the Mediterranean and China the adults may be seen from April on, sometimes having two broods in a year.
Caterpillar in "elephant" pose
Caterpillar in "snake" pose
The larva is about 75mm long, green and brown in colour. Like most hawk moth caterpillars, they have a backward curving spine or "horn" on the final abdominal segment. The anterior of the caterpillar appears to have the shape of a trunk-like snout. It is this elephant look, rather than its large size, that gives the moth its name. When startled, the caterpillar draws its trunk into its foremost body segment. This posture resembles a snake with a large head and four large eye-like patches. Caterpillars are preyed upon by birds, but these shy away (at least for some time) from caterpillars in "snake" pose. It is not known whether the birds take the caterpillar to actually resemble a snake, or are frightened by the sudden change of a familiar prey item into an unusual and boldly-patterned shape (Stevens 2005).

The preferred food plants of the caterpillar are willowherb and bedstraw, though it will also take fuchsias.
The imago (adult) tends to feed in the evening, and often takes nectar from garden plants like honeysuckles and petunias, so it is quite often seen in urban settings. The moth has a wing span typically between 50 and 70 mm. It is spectacularly coloured, seeming to shimmer with green and red when in motion. The adult moths are eaten by some species of bats.
Two subspecies, Deilephila elpenor elpenor and Deilephila elpenor lewisii, were recognised in the past, but they are no longer regarded as well distinguished. Similarly the subspecies Deilephila elpenor szechuana is now thought to be a synonym for Deilephila elpenor elpenor. The subspecies Deilephila elpenor macromera, found in southern China, northern India, Bhutan and Myanmar, is still regarded as distinct.
The related species, the Small Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila porcellus) and Chitral Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila rivularis) are similar but smaller and less colourful.(Wikipedia)

Village Life ...

To say we live in a village is a bit of a misnomer.  Our physical location is on the fringes of a village, in a very rural setting, roughly 55 kilometers east of Chiang Rai town.  Presently I find myself in town four or five times a week, sometimes with the wife and the rest of the time riding the Ninja, to have coffee with friends.  In that and other ways our lives bear little resemblance to the native inhabitants who toil in the fields and seldom travel to town.  There is of course the obvious monetary disparity between us and them, but much more than that, is our lifestyle and varied interests which include travel, reading, writing, photography, internet, hiking, mountain bike, motorcycle, baking, gardening, pets, entertaining or visiting friends, exploring new places and events.

Some would take issue with what they might perceive as our inability or unwillingness to ‘fit in’ with the local culture.  I do not sign on to the notion that there is but one way to ‘fit in’, as in bending to the norm of the lowest common denominator, living and acting like the least among us.  There are actually many roles to be filled in a village, with the farang usually taking on one of the more common roles of ‘villager wannabe’, ‘village idiot’ or ‘financial showoff’.

We have tried to strike a different kind of balance with my wife doing most of the heavy lifting, as it were.  She attends all the village functions, contributing in an unobtrusive manner, leaving all the organizing and logistics to those who have traditionally filled those roles.  We are not the largest donors but try to contribute a respectable amount to most things.  She also makes a point of visiting others homes in the evening in an effort to be neighborly.  It seems there is still an uncertainty and unease about when or if people should visit us.  Even with an invitation, many feel uncomfortable and uncertain how to act at our home.

Sometimes it is necessary to visit those who are less fortunate.  Recently an aunt lost her thumb in the pumpkin patch and was transported by others, with her missing digit, to the hospital in Chiang Rai.  Unable to reattach it, they still brought it home as a memento, though I am not certain what method they settled on to preserve it.  Upon hearing the news, we stopped by the hospital the next day to check on her, after having brunch with friends.  This was one of my rare appearances in a hospital.  Shortly after beginning our drive home we received a call, informing us that the doctor was releasing the aunt since nothing else could be done for her.  Circling back we retrieved five of our relatives and delivered them back to the village.  I prefer not having to rely on others but understand that not everyone has that luxury or preference.  It was clear that my wife benefitted greatly from this opportunity to help out her family, as normally people would be reluctant to ask for anything from us.

We try to provide employment for family and neighbors and will sometimes allow children to do some very minor tasks to earn school money.  If they look hungry, they get something to eat, as well.  Villagers are typically afraid of our dogs, Cookie in particular, due to her size.  Having children around presents the opportunity to educate them on how to act around dogs and how not to litter or be overly destructive of the environment.  I’m not certain what they think of an adult actually talking with them outside of a classroom environment but hopefully something will rub off on them.

By having some semblance of a yard and garden, it is possible that a few others have been encouraged to do more to beautify their own environment.  My wife has been generous with plants and cuttings, and family often come over to gather herbs and condiments for cooking.  We have a teenage cousin who is more of a part time babysitter for Cookie than a maid but does help out with some of the cleaning around the house in the mornings.  I do find my wife cleaning up after her on occasion, though.  After lunch my wife keeps a selection of magazines around for her to read.  Hopefully, hanging out with us will teach her some new habits and keep her out of trouble since she is at a vulnerable age.

On the rare occasion of my attending social events, one will not find me drinking, dancing, singing bad karaoke, ogling the girls or stuffing money down the fronts of the dancers and singers, in an attempt to catch a feel.  It is always too loud for me, as well, so I don’t stay long.  Surely some find my behavior odd and bordering on rude but hopefully a few might feel less pressure to behave as badly as the rest.  I am more often seen watching the sunset with my pack, walking my dogs to the dam or riding my mountain bike on the trails.  Not wanting to draw too much attention to the Ninja, I usually slip quietly out the back side of the village so only our closest neighbors notice my comings and goings on the motorbike.

I am truly content with my life these days.  Plenty of friends, plenty to do, a lovely environment and a loving wife.  Not surprisingly to me, my wife is less content with life in her home village.  Family dynamics being what they often are, my wife and her sister don’t always see eye to eye on things.  This leads to estrangement and introduces the element of stress, which is not welcome.  She complains about having too much to do, but my wife is the sort who can’t sit still, so I pay little attention to her protestations.  The only thing for me to do, is drag her to town more often, to get her away from her routines.

At times she even questions our decision to move here.  Thinks it might be better to live somewhere else.  I know her well enough to be certain that moving elsewhere would not quell those thoughts.  She (and I, by virtue of being her husband) are both blessed and cursed with her inability to find contentment for any length of time.  It provides motivation to grow and expand her horizons but leaves her unable to truly appreciate all her blessings.  It falls on me to alleviate her frustration and anxiety, while allowing her to drag me out of comfort zone on occasion.  Even after 13 years together, there is still a synergy in our relationship that brings us both to a better place than we could find on our own.

So do we live a village life or do we just live near a village?  We certainly do not share their superstitions, their preoccupation with money or who is sleeping with whom.  It seems ‘giks’ are all the rage in the village, not just in the big city.  We wonder what future lies ahead for the children of our village but I have long since learned to let people get on with their lives, choosing for myself, a path of noninterference.  Perhaps the wife and I will have a subliminal effect, but who knows.

With my life, as with my blog, I’m wondering what 2011 holds.  Last year I drifted down a path with easily articulated goals and accomplished most of them.  This year I am struggling with the answers, as I have yet to formulate the questions to my liking.  Please bear with me until I figure this out.

Phuket Fantasea Show

I never thought we'd visit Phuket Fantasea. But now we have and, despite my continuing aversion to anything over-commercial, we will probably visit again. Phuket Fantasea is the biggest, most overtly touristy attraction in Phuket. I probably don't need to explain what it is - a huge theme park with a huge stage show, a huge buffet restaurant and plenty of shops to tempt people into spending more than just the entry fee. Phuket Fantasea opened in 1998 and is certainly one of Phuket's main tourist attractions.. and just the kind of thing that normally would not be on this blog! I like to concentrate more on the other Phuket, away from the crowds, and I am not sure if we'd have ever bought tickets to Phuket Fantasea, but then.. a couple of months ago we got a letter from our kids school - a special afternoon show for schools, special price too. Our kids would have been disappointed, so we ticked the "yes" box on the letter.

If you want to book the Phuket Fantasea Show or any other tour or attraction, please do contact my friends at Easy Day Thailand.

Our experience, starting on a hot afternoon, would be slightly different to most visitors. The normal show starts at 9pm. Gates open before 6pm, as there is also a buffet dinner. You can buy tickets with or without dinner. We of course had no dinner but there were some special stalls set up for drinks and snacks for the kids (and their parents!). Most of the shops and other attractions outside the main show hall, aka Palace of the Elephants, were not open, but had opened up by the time we left, just as the first tourists were arriving for the evening dinner and show.

Phuket Fantasea

(above) - Palace of the Elephants as we saw it... but if you go at night, it might look more like the photo below. Thanks to Phuket Fantasea for permission to use this photo and the photos of the show.

Palace of the Elephants

We were leaving just as darkness began to fall. The lights and the night gave the place a more magical feeling. In the heat of the afternoon as we waited for our tickets and queued to enter I had wondered if the show would be worth it! The Palace of the Elephants is quite impressive though, and the queue sends you through several checkpoints along hallways of stone. Please note - you can NOT take a camera into the show, or certainly you can NOT take photos in the show. Cameras have to be left at a checkpoint to be collected later. We took some photos before and after the show outside. I did not take my camera, but our daughter had her little Sony. She kept this in her bag but could not resist trying to take a photo during the show. Camera police were on her in seconds. We got the camera back after the show.

The show at Phuket Fantasea. The theater seats 3,000 people. The stage is about 40 meters wide. There are hundreds of performers in the show. I was not sure what to expect. Tacky or Impressive? Being a cynic, I was expecting something less than amazing, so I was happy to be wrong. The show lasts over one hour with song and dance from different regions of Thailand woven into a tale of the "Kingdom of Kamala". There are animals, acrobats, fireworks. From the first minute I think I realised.. this is not tacky, this is a good show.

Phuket Fantasea Show

It helped to be sitting with our kids. There was a lot of "Look at that, daddy!" - acrobats swung overhead several times, and elephants were a big feature. Lots of elephants... I have to mention that some people worry about the treatment of animals in a show such as this. I have seen elephants in my travels, I have seen unhappy elephants. Well, what do I know, but the elephants in the Fantasea show looked happy to be there!

Elephants at Phuket Fantasea

So, having avoided Phuket Fantasea for more than 10 years, I ended up enjoying the show. I'd say the kids enjoyed it more - a "magical" kingdom can be truly magical in the eyes of a child. As we left the theater, everything was opening up outside. Some cheap food had been laid on for us poor parents and school kids (fried rice). If you visit Fantasea you can buy a ticket including a buffet in the huge Golden Kinnaree restaurant, or you can eat elsewhere and get there in time for the show. Our kids were very happy that evening.

Kids at Fantasea

There are many things to see before or after the show, and shops to spend money. There is a room full of fairground stalls like the target practice that our daughter is attempting below. There's also a hall called the "Tiger Jungle Adventure" full of animals such as tropical birds and a rather sad looking tiger who was pacing up and down in his enclosure.

Target practice

If we go again, it will be for a proper evening show. We'd skip the dinner, but it does not add to much onto the overall price so I think most people go for the whole deal. One thing you should note, Phuket Fantasea is located on the north end of Kamala beach, about a 20 minute drive from Patong, can take well over half an hour from Kata or Karon beaches. They will arrange pick ups for people (extra cost). Did we enjoy? Yes we did. I shouldn't be such a cynic.

Me and the boy at Phuket Fantasea

More things to do in the evening in Phuket

Siam Niramit Show
Phuket Weekend Market
Sunday walking street market in Phuket Town

Phuket Fantasea - Location Map

View Phuket Fantasea in a larger map