Naka Temple (Wat Naka)

Yes, another temple... Wat Naka (also called Wat Nakaram) is probably not one of Phuket's best known temples, and in fact even for the people of Phuket it's more of a landmark used when giving directions. It's found on a very useful "shortcut" road linking Chao Fa road west to Chao Fa road east, close to Phuket Town. Everyone knows where it is, but when I visited a couple of days ago I got the feeling that the temple was a bit neglected, an old temple on a new road.

Just over the road is the very popular Phuket Weekend Market where you can buy clothes, food, secondhand goods (open on Saturday and Sunday afternoons/evenings). Further along the road to Phuket town is the new fresh market (Talad Sot Mai) just before you turn left onto Chao Fa road and into the centre of town. With the markets, the temple and a whole bunch of small shops along Chao Fa road, it's an interesting area for a walk, and I might just be back there in the next few days.

Naka Temple 3 headed snake (Naga or Naka) at the entrance to the temple

Around the walls are photos of local people who have died. Some old, some young, some recently, some many years ago. It adds a certain local feeling and a spirit to the temple. These people lived and prayed here.

And of course there is Buddha showing everyone the path. The image below shows a standing Buddha image with both hands raised to chest level, which is known as the attitude of calming the ocean. The Lord Buddha performed a miracle by stopping a rainstorm and flooding in the presence of the three arrogant hermits. Having seen the miracle, they submitted to the Lord Buddha and listened to his sermon. The three hermits and their 1,000 followers were so impressed with the preaching that they were willingly ordained as monks. You can read more about Buddha images here: Buddha Images.

Buddha image at Naka Temple

More Phuket Temples

Thailand 101 ...

The sky is gray. A cool breeze from the North brings a slight chill to the house. My favorite Pied Harrier  patrols his domain, performing nap of the earth aerobatics with his usual grace and aplomb. The little Kingfisher, with his hummingbird hues of emerald green and muted saffron, looks content with a beak full of minnow, just scooped from the pond. The dogs frolic in the fields and the pungent aroma of garlic wafts in from the kitchen. My lover and I are satisfied and the world could hardly be any more sublime.

Yet here I am taking a brief moment to remind you of things I’m sure you already know and were covered in depth in Thailand 101. Visiting here, be it two weeks or two months, is like a 100 meter sprint. Living here, by comparison, is like an ultra marathon. One cannot typically maintain the pace of expenditure or conquest indefinitely over the long haul. Some learn this quickly and make a smooth transition from visitor to resident. Others crash and burn in a brilliant pyrotechnic display.

While some venture to this land with no loftier ambition than to live the life of a village peasant, others have grander dreams of conquest. They have the notion that they possess greater intellect and skills, thus putting them way ahead of the locals. They sometimes forget the locals own the playing field and make the rules, as it is the world over. Some things are indeed cheaper here but many things are not. Startup costs for setting up a life here can be high depending on the kind of life you want to lead.

Condo costs could well run you in the neighborhood of two to three thousand dollars per square meter, if that is where your taste lies. There are decent places for half that but as the new kid your chance of finding out about bank auctions or liquidations and gaining access to those properties is slim at best. Cars are another example of paying more for less. Where it is not held against you as a visitor, not to have transportation, it can be a limiting factor when trying to move up the quality ladder on your route to grander conquests.

The things we love about a vacation destination sometimes vanish when we move there. Sometimes the beautiful flower we lust after wilts that more readily when we pluck it from the vine instead leaving it to grow wild and flourish. Not that all will be lost but things will be different and much will depend on the individual players and what they bring to the table.

Though it may not sound like it, I am a great believer in the pursuit of “life” over the pursuit of money and possessions. It is just that I also believe in a little anticipatory forethought. Even the most adventurous kayaker, scouts the rapids ahead before attempting to run them and wears a protective floatation device of some sort. By all means “go for it and live to the fullest” but be smart about it too.

I really love reading the comments of those who bother to write. Be they brief or lengthy, they are appreciated greatly and add profoundly to this work.

Not Again ...

When I hear someone say they are, or want, to marry a Thai girl, they are, or want, to move to Thailand, an alarm goes off in my head and part of me wants to scream, “Not Again...Not Another One!” Then the less cynical part of me says shut up and let them find out on their own. Who knows, they may just get lucky.

Statistically the odds are against you even in your own backyard, so does it really matter if someone gets a bad case of the grass being greener and strikes out for a foreign land? After all don’t we learn more from our mistakes than our successes? Isn’t it better to play and lose, than to have never played at all? What would life be, if everything was a sure bet and we always knew the outcome in advance?

So instead of being the naysayer today, I say go for it. When things go belly up, which statistically speaking they most likely will, just tell yourself “I’m one step closer to enlightenment.” In the very least it will be one more mistake you will know, not to make, in the future.

Yeah, I know I’m being a smart-ass, know-it-all but how do you think I got this way? Sure I have a great life and a great wife, but again how do you think I got here? I’ve got twenty long grueling years of mistakes and adventures in Thailand which preceded these last ten years of joyful bliss. You know what all that taught me? It taught me enough to know that I just got lucky. That the right girl found me at the right time. Another time and place and I would not have been ready to grasp this opportunity. I wouldn’t have had the skills necessary to make this work. I had to go through all that other stuff to become who I am today. And it is not enough to just experience life. One has to learn from it.

Someone asked “Why ask Why?” to which I can only say that my mind is never satisfied with “What? Where? When?”. I get bored hearing what happened and want to know why it happened. I’m only superficially interested in what you feel. I am far more interested in why you feel that way. What are the underlying reasons or motivations? For example I seldom base my actions on the “Rules” but rather on what I perceive to be, the reasons for the rules being set forth to begin with. I’m sure for many, if not most, it must sound very tedious. But that is what it is like to be me. It is not about the nice house or the amazing young wife. It is not about where I live (which country, village or house). It is about how I live, the choices I make and about understanding why I am, who I am.

So I can look at that guy in the mirror and say, “I know who you are.” Honestly, how well acquainted are you with the person in your mirror?

Kata Temple (Wat Kittisangkaram)

Finally, after many years I decided to take a good look at Kata Temple. Just behind the temple is a place called Kata Big Rock, where you can find a pool used by scuba diving companies for dive training. I must have been there 50 times at least, driving through the main entrance to Kata Temple, but never actually taking time to look at the temple itself. I must have driven past the temple entrance 1000 times. Kata Temple is located on the back road (called "Patak Road") about 1km from Kata Beach as the sparrow flies, further by road. It seems not many tourists come here, and I can hardly locate any information about the temple on the web, but Kata Temple is easy enough to find - just follow the back road around Kata and Karon and look for the sign and the obvious temple entrance.

The main temple grounds have recently been rebuilt so much of the temple looks brand new. Lots of freshly painted walls here, and still some work going on - I saw some workers painting while I visited. There is a school here too. This has also been newly built, which can only be a good thing for the kids.

Kata Temple

Kata Temple

One small building was higher up on the hill, up a flight of steps that left my legs feeling wobbly (yeh, too much office work). Of course it was shut, but I took a peek inside through the dusty window...

Inside the highest room

Around the temple grounds I found one of the most serene Buddha statues I have ever seen. Click on the photo to enlarge. Look at the face. Serene.

Buddha statue in Kata Temple

Also while at the temple I met a volunteer for PAWS - a Phuket based animal welfare charity. She was there to feed the dogs. There are a lot of dogs around the temple! PAWS helps many dogs around Phuket. The little girl below, whose parents were painting part of the temple wall, decided to feed a temple dog too...

Girl feeding dog at Kata Temple

Roof and Moon, Kata Temple Flowers at Kata Temple

If you are passing by, in the Kata area, take a few minutes to visit Kata Temple. Every area of Phuket has it's own local temple. Just a few km down the road you'll find Karon Temple near Karon Beach. Take a look at the temple nearest your hotel, and if you are a temple lover like me, check out some more Temples in Phuket.

Why, why, why ???

Though I have lived in Thailand forever and a day, I am still rather new to this whole village thing. There continue to be things that beg the question, Why? Please keep in mind that these are questions pertaining to my own peculiar village experience and are in no way intended to be all encompassing or relevant to all villages.

Why are the dividers between rice paddies here so small and irregular? Why is an area, which is so obviously one village, divided into two villages? Why would anyone continue to farm rice when it is so obviously unprofitable? Why would anyone return to live in the village after moving to the city for work and higher wages? Why doesn’t anybody want to have a house phone or landline? Why do parents refuse to discipline their children and then berate teachers when they are forced to do what their parents will not? Why do they insist on having a temple in every village even when the young men don’t want to be monks or novices?

Why do they burn everything that is flammable and some things that aren’t? Why do they cutdown or kill anything and everything that can be eaten or sold? Why do they make every effort to appear wealthy when they are so obviously not? Why are their dogs so loyal when they are so mistreated and ill fed? Why do the girls continue to have babies in their teens? Why do they leave said babies with their parents or grandparents to be raised as villagers? Why are babies afraid of me and cry in my presence? Why are village girls attracted to the most obnoxious village boys? Why are there so many funerals? Why are there so many weddings? Why did I choose to live here? Why did my wife choose to marry me? Why is my wife willing to forgo producing offspring?

Why are the foreigners one sees in these parts such a ragtag looking bunch? Why do people borrow from unscrupulous money lenders charging exorbitant rates? Why do men go into debt to leave home and work in squalid conditions in foreign countries? Why do some women willingly enter into the oldest profession to provide for their often ungrateful families? Why do people drink so much? Why do they drive with such reckless abandon? Why are they so superstitious? Why do they know so little about the religion they profess to follow? Why are they so afraid of anything new? Why do they smile so much and appear so happy?

Though I have found my own answers to most of these questions and many others, sometimes the question is more evocative than the answer. So, one final question to sum things up. Why did you think I was going to answer these questions for you?

English Food in Phuket

If you take a look at the Phuket Restaurants section of Jamie's Phuket, you'll see that I mostly enjoy eating Thai food - salads, seafood, noodles, curries and so on. Thai food is great, Thai food is fantastic, Thai food is one of the things that makes living in Thailand so enjoyable, but somewhere deep down I think I have an "English food" gene that occasionaly craves an English breakfast, some bangers and mash, baked potatoes, cheese and Branston pickle sandwiches (with thick crusty bread). This gene is mostly inactive, but I sometimes get cravings. I went through a Branston craving a couple of years ago. Any family member or friend visiting Phuket was asked to bring more Branston. I recently had a pickled onion craving too. And I must say a packet of chocolate Hob Nobs would be most welcome any time. Thanks to the web site Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down for reminding me of Hob Nobs. Oh and Fig Rolls, mmmmm. Damn, can someone send me some Fig Rolls? Wish I hadn't thought about that now. Got another craving.

Update... someone did bring me some Fig Rolls. Thank you! See here: FIG ROLLS!

Update 2... and somebody brought me Hob Nobs! See : I've Been Nobbled!

A can of John Smiths would be nice too!

  Branston pickle  Thanks for the Fig Rolls!

Now, I know some expats who hardly eat Thai food at all, and there are many restaurants in Phuket catering to foreigners and expats, selling English food, German food, Swedish food, Italian food etc... I am happy with Thai food almost all the time, but this last week I have had some cravings, and have twice visited the Pineapple Guesthouse in Karon for large servings of that most wonderfully English, greasy spoon cafe special - Eggs, Bacon, Chips and Beans. A food so wonderful that a blog about it won an award in 2006 - See eggbaconchipsandbeans.

Egg, Bacon, Chips and Beans at Pineapple Guesthouse

Coffee at Pineapple Guesthouse

The Pineapple Guesthouse is English owned and Steve has just finished moving everything out of the old "Pineapple 1" into the newer "Pineapple 2". Finally he got a couple of tables outside and some big beach umbrellas to shade customers from the unrelenting lunchtime sun, so now I think I will be round there a couple of times a month to preempt my cravings. I've just been today. I think this nicely balances the days when I have the local Phad Thai, or a big curry at Mama Noi - and all these places are just a few minutes from work! Well, I guess I'll be back on the Phad Kana Moo Grob tomorrow. That's a real plus point about living in Phuket - you can easily switch between local food and "farang" food. Whatever you want you can get it here!

Something New ..

The day began like many others. The soothing melodic voice of a Thai singer that always precedes the morning announcements over the horrid village loudspeaker. Hidden deep in the audio broadcast is some ominous, undetected message that only the village dogs respond to. They launch into a chorus of wolflike howls more suited for the wilds of Alaska or Yellowstone. The outside dogs are loud enough, but when the pup who sleeps inside joins in, the acoustical characteristics of our high ceiling produce an ear-shattering din.

What was to be unique about this day, was that for the first time in our lives we were going to have a maid. I know, there is probably a modern politically correct title like, senior executive household chores engineer, or some such thing. Then again, that just wouldn’t be me, now would it. Ends up she is a childhood friend who went to school with my wife.

The first prospect backed out, saying her son didn’t want her to work, but who knows what the real reason was. This one asked to talk it over with her husband first and then came back with a request for a higher salary. We liked her approach and understood her rational but, in the spirit of the game, knocked her price down by a little for the first 3 months as a trial period. Of course it is not a motivator to give people what they expect so if we like her we will give her a raise in advance of the third month.

She could make more money going off to the city to work longer hours but this way she gets to stay near her two children in the village. If things work out we will treat her like family so she most likely will be better off here, in the long run. People don’t always look that far down the road, however. They tend to look at numbers and not overall costs or perks.

An entertaining plus, for us, has been her updates on village gossip about us. People seem to be making a big deal of the notion that nobody comes to visit us. I guess that is meant to imply that we are friendless. They claim even my wife’s mother doesn’t come over. Well, not more than a couple times a day, anyway. A hundred meters is seen as way too far to walk and they seem to be afraid of our dogs. The dogs are a bit noisy but that is after all, their job. Without the draw of alcohol and gossip, which we don’t offer, there is little reason for the hoards to come a knocking on our door.

Other than their fear of our dogs, people questioned why our maid was not afraid of me, and was willing to work for us. Never thought of myself as the scary type but if it keeps people from annoying me then, whatever works. Over the years my wife has become quite good at explaining me to others, but often I prefer that she doesn’t. Don’t want people thinking I’m an easy touch or too approachable. Anyway this girl doesn’t seem to find me menacing or off putting in the least. Her presence around the house, so far, has not been an imposition for me either.

Last night she was a great help with our little wrap up party for the workers. Did I neglect to mention the we just finish surfacing the road and driveway? Well, they just finished poring the concrete last night and even helped us install our little spirit house which I hauled from Chiang Rai in the afternoon. Don’t know what we would have done without the additional six people to help us set it up.

It is a real beauty, though I’m sure that is not meant to be a major consideration in the selection and placement of a spirit house. My wife made a good faith effort to invite the spirits to move into their new accommodations. Don’t know that everything was done “correctly” but I would be suspicious of any spirit who didn’t want to inhabit such a lovely structure. For me it was all about the aesthetics and of course making my wife happy.

She expressed her concern at the shop, that the spirit house was perhaps a bit too expensive when I drew her attention to it. I explained that it was the only thing about our house that was the least bit Thai so felt it should be a nice one. To which her coy retort was, “It’s not the only thing Thai dear.” She is so cute like that. Always able to put me in my place and make me smile doing it.

So that should be the last of our big messy projects for a while. When the rains come we won’t get bogged down in the mud and it should provide a nice area for skateboarding, badminton or various other activities. When we are not around the spirits should look after things for us and if all else fails the dogs will do their job. For those who are not willing to run the gauntlet of honor to prove their worthiness, well, I guess we will just have to do without their company.

Seasons ... (taking the bad with the good)...

By far my favorite time of year, for photography, is the rainy season. Frequent thunderstorms cleanse and refresh the color pallet. From field to forest, green is on display in every imaginable hue. The sky is bluer and the clouds, billowing or feathered, create a dramatic background for landscapes or sunsets. No need to water the plants as everything grows profusely. That of course includes the weeds and other nuisance plants you don’t want in your garden. The abundance of the forest is on the menu at this time of year. Mushrooms are plentiful as are edible bugs and the just plain annoying ones.

As the flora flourishes in the wet, it can be annoying that the clothes take days and days to dry. The humidity is unrelenting and temperatures drop but slightly beneath the overcast skies. Low lying trails become impassable on the bike and the already rough roads are transformed into minefields with massive holes. The truck is never clean for more than a few hours at a time. Feet and paws, are wet and muddy, making it all but impossible to keep floors spotless.

Winter brings the occasionally chilly nights and foggy mornings. In general, the weather is quite pleasant this time of year. With the cool weather, however, comes the burning season and the blue skies are soon replaced by grays and browns. Landscape shots are dull and lifeless with limited visibility and muted colors. The trails are once again passable and exercise is a more pleasant with less perspiration yet more labored breathing due to the smoke. Again there is a tradeoff between cooler temperature and smoke filled air.

The barren fields are now roamed freely by cows and hunted by birds of prey. Our dogs are often spotted far off in the distance. They are drawn to the remaining mounds of straw, playing “king of the mountain” and hunting for mice or anything that moves. They even try their hand at a little cow herding or bird hunting but to little avail. One of our dogs has an obsession with changing his hair color and loves to roll in the ash of recently burned straw. He has also been known to change his scent, with what I suspect to be pig excrement.

Soon enough the stifling heat will return and all greens will fade to brown. As the ground hardens one can ride a bike almost anywhere, with only heat and stamina as limiting factors. With the heat comes the Thai New Year and a more sociable time of year. Scattered family members return home as employers allow for longer holidays. 

Unfortunately, it is also the dying season as road fatalities soar from a deadly mix of alcohol and the revelry of Songkran. The resulting funerals add to the social nature of this time of year, as families gather again, for all the resulting rituals and ceremonies. Almost as a balance to the dying, there seems to be a bounty of weddings and births. The ebb and flow of life in the village, is a reminder of our own mortality and the limited time we have on this planet.

So there is good and bad to be found in the seasons or in life for that matter. Just depends on how you look at things. In reality there is never just one perspective. There are those who are limited in there ability to “see” the world in which they live but that fortunately has no effect on the world at large, only their small place in it.

One reader very kindly commented that he might learn something from reading my blog. My hope would be that readers become more introspective and attuned to their own inner voice that is so often overwhelmed by the din of modernity. Whatever you do, don’t follow another’s path. Blaze your own trail and take pride in your successes and learn from your failures.

The Best of Jamie's Phuket 2007

Happy New Year to everyone. Thanks for reading Jamie's Phuket. This blog started in April 2006, and is still getting bigger. The idea? To show the "real" Phuket as opposed to the more popular tourist attractions. This is my Phuket, I tend to write about the places we go as a family, and places that interest me. Thanks for people who have written emails or sent donations, I hope that during 2008 this blog can continue to grow - plenty more temples to blog - sorry if you don't like temples... I do and this is my blog. Among other things, I want to write more about Phuket Town, get some photos from Chinese New Year festivities and I have said to my wife that we need to try some new restaurants as we have become rather middle aged and keep going to the same places.

The Best of Jamie's Phuket 2007

January was when we found The Beach Bar, a small local restaurant on the beach at Cape Panwa. We have been back many times in the last 12 months. Also in January, I had a look at Patong temple, a real haven of peace near the busiest tourist zone in Thailand!

Kata Viewpoint

In February, I finally blogged the Kata Viewpoint, probably the most famous view in Phuket. We must have been here 30 times - any time someone comes to visit we say "hey, want to see a great view?"... We also visited local temples around the Kathu / Ket Ho area where we live.

In March, my mother came to visit, I had a small holiday and we did as much as possible! Mother is in hospital at home right now, I like to see the photos of the happy times we had in March.

We visited Naithon beach - one of Phukets many quiet beaches, we visited temples and we took a longtail boat ride around Phang Nga Bay - an unmissable sight if you are coming to this part of Thailand

Mum on the longtail boat in Phang Nga Bay

James Bond Island

In April I took a long walk around old Phuket Town and must do it again one day! I still want to blog the Chinese Shrines and the market area. April 13th is of course Songkran day - waterfights, turtle releases, and a lot of fun! Same again in 2008!


In May, we stopped for a look at Boat Lagoon - step into another world.. Compare this to Rawai beach... same planet? Yes, it's all Phuket, it's all right here.

Boat Lagoon

Rawai Beach

June 2007... as the summer started, which is "low season" in Phuket, we went to Paradise Beach a few times. Just along the road from Patong, but another world.

Paradise Beach

Also in June, Koh Sirey featured on the blog, a quiet part of Phuket to the east of Phuket Town with small restaurants, sea gypsies and a hilltop temple.

Sea Gypsy village, Koh Sirey

July 2007 featured (among other things) the best milkshake in Phuket at Mama Noi, Buddha Mountain, where a 45m high Buddha is nearing completion, and an early morning visit to Chalong Temple, Phuket's largest temple.

Cat at Chalong Temple I'm having one tomorrow

In August we visited Phuket Zoo (again). The kids love it. I am not a zoo fan, but cannot deny my kids the chance to see a tiger, elephants, monkeys, crocodiles, a "Twocan Toucan", deer, camels...

Tiger at Phuket Zoo

As the low season dragged on in September, we took a visit to the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project and Bang Pae Waterfall, and I also took some time to write about Karon Beach and some information on Buying a House in Phuket.

Karon Beach

October is the month when the seasons change.. the high season and low season fight a battle and the high season wins, though the low season always has a few last minute surprises (see my Phuket Weather Blog for more).... In October we tried the Dino Park Mini Golf.. yes it's a bit touristy but hey.

October was the highlight of the year for me - the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. I took photos on 2 mornings of the street processions in Phuket Town. You have to see it to believe it. This is real. This is something special.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival

Phuket Vegetarian Festival

In November, we finally went back to Layan Beach, a lovely quiet spot in the north of the island, and we also made our Krathong for the Loy Krathong Festival, one of Thailand's most important traditional events - you float your Krathong for good luck, happiness and to give thanks to the goddess of the water.

Layan Beach

Loy Krathong Festival

As the year rolled to a close, in December I tried to introduce a bit of tradition with an article about our Buddha Shelf, and the year ended as it began with a visit to The Beach Bar which had been closed for half a year and I am very happy to have it back!

Happy New Year, I hope 2008 (or 2551 in the Buddhist calendar) brings you happiness and success. Please do keep reading Jamie's Phuket!

Time for Q & A ...

“When you walk around your house, when you see Thai farmers working on the rice field, I am sure that you would see them walk pass by to work on the rice field by your house, in the morning before sunrise and back home when the sunset. Do you have any of your opinion story to talk about that?”

Alas, it does not bother me, that they do toil in the fields and I do not. If, that is what you were getting at. They have their lives and we have ours. Life is neither fair nor equal and values can vary greatly. People here for example are not always as respectful of boundaries as we might like, but I can appreciate that it is easier to cut through our property than to walk through the fields. Just keep your hands off my fish in the pond and don’t throw rocks at my dogs.

Around here they only get one crop of rice per year. Very few are industrious enough to plant some other crop during the off season. Those who do, usually plant Thai pumpkins with that wonderfully “politically incorrect” name (f**k). You need to haul one bucket of water per plant so it is not hard to imagine why most don’t want to work that hard. Up in the hills they do plant other things, after cutting down the forest of course. That means most of the year I am not treated to their presence on my stage.

There is always something to watch, however. The weather or the dogs, are always up to something and there are some very interesting birds. My favorite is a hawk of some sort. White body with black head and wing tips, thin black epaulets and patch on the back. There are also a few birds that frequent the pond in search of small fish. A couple of snakes swim in the pond with the fish and crabs.

During the harvest which recently ended, I noticed people were waiting for the fog to burn off before heading off to the fields. It was quite cold and wet, with low visibility so not much point in heading out before the sunrise. I’m sure they were at the market or doing something else at home in the meantime. My wife and I were more apt to meet people heading out as we were returning from the dam like we did this morning. Greetings are brief as they whisk by on motorbikes, E-Tans or tractors. Their facial expressions speak volumes, however.

I like the communal aspect of their work, though I’m not a great fan of their loud, after work drinking. I feel that may have something to do with holding them back. But, to each his own. Sometimes they work in family units and often larger groups of 10, 20 or even 30 people harvesting by hand. Others hire big harvesting machines for the day. Most use machines to thresh the rice, while some still beat the bundles by hand to separate the grains of rice from the stalk. My wife actually did that for the first time this year. She saw her mother and brother pounding away and maybe felt a tad guilty, so went out and gave it a try. I helped by loading the bags of rice into the truck and hauling them over to the mother’s house. I am not easily guilted into anything but since my wife’s driving is still not up to par, I do the driving out of self interest and preservation.

“I like your blog very much and would like any comments you have to make about the differences in culture that please you, the ones that make you stay there ~ and how it's different from your culture of birth.”

I have to say, I completely misread this question at first and had to rethink my answer. My wife and I actually discussed this on our hike to the dam this morning, so here is my take on things.

We don’t live here for any cultural reasons. It is all about lifestyle and affordability. Often, when reading or dreaming about a foreign country, one can be transported into a romanticized and magical realm where all things are beautiful and all problems and worries disappear. Discussion of culture usually focusses on historical foundations, theories and an idealized version. The truth of daily life seldom has any resemblance to those lofty ideals. It is like watching a Hollywood movie and believing life is really like that. Common people often have little understanding of their own culture or religion. They keep up on all the rituals and ceremonies but don’t necessarily understand the cultural and historical foundations for what they do.

My wife pointed out how monks aren’t what they used to be. They have cellphones, chase girls, drink, smoke and at least one major theft case in the village was young monks breaking into houses after having been there for blessing ceremonies and sussing out what might be ripe for the taking. At present we only have two monks at the local temple as the boys would rather pursue a more modern and materialistic lifestyle. Regardless of this, the older generation only see their sons becoming monks, in the light of the merit it brings to them and the family. Now it beats me how they can see merit coming from the goings on of their young delinquent sons, just because they shave their heads and wear a shade of saffron.

We thought we had found a way out of the traditional house warming (destruction) party by making a sizable donation to the local temple instead. After all it was all about the blessing of the house by monks and placating the spirits of the land that we displaced, right? Dream on. We were told by some that the temple and merit making is one thing and the drunken party is a separate and more important event, so to speak. I still think we are going to do it our way, however.

The cultural differences that stand out for many will depend on their own pet peeves. Like honesty, injustice, domestic violence, child abuse, manners, food, religion or any number of things that one places value on or is offended by. Culture shock or culture infatuation all depends on the luggage you bring with you. For me I was so young when I arrived and have been here so long, that the luggage was misplaced long ago.

Don’t know that any of this was what you were looking for by way of a response or “opinion story” but it is the best I can do right now.

What a difference a week makes ...

We were off to an early start. Our hopes, dreams, memories and the remainder of our worldly possessions, all neatly packed into our truck. It was a beautiful mourning that turned into an even better day and the best long haul drive I have ever had in Thailand. The roads were nearly deserted, due to it being election day. They had repaired the worst parts of the highway since our last trip and we cruised along at a moderate 120 kilometers an hour. All was good.

As we hit the mountains on highway 103 the trees were casting dazzling patterns on the road. The loss of foliage allowed for more light to pass through and the angle of the sun added to the effect. And yes, there is a semblance of Fall in the mountains of Thailand. Not the multi colored hues of latitudes further North but a subtle move from green to brown. The patterns were interesting to look at, even if a little distracting from the immediate task of avoiding the few drivers on the road and their tendency to cut corners on right hand bends. We even had time to stop and buy some garden tools on the roadside near Phrae and food at the market in Thoeng while still arriving home before dark.

Alas I started this at the wrong end of the week, so to make sense of things for you, I should perhaps go back to the beginning. I had let it slip to the manager of the condo in Bangkok, that next year we might be interested in “considering” the sale of our unit. Well, she jumped the gun a bit and said she had a buyer. We needed to retrieve more stuff if we were going to let her have a key, to show the unit, so we relented and made plans for a trip to Bangkok. It was not convenient but necessary at some point, so... Got the sister to come up and watch the house and dogs for us and hit the road on a Sunday morning.

Being a bit of a cynic and skeptic, to my surprise, the buyer really did want our unit and handed us a cashiers check and that was that. Check in the bank, we sat having dinner in a restaurant at Paragon just looking at each other. Had this really happened or was it some strange dream? The sale put into motion a cascade of other events. We had to cancel our internet connection, clear bills, close bank accounts, surrender my wife’s Green Card, visit friends, pack and I had previously agreed to put off getting a new “Mia Noi” until after the condo sale, so now was free to do so.

This entry is in essence an introduction to my little miss iMac. She is 24 and a real beauty to behold. Sleek and stylish, yet extremely powerful and she does things for me that, quite simply, my wife cannot do.  Even off in the village one endeavors to keep up. With the new satellite set up, I now have my VOIP up and running, too. First day I was on Skype for 3 hours catching up with friends and family. Mainly holiday greetings and the like. That reminds me. I want to thank all of you who wrote in recently by way of comment or email and hope you had a good Christmas, if you celebrate it, and wish you the very best in the New Year!

Considering this was all well thought out, I found the twinge I felt as we drove away from the condo for the last time, quite moving. The condo was the first place I owned and we lived there for nearly 10 years. Now we are the owners of our first real HOME. Well, technically she owns it, but it was after all my money. The condo paid for the basic house and Apple stock paid for all the rest. It is interesting how things work out.

The first night back in the village was a vision of the Kuwait oil fields from the scorched earth days after the first gulf war. The moon hung low over the mountains but ones eyes were drawn to the dozen fires scattered around the valley. They were huge and menacing but eerily beautiful at the same time. The smell of smoke permeated the air but I found myself thinking how I preferred it, to the smell of industrial pollution in Bangkok. Surely there will be things about Bangkok that we miss. Some thirty years in a place leaves its mark but I’m not one to let that hold me back from new experiences.

My wife will miss the restaurants and shopping. She is not the greatest cook and having to prepare all the meals for us and the dogs is something new for her. We are looking into hiring a neighbor to help out with the cooking and cleaning. As I write this, one of the prospects and her sister are discussing things with my wife in the other room. It was pointed out that where I am right now, sitting with my Mia Noi, is probably where one should look first when trying to find me. They giggled as village women do and surely find it strange the way we live our life. We have always taken care of ourselves, so having help will take a little getting used to. It will provide a job or two for villagers who might otherwise be struggling to get by or might have to leave the village to find work. Hopefully, it will workout for all concerned.

I haven’t forgotten those of you who had questions and will make an effort to craft a post that addresses your queries.

Ton Sai Waterfall and Khao Phra Thaeo

Ton Sai waterfall is on the other side of the mountain from Bang Pae Waterfall in the North East of Phuket. It's easy to get to - just turn east at the main junction in the center of Thalang town and you drive about 5km through rubber plantations. The two waterfalls have their source on the same mountain, Khao Phra Thaeo, which is Phuket's largest untouched area of forest and is officially designated as a National Park. Entry fee is 200 Baht, or free if you arrive after 3pm. We stopped for a look a couple of weeks ago after spending an afternoon at Layan Beach - I can't resist the lure of free entry!

Part of Ton Sai Waterfall

We just went for a quick look at the waterfall, get a bit of jungle air (it's very jungly round here) and a little bit of exercise. There was a sign for a 2km nature trail, but I didn't think my kids would thank me for that. Apparently you can even hike over the mountain and join up with Bang Pae falls - not for the faint hearted I would say. The forest is said to be home to wild deer, monkeys, wild boar and even bears - I read that somewhere, but I somehow doubt the presence of bears... I have also read that the area was used during the filming of Good Morning Vietnam (which was mostly filmed in Thailand).

Kids playing at Ton Sai falls

Local kid at TonSai waterfall

Like Bang Pae there were a fair few locals splashing in the water and playing on the rocks. Watch your footing - some steep rocky paths around the falls. Like all other waterfalls in Phuket, the cascade is not small, and yet not hugely impressive, although it might be after heavy rains. There are several little waterfalls and you can hike higher up the hill if you have enough energy. Yeh, it's quite nice but rather tiny if you have seen Iguassu, Victoria falls, Niagara...

Jungle scene at Ton Sai Waterfall

Local wildlife at Ton Sai Waterfall

My daughter enjoyed making a mask from giant fallen leaves...

Leaf Mask

Well worth stopping in for a half hour. If you come after 3pm. Worth coming to the Thalang area where you can also find several temples, the Thalang museum, and if you head round to Bang Pae to see the other waterfall and the Gibbon project, add on a seafood lunch at Bang Pae Seafood, well you've got the makings of a good day out away from the crowds.