Too Lazy to Write ...

I’m not in the mood for writing but did want to share a few photos from yesterday.  I met up with Jubby again, but this time on our motorbikes.  Took him to visit my most recent discovery.  He liked it so much, that he proposed taking his house guests there for a picnic today.  Hope they enjoy the serenely pastoral, setting and ambience.  For those who can’t be there with them today, here is a sample of what they may see.

Sawasdee Village Resort, Kata Beach

Sawasdee Village is one of the hotels I have meant to add here for a long time, and today was reminded by some customers in our dive center who raved about how beautiful it is and how well looked after they felt there. It seems to me that Sawasdee Village is no ordinary hotel. It's not a big hotel really, only about 40 rooms, built in and around an oasis of tropical gardens, orchids and pools, with a 5 star spa thrown in for good measure.

It seems to me that Sawasdee Village has been around for ever... I came to Phuket in 1999 and it was there.. from what I can gather by "web research" Sawasdee Village opened in 1991. There have been a lot of improvements and additions since and now it really does seem to be well worth recommending and it's a very reasonable price for such quality. The newer Baray Villa rooms look amazing (more expensive too but looks like you get a lot of extras with these rooms). I like the sound of the 8 foot beds - truly King size!

Sawasdee Village gets lots of very good reviews, and is one of the Top 10 Hotels in Phuket, but is considerably cheaper than some of the luxury resorts that make up the top 10, and unlike most of those resorts that are on the quiet northern beaches, Sawasdee Village is in Kata - central to just about everything, with plenty of restaurants, bars and opticians (if you are in Kata, you'll see!) nearby. The only disadvantage I can see is the location. Like many places in Kata, it's got Club Med between it and the beach, so you have to walk around, though it seems there is a free shuttle also.

Sawasdee Village - Booking & Reviews

Sawasdee Village - Rates and Reservations at
Sawasdee Village - Hotel Reviews at

Sawasdee Village - Photos

Hotel interior Pool room

Baray Villa room

Sawasdee Village Spa

Phuket Hotels - More Info & Online Booking

Jamie's Phuket Hotel Recommendations
Top 10 Phuket Hotels 2016
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I Feel Like Sharing Today ...

I’m sure you have noticed by now, that I have a thing for clouds and sunsets.  As a balance to my deep and sometimes dark inner journeys, I find myself mesmerized and inexplicably drawn to the vastness of the sky.  It is not just the beauty, but rather a deep emotional release.  The nearest I can describe the sensation, is a state of rapture.  The night sky can be equally moving but alas does not lend itself to pictures and sharing.  After a passing storm today, I sat by the pond and was blessed by yet another beautiful sunset.

Fishing ...

In my youth fishing was a magical thing.  A rite of passage, filled with secrets and rituals, passed down and presided over by a mentor or two.  On one side of the family an uncle and on the other side a farmhand, more family than employee.  With his wife and brother he spent most of his adult life living and working on my grandfather’s dairy farm. 

The hook, baited with an earthworm, was cast into the pond.  Sitting on the shore, trying to remain still and silent, as the thrill of anticipation washed over one.  The senses extending from fingers, to pole, to line, to the little red and white ball, bobbing gently on the surface of the water.  The mind reaching down into the depths, willing an as yet unseen fish, to strike at the bait.  With the innocence of youth I knew nothing of fishing as an industry or occupation.  I knew only of that pond and what I could see and feel.

Fishing in the village takes on a myriad of forms.  Various scoops and nets and traps are used in fields, canals, streams, ponds, reservoirs, and the occasional flood.  Only seldom have I seen it in the solitary form, as it is more often a social undertaking.  Anything from a few friends, to a whole village, participating in an annual event at a local catchment area. 

The last two years, the fishing rights to our local reservoir have been auctioned off to the highest bidder.  Begging the question, how long before the stocks are depleted?  Fishermen come from far and wide, paying a nominal fee to cast a line into the waters.  Many pay for several poles and line them up in ridged formation, like little toy soldiers standing at attention.  Others prefer casting nets or setting lines from a boat, far from the shore.

Though human nature bids us do it, looking into another’s eyes in search of their motivations or even their soul, is a futile endeavor.  Yet as I looked into the faces, of those I found fishing at the reservoir the other day, huddled beneath umbrellas sheltering from the sun, I couldn’t help but wonder.  Was there any joy or awe in what they did?  Where did their thoughts travel to?  Were they escaping some other tedium of existence?  Perhaps it is as simple, as something one does at this time of year.  It certainly couldn’t be called sport fishing and there is no “catch and release.”  Even the most diminutive of fish does not escape the frying pan.  Often a days labor would provide enough money to purchase the same number of fish with a fair amount of change left to jingle in ones pocket.  So it would seem that they are not fishing from necessity. 

In the end my mental gymnastics were all for naught, as I went on about my walk and they took no notice of my leaving.

Village Farang is no Weatherman ...

 Well, the rains have returned to scrub the mountains and sky.  My views have been refurbished to their original splendor.  This morning was cool and clear with just a hint of cloud decorating the mountains around the dam.  My wife and I were serenaded at breakfast, by the gentle cooing of doves.  New, calming and distinctly different from the high pitched calls of our other feathered friends.

The other day on a whim, I set off down the road on the motorbike.  With my new license in hand, I felt better about venturing further afield.  That day was not meant to be, however.  Halfway to town and the sky darkened and with my recent fall still vividly in mind, I abandoned my road trip and returned home before the rains slicked the roads.

As it turned out, the next day was well worth the wait.  There is a back road, near the main market in this area, that I had yet to put rubber to, in any form.  With not nearly enough time to explore all the side roads, I settled for a general reconnaissance, a couple of hilltop temples and a reservoir.  The two temples were very different and provided some nice pictures.  The reservoir was large and the views soothing with a surprise scene that presented as I turned a corner on the trail that follows the left bank.  As if stepping back in time I was confronted by a large herd of water buffalo.  These days they are relatively rare, having been replace by the “iron buffalo” and cows.  As they enjoyed swimming and wallowing I stretched my legs and happily clicked away with my camera.

Their caretaker made an appearance after a while, with several of his dozen or so dogs.  He was very proud of his charges, both bovine and canine, and bid me wait until he took them home in the evening.  Assuring me that a picture of them huddled in their little valley shelter, would be worth the wait.  With too far to travel and having been away for quite long enough I bid him farewell.  He was a nice enough guy but was far too familiar for a first meeting.  People often take liberties with farangs that they would never consider with their fellow countrymen.  As importantly, he didn’t speak “Thai”, which made conversation challenging.  Me speaking Thai as he conversed in the local dialect left much to be desired.

I returned home with more than one hundred pictures and a fair bit of editing to do.  Halfway between town and our home there is a roadside vendor, renowned for her somtam (papaya salad).  A thought of my wife, a quick call on the cellphone, and I was placing an order to be hand delivered to my always ravenous wife.  How she can eat so regularly and retain her shape I will never know.  Returning home bearing gifts or food is always a good way to distract from the length of time spent away.  Another good day where everything fell into place.

Noticing Changes...

The birds are flying south and I believe we have seen the last colorful sunset of the year.  A haze is settling over the mountains, pushing the nearest views off into the distance, while relegating the distant vistas to another realm and another season.  With the deterioration of air quality and views, comes a welcome drop in temperature and cool dewy mornings, soon to be followed by cold and a heavy fog.

Darkness comes far too early these days as the sun moves south, abandoning our front windows and seeking out the backside of the house.  The recent full moon was made more colorful by the haze but at it highest point still bathed the fields and mountains in its silvery light.

In some valleys they have begun an early harvest.  Around here the Jasmine rice is yellowing and heave with fruit while the sticky rice is still a lush green.  Together they form an interesting patchwork of color in the fields.  Along every soi, are laid out to dry, the thin bamboo strips used to bundle the rice at harvest.  Another sure sign that the seasons are changing.
Pond side, the colorful little Kingfisher has reappeared to join the other birds that make a home here year round.  The hawks are only seldom visible but will no doubt visit more frequently after the rice is harvested and the field mice present themselves for dinner.  There seem to be more birds this year and as our trees grow I am hopeful their numbers will increase further.

Cooler and drier weather makes it easier to traverse the mountain trails, even if the views are diminished.  One simply refocuses on the more intimate minutia that surrounds us.  As the distant world fades from view, that which is near looms much larger.

We are preparing once again to welcome visitors to our home.  Hoping that the weather will be favorable and the beauty of this waning season not completely lost to the haze.  While their stay will be brief, we will do our best to make it memorable.

Seaplane Flight to Phi Phi

Yesterday (18th October 2008) was a very good day! We did something that we had not planned on doing.. in fact we had planned a day up to Khao Lak, but we got something a bit special instead. I had been contacted by a company called Destination Air the week before about maybe taking a ride on one of their seaplanes and writing about it here on Jamie's Phuket. Yes, sure! This week I decided to be very cheeky and asked if there were 4 seats available so I could go with my wife and kids. On Friday afternoon we got confirmation that a flight was heading to Phi Phi Island at 3pm on Saturday.. and they managed to find a seat for my sister in law too :)

I have been recommending Destination Air to people for some time now. Yeh, I know you can get to Phi Phi quite cheaply by ferry, but damn! A flight to Phi Phi? There are still many people who don't know the option even exists, and yes, it's not exactly super cheap - current price is 4,999 Baht per person. But this is more than just transport, this is an experience too, and if you have limited time, or arrive in Phuket at the wrong time for the ferry, a flight to Phi Phi is a great option. From Phuket Airport to your hotel on Phi Phi in about 25 minutes. And when I say it's not cheap, I guess that's the backpacker in me talking. It's 100 Euro, it saves hours of travel time, and this is one of those "picture is worth 1000 words" moments. This is something I had wanted to do for ages, so thanks to Destination Air for the experience, and thanks to pilot Gerry and the crew. The whole family enjoyed a great day!

If you want to get to Phi Phi in style, I hope the following photos and mini videos will give an idea of what you can expect on a flight to Phi Phi! After meeting at the Destination Air office at Phuket Airport, we had time to buy the kids a donut before boarding. This was not a 747, not even close! We were shuttled over to our little plane by minibus and waited as customers bags were loaded. The plane seated just 9 people (plus a "copilot" seat). It was not big!

Loading a seaplane at Phuket Airport

Unlike a big 300 seat aircraft, boarding here takes 3 minutes, a quick safety briefing, fasten seatbelts, and you're off! The take off was very smooth, I could hardly tell when we left the ground. It's been a while since I flew in a small plane in the Caribbean. You have to ignore the noise and rattles! As we left the airport and flew over the east coast of Phuket the view below was very green...

East coast of Phuket from the air

On the outbound flight I did not take a window seat - better let a "paying customer" get some great photos! I just enjoyed the ride. If you take a flight, and want to take good pics, best to bag a window seat or ask if you can take the copilot seat. Here's the view after flying over Phuket looking towards Koh Yao Yai...

View from cockpit of seaplane near Phuket

I learned later that you can also charter a plane for a sightseeing or aerial photography tour - you'd need to contact Destination Air for prices. If you had a small group, I reckon you'd have a great experience and a chance for some great photos without spending too much per person.

View from seaplane near Phuket

It's only 45km to Phi Phi, the flight is about 20 minutes. The customers on board were staying at the Zeavola Hotel in Phi Phi. We landed on the water on the east coast and taxied to a floating platform where customers were met by a longtail to take them to the beach. The resorts on Phi Phi's east coast are very nice places, a real getaway from noise, from stress. I can assure you it's very nice to stay in a place where there are no cars!

Video above - landing at Phi Phi on the east coast of Phi Phi Don. Landing on the water!

The floating platform is moved according to the season. Right now it's still on the east coast but once the NE winds start, this will move to the west coast of Phi Phi Don. We said good bye to the passengers heading to their hotels and I chatted a while with Gerry the pilot. He's a Canadian and used to fly seaplanes in Fiji as well as in the frozen North, eh. He told me that he'd read Jamie's Phuket Blog and the blog had helped him decide to come to Phuket! After a while we found out that nobody else was heading back to Phuket - the return flight was just for us!

Seaplane and captain at Phi Phi Island

Seaplane at Phi Phi Island

No holiday in Phi Phi for us... we just headed straight back home to Phuket, well.. almost. Gerry detoured a couple of minutes to the south so we could fly right over the amazing Phi Phi Le Island! Oh, and I got the copilot seat :)

Aerial view of speedboat, Phi Phi Islands

No matter how many times you have seen this island, the view from above is absolutely breathtaking. And here I was thinking I was too old for breathtaking experiences... (Note: the images on this page can all be found on Flickr - see Flying Over Phi Phi Island for a full screen slideshow!)

Maya Bay, Phi Phi Islands

Losamah Bay, Phi Phi Islands from a seaplane

Losamah Bay, Phi Phi from the air

Phi Phi Le island from the air

Video - flying over Phi Phi Le ... I should have thought to clean the window!

Koh Yao Yai is a huge island in between Phuket and Phi Phi, stretching up into Phang Nga Bay. We have been to Koh Yao Noi several times, but Koh Yao Yai remains a target for me.. before the developers move in. We got plenty of views from the seaplane. Absolute paradise.

Koh Yao Yai island from the air

Koh Yao Yai from the air

Anyone for sailing? You can sail around Phang Nga Bay for days and hardly see a soul. And yet, you're within sight of Phuket island. This area is absolutely gorgeous and from the air you really get an idea of the wide open spaces, the green islands, the nature...

Sailing boat and blue seas, Phuket

Open sea, east of Phuket

A final couple of photos of islands off Phuket's east coast and of a mangrove river in the NE of Phuket. We also flew over one of our favourite restaurants at Bang Rong, near Bang Pae Waterfall. Sometimes hard to know where to point the camera... All photos on this page by me or my wife. Photos look great, but wish I had a better camera!

Islands to the east of Phuket

Mangroves on the east coast of Phuket

A couple of minutes later we landed back at Phuket Airport. I was momentarily worried by an eagle that decided the runway was a good place to hang out. It took off rather lazily towards us as we landed. One hopes the eagle knew what he was doing! Our great experience was over. I must say.. If you want to do something different, I reckon Destination Air can help! They can do flights to other places too, such as Krabi or Koh Lanta, or charter flights to just about anywhere within range, either for transport or for a tour with the most amazing views.

I hope we can do this again someday, it was truly a great day yesterday for the whole family :) Thanks to everyone at the former Destination Air for the experience.

UPDATE - Destination Air no longer exists, but hey, we had a great day! I hear rumours of helicopter tours now in Phuket....

More Islands Near Phuket

Koh Yao Noi
Koh Tachai
Koh Rang Yai

Dealing with The System (an example) ...

Awakened by a gentle or sometime urgent call of nature, often around the hour of six in the morning.  One of us will walk to the kitchen to turn off the street lights, which are left on throughout the night for the benefit of our neighbors, who have no municipal street lighting.  The main beneficiaries are the immediate neighbors, including our housekeeper and our gardener.  I suppose it also eases the way for those who travel to the deeper, darker recesses of Soi 2.  Residents of another nearby lane requested that we put in a light for them.  Explaining that their location, not being on our land, was beyond our purview, we did offer to buy the light if they would install it and pay for the electricity.  We have heard nothing since, as I suppose it wasn’t important enough for them to invest their own time or money.

Returning to today’s story.  After the lights have been extinguished, we normally go back to bed for another hour or two.  Today, however, was different.  We needed to be on the road before eight thirty, so immediately launched into our morning routines, minus the lounging in bed ritual.  Roughly on schedule, we dawned our helmets and mounted our recently purchased scooter and headed off in pursuit of our motorcycle driving licenses.  On a previous occasion we had stopped by to inquire as to exactly what they required.  I have found over the years, that depending on third party or hearsay information, can lead to unnecessary difficulties.  Best to go to the source. 

In this instance, recent pictures were required, as well as a trip to a hospital and the boarder immigration office, to obtain the specified paperwork.  As is often the case, one must choose between the nearest or the easiest location.  Only occasionally, are they one in the same.  For example I prefer the longer trip to Mae Sai, over the nearer Chiang Kong immigration office.  The nearest hospital worked out fine, though it did take a rather long time.  We chose the closer location of Thoeng over the main licensing office in Chiang Rai.  I suppose if one didn’t speak Thai, the Chiang Rai office might be easier.

I was of course the only foreigner as nearly twenty of us prepared for our daylong ordeal.  First there was testing of reflexes, depth perception, peripheral vision, and color blindness.  Followed shortly thereafter by two hours of orientation videos and lectures, on driving regulations and traffic signage.  After a lunch break we all returned for our computerized written test.  This was the one and only thing that had the option of being in English.  Everything else was in Thai.  Even with a heavy Northern accent at times, it was still in Thai and not the local dialect, so I had no difficulty understanding.  If one passes the test with 23 out of 30 correct answers, the driving test is next. 

The test is not rocket science but is done at very slow speed.  Something I had not practiced.  One must first mount a narrow plank and traverse the entire length without falling off or touching your feet to the ground.  This, alas, was my downfall.  The remarkable balance that I once possessed as a youth, seems to have deserted me in my advancing years.  I found the explanation for this part of the test interesting, indeed.  It was asserted that one needs this skill, to squeeze between the sometimes very long lines of vehicles waiting at a stoplight, especially during rush-hour in a big city.  Back home that maneuver would get you a ticket, but we are in Thailand after all.

In short I failed my driving test and was told to return in three days for another try.  Oddly enough my wife was allowed to pass her test, even though her skills on the road leave something to be desired.  For the next two days I practiced my super slow driving skills.  It became clear that there was something about the anticipation of falling off that plank, that completely unnerved me.  Not feeling confident at all, we headed back for my retest.  Sure enough I fell off again and was told to go sit down and wait for what I guessed might be, one more try.  After an appropriate passage of time I was called over and my paperwork was returned with the words, “number three.”  Now, I interpreted that to mean, come back for “try number three” at a later date.  My wife realized, however, that he had actually meant to send me to “counter number three” for payment.  He simply didn’t wish to acknowledge, before the other applicants, that he was letting me pass.

You might ask why I am writing about this.  Or, perhaps why I put myself through all this to begin with.  Back in 1982 when I got my first private vehicle drivers license in Thailand, I did what was the common practice at the time.  I found a way around the rules.  That is a common convention and mindset for expats.  Visa runs, dummy corporations and various other techniques are used to circumvent restrictive bureaucratic regulations.  Foreigners often take on a defensive posture, assuming that the locals are “out to get them.”  I suppose this was written as an example, to show that with time, patients and a pleasant demeanor our host country will often, or at least sometimes, go out of its way to be accommodating.  Presentation is often more important than substance.  It is not what you do, but how you do it.  It is not what you know, but who you know.  As Thailand modernizes, some of this form over substance will diminish but old habits and customs die slowly, so will no doubt linger on for sometime to come.

I know a lot of foreigners, who never bother with this kind of thing and prefer to buy their way out of problems as they arise.  I find these new hard plastic licenses work well as a form of identification in the provinces, however.  Often people are not equipped to deal with a passport in a foreign language.  Any kind of a local ID is much preferred.  So in the end I guess I put myself through this short term inconvenience, for a long term benefit of not needing to look over my shoulder and a convenient local ID.  Then again, perhaps there was just a perverse desire, on my part, to see what normal people have to go through.  Either way what’s done is done and now, on to the next thing.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival Videos

Here goes - my final throw of the dice for this years vegetarian festival (2008). My camera has a basic video function. Not National Geographic quality, but I hope the little videos below will give some idea of the experience.

Face Piercing

A few clips of the piercing taking place at Kathu Shrine on 6th October, around 6 - 6:30am. It was going on all over the place, it was hard to know where to look!

A look around Kathu Shrine before starting the procession...

The Procession Leaving Kathu Shrine...various entranced people

Carrying the Gods through Kathu Village... LOTS of firecrackers

Ma Song Blessing a House

And a couple of vids of Ma Song doing things in Phuket Town.

Thai Culture (a different view) ...

Recently my wife has shown more interest in the computer and becoming more proficient using it.  She finds my computer a little intimidating so asked me to setup the laptop for her use, with internet access through a wifi link.  I believe her main concern, is somehow messing up the main computer and not a need for privacy.  After all, we have never had any secrets between us.  We use Apple Mail to compile all our various email addresses into one place.  From both computers we have access to all the same stuff and share the same internet connection.

I’m sure there are some who would be appalled by this openness and lack of privacy.  For us it is simply the way our world works.  So, why am I mentioning this?  I suppose it is to answer questions that will arise when you read the next sentence.

I was reading over an email my wife wrote to a dear friend yesterday.  Her insights and comments got me thinking about Farangs and the way we sometimes see Thai culture.  Being a Farang in Thailand is vastly different from being a Thai in Thailand.  Much has been written in other venues, of how some Farangs feel they are slighted or disadvantaged, by the Thai system.  My predilection is to explore the advantages of being a foreigner in this foreign land. 

My wife’s words reminded me that we (foreigners) take for granted our ability to discuss things openly and disagree on a wide variety of subjects and topics.  We need not be unnecessarily concerned with the other’s social class, title, age or seniority, unlike a Thai.  We don’t concern ourselves with what is “appropriate behavior”.  We are not paralyzed by our fear of what others will think of us or say about us.  We are not afraid to defend ourselves when we feel wronged.  Many things that we take for granted would be unimaginable for a Thai, at least within the confines of their own culture.  That is why some Thais, and in particular my wife, have a difficult time readjusting.  Being placed back into the Thai “box”, after having developed a taste for a more Western style of communication, can be quite distressing.

She finds it extremely difficult to find other Thai women who are interested in, or indeed capable, of interacting on a level that she now considers necessary for a close interpersonal relationship.  One is not lonely here in a classic sense, as one is always surrounded by others.  There is a nonstop flow of food and conversation that belies the overwhelming constraints imposed by the local culture.  Not feeling free to express yourself and having to wear a mask can leave one feeling quite lonely, however.  On the surface things appear much more civil than they sometimes do in the West, but much is repressed and there are limited outlets for what boils below the surface.

There is a temptation as a foreigner, to downplay or dismiss the importance of these social constraints.  We naively urge the Thais in our lives to disregard or pay no attention to the pressures they feel.  Even when transplanted to another culture, however, it can be very difficult, and sometimes impossible, for a Thai to disregard these deeply internalized restrictions. 

It appears to me, that one can make the argument that it is not Thai Culture, per say, that we find so enticing as foreigners.  It is the unique freedom we are granted within this society, to be free of and unfettered by what it means to be Thai.  We are free to do, say and act in ways that are not possible for Thais.  We hold a unique place in Thai society.  At once both reviled and revered.  We are granted an elevated status, while at the same time, much less is expected of us.  We are forgiven our indiscretions and bestowed with an image of wealth, status and sophistication that is often in error and unrelated to the facts.  We are allowed, and sometimes even induced, to a deluded vision of ourselves.  An elevated sense of superiority and self-worth, is not uncommon among the expat community. 

I am making no judgements as to the rightness or wrongness of all this.  Merely making observations of the world I know and live in, which may be quite different from what others “know.”  I think it is fair to say I have been exposed to more of Thailand than most, over the years.  Granted, it may lack relevance to those who find themselves confined to a limited subgroup of the expat community.  Others, I’m sure, will have similar views and observations.  One thing that is certain, is that there is no one single Thailand or Farang relationship with it.  When asked about Thailand most of my answers are necessarily prefaced by ... “it all depends.”