Elephant’s Leg


AMAZING THAILAND – THE SLOGAN AND THE REALITY
Nick and I on an "amazing" Koh Chang elephant

Nick and I on an “amazing” Koh Chang elephant

“Amazing Thailand” is the long-running official slogan of the international tourism drive, as well as the ironic quote of choice for the cynical expat when hearing of some latest outrage.

The latest poltical protest? “Amazing Thailand”. Video footage of a bungling and/or corrupt cop? “Amazing Thailand”. Idiotic driving? “Amazing Thailand”. And so on.

Expats are often pretty miserable types. Naturally, when you live somewhere, you see a lot more of the contry’s foibles and annoyances than the average two-week tourist. But that doesn’t mean the tourist experience is invalid or inaccurate. To the temporary visitor, many things about this country really are amazing. Those of us who live here shouldn’t forget that.

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SIX OF THE BEST: DESTINATIONS OUTSIDE BANGKOK

Continuing my “Six of the best” series, I present the nicest or most interesting places I have travelled to outside of my home city of Bangkok.

Khao Sok sunset

Khao Sok sunset

1. KHAO SOK

Shortly after my move to Thailand, and with the good fortune to have a few weeks’ grace period between arriving in the country and starting work, I headed south for a combination beach and jungle trip. The beach leg was Phuket, which was exactly as I expected (beautiful but over-touristy), but before then I spent a couple of nights in Khao Sok in Surat Thani province. Unfortunately, a planned-for excursion into the jungle was called off, as heavy rainfall in preceding days had caused a landslide risk, and all organised tours had been cancelled. Even so, a brief stay in Amphoe Phanom, the hub village from which the national park is accessed, was delightful. The clean air and utterly laid back ambience is addictive, and the lush scenery some of the most dramatic in Thailand, from sweeping vistas of dark green to towering limestone cliffs. Even with tours cancelled, I could still go on more casual walks in the national park and had fun tubing down the Sok River. I’ve been promising myself a return ever since so that I can delve into the full Khao Sok experience of hiking, kayaking and more. Continue reading



ANOTHER YEAR IN PARADISE

Sorry to use a cliché, but the past 12 months have continued to be spent in tropical Thailand, and while Bangkok lacks the beaches and tranquility that most would associate with an earthly Eden, it has, for the most part, been a year that was good to me.

What a shame that the country’s political scene is once again threatening to spoil 2014 almost as soon as it starts, but for now my focus is on what did happen, rather than what might, as I sum up 2013.

FAMILY

Grandma taking a break from one of our treks

Grandma taking a break from one of our treks

Thankfully, all my loved ones remained fit and well last year, including my three 80-something grandparents. Most importantly, my Scottish Grandma, who has always been full of vigour, has remained so since the death of Grandpa in 2012. If anything, she has thrived, having now been freed from the duties of caring for him virtually full time in the decade or so before he passed away. She has travelled, met her great-grandchildren and been busier than ever in her community. On top of this, when I visited her in June, we enjoyed some brisk walks amid the glorious Highland scenery and she set a pace that would put many people half her age to shame. Long may this continue!

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BALI HAIS AND LOWS – 5 DAYS IN INDONESIA’S TOURIST HAVEN
Balinese Hindu architecture

Balinese Hindu architecture

Last month I travelled to Bali, Indonesia, in what was primarily a social visit, as I have a friend who lives and works there. It hadn’t really occurred to me to visit Bali before, being that is an uber-touristy destination, but I figured that I would see more than beaches and bars with the combination of a local friend and my own inquisitive style of travelling. And so it was. As expected, the main tourist area of Kuta didn’t hold my attention, but some other parts of the island – unfortunately time constraints limited me to the south – were charming.

My thoughts on what I saw of Bali are as follows. It is not a chronological travelogue; more like a scrapbook of impressions and recommendations. Continue reading



KO LANTA – NATURAL BEAUTY RUINED BY UGLY PEOPLE

Island-hopping fun in Ko Lanta

If it’s the people that make a place, then Ko Lanta’s beauty is merely superficial.

An Andaman Sea island district in Krabi province, inevitably it boasts clean, warm sea water, miles of beaches, countless palm trees and a laidback atmosphere that attracts many visitors.

However, such assets lose their allure once a visitor experiences human failings on Lanta that range from merely unprofessional through to dangerous and even criminal.

I love Krabi. In fact, I’d probably rank it my favourite Thai province outside of Bangkok. So I will doubtless return, although I’ll lose no sleep if I never set foot on Lanta again after a shambolic final day which involved worry, danger, frustration, anger and eventually the police.

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WATCH WITH MOTHER, BANGKOK STYLE: SIRIRAJ’S CARNIVAL OF THE GROTESQUE

Together forever – even in death

Where should one take a visiting mother in Bangkok? Temple-hopping, perhaps? Bargain-hunting in markets and malls? Rooftop or riverside dining? Or maybe to see mutated babies, preserved serial killers, elephantiasis-afflicted scrotums the size of medicine balls, and all manner of diseased, ruptured, punctured, crushed and deformed organs, skulls and limbs?

If that, rather than a Chao Phraya cruise, is what floats your – or your mother’s – boat, then jump on board a ferry to Siriraj Hospital’s Forensic Museum, which mixes genuine scientific endeavour with the kind of shock appeal previously reserved for Victorian carnival freakshows or 1980s body-horror movies.

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BANG SARAY: 30 MINUTES AND A WORLD AWAY FROM PATTAYA

 

Pattaya’s skyscrapers loom in the background, but it’s easy to forget the city while lounging in Bang Saray’s clear waters

Talk to any old-timer expat here in Thailand and chances are that, before long, they’ll regale you with tales of when places such as Pattaya and Phuket were quiet fishing villages, and then lament that if only they’d bought land or property back then, they’d be stinking rich now.

Which raises the question of where tomorrow’s Pattaya or Phuket might be, or whether there even remains such potential in a country which is vastly more ensconsced on the tourist map than it was in the 1970s or 80s. Surely anywhere of commercial opportunity will already be long-discovered?

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A WEEK IN MALAYSIA PART 2: LANGKAWI

I spent last week in Malaysia wth my girlfriend, Waew. It was our first proper holiday together and my first proper trip to Malaysia (I did a brief border hop from Brunei in 2005 but that was essentially just to tick another country off the list). It was also my first proper holiday in South East Asia since moving to Thailand last year, having so far failed to live up to my promise to myself to see as much of the region as possible while living here.We flew in and out of Penang, where we spent half of the week. The other half we spent in Langkawi. It proved a decent mix of city and countryside, culture and relaxation, with stays in three locations.

Back to Part 1: Penang

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Thrills and refreshment at Langkawi’s Seven Wells

CENANG

The morning ferry from Penang to Langkawi necessitated a pre-dawn wakening in order to drive from Batu Ferringhi to Georgetown, drop off the hire car and walk to the port (no taxis being available at that time) in time for check-in 45 minutes before departure. Consequently we got to drive through a pretty sunrise and negotiate a sleepy Georgetown before the city and its inhabitants fully woke.

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SOUTH PACIFIC TSUNAMI: WHY SAMOA AND TONGA NEED YOU
Ofu beach, American Samoa

Ofu beach, American Samoa

Again, a part of the world that is dear to me has been devastated by a tsunami.

Last time was the 2004 Boxing Day disaster which wreaked havoc on several Indian Ocean countries, most famously Thailand. This time the Samoan islands have borne the brunt of killer waves resonating from a huge earthquake in Indonesia – also the epicentre of the 2004 catastrophe.

Phuket was worst-hit in 2004, while Krabi also suffered extensive damage, and scenes of the damage there were poignant for me at the time, as I had only two months earlier enjoyed my first trip to Thailand, spending half of it in Krabi, a dramatically beautiful province which remains my favourite place in the kingdom.

Last week the Samoan islands – both independent Samoa and the US territory of American Samoa – were hit by a tsunami of a similar ferocity, with reports of waves of anything between three and seven metres high washing up to a mile inland, devastating the southern coastlines and in some cases destroying entire villages. Tonga, too, was hit.

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