Elephant’s Leg


People were incredulous when I told them I lived in an elephant’s leg, but I was neither lying nor quoting from a Dr Seuss book. No, for more than seven years I lived in a building called the Elephant Tower, so named because of its unmistakeable shape. See for yourself:

The Elephant Tower at Ratchayothin

The Elephant Tower at Ratchayothin

I lived in the back legs of that building, about halfway up. Thus, I named my blog Elephant’s Leg because that had been my perspective point for most of the time I have lived in Thailand. Seven years and three months, in fact. My childhood home aside, it was the longest consecutive time I had stayed in one place.

Last week, I moved to a new apartment, to begin living with my girlfriend, Fai. It is significant not only in the same way that all new cohabitations are, but because my previous home was iconic not only for its architecture, but also as a chapter in my life.

Like all homes, it housed significant memories, albeit mostly my individual ones. I lived there alone for the most part, but this solitude of sorts suited me. I have always been comfortable in my own company, and this side of my character, and the fact I would almost never be bothered, meant my notch in the Elephant’s Leg was an invaluable retreat.

But when I moved to Thailand, I wasn’t on my own. Nor did I anticipate staying as long as I have. In fact, I moved here with my fiancée, who I’d lived with for a year and a half in London prior. This was supposed to be an exciting new experience for us as a couple, although we had both agreed it would only be for a couple of years.

Free shuttle to the subway station (just kidding!)

Free shuttle to the subway station (just kidding!)

We’d lived in a couple of serviced apartments for a month each while looking for a “proper” home in Bangkok, and we settled first on the location (Ratchayothin) because it was about halfway between our respective jobs, and then on the Elephant Tower because – as well as the obvious draw of living in an elephant! – the apartment blew us away when we viewed it. A decent-sized, fully furnished, two-bedroom apartment, with great city views from the bedrooms and balcony, and access to an outdoor swimming pool, gym and sauna. It was everything we’d hoped for when imagining the famous standard of expat living in Thailand, especially bearing in mind we’d come here from London. There, we’d lived in a small basement flat, where my head almost touched the ceiling and where the only mobile phone coverage could be had sitting right next to the window, and it cost a fair bit more than this amazing place was going for.

So we signed the lease and settled in to what I thought would be our little Shangri-la, a little bit of relative luxury in which to plot the next moves in the rest of our lives.

Six weeks later, my fiancée left me.

People deal with heartbreak in different ways. I made a point that I wouldn’t resort to the decades-worn Bangkok trope of hard drinking and patronising prostitutes. Instead, my early-aftermath routine was to go straight home after work, hole up in my bedroom with a Gameboy (that shows how long ago it was!), play games to stop myself dwelling on things, and usually fall asleep through natural tiredness not long before dawn. I cocooned myself while I healed, and sooner than I expected I re-emerged, began enjoying Bangkok properly, and before long I started dating again.

I then had one of those tumultuous Thai-girl relationships that you may have read about, or even experienced yourself, characterised by high drama, attention-seeking, financial dishonesty, at least one bout of infidelity, and innumerable temporary breakups and makeups. Somehow this went on (and off, and on) for three years, but the one constant amid this tumult was the one place I could always seek solace: home.

Turn off the mobile, unplug the home phone, disconnect from the internet, and sink a few beers while watching boxing or wrestling – now that’s an antidote to girlfriend drama!

Speaking of drama, relationship problems pale into insignificance compared to some of the tribulations Bangkok has experienced during my time here.

A view of Bangkok burning from my rooftop

A view of Bangkok burning from my rooftop

The culmination of the 2010 Red Shirt rallies, when parts of downtown were torched, my office was evacuated amid reports of grenade-wielding protesters marching down our road, other areas crackling with gunfire, demo sites getting bulldozed, train stations shuttered and the army imposing martial law and a curfew, was the highlight (if that’s the right word). Again, my home was my sanctuary. I may have sometimes wished I lived closer to the city centre, but there is absolute value to living a little bit out of the way when the shit hits the fan. That evening,  I made it home before the curfew and watched the smoke plumes from the roof of the building before retiring to my apartment, safe.

On the other hand, when the great floods of 2011 finally hit Bangkok, no effort was spared to keep downtown dry, whereas those a bit out of the way had to bear the brunt. I won’t pretend to have been too adversely affected by the disaster, as my home was on the 17th floor, but waking up one morning to find Phahon Yothin Road looking more like the Phahon Yothin River was a startling sight.

I managed to make it out before the water hit its 1.3-metre-deep apex, and stayed in a hotel for a couple of weeks. When I returned, I found I was no longer alone, but greeted by hundreds of squatters – cockroaches that had moved in, possibly as a result of all that water and definitely attracted by the food that had spoiled in my fridge during a presumably days-long power cut.

That is all part of the tapestry of life in a tropical country with unstable politics. There’s been more. Yellow Shirt protests. The “Bangkok Shutdown”. A coup. A recent bomb. More personal concerns, whether romantic, work-related or health (all since resolved). But there’s always been my comfortable bed, my fast internet connection, the swimming pool, affordable rent, and probably the best landlady in the world.

After my fiancée left, I informed my landlady that her two tenants had become one. When I got home from work, there was a 24-pack of beer on my doorstep. A twenty-four pack! If that in itself was not worthy of the title of Best Landlady Ever, she renegotiated my rent as I couldn’t afford to continue paying the original rate on my own. She agreed to a very handsome discount and never once asked for more. On top of that, any repair requests were swiftly seen to, and I would periodically come to find gifts waiting for me, such as snacks, water or beers. Now that’s how to keep a tenant sweet!

With Fai, and the Elephant in the background

With Fai, and the Elephant in the background

Part of me would have liked to stay there indefinitely. It was everything I needed and a great deal, and I felt thoroughly attached to the place. But time doesn’t stand still, and nor should relationships, so the time came for me to again to plan a future with a woman.

I’ve been with Fai for more than two years and our relationship has been consistently excellent. I have no doubt she will be an excellent flatmate – and more. As much as I love my own company, my nights in watching fights with a bunch of beers (especially when they’re donated by my landlady!), and more than anything having a place that’s been safe, secure, and “mine”, I know there are greater rewards to be had as I start once more to share my life with someone else.

Our new place is bigger, with even better common facilities, and only costs a wee bit more. The only drawback? I will no longer be able to tell people I live in an elephant’s leg! But the blog will live on, with the same name.

This turtle died after eating a plastic bag

This turtle died after eating a plastic bag

Forget everything you learned in your Lonely Planet phrasebook about how to greet people or how to buy two train tickets to Chiang Mai.

Probably the most common Thai phrases I use is “mai ao thung” (I don’t want a bag). I say this almost every time I buy something in a shop in Thailand. If I do need bags, I frequently repackage them so that my goods fit in one or two, rather than three, four or even five, and give back the superfluous extras.

They are handed out with everything. I don’t need a plastic bag for a bottle of water or a packet of tissues. I obviously don’t need one for an ice-cream. I absolutely don’t need one for a four-pack of paracetamol. (All real examples).

And even when they are necessary, they are over-used. A single bag is not going to split open if you buy two 1.5-litre bottles of water, so it doesn’t need to be double-bagged. And what’s with these chain stores’ insistence on separating items based on category? That sealed bottle of ketchup is not going to spoil my sealed packet of ballpoint pens. Don’t give me two bags for them! Why does alcohol go in one bag, and soft drinks in another? Furthermore, I don’t need four plastic straws for those four beers, and I certainly don’t need a straw for my large bottle of water. Continue reading


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


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

The infamous "bear pit" inside Lumpinee Stadium

The infamous “bear pit” atmosphere inside Lumpinee Stadium

One of the world’s most iconic sports venues closed last Friday, with the ringing of the final bell for Bangkok’s Lumpinee Boxing Stadium.

It was to muay Thai what Madison Square Garden is to boxing and wrestling – a venue steeped in history that fans would make pilgrimages to and competitors would dream of fighting in.

Opened in 1956, Lumpinee would go on to rival the older Rajadamnern Stadium in terms of prestige, both as a venue and a championship (the championships of Lumpinee and Rajadamnern stadiums are among the most respected in the sport).  However, I always preferred Lumpinee. My first visit there remains one of the most vivid cultural memories I have had.

Back in 2005, while backpacking with my step-brother Andy, we attended a Lumpinee fight card just days into our two-month stint in Thailand. On a budget, we opted for the cheapest tickets, the so-called third-class section, and we were so glad we did. Continue reading

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

An acceptable way to wear fur

An acceptable way to wear fur

The amazing response to my last post was quite an eye-opener. Initially, my blog was just a way to share my general musings with friends and family back home after I moved to Thailand. I wasn’t bothered about page views, although I’d had some good critical feedback on some past pieces. Even so, the most views my site had had in a day previously was a little over 200. But my “10 ways expats can avoid being mistaken for tourists” post has now picked up more than 3,300 views!

Since I’d only posted it on my own Facebook page and sent an email to a few people I already knew, I was very pleasantly surprised by this. It was my own experience of something going “viral”, and while 3,300+ views is a pretty modest stat in modern internet terms, it was achieved through the branch of “shares” on Facebook, Twitter and the link being posted on various forums. While technology has changed a lot in recent years, the adage remains that the best kind of advertising is a recommendation, so for my work to be publicised by people I don’t know whatsoever is a nice seal of approval.

As I hadn’t had particularly big numbers before, I hadn’t looked much at the referrers, search engine terms, and so on, but when I got the huge spike in views, I had a look at the WordPress stats page to see how people were finding their way to the site. I had a few surprises and laughs at some of the search engine terms that had directed people here, but one word in particular stood out because it cropped up over and over again.

Vagina. Continue reading

Nice tan!

Nice tan!

Everybody needs somebody… to look down on, and few lifeforms get less respect than the lowly tourist. In Bangkok, they are easy to spot – bright pink skin, dripping in sweat, wearing a Chang Beer T-shirt and scratching their heads over folding maps and the BTS ticketing system. Tourists are naïve, vulnerable, confused and trusting – everything that the noble expat is not! But to the average Thai conman and opportunist, every foreigner is a potential tourist, and to every tourist, anyone of their same colour is likely one of their kin. But the resident farang is a wiser, nobler and all-round higher class of foreigner, and we must flaunt our status with our behaviour and habits. However, this is something that can only be cultivated over time, with experience – unless you consult my handy guide to…


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