James Bond Island Trip – an honest review

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If you are looking for a travel brochure style review you are in the wrong place – this is all based on my own experience and I tell it like it is!  Feel free to skip past my musings on this trip to view my pictures at the end of the post.

The name’s Bond… James Bond.  James Bond Island to be exact.  Or, as it is actually named; Khao Phing Kan.  This island in Phang Nga bay was the setting for the bad guy’s lair in James Bond: The Man with the Golden Gun.  It’s the one with a midget (sorry, little person) butler man and a lot of martial arts.

I had my family staying with me and it was their first time coming to Thailand and it was therefore my mission to try and demonstrate to them why I haven’t come back to the UK yet, mostly so my mum stops asking me and making me feel guilty (jokes… sorry mum!).  My dad has arrived armed with not one but two Phuket travel guides, and having spent many hours on not one, not two, but three flights to get here, they had all had a good look at what was on offer and had compiled a pretty jam packed list of things to do while they were here.  Going to see James Bond Island was pretty close to the top.

Personally, I’ve never fancied going on a trip to see James Bond Island.  This probably has something to do with the fact that I don’t actually like James Bond films, or activities on or near the water.  Nevertheless, the parentals were in town and the trip was being funded by the bank of mother, so now was the best time for me to check it out for myself.

Luckily for us, T had recently taken some other visiting friends to see the island a few weeks ago while I was slaving away at school (how rude) and so we had a little bit of background knowledge on whereabouts to go and a rough guide on pricing.  We weren’t keen on booking a package trip through an agent in Phuket as these almost always end up overpriced, overcrowded and always involve some sort of unwanted stop off at a crappy factory outlet store where you are given a free drink (yay!) and have to listen to a rubbish talk about an equally rubbish product that no-one actually wants (sad face).

After a lazy morning we headed up through the north of Phuket and onto mainland Thailand, Phang Nga province.  We drove for about 30 minutes, past lots of signs promising tours to James Bond Island, but these places are yet again your trusted packaged tour from your money grabbing agent.  We wanted to get to the boat man ourselves and bargain us a deal.  We reached a right hand turn off for can’t recall the name pier (really should have paid more attention).  The car park was full of Chinese and Korean tour coaches so we knew we were in the right place only it was 1-0 to us because we didn’t have to endure a visit to the driver’s wife’s cousin’s daughter’s jewel shop beforehand – winning!

No sooner had we pulled up, a rather brash woman wearing a huge sun hat was on us proclaiming, “I have boat! I have boat!” but she was quickly pushed to the side when another lady recognised T from his previous visit a few weeks ago.  “My friend!  You come back!” – everyone is a friend when money can be made.  We were swiftly escorted to the pontoon and told to wait while a boat and driver were arranged for us for the price of 2800THB for the whole group of us.  Compared to the minimum 1200THB per person that all the tour agencies want this is a good deal, and you get a boat and driver all to yourself for the afternoon.  The boats could easily seat 12 people (they definitely squeeze on at least 20 Chinese/Koreans but I’m being realistic/not ridiculously unsafe) so at that price it could work out at a really cheap price per person.

Our driver was called Khun Wim and he was happy to follow our lead for the afternoon. We started our journey travelling up river among the mangroves, which quickly opened out into the sea of Phang Nga bay and those infamous limestone cliffs jutting out of the water.  It’s stunning scenery, but when you cast your eyes down from the ginormous cliffs you see the sheer amount of boats out on the water ferrying mostly Korean and Chinese tourists around the bay.  Maybe during low season it might be a different story.

Khun Wim our driver - he put on the hat especially for this picture!
Khun Wim our driver – he put on the hat especially for this picture!

Our first stop was to go canoeing – this was at an extra cost to our original price but we were aware of this.  We paid 400THB per person to be canoed around by friendly Thai guys who pointed out rocks shaped like elephants and took us through caves that were so small you had to lay down flat in the canoe.  Last time that T went they had to pay 500THB… so the price is probably only 250 or 300 in reality.  Next time…!  Again, the landscape was beautiful, and it was really fun going in and out of the caves but doing so among hundreds of other people wasn’t quite the idyllic experience.  I’m getting more and more keen to check this place out once tourist season is over.

Next on our itinerary was James Bond island itself.  Our driver told us that for 200THB per person (surprise, another added cost) we could go onto the actual island and walk around.  We took one look at the island, with streams of tourists moving from crap shop to crap shop and decided we were happy taking pictures from the water.  We went around the island, our driver making sure we got all the good angles and were happy with our pictures before moving on to our next destination.  I’ll be honest; the actual James Bond island part of this trip was probably the worst bit – the canoeing and our next destination were definitely much more enjoyable.  Seeing James Bond island is more to be able to say you’ve been there, and have the picture on facebook to prove it.

James Bond Island itself
James Bond Island itself in all it’s glory

Our third and final destination was Koh Panyee (which I have written about before here) – a place that I have always wanted to visit since seeing the story of their floating football pitch in a Thai advert and on a Vice documentary on YouTube.  This floating community seem to have set up camp where the environment makes it almost impossible to do so – completely built on stilts with no dry ground to speak of – it’s a good thing they like eating fish.  We had a top notch dinner stop (affording our driver to claim his free plate of fried rice) which actually wasn’t too expensive and was really, really tasty.  Side note: this is a Muslim community (the shining golden mosque dominating the village is a slight giveaway) so please don’t do what my dad did, and ask for a large Chang beer while also wearing a Chang vest.  Cringe.  After our food we went on a quick explore through the village; we had to tunnel through endless lanes of more crap souvenier shops before getting to the parts where the locals hang out.  We were mostly interested in seeing the floating football pitch, so after making our way there we headed back to our driver, who took us back to the pier where our car was parked.

Koh Panyee from the water
Koh Panyee from the water

The whole trip was just under 4 hours long – plenty of time to do and see all that we wanted to.  We kept our driver’s number this time so that we can come back during low season to see what it is like without being surrounded by other people!

Here are some pictures of the day – as much as I complained about the amount of people and the little hidden costs, it was really nice to explore the area and I think the pictures say it all.

Click on any image to take a closer look.

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Meet the menagerie

Moving to Thailand (or anywhere, for that matter) changes people.  Learning to adapt, to make do, and to appreciate things that may not have been appreciated in a previous, non-expat life (like butter that actually tastes like butter, or Cadbury’s chocolate, or good underwear).

One of the most noticeable changes in myself (at least, it is the thing that I hear comments about the most), is my new found love for animals.  Some people are born animal lovers – I was not.  As a child I did have a bad tempered pet hamster that everyone was too afraid to hold, and a fairground goldfish that lived for 9 years (RIP Tyrone Mullet III) – but that’s about as far as my animal ownership had stretched until coming here.  Having never had a cat or dog or other animal where you actually get some loving payback for your care (usually in the form of licks, sniffs and cuddles) I just didn’t get the whole animal thing.  I certainly would never click on, like, or share a funny cat video online.  Oh how things have changed.

Those of you who have been following the blog for a while will recall the first animal to enter my life – a scrawny, flea ridden unidentified black cat found under the stairs at school on the last day of term.  I named her Cat, a non-name just in case she didn’t survive.  But, two years later she is alive and well in all her semi-Siamese, bug-eyed beauty.

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She’s such a babe.

 

A few months later, we added Patchy to the mix when we scooped him up from the flooded gutter at the side of the road during rainy season.  We initially couldn’t take him to Phuket with us and after a year staying with our old next door neighbour in Hat Yai he is now back with us.  He’s actually not very well at the moment and is having weekly chemotherapy sessions as he has a TVT (transmissible venereal tumour) AKA a sexually transmitted cancer.  Lesson learned here?  Get your animals neutered, especially if they are out on the streets gang banging the night away.  Luckily, the prognosis with these kind of tumours is very good, and don’t worry – as soon as he is well enough those balls are coming off.

Patches our not-so pup
Patchy… we went for quite an obvious name.

After the move to Phuket, another animal entered the picture; this time he chose to adopt us (we surely all know about Brian).  He’s old, he doesn’t have many teeth left and he has feline leukhemia (just call us Phuket animal hospice).  Sometimes I look at him and think he has gotten so fat and healthy he could last for years.  Other days I look at him and wonder how he is still going.  They don’t put animals down here so it may be a long stretch for Brian yet, but he is very happy in the menagerie and much better off than his last home under a car in our street.

Crusty-nosed Brian

 

Then, when we moved to our new house with a lovely big garden, Marjorie the chicken quickly appeared – inherited from a friend from work.  We were meant to be taking two chickens off her hands but one mysteriously disappeared (AKA someone spotted a plump looking hen and plucked her from the garden and onto the BBQ).  Marjorie was hand reared and loves people.  Most chickens run away when a person walks towards them, but Marjorie comes running!

I need to get a good quality picture of Marge!

 

When you’ve got one chicken, you may as well have a few more… and so five chicks were added to the clutch (yep, that is the collective noun for chickens there people).  Unhappy hens don’t lay eggs, and I didn’t want Marjorie to be lonely!

Little fluffy bums!

 

Sadly Lil Benny, the runt of the chicks, didn’t make it very long.  I learned an important message there about naming the smallest and cutest of a group of animals… small and cute = runt.  Runt = not gonna make it.  Lesson learned = lets avoid naming the chickens in future.  Also will help if we end up having to eat any of them (clearly Marjorie will not be appearing on the dining table any time soon).

RIP Lil Benny!

 

People often ask me what we will do with all of these animals when we finally move home.  Luckily for us, home is the UK – and the UK is surprisingly laid back on bringing animals into the country.  There are no quarantine requirements if your animal is micro chipped, has all of the necessary injections and a blood test to prove that they are rabies free.  The only difficult part is paying to fly them home… we’d better start saving now!  Obviously the chickens won’t be coming home with us.  Maybe we will have a big leaving BBQ… chicken wing, anyone?

I’m not quite there yet, but one day this may very well be me…

 

Phuket Sketchwalk 2015

One of the positive sides of moving to a more ‘foreigner friendly’ place such as Phuket is that there is much better communication between local people and non-Thais.  I guess it is ultimately down to the fact that the local people here are better able to speak and write English alongside the basic fact that there is just more going on around here than there was in Hat Yai… it is a tourist destination after all.

So when I saw an advert for this event taking place in Phuket, I was eager to get involved, especially as one of my new year’s resolutions (I do hate them but they are necessary to get me going each year) is to do more arty stuff.

Myself and a couple of other teachers who are artistically inclined decided to go along to the free workshops on the Saturday because a) everybody loves a freebie and b) the other events started at 8.30am each day which is basically not happening on a non-school day!

The event brought together Phuket Sketchers and Bangkok Sketchers, both of which are groups on facebook where people can share their art and organise meet ups.  It was really nice to see how many people locally are interested in art and hopefully this might be the kick up the bum I needed to get back into art in general.  During our mini workshop I ended up painting a picture of my coffee which isn’t something I would usually do but it was nice to simply set aside some time to doing something I enjoy with other people. The event was really well organised and the people running it were so helpful, providing us with English translations when needed and generally being really welcoming to the few foreigners that turned up.

Here are some pictures from the event.  I borrowed a couple from the Phuket Sketchers facebook page which you can find here if you live locally and want to find out more.  Hopefully there will be more events like this in the future as I now wish that I had been less lazy and had joined in the early morning sketchwalk activities too… always a next time (I hope).  Yay to me for getting off my bum and doing something other than going to the beach on my days off; it’s a hard life, I know!

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The whirlwind that is my life in Thailand

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Wow, what a hectic few weeks/months it has been.  As I always say, when I’m busy doing real life things, I don’t get the time to update the blog about those things I have been doing… and now I find myself on half term break (never have I been so in need for a week off) so I can finally sit down and take stock on all the stuff I’ve had going on, which includes…

…a new year…   …new year’s resolutions…   …a new job…   …a new house…   …countless new work projects…  

...trying my hand at some new hobbies…   …work permit stress…   …applying for my MEd…

It’s all go, go, go and new, new, new and while I do agree that the early months of the year lend themselves quite well to new beginnings and fresh starts, I hadn’t quite gotten over my whistle stop trip back to the UK.  And so today, Monday 16th February 2015 is the first time that I have stopped going at full speed since the year started.  And people say they move to Thailand to relax?  Ha!

But right now I am sitting at my new dining table looking out of the window at my new garden with a cup of green tea (one resolution that so far has stuck) and nowhere to be anytime soon.

Time to get my blog on – updates on their way!

Christmas: an Expat Survival Guide

expat christmas guide

It’s that time of year again; the nights are drawing in, temperatures are dropping and the horrific festive jumpers are being dusted off for countless mulled wine fueled evenings of Christmas get-togethers.  The Coca Cola advert is chiming away on the television every 15 minutes (…didn’t you know already?  Holidays are coming!) and the supermarket aisles are full of gigantic tins of treats, and tinsel, turkeys, and all the trappings… if you’re still living the regular, 9 to 5 life of home.

For those of us who have upped and left the comforts of normality in pursuit of a more foreign way of life, it isn’t quite the same.  For those in my boat, living in the East in a non-Christian, non-Western, non-Wintery world, it couldn’t be any more UN-Christmassy.

And yet, my facebook news feed continues to fill up with pictures of gut busting festive treats, snapshots of drunken office parties and excited countdown statuses not only looking forward to Chistmas day but visits to hometowns and reunions of family and friends long overdue.  I’m having a serious case of FFOMO (Festive Fear Of Missing Out).

For those of you who are finding themselves in a similar position, asking Google how to survive Christmas away from home and trawling the shops for anything remotely sparkly and therefore Christmassy, here are my tips for getting your own slice of Christmas wherever you may be

Create a life saving playlist

Back at home, people will be getting sick of hearing Christmas music piped through the shops by early December.  On the other hand, you find yourself craving the Christmas classics.  There’s nothing that says Christmas more than George Michael telling me I gave his heart away, or Kirsty MacColl calling Shane MacGowan a cheap lousy faggot.  Create a killer Christmas playlist and indulge to your heart’s content.

Quickly treat yourself to this undeniable TUNE of epic Christmas proportions:

Have a Christmas movie-thon

The great thing about living abroad is that you have complete control of what you watch and when.  You don’t need to wait until 4pm on Christmas day for your favourite Christmas movie to come on the TV, get downloading (legally, of course) and treat yourself to a festive movie marathon.

Seek, and ye shall find

If you are lucky enough to have a large supermarket in your town (even in Thailand, the Tesco demons have taken hold) then it is actually pretty likely that there will be some sort of attempt at a festive aisle, usually offering cheap decorations reminiscent of my parents house circa 1985.  In fact, it is a real possibility these decorations are indeed the rejects from 30 years ago.  80’s Christmas may not be your style, but sometimes one has to forego fashion and embrace the gaudy golden ceiling stars of yesteryear.  Just pretend you’re a hipster and the retro style is intentional.

Have yourself a retro little Christmas…

Get creative in the kitchen

There may not be mince pies on the shelves, but those of you lucky enough to have an oven in your kitchen can easily bake up a batch – recipe here – although you may have to make some ingredient substitutions especially if you are living outside of the west.  Those of us living in hotter, oven free countries may have to get even more creative with the rice cooker or stove top.  There are recipes out there for Christmas pudding, cooking a turkey without an oven (good luck finding a turkey though..!) and a plethora of naughty no bake desserts that you could even knock up if you don’t have a kitchen at all.

A little bit of sparkle goes a long way

Add a bit of sparkle to your day to day life so that you don’t forget that Christmas is approaching.  For the ladies, a bit of glittery nail varnish (even if it is a festive pedicure hidden beneath your school shoes) is a nice reminder that despite the heat it is actually December.  Gentlemen, a festive tie or some of those countless Christmas socks you have stockpiled can add a bit of glitz to your work day.

Stock up when you’re at home

When you next visit home, stock up on all the things you can – you didn’t think you would need it but in fact you should have packed that Christmas jumper the first time around.  Small packages can contain many Christmassy wonders as I discovered in the simplicity of obtaining a packet of mulled wine spices (can you say mulled SANGRIA?)

Remember the true spirit of Christmas

If you are religious, try to find others (at a church or group) to share this time with.  If Christmas is all about family and friends for you, make sure to set aside time for meaningful Skype sessions.  If you find the gift of Christmas in the giving, why not volunteer your time to a more worthy cause?  Here in Phuket, Christmas time is in fact the anniversary of the 2004 tsunami, and many people will be taking part in candle lit memorials or volunteering at the charities that were established in the aftermath of this terrible event.  Sometimes a bit of humility reminds us of what is truly important.

What did you have to say?

I took to the facebook pages to see how fellow expats cope at Christmas time and here are some of the suggestions I got back…

I find giving helps! Volunteer to help those less fortunate than yourself. I also love doing kind things for others. So I bake for the other teachers, host Christmas parties for some of my best students, just try to be the Christmas spirit. It is impossible to feel sad, to feel bad for yourself when you are surrounded by love.  – Sarah Elizabeth Schefers

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Stock up on wine…j/k try and do some of the things that you never have the time or energy to do. Learn something, get to the gym more but don’t make yourself so busy that you feel you haven’t had a holiday at the end of it.  – Richard Slack

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This is my first Christmas in Thailand and hot weather… I thought I’d hate it BUT I am feeling just as Christmassy. Here’s how:

1. Buying gifts and wrapping them
2. Giving those gifts and my friends and I had done a secret Santa
3. Bought and decorated a Christmas tree
4. We got Santa hats
5. We went to a Christmas nativity put on by the local church
6. My wife went to see Handels Messiah in a Local church in bkk
7. We plan to sing some Christmas songs on Tuesday at work
8. Tuesday is also Christmas dinner day in bkk and we are off to an English pub for some turkey
9. We had a Christmas themed party
No. 10, and what has made my December, has been listening to Christmas music on YouTube as much as possible! Especially Pentatonix Christmas Album… It’s great!

Last but not least, saying Merry Christmas every so often.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!  – Mike Maitland

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My take is that it’s important to continue traditions that were important to you in your own country even if you are now permanently living abroad. Why lose an important part of yourself? So for me that means getting a Christmas tree, filling my home with familiar Christmas-y touches I enjoy. And whatever else you used to do to celebrate, whether it’s religious attendance (There are many Christian churches in Thailand), gift-giving etc. For me it’s a lot about the enjoyment of food. I have an oven (not standard in Thai homes but readily available in shops) and will make a traditional Christmas dinner for friends, bake cookies as gifts etc. And I do find that my Thai friends are very interested in the whole thing. They don’t shun it, rather, they get involved and have fun with it. – Virginia Tayler

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lights…lights..candles…decos …prawns salad ..pool n friends…I am from Oz and is usually crazy hot anyway. Cairns is tropical same same here. But I would rather be here n same same xx                   – Shari Tropic Barrett

Join in the discussion here at the Teachers in Thailand facebook page… or leave your top tips for Christmas survival in the comments below.