Five for Friday: Why I Love Living In Thailand

One of the mums at my school is making a series of videos* asking people What makes you smile about Thailand?  Earlier this week she coerced a group of us to have a go in front of the camera… and I did completely rubbish!  There I was, a true lover of Thailand, I’ve written countless blogs about why I live here and how amazing it is (alright, I have also written a fair few that say the opposite…) and all I managed to string together was a few feeble sentences about the animal life here.  FAIL.  In my defense, it was the end of a particularly long day of meetings and running around.  But I do feel the need to redeem myself and show some love to Thailand.  So here it is – my top five reasons why I love living in Thailand.

Videos that you will NEVER be having a glimpse of following my poor performance.


1.  You can break the rules. I’m not making any claims of being a major rebel without a cause, but there’s something exciting and freeing about knowing that the rules here are made to be broken.  If there are rules at all.  Need to move the contents of your entire house balanced on your moped?  Go for it.  Three four five whole family on one bike?  Why not!  Health and Safety – what’s that?  It probably makes for a very dangerous existence, but I much prefer it to the red tape of the UK.

Far too many people in this truck, but handy to know I can get away with this should I ever need to transport a football team.

2.  The food.  ALL of the food.  My belly may not love me for it, but I just can’t say no!  Before I left the UK I was a crippingly picky eater – while I may not be embracing the pig’s entrails or the chicken’s feet, I am most certainly loving the food out here.  Thai food is spicy and fragrant and sour and spicy and sweet and did I say spicy?  And don’t get me started on the amount of fresh fruit available – I have recently developed an addiction to dragonfruit – one a day for about three weeks.  Still waiting for a polka dot poop though.

PicMonkey Collage

Admittedly, this is Indian food… but still in Thailand, cheap and waaay better than anything I have ever had at home.  Not to self – photograph more Thai food before inhaling it…

dragonfruit

My new obsession…

3.  The weather.  OK, I didn’t want to be a cliche and here I am saying I love the food and the weather… but it is true!  Admittedly, I have a particular issue with rainy season that i have (probably incorrectly) attributed to Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder… but when it is dry and sunny it is just THE BEST.  Especially since I made the move to Phuket.  Beaches on my doorstep.  Yes, it can get TOO TOO HOT in April, but as long as you choose to lay in the sun in easy reach of some sea/swimming pool/[insert any body of relatively clean water here] you’ll be alright.  I mean, we can have BBQs for about 8 months of the year.  Beat that England!

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I took this picture last month in rainy season.  RAINY season.  The sun even manages to be better than your average summer day in the UK during the rainy season.

4.  My animals.  One of the great things about living in Thailand is being able to rent a lovely house on an amazing bit of land and having the freedom to have my own animals.  Back in the UK I lived above a shop of rented a house where I was admittedly allowed pets but they weren’t allowed to be furry and had to live in a tank AKA no fun.    I love being able to have my cats and my Patchy dog and now I have added a flock of chickens to the mix because, why not?  The best bit is that most of my animals have a pretty cool story attached to them, being rescues or found abandoned or simply adopting us out of the blue.  I love that Thailand had made me love animals!

PicMonkey Collage (1)

Many, many animals…

5.  Mai Pen Rai!  I wholeheartedly appreciate the mai pen rai attitude to life here.  Mai pen rai = no worries, forget about it, it’s aaaallll good in the hood.  Thai people are smiley and friendly and more often than not, willing to let things go when you pull a cultural boo boo.  Living in a land where it is very easy to slip up and potentially offend (and I have a post coming very soon just about that so watch this space) that is a very welcome approach to life!

Tomorrow is another day… mai pen rai to the troubles of today.

Just as I was about to post this, I noticed that my friend and fellow Hat Yai Mad Hatter posted exactly the same thing on her blog last night!  That is some spooky, next level, parallel universe kind of stuff going on there.  Head on over to check out Teacher Cola’s blog – she’s braver than me and even makes YouTube videos too!


Why not join in and leave a comment below on what makes you love where you live….

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Five for Friday – how living in Thailand has changed me

I moved across the world and it changed me man.

I hear and read this BS all the time.  I have blogged plenty of times before about how much it infuriates me that people attach this ‘life changing’ stigma to world travel.

Aaaaaand now I’m going to be completely hypocritcal and become one of those changed beings.

Not quite completely hypocritical though, I’m not saying that I have experienced life changing changes, just that I have had to make some adjustments in how I lead my day to day life that have actually become more permenant as time has gone on.

These are in no particular order, as none of them are particularly ground breaking.

1)  I can be in the same room as a cockroach without completely freaking out.  I still shout for T to come and rescue me, but that is just me falling into the role of woman of the house, I swear if I lived along I could totally deal with it myself.  And by deal with it I mean put a cup over it and wait for T to come home.

I’m not quite as in love with cockroaches as this lady clearly is…

2)  I now eat tofu.  And my favourite part of noodle soup is the little balls of questionable reformed meat.  I eat fish, as long as it isn’t fishy fish.  I will eat meat off the bone.  I eat bananas.  Basically I am no longer as picky as I used to be at eating.  I still have a loooong way to go!

Photo: Apologies to any vegetarian followers I have... had to share just how much chicken you get when you buy one here, even from Tesco!  Head, feet and all the insides... It is Halal though, which is nice.
I still ain’t eating no chicken head!

3)  I am a cat lover.  Some may say, crazy cat woman.  I’ve gone from actually quite disliking animals in general to rescuing a kitten and now taking in an old leukemia ridden cat too.  Not only do I love my cats (OK, I love Cat a bit more than Brian) but I also now have to (like, have to, it is an actual urge) approach every cat that I see on the street, which in Thailand means making stops every few yards.  I want more cats, but the prospect of flying them all back to the UK when I decide to leave is the only thing that stops me.

Photo: Sleepy Brian (AKA the leukemia cat).
Sleepy Brian. I realise he doesn’t get shown off very much but he’s crusty, you know…

4)  I have shunned the make up, the hair straighteners and the high heels.  In this climate make up slides off your face, so minimal is the only way forward.  I even have had to forego the bat wing eyeliner (although the search for a sweat-proof liquid eyeliner continues).  Straightened hair stays straight for approximately 7 minutes before the humidity and your scalp/forehead/neck sweat permeates the hair.  Add to that jumping on a motorbike to go anywhere and your hair will never look good again, unless you get ready in air conditioning and stay in that air conditioned environment all night long.  And high heels?  Have you seen the pavements in Thailand?  No way.

I do miss my sequins and glitter though.

5)  Finally, and yes I saved the best til last, my toilet situation has been transformed.  I have embraced the bum hose!  Who needs toilet paper any more when you can have a complete wash?!  When I visited the UK last year I actually missed the fresh feeling of the bum gun…  I even have learned how to successfully use a squat toilet, complete with bucket flush/bum cleaner.  And by successfully I mean not pissing on my feet/shorts/underwear/the floor/the wall…

And here are some useful toilet tips from hobotraveler.com

Have you moved away to work?  How has expat life changed you?

Five for Friday – top tips for the rainy season in Thailand

Heavy Downpour

Usually the rainy season is made up of isolated showers flanked either side by perfectly dry, warm weather but this week the south of Thailand has endured three days of non-stop rain.  The rivers are swollen and if we have one more day of rain it is likely that places will start to flood, and Hat Yai has seen some serious flooding in the past.  Coming from the UK, I am very used to a rainy climate but nothing can prepare you for a monsoon until you are caught in one yourself.  Here are my five top tips for coping with the rainy season in Thailand.

  • Invest in a good rain coat.  Those 7-eleven ponchos may be cheap but you are effectively draping yourself in a flimsy carrier bag that will offer little protection from the oncoming downpours.  Oh, and they flap in the wind as you go along on your motorbike like the Michelin man and it’s super annoying.  And remember to always keep our coat to hand – there’s nothing worse than getting caught in a shower and realizing that your raincoat is sat at home in the dry.
  • Carry a change of clothes with you if you are going anywhere where you will need to look presentable.  I wear an old skirt and a pair of flip flops on the way to school, arriving bedraggled and soaked, only to perform a superman style transformation in the toilet, emerging in a fresh, dry outfit and – most importantly – dry shoes.  Spending 8 hours standing in soggy shoes is not nice.  Trust me.
  • Get to know the drips, leakages and generally any place where water can get in to your home.  If you live in a condominium or lovely flash apartment this may not be a problem, but if you live in a Thai style house like we do, the roof may not be 100% rain proof.  If it’s raining hard enough and in the right direction, we have dripping leaks in every room but the bathroom (which ironically is a wet room anyway).
  • On the subject of the bathroom, again if you live in a Thai style home you may not have hot running water.  Usually this is no problem, with refreshing water to cool you down on a hot Thai afternoon, but in the rainy season during a particularly rainy day the last thing you want is a freezing cold shower.  On days like this I resort to boiling a pot of water on the hob and having a bucket wash.  It’s not ideal but neither is risking hypothermia (OK, slight exaggeration but you know what I mean).
  • Listen to the locals.  If you live in a flood prone area like we do, listen to their predictions on the likelihood of a flood.  They will speak from experience and knowing the land much better than you do.  If they are talking of the risk of flood, go out and stock up on the essentials – water, rice, noodles, bread, candles – Thai people will never say I told you so but do you want to be known as the farang that got stranded at home with nothing but the crusty remnants of the back of your fridge?

What do you do to cope with the rainy season?  Anyone got any secret tips?

Five for Friday – exploring food in Thailand

 Image copyright Google images

When I came to Thailand five years ago on a four week backpacking holiday, I seem to recall only eating either Pad Thai or Green Curry.  Whenever I go to the Thai restaurant back in Falmouth (big ups to Mali Thai – good food and bring your own booze – what more could you want?) I exclusively order Red Curry with coconut rice, oh and maybe some spring rolls.  But that is it.  Despite having been to Thailand myself, my Thai menu was limited to three things.

Now I am living over here, and I very rarely eat any of my three go-to Thai dishes.  In fact, it is almost impossible to track down a Red Curry where I live, and until recently I couldn’t find anywhere that would cook Pad Thai.  Over the past ten months I have been on a culinary adventure, starting off only being able to order one thing (Khao Pad Gai – chicken fried rice – for lunch again anyone?) until my fledgling Thai language abilities enabled me to begin to order new dishes which I soon realised tasted far better than what I had stuck to before.

Thai food is an attack on the senses with its combination of four key flavours; sweet, salty, sour and spicy.  Each dish will lean more towards one or two, but they are all there.  Sweetness is brought to you by spoonfuls of sugar, sourness with vinegar or lime.  Spiciness from chilies; red, green or yellow, and saltiness from nam blaa  – fish sauce.  It’s all about the balance of the four flavours – although the thought of eating fish sauce, which stinks to high heaven when being added to the stir-fry, may put you off – without it the meal wouldn’t quite taste right.  Once the dish is brought to your table you can further adjust the flavours by adding your own condiments from the table.  Usually there will be a pot of sugar, a sour chili sauce, chopped chilies in fish sauce and chopped green chilies in white vinegar.  Much like the salt and pepper you would get at home.

Thai food is widely varied and I haven’t touched the surface when it comes to sampling everything on offer, so here is my top five for food in Thailand, in no particular order.

1.  Pad Grapow Moo – stir-fried pork with holy basil and chili

I first tried this dish in a beach side restaurant on Koh Samui during my stay on the island for my TEFL training.  A few of us had gone to find the Grandmother and Grandfather rocks (see my post here for when I finally actually went to visit them again) but I was either tired or hungover or just lazy, because when I saw a hint of having to walk slightly uphill I opted out and found myself a seat overlooking the beach in a nice looking restaurant.  I wasn’t particularly hungry so I thought I would order something different just to try it.  It was really tasty and quickly became a firm favourite of mine from then on.  For a while I was eating this every other day, sometimes two days in a row.  We had found a restaurant in the village that we moved to and this was the only thing that we knew that they could cook for us.  It varies from place to place, sometimes using minced pork, other times thinly sliced instead.  Some places throw in some carrots too.  It’s usually served on rice with a fried egg, but as I don’t eat fried eggs I sometimes have a little omelette or nothing at all.  Pad Grapow is usually pretty fiery and the fragrance brought to it by the holy basil gives it a unique taste that I really love.

 

2.  Pad See Ew – fried noodles with dark soy sauce and vegetables

When I discovered that I wasn’t able to easily order Pad Thai, this quickly became my go-to for when I need that noodle fix.  Stodgy and filling, with a bit of green veg to boot.  Something I miss about Western food is the portion sizes.  The majority of your plate in Thailand will wither be noodles or rice – it’s a carb fest out here.  At least there’s not so much bread; I think that was my downfall back at home.  Portions of meat are small and I don’t mind that, it’s the equally small helpings of vegetables that I wish were bigger.  Anyway, I digress.  Pad See Ew can use a variety of noodles from wide and thick to thin and yellow.  I always give mine a helping hand with a spoonful of chili sauce.  This dish is particularly good when hungover.  It’s not quite a full English but it helps to soak up any leftover booze.

 

3.  Moo Klob – crispy belly pork with sweet Chinese sauce

I’m a lover of pork belly and this is the one way I am able to get my fix of roasted meat.  The pork is roasted, or maybe boiled, and then fried so it is a perfect mix of falling apart flesh and crispy fat.  The sweet sauce is a welcome change from the same-same-ness of many Thai stir-fries and at this particular shop you also get a serving of sweet Thai sausage which kind of has the consistency and appearance of a cured sausage like chorizo, but a completely different flavour.  Again, I spice this up; this time with sliced green chilies in white vinegar, which the owner of the food place seemed to suggest was the normal accompaniment.  We go to one particular food seller for this favourite, aptly named by us as Moo Klob shop.  The thing is with living in ‘real’ Thailand is that menus are written in Thai script so unless you can read Thai you have to use your spoken Thai and knowledge of what that particular place have on offer.   This place is owned by what I assume is a husband and wife pairing, and they are really lovely.  The first few times we went in they excitedly showed us which sauce went with which dish, and they took much enjoyment in offering Tom a bowl of tiny raw garlic cloves, “For spice!!” and watching him munch them down.  Safe to say our home was vampire free for the next three days!

 

4.  Khao Yum Gai Sap – breaded chicken with raw cabbage, carrot and onion, with a spicy and sour sauce, on top of rice

Another restaurant specific dish, this time brought to you by P.Noi, the lady whose food place (I suppose you can’t really call it a restaurant as it has no walls and bare earth as the floor) is right across the street from my school.  This is a one-woman-one-wok establishment and she cooks anything she has the ingredients for.  This lady is responsible for my first-tastes of many a Thai dish, including this one.  Actually, the first time I tried this I had seen a student with it on her plate and used what is probably my most useful Thai phrase to date – “…nee arrai ka?” – What is this? – I had never heard of this dish but I could see it was spicy, and the fact that it was mixed with lots of yummy raw veg instantly attracted me to it; it’s hard to get my salad kick out here without going to S&P and spending 150 THB (which admittedly is little over £3.00!).  You can order this dish without the rice by leaving the khao off the beginning as you order.

 

5.  Kai Teow Son Kruen – omelette stuffed with minced chicken/pork, vegetables and chili sauce

Compiling this list I almost forgot this beauty of a dish, mostly because I didn’t know the Thai name for it (I do now, thanks to Teacher Oh) and so only order it when (you guessed it) I go to one particular restaurant (a really good Muslim place opposite Lee Gardens in Hat Yai – they have a menu in English which is a rarity) or when I am with Thai people.  Some places don’t do this because I guess it’s a little fiddly.  It’s something that is definitely on my learn to cook list especially now I have a fully operational kitchen (even with a sink now that The Man has installed one!).  This is a thin omelette which has minced meat and veg (usually carrots, onions, maybe peppers – all diced nice and small) in a yummy, mildly spicy sauce placed in the middle.  The sides of the omelette are folded over the tasty filling and the whole thing is presented folded side down on a bed of rice so you have the pleasure of cutting it open and watching the tastiness ooze out.  (I need to get myself back to that Muslim restaurant ASAP!)

I’m not much of a food photographer (it is hilarious to see a table of young Thai people getting their food – they are so into social media that immediately iPhones and iPads come out to capture a picture of dinner, soon to appear on Instagram) but maybe for this post I will take a few pictures soon – watch this space.

This post was taken from my new blogging spot on Thailand’s #1 teaching website Ajarn.com.  To see these posts first subscribe to my RSS feed on the website.

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