The Thailand Diaries: Mr. Parasite and the case of the missing toilet

After three years living in Thailand I decided it was time I wrote my memoirs… this one may be a little too much information for some but if you can’t tell your diary, who can you tell?


My tummy had been doing somersaults since I had woken up but I had put it down to whatever undoubtedly spicy-fried-stuff-with-rice that I had eaten for dinner the night before.  It’s not unusual to feel every single digestive movement within you when you are embracing the local food in Thailand.

Little did I know that there was a particularly pesky parasite harbouring within my body waiting to burst forth – quite literally – and make an appearance.  Only time would reveal this, and my what timing Mr. Parasite had.  I would soon find myself wishing I had listened to my gut’s grumbles with more attention but we all know that hindsight, and a rather memorable toilet (or lack thereof) experience, is a gift we cannot savour until it is already too late.

Perhaps someone reading this will learn something, and my experience will enable another to avoid what was unavoidably my fate.  Read on and take note, dear reader.

As I have already said, I was embracing the local cuisine of Thailand’s deep south, and so I found myself heading over to a little khao geang (literally rice curry) place at breakfast time.  It was owned by a lovely couple who would rise early to prepare an array of dishes to be laid out buffet-style for the customers to peruse and take their pick of.  As is usual in these set ups, the shop was in the front of their house, backing on to the living room which they shared with the patrons.  Unusual by Western standards but very much the norm here in Thailand.  Another rather un-Western thing – customer toilets are few and far between in these types of establishments; this fact would become all too apparent all too quickly.

Grumble.  Groan.  Squelch.  I looked at my breakfast of spicy-fried-stuff-with-rice and was unable to conjure up the slightest inkling of an appetite.  Strangely enough, being able to feel your internal organs in action tends to be quite the appetite killer.

Grumble.  Groan.  GRUMBLE.  GROAN.  Suddenly the urgency with which my insides operated reached a peak with only one message.  TOILET.  NOW.

Mee hongnam mai ka?  Possibly the single most important phrase to learn upon travelling to any foreign land – do you have a toilet?

The husband-wife curry shop duo looked at one another and then at me, in my white school shirt and pencil skirt.  They started to explain that it’s their toilet, it’s no good for customers, especially not farang customers in tight skirts… but I was already up and heading to the back of the house where their gazes lead me.  Tee nee ka?  Here?

I was  in there before they had time to answer but sure enough I found myself in what must be the family bathroom.  A damp concrete square of a room with a concrete floor and only sky where a ceiling would normally take residence.  Good for ventilation I suppose.

GRUMBLE.  GROAN.

I desperately cast my eyes around, looking for the bog, the loo, the porcelain throne… nothing.  There was a small container of water, adorned with wrung out flannels, an old bar of soap and a couple of toothbrushes.  Next to that, a larger bin also full of water with a Winnie the Pooh children’s cereal bowl floating in it.  A quick peek beyond and I found a hole in the ground.  A hole, albeit encircled with a porcelain frame, as if to confirm that yes, this is in fact the toilet.

Full disclosure: I should probably apologise for the misleading title of this post – there was a toilet, just not the type that I am used to.

My pencil skirt was too tight to be hoicked up and so I whipped it off and flung it over my shoulder.  I’ll save you the details of what happened next but let me tell you that Mr. Parasite put me through my paces.  Epic toilet times – a rite of passage when adjusting to a life abroad but something best enjoyed (wrong word) in the privacy of one’s own home.

Something you learn quickly when you are traveling through or living in an Asian country is that there is a distinct lack of toilet tissue, especially in those countires that favour a bidet hose, or bum gun as I like to call it.  In fact, you quickly learn that we have developed a whole load of unnecessary Westernised expectations when it comes to the toilet.  We don’t need toilet seats, automatic flushes or jet powered hand dryers, but at some point we decided that we do.   Had I had the time to think things through before my rush to the toilet I would have grabbed some paper towels from the table.  Again, hindsight.

Unfortunately for me it was a double whammy.  Not only was there no toilet but no bum gun either.

Panic started to set in.  Do I shout for someone to bring me some tissue?  There isn’t even a bin.  Not an option.  There I was, squatting askew a hole in the ground, half dressed with my skirt slung over my shoulder desperately looking for a post-toilet clean up solution.

There’s only so long one can stay in such a position without taking action.  I was time to go truly native, armed with gallons of water, a Winnie the Pooh children’s cereal bowl and…

… my hand.  Oh yes, native indeed.

Thank goodness there was an old bar of soap.

At the time I have to say that wasn’t one of my most pleasant mornings, but at least now I can look back and laugh, and I can face any toilet situation safe in the knowledge that it will never be that traumatic ever again.


I may look back and find this funny, but many people don’t even have a hole in the ground let alone clean water to wash with or even drink.  Check out the gifts you can buy over at Water Aid  to enable people to have access to clean water and village water systems. 

This isn’t a sponsored post, I just want to make up for laughing at what is a daily occurrence for so many people around the globe.

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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?

The Harold Diaries: journey to the deep south

For those of you who don’t know who Harold is, he is my trusty steed, the green beast, AKA probably the cheapest car in Thailand owned by a farang.

The beast himself.
The beast himself.

Harold has been serving me well during the school holidays, allowing me the freedom I so wanted but couldn’t have due to my inability to balance/turn corners/generally ride a motorbike.  He had been doing so well in fact, that T and I decided he was ready for his first trip off the island, and we don’t do road trips by halves, so we decided to drive him 450 km to the deep south of Thailand to our home-from-home; Hat Yai.

After a full oil change and a good dose of brake fluid, and Cat safely tucked up in her carry case on the back seat (you didn’t think we were leaving her at home, did you?!)  Harold was good to go.  His stereo isn’t in full working order yet (read: the speakers are rusted to sh*t) so I created a USB powered iPhone/computer speaker set up that meant that we had some tunage for the journey.  Five hours in silence, with only the annoying squeak of the drivers door to listen to would not have been fun.

The drive itself is easy enough, just head south on highway 4, no deviations, nothing.  We drove through Phuket, a little of Phang Nga, Krabi, Trang, Phattalung, Songkhla and finally, Hat Yai.  Unfortunately for us what should be a smooth journey was interspersed with some pretty full on road works resulting in the road being anything but smooth.  Did I mention that Harold’s suspension is completely screwed?  Some of those stretches of road had to be taken at less than 20 km an hour – the super-speed-crazy-shiny-white pick up drivers were so happy to be stuck behind us.  We got some angry beeps and flashes but would those drivers be any happier if we drove at full speed and one of Harold’s doors fell off into the road in front of them?  No.  So deal with it.

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Our journey, all 450 km of it.

The further south we drove the cooler and fresher the air got as we drove through mountains and jungle.  The pungent stench smell of rubber plantations permeated the air, and as much as I hate that smell it had a certain feeling of home that I had been missing.  Rows of rubber trees lined the road, and we knew that we were almost at our destination.  We didn’t have any plans for our trip other than to chill out at our old next door neighbour (and friend)’s house, and chill we did.  We fell asleep to the sound of jungle frogs, crickets and cicadas – no need to pay for a jungle sounds relaxation CD here, this is the real deal.

So, Harold made his first big trip and hopefully it will be the first of many.  Time to invest in a road map of south Thailand.  Watch this space.

Songkran Survival 101

If you ever find yourself in Thailand in mid-April, it will be hard to escape Songkran.  With only a few weeks until Thailand’s infamous new year festival, it’s time to start making your preparations for the world’s biggest water fight.

Choose your base wisely.

Songkran is celebrated across Thailand but there are a number of places that are known for putting on an extra special party.  Popular Songkran venues include cities from the full length of the country from Sukhothai to Bangkok or further south to Hat Yai, but by far the most infamous Songkran destination is Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand with thousands of people (foreigners and Thai citizens alike) descending on the city to take part in the festivities.

If, like many others, you decide to make Chiang Mai your Songkran base be sure to book in advance to avoid disappointment and make sure you consult a map before choosing your accommodation.  The bulk of the festivities take place at Tha Phae gate in the old city wall and public transport grinds to a halt as the streets are overtaken by revelers.  To avoid a long, soggy walk home at the end of the day choose a hostel close to the action.  Then again, if you’d rather have a bit of distance between your night time sanctuary and the endless festivities, perhaps this area would be best to avoid.

If you are looking for a more authentic Songkran experience consider avoiding the more touristy areas; images of the celebrations in the north east of Thailand look particularly beautiful.

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Songkran in Chiang Mai

Invest in a good weapon

As with any big holiday, in the weeks running up to Songkran the shop shelves start to fill up with all manner of associated things to be bought including a huge range of aquatic weaponry.  From manual pump-action cannons to backpack devices shaped like Hello Kitty, there is something for all budgets.

Some points to consider when choosing your weapon;

Tactics – will you be going for hand to hand, up close combat or a more stealthy approach?

Capacity – there will be buckets of water along the streets for you to refill from , but do you really want to be stopping every three minutes to load up on ammunition?

Longevity – are you taking part in just one day or will you be in it for the long run?  Cheap plastic water guns simply can’t hack the pressure of a Songkran battle.

Think about your dates

The official dates for Songkran are 13th-15th April, but in many popular Songkran destinations the festivities will start a few days before and will continue beyond the supposed end date.  If you are making a vacation out of it think carefully about your arrival and departure dates – you definitely don’t want to be walking the streets looking for your hostel or a taxi to the airport one the water fights have begun – unarmed people with backpacks full of possessions will be shown no mercy.

Leave the bike at home

Don’t bother trying to drive during Songkran unless you are avoiding the celebration completely.  In many places roads will be closed anyway, or traffic will be at a snail’s pace as pickups loaded with water make their way through the city.  Songkran can be quite a boozy affair (despite alcohol bans) and with water fights extending into the roads it isn’t a good idea to be driving.  Leave the bike at home and go on foot – the streets will be packed with fellow revelers so get involved.

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The crowd parts for a Songkran procession.

Waterproofing

Get yourself some sort of waterproof bag for your essentials – there are plenty on sale and it really is worth investing in something of you want your money to stay in one piece.  Also, think about your clothing – denim is a definite no no in a water fight situation (hello chafing).

Keep your cool

Songkran can feel like all out warfare at times and it is very easy to get carried away.  Don’t let the booze get to your head and make sure you remember that this is all supposed to be a bit of fun.  Give as good as you get and expect to take a bucket of ice water down your back every one in a while.  This is not the place to be getting annoyed with someone for spraying you in the face or catching you out with a soaking – if you don’t like it, go home.

There will also be older Thai people out partaking in a more traditional manner, with small bowls of water and a white paste.  The tradition is to only sprinkle a little water on the back of the neck and put some paste on the face – respect this and don’t go all out attacking an old woman outside her home.

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Note how there is not one drop of water on these lovely ladies.

For more information about the Songkran celebrations for this year, check out the festival’s official website here.

2013: A year in review

It’s that time of year again when we all look back on the year that is almost over, and look forward to the year coming up ahead.

Before I start thinking of what New Year’s Resolutions I am going to attempt to keep up next year, I thought it would be a good idea to look back at 2013 and all that I have got up to; I’ve added some links if you want to have a nose at the posts from that time of year…

We saw in the new year on beautiful Koh Samui.  It didn’t quite go to plan, with storms and cancelled speedboats throwing a spanner in the party plans, but we still managed to have a great time exploring all that the island has to offer.

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Sunset on Lamai beach, Koh Samui

We moved out of our Hat Yai city centre apartment and into our own Thai home in the village of Ban Pruh.  We got to know the locals, adjusted to the Thai way of living and welcomed a few unwanted snakes, scorpions and other delights into our home!

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Our humble abode.

We found and rescued a tiny, weak kitten from under the stairs in one of the school buildings.  Luckily, with a bit of attention and a lot of love she got fit and healthy and Cat is now a fully fledged member of the household.  Love her!

kitten

The box that Cat called home for a short while.

It wasn’t long before we stumbled across another animal that we couldn’t help but take in.  Patches the puppy didn’t stay small forever and he’s now almost fully grown and has his own pack of street dog friends, but he still calls our front garden home.

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Patches the puppy.

We took part in the world’s biggest water fight at the Songkran festivities in Chiang Mai up in the north of Thailand, stopping off in Bangkok on the way where I developed a newly found hatred for ‘traveler’ types (sorry guys) and we also discovered a culinary gem of a place in Little India.

We’ve been caving, lived the traditional life on the river for the weekend, found the most beautiful waterfall in all of Thailand, visited a whole load of temples and discovered paradise on the island of Koh Lipe.

At school I’ve been dressed up like a Thai princess for the day, helped the students to perform for super important Malaysian visitors and tried out different lessons in my new English Writing class.

sportsday2

I visited home and got to see all my family and friends, ate far too much western food and generally enjoyed the simplicity of home life for three weeks.

We’ve seen the protests (and there are more to come), a very wet rainy season and a very un-Christmassy Christmas period.

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Happy protester.

I’ve moaned about teaching in Thailand quite a bit, and the general annoyances that come along with it.  But once I  let those frustrations go, I can see that I’ve had a cracking year in Thailand and I really look forward to whatever the next year brings with it.  With no real plans with regards to staying put or moving, who knows what the next year has in store for us?

Finally, I’d like to say a big Happy New Year to all who have been kind enough to visit, follow, comment and like posts on the cornishkylie blog over the past year.  I’ve whizzed up to 16,000 + views and counting which I am truly grateful for and humbled by.  Here’s to another twelve months of whatever life may bring.  Enjoy it!