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?

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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.

Top ten hidden temples of Hat Yai

Despite the ongoing violence in Thailand’s deep south it is still possible to find plenty of peaceful spots to relax.  Whether you are a spiritual tourist looking for an escape from city or one of many that find themselves stopping over in transit, why not get out and see more than the four walls of your hostel room?  None of these temples are listed in the guidebooks so feel free to leave it at home.

Wat Plukkhla

Wat Plukkhla sits off the beaten track (and literally down a dirt track) in the area just off the airport in Hat Yai.  A walkway lined with dozens of Buddha images leads to a giant seated silver Buddha.  Climb the stone steps and make your way around the statue, ringing each of the memorial bells that hang around the edge.  The monks’ residences are around the back so look out for bright orange robes hanging out to dry.  This temple has a few friendly dogs but nothing to worry about.  You will need your own transport [i] as no public services come out this far.

How to get there: Head towards the airport and take the left for the airbase.  The temple is around 15 minutes down the road that gradually changes from tarmac to bumpy dirt track.  A really nice drive through the real Hat Yai.

Wat Mahapanya Vidayalai

This mini temple complex is right next door to the large Tesco Lotus store opposite Prince of Songkhla university.  Traditional Buddhist temple music plays out through loudspeakers as you walk around the numerous shrines that lay in the ground of this temple that also doubles as an educational center for monks in training.  Walk amongst the golden monk statues, each one standing over eight feet high and commemorating the life of a monk.  Buy some fish food for 10THB (leave your coin in the honesty box) and feed the koi carp and catfish to make merit.  There is a nine-story pagoda that offers views across the city and down on the temple complex for those brave enough to climb its steep marble steps.

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How to get there: Its central location means that it is reachable by public transport – many of the public songhtaews [ii] (open backed trucks) stop nearby.

Chedi Thaimonkhon

This temple is all steel and made up of hundreds of steel circles sitting on top of more circular golden rooms interconnected with – you guessed it – circular passageways.  Each round room houses a different Buddha statue and is free for use as a meditation or contemplation spot.  The view out of each circular window changes as you make your way around this really unique building.  Climb the steps and emerge within the chedi itself, surrounded by the twinkling of a thousand bells.  It’s really magical and there’s no other temple like it in Thailand.

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How to get there: Unfortunately no public transport comes this way so your own transport is needed.  You can find the temple down the road that goes beside Prince of Songkhla university, perched on the side of the hilltop.

Wat Hat Yai Nai

This unexpected urban temple sits in the Hat Yai Nai district close to the city center (just over the bridge near immigration) and houses a very big secret; a 35m secret to be exact.  This reclining Buddha statue is the third largest in the world and yet you won’t see any tourists here.  It’s a little bit worse for wear, but then again most things off the beaten track are.

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How to get there: Take a white or blue songthaew from the city center.  The temple is just over the bridge on the other side of the road.

Bodhisattva Kuan Im

This spectacle is one of three temples situated on Korhong mountain in Hat Yai Municipal Park.  This place is a must-visit, equally for the 20m golden Buddha statue overlooking the city and the fantastic views across Hat Yai, especially at sunset.  A bit busier than the other temples listed, but you will still be the only foreign tourists walking around.

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How to get there: You can take a white or dark green songthaew to the park entrance and then either walk up the steps (for the brave), take a tuk tuk or hitch a ride to the temple on the top of the hill.  There is also a cable car service running between two of the temples and a free shuttle bus to take you to board the cable car (200THB adult/100THB child).

Bodhisattva Kuan Yin

This is the second temple found halfway down Korhong mountain.  A 10m Buddha statue, this time in bright white jade stone.  Walk through the dragon’s mouth and brave the steps that lead back up to Bodhisattva Kuan Im.

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San Phra Phrom

This is the final of the three temples and sits behind the other two, joined to Bodhisattva Kuam Im by cable car.  This Hindu-Buddhist temple is surrounded by trees and houses the three-headed elephant statue and is the source of the intermittent fire cracker explosions that can be heard throughout Korhong mountain.  Find yourself a shady spot to sit and watch the locals praying.

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Wat Khlong Bplay

On the other side of the road and just before the turning for the municipal park is this quaint little temple that also happens to boast its own radio station that plays over loudspeakers around the temple grounds.  There is a sizeable stupa and its worth a walk around it to look at the old paintings on the doors and wall panels.   Look out for the coin operated water feature/shrine – strange to say the least!

temple stupa

How to get there: Take the same songthaew as you would to get to the municipal park (see directions above) but look on the left hand side of the road and get off after the seven-eleven near the entrance to the park (the park is on the right).  If you reach the park you’ve gone too far.

Further afield…

If you find yourself with a little more time or the urge to go further afield, these two temples are within easy travelling distance of Hat Yai.

Wat Tang Kuan

Songkhla is the Hat Yai’s smaller neighbor and is home to the closest beaches and the largest lake in Thailand.  To take in the views of Songkhla head to Tang Kuan hill where you can take the cable lift (20THB) up the side of the hill and walk around the grounds of Sala Vihan Daeng – the royal pavilion that houses Wat Tang Kuan.  Many locals come here to pray alongside romantic couples coming to secure a ‘love lock’ to declare their undying appreciation of one another.  Watch out for the monkeys that can be found around the foot of the hill.

songkhla temple

How to get there: Take a dark green songthaew to Songkhla centre and then a tuk tuk to the temple or follow the 407 in the direction of Songkhla – 30 to 40 minutes and you’re there.

Wat Tham Khao Rup Chang

Located close to the Malaysian border town of Pedang Basar this temple is handily placed for anyone doing a border run.  This is an amazing temple complex sitting above and throughout a series of caves with Buddha statues hiding among the stalagmites and stalactites.  Walk around the grounds, play spot the Buddha and admire the unique architecture of this one of a kind temple.  It doesn’t look like the average Thai temple, likely because of its proximity to the border.

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How to get there: Access to your own transport and a full day is a must – give yourself a couple of hours to comfortably make your way there, stopping off at a few local markets along the way.

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[i] Where own transport is recommended, try renting a bike for the day (around 200THB) or if you are in a group you can rent a tuk tuk with driver for the day (after some negotiations on price).

[ii] Songthaews are pickup trucks that have been converted to include benches and a roof, offering an affordable and convenient method of getting around the city center.  In Hat Yai the songthaews operate on a color basis but it is always best to ask the driver rather than rely on the color of his truck guaranteeing that you will get to where you want to go.  Songthaews cost 10-15THB, paid as you jump off at your destination.

 

Life of Phu: an update

Sometimes I post opinionated pieces on the political/educational/moral state of Thailand, other times I post pretty pictures I’ve taken.  Sometimes, I just post a little update of all the nothings I’ve been doing; what should probably be put on a postcard and sent home to grandparents but never is.  This is one of those latter posts.

It’s been just over a month of my new job/house/life on the island (I like to reiterate this point) of Phuket.  In my last update I had just moved into the new house but without furniture or any home comforts.  We were camping with cardboard boxes for tables and only the hard tiled floor to sit on.

But after a few trips to Hat Yai we now have kitchen utensils and a sofa and all those little things that make a house a home, like earl grey tea bags and somewhere to put my clothes other than the floor-drobe that was gathering at the foot of my bed.  I say bed; we don’t actually have one of those yet, or a mattress.  But we’ve created a nest out of duvets and yoga mats and actually it’s really comfortable and probably very good for my back.  That’s what I keep telling myself anyway.

The house itself is really nice and completely water tight which is better than the last place – and with the shock storms we’ve randomly been getting it’s a good job!  It’s not rainy season yet but after 100 days without rain the heavens have opened and every few days we are having thunder storms and rain – which is actually quite nice as it slightly cools down the air which can be stiflingly hot and humid at times (I swear it’s much hotter here than in Hat Yai).  The thunderstorms I can bear, but the power cuts that come along with them are a bit of an annoyance.  Five hours overnight with no electric and therefore no AC, no fan, no water (electric water pump) so no shower to cool off – not fun!

Cat by candlelight.  Romantic.  Sweaty.
Cat by candlelight. Romantic. Sweaty.

School is going really well.  To begin with I wasn’t quite sure what I needed to be doing and it was a case of making up my own jobs as the teacher I am currently helping out is only covering maternity leave for the actual teacher.  After a few weeks we have figured out a routine that makes the days go quickly and get all the jobs done.  Working in an international school with high tuition fees means that we have a high level of accountability to ensure that each child is read with x amount of times a week, that books are checked and marked y times a week and z amount of homework is given out and taken back.

The actual year 6 teacher will be coming back from maternity leave in just under a month, when the routine I have gotten into will no doubt be pulled apart and turned upside down and I will have a whole new way of working to get my head around.  But once I’ve got my head around that one, at least it won’t be changing any time soon!

On the last day of term (yes, I’m on holiday already) we had the school sports day which couldn’t be any different from the almost-Olympic extravaganza that I went through at my last school.  In contrast, emphasis was placed on the actual sport (would you believe it) and there was the smallest of opening ceremonies that didn’t involve an overnight stay at the school, a 4.30 am wake up, ten tonnes of make up and a 3km walk in the searing heat for me.  So overall, a much better experience!  We even had teacher’s races and a parents v. teachers tug of war – just like the sports days I used to have at school when I was younger!

The whole day culminated with a sponsored swimathon being completed by the teachers with two teamss swimming 5km each.  I contributed a pathetic 150m but considering I don’t really swim, it was the best I could do.  It helps that the pool is really nice.  Maybe I will take up swimming after school… another benefit to working at an international school is being able to use really good facilities.

My school pool.
My school pool.

I’m not sporty at all so my participation in the entire day was a bit of a shock to the system – when we were told to just come in our usual sports gear I had to go on a shopping spree to buy shorts and my first pair of actual trainers.  Who knows if they will get any more use?  I’d like to think now I have the kit maybe I could go for a run or maybe join in one of the outdoor aerobics classes you see all over Thailand in car parks on weekday evenings – let’s see… it would make for an interesting post I suppose!

So that’s all really for the update.  I’m on Easter/Songkran holiday now for the next two weeks so hopefully the storms clear up and I can get some sunshine.  Can someone do a sun dance for me please?

 

Life of Phu – week one

The sun is setting on my first week in Phuket.

We’ve found a house, had a little explore and everything is in order for my first day at my new school tomorrow.

I have spent the week with one of my best friends who stopped over for the week on her way from Australia back to the UK.  We’ve been basically camping in the new house as we haven’t organised moving the furniture up from Hat Yai yet (the one major thing still left to sort out…).

As I had a week off to move house we took the opportunity to be tourists for a while, having a little explore of the south of the island, visiting some beaches, the Big Buddha, eating lots of Thai food (which I am falling back in love with all over again) and even spending the night boozing on Bangla road (had to be done) and passing out in what is probably the cheapest hostel in Patong!  My camera is back in Hat Yai so photos were limited to my iPhone (which didn’t come out in Patong with us) and what I could steal from Helen, but here are a few snapshots of what I got up to in my first week in Phuket.

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First day of school tomorrow – wish me luck!