Tag - where to stay

Guiding Jumbo

“You’ll have to jump, she won’t listen to me,” came the inspired words of the mahout. I was somewhat dubious of clearing the space between the rickety platform and the leathery back. The giant eye looked me up and down, and then gave me a mischievous wink. I figured it was only a matter of time before the platform would collapse, so I took my chances. This was my first experience with elephant rides, over a decade ago. Today, visitors to Thailand are no longer required to content themselves as pachyderm passengers with no control.

Beyond those flirty eyelashes are intelligent creatures with their own thoughts, memories and even a sense of humour. These old souls form a unique bond with the mahouts that guide them – and this world is now accessible to visitors of the National Elephant Institute (formerly known as the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre), a division of the Forestry Industry Organization, in Lampang. Working with these clever creatures is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most tourists.

Homestays and mahout training courses help people to get closer to elephants and learn more about the mahouts’ way of life. The homestay programme has been going for approximately five years and has become especially popular with foreign visitors. “There are about 100 participants each month coming from the UK, Australia, America and other far away destinations,” says Wilawan Intawong, Homestay Coordinator. Visitors can choose to stay from just one day, up to three days and two nights.

The institute tries to provide each customer with their own elephant for the duration of the programme, however, sometimes guests must share if there is a large group. “There are only 10 elephants in the homestay programme at this time,” says Intawong. “We only use the best trained elephants to ensure the safety of our customers.” The 50 or so elephants at the institute are raised ‘semi-wild’: they work at the centre during the day and are returned to sleep and feed in the jungle at night.

Homestay guests sleep in one of three rustic homestay bungalows, each with three bedrooms – one for the mahout and two for guests to share. The open-air common area and kitchen come together to form an ideal space where the group can cook with the mahout and everyone can get to know each other in the evenings. “We have many guests who say the accommodation is too comfortable,” chuckles Intawong. “They are looking for a rougher experience – but they all have a good time anyway.” Other activities include: watching the mahouts as they make woodcarvings of elephants, visiting the Elephant Hospital, learning how to make elephant dung paper, and participating in the elephant show. “Many homestay participants become repeat customers in following years,” says Intawong, testifying to the quality of the programme.

A slightly different, but equally exciting programme is provided by the Mahout Training School, which was established to train real mahouts – not just tourists. Today, the centre receives significant interest in mahout training from visitors, who can take part in programmes lasting from one day to one month. Mahout trainees sleep at the school and in the jungle with their elephants. The school allows those interested in experiencing the life of mahouts and elephants firsthand to do so in a natural but relatively safe environment. Guests not only learn how to ride an elephant but also how to care for it. One of the most important aspects of the course is learning elephant behaviours and commands used by the mahouts. Mahout trainees learn actual commands in Thai so they can communicate with their charges. Intawong says “It takes about three days to learn all the commands, but putting them into practice might take longer.”

“There are typically two mahouts to each elephant,” says Intawong. The word for ‘mahout’ in Thai is kwaan, and there is a kwaan kaaw (neck mahout) and kwaan theen (foot mahout). She explains, “This dates back from the logging days, when there was one mahout on the elephant’s neck to guide it and another by its feet to coordinate the movement of the timber.”

There are no women mahouts at TECC, and in fact, Intawong has never seen a female mahout at all. She says, “Being a mahout is like being married to the elephant, and this makes it difficult, if not impossible, to have a [human] family.” Mahouts form a deep bond with their elephants, spending the majority of their lives with them. When the elephants are chained in the jungle at night and one of them cries out, that elephant’s mahout can distinguish its voice from all the others and will go to its aid.

A mahout at the centre for 20 years, 55-year-old Pbun is now working with his third elephant since the age of 15, when he first started training to be a mahout at another village. He says, “I wake up at 5am every day to collect my elephant Tantawan (‘Sunflower’ in Thai) from the jungle and then bathe her.” Tantawan, along with many other elephants at the centre, has the important task of giving rides to tourists and other visitors. She works a few times a day, taking turns with the other elephants and finishing at 3.30pm to head back to the jungle. Mahouts at the centre only get four days off per month to go back to their hometowns. “Being a mahout is fun, but it takes a lot of dedication and true love of your elephant,” says Pbun.

Thai Elephant Conservation Center
KM 28-29 Lampang-Chiang Mai Highway
Hangchat District, Lampang 52190

Tel. 054-247-875

Email

By Chantana Jasper

Khao San Road in Italian

Certo, leggendo semplicemente il nome potrebbe sembrare una via o una strada come tante altre: potrebbe essere adornata da eleganti vetrine, ingiallita dallo scorrere del tempo o allietata da viali alberati. Potrebbe trovarsi ad Hong Kong, Londra o Berlino, forse in una tranquilla provincia del sud dell’Inghilterra. Ma non è così.

Khao San Road è una strada con una propria identità ed una propria storia che la rendono diversa da qualsiasi altra via. Anzi, definirla strada è certamente riduttivo, perché in fondo Khao San è un piccolo mondo con i propri attori, è la terra delle mille culture e delle molteplici nazionalità, dove tutti sono benvenuti.

Khao San Road è unica e si trova nel cuore di Bangkok.

Alex Garland la definisce come il passaggio obbligato per tutti coloro che sono appena giunti in Thailandia o che si apprestano a lasciare la terra del sorriso: per molti, in fondo, è davvero così, perché a Khao San non si vive, si transita.

Può affascinarti, puoi detestarla o esserne infastidito, ma non puoi ignorarla.

Al primo impatto Khao San Road ti stordisce: le mille luci, gli odori forti, la moltitudine di persone attraverso cui riesci a stento a muoverti, le bancarelle stracolme di ogni bene, i soldi che passano veloci di mano in mano, le guesthouse e i locali che ti invitano ad ogni passo. Si stabilisce un rapporto, non necessariamente dagli aspetti positivi od esaltanti, perché le contraddizioni sono parte di Khao San.

Poi inizi ad avere confidenza con quell’ambiente così particolare e forse inizi anche a sentirti a tuo agio, quasi fossi a casa tua o comunque in un luogo amico.

Ma come nasce questa Mecca dei viaggiatori? Nel 1982, nel bicentenario della fondazione ufficiale di Bangkok, il governo Thai lanciò una serie di iniziative per festeggiare la ricorrenza, attirando nella capitale migliaia di turisti stranieri.

Molti viaggiatori, che non potevano permettersi il lusso di una stanza d’albergo, convinsero gli abitanti di Khao San Road ad affittare le proprie stanze, tanto per avere un piccolo guadagno extra. Il business delle guesthouse generò in brevissimo tempo dei profitti impensabili fino a poco prima. Nel girò di pochi anni fiorirono centinaia di guesthouse, ristoranti e negozietti di souvenir.

Dal lento brulicare delle prime ore del mattino fino al rapido e vorticoso crescendo che porta in strada migliaia di viaggiatori, Khao San rimane immobile eppure sempre in movimento. Tutti se andranno, l’abbandoneranno carichi di sacchetti di plastica ricolmi di magliette e costumi, uno zaino sulle spalle e pochi soldi, ma altri giungeranno e molti torneranno, perché Khao San, come la Thailandia, non si dimentica, rimane con noi come una sensazione o un ricordo vago che ogni tanto riaffora e, solo per un istante, ci fa viaggiare nel tempo.

Meditation in Bangkok

Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok

There’s no doubt about it, Thailand is a genuine draw for the spiritually inclined. Every year, thousands of people visit the kingdom to step away from the material and gain an insight into themselves and the world around them. While many “spiritual tourists” might envisage gaining enlightenment through fasting and sitting cross-legged under the torrents of one of Thailand’s many crystal-clear waterfalls, few might consider a trip to Bangkok’s main business/entertainment area a step down a spiritual path. And that just might be a shame… because it just might be what they are looking for.

Sukhumvit Road in the center of Bangkok is more recognized as street of excess than a place of retreat. It’s where people work hard, play hard and enjoy the bounty of riding the back of one of Asia’s more successful tigers. Yet, like elsewhere in the capital, pockets of spiritual resistance exist providing a ongoing reminder of just what is important in life. Fortunately, for visitors and expats wishing to learn more about the spiritual elements that forge this kingdom’s unique identity, there are people around that are willing and able to offer tutelage and guidance in a language many foreigners understand – plain English.

I recently visited a one-day meditation workshop held at Ariyasom Villa Boutique Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 1 in Bangkok. Unlike many of the hotels in the area, Ariyasom is genuinely fetching – built in 1942 as a family home it is still owned by the family that built it, and they really have made the most out of everything they’ve got. The hotel grounds are not huge, yet their design gives the impression of a vast area that you can wonder through and get lost in. Ariyasom’s gardens offer various nooks and crannies that you can walk around and find yourself a bit of personal space – probably one of the reasons this is an ideal location for a mediation workshop.

As a Brit, and a northerner at that, I haven’t made too many sorties into the world of the spiritual. Although it’s got a few Thai restaurants and Chinese takeaways, there aren’t that many temples or the like in mid-Cheshire. So, although I didn’t know what to expect from this workshop, I did, to some extent, expect to be a fish out of water. It was then very reassuring then to find out that Pandit Bhikkhu, owner of Littlebang and one of the organizers of the workshop, was in fact not Thai like I thought, but from Altrincham, a small town only a few miles from my home. In addition, David Lees, the broadminded owner of Ariyasom, proved to be a foreigner from Mere, which is even closer to my home than Altrincham! At that point in time, the three of us standing there was probably the only incidence of three Cheshire Cats being in the same room at the same time in the whole of Southeast Asia… well, at least I thought so.

Aside from its splendor, Ariyasom has even more surprises. Whereas most hotels in the area push restaurants and “discos” into every spare inch available, Ariyasom offers a spacious, dedicated meditation area replete with a bedroom for visiting monks… That certainly is a first for me.

“My wife is Thai and has been involved in meditation for a number of years,” suggested David Lees. “In fact she runs a blog about meditation. We rebuilt Ariyasom with meditation in mind. With a dedicated facility it’s easy for us to run events on a regular basis. There’s a decent-sized community of English-speaking Buddhists in Bangkok, and we help cater for them. Our events also extend to visitors to Thailand looking to learn more about Thai-style meditation. We get a good mix of people and I think people enjoy our workshops and benefit from them.”

David and his wife obviously talk the talk and walk the walk. While other hotels in the area might squeeze every cent out of their visitors, arriving at 08:30 before the start of the meditation workshop, I was greeted by hot coffee, Pa Thong Ko (the deep fried doughnuts that are a traditional Thai breakfast) and juice – all free of charge. As the day progressed, hot coffee was on tap and a vegetarian lunch was provided, again, free of charge. At the end of the day a variety of Thai fruit was on offer. Alongside offering a huge air-conditioned room for the comfort of meditators, catering for around 30 people in this way was not likely to be a cheap affair.

The workshop itself was also free of charge, and like David said, attracted a mix of backpackers, tourists and well-healed expats, although as the bulk of people seem to know each other, the latter did appear to dominate. The workshop was, not surprisingly, insightful – the Vipassana meditation being taught is better known as “Insight Meditation”. The instruction was provided by Aussie Mike Sansom and German Helge Sansom. Both are trainers at Wat Kow Tahm (Mountain Cave Monastery) International Meditation Center on Koh Phangan in southern Thailand. Mike and Helge walked beginners and veterans alike through the techniques and methodology of Vipassana meditation and the instruction proved both accessible and pragmatic.

Basically, mediation offers the opportunity to reflect. We were told to sit, eyes closed and consider the in and out of our breathing. Directing my awareness towards my breathing proved both easy and difficult at the same time. Becoming aware of my breathing generated a stillness that was immediately accessible, but it was also very easy to drift off into a reverie of thought without really noticing where my mind was going. It’s was sometimes very hard to pull myself away from thoughts of bills, work, commitments, family, and curiously, the theme music to 1980’s British TV program, “Black Beauty” – quite where that came from I dread to think. Obviously some deep and dark place. However, as Mike pointed out, any awareness was beneficial, and as Helge suggested, making a mental note of the mental distractions put them in their place and allowed you to revert to concentrating on breathing. In fact, this for me was the most valuable thing I took away from the day… Just sitting quietly like this, acknowledging the thoughts that entered my head allowed me to really understand exactly what was on my mind. 
    
Later, we were introduced to walking meditation. Although I followed the instruction and understood the technique, the sight of people walking around and meditating at the same time was a little spooky I thought. The technique is intended to be used while you are in motion and with your eyes open. It requires full awareness of your body, its movement, and even the ground beneath your feet and the feeling pressure stepping on the ground creates. I honestly couldn’t do it in front of people, not for fear how I looked, but genuine fear of how others looked. To practice this I needed to find a bit of space well away from others, and fortunately this was possible at Ariyasom.

We were also introduced to guided meditation leading to compassion and understanding. Helge introduced the meditation using an everyday scenario: You are in a shop; the check out desk is slow and you are being inconvenienced. This causes anxiety and perhaps even rage. You might even be moved to complain. However, although these emotions appear to be driven by external events, they are, in fact, only your reaction to external events. Changing your perception, through an injection of compassion, will help alleviate YOUR anxiety. Perhaps the checkout girl is having a bad day; perhaps she has financial problems or other problems at home; perhaps even she has just found out she has lost her job and today is her last day. Each of these possible scenarios would account for today, and each, with compassion, would be fully understandable.

At the end of the day’s workshop, I can honestly say I felt very refreshed – a similar feeling to that you get after having a weekend away, and yet it was really only a few hours. I really did feel I had been given some tools that would help and enrich my daily life. I felt better for the workshop. Our introduction to compassion and understanding was though immediately put to the test. During the latter stages of the workshop, a freak thunderstorm dumped what appeared to be thousands of tons of water into Soi 1. Not surprisingly, given the downfall, the Soi was completely flooded… and just to be fair – this really is the exception rather than the rule in Bangkok these days.

Even if you are only Bangkok for a couple of days, likelihood is there will be something happening that will provide you with the type of experience I had on Sukhumvit Road. Key places at look for events have already been mentioned – the Littlebang website gives broad details on what’s happening in Bangkok while mind.matters.at.ariyasom will provide you with specific details of what’s happening at Ariyasom.

I really recommend that you get involved in something while you are here. At the very least, you’ll take home with you a greater understanding into what Thais find commonplace, and that in itself, will be much more of an understanding of Thailand than some take home with them.

Staff Writer

Cafe Democ – Back to the Source

Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand

Khao San Road is renowned as one of the best places for nightlife both in the Bangkok capital and elsewhere in the Kingdom of Thailand. Sitting alongside excellent restaurants and pubs, KSR’s clubs now rank parallel with Sukhumvit 11 haunts as some of THE places to visit when in town. Given the importance of the strip’s role in catering to global club officiados, the fact that Cafe Democ is seldom included in any foreign clubber’s itinerary remains a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

For those in the know, a trip to Cafe Democ is very much a trip to the source – to where it all began. Despite its unimposing architecture and presence (by Bangkok club standards anyway), Cafe Democ is the spiritual home of Bangkok’s club scene. Opened in 1999 and located on a corner of Democracy Monument (hence its name), Cafe Democ is no more than a 10-minute walk from Khao San Road and is where the seed of local DJ talent was nurtured into the vibrant scene that exists today.

As I sit outside the club with owner Mr. Apichart – or Tui to his friends – we talk against a backdrop of some killer homegrown Drums and Bass. “This is not really a club to me,” suggests Tui wistfully. “I also own club Culture, a big club in the center of town. That to me is a club – this (Cafe Democ) is my home! This is where I was brought up,” he enthuses.

Now in his 40s, Tui started life as a DJ at Diana’s in 1984, one of Bangkok’s leading clubs back in the day. There he pumped out Madonna, Michael Jackson, and any other commercial sound his undiscerning audience fancied. At the time the local talent for even this was limited, and UK companies would send DJs out to Thai venues to entertain the masses.

The DJs brought a smattering of club sounds that although established in the west, represented something of a revolution in Thailand. Rubbing shoulders with these DJs, Tui’s tastes changed, as did that of his audience. Slowly, seamlessly, pockets of resistance to commercial music emerged and along with it local DJs experimented. Thailand’s first real underground music scene was born.

“15 years ago Bangkok was the leading place for club music in Southeast Asia,” adds Tui. “DJs from places like Singapore and Hong Kong came over here to sample the scene. Unfortunately, as with other places in the world, in 90s the club scene became synonymous with drug culture. Drugs pretty much killed the underground. The police closed venues, and Bangkok became a bit of a wilderness. Hip Hop changed that.”

“Local artists like Joey Boy made Hip Hop respectable and brought it into the mainstream,” he continued. “Once there, the scene emerged again – it was a safe environment where people could experiment with sounds. Clubs and DJs started to flourish again, and Cafe Democ was there to help things along. Local DJs came here to play exactly what they wanted, with no commercial pressure. We brought over the occasional international act, but primarily, Cafe Democ was for local DJs”.

The scene grew to the extent that Cafe Democ DJs turned professional and a number of venues emerged to cater for the increased demand for club music. RCA flourished and places like Astra (now Club 808) went from strength to strength. Many of those venues though stuck to a more traditional format, catering for Bangkok’s party scene.

“Cafe Democ is no Route 66,”suggested Tui, talking about a famous RCA club where patrons dance around small tables to top 30 US tunes alongside more commercial local sounds. “There’s a genuine sub-culture around these days. This sub-culture has had to be resilient. It’s faced ‘Social Order’ issues that placed curfews on clubbers, political uncertainty, and of course bouts of economic downturn. Despite all of this, the scene remains healthy and you can experience it at Cafe Democ.”

These days Cafe De Moc serves up an eclectic assortment of sounds – Electro, Mash Up, Drums and Bass, and despite its proximity to KSR, caters to a predominantly Thai crowd (often based out of Thammasat University) and a few expats who speak a smattering of Thai. Things warm up around 23:30, but before that people sit around and enjoy the great local food Cafe De Moc offers its punters.

“We don’t have the marketing budget,” suggested Tui when asked why Cafe De Moc doesn’t compete with some of the brasher places on KSR. “Nowadays foreigners only stay on Khao San for a couple of days and then they are off. It’s not like before when they used to stay up to a couple of months and really get to know the area, including this place (Cafe De Moc).”

Cafe De Moc does though have a small but loyal foreign clientele. DJ Curmi (?) from Brighton, UK was there the night we visited. He wasn’t playing; he was just hanging out. “I love this place,” he confided. “This is where it all started and it’s still going strong. I come here every time I am in Thailand. It’s not like one of the big Sukhimvit clubs – it’s very intimate”.

Cafe De Moc opens nightly until about 1:30 in the morning. If you are looking for a slice of the local scene, it’s well worthy of a visit. It’s usually free to get in and there’s a solid line up of acts.

Check out the much less than pretentious Cafe De Moc website to see what’s on offer.

Check out the toilets for excellent graffiti!

cafe-democ_map

Look Daddy – a Shopping Mall!

Although Buddy Lodge is certainly not a shopping mall, with local building restrictions, it’s as close as you will get on Khao San. Venturing into the building, there’s a general sense of this being a world within a world. Everything you can find on Khao San is there – the silver shops, accommodation, the bar – but it’s all a notch up market and there’s a very distinct feel of smooth professionalism about the place. There seems to be a problem with parking though – there’s a number of classic motorcycles abandoned throughout the building. (more…)

British Prisoners in Thailand

British Prisoners in ThailandWe contacted the British Embassy in Bangkok to find out more for people looking for relatives and loved ones who they think might be in prison in Thailand and asked them for information for people who are interested in visiting British prisoners while they are visiting Thailand.

Here is our email: 

Mr. James

I am the founder of www.khaosanroad.com – a website dedicated to budget travel in Thailand and the Khao San Road area of Bangkok. We regularly receive emails from people with queries regarding foreign prisoners in Bangkok and Thailand, especially British prisoners. The queries are varied but often follow one of a couple of themes:

1)  People looking for information on how they can visit foreign prisoners when they are in Thailand, and
2)  People looking for relatives who they believe might actually be in prison in Thailand.

For the former point, we have some information gathered from visitors who have been through the process of visiting prisoners, but the information always leads to the same point – people must get a list of current prisoners from the relevant embassy. In addition, the information we provide is far from comprehensive.

For the latter point, very little seems to be available on the Internet about how people can go about finding out if one of their relatives is in prison in Thailand, and again, the trial leads to the British and other embassies.

I was therefore wondering to what extent the British Embassy in Thailand might be able to officially comment in these two issues in a fashion that might be published on www.khaosanroad.com.

I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Very best regards

John Hughes

Here is the British Embassy’s reply:

Dear John,

Many thanks for your e-mail. There are a number of the British nationals who are in prison in Thailand, who have indicated that they are willing to receive visitors. The major difficulty is that the visiting times in the prisons vary according to which room number the prisoner is in. It is best for anyone who wishes to go on a visit, and is serious about their visit, to contact us for more detailed information. When can they tell them who they can visit and exactly what the visiting days and times are. But what I am keen to avoid are frivolous enquiries from people who do not follow through with the visit.

The Royal Thai Police are required to notify the Embassy of the arrest of any British national in Thailand. Anyone who believes that a relative has been arrested or is in prison should contact us, unless they are in the UK. In the UK they contact the Thailand Desk of the Consular Directorate in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Telephone 0207 008 0105. But, for data protection reasons, we can only confirm the details of anyone who has been arrested or is in prison if they consent.

I hope that this information helps.

Yours sincerely,

Neill James
Vice-Consul British Embassy, Bangkok 1031
Wireless Road
Lumpini
Pathumwan
Bangkok
10330

So, there you have it – contact the British Embassy in Bangkok if you are looking for someone who might be in prison AND if you want to visit British prisoners. However, in the latter case, make sure you are serious about the visit.

Animal Rescue – THE BEACH DOGS

Animal Rescue the Beach DogsKoh Tao is a small island surrounded by the calm expanse of the Gulf of Thailand. This may be a tropical paradise for visitors but for the many ownerless dogs that live there it is far from paradise. Ravaged by mange, hungry and often frightened, they parade the beach in packs each tribe fiercely protecting their self-designated territory. This is a place where the law of the jungle pervades, survival of the fittest. But the only food source is that provided by humans – the scraps from the restaurants. The dominant male pecking order often means that the weakest get no food at all. In fact these dogs at the lower end of the scale are often cast out from the tribe.


Noi’s story

In April of this year myself, my friend Miranda and her eight year old son Jordan visited Koh Tao. On our second day we met a small black mongrel that we later called Noi – which is Thai for little one. She had been rejected by the pack because she had weak back legs and a clubfoot, she was starving and infected by maggots. We fed her up and managed to enlist the help of the pharmacist to procure some anti-biotics from the nearby Koh Samui island. After I jabbed her she ran off and we didn’t see her for three days. We thought she was dead. Then one evening when we were walking along the beach in the sunset she appeared from nowhere. At first we weren’t sure if it was the same dog because she looked so much better. She followed us around faithfully from then on and spent the nights on our balcony. By now we were completely hooked and wanted to take her home with us but it seemed impossible. We would have to leave her behind.

When we came back to the UK we couldn’t stop thinking about Noi. I discovered that there was a Dog Rescue Centre on the nearby Koh Samui island and we made contact with Bridget and her husband Hans who run the centre. After another month of deliberation we decided that the only thing to do was to go back and get Noi. Bridget put us in contact with another Brit who had done the same thing – Roger Cooper. Roger had had a similar experience with his dog Gypsy. He had become attached to her during a holiday and when he and his family returned thirteen months later the dog recognised them instantly. The clincher was when they got into a taxi for a sight seeing trip and the dog ran after the taxi for a mile and a half and then sat in the road howling.

Miranda can speak fleunt Thai which was to be a great help. When we arrived there we took the photo we had taken of Jordan and Noi around to the different restaurants but no one had seen her. There were a few heart stopping days when we thought she was dead. Then she suddenly turned up but she was in a pretty bad state. She was sicker than before and was covered in mange and wouldn’t eat. Over the next few days we fed her up and gave her some anti bioitics and Vitamin C. But now there was another problem. Whilst they were looking for Noi another outcast had attached himself to us another black mongrel who we called Star. Since we’d first met Star someone had thrown stones at him and he was now hobbling on three legs. We decided that we would take him with us to the vet at the dog’s home in Koh Samui, fix him up and return him to the island.

The only way from Koh Toa to Koh Samui is by speedboat and it’s a pretty rocky journey. The journey by jeep to the jetty and then the crossing to Koh Samui with two dogs, a kid and luggage was a challenge particularly as the dogs wouldn’t walk on leads and had to be carried. But probably most challenging of all was the continual vomiting of little Star on the speed boat that reached such a pitch that we wanted to throw him overboard!

Arriving at Koh Samui we were met by the motorbike and sidecar from the dogs home. The dogs were loaded up and Star howled all the way the rescue centre. We had to go between two different vets to get the dogs injected, get their vaccinations and get Star’s leg fixed and then take them back to the rescue centre. By the time we arrived our hotel we were exhausted. We stayed on Koh Samui for the next few days visiting Noi and Star and generally helping out at the rescue centre. By now we had another dilemma. Star was really attached to us how could we take him back to the life of a beach dog where anything might happen? After much soul searching we decided to bring Star home.

To prepare for the next leg of the journey – the flight from Koh Samui to Bangkok, the airline had insisted that the dogs be sedated until they were asleep. The quarantine kennel here in the UK had expressly said not to sedate them because of the danger of hypothermia. A double dose of tranquilliser was administered to Noi because the first one didn’t seem to work.

When we arrived at Bangkok the dogs were actually sent out on the conveyor belt with the luggage!!! Miranda and I went off to sort out some documentation and whilst we were away Jordan, thinking that Noi didn’t look too good, put his hand into the cage and in her drugged state Noi bit him and wouldn’t let go. He started screaming. It took a security guard to prise her off. We came back to find Jordan in tears and blood all over the floor. We had to bundle the two dogs, still in their cages, Jordan and the luggage off to the nearby private hospital where Jordan had to have rabies and a tetanus injection and get his wound cleaned and his arm bandaged. We dropped the dogs off with Tai – the contact in Bangkok that Bridget from the rescue centre had arranged and dragged ourselves off to the hotel.

At nine o’clock the next morning Tai rang the hotel. There was a problem. The excessive dose of the tranquilliser may have caused Noi to go blind. We rushed to Tai’s. Things didn’t look good. Noi’s eyes were completely blue. Thankfully over the next few days her sight returned.

Noi and Star came out of quarantine in February and there were quite a handful – to say the least! But now they are house trained and understand basic commands. Star is very nervous of other dogs and this makes him quite aggressive to them but both of the dogs are great with humans. Soon they are going off for an intensive four week live in training course with Brian from Just For Dogs. He has a fantastic reputation for non aggressive training methods with amazing results.

This experience has led me to start a charity the Noistar Thai Dog Rescue to help the hundred of dogs still on the island. The Noistar Thai Dog Rescue intends to introduce a neutering and education programme to bring the dog population under control and thereby improve the quality of life for both the humans and the canines who inhabit the island. We will involve local people directly in this programme as well as targeting tourists to act more responsibly.

There will be a clinic on the island, which is already running with a bare staff of volunteers, this will be the focus for the medical and educational activities.

Koh Tao should be a refuge for the beach dogs that live there. With help they would be able to exist in harmony with the islanders and the many thousands of visitors that go there each year. We may not be able to change the world but we can change an island.

If you are interested in helping out contact Laura at laura@hummingbird-films.co.uk

Kota Bharu, Malaysia

Kota Bharu, Malaysia
Kota Bharu, Malaysia

Although the city of Kota Bahru is often overlooked by visitors to the north of Malaysia, those who take the time to explore will find that there is plenty to see and do here. Kota Bahru is often referred to as the Islamic City, and this is the perfect place to get a feel for the rich history and culture of this part of the world.
Kota Bahru boasts a number of vibrant markets, which are ideal places to indulge in a spot of people watching, while those who are in search of something cheap and tasty will also find some of the best selections of eateries scattered in and around the city’s markets.

Wander around Independence Square – Padang Merdek – and you will find a large number of museums and the Balai Besar or Royal Palace. This elegant building is a great place to explore, while nearby is the interesting octagonal building of the Pesar Besar central market.

When it comes to seeing the sights, Kota Bahru features a number of interesting places of worship, and while most are devoted to the Muslim faith, there are also a few Buddhist temples to explore here. Sun worshippers will also be in their element, as a few pristine stretches of sand can be found on the outskirts of the city.

A great way to see the area around Kota Bharu is to embark on a two hour river cruise along Sungai Galas down to Dabong. Rafting along the river is also popular and trips can easily be arranged.

Another good excursion is the Stong Waterfall, which about 900 metres high and is said to be the highest waterfall in Southeast Asia. Combine a trip to the waterfall with a visit to the impressive collection of caves at Gua Ikan, before finishing the day with a delicious, cheap evening meal at the night market, known as Pasar Malam in the Malay language.

While the people of this conservative city are welcoming towards visitors, it is best to follow the example set by those who live here and cover up. Women in particular are advised to dress conservatively, and it is also best to avoid making public displays of affection, as this is likely to cause offense.

Sungai Petani, Malaysia

sungai_petani_1Welcome to Sungai Petani, a friendly town in the northern state of Kedah. Farming is very much the lifeline of this region and even the name Sungai Petani means ‘Farmer’s River’ in the Malay language.

This interesting town has plenty to entertain tourists and is a great place to take a break before exploring the rest of the country. There are a number of lush green parks to explore as well as interesting buildings, dense jungle and sandy beaches where you can soak up the sun or swim in the cool waters.

To get an idea of the size and beauty of this area, climb to the top of Gunung Jerai, which is the tallest mountain. There is a 15 mile trekking route which winds its way to the top of the mountain and the somewhat challenging climb to the top is rewarded by spectacular views of the Straits of Malacca and the surrounding jungle.

Heading back to the town, pay a visit to the Jalan Ibrahim, which is a large clock tower located on Sungai Petani’s main street. Built in 1936, the clock tower measures a little over 12 meters and was given to George V and Queen Mary to commemorate their Silver Jubilee.

As you wander through the centre of town you will come to Jubli Perak or Silver Jubilee public park, which is a great place to take a break and sit in the shade for a while. Another great recreational area is Bird Park, where you will see a large collection of our feathered friends roaming in a large leafy area.

Travellers who want to relax and unwind for a while can go fishing in many of the rivers, lakes and streams that can be found in this part of the world, while those who want to get back into the swing of things can do so with a round or two of golf.

The Carnivall is Kedah’s first water park and attracts people from all over the state. Situated in the grounds of Cinta Sayang Golf and Country Resort, the Carnivall has been open for less than two years and is a great place to cool off.

Pantai Merdeka is a popular beach destination and features a large number of seafood restaurants and closest point to the nearby islands of Pulau Bidan and Pulau Telor.

Those who are searching for local flavour will want to head on over to the farmer’s Market, which is held in the very heart of the town on Mondays and Thursdays throughout the year.

Langkawi, Malaysia

Langkawi, MalaysiaLangkawi is the number one Malaysian holiday destination for many tourists, featuring a number of tropical palm fringed beaches with clear sea and sandy beaches as well as jungle and forests to walk through. With a name that translates roughly as the land of all one’s wishes, many people come to Langkawi to live out their tropical island fantasies.

Many people intend to visit Langkawi for a day or two and end up extending their stay, seduced by the natural beauty of this large and lovely island. This is a great time to visit Langkawi as it has been recently been given a face lift, with the addition of the Telaga Harbour Park.

The highlight of Langkawi has to be its beautiful beaches. There are a number to choose from, and the most popular include Pantai Cenang, Burau Bay, Pantai Kok and Pantai Datai. Water sports such as snorkeling, sailing and kayaking are popular here, while many people are content to simply lay to the sand.

If you are feeling adventurous, take a tour through the islands lush mangroves. There many tours to choose from including cruises, kayaking and nature walks. There is also an island hopping tour which gives visitors the chance to explore some of the hundreds of uninhabited islands in the area.

A fantastic way to see Langkawi is by taking the cable car to the very top of Gunung Mat Cincang. Walk across the sky bridge for spectacular views of the numerous surrounding islands. Hiring a bike and cycling through the countryside is a good way to enjoy the scenery and provides the opportunity to spot some of Langkawi’s colourful birds.

A great time to visit Langkawi is in April to take part in the wild and wet Langkawi International Water Festival. Other interesting festivals include the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace exhibition in November, December’s Langkawi Arts and Crafts Festival and the Langkawi International Festival of Arts.

There are many ways to reach Langkawi, and particularly popular is the ferry from the nearby island of Penang, which is located to the very north of Malaysia. There are also regular ferries from southern parts of Thailand such as Saturn and Ko Lipe.

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