lisbonchick

Adventures

Posts by lisbonchick

Lockdown in Phuket 2020

Yesterday, our village, Bang Tao, was finally allowed to roam free once again. After having become the epicentre of the virus on the island, a strict lockdown was enforced in Bang Tao. This was ok until the rest of the island reopened and we remained locked in. Frustrations started to rise and locals gathered at the road block saying they were dissatisfied. As with most things in Thailand, there was no violence and people went back to their lockdown quietly. The road block remained…

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In January people started wearing masks and taking precautions in Bangkok. The first novel coronavirus infection in Thailand was reported on 13 January 2020, making it the first country outside China to report such infection. Still, it all seemed kind of ok and not really a worry. By February, things were not so good! Masks, hand sanitisers, temperature control. By March, things started to look pretty serious, Thailand recorded the highest jump on 19 March.

The country was placed under a state of emergency on 26 March which continues to this day. Many regions were placed under lockdown, borders were closed and all foreigners stopped from entering the country. In Phuket, the airport and the bridge were closed; the airport remains closed and the bridge is open for those who want to leave the island to return to their home in other provinces.

So, how has life been under lockdown? Here are some photos of closed roads.

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One of the first we came across

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By our house

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By our front door

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Stay off the beach they said!

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South of Phuket

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Near our house, first time we came across a closed beach

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Roadblocks became familiar but for us, we were soon to be further locked in as the virus took hold in Bang Tao, our small village. With limited access to anywhere, really, we found ways to amuse ourselves. Luckily, even though beaches are closed all over the island, Bang Tao beach has remained accessible. Perhaps because there is nobody here at all and often the beach is empty, the police do not seem too harsh on the few stragglers that occasionally appear on the beach.

Moody skies

Monsoon season has arrived

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Initially, lockdown was very relaxed, roads were still opened and we could move around. It seemed fine, not much had changed except for less tourists which made it rather more pleasant for us. We took time cycling around the now quiet roads and enjoyed having the place to ourselves.

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Found a cashew nut tree

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…and some minions!

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Then the district lockdowns kicked in. Our world became small but it was about to become even smaller as the virus took hold in Bang Tao! We spent most of our time working which kept us sane. We got used to being together 24/7 which did not always keep us so sane. I discovered Honduran Zumba on YouTube and baked and baked. Walks on the beach kept us going and gave us a sense of freedom. We started to imagine that we were in the tiny island of Bang Tao with our own private beach – it worked well. The cats and the dog also took well to the lockdown.

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The shops are now slowly reopening, schools are to remain closed and the island remains quiet. Although it is idyllic, we are all too aware that a quiet island means that many people are not making the bare minimum to survive. It has been sobering to see how fragile the economy is here for some people who live on so little already and now simply have nothing.

The mental health impact has also been notable. I have had more enquiries which are domestic abuse related, people not coping with the kids being home and with home schooling and some finding it hard to face the world once again. We do not talk about this; it is always about how to cope during isolation but what about when we need to return to the “real world”? I, for one, am quite happy in this bubble, I do not look forward to being thrust back out there. This life is more peaceful, more flexible, more relaxed and we have all found that we do not need very much to be ok. A bit like Tanzania all over again, in a way. It is a reminder that we have more than enough and that is enough.

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The joy of being silly with friends

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Or alone!

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Can’t get to the shops, make your own burger buns. I am never buying burger buns again!

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Managed to get through a road block and have a sneaky ride

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One way to pass the time. Lotus flowers…

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More baking

People moan and they always will but I have been grateful for the way Thailand has handled this crisis. Initially, the response seemed to be slow but once they got going it all kicked into place. We have been well looked after. Temperature checks and hand sanitiser everywhere we go. House visits to check temperature and to deliver food essentials provided by the government. We also have excellent health care and we are not in an overcrowded place, many things to be grateful for.

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Shopping malls reopened with strict control measures

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Roadblock temperature checks

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Free food pantry 

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Government food deliveries

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Clean it up!

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Everyone is doing their bit by wearing masks

So, if you want some advice on what to watch on Netflix, let me know, I might just be able to help you out with that. Never has Netflix been so busy, did not know there was so much shit you could watch. How would we survive this without tech? Makes me wonder…

 

Marooned on a Tropical Island!

My last blog was in 2019; 2020 was on its way, full of promises, new opportunities and challenges and according to astrologists:

  • 2020 is all set to bring positive changes for all Zodiac signs. Hence, your 2020 will surely be full of positive vibes and happiness. Ok, right…
  • New onsets are always very exciting and astrology 2020 promises that and much more. There are plenty of good times ahead. Yeah, yeah…
  • On the first New Moon of 2020 which will be in Aquarius on 25th of January, the Yellow Earth Pig will finally wag its tail at us and depart handing over the reins of power to the White Metal Rat. Hmmm….

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So, here we are in the midst of a global pandemic; our worlds turned upside down, wondering how this virus will change the world and the way we live. Where will we be in 3 months, in 6 months, in one year? Nobody knows. Hopefully we will use this crisis to rebuild, produce something better and more humane. But we may slide into something worse. Who knows… I certainly have plenty of time on my hands to mull over my thoughts. Perhaps, a little too much time!

Life in Phuket is quiet and peaceful. We have food, we have water (well, not in my house at the moment) and we have electricity (for now, at least). The island has now been closed – bridge and ports are only open for very specific cargo. The airport will close in the next few days and beaches, shops, hotels and restaurants are closed but hey, we are marooned on a tropical island. Can’t say that is something that happens everyday.

On another note, the monkeys are going crazy as they are now not being feed by the thousands of tourists. There have been monkey riots and they are running around attacking everything desperate for food. STOP MESSING WITH ANIMALS!!!

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Bangkok In January – getting ready!

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No beach – nooooooo

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We are armed and dangerous

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The new reality

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How one local restaurant feels

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Everyone is now wearing masks

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You can even get them for babies!

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On our quest to go swimming, we finally found an empty beach – sometimes, forbidden fruit is truly wonderful

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Cat quarantine.

The worst thing so far has been renewing my visa. Two trips to a crowded, busy, very hot immigration office with plenty of forms and still no success. Hopefully, by the time you read this I will have been able to get it sorted.

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Before the world came to a standstill, we had some adventures though.

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“Our beach” at sunset

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Onto another viewpoint, this time in Phuket, Promthep Cape. Very lucky as it is usually packed but we were pretty much the only people there; maybe because it was so bloody hot!

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In our day to day life, we come across unusual things, like this display in a DIY shop in Phuket. Don’t ask…

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Another escapade into Coral Island. An amazing place for snorkeling and as there are no tourists around, we had the place almost to ourselves.

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Not my photo! Coral island beach with pontoon and reef.

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A truly beautiful place on our doorstep. Best of all (for us), there were no people around.

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From one beach to another with Marianne on Captain Hook. It was his first time on the beach and he loved it.

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United World College is a truly remarkable school. At UWC Thailand there are more than 60 nationalities in a school of 450 students. It is a place of diversity, unity and understanding where children and young people learn about each others cultures and engage in social change. This photo was taken during Pride week at UWC; it captures Marianne as a strong, proud young woman!

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And we are back in Bang Tao, on “our beach” where sadly we are not allowed to go at the moment.

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As I write this, more and more areas are going into lock down here in Phuket and road blocks are being put in place. Let’s see if we can beat this thing. At the moment, we can still drive around to certain areas but probably not for long… It is a time of some anxiety, for me getting sick scares me a little with the IBD as not sure how they might complement each other!

Being at home due to this virus has been a time of reframing our routines and learning to be together 24/7. It has been good so far; time to think, to reflect on our lives, to spend time together without stress, to focus on important things (like baking and chilling!) and to find out which friends are always there for us during hard times. There are some emotional ups and downs, mainly due to so much uncertainty although living in the moment is also very liberating. We will get through this one way or another….

Being at home and looking through photographs has unearthed these, some from a long time ago.

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One of my best buys. Make your toilet great again toilet brush!

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How I would look like as a man.

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Trip to Dublin on the Ducati, circa 1989

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Working for CAFOD in Mozambique, circa 1994

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Rasta waterfalls in Martinique, circa 1991

It is a good time to reminisce and to look forward to what is coming next. Stay safe dear friends.

More Asian and European wanderings….

As most of you know, my blogs are mainly about the photos with some information on the side. This one takes us to the end of 2019 and another set of adventures… Enjoy!

Another trip to Penang in Malaysia for yet another visa, no more until next year. At least Penang is an interesting and a fun place to spend two days at. This time I ventured out of town to see some temples and visited old Chinese mansions – there are plenty! Another great thing about Georgetown is the amazing Indian food, I always come back stuffed.

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Kek Lok Si Temple

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Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

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Sky Walk at Penang Hill

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Summer in Portugal never disappoints, in fact, we cannot think of many other places we would rather be. This time we explored Marvão and Castelo de Vide. What a stunning area; old medieval villages, castles and views to die for. If you like history, some of Castelo de Vide’s earliest inhabitants were the Romans who settled there in 44 BC. There is no shortage of cobbled streets, whitewashed houses with granite and gothic doorways.

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Castelo de Vide

20190624_10454920190624_10505820190624_11060820190624_11122220190624_11204420190624_163432We did a short hop to Cáceres in Spain which was truly amazing. The medieval walled city has been declared a UNESCO Heritage Site. Narrow cobbled streets twist and climb among ancient stone walls lined with palaces, mansions, arches and churches, while the skyline is decorated with turrets, spires, gargoyles and enormous storks’ nests. Protected by defensive walls, it has survived almost intact from its 16th-century. It is like stepping into the Middle Ages.

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Back to Marvão! A little bit of information from the internet as I love a bit of history: Perched on a quartzite crag of the Serra de São Mamede, Marvão’s name is derived from an 8th-century Muladi duke, named Ibn Marwan. Ibn Marwan, who constructed the Castle of Marvão – likely on the site of an earlier Roman watchtower – as a power base when establishing an independent statele – covering much of modern-day Portugal – during the Emirate of Cordoba (884-931 CE). The castle and walled village were further fortified through the centuries, notably under Sancho II of Portugal (13th century) and Denis of Portugal.

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Marvão by horse – can’t keep the girl away from these beasts….

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Evora

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As luck would have it, we stumbled upon Lisbon Pride, great fun!

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In Lisbon for the Santos Populares festivities

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Bansky exhibition in Lisbon

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LX Factory

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Quinta da Regaleira near Sintra is worth a visit. Never been there before and I am glad that I went! My favourites were the gardens, the secret tunnels and the inverted towers.

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Inverted tower

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The “other side” in Lisbon, across the bridge for lunch and to go up the Boca do Vento lift. Beautiful views and some cool graffiti.

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As a lover of graffiti, I took a day to explore and discover various murals around the city. There are some amazing graffiti artists around, here are some examples.

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Just a Lisbon doorway….

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EDP Headquarters, great modern architecture!

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My place!

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Some random photos of Phuket!

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Bang Tao beach, close to our house where we often go for sunsets.

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One my best buys of 2019! Make your toilet great again, Trump toilet brush.

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I wonder if he knows what his T-Shirt means….

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Getting ready for the rainy season in November

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How to make yourself confortable

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Phuket graffiti by Cece Nobre

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Phuket Town, no idea….

 

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Geoff finally finds out who he is

In April, we ventured into Laos to Luang Prabang. Beautiful town and we caught the Festival of Lights which celebrates Lai Heua Fai, in celebration of Boun Awk Phansa, the end of Buddhist Lent. The city was incredibly beautiful, illuminated by wax candles melting to pagodas and crepe paper lanterns hanging from temple roofs and the windows of local homes. Screen Shot 2020-01-19 at 12.35.53

 

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Going up to Mount Phou Si, 100 m high. It lies in the heart of the old town peninsula and is bordered on one side by the Mekong River and on the other side by the Nam Khan River. Amazing views and a lovely temple!

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I love bugs!

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The Mekong

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Moon bears sanctuary – these poor bears are trafficked and suffer a terrible fate. They are trafficked as exotic pets but many are imprisoned and abused in bear farms, where they are often kept in tiny cages, unable to move, while catheters are inserted into their gall bladders to extract their bile, believed to have a multitude of health benefits in
traditional medicines.

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Kuang Si waterfall, so beautiful!!!

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Just a walkabout in Luang Prabang

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And we end the year in Bangkok to see the Christmas lights. Over the top and extravagant as always. Bangkok is a city of extremes and excess, you either love it or hate it. I am not too fond of it but am drawn to it now and then…

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Exposure of Tolerance: LGBTQ in Southeast Asia exhibition in Bangkok

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Cocktails in the sky

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And so ends another year in Thailand. Who knows what 2020 will bring?

Phuket and beyond…

It has been an eventful year; a move to Phuket, sale of the Brighton home, new flat in Edinburgh, more diving, Joshua off to Uni, set up of business…

Life in Phuket is good, goodbye noisy, polluted Bangkok; hello to more nature and many more cats. I set up Healthy Minds Phuket (www.healthymindsphuket.com) and am up and running! Fingers crossed for a prosperous 2019!!!

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We have done more exploring with Penang at Christmas as I had to do a visa run. I was pleasantly surprised with Georgetown, it did not disappoint, a veritable mix of cultures, architecture and food. A good four days were had wandering and then wandering some more, exploring alleys, food stalls and temples, oh, and the fantastic graffiti! Living in Europe, we are faced with stories of hatred and racism but when I travel, I come across people of all religions and beliefs living side by side in harmony. Penang is such a place, where such a variety of temples, churches and mosques stand side by side, with the people living together without hatred. Ok, perhaps it is not as rosy as all that but it works!

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Bali was another welcome surprise! It happened out of the blue as a friend offered us her house to stay in. We fell in love with Bali, with the people, the scenery, the food and the diving. It is one of those places that has a great feel to it and where you feel instantly at home and at ease.

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Sightseeing in Phuket with the Big Buddha! Amazing viewpoint and a massive buddha to top it all.

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There have also been many cat rescues, mainly kittens. As these things go, it all happened by accident and then it escalated to 15 kittens in the house. We are now down to 5 adult cats! The rescue operation has now been scaled down to enable marital harmony to prevail.

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Diving in the Phi Phi islands was definitely pretty epic! Sadly, there were no water cameras around to depict the amazing marine life. At one point we were surrounded by hundreds of jelly fish and another by thousands of beautiful yellow fish (my fish knowledge is pretty shit….). Maya Bay remains closes, great news but you can look at it from a distance.

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Maya Bay

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A rock!

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Most importantly, I found a fun zumba class with the lovely Daniel. Back in the thick of it, eat your heart out Ynna although I still miss you, of course!

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The highlight of the year was a visit from the lovelies Pam, Rob and Laurie. all the way from Brighton. It was fabulous to have you all here even if just for 10 days. It was a packed visit as we tried to show them all our favourite places and more. Some pics from Khao Sok, the lake and some island hopping.

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So, I know it has been years since the last blog, somehow my inspiration left me after I moved away from Tanzania. Thailand is an interesting place to live and there are many lessons to be learnt here. Mainly, nobody gives right of way on the road, Thais smile when they are angry, air cons are always set to freezing point, fireworks are ignited as you hold them, Thais cannot say the letter R, it is rude to touch someone’s head or to point and you must duck when you walk past people. Oh, and motorbikes can fit many people!

I know I have been here a while as I use 7-11 to buy water, milk or a late night ham and cheese toastie but also to top up my phone, buy a plane ticket and pay my utility bills. I no longer use a knife and fork but a fork and a spoon when I eat. I often complain of being too hot and hide in the shade as much as possible. Wearing shoes feels weird!

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I have also learnt to respect new laws:

At 8am and 6pm, Thais come to a standstill to pay tribute to the most revered thing in Thailand: the monarchy. It is during this time that the national anthem plays, and everyone is expected to stop and pay tribute to the country. This is just one way in which the Thais respect their monarchy. Any criticism or jokes about the royal family can result in serious jail time because of strict lèse-majesté laws.

The Playing Cards Act! This particular law lays out a number of things in regards to playing cards, but one provision that stands out is the actual number of playing cards a person is allowed to have: no more than 120 cards.

Until the next blog, hopefully it will not be long….

End of 2017 in Thailand, Koh Chang, Koh Mak, Koh Samet and others….

So another year comes to an end, just like that!  Thailand has grown on me, I actually enjoy being here although not so much in Bangkok.  I love the calmness of the people and the kindness and gentleness.  Of course it is not all great and life is life pretty much anywhere…  Work, routines, kids, weekends but there is something about the place that is calming and enjoyable.  The heat is not one of those things although at the moment it is a balmy 29 degrees and we were even cold the last few days with temperatures of 19 and 20, it was a shock to the system, I can tell you!  Small problems, indeed.

There have been horse shows, a wedding, a python and trips to islands.  Diving has not happened as the weather was not great but we are still hoping to practice some more soon.  We live in a somewhat sterile, American type of community, not something we are used to at all so it continues to feel rather strange and weird to be in this bubble.  It does have benefits, it is quiet and kind of pleasant.  However….  we are in Thailand and beasties lurk even in the man made sterile environments.  We have seen plenty of monitor lizards about but the other night we nearly ran over a huge python crossing the road!  Not expected at all!  Beautiful thing, had time to get off the bike, get my phone out, fumble with the camera and finally take a pic, this is as good as it got before it slithered off into the bushes.

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BIG python, about 4 metres long!

Snake excitement aside, we attended our first ever wedding on a beach.  Congratulations to Adam and Miyoung on what was a truly fun, relaxed, beautiful and loving few days.  One of the best weddings I have been to.  Koh Chang has beautiful beaches and amazing sunsets.  Highly recommended.  The only downside was the wind!  We caught the end of a storm and it was actually rather chilly (well, in Thai terms!) and very windy.

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Koh Chang

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These are popular….

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Flower arranging service

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Am I getting smaller?!

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Health and safety nightmare…

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This dog loved his daily evening soaking

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Sunset

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More beach fire

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Beautiful people in and out!

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Petrol station

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Thai buses are pretty cool!

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It was bloody hard to leave the island!  Strong winds meant that there were no boats running so we embarked on a 7 hour journey – it should have been 1 hour, really…. Got on a boat.  Boat turned back.  Got in a taxi.  Onto another boat to mainland.  Long drive to another boat.  Boat to Koh Mak.  Another taxi and we arrived at our destination which turned out to be shit and we had to go in search of another place to stay!  Phew, a long day but ended up somewhere beautiful.  We enjoyed Koh Mak despite the awful weather (I know, it looks nice but it was chilly).  Small and rustic and very quiet, perfect!

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Not sure that goes…

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Koh Mak has lots of rubber plantations.  Here is some latex drying, it is quite stinky!!!

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The local museum turned out to be quite a surprise.  An old house over the water, full of old trinkets from various eras.

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I think the floor is quite sturdy?

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A room with a view.

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More sunsets

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So many fish!

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Back to Bangkok to enjoy Xmas and NY.

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I wish that was mine but it was empty!  It still smelt of chocolate though…

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Later afternoon trip to Ayutthaya to stroll and enjoy the sunset

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Poor attempt at selfie!

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We went into Bangkok for NY.  Never seen so many lights in my life.  Amazing mix of people on the streets, all having fun, no fighting, no drunks, just fun and happiness.

 

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After a night of dancing in the streets of Bangkok and being squished in a crowd of thousands, we treated ourselves to an outing to a 1st class cinema!  It was actually before the above but it all seems like a long time ago now.

Never having heard of such a luxury before, we were damn curious to find out what this was all about.  What better way but to see Star Wars in comfort…  We are shown to a lounge were we are offered a free drink canapes – very nice.  Inside the cinema, there are ginormous chairs which turn into beds, blankets are provided and there is a butler service for drinks and pop corn.  Well, not bad, a tad decadent but rather pleasant.

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It has been a rather stressful and fraught couple of months.  After finding out in November that Geoff’s contract would not be renewed, I found out that my position was also not going to continue.  Nothing personal, apparently…  Still, it left us aimless and wondering what to do once again.  I guess that is the nature of this game (expat, teaching life) but it is still a little disconcerting to have to find a new job and move house/countries, whatever.  We also needed to find two jobs instead of one which created complications.  After a few arguments, unpleasant moments and some anxiety all is well in the Costa-Buck household.  In the midst of all this, we decided to attend a Search Associates job fair (for teachers in international schools).  These are held around the world and there was one in Bangkok so off we went.  It was one of the most unpleasant experiences I have had!

It took place in the Sheraton in central Bangkok which has delightful views.  That was probably the only good thing going for it.  There were about 550 candidates and various schools from around the world.  So…  You look for the vacancies, place your CV in the school’s folder and next day you queue up at each of the schools and try and get an interview.  It is like speed dating, you have a short time to convince them to interview you.  In my case, it was a matter of a quick glance at my CV and a polite no, you do not have enough experience.  I take it that they meant that my life experience, coupled with a masters, social work and some teaching experience and counselling did not count for much!  Geoff fared better but they were only interested in him and not me so we left empty handed, demoralised and angry with the cattle market feel of the place.

As I tend to say, things happen for a reason although I do not believe in destiny!  Such is life, Geoff got a couple of job offers in Phuket and we are off to United World College in July.  Rather excited even though I am jobless.  Something will come up…

In the middle of all this, Geoff and I spend a relaxing few days in Koh Samet.  Close to Bangkok and very beautiful.  We were quite surprised that the island was so close and so lovely.  Got a scooter, explored and enjoyed the beach.

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Little baby urchin holding on

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Best beach on the island

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Sunrise

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Hippy moment watching the sunrise

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The water, the water….

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I rescued this bug from the sea.  Thought it was dead but it came back to life eventually.  Found out that is is a mango tree borer.  Quite an amazing looking thing!

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Very excited to ring the bell and wait for the raft to take us to the floating restaurant.  It was not to be, the restaurant is now inland.  It was really good though!

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Got to love the Thai signs…

We are now in process of selling our house in the UK.  The end of an era, the start of something new.   Maybe a house in Portugal?  Watch this space!

Thailand, Hong Kong and diving!

I did not know so much could happen in two months!  So we have finally found out that Geoff is not going to have his contract renewed.  A lot of you are asking why…  Well, he was on a 2 year contract covering for someone who has decided to return.  We were hoping a vacancy might have come up but no such luck.  We need to move, again!  Don’t know where yet, but we do know when, June!  Watch this space.  Shame as was starting to acclimatise to our new life and really enjoying my new job.

On another note, we have been busy exploring as usual.  Since the summer holidays, we have been out and about, here and there.  The most exciting thing has been to finish our PADI and to go sea diving for the first time.  It was bloody scary at first.  I experienced an under water panic attack which was rather unpleasant but I also found that there is a whole new whole down there and it is magical.  We had the nicest of instructors, patient, caring, gentle and thorough; could not have asked for more.  Need to get a few dives in before we leave this diving paradise!

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Waiting for the first dive!!  I look happy but am petrified…

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Sattahip fishing port

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I have had a couple of exciting weekends!  The previous one I went to Hong Kong which is a place I never really thought to visit.  Fortunately, there was a conference I wanted to attend so it was the perfect excuse for a little escape.  I really liked Hong Kong (and the conference!).  It is an environmental nightmare but it is pretty and lots of lights always look impressive.  Beautiful views, good place to stroll and eat and lots of boats to take from one island to another.  What more could I want?  I met a kindred soul at the conference, what a lovely woman!  We got completely lost with a map and Google maps and ended up getting into a cab and asking the driver to take us to where we already were!  He was amused and drove us around until we realised we were in the wrong area after all.  So cool to meet someone who is as useless as me with maps!

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We had Loy Krathong in November when people gather around lakes, rivers and canals to pay respects to the goddess of water by releasing beautiful lotus shaped rafts, decorated with candles, incense and flowers onto the water.  Every year, Loy Krathong falls on the night of the twelfth lunar month (usually in November), at the end of the rainy season when the full-moon lights up the sky.  This festival is celebrated for many reasons.  The main rice harvest season has ended and it’s time to thank the Water Goddess for a year’s worth of her abundant supply, as well as an apology for polluting the waters.  Some believe that this is the time to symbolically ‘float away’ all the anger and grudges you have been holding onto, and including a fingernail or a lock of hair is seen as a way of letting go of the dark side of yourself, to start anew free of negative feelings.  If your candle stays alight until your Krathong disappears out of sight, it means a year of good luck.

So, Krathongs were duly made and released into the Chao Praya river!  Quite beautiful and a happy time to be outside celebrating with everyone.
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Making Krathongs!

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Boys and Krathongs

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Krathongs made of fish food

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All shapes and sizes…

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Made out of bread dough

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Ready to launch!

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Monk selfie!

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Wat Arun

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What it looks like from the water

To finish off, some photos of life around here.  We love going to Kho Kret and walking around the island.  It is peaceful, very close by and there it always looks different depending on the season.  We went recently and found that most of the island was underwater.  Sad for the people who live there, it is not an uncommon occurrence as the rain swells the river which then overflows over the whole island.  People continue to live there and we walked past someone’s living room with the family sitting on chairs with water up to their knees watching television!  A rather strange sight but then again, Thailand is not like other places…

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Pretty weird but this guy was just walking around with his slow loris pets!  It is illegal to have these as pets but he let me take a photo of the little guys.  Considering he was walking around Very cute but sad that they are not in the wild.

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Life goes on….

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Thai sweets

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A boat is the way to go!

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Road becomes swimming pool

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That is it for now.  Thailand is growing on me now, especially when we venture out of Bangkok!  It is a beautiful country full of surprises.  The language is pretty impossible to learn, the food is like something out of another world (not always in a good way!) and the people are a constant source of puzzlement for us.  It takes time to understand such a different culture and way of thinking but we like it here!

Portugal once again…

We arrive in Lisbon and immediately I feel happy to be “home” – whatever home means! It is such a beautiful city and we have Dave and Jackie with us; I like having people around, it gives me a new perspective on the place and what my favourite things are.  So, first of all walking about in Lisbon is one of my great pleasures and we start our first days ambling about, discovering, roaming and observing.  It is a challenge to take photos of things I have seen so many times before but I try to look through others eyes and this is what I see…

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Views of the castle of São Jorge

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Red rooftops and the 25 de Abril bridge

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Doors everywhere…

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Old streets, prefect for walking about

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Old water fountain

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Monument to the Discoveries, love this place, particularly the Pasteis de Belém!

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Father and daughter sharing a moment

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Fountain with horses and ducks

No visit to Lisbon is complete without lunch with my brother Zé Pedro and his lovely wife Dulce.  They are the sort of people you can spend hours with and it feels nice and comfortable!

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Men full of fish and beer!

The most exciting thing about Lisbon this year was getting the kids registered as Portuguese citizens.  They now have ID cards – passports are next!  One week in Lisbon feeling jet lagged and running around from one government office to another, looking at shoes and eating a lot of food.  What more could I want…

And now for some proper exploring! One week is to be spent exploring Serra da Estrela, the highest mountain range in Portugal.  This is one of my old favourite places and the last time I was here was about 20 years ago, give or take!  We settle in Manteigas which is at the foot of the Vale do Zêzere, with high peaks and forest-draped slopes all around.  There are many mountain villages in this area but Manteigas has been a settlement here since at least Moorish times.  It is a pleasant, quiet town, not much goes on here although it is an excellent base for various mountain walks and to visit old schist villages.  Well, they did not disappoint!  Here is Sortelha which was truly magical.

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The castle built on a crag at an altitude of 760 metres

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Love how the windmills have become part of the landscape

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The 14th-century church

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On entering, there is a beautiful pillory, surmounted by an armillary sphere, the symbol of D. Manuel I, and the building that once served as the town hall, both dating from the time of this king.

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School toilets and others

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Geoff loves pillories….

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The strangest thing about this place is that there is nobody there!  Apparently only two couples live in the village now.

On to Belmonte, Belmonte is an interesting place…  We found out that there used to be a community of “marranos” known as the Belmonte Jews.  They are a community that has survived in secrecy for hundreds of years by maintaining a tradition of endogamy (look it up!) and by hiding all the external signs of their faith.  The community goes back to the 12th century and they were only discovered in 1917 by a Polish Jewish mining engineer named Samuel Schwarz.  Some of them resumed the public practice of Judaism in the 1970s, and opened a synagogue, Bet Eliahu, in 1996.  There is a small Jewish Museum which tells you the whole story.  Was not expecting to find that in Portugal!

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