Posts by lisbonchick

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 ( and am up and running! Fingers crossed for a prosperous 2019!!!


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!


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.




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


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.


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.


Maya Bay


A rock!


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!


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.


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.


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.


Koh Chang



These are popular….


Flower arranging service


Am I getting smaller?!



Health and safety nightmare…



This dog loved his daily evening soaking






More beach fire



Beautiful people in and out!


Petrol station


Thai buses are pretty cool!


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!



Not sure that goes…


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



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


I think the floor is quite sturdy?



A room with a view.


More sunsets



So many fish!


Back to Bangkok to enjoy Xmas and NY.


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


Later afternoon trip to Ayutthaya to stroll and enjoy the sunset



Poor attempt at selfie!


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.



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.


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.



Little baby urchin holding on


Best beach on the island






Hippy moment watching the sunrise



The water, the water….


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!



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!



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!


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



Sattahip fishing port


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!


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.

Making Krathongs!


Boys and Krathongs



Krathongs made of fish food


All shapes and sizes…


Made out of bread dough




Ready to launch!



Monk selfie!



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…



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.



Life goes on….



Thai sweets



A boat is the way to go!



Road becomes swimming pool


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…


Views of the castle of São Jorge


Red rooftops and the 25 de Abril bridge


Doors everywhere…


Old streets, prefect for walking about


Old water fountain


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



Father and daughter sharing a moment


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!



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.


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


Love how the windmills have become part of the landscape



The 14th-century church



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.



School toilets and others



Geoff loves pillories….






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!



Belmonte from the castle



Jackie getting into the spirit



Nice colours….


A Pelourinho which in English is a pillory.  These are found throughout villages and towns in Portugal.  They date from the 12th Century and were normally built in front of the council building.  They were used to sentence and punish criminals.  Many had a small house on the top made out of iron where criminals were placed for all to gawp at.  In other places, the prisoners were tied to iron rings and beaten or mutilated depending on the severity of their crime.  I am quite fascinated by these pillars and what went on around them!



You can come down now…

I highly recommend a sojourn in the mountains.  It is a beautiful area and is good for the soul.


By the house



Too much time on their hands….



David attempting to blend in!

The area is beautiful and we went on one of the best walks I have ever done.  Geoff and I set out with a bottle of water and a couple of bananas expecting to be a couple of hours. Five hours later, hot and very hungry we arrived back at the house!  I can only imagine what this walk would be like when there is more water around, before the dry season has sucked out most of the water from the waterfalls and all the snow has melted.  The best thing was not coming across more than 2 people in the whole of the walk!!



Long climb and a view of Manteigas!


And further….



Made it to the waterfall



This is actually the trail



We were so hungry but there was nobody home!

Another highlight was seeing the glacier valley.  It is a truly magical place 13 kilometers long.  The last 8 kilometers are the best with a U shape caused by the glacial erosion on the side of the valleys.  It dates to around 19,000 years and it is one of the longest in Europe.  Here are some of the views.



Beautiful views, beautiful drive – well, not if you do not like sheer drops….



The glacier valley



The road through the valley

At the end you reach Torre which is the highest point and where the sky resort is. Well, not in July but in winter it is a rather cool place to visit.  Nevertheless, we availed ourselves of the facilities on offer and took a trip on the sky lift.  Never been on one before so nothing like the present, snow or no snow!

DSC03735DSC03736DSC03738DSC03742DSC03743DSC03746DSC03747DSC03750DSC03751DSC03735DSC03736DSC03738DSC03743DSC03746DSC03747DSC03750One place which was worth stopping at was Covilhã.  From the road it looks like an ugly urban, messy sprawl but upon arriving, the old part of the city remains intact and is pretty nice to walk about the streets.  In the Middle Ages, Covilhã became the centre of wool production due to its location and the access to river transport.  This will link in with our visit to a wool factory in Manteigas – the first weaving machines Jeacquard were placed in 1683 in Covilhã!  In 1891, the railway arrives and the demand for tuberculosis treatment and mountain sports means that Covilhã becomes quite developed.DSC03788


Posing in the old city



The old part is full of great graffitti and you can see the old buildings mixing with the new


A doorway



Vandalism of old tiles in the church below.  Quite funny though….

DSC03784One of the great things about travelling with friends is that you at times end up doing stuff that you would never really even consider doing!  One of those things was a visit to the Burel wool factory in Manteigas which was just a short walk from our house.  Their website showcases some of their beautiful products all made from wool  It is creative, imaginative and beautiful.  They offer a free factory tour which Dave and Jackie were quite excited about!  We thought we would tag along and I am glad that we did.  They talked us through the whole process and showed us the machines, some of which are pretty old!  They are still making most of the stuff by hand, incredible!



So many gorgeous colours….



Here you have it, a holiday in Portugal!

Summer holidays in Thailand!

Warning: this blog contains lots and lots of photos!  I got a new camera for Xmas and have been going a bit mad!!!  By the way, if you click on the pictures you will be able to see a slide show.

Three weeks spent in Thailand before heading out to Europe.  Katherine came to visit (Geoff’s niece) and we had a great time together.  It was fun to take her out in Bangkok and show her some of our favourite places.  She was an easy traveller and happy to do anything!



On the big wheel!



Our favourite local bar.



Party time in Chatuchak Market, delicious Margaritas and good music.


And yummy dried squid!


Ice creams


And plastinated bodies!


Yes, they are real!

We waited and waited for Renee and family but sadly they missed their plane. In true Tanzanian fashion, their flight time was changed and they were not informed.  so they arrived at the airport to find that their plane had already departed, without them! One day later than expected they were finally in Bangkok and Geoff stayed behind to meet them.  Katherine, myself and the kids went off to Chiang Rai, cause why wouldn’t we… Here we are chilling and waiting.


Simple lodgings with a view



Many caterpillars around here!



Obscure directions

We did not see them until the morning when we got them up to go for a 2 day hike!  After such a long journey, they were unusually sprightly and ready for the adventure.  The idea was to walk all day, stop and have lunch and then stay the night in a village somewhere up in the hills.  Something else happened but it was fine!  The hike turned out to be quite crazy with a local guide who was hyperactive and was not quite sure where the trails had gone.  Still, nothing a machete can not cut through and on we went. It was a hot, rainy and sweaty day but kind of fun too.


Off we go into the jungle


Renee assessing the water



Natural armchair!



More weird caterpillars


Filling the bamboo sticks with rice to cook in the fire



Big beattle!


Cooking the rice after a huge downpour



Lost in the bamboo forest!


Very hot springs, I know, I put my foot in it!  Bloody hot!!!


And another one!


Boat to the village for the night


So we get to the village and it is really not nice at all.  Back to our basic huts which look like luxury by now and the trek is cut short.  Next day we have a walk through the local village which turns out to be rather pleasant and visit a cave temple.  We find a cat cafe in the town where you can sit with lots of cats and pet them as you sip your coffee! Weird…


Temple in a cave!



Chiang Rai temple



Local village



Freshly killed pig!



Walking with a purpose!


I would highly recommend where we stayed, the Bamboo Nest of Chiang Rai.  Absolutely lovely with amazing home cooked food.  Go check it out, it is basic, there is no mains electricity but it is very special and only about 23 kms from Chiang Rai.


Geoff having a good stretch!


The morning clouds….


Happy days with lovely Christine


That dog is everywhere….



On the way to Chiang Mai



Wat Thaton temple in Thaton on the way to Chiang Mai


View from the temple and the river we travelled on



And another one!

Onwards to Chiang Mai for elephants and a spot of town life.

I have wanted to visit the Elephant Nature Park for quite some time now.  I love the work Lek does and think she is very inspirational.  However, the park felt too crowded and organised for our liking.  It is a great place and the elephants are well looked after, just too many people.  Nevertheless, I had fun getting up and close to these beautiful creatures.  They are so big so I tried to capture their eyes, amazing how they are all so different!!



Not an elephant!



A spot of dust after a bath…


Happiness is….



Blind elephant



Chiang Mai turned out to be quite pleasant after the initial shock of being in a busy city full of tourists.  My favourite thing was the huge array of old temples, so simple and so beautiful, quite a contrast to the newer temples in Bangkok which are so full of bling and excess.  Here is a selection taken on a leisurely walk about.



I was tempted…



The writing is on the wall!




A spot of torrential rain!


Bicycle cafe but now as we know it


Well, that was a busty week!!!  Off to Kho Yao Noi we go to chill by the beach.  Lovely island, extremely quiet.  Have the beach and chalets to ourselves with a few kayaks for our own use.  What more could you ask for…  Good place to stay albeit quite isolated and quiet which suited us all. go check it out, delightful place!


Kayaking to an island, harder than it seemed!


Monitor lizards, aren’t they great?


Yes, I was that close!



Christine is waving all the way from up there!

Being on the island was just beautiful.  Lots of exploring to do and hardly any people about,  Perfect!


“Our beach”!  Not a bad view to wake up to each day.





Sunrise, me thinks…


Petrol station


Macro did not quite work…



Renee on a scooter!


Limestone everywhere!  Rather beautiful but marred by rain and cloudy skies, still a great day out.


Our boat for the day



So much limestone….



Rock paintings


James Bond rock



Floating village in the middle of the sea


A floating football pitch



Before the storm!


The floating village!



Another cave!