Chiang Mai Through The Looking Glass
By Francis Shettlesworth
A number of years have passed since I originally wrote ‘The Q&B Guide to Thailand’. These
years have been filled with events – many good, some painful, some sad - but none of them
The following is an account, in no particular order, which may give you an insight into my life
in Chiang Mai and Thailand.
Chapter 1 – The Migration
Sometimes in life, you experience great concern over a forthcoming event, and when it comes to
the day – well…..
Mum had been ‘uming and ahing’ about coming out to Thailand for some time. Both my brother
and I had encouraged her, knowing that we could provide loving family support rather than the
isolation that would increase, if she remained. Life in England had changed dramatically and
Mum had experienced a few hiccups with her health. Over the years Mum had welcomed Thais
in the family with open arms, and had much experience of Thai customs, culture and food. – She
loved it all. Finally she decided to join us, and it was quite a brave decision for a lady eighty
I had been clearing the family home, at Kew near London, for some months of many, many
years of clutter and this had become tantamount to an archeological dig. One of Mum’s joys in
life was visiting the car boot sale on Sunday mornings and she had become some what of a
hoarder. Many times I had to suspend work after uncovering what appeared to be a treasure trove
at the bottom of the dig. Deciding what to jettison, what to give to charity and what to pack-up to
bring with us – this was the challenge. It reached the point when the charity shops and also the
local church would place a ‘Closed for Lunch’ sign when they saw me coming, (time and time
again), with arms stacked full of boxes. The boxes were full of books, trinkets, artifacts, swords,
prints and, frankly a lot of rubbish.
Cassie, the family dog, was one of the last things to be sorted and packed. I had dropped her off
at the airport’s local kennels to be housed in her travel box, for the flight the next morning.
On the morning of our departure, all of the neighbours gathered to say goodbye. Mum had lived
at the family home, on and off all of her life – so knew everyone, and despite what she may have
been feeling inside, she appeared cheerful. That couldn’t be said for the neighbours. One Irish
lady was inconsolable. She had been to Mass the evening before and had asked for Mum to be
remembered in many masses to come. She presented Mum with a religious medal which ‘would
keep her safe from the natives and heathens in the jungle’.
Come Fly With Me
Mum was the wife of a military man, so she was no stranger to flying and travelling. Still, when
we considered her problems with high blood pressure and the risk of deep vein thrombosis, we
decided that the cost of traveling in business class, was a good investment. In fact, due to the
good nature of my brother we managed to do a quick shuffle with the boarding passes and he
sacrificed his Business Class seat for Mum.
The business class cabins on the Thai Airways B-747, are on two levels. The cabin on the upper
level -‘The Bubble’ seems to be more popular, so Mum and I had the entire downstairs cabin to
ourselves. Wanlapa, an old friend and work mate from Thai Airways International, had walked
Mum down the air bridge and escorted to her to her seat. Pom, another old friend who worked in
ground operations, came up to assure Mum that Cassie was secure in the hold of the aircraft and
Mum sat there drinking a glass of champagne and was thrilled looking out of the window at all
of the activity around the aircraft.
Once we were airbourne, I showed Mum how to work the entertainment system and she was
fascinated by the dynamic map representing the aircraft’s position. In the downstairs cabin of
business class, the flight attendants set up an open bar and you are free to help yourself. Mum
had always liked Campari Soda and she spotted a bottle at the bar. I went over to mix Mum a
drink and when I returned, she had moved to the aisle seat.
“Wouldn’t you like the window seat Mum?”
“No, Love… its a lot easier from here to get up to stretch my legs.”
I could see that there was going to be a well travelled path to and from the bar and that the
Campari might well evaporate somewhat - no doubt due to the rarefied atmosphere.
Many years ago, I worked for an airline and once arranged for an elderly princess of the British
Royal Family to travel with us, First Class to Canada, with her Ladies in Waiting and RDPG
officers (Royal Diplomatic Protection Officers).
Also, travelling in the cabin was one of our own security officers.
After the trip – he related to us, some of the things which had occurred. The Princess, although
having her own favourite brand of whisky on board, sampled all of the aperitifs, wines and after
dinner drinks. When the toiletry bags were distributed, she opened hers and inspected every item,
and, as against usually handing it to the Lady in Waiting, put in into her handbag. She frequently
opened the window shade to see out. In those days the sunlight used to affect the movie image
being displayed on a cabin screen.
And so it was with Mum. Everything was a novelty for her and she enjoyed the flight to the
maximum, sampled everything and even went to the toilets several times to retrieve the
complimentary lotions and potions. I usually have a wobbly pop (drink) or two, eat the first meal
and then sleep the rest of the flight. Mum ate both meals and also the sandwich snacks in
between. After the flight, I was shattered, but Mum was the first off from the aircraft. We had
requested a wheelchair for Mum, but she was having none of it and happily walked up the air
bridge and into Thailand.
Welcome To Your New Home
Mum took to Thailand like a fish to water, and after an initial adjustment, settled into the house
that Tack, the personal assistant that I had hired, had found us out in the country in Saraphee, a
village close to Chiang Mai. We both had some surprises. What we thought to be monkeys
calling – turned out to be a bird. At night Mum was upset to hear an old man coughing – It
turned out to be the large and ugly Tokay lizard.
Blithe Spirit? – Our house was an old Thai teak wood house, in wonderful condition, with every
modern convenience inside. The gardens were beautiful with two Rai of land (nearly an acre). At
the front of the house Mum would keep Cassie busy and exercised with a tennis bat and ball. At
the back of the house was a small canal with a shaded, concrete bench where Mum, Cassie, Tack
and I used to sit and watch the fish. One day we were walking back to the house when I saw a
very small wooden house on a stand. I asked Tack as to what it was. She replied –
‘A San Pra Poom Spirit House’.
‘It may be a silly question Tack, but who lives there?’
Tack, as she would many times in the future, helped us with our education of Thai culture and
traditions. It turns out that most Thais believe that there are Spirits everywhere including water,
land and trees – all over the place. A ‘Spirit House’ is found at nearly every house and building.
The Spirits who live there are Pee Ban Spirits of the House. By paying respect and making daily
small offerings – the Spirits, hopefully, will watch over things, remain appeased and not do
Since then, I have seen Spirit Houses of all shapes and sizes, not only in gardens, but also outside
of hotels, restaurants and supermarkets. Every morning you can see someone place a plate of
offerings with lighted joss sticks, paying respect and making a Wai. The Wai can mean many
things ranging from a greeting, to a show of respect and even an apology. It is made with both
hands held at chest or face level – the higher the hands are held, the greater level of indication.
There are also Spirit Houses close to the road at ‘Accident Black Spots’. What worries me - are
the number of drivers whose hands leave the steering wheel, when passing the Spirit House, to
Wai. I wonder how many of them rapidly join the other Spirits in the House!
I had to return to the U.K. for a few weeks to attend to family business and Tack had an
appointment with the Royal Family to receive her university graduation certificate. We made
provision for Mum to be cared for but forgot the daily respect ritual at the garden Spirit House.
While we were away Mum had her first accident in Thailand – chasing after Cassie’s ball. The
accident resulted in a broken knee and ankle. Blithe Spirits – perhaps not!
After Mum was admitted to RAM2 hospital in Chiang Mai, I really did not expect her to walk
again. But twice a day, she was rolled down to ‘Exercise’ – the physiotherapy room, on a gurney,
and with a combination of sheer determination and ‘True Grit’ – she managed it. My brother,
Tack and I would visit each day, taking along some Thai crepes or banana fritters and the results
of Mum’s shopping list. She would ‘tip’ each of the nurse’s assistants and porters with a
chocolate Kit-Kat – each time that one of them helped her. You know – I don’t think that any of
them actually ate the chocolate but rather saved it and later sold it to supplement their very low
incomes. You might imagine that there was no shortage of volunteers to help Mum.
Despite the pain barrier that she went through with the various physio exercises - Mum’s time in
the ‘Exercise’ room delighted her. She was able to get out of her hospital room and although
none of the girls in ‘Exercise’ spoke much English and Mum certainly no Thai – they were
somehow able to communicate. They would watch Thai T.V. soap operas – some of which were
pretty gruesome or simply gossip about their lives. One Therapist, in particular, Mum called
Pego. A lot later, when I started to learn Thai, I found this out to mean – Pee older Gope Frog –
her nickname. Pee Gope was quite an attractive lady and a very competent physiotherapist.
Every day, she would complain to Mum as to how badly her ‘boyfriend’ treated her. Going out,
drinking and gambling all night, taking her motorbike and pawning it and generally being a real
louse. Mum would say
“Don’t worry dear, remember AMAB. All Men Are Bastards and I can tell you that I have met a
few in my time.”
This went on for quite a few weeks, until the ‘boyfriend’ visited Pee Gope in the ‘Exercise’
room. Sorry Mum – double take, Boyfriend turns out to be Girlfriend in cross-dress. Oh Dear!
Quite understandably Mum used to get bored in her room. Although we provided as many home
comforts as possible, DVD and Video, kettle and tea making facility – Mum liked to be out an
about. She spent much time in the nurse’s station which was next to her room, but as much as
they loved chatting to her, they were really too busy.
Eventually, we hired Mum’s first Carer – Joy. She stayed with Mum at the hospital and became
her constant companion and person to push her wheelchair. I know that it sound a bit bizarre and
macabre but Mum would always like sitting in her wheelchair at the entrance to the hospital,
next to the Emergency section. From this vantage point she could watch the ambulances come
and go and also the busy intersection, just outside of the hospital. Many days the police had
situated themselves there to stop motorbikes of which the driver may not have helmets. Mum
would sit mesmerized.
‘Its Not What You Say – It’s The Way That You Say It
During the mid-seventies, I began to travel out to Thailand to visit my brother and his new
family. My case was always stuffed full, like a Red Cross Parcel, with all sorts of goodies which
were then unavailable in Thailand – Bounty chocolate bars, apples, Dundee Cake and toys for
my nephews. The supply was always somewhat depleted by the time I arrived in Chiang Mai, as
some of the items always went to ‘curious’ customs officers. For some reason, apples held an
intense fascination for them.
Being a retired airline employee, I traveled on airline employee standby tickets, and getting on a
flight was pretty hit and miss. I spent a long time waiting at Don Muang, the old Bangkok
Airport. I even had my own seat. Every few minutes there would be an announcement which
always began with ‘Brostah’ Attention Please, or Please Note and made at such a loud volume. I
must have heard so many thousand announcements that this word was indelibly committed to my
memory and became the first Thai word that I learnt. I even used to say it in my sleep.
When I migrated to Thailand, many years later, Tack, my P/A, began the thankless task of
starting me down the road to learning Thai. I am not sure if that road will ever end as I am still
orally mangling the language today. I have had to redesign my tongue, by attaching exercise
weights to it while I sleep, to accommodate the various tones in the Thai language.
Tack would pronounce a word with the correct tone –
I would eagerly respond:
“Wasn’t that what I said?”
No… you said “MAIIEe”
Really? It sounded like “MAiiee” to me !
Taking into account the various tones and whether the vowel is extended or not, there are at least
six ways that the word ‘Mai’ can sound. In fact you can make up a sentence –
“Mai, Mai, Mai, Mai, Mai Mai’
New wood does not burn well – Right?
That sentence became my mantra and when we used to go to the temple, when everyone else was
chanting Buddhist Pali – I was chanting “Mai, Mai, Mai, Mai, Mai, Mai”.
My, my !!!
I decided one day that leaning nursery rhymes in Thai might help me. Full of enthusiasm, I
rushed to the office and asked the girls, who I worked with, if they could teach me some Thai
nursery rhymes or songs for children. They sat there and shook their heads –“No such thing in
A year passed and one evening, an Australian friend of ours came into the office carrying a
didgeridoo. He was a nice guy but a little eccentric, intending to entertain the tourists by playing
the thing at the Walking Street Market.
He sat down and gave us a rendition. The girls were absolutely amazed, having never seen or
heard a didgeridoo before. They thought it sounded like an elephant. Nick’s eyes lit up and he
sang a song called –
‘Chang, Chang Chang’ Elephant, Elephant, Elephant.
Chang is also the word for a brand of Thai beer, so I suppose it equally could have been – Beer,
I asked the girls what the song meant. They said it was the student song. Great! Why didn’t you
tell me before? Still I was delighted as the song is short and quite easy to remember. It has
become my party piece.
Elephant elephant elephant
Have you my darling seen an elephant?
The elephant, it is quite big
With a long nose called trunk
It has fangs underneath the trunk called tusks
It has ears, eyes and a long tail.
And The Frog Song
Latter day my family advised me of another charming song for young people – The Frog song:
“Frog – why must you sing?”
“I must because I have to – because my stomach hurts!”
“Why does your stomach hurt?”
“Because rice is raw!”
“Why do you eat raw rice?”
“Because the fire it suppress.”
“Why must you suppress the fire?”
“Because the firewood is wet”
“Why is the firewood wet?”
“Because the rain must fall.”
“Why must the rain fall?”
“Because the frog have to sing!”
Okay, perhaps it loses a lot in the translation but it is still a charming song!
A Slight Set-back
So far, so good. I was feeling ridiculously proud of myself. Usually in the office, I would tune
out the girls chat until I heard the words ‘Khun Frank’ mentioned (Khun being a polite prefix to
a name and holds much respect). Then my big ears would revolve like radar antenna to listen in
to what they were saying. They soon caught onto this and would change to local dialect which
was totally unintelligible to me. I had learned ‘Central’ Thai as spoken, for example, in Bangkok.
Many of the words in Chiang Mai dialect are different:
Nose - Bangkok Jamouk Chiang Mai Whodung
Delicious - Bangkok Aroy Chiang Mai Lam
Goodbye - Bangkok Sawasdee Kha Chiang Mai Sawasdee Goow
The difficulty is that it doesn’t end there. Beam, and a number of my other friends come from
Khon Kaen in Issan. Same situation. When talking to their families, they change to Issan dialect.
Delicious - Issan Saap
So three for the price of one.
Something that I have found curious is a case of ‘Watch your R’s’.
The Thai alphabet has a perfectly good letter for the R sound called ‘Ror Rua’ Boat. For some
reason Thais rarely use it. So the word Aroy is spoken Áloy. The word for Westerner Farang, is
frequently pronounced Falang.
Now many of my family and friends will tell you with glee, that I am deaf as a post. I always,
defensively, reply to them that they mumble – but, hand on heart, there is more than a grain of
truth in this. For many years, before compulsorily required Health and Safety ear muffs – I
worked on the airport ramp and tarmac, around noisy jet turbine engines. Too stupid or proud to
stuff my fingers into my ears, I have lost some 20 per cent of my hearing over certain
frequencies. In the early days of mobile telephones, I did not have a clue they were ringing. It
was only when Cassie, my sheep dog, became weary of the constant irritating ring and would
bark, that I was alerted to a call. Now more modern mobiles have louder ringing tones at audible
frequencies – I usually have no problem. But even today Cassie goes crazy when a telephone
Why am I telling you this? Well, Beam has a new friend. When Beam introduced me to her I
heard her name as Took Yair Large Lizard. Strange, but then most Thai nicknames are peculiar
and frequently bear no resemblance to the named person. Time passed, and she never reacted for
a month, until one day Beam’s friend asked me why I called her Large Lizard.
‘Errm…. Isn’t that your name?
‘No… it’s Joop Jang Great Kiss’
Whoops! Since then I attend regular courses on Sign Language in Thai.
My Family and Other Animals
Thai’s proper names are long and usually unpronounceable. Hence some bright spark
many years ago suggested adopting nicknames by which they use day to day. Sometimes the
nickname applies to the person. Other times...your guess is as good as mine. My old girlfriend’s
name was Gai – chicken. Her cousin was Nok – bird, one friend was Gope – frog and another
Gung - Shrimp. So there you have it all in one.
Frequently you will meet a Lek – Small..... who is rather tall or fat or a Yai - Big....who is
minute. Dao – Star and Meaw – Cat..... both work for me.
Thai is a very polite language and the preface Khun will be used to address someone. Hence I am
called Khun Frank and will answer... Khun Dao..or Khun Meaw. The address can also be age
specific. As they are younger than me. I might say Nong (young) Dao or Nong Meaw. If they
address someone older then the preface is Pee. So Dao, who is younger, will call Meaw....Pee
The language is gender specific. You will hear the word Khap often if a male speaker and Khah
if a female is speaking.
Farangs - A lot to do about Nothing
Westerners, in Thailand, are called Farang by Thais and my brother detests the word and being
called a Farang. He’s been in Thailand for nearly forty years and, apart from looking western,
probably thinks more like a Thai than… well ... a Thai. Personally I don’t have a problem and
would rather be called a Farang than a Caucasian – which somehow, to me, always sounds like a
relative of a Klingon in Star Trek. I acknowledge that despite semantics, use of various words
may cause much grief to many folk, especially regarding race, disabilities or profanities.
Sensitivity Training now features highly in many Western Country’s Developmental Training
In my own case, I don’t think that I am too sensitive. I am old, and prefer that word than to be
called a ‘Senior’. No disputing that I am fat, and similarly – I have no wish to be referred to as
‘Gravitationally Challenged’. Curiously in Thai Language as in English words can be selected
and used, either in blunt or more ‘polite’ ways.
Chubby ‘Pom Pui’
There is some dispute as to how and where the word Farang derived. Some will say the word
originated from the Indo-Persian word Farangi meaning foreigner. Others that it refers to a
French connection. Whichever, it is commonly used when applied to Westerners.
In Chiang Mai, there are a group of Westerners who play softball every Saturday. They call the
team – The Farangotans. The collective noun for a group of Ferang or perhaps we will always be
primates at heart.
Interestingly, the Thai word Kee may sometimes be used as a link to other words. This word in
its base form means.. well.. Poo or Ka-Ka.
Thai language uses it as a link word to produce many other interesting meanings:
Kee Giat Lazy
Kee Neaow Stingy
Kee Ray Ugly
Kee Mah Dog Shit
Kee Kwai Bull Shit as in that’s a load of
Farang Kee Nok Ferang Bird Shit or a Pond Life Ferang
Now that is an interesting and an apt expression. Within Thailand, and of course Chiang Mai,
there are many ‘Who Walk Among Us’, but in this case easily seen by their social habits.
Frequently seen with a bottle of beer in their hands and mouth at ten o’clock in the morning.
Leering at all and sundry who may pass and chanting lurid comments at those who may be of the
opposite or in many cases the same sex. Still, at the same sentinel position 12 hours later until
finally they collapse into their own resting place to re-group into the early hours.
‘Take Your Life In Your Hands’
Despite all counsel, I have ended up with three motorbikes. Admittedly I am now older and
wiser, bear the scars and rarely ride them, as I have found out the hard way that I should have
stuck to owning and driving cars.
I started riding motorbikes as a young man – went the then, usual route of a provisional license
and a difficult test to obtain the full license. Bought all of the clobber including a crash helmet,
by which – had I jumped off of the Tower of London, my head would have survived, if nothing
else. A full sheepskin first world war airman’s jacket, gloves and boots. Was I prepared !!!! I
drove a variety of bikes over the years. In the initial days, some of the famous English ‘Classics’
– BSA – Norton – Bonneville. Then came the Honda invasion. I had no apprehension about
driving a motorbike in Thailand. After all, Thais drive on the same side of the road as us. Really?
Was I in for a big surprise!
Thais drive in a very different way, are quite happy about it and don’t see it as a problem. They
see the problem as the Farang.
In many rural areas the motorbike is the family’s sole transport and the entire family will
somehow seat themselves on a motorbike, including the doggy in the front basket. It follows
then, that the children, from a very early age, are accustomed and ‘confident’ of being on the
bike. They are quite happy from the age of eight years up to jump on the bike, start up and off
they go. And that is the crunch, pun intended. Thai road statistics show that nearly thirty people
die from motorbike accidents, every day. They receive no formal training either in driving
discipline or regulations and pick it up as they go along. Although things are gradually changing
with more police road blocks – many Thais do not hold a driving license.
Driving against the flow of traffic, along the pavement, on the wrong side of the road and the
wrong way up one way streets, is par for the course. So is pulling out into the traffic, from a side
street, without checking for oncoming vehicles. Use of directional indicators is optional, as is
stopping for a red light or performing U-Turns, where none are permitted. Use of mobile
telephones while driving, both making and receiving calls and texting is common practice.
Car drivers present different challenges. Most Thais would regard, braking distance, if described
to them, as nuclear physics.
One of their favourite tricks is to come roaring up behind you, while you are keeping the braking
distance between yourself and the car in front, and flash their lights. Should you not wish to, or
be unable to move over, they will get into the left hand lane and at the first opportunity, they will
shoot forward and cut straight in front of you. Ironically, in world of bizarre ‘Grand Prix’,
ambulances on emergency call are totally disregarded –despite sirens and flashing lights.
Being a pedestrian has its own hazards. Chiang Mai has installed many pedestrian crossings,
complete with timed traffic lights. Even with a red light to halt traffic and a green for the
pedestrian to cross – many bikes and cars ignore these totally and continue gung-ho. Matador
training in weaving and dodging is a definite benefit for survival.
Not sure as to what it achieves but its all part of the game.
Many Farang become quite upset about this situation, but the bottom line is we are as guests in
Thailand, and although some things may gradually change, like more frequent use of helmets.
Others will take far longer to change – if ever.
Interesting though is the custom for many young ladies who are in the pillion seat. Frequently
they ride side-saddle with grace and elegance. When I first saw this I was terrified on their behalf
but it is if they are super-glued to the saddle!
Police Road Blocks
Now here is a strange thing. The police in Chiang Mai are rather like lions, in that if they are
hungry – they will feed. If they are full, then you can usually walk or ride by them. More and
more frequently we are seeing police road blocks. Some would say in support of the stricter
driving regulations. The more cynical would say this usually occurs at the end of the month
when they want ‘Tea Money’. The police are very clever in where they set up the road blocks.
Sometimes around the Klong Canal of the Old City – immediately around the turn in the road, so
there is no escape. All riders of motorbikes without helmets are stopped and ‘fined’. Having said
that, I have seen many a pretty girl ride off after an exchange of a telephone number. Once away
from the road block, I have rarely seen an individual policeman stop a motorbike. Frequently the
police, themselves will drive without helmets. Even more curious is that once the sun sets, most
of the police disappear and most motorbike drivers take off their helmets.
The day that my luck ran outI had been living for a year or so down by the beach, some 18
kilometres past Rayong, on the Eastern side of the Gulf of Thailand. I didn’t always want to
drive down from Chiang Mai, so I looked around for another motorbike to buy. At that time all
of the big supermarkets were only in Rayong town – so it made sense to find one with a sidecar
attached to bring back the shopping.
I eventually found what I was looking for and Vince, a good mate and ex-motorbike mechanic,
gave the bike the once over before I bought it to make sure that it was a good deal. It was. Vince
asked me if I had ever ridden a Combo (Motorbike Combination with Sidecar) before. I told him
that I hadn’t but fully understood the principle of careful cornering when turning right – to
prevent a turn-over. Vince gave me the thumbs up and off I went, very carefully getting used to
the handling and cornering technique.
All went fine until the day I returned to the Condo car park. I couldn’t have been driving more
than a few miles an hour, with an empty sidecar. But it is always the long shots that catch you
out and the sidecar wheel went up the curb and up and over went the sidecar and bike with me
The car park security man thought that it was a stunt in a movie, but helped get the bike off of
me. I stood there dazed but, at that time, feeling no pain. Apart from bruising, the only injury that
I seemed to have was gravel rash on my leg. It really didn’t look that serious and I had lost
enthusiasm for driving the bike with sidecar to the clinic - so I decided to treat myself, and clean,
disinfect and dress the wound. Big mistake. Several days later the wound had turned septic
which involved a daily trip to the clinic, for two weeks, to have the infection scraped and
cleaned. Sometimes I never learn. I removed the sidecar from the bike and have kept the bike to
this day as a run around.
The funny thing is that bike is an old Suzuki two-stroke, which billows blue smoke when driven
and has literally been round the block many, many times. However, even if I leave it standing for
a few months, on full choke it will still kick-start, first time every time. That’s more than can be
said for my automatic, electric start, auto choke Yamaha Novo. After a week of non-use, it takes
a team of mechanics using electric shock defibrillation to revive it back to life.
Thai Tattoo – This was a shock to the system. I had often wondered as to why so many Thais had
some sort of ‘scar’, usually on the calf of their leg. I had put this down to some kind of
vaccination they had received when they were young. Then came the day that I too was branded.
A lot of folk, including myself, ride in shorts, with bare legs. It doesn’t take a lot of common
sense to be careful of not getting too close to a hot exhaust pipe. Guess I wasn’t in school the day
they gave out common sense. To this day I can recall the sound of sizzling and a smell of roast
To receive one Thai Tattoo is unlucky and unfortunate. To receive two – is plain stupid. Guess
who has two? One, on the front of my right leg and one on the back.
Young Ben were some Thai words which I learnt fairly quickly after starting to drive the
motorbikes, These words mean Flat Tyre. Not sure if it’s the heat, the pot holes or poor quality
of inner tube manufacture but the tubes usually deteriorate at the rubber joint around the valve
and the inner tube is shredded by the time you can stop,
Flat tyres become a way of life if you ride motorbikes in Thailand. Fortunately, in the towns
there is a motorbike repair shop on every corner. Out of town – it can be a hot, dusty walk down
a long winding road.
I was fairly lucky when it happened to me once, in the middle of nowhere. I started the long
trudge to a repair shop some miles away, when a pick-up truck pulled up. The Thai guy and his
girlfriend didn’t even ask. They lifted the bike into the back of the pick-up, then lifted me in after
it, and drove me and the bike to the repair shop. They wouldn’t even let my buy them a cold
See - there is a God and a Buddha!
Chapter Four - ‘If You’re Hungry – You’ll Eat It’
Part of my childhood was spent at my Dad’s home in the southern part of the United States.
Although, my Dad was a military man, the family was very poor farmers who lived in the foot-
hills of the Smokey Mountains. I learnt very early, in life to eat what was put in front of me – or
go hungry. Possum, Okra - fried and oozing slime, Grits with breakfast and so on. So I am no
stranger to eating very basic and different kinds of food. Still I had a few surprises in store for
me when I came to Thailand.
One day Tack, my then P/A, had taken Phil, an old English friend, and me to a lake close to
Chiang Mai – Huay Tung Thao. It is a beautiful place with small wooden Salas and a restaurant
literally by the beach. Lunch time came and we were all hungry. Phil and I stuck to well known
paths and ordered the usual, unadventurous chicken with cashew nuts and Kow Pad – Fried Rice.
Tack ordered Gung Tehn. I was curious.
“Tack… what’s Gung Tehn?”
The food came to the table and Tack’s order was in an earthenware pot, which she kept shaking.
It sounded like Popcorn cooking. I went to take the lid off and peek inside. “No… don’t do that!”
Too late, I lifted the lid. Out came some of the shrimp, whizzing past my ear. I looked at Tack.
“Now you know why they call them Dancing Shrimp”
The small freshwater shrimp are put into the pot with some oil, Nam Bpla – Fish Sauce and
some chili and spices. When the pot is shaken – the shrimp very quickly expire. It took me a
little while to get my mind around it – but eventually I asked Tack for a bite of the shrimp. They
I suppose that it is similar to going to a fresh fish restaurant and making your selection. Neither
the fish nor these shrimp could come any fresher.
When one of us from the office, has a birthday – we always go out in the evening to eat and
celebrate. This particular evening we went to a restaurant some way out of Chiang Mai which is
located by a fresh water shrimp farm and specializes in Northern Thai cuisine. The food that
night was very tasty and halfway through, Khun Meaw, one of the girls from the office, passed
me a bowl, of what I thought were sautéed shrimps – well, you would :wouldn’t you if you were
eating next door to a shrimp farm ?
I bit into the shrimp with great relish, I love them. Whoa… something was wrong, this tasted
like no shrimp that I had ever eaten. Still the taste wasn’t bad… just different. I looked back at
the bowl. They did not resemble any shrimp that I had ever seen.
Khun Meaw was still chomping away on her own plate of delicacies. I asked her what type of
shrimps these were.
“Shrimps? – they are not shrimps, Khun Frank. They are Grasshoppers”
I considered this for a while. I had heard of many people who thought that honeyed locusts were
a delicacy – but with eating insects, where do you draw the line? Cockroaches for example?
Khun Meaw explained for me. You are what you eat. Grasshoppers are vegetarian and primarily
eat grass. Okay? Cockroaches, to put it bluntly, are shit eaters. Do you want to eat shit?
No. Very logical. Thank you. But I still couldn’t eat the grasshoppers.
One night Beam and I were driving home to our house at Darawadee. The rain had stopped but
some type of winged insects kept hitting the windscreen in increasing numbers, eventually a
blizzard of insects. I asked Beam what they were –Malang Mow Drunk Insects. After a long
season of being hot and dry, at the first rains – these insects, which have lied dormant in the soil,
emerge in vast numbers. They are mesmerized by light and fly around and around until they
crash to the floor – hence the name Drunk Insects. Their life span is very, very short only a few
When we approached the house, my neighbours were running around with very large fish nets,
waving them in the air.
“Okay Beam – what’s up? Has someone escaped from the hospital?”
“No – They are catching the Malang Mow, so they can eat them.”
We pulled into the driveway, and Beam went to get some bowls to collect the flying insects
which had crashed onto the ground. I asked her what she was going to do with them, as for sure I
wasn’t going to eat them. She said she would sell them at the market, the following day. And you
know – that’s just what she did. Every Thai is a natural entrepreneur. Since then I have often
seen the Vendor making the round of the bars selling just about every insect under the sun, fried
crisp, for consumption by many of the girls who work in the bars
A few months later we were driving south down Superhighway Number One. Along this route
are many roadside vendors who sell just about everything under the sun. I was intrigued by a
run-up of signs which featured what appeared to be several black steer skulls. As usual, I turned
to Beam – the oracle from Khon Kaen as to what they meant. She replied that it was “The Rat
“The Rat Vendor.”
And sure enough after several more signs, there he was with many plastic bags of prepared rats.
“Don’t tell me that Thais eat them?’
“Sure – they are rice barn rats, they only eat rice.”
I was a little concerned at this and asked Beam how Thais knew they were Rice Barn
Rats. Did they wear little signs that said: “Its okay to eat me… I live in a barn.” A look of scorn,
but no reply.
When I returned to the office I checked with the girls. Yep, for sure, when they were younger,
they had all sampled rice barn rats.
Looking further into this – it seems that many of these rats are farmed. Bamboo cages with
lightening quick traps are made and placed either in the rice barns or at the various exits at a rice
paddy. Somebody goes in and makes a noise and out come the rats straight into the traps. The
rats are cleaned, skinned and prepared and cooked with:
Recipe for ground rat meat and chili paste:
1/4 cup fish oil
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1-1/2 cups of dried red chili peppers
4 long green pepper
8 large bay leaves
1/2 cup holy basil leaf
1 tablespoon salt
4 chopped garlic cloves
4 small rats
And that, along with grasshoppers, was where I drew the line.
I used to keep a little room on the hill at Pattaya, close to the yacht club and the same thing
applied, including a fruit and vegetable seller and, late in the evening – the barbeque man.
On one trip down, after I had been trying to explain to Beam, for some time, what a ‘Donner
Kebab’ was – what did we see driving around but a motorcycle vendor with attached sidecar,
with a big slab of rotating chicken – selling Donner Kebabs.
Very excited, I pointed out the vendor to Beam and explained how he made the kebabs. Much
later, who should turn up outside our room, but the Donner Kebab vendor. Eager to try them out,
I asked Beam to buy me a couple. I have to tell you – they were great, wrapped in tin foil, great
chicken, salad and sauce. I pigged out, and with an attitude of ‘all is well with the world’, I went
Three o’clock in the morning, I knew that something was wrong.
My stomach had been rumbling for an hour or so and now I started to have cramps. It was touch
or go, as to whether I would make the toilet in time – then all hell broke loose. Literally. And
that continued all over the New Year Holiday. Upon reflection- I should have realized. Unlike,
most restaurants making kebabs, in more or less, hygienic conditions, the kebab vendor’s meat is
exposed to the heat and the insects for nearly 24 hours per day. It is unlikely that he covers it up
when he goes into sleep. Some people learn the hard way.
Chapter Five -Encounters with Monks, Spirit Houses and Hill Tribes
‘WAT’S’ The Monk Going To Say?
Quite often, I teach English at the Monk’s school at the Wat Phra Sing. This is a very large and
beautiful Wat Buddhist Temple in the old City of Chiang Mai with some 800 Nayn, Novice
Monks are not ordained until they are twenty years old. Although times are changing, every
male Thai Buddhist of twenty years or over is expected to become a monk for a period of time.
For how long is up to them and their families.
Letting their sons become Novice Student Monks is an attractive proposition for many Thai
families. The level of education the students receive is normally much higher than the family
would be able to afford and may not be available in their home town or village.
For that reason, many of the young Monks come from different places in Thailand. Most of them
are very shy of their Yak Ferang Western Giant teacher. Teachers, in Thailand are usually much
respected and even awed. The young Monks standard of English is not all that good, but
gradually, as they became more used to me – they begin to participate in the various learning
games. The students are fascinated to learn both of my life outside the Wat in Chiang Mai and of
my life before coming to Thailand. They would ask me about what I ate, if I was married and
what I believed in.
I, in turn, would ask them about their daily routine, what and when they could eat and where
they went and what they did when they went outside of the Wat for a walk-around. The lessons
frequently end up as funny chat sessions, which is ironic as they are conducted in ‘The Chat
Room’ – where Monk Chat takes place.
Many Wats now promote Monk Chat. Several times a week, Farangs can go along to the Wat
and find out more about Thai Monks and life in a Wat. This works well as it can be very
interesting for visitors to Thailand and the Monks get to practice their English.
I have been lucky in my life to meet some very interesting people with special talents and skills.
Although there are some charlatans – some monks have the gift of seeing and perceiving things
that others can not. My first experience of this was some thirty five years ago, when I brought a
friend with me, to Thailand, who was a complete skeptic. My sister-in-law encouraged her to go
along and see a ‘Fortune Teller Monk who had developed this sense since early childhood. She
was ashen when she emerged from the Wat. The Mordu Fortune Teller Monk had not only
predicted her future (accurately as it turned out) but also related her past life to her in specific
detail. My sister-in-law asked if I wished to see the Monk. I nervously declined.
Years passed. I used to rent a house close to Wat Gew Kam, adjacent to Arcade Bus Station. I
was quite interested in the life of Monks and frequently used to visit the Wat to make Tamboon
Merit. Every morning at 6 o’clock I used to stand outside my house with food for the Monks
making their rounds for Bintabat Alms Giving. This involves a Monk and some young helpers
making the rounds of the surrounding neighbourhood of the Wat during the very early morning.
They carry a special bowl with a removable lid. The faithful kneel before the Monk who lifts the
lid and the food for the Wat is placed in the bowl. The Monk should not look at the food or
comment on it. Finally the Monk will intone a blessing and move on to the next alms giver. This
food is eaten during the morning as the Monks cannot eat after 12 noon until the following day.
The Monks may have been surprised by some of the food I put into their bowls – chili con carne,
spaghetti bolognaise, apples, chocolate bars… anything I could lay my hands on in the house.
But they always came back the next day!
I discovered that one of the Monks in the Wat was a Mordu. Over the years I had become brave
and asked Khun Meaw, from my office, if she would take me to see the Monk. She agreed and
on the first visit, he recorded the time, date and place of my birth – and asked us to return the
next day. We returned the following day and sat before the Monk. He had a complicated diagram
in front of him of various squares rectangles and symbols, which I assumed referred to my
destiny. Before beginning he said something to Khun Meaw and smiled forlornly.
Khun Meaw said –
“The Monk wants to know if you are brave and have a strong heart?”
Filled with dread I replied -
Khun Meaw said that the Monk wishes to sing the prediction as a poem in Northern Thai Dialect.
“Fine” I said. The Monk sang. Khun Meaw wrote down the prediction.
When he had finished we both asked for his blessing and left. In the car, I asked Khun Meaw as
to what the Monk had said. Khun Meaw said that the next year would not be a good one for me. I
would be at the mercy of a thief and spend much time in hospital and nearly die. “Oh?”
The following morning in the office I wanted to show the other girls the prediction to see what
they thought. Khun Meaw said
“Sorry Khun Frank, I threw it away.”
It turns out that it is a Thai custom when receiving bad news, as in the form of a fortune telling,
perhaps with the fortune telling, shake and quake sticks in a Wat – in which you shake a
container until one ‘stick’ falls out with a number. You then associate this number with a written
forecast of your future. If the news is not good then you leave the written prediction there, to
leave the bad luck behind.
Well that wasn’t what happened in my case. My General Manager embezzled two million baht
from me and I spent nearly a year in hospital with a life-threatening condition. That’s all history
now and no consolation, but I later found out that the Fortune Telling Monk also nearly died in
hospital. Maybe that accounted for why his smile was so forlorn.
When I moved into my next house – I was surprised that there was no Spirit House in the
garden. One of the first things I did was to buy one and Tack arranged for a Brahmin Priest to
visit and correctly position the Spirit House and perform the initiation ceremony. Paradoxically,
Spirit Houses are related to Brahmin and not Buddhism but Thais quite happily accept both
concepts and pay respective homage to both.
The initiation ceremony is very curious and intricate and amongst other things involves the
Brahmin Priest ‘eating flames’ from candles. I became so involved in taking photos of this ritual
that Tack had to come and rope me in to participate. Not eating candle flames anyway – I am
happy to say.
‘Monks That Walk’
During the Buddist Lent, which coincides with the rice seedlings growing in the paddies, Monks
are committed to stay in their assigned Wat or Temple, unless they have special dispensation to
be away. Once the Lent is over, Monks can and do travel either to other Wats for pilgrimages or
other reasons perhaps to visit sick and ailing parents.
A few years ago, I was driving from Chiang Mai to visit my Mum, who lived some 18
Kilometres outside of town. The weather was abysmal and it was raining 'cats and dogs'. Three
Monks were walking along the canal road, but, despite the volume of traffic - no one pulled over
to offer them a lift. 'Okay - why not?' – I thought and I pulled up. Their feet did not touch the
ground in getting into the pick-up.. The head Monk asked me where I was going. I replied I was
going to visit my Mum who lived a few kilometres down the road. Silence ensued for a few
I asked - 'Where are you going?' He replied “To Mae Hong Song” nearly 200 kilometres away.
The kilometres dragged on and eventually, we reached the market town of San Patong. The
monks indicated for me to pull over as they wished to go to the bus station. They blessed me and
attached a holy Sai-Sin bracelet to my wrist. Then, they asked for the bus fare to Mae Hong
Song. Not entirely sure of what to do, I pulled out my wallet, which only had 500 baht in, and
gave it to them. Off, they went into the rain.
When I returned to my office the girls I worked with were astounded and angry and said that
should never have happened as Monks should never ask for money.
The epilogue to this story is that a few years later, my wife Beam and I were driving south to
Rayong. As we came around the bend, we encountered a monk walking a long the side of the
road. Beam asked me to stop and ask the Monk where he was going. 'To Khon Kaen', he replied.
She apologized profusely and advised him that we were going in another direction. She turned to
me and asked for 300 Baht to give to him, and bent down so that he could bless her. Off we
When we drove a round the next bend, there in a single file - stretched out, were presumably, the
rest of the group of Monks travelling to Khon Kaen. Beam pointed out the scenery on the other
side of the road, as we drove by.
The Tribe That Lives On the Hill
Shortly after coming to live in Chiang Mai, I noticed some colourfully dressed women walking
around in the evening – selling various artifacts. It turned out that they were from the Akha Hill
Tribe. The women wear very plain shirts which are covered with what seems to be the contents
of a pirates treasure chest. The women are also very visible because of a type of silver ‘helmet’,
and many can be seen at the Night Bazaar selling their wares of intricate silver jewelery. Another
vendor of the streets was the flower seller. She was always smartly dressed in a black blouse and
dress, and was obviously quite fit as she must have covered many, many kilometer each day. In
fact, the girls in the office used to buy the flowers from her to decorate the office Buddha Image.
One day as she was leaving – she stopped to look at our postcards on display for sale. She
became quite excited and pointed out on postcard which showed a group of Akha Hill Tribe
women in traditional costume. It turned out that these women were her family; and she also used
to wear the traditional costume they were wearing.
Curious, I asked Tack to tell me more about the Hill Tribes. There seem to be seven main
groups - Karen, Lahu, Hmong, Lisu, Akha and Mien, Lisu and Padaung. It then all becomes
quite complicated as there are many sub-groups of the Hill Tribes, with their own languages,
dialects, villages and religions, including Christianity. The Christian Missionaries have been very
active over the years and many of the Hill Tribe Villages have a Christian church. Apparently it
has happened that some Hill Tribe members would go for a swim and, wile swimming, were
quickly baptised by the Missionary
It may be that the Hill Tribes originally came from China and Burma, and then gradually
migrated down to Thailand from the surrounding countries. Their home villages are high up in
the mountains, as they like the height and isolation and invariably – they are involved in
agriculture. In fact, fifty years ago poppies were the main crop as was the production of opium,
until the Thai Government urged on by the U.S., instituted various programs to change this.
One of the more interesting Hill Tribes are the Paduang. Should you visit Chiang Mai and take a
tour to the Golden Triangle, you will have the opportunity to visit the village of the Long Neck.
The women traditionally make themselves beautiful by adding brass rings around their necks.
This doesn’t actually stretch the neck but has the affect of depressing the clavicle –the collar
bone, which gives the impression of an extended neck. Thai Yai or Shan are part of the Paduang
Hill Tribe. The Thai Yai crossed over into Thailand from Burma a long time ago and many now
live in the Mae Hong Son area. Most are bi-lingual in the Shan language and Burmese, and The
Shan language is not dissimilar to Thai, although the alphabet is more like Burmese. A couple of
Mum’s carers were Thai Yai from Mae Hong Son. They could both speak Thai but could not
read or write it, although they could read a little English. We had to leave notes and instructions
for them in very simple English.
During my time teaching English at Chiang Mai Inter Technical College, I tried to think of a
subject that the students would be knowledgeable about and could write a short paragraph about
for home work. Something about one of the Thai Hill Tribes seemed ideal. When I was
reviewing their home work, I discovered that one of the students had written a short paragraph
relating the Crucifixion at Calvary. There you go – I knew it. The Lost Tribe of the Jewish
Nation is alive and well and has become a Thai Hill Tribe!
‘Consider Your Next Move… Carefully’
Through circumstance - I have moved in Thailand at least ten times, through a variety of
accommodation, which suited my needs at any particular time. I thought that I had finally found
somewhere which met all of my needs, when I moved onto the 11th
floor corner unit of the
Riverside Condo. I had a wonderful view of the River Ping, great sunsets over the mountains,
hardly any mosquitoes and most importantly of all – a swimming pool. I have always enjoyed
swimming as an exercise and, sometimes, being somewhat of a nosey-parker, love to ‘people
Alas, it was not to be as poor old Mum suffered yet another fall which caused her to be admitted
to hospital for nearly a year. Cassie, the family sheep-dog, had always lived with Mum and was
now left unattended, so I had to do something fast. No pets were allowed at the Condo, so the
girls and I again, began house-hunting.
The girls, from my office, eventually found a functional house for Cassie and me in Ban
Darawadee, a cross between a Thai village and housing estate.
The rent was a lot cheaper than my Condo Studio, and considering what was on offer, almost
too good to be true. I later found out why it was so cheap, but more about this later. The house
had a walled garden, with lockable gate – great for Cassie! It was multilevel with a bedroom,
food preparation room and bathroom on the ground level. Next up a larger room which became
my office, and on the top floor – two further bedrooms and bathroom, and a balcony with a grand
view of the Doi Suthep mountain and Temple.
The cooking and washing up facilities, as in many Thai houses, were outside and covered as was
the car port. In the front were a small fish pond and a lockable garage/storage room. Cassie and I
took it on the spot and moved in.
Cassie and I were just unpacking, when we heard a small voice from the end of the garden
“Good Afternoon.” We both looked up to see a young boy standing there. “Does your dog bite?”
It was so tempting to come back with the famous line from the Pink Panther movie, in which,
Peter Sellars portraying Inspector Clouseau, asks a Swiss Hotel reception clerk if his dog bites as
Clouseau wishes to stroke him. The reception clerk shakes his head. Clouseau bends down and
the dog bites him. Clouseau says – “I thought that you said that your dog does not bite!” The
clerks says “Ít is not my dog”. Instead I told him that Cassie was the friendliest dog that he
would ever meet. His name was Q and he became our introduction to the village of Darawadee
and the folk who lived there. I later used to ask if he had an older brother or sister called I. I
don’t think that he ever made the connection.
Q took Cassie and me for a walk and we discovered a man-made fish lake at the end of our road.
At the side was a Buddhist convent where a Mae-Chee Thai Nun lived. Cassie was an unusual
and friendly dog who attracted so much attention that at times it could be like walking around
with a movie star. The Mae-Chee instantly befriended her and used to bring small gifts of food
and fruit to our garden. Q also took us to show us some open ground where we could exercise
Cassie. It was on the immediate threshold to the landing runway at Chiang Mai Airport and I
spent many a happy hour watching the aircraft on their final approach. Other visitors to this
patch of land included a group of paint-ball-gun fanatics who had built an assault course and also
a group of radio controlled model aircraft and helicopter enthusiasts, who flew their various
models around like bats.
A little more towards the middle of the village was the small playing Area, where the lads
played Dtagrah, a game of much skill which is a sort of cross between volleyball and football. To
watch the payers of this game is to wonder at their agility. Also there were the noodle shop and
tea drinks booth. When Beam, my wife, eventually arrived, she spent many happy hours there, as
the lady owner originates from Khon Kaen which is in Issan, North-East Thailand – the same
home town as Beam’s. Her husband was a very nice guy, and an efficient car and motorbike
mechanic, who worked in the street outside the shop. The Khon Kaen Lady was a great cook and
would happily come out on her motorbike to deliver to our door. Her specialty was Pad Gapow
Moo – Pork cooked with holy basil leaves and spices and she also prepared a very ‘mean’ Son
Tam – Papaya Salad which was always too spicy for me to eat. She and the tea lady who ran the
tea stall next door would quite happily sit and gossip with Beam and anyone who cared to spend
some time gossiping for a while, all day long.
Our immediate neighbours were a family from Kampaeng Phet, which is south on the road to
Bangkok. The father was a formidable man who terrified me. He was a debt collector and had
some very menacing friends. As time passed, I guess that he mellowed and he turned out to be a
very good neighbour. The family had a young son called Beer.
On the other side was a young family, also from Issan, with a young son called Earth. Every day
the school bus would take Beer and Earth to school and bring them home late afternoon. The first
thing that they did when they arrived home was to visit Lung Uncle Frank, with Q in tow to see
if I had any Kanom chocolate snacks for them. Many was the time that Q’s Mum or
Grandmother would come to the house to drag him home for his supper.
One morning a teenage girl turned up at the gate, sitting on the luggage rack of a bike way too
small for her with a minute boy perched on the saddle. It was all that she could do to peddle with
her long spindly legs. It turned out that her nickname was Dea – Darling and the little fellows
name was Nua –North. Despite all of the Kanom chocolate that I fed Nua, each morning, during
my two years at Darawadee – Nua did not grow one inch. When we finally moved on from
Darawadee - Dea became a tremendous help in packing everything up and unpacking at out new
house. We quite missed seeing her and the other children after we moved.
‘Visitors To The Garden’
It is part of the daily routine in many countries, including Thailand, to shake out your shoes
before you wear them. I am not quite sure as to what make my shoes so attractive to lodgers, but
on the first morning – two enormous Toads, fell onto the ground. They both gave me a
disgruntled look and went hopping on their way.
A few days later, I went to step into my sandals, when a short blue and black snake slithered out
from them and looked up at me. As many people will tell you, I am quite a big guy but my
acrobatics that morning would have qualified me for an Olympic team.
A long list of other critters, including centipedes and scorpions have tried to take refuge in them
– until I thought that enough was enough and I started to keep them in the house.
You might well ask as to just what the ‘Wonder Dog’ was doing when all of this happened?
Well ‘Wonder Dog’ was at her sentinel position at the fish pond staring down at the fish, as if
she might find the secret to the universe in there. Like the crabs, in the old ‘Boot’ cartoon, the
fish stared right back up at ‘The Eyes in the Sky’ possibly thinking that they were some sort of
deity. The only time that they took umbrage is when she helped herself and drank the pond
water. As to why she would do that – your guess is as good as mine. She had a constant supply
of fresh drinking water.
Somewhere along the way, Cassie became a confused dog with regard to the ‘Origin of the
Species’ and did not really know if she was canine or human. She made immediate friends with
all people and even if a thief would come to the garden, she would welcome him, lick his feet on
the way to the house and offer to help carry the booty out to his car!
With regard to other dogs, it was a different matter, Cassie was a total snob and would
disdainfully ignore them. Her Don Quixote mission in life was to prevent two doves, which came
to the garden for food, from jumping in her food bowl to finish off her meal. Cassie did not want
the rest of meal – but she did not want the doves to have it either. The doves were none too
alarmed by Cassie’s charge, just jumped away a few steps, and returned to the bowl once Cassie
had sat down again. This went on and on until either the doves, or usually Cassie tired of the
game and went off to sulk in the house.
It’s not just Thai dogs. Cassie was ‘dog anti-social’ with all dogs, ever since she had been a
puppy. But somehow Thai dogs knew that she was different and barked at her at every
opportunity to tell her so. Naturally Cassie had her own thoughts about this and barked back.
When I took her out for exercise I usually had to act as a referee, as most Thai dogs have total
freedom to come and go. They learn to become ‘street-wise’ very early in life and are great
ramblers. Even in the city of Chiang Mai, it is not unusual to see a dog or two, on the move,
across the town, with purpose in mind.
“Off to see old Fred today… Want to come along?”
And off they trot – a couple of old friends on a mission.
Soi Dogs can be quite a nuisance. Soi is the Thai word for small street or lane, and the dogs who
reside there can be very territorial. They take no prisoners and have no fear. To walk or ride
down the Soi at any time of day or night is to take your life in your hands.
Like many other countries, a sad aspect of dog owning in Thailand is when the time comes that
the dog is no longer wanted by the owner. The Thais will take the dog to the local Wat Temple
and leave it there. This is why you may see so many dogs in the Wat grounds. In some Wats the
dogs are cared for very well. In others, especially if there are many, they are neglected.
‘Things That Go Bump In The Night’
Most Thais are very superstitious and many of them believe in ghosts. There are many famous
ghosts and stories, perhaps the most famous being of Nang Nak, which is a pretty blood thirsty
story concerning a romance of a beautiful woman whose husband is conscripted and does not
return. Nang Nak and her child die during her labour and she returns to haunt. Who’s to say?
Thais are very reluctant to own a possession of a dead person. I later discovered that the mother
of my landlady, and the original owner of the house that I rented, had died in a gruesome car
accident in which she suffered severe head injuries during the collision.
Hence the reason that I managed to get the house at a rock bottom price rental.
I personally have an open mind, and the following actually did happen.
On the other side of the wall at the back of the house was a family who lived with a very
aggressive Dalmatian dog. In fact, when the owner took it out for a walk, she had great problems
in controlling the dog, It barked, loudly and incessantly.
Mum had by then gone on to new adventures in her next life, a few years ago. On the night of
her farewell ceremony, Beam and Pan, the last of her Carers, returned to our house, at
Darawadee. The girls slept upstairs and I in the downstairs bedroom. During the night I heard the
most blood curdling cry. I looked at the clock – 1:23 a.m. I shouted upstairs to see if one of the
ladies were having a nightmare. No – they were both okay – and the howl came again. It turned
out to be the Dalmation next door, scared out of its wits. Me too – the Dalmation’s scream!
Cassie however was full of beans, very happy, excited and exuberant and desperately wanted to
go outside. She had been for exercise before we had all went to bed - so it was a mystery. I
opened the door and she shot out. I went upstairs to check on the girls and they were as mystified
as I was. We all went downstairs and Cassie came in as if after meeting an old friend or loved
one. 1:23 a.m. – The time that Mum had died. Mum had an immense love of all animals, dogs in
particular and could never help stopping to chat to one to make a new friend. Perhaps the
Dalmation didn’t quite see it that way! Draw your own conclusions.
Straight to your door step
One of the great things about Darawadee, and most places in Thailand is the number of vendors
or buyers who do come to your house. At Darawadee, the first thing in the morning is the mobile
shop selling vegetables, meats and many types of various foods. The husband usual drives the
pick-up and wify sits in the back with the scales, ice box and various goodies arranged, hanging
from the interior around her. On offer is just about everything that you need to cook a delicious
Thai meal/ Later in the day – the Kanom Jeep (Thai dumplings with fried garlic, soy sauce and
lettuce) and rice bun and salad man, the ice cream man, the man selling brooms and finally the
recycle man who will buy all of the glass and plastic bottles, old newspapers, tins and old metal a
bit like the old rag and bone man back in the U.K. Even at our office there is a parade of vendors
who pass the door every day, who will cut and prepare a coconut for you, have a variety of goods
including bananas crisps and delicious Thai donuts with a curious but tasty herb inside.
It is worthwhile noting here that most Thai food vendors usually cook fresh food, one time only
and it is hot and delicious. It is rare that you will have to learn the steps to the ‘Aztec-Two-Step
“In a Ditch with a Bitch’
Not quite sure which is worse – the daily beating heat of the hot season and this year was very
HOT and the season was long. Or the depressing day after day of torrential rain of the rainy
season. Lovely cool and refreshing to begin with but it soon becomes wearing. This year we had
a LOT of rain and the ground became supersaturated with water.
One night I was driving back to my house and turned into the unpaved driveway leading to my
compound. The earth at the side of the road gave way and the Mazda pick-up and I toppled into
the drainage ditch. Beam came out with a lamp, and as is the way in the country, a small crowd
of villagers soon gathered – each with their own opinion of how to get me and the Mazda out.
Eventually, my brother arrived and arranged for a farmer and his tractor to tow the Mazda out.
He leapt in, a lot more nimbly than I had crawled out, and with a second pick up to stabilize the
rear – the Mazda and my brother came up and out of the ditch like a phoenix from the ashes. I
suppose that in the old days, it would have been a team of buffalo instead of a tractor. Luckily I
was not hurt and the Mazda is a tough old bird and only had a slight scratch on the side. Maybe
the story of my life – ending up with some tough old bird in a ditch!
Fast forward to Christmas Eve. Our family live around a large fish lake, which is full of Mekong
Cat Fish. My brother and his family live at one end of the lake where there is a resort, a small
pub and the accommodation and provision for the Cambridge CELTA School which trains
English teachers. Beam, my wife, Cassie the family sheep dog and I live at the other end of the
The unpaved driveway to my house is very dark at night and the sharp turn from the driveway
necessitates reversing out of the compound. That evening we had loaded up the car with a
hamper of culinary delights – various cheeses, home made chicken liver pate, baguettes and a
few bottles of wine to take up to the other end of the lake to celebrate with the family. Now
Cassie was a home loving dog and was usually content to be left on her own guarding the house.
Did I say ‘content’? Perhaps grudging acceptance would better express this as she was a great
traveller and nothing delighted her more than to ride in the back of the pick up. Did I say
‘Guarding the House’? Cassie was afraid of her own shadow and should a thief come to ransack
the place – Cassie would lick his hands and cheerfully help him carry the loot and bounty to his
vehicle. Still, usually when you would have said “Stay” – she stayed.
Perhaps that evening it was the irresistible smell of the goodies in the hamper but as I was
reversing out Beam pointed out Cassie, lit up by the head lights, following us. I stopped and
Cassie went around to the rear of the pick-up as she was prepared to jump in and then suddenly
disappeared. Beam jumped out and called that Cassie had fallen into the drainage ditch. Being a
true gentleman I also got out and helped Beam to do down into the ditch to get Cassie out. Now
Cassie was no light-weight and I also was summoned into the ditch.
Struggling – Beam and I managed to hoist Cassie up and out of the ditch. Now I had the
problem. I could not get enough leverage to climb up and out as the wet soil, at the top, kept
going way. I asked Beam to return to the house to fetch a step ladder and told Cassie to go with
her. Beam left and instead of Cassie returning to the house – she came back to stare at me and
find out what I was doing in the ditch – short term memory retention! As is the way of the world
the soil gave way and I ended up with the 25 kilo Wonder Dog on top of me. Now that ditch is
full of creepy-crawlies, scorpions, maybe even cobras and goodness knows what else. If you had
seen us – you would have believed that a man and dog could fly – we were out of that ditch so
I returned to the house to lick my wounds and Beam patched me up. I had a few drink that night
– for medicinal purposes, of course.
‘Merry Christmas Mister Francis’ !
‘The House That Frank Built…’
Well…hand on heart… not quite. More like the house that Frank’s brother designed, Tum – the
builder constructed, while lazy Frank, Beam and Cassie watched being built!
You know one of the strange things about life, is that you never know what’s around the corner,
both good and bad – or where you will end up. When I came out to live in Thailand – the plan
was that Mum, Cassie and I would live out here at the fish lake at Doi Tham. As is often the way,
circumstances changed and that did not happen at that time. Now, ten years later, here are Beam
and I living out in the country at the fish lake. And believe me, after Darawadee – it has taken
some time to get adjusted. As a by-the-way, Ban Doi Tham is Chiang Mai dialect for Village
with Goat in Cave. I have found the village but am still looking for the goat and the cave.
The Dawn Chorus –Being in the country, free range chickens are everywhere. To be honest, I am
not sure if anyone knows anymore as to who owns what. Everyday, a cockerel with his harem of
hens and baby chicks will walk though our compound, eating as they go. Cassie was totally
oblivious to the chickens and slept right through the march past. The only time that Cassie was
aroused and would bark is if I called out ‘Cats!’ Although she did not have a clue as to what a cat
The chickens are a nuisance as many times when the house is unattended and left open for Cassie
– they will enter in search of food, make a big mess and up-turn small rubbish bins. Wonder Dog
slept all through all of this.
I have often encouraged Beam to do some ‘Rustling’ for our Sunday lunch but fair play and
perhaps two of the five Buddhist Precepts comes into play and she is not interested.
We don’t need an alarm lock as at 0300 the silly buggers wake up and for ten minutes sound off
– Cocker-Doodle-Doo in English and Yak-I-Yak-I-Yak in Thai. Then they press the equivalent
of chicken snooze alarm and go back to sleep for an hour. At 0400 is the second chorus. At this
stage I am up and ready ‘armed for bear’. Beam mutters ‘Jai Yen Yen’ – Take it easy and go
back to sleep. I simmer, waiting for the next ‘Act’. Right on time at 0500 – The Cock Crows The
Hour, and they are all awake and Cocker-Doodle-Doo in 50 part harmony.
KFC had it right first time around.
Around the paddy fields there are lots of cows and buffalo roaming around. Quite often we have
to shoo them out of the garden. Interesting, the Thai words for fried rice are pronounced Cow
Pat. Some other interesting words, that make you think –
Poo –Crab and Prik Chili
Its curious that in every 7-11 store, every Tesco Lotus, Big C, Carrefour and other supermarkets
– all across Thailand, There are hundred of thousands of litres of fresh milk every day. But guess
what – I’ve never seen a dairy herd or barn. They must keep them somewhere. Same with eggs.
Apart from the chickens that come into the garden. Never seen any battery or free range egg
‘Village and Town Loudspeakers’
Most locations in Thailand have a local ‘Loud-speaker’ system to be used as a public
information service, emergency information or just local events and gossip. Different towns and
villages tend to use, or not use this facility according to inclination. In the village that I currently
live -it comes on ‘smart as a button’ between 0600 -0700 on a Sunday morning. Most days, I just
cover my head with a pillow and go back to sleep. This particular day, the loudspeaker started to
play the same ‘taped’ announcement over and over again, It ran for about two minutes and when
I quizzed Beam – she told me that it had to do with ‘House Cleaning Day” to try to prevent the
spread of mosquitoes. After two hours of the same repeated announcement, with buzzing
mosquitoes and music – I was stir crazy. I am an easy going sort of guy – but all of my fuses
blew. I called my brother, I had Beam call the Head Man of the village, I posted a topic in the
Expat forum…. But still it went on. Eventually I gave in and drove into my office for a little
peace, only to find the local loudspeakers blaring out the same message.
Some you win… Some you lose.
Late Night Parties and Festivals
Thais love to party and very much enjoy karaoke – and they love to Share! They are totally
impervious to loud noise and music, as you will find out if you take a stroll around the
audio/visual section of one of the supermarkets. Most T.V’s. and Music Players are turned on at
full volume. If there is a family event such as a wedding, or even a cremation, the garden
activities can sometimes go on for several evenings and very late. The loud speakers are turned
up to full volume and the sound can carry a long way. During the various Thai festivals, many
garden parties occur at the same time, with the music in competition.
During the earlier part of the evening, some of the music can be pleasant. Later on, as the
wobblypops –drinks take their toll and the karaoke begins – it all goes downhill. The last time
around, I found a CD with Tchaikovsky's 1812 overture on, including cannon shots, and played
it at full volume. Deathly silence ensued!
Don’t Go Swimming
Some times in life, someone describes something or somewhere to you – and when you
eventually encounter it, you think … Big Deal! On the other hand when you do see it get to see
it, it is even more than incredible. The Greek Island of Santorini is an example. Santorini is
what’s left of a volcano that blew up in 1630 BC. It is visually overwhelming. So are the fish in
the lake by my house.
All around the area of Doi Tham are similar lakes. An ore, which is used in road construction, is
excavated, leaving very large and deep holes in the ground. Gradually rain water feels the hole
and a lake is born. Sometimes, as with our lake, fish were put in many years ago. The fish are
called Bplahduke Mekong Catfish. Big Deal? Many of these fish weigh nearly 30 kilo and, if left,
can grow to twice that size! There are hundreds of them in the lake in addition to an assortment
of gold and other fish from an aquarium that my nephew had grown tired of. My brother keeps
small packets of pellet feed for the students, at his school, to feed the fish with. Rather like
sharks, the fish go into a feeding frenzy and thrash around in the water. If you were to fall in at
that moment – I am not sure as to what condition you would be in when they finally hauled you
Sometimes at night, there are poachers. They don’t tend to last long though as it is almost
impossible to land a fish that size without making any noise. I am quite a robust guy and on a
fishing expedition once, it took me and a friend nearly half and hour to land a 23 kilo fish – it
was very hard work.
Late in the afternoon, the fish all come to the surface to mate and have orgies. Really! My Mum
used to take great delight in pointing this out to visitors. One lady called it disgusting and
pornographic. My Mum said “Only to other catfish, Dear…only to another catfish”
Wherever I lay my Head
One of the men who lives in the village has a REAL big drink problem. Although not at all
violent – he can be a nuisance at times.
On one occasion, we heard Siripan, our immediate neighbour, call to Beam for help. Tony, her
husband, had traveled to the schools up north for a few days, so she was by herself. The drunk
was so far gone that he had became lost and had ended up in Siripan’s garden. Siripan, quite
naturally, thought that it was a thief intruder and was scared out of her wits.
We went running out to Siripan’s house and arrived at the same time as some other villagers. By
this time the drunk had lain down on the grass and had gone to sleep. Eventually, two of the
village men carried him home.
Another time during a night time storm, Beam and I were driving home to the house. It was
fortunate that I was driving slowly and looking out for rain filled potholes. In the dark, lying on
the wet road, was the drunk. At that stage, we were not sure if he had been hit by another car or
just what had happened. Beam called into one of the village houses close by. One of the villagers
came out, rolled his eyes and said in Thai –“Here we go again”. The drunk had been down to one
of the road side drinking bars, on the canal road and drank a real skin full . Somehow, he had
navigated himself home but then had ran out of juice before reaching his house. Deciding to call
it a day, he had lain down and gone to sleep. The villagers once again carried him home.
They say that St. Jude is the patron saint of ‘lost causes’ and ‘cases despaired of’. Perhaps he
was looking out for the drunk that evening.
Our Local Monks –
Ban Doi Tham is situated in what, I suppose, are the foothills of Doi Suthep mountain. As the
road winds it way up from the canal road, it passes our fish lake and homes and rises up to local
Wat Doi Tham Temple. On top of the Temple is a fairly large structure depicting a Thai Dragon,
which in day time is non too impressive, but at night time, when illuminated, is quite beautiful.
The Monks are a cheerful bunch and we made friends with the senior monk, by chance one day,
when we stopped to offer him a lift. He declined but was astonished when Cassie poked her head
out of the back of the pick-up. This was Cassie’s favourite trick, when we stopped at red traffic
lights, to startle the motorcyclists into jumping off of their bikes. The Monk had no qualms and
made a big fuss of Cassie. After that, we frequently used to see him out and about for his
exercise and meditation.
My brother and his family live at the other end of the fish lake. Within his compound is a resort,
small pub and restaurant and the Cambridge CELTA school. The school is, in essence, a teachers
training college. This certified, one month course is attended by folk from all over the world who
wish to become English Teachers. The month is very intense and requires much concentration
and input from the students. Not all of them make it through. The students usually arrive on the
Sunday, to check-in and settle down. Many of them really have no idea what lies ahead and
frequently the first Sunday evening is party time. As the week begins to unfold, reality begins to
set in as the course cranks up and the pressure mounts.
If I sound a little pompous and unsympathetic – that is not my intention. In my own life, I have
completed a TEFL course, Teaching English as a Foreign Language, and have both attended and
conducted many courses in Instructor Development. Did you know that ‘Public Speaking’ is
ranked as many people’s number one fear? I have seen a grown man, built like tank, with
shaking hands, quivering knees and a faltering voice when he got up to introduce himself of the
first day of the course. I knew him very well. It was yours truly! And the funny thing is that,
although over the years, I have become very comfortable in helping people learn in formal
classroom delivery or on-the-job training – I still shake like a leaf if I have to make a speech at a
wedding. I have to accept that I will never be an orator.
My brother’s complex is quite an accomplishment, He has extraordinary ‘vision’ and has turned
what used to be an old farmer’s field around a lake, into a luxury resort. He has a love of old teak
and hard red wood, and bought many old rice bans, to dismantle and reassemble into the various
accommodation units in the gardens around the lake. It is a very different and pleasant place to
stay for both guests and students.
Although, naturally, all of the students are individuals, each course seems to develop its own
unique profile. Some are very studious and are rarely seen at the pub, outside of course hours.
Others are true party animals and seem to be both able to study and spend long happy hours at
the pub. All of the students quickly become very supportive to each other and a cohesive team.
They are in true distress, when the end of the course comes and they have to leave each other.
Two characters in particular come to mind – a New Zealand guy who was teaching in Korea,
who came from a family of wood carvers; and a very animated Irish lady. One night, well into
their cups, after the pub had closed, the New Zealander had managed to get hold of a kitchen
knife and they both proceeded to make a carving of the Cat Fish playing in the lake, on the teak
wood of the bar.
My brother woke up, heard some noise and went down to the pub. In the gloom he went
ballistic, gave them a piece of his mind and they both, very contritely, scuttled off to bed.
The following morning, my brother had cooled off and had another look at the carving. Actually
it was quite good. Still very subdued and contrite the New Zealand guy returned to Korea, at the
end of the course. My brother was amazed, one day, when opening the mail he found a carton
and found a wood carving, with the name of the pub – ‘The Nugent Arms’ carved with loving
care on a piece of teak.
At the end of the week it is a case of ‘Thank God It’s Friday’ and the students relax a little
during the weekend.
At six o’clock in the evening on every weekday, many Thais come to the school to both act as
students for the novice teachers to practice teaching English with, but also to actually learn
English. Usually, included in the Thai students is the head Monk and perhaps one other. On the
final evening of the course, there is a presentation ceremony when all of the Thai students are
given ‘certificates’ and the student teachers given presents. It all becomes very jolly with a party
atmosphere and a celebration dinner.
Now in Thailand, the average person has five Buddhist precepts to observe in their daily life
(apart from the precepts of the eight precepts of Buddhist Middle Path:
Do not kill
Do not take what is not yours
Do not engage in sexual misconduct
Do not lie or gossip
Do not take intoxicant
Now, these precepts can be amplified to cover a multitude of various, non-acceptable behaviour.
A Thai Buddhist monk has 227 precepts which they must observe.
The list is too long to detail here, but includes the percepts that they must not handle money or
touch a woman. Obviously the reality of daily life causes some degree of latitude in the
application of these precepts.
During the final evening of the course, when the party commenced, many of the students
become quite happy and wished for photos to be taken so they could remember the evening. On
that particular course, there was much merriment and the Irish lady, hugged the monk, thrust a
bundle of money into his hands and wanted her photo to be taken. The Monk, not having much
choice, had to sit there and endure it. Goodness knows what penance he had to pay for breaking
precepts, but do you know, he did come back as a student on the next course and for many
Chapter Seven – Characters That You Meet Along The Way
Something Wicked This Way Comes. Perhaps it is easy with hindsight to ask oneself – ‘How
could I have been so stupid?’ Although I had read all of the warning books, heard of other’s
experiences and had been a round the block a few times - I really did not see it coming.
Pattaya is a seaside town on the East Coast of the Gulf of Thailand. This town represents many
things for different people. For some, including the tabloid newspapers, it is ‘Sin-City; Tinsel-
Town, the town of Broken Hearts and Empty Wallets’ due to the many Girly bars which fill
many of the beachside sois in the town. For others, it offers a pleasant seaside holiday in easy
reach from Bangkok. The ironic thing is that Paul, an old friend made the initial approach on my
behalf. I was quite content sipping a glass of Thai Whiskey. Several couples, who I had been
friends with for some Years, and all lived on the hill with the Big Buddha, had made the trip
down from our rented rooms to Soi 6, in Pattaya Town, for a meal and a game of Pool at The
Paradise Bar, which, was then part owned by a previous colleague from Air Canada. Paul
pointed out an attractive lady who was winning every game of pool. Thanks Paul, but I am happy
here with my drink and to just watch the world go by”. Undeterred he challenged her to a game
of pool and afterwards brought her back to the table for a drink and an introduction.
Her name was Kai and she told us that she was on holiday. Naively, I interpreted this as her
being on vacation. In fact, I later found out that this was a Bar Girl expression to indicate that she
could not work at that moment due to her monthly period.
It transpired that she had a cousin and aunties, who lived at San Kampaeng – close to Chiang
Mai. Further, that she was soon to visit them. We chatted a while longer, exchanged telephone
numbers and I thought that that was that. How wrong could I be!
Back home in Chiang Mai, a week later, Tack and I were having lunch at the Gymkana Club.
Alan, an acquaintance of my brother, came out on to the veranda and asked if he could join us.
The conversation turned to Border Runs which involved travelling to the nearest land crossing
border – stepping outside of the country for a few minutes… then re-entering to get a new stamp
and extra time in Thailand. At that time, I was doing a ‘Border Run’every couple of months. This
involved booking a mini-bus which took a group of tourists to the market town of Mae Sai at the
Myanma Border. Those of the group, like me, who had the need – quickly walked over the
bridge into Myanma and then walked back to be stamped back into Thailand by Immigration for
a further sixty days. It made for a long and tiring day.
Alan asked as to why I hadn’t applied for a longer term visa. I pondered before replying. I think
that partly this was due to the circumstances following the migration, of Mum having the
accident and staying for so long in hospital. Initially I had been eager to endure all of the red-
tape and pursue the Non-Immigrant ‘O’ Yearly Visa. Then I ‘lost my way’ for a while. Another
aspect was, at that time, there just was not the information readily available as there is today.
Thaivisa.com, which is a very useful and informative website for Westerners in Thailand, had
not then been launched.
Alan then asked me if I had any capital as there was a way and means to obtain a Non
Immigrant ‘B’ – Business Visa and a work permit. If I could demonstrate funds of two million
Thai Baht, it would be possible to establish a Limited Company. The easiest way to do this is to
use a Solicitor. He showed me an advertisement for Knights Consultancy Group, An office of
Solicitors which he could recommend.
After Alan left, Tack and I discussed the idea. I had known for some time that Tack had a dream
to start a tour company and she was in her own right a Tourist Authority of Thailand, licensed
tour guide. My original idea was to create a core business which would fund other enterprises.
We made an appointment to meet with a Solicitor at Knights called Pairush.
Pairush turned out to be a pleasant fellow, spoke excellent English and had studied law at Hull
University in the U.K. He quickly reviewed for us the process to start the Company. Our first
decision was if it were to be a ‘Foreign’ or Thai Company. If the former, then we would be
restricted to which type business that we would be able to conduct. As there were no restrictions
for the establishment of a Thai Company – this seemed the better option. Alan was quite correct
and I would have to show capital in my Thai Bank Account of two million Baht. Seven Thai
shareholders would be required and I would only be permitted to hold 49 per cent of the shares in
my name. We would have to hire four Thai employees.
Pairush asked about a business plan and as to what the core business would be. After I
explained, he pointed out that perhaps it would be easier to first of all create the tour company
and then expand from there. He made an estimate of his fees which seemed quite reasonable.
Now the ball was in our court to make a go/no go decision and develop a business plan. That
evening we beavered away at our plan. – yes, of course we would proceed. Naturally Tack would
be the first employee and she had a friend called Dao who we might be able to ‘head-hunt’ from
another travel and tour agency. Shareholders – well Tack, Dao, another Thai friend and some of
my Thai family might agree, but that would leave me two short. Pairush had explained that
Knight’s employees could do this by proxy, but I still elected to appoint my own.
Name of the Company? Hmmm. I still had close connections with Air Canada and the ‘Star’
Alliance, of which Air Canada was, and is still, an original Member. Maybe a name which
featured ‘Star’? Lucky Star… North Star… Thai Star? It later turned out that these had already
been assigned. Eventually we settled on Wandering Star Tours, after I remembered a song called
‘I was born under a Wandering Star’. Due to the fact that there is no plural in the translation to
Thai Language we were ultimately assigned Wandering Star Tour.
We returned to Knights the following day and signed a contract. Knights would handle all of the
paperwork in creating the Company, my Visa and Work Permit and tax profile. We would have
to handle the bureaucracy at City Hall for the installation of new employees and the submission
for the TAT (Tourist Authority of Thailand) Office License.
So far so good… but never look down! Who turned up on my doorstep like a bad penny, with
cousin in tow, but Kai! How she got my address is a mystery. Could she stay in one of my spare
bedrooms, and by-the-way, what were Tack and I discussing? It was difficult not to reveal and
explain as all of the documents were on the table… and so she became aware and smelled fresh
meat and blood.
“Khun Frank – have I got the answer to all of your problems!. I have much experience and
contacts in the travel business and my cousin Nok – is a qualified accountant!”
Yep, I fell for it – hook, line and sinker! And so, I had found my other two shareholders, my
General Manager and my Accountant - all in one go. Dao agreed to leave her agency and bring
her experience to come and join us… and as the saying goes ‘we were off to the races’.
Shortly after, we found an office, at a reasonable rent, with two floors of accommodation above
the office. Mum had taken up a kind offer, from my brother to help build her own bungalow on
land adjacent to his own house and it seemed a good solution for her wellbeing. I signed the
rental agreement and the following week – we had an office and I had an upstairs apartment.
Ultimately, my Visa and Work Permit arrived, as did our TAT License, Office furniture and
equipment, Telephones, Fax and Internet connection and all of the necessary from the City Hall
for four new employees of Wandering Star Tour Co. Ltd.
What happened? How and why did it all go ‘Pear-Shaped?’
Primarily due to my own naivety and lack of business acumen. It later turned out that both Kai
and her cousin Nok were both Kamoy – Thieves and Crooks. This only to be discovered after
Kai had received signing authority and received an investment of one million Baht to start a
Ladies Shirt and Clothes shop in the New Market at Pattaya. Her cousin Nok received an
investment of 150,000 Baht to start a North Thai Food Delivery business. Although I monitored
both investments – little good it did me.
My own ill health.
I developed Chronic Pancreatis and was in a Chiang Mai Hospital, on and off for nearly a year. I
received major abdominal surgery and developed an infection at the site of the incision. While I
was in hospital – both Kai and Nok did a runner. I became suspicious and asked Tack and Dao to
have a look at the Company bank book. Two hundred and fifty thousand Baht been embezzled
and both had defaulted on their loan/investments.
Although it was tempting to seek retribution, I held off and am glad that I did so. Both of these
characters turned out to be ‘Nasty Pieces of Work’ with access to some seriously menacing
thugs. Although I was confident that I could look after myself – I was not so sure about Dao and
Tack as they were exposed vulnerable.
How did Wandering Star Tour survive? By a lot of hard work and maneuvering. It surprises me
that after these last seven years in the world and Thailand that we still see as many tourists as we
Virus; Chicken Flu; Pollution; various Airline crashes in Thailand; The Coup; The punitive
exchange rate in recent years – Thai Baht against many other currencies; Closure of the Bangkok
Airports by the ‘Yellow Shirts’; Political unrest by the ‘Red Shirts’; Global Financial Crisis and
finally the Swine Flu.
We began to advertise, initially in Chiang Mai and then further a field with free and cheap
advertisements in all sorts of places, periodicals and websites. We signed a ‘Letter of
Understanding’ with a Thai expert wholesaler in Budapest, whose market was Central and East
I was paying tax of 4000 Baht per month on a required 40,000 Baht salary, which I never
received but ‘pumped’ back into the company.
Our turnover was just insufficient to justify continuing the Company. I converted my Visa
Extension to that based upon Retirement and we changed the status of Wandering Star Tour to a
We created an improved website and acquired the domain. Very soon we started to receive
many ‘hits’ from search engines like Google.
I traded shamelessly on my previous reputation in Training and Development at Air Canada, to
We moved the office to a new location in the ‘Old City and made more off-street sales in a day
than we used to in a month at the previous location.
Wandering Star Tour was a little battered and bruised – but survived. Gradually, the ‘Lifeboat’
That year the Olympic Games were scheduled to take place In Athens. Both Tack and Dao were
selected by TAT to go to Athens and promote Tourism for Northern Thailand for a month at the
Games. Obviously, I needed some temporary employees. Both Tack and Dao had attended
Lampang University and had kept in close contact with their classmates.
They were all such good friends that I used to call them the ‘Lampang Mafia’. Ann worked at a
craft shop at Chiang Mai Airport and we discovered Meaw living with her family in Saraphee.
Structured interviews were conducted and Wandering Star Tour recruited two new employees.
The Girls became my Support Group, both for time that I was in Hospital and afterwards. It
always amazes me as to how new Ex-Pats to Chiang Mai ‘survive’ in the event that they have no
Thai Language skills, or friends or family who speak English.
Latter day I tried to interest the girls in offering this support as a sort of ‘Rent a P/A for a Day’
on a commercial basis:
Assistance in Interpretation and translation
Immigration Office accompaniment
Help with rental agreements
Help in dealing with the police, in the event of a traffic offence.
Strange as it seems – they were not interested. They had been happy to help me with this
support, but not as a business.
What has happened latter day? Well Khun Tack married a Farang and together they started both
a family and Studio 99 – some luxury furnished apartments. Khun Dao is still the manager and
my business partner and with the help of ‘work experience’ university students still maintains the
office. Khun Ann has gone to work at Studio 99 with Khun Tack and Khun Meaw has started a
family of her own.
In my early days in Chiang Mai, Mum and I rented a house in Saraphee, close to Chiang Mai. I
used to use the Internet café in the town. One day I heard a loud voice shouting “Are there any
pencils in here ?”. It turned out to be and old man called Ivan. I lent him my pen and we got to
chatting. It turned that he also lived in Saraphee, in fact, I later found out that his house was in
the same garden compound as Khun Meaw’s (one of my later employees) family. Further that he
was a part-time English teacher at Chiang Mai Inter – a technical College. Now that interested
me as this was before the days of my Company, Wandering Star Tour and I was looking for
something to engage my mind. Ivan cheerfully said that he would take me along to introduce me
to the Ajarn - Professor - Principle. This he eventually did and I also taught English at the
college for a year.
Ivan was a compassionate man, very eccentric and had very strong views on many topics. He
had a rough childhood and joined the Royal Marines underage and became a Commando. When
he left the Service he went on to managing Care Homes for those poor wretched folk who no on
else would take in and ultimately became the custodian for a Buddhist Ashram in the West
Country of the U.K. He developed an interest in Buddhism and ultimately migrated to Thailand
and Chiang Mai to become a Buddhist Monk.
Unfortunately he suffered a motorbike accident and although not seriously hurt – required
extensive Thai massage following the accident. It was then that he met his future wife – Suthep,
who was a teacher of traditional Thai massage. Her mother was Thai and her father had been a
Japanese soldier who fell in love with Thailand during the Second World War and stayed on
after he was de-mobbed.
Both Suthep and Ivan deserved a little love and luck. Sutheps’s first husband dies from
alcoholism; her eldest son died from Aids; her second son was an alcoholic and her
granddaughter was a tear-away.
Ivan had also known heart break during his Life. His son had died of Spinal-Bifida and his first
wife had all but committed suicide. He was estranged from his daughter.
Romance blossomed for Ivan and Suthep. Ivan moved into Suthep’s house and they married.
Despite Ivan never learning more than a few Thai words and Suthep no English – the marriage
When I met them they were both rabid vegetarians and teetotal. I once arranged for an
ambulance to bring Mum from RAM2 Hospital to my house for lunch. I had invited Ivan and
Suthep and they insisted that I did not just order a vegetarian selection from the same restaurant
as where the other food was cooked. Rather go to a dedicated vegetarian restaurant to order and
bring their food. No big deal and I happily obliged.
This regime was not to last. One afternoon Maurice, my friend from the U.K. was visiting. I
took him out to Saraphee to meet Ivan and Suthep. For some reason they had broken their
abstinence and after drinking two bottles of red wine – Suthep was rolling around her bed, naked