Posts Tagged ‘Thailand’

Top SOTMs From The World Tour

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

934631_894563031536_987718179_nThe messages I heard from my SOTM subjects during my trip around the world fell into various categories.

Some were of hope, of ambition, of a wish for a better world. Others of advice, wisdom passed between generations. Sometimes they were a desire for loved ones not to follow the same path as the person who spoke to them.

Some were just plain sad. Others, hilarious. But they showed how much fun it is, how difficult it can be and how fragile a thing it is to be alive and around others.

I’m pleased that I got the breadth I was looking for in my subjects. I visited townships in South Africa, wealthy apartments in Dubai, a Korean school for girls, Japanese guest houses and the Australian outback, among so many other places. I found people willing to share their stories in all of them.

As difficult a task as it’s been to make such choices, here are some of my favourite SOTMs from the trip that circled the globe which I undertook from June 2013 to May 2014, across 20 countries, capturing hundreds of people’s stories along the way.

There are many more that are similarly great, and my original plan of choosing a top 10 was soon abandoned. So this isn’t a definitive list, and there are many gems from the tour not seen here but visible on the SOTM site. Just browse the map, or for World Tour in the site’s search engine, to see them all.

Click on any of the images here to see their page on the Someone Once Told Me website and, where appropriate, their translation pictures.

09022014I spotted Boy in Manila’s North Cemetery in the Philippine capital. I was taken with how he looked, just as he was, with the tomb where he lived in the background. So that’s exactly where I took his photograph.

His friend, who was ill himself, once told him: “Stop Smoking And Drinking

01052014I met Timmy in Club Charles, a hipstery bar in Baltimore, USA. Film director John Waters was also in there, as apparently it’s one of his favourite bars.

After his photo, Timmy told me a story of how he wanted to be prom king, and how his girlfriend provided a twist to his quite gripping tale.

The whole time I was wondering how come he was talking about a girlfriend, because he was clearly a gay man.

Afterwards he explained how he now had a wonderful boyfriend, and it all made sense again.

01012014I’m a big fan of proverbs. They’re very much in the same vein as Someone Once Told Me quotes, and this one is a sort of proverb, excitingly in Khmer.

Malin told me in Phnom Penh how her Cambodian father once told her: “Don’t Live Like A Snake, Don’t Die Like A Frog” What excellent advice.

01032014Lisa chose to share a fable that she heard from a Kenyan conservationist. Again, fables are just up the SOTM street, being passed on through the generations and lodging in memories along the way.

We met at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Lisa plans to do her bit for conservation, and got inspiration from this phrase which is a wonderful lesson about doing what you can, no matter how little influence it will have.

I later learned that Mandela never visited the university, even though it had been named after him – but then, many things are named after him and he probably didn’t have time to see them all.

04092013Mel’s story is one of love, coming from the mouth of her grandmother who had Alzheimer’s. Mel clearly didn’t like being in front of the camera, but I’m really glad she agreed to pose by the sea in Sliema, Malta.

Her grandmother once told her: “You Are Beautiful”

05092013Miu’s story, captured in Kyoto, Japan, is one of a passion for education, a parent’s desire for their children to be educated. Her mother, tight for money, would tell her: “I’ll Buy You Any Books You Want”

06042014Israel’s story is a lesson worth remembering. A financial expert, he explained to me in New Orleans, USA that a client of his taught him how whatever you save for, whatever you plan for, something will always crop up and need money to be spent on it.

So get used to it, because that’s just life.

07062014Matt once talked to a homeless guy in the States, who told him this.

I told him I agreed, how it was a great and upbeat phrase, not one you’d think someone who’s homeless would come up with.

“Thanks,” Matt said. “Can I interest you in a ‘Best Day Of My Life, No Big Deal‘ wristband?’

That was in January 2014, in Manila, Philippines. I’m still wearing it now.

08072013Aldo is a brave soul, because he’s the goalkeeper for San Marino, an international football team which doesn’t have many players to choose from, on account of the nation having some 30,000 inhabitants. He once let in eight goals against England and, famously, 13 against Germany.

However, he also once stood between the sticks against the might of the Italian national side, who peppered his goal with shots. He let in four but it should have been much more, if it weren’t for his cat-like performance that day.

After the game, a fan tweeted him a message that literally translated as: “You Played Incredible”

08102013This is a cute story, told by the adventurous and not a little handsome Cameron. But it also features a wriggling baby crocodile in Darwin, Australia, so simply had to make this list.

10022014Aruna has a beautiful tale of how her father cheered her up, by sending her this message on a postcard when she was a lonely teenager. She posed on the Thai island of Koh Lanta with a little help from her son Shaan, who’s holding the postcard in question.

The phrase means: “The Good That One Does Has No Immediate Recompense: It Will Come By & Of Itself”

11092013I met two women in South Africa’s Port Elizabeth called Mama Gladys. Both looked after children, one in an orphanage, the other a creche. The latter is the Mama Gladys that you see above.

She runs a creche in Walmer township, a rather tough place. She said she was concerned about the welfare of some of the local children, so she began a place where their parents could leave them when they went to work, or were just unable to look after them.

Her quote, written in Xhosa, means: “The Creche Is The Good Idea” which one of her friends told her, when encouraging her to start the venture up.

But something remarkable happened when I was perched on a rickety chair, taking two photographs of Mama Gladys – one in Xhosa, the other in English – and her wriggling charges.

She dug a mobile out of her considerable bosom, took a call, then tucked the device away again, revealing softly that her sister in law had died.

You can see the difference in her expression in the two photos on the SOTM site.

14072013Fabio Lamborghini is the definition of charisma, as you might expect from the nephew of Ferrucio, the inventor of the supercar which still bears his surname today.

Fabio said his Italian uncle once told him: “Fabio, The First Secret For Getting Money Is To Economise. Don’t Spend Too Much. Remember!”

Fabio didn’t seem to see much irony in his millionaire uncle, who made cars that only the super-rich can afford, telling his family to watch their spending.

He also said he took one of the Lamborghinis out each weekend.

Me: “Do you drive fast?”

Fabio: “Yeeeees.”

Me: “What do the local police think about that?”

Fabio: “Nooooo, they are very happy. Sometimes I give them the keys to one of the cars and tell them to borrow it for the weekend. So they are happy.”

Everyone’s a winner here, clearly.

16082013This one gets on the list because Michele, a bar owner in the tiny town of Bagno di Romagna in Emilia Romagna, Italy, once heard soldiers from the French Foreign Legion singing it in Albania. And I love that.

It means: “Doubt Maybe… Give Up Never”

16122013Not only do I totally agree with this, it also contains Benedicta’s dazzling smile and a view of Phnom Penh in Cambodia. The line at the top of the pad, above the ‘n’ in ‘things’ is a hair pin, because the page ripped. It wasn’t one of mine.

17022014I wrote about Pete soon after I’d met him in Hong Kong. He went from compering at a comedy club and rolling out the laughs for the entire audience, to weeping in my arms an hour or so later, after recounting the story of his dead mother. One of my most remarkable SOTM experiences.

20082013First time in Austra, and Vienna. There I met a rocket scientist, Ryan – another first. Turns out he was once told this, as well. Brilliant.

21082013Not only a great quote, this sums up the Google generation and yet,  according to Julika, it came from a Latin teacher who looked like Julius Caesar. I was pleased to get a slightly different view of the Eiffel Tower in the background. Her SOTM reads: “You Don’t Have To Know Everything – You Just Have To Know Where To Find The Answers!”

26112013Duncan is dsylexic and wanted his SOTM, taken at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, to be written in his own way. So that’s what we did. An admirable chap. His SOTM says: “You Can’t Use Your Disability As An Excus”

28082013I took this picture of Doris at the Missionvale Care Centre, Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Life there is tough, with high rates of unemployment, extreme poverty and widespread HIV infection.

So it was heartbreaking to hear Doris’ story, which clearly made a hard life even tougher. Her SOTM says: “Your Husband Went To Transkei” He left without a word and Doris doesn’t know why.

29082013Atakan was told: “Don’t Even Trust Your Father!” by his father as he was leaving home to travel to Istanbul for university.

What I like about it is that afterwards, Atakan told me fathers and sons have a close relationship in Turkey. His story demonstrated this.

10092013Another one from Missionvale Care Centre, a place I can’t get out of my head.

Linda, who helps run the place, said a handymen called Bishop was working hard one day, and when she asked him why he told her this. These pots are in the centre’s garden and commemorate people who have helped the place with their work, but who have now passed away.

Some months after this photo, Bishop, who showed me around the township on foot so I could photograph it, caught pneumonia and died. So his name will be on a pot now, I think. A really sad end to a powerful story, but I will cherish my afternoon wandering around Missionvale township, with Bishop, for the rest of my life.

31102013Sally was a shy girl, as were all her classmates. But I got a number of them to think of SOTM stories. This one was my favourite.

My love of proverbs means that I was always going to be charmed by this phrase, which is apparently such an old expression in Korea that Sally actually wrote it in Chinese characters.

It means: “After A Typhoon There Are Pears To Gather Up”

I like it so much I even use that quote myself, which is perfectly in the spirit of SOTM, of course.

It has been a blessing to have learned so much from so many fine people around the world.

SOTM World Tour – Ten Top Travel Photos

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

1660320_10153786052195241_1554794481_n“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,” Robert Capa once said.

Unfortunately for the poor bugger, he got too close to a landmine one day. Still, this is one of my favourite ever quotes.

While he was clearly talking about getting close to your subjects – he was on one of the barges which landed on the Normandy beaches for D-Day – I also like to think that to get closer to the world is also to improve your photography.

And that’s what the SOTM World Tour did for me. It took me out into places I’d never heard of, to busy, neon-stained alleyways, across African plains with skies that last forever and fighting arenas stacked with sweating, shrieking, betting-slip brandishing crowds.

These are ten of my favourite images from my year-long trip around the world, from the many thousands that I took with my Nikon D5100, my iPhone 4S and then, toward the end, my Nikon D7100 after my 5100 fell apart. It was only a few months old but I guess world travel was just too much for it.

I’ve only ever self-taught myself how to take pictures, and being out in the world was the best lesson of all.

The top image shows pupils from Sekolah Rendah Batu Marang school, in Jalan Batu Marang water village, Brunei. The charming Kathy Wharton is their English teacher and she kindly took us around, showing us her school and the water village, perched on top of perilous-looking stilts, where her charges come from.

After I posted some of these images on Facebook my friend Helen, with whom I stayed, told me I’d “captured the real Brunei”. Which pleased me greatly.

999168_10153125055170241_2082429276_nThe throbbing Shibuya Crossing, in the heart of Tokyo, has many smaller roads and alleyways running away from its busyness.

The gentleman above was the waiter in a noodle place, cheap and very tasty, in one of these veins. I fully intended to return, so good was the food, but was distracted by Tokyo’s many other shiny attractions and never made it back.

So it’s fortunate that I did ask him for a photo upon my only visit. He didn’t speak English but when I smiled and pointed at my camera, posed with great confidence and grace. And I liked his white wellies.

1379715_10153361940225241_114641734_nWhen in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, I was taken to the remarkable Shamwari Game Reserve by my friend Kimberley. There I went on three safari rides and was overwhelmed with the beauty of the place.

One time we spotted a serval hiding in the bushes. I saw it twitch through my viewfinder and instinctively pressed the shutter. When I looked at the screen afterwards, this shot is what I saw. It’s my best action photo, I think.

1025647_10152945200410241_220286925_oThere isn’t that much to do in Geneva. It’s pretty enough and very clean, but a bit too sanitised for my liking.

But at least Lake Geneva has public pianos for people to tinkle. I saw this young woman sat at one while delving into her bag. My camera was completely the wrong exposure levels so I was rapidly adjusting dials, willing her to hold her position for a few seconds longer – when she looked up.

I knew my exposure was wrong, but took the shot as I liked what I saw in my viewfinder. The moment then passed.

I looked at the image I’d taken and it was virtually black, totally underexposed. But as I was shooting in RAW I had hope. When I got it onto my computer, I was able to change the exposure – and was thrilled with how it turned out.

So if you’re not shooting in RAW, you should consider doing so. There may come a time when it will save you.

1377245_10153328471465241_1474946143_nI have always wanted to visit Uluru, fairly in the centre of Australia’s outback. When I was a boy it was more commonly known as Ayers Rock.

But even though I was enthusiastic about it, I was still hugely surprised about just how hypnotic it is. Enormous, red, hugely different to the landscape around it, a monstrous pimple squeezed up from the earth, back when the planet was still being formed.

Looking at the rock during sunrise and sunset is to experience kaleidoscopic colours and shapeshifting shadows. You might think staring at a large rock can’t be that exciting, but somehow, it is. You’ll never feel old again when you consider how what stands before you came into being more than 600 million years ago.

Also, about 2.5km of Uluru is buried below the desert soil. Mind. Boggled.

I chose the shot above because I got Kata Tjuta in the background, once known as the Olgas. They’re a collection of 36 domes and in many ways are even more remarkable than their neighbour.

She’s the flashy one, who puts out with her russet looks, getting most of the attention, hogs all the postcards, while Kata Tjuta is visited as something of an afterthought, an added extra for tourists who’ve come to see the hot girl in the neighbourhood. But I loved them both.

1497771_10153699331050241_17606286_nThe Lumpinee stadium is beautiful because it’s fragile. It’s about to be knocked down and relocated, which makes the sweating, kicking, yelling all that more intense.

Like the last time you make love to someone you’re soon to part from, you savour everything because you know it won’t happen again. Their imperfections become adorable because it’s about to be all over.

Built in Bangkok in 1956, the stadium looks like it might not last too much longer. Look away from the shiny ring, where respectful Muay Thai fighter knee and punch and kick one another.

The apparently leaky ceiling is made of corrugated sheets, with many long-stemmed fans shivering like leaves on a trembling pond. The cheap seats aren’t even seats, they’re benches and people just stand anyway.

And the VIP seats are just part-plastic chairs, although they do afford an excellent view of the action. Despite this, I really wanted to move into better positions but was restricted to shooting where I was perched.

As a result, my 18-200mm Sigma lens came in handy, and of all the shots I got that night, this was my favourite. I turned it grayscale to add a bit more mood to the young man’s determined glare.

1656396_10153863531660241_1299583810_nI was on a food tour in Hong Kong and was taken to a dim sum place for breakfast by the smashing Laura, who runs Hello Hong Kong Tours. 

It was a local place for local people, and I loved it immediately. It’s one of the places in Hong Kong that still has people pushing food carts round, which supply you with your choice of dishes.

While there I spotted this chap walking around with a big metal kettle, topping up the ubiquitous Chinese tea that sloshes around in eateries all over the city. I was desperate to photograph him, he looked fantastic.

I grabbed some half decent shots of him at the next table, and then suddenly, out of nowhere he shimmered and appeared at our table, directly opposite me. I managed to take this photo, and then another.

I preferred the second image, but it’s not pin sharp because the focal point was over his shoulder. So after suffering that slight disappointment, I decided to have my camera on autofocus sometimes, especially in an unpredictable environment, to ensure that focus isn’t an issue at least.

After my shutter had flickered a couple of times, he spoke in Chinese and apparently said: “You have to pay me now, because everyone wants my photo, because I look like Buddha.”

We all laughed, and he said: “No, seriously, you have to pay me.” But he was joking, and when we left I shook his hand. It was like a lobster with a grudge.

1521421_10153707330765241_2000555735_nThere’s nothing so good for the soul as seeing a happy elephant.

There are plenty of these at the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai, Thailand. These remarkable, beautiful creatures have been abused at some point, often by some of those in Thailand’s logging industry. The guilty ones must have black souls.

Eye-gouging, beatings, pelvises broken by forced matings, the stories run a chill though your blood. And if you ever want to ride an elephant, do bear in mind that they are beaten and broken as babies, treated horribly, in order to get them to allow humans to ride them – so don’t.

At least they are happy here in this sanctuary. This chap was having a damn good scratch of his nads on this concrete pole. Or it might be a female. I was too polite to ask.

photoWe were out of Kampot, at the very bottom of Cambodia, when a tremendous storm shattered overhead.

After making it back via a slightly traumatic tuk tuk journey, we found the town flooded. This is a common occurrence in these parts, and the population were clicking into gear, chucking out buckets of floodwater from shops and restaurants, using squeegees to push back the tides in a well-practiced fashion.

The local children seemed to delight in all the fuss. These two characters were going up and down the flooded road, so I got several shots of them with my camera. But this one was the first that I got, grabbed with my iPhone as they rode past and run through an Instagram filter.

It’s not totally sharp but captures their spirit best of all the ones that I took.

993629_10153064585165241_104983892_nThis lady lives in a shack in Missionvale township in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

She lives alone and says she is lonely. Someone told me later that her husband had died in a fire after they lit a stove indoors, which also destroyed all her possessions. She is also HIV positive and washes clothes for her neighbours, in exchange for food so she can go on living.

She has had her room tidied up by Missionvale Care Centre, a charity which does incredible work in the community. The floor is mud, so they’ve put mats down, but when it rains the ground is still soggy beneath her feet. The roof leaks also.

The light was perfect as she sat near the doorway, so I took her photo with her permission. I’m very fond of it, and yet it upsets me whenever I look at it.

The world is both a beautiful canvas to work with and a terrible sight to see. Thank you for looking at my pictures.

SOTM World Tour – Chiang Mai and Pai

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

995008_10153694685995241_2112312177_nChiang Mai proved memorable for two reasons.

Firstly, it’s the closest thing Thailand gets to being trendy in the Western sense, at least. It’s got American-themed burger joints, cute cafes run by Americans, sports bars that show Premier League football, and places to hang out in and listen to live blues or jazz.

Chiang Mai is the cool, trendy kid at school, the one with the best trainers who doesn’t have spots and gets the latest gadget the same day it’s released. But it’s also friendly, lets you come round and borrow its computer games, and makes you wish you were cooler, so you could have an excuse to spend more time together.

Secondly, it’s got great temples, but while we did do a bit of temple-hopping, we didn’t do too much. My three-temple maximum depends on how many days the temples are seen over, and how long we spend in each one. And, as I’m interested in Buddhism, whether or not Buddha is the main feature of the temple in question.

The highlight of Chiang Mai’s temples is the remarkable Wat Phra That which is located near the top of the mountain known as Doi Suthep. Consequently, people often call the temple Doi Suthep also. The top image was taken there.

Its location is interesting – among the many legends attached to this place, the strongest one is that a white elephant was given a religious relic to carry. It then walked up to this lofty spot, trumpeted three times, and died. The temple was built on the spot where it passed away.

You get up to it via a twisty, windy songtao taxi ride, and then you have to make the final part yourself, via the Naga Serpent Staircase.

The serpents look like this.

And the 300 steps they flank each side are like this.

At the very bottom I went back for a closer shot of these girls.

At the top is a fairly small area stuffed with gold-coloured Buddhas and other religious symbols. This stupa dominates the skyline.

There’s so much to look at, it’s quite overwhelming at times.

1506059_10153694592730241_1866804112_nThese bells are commonplace, and it seems as though you can write your name on the hearts that dangle from them. A variation on the theme of love locks, I suppose

People frequently make candle offerings and pray at various points around the temple.

1530389_10153694691380241_2130669176_nAnd you can be blessed by a monk in at least a couple of the smaller temple buildings on this site. My nephew Thaisaac, (Thai-Isaac, geddit?) who was still on his odyssey in Thailand with us at this point, and we were both blessed by another monk.

I grabbed a hip-height and therefore blind photo of this blessing. These people had bought a basket of goods from inside the door, and offered it to the monk, who then blessed them. Note the monk’s many tattoos.

1509059_10153694593680241_1620425049_nSpeaking of monks, we spotted them often, of course. Whether it was doing their daily chores…

996092_10153694566795241_317958591_n…or conducting their daily prayers, which I captured using my iPhone…

…or readjusting their robes…

1545865_10153694533480241_1118502188_n… or chatting to skinny white boys, they were everywhere, as you would expect.

1470249_10153576652560241_57563880_nThis chap gave an interesting insight into the life of a monk, at something called a “monk chat” where anyone can come do as the title suggests. The holy men get to practice their English and the foreigners who attend get an insight into monastery life. Several monasteries do this, apparently.

Our monk told us that he didn’t have all the answers to Buddhism, so he entered the monkhood to try and learn them. “I’m still learning,” he said.

He also said he shaved his head once a month, didn’t eat after noon, went to bed early and got up very early in the morning to pray, and missed being able to play sports, which he did prior to his life as a monk.

Disturbingly, he also told me that while on a trip to London, he’d visited the Emirates football stadium, and therefore supported Arsenal. I fear for his chances of enlightenment with allegiances like that.

Here’s more monks at prayer in one of Chiang Mai’s many temples. They are worth a look because they’re small and very beautiful, crammed with ornate decorations but you can be done with one in about 15 mins, so temple fatigue won’t set in too quickly.

Another site worth seeing in Chiang Mai is Wat Chedi Luang.

1530460_10153694538055241_829827194_n

It’s ruined, but still worth a look and there’s some Buddhist items of  interest around its periphery.

This was my favourite – an image of Tan Pra Maha Kajjana who was a monk so handsome that people mistook him for Lord Buddha. Once, an enlightened monk became corrupted because of thoughts he had upon seeing Tan Pra Maha Kajjana.

To stop all the trouble he was causing for being too handsome, our hero turned himself into a fatter, uglier monk so that no-one would fancy him.

Here he is, post transformation. I think he looks rather jolly.

While at Wat Chedi Luang, I saw a series of beautiful golden Thai Buddhas gleaming in the sun.

But I was more taken with the shadows they were casting, and I’m mindful of the fact that you can keep taking pictures of Buddha until the day you achieve enlightenment. It’s worth trying to think of different ways to photograph a similar subject. I liked how this one turned out.

Chiang Mai is also famed for its markets. Here’s Thaisaac and I at one, in which we bought some Christmas goodies for the folks back in England.

1557520_10153694699685241_1172688202_nAnd I managed to get some SOTM action in there as well, thanks to the excellent Michael Dewey, who blogs as Wanderlust Mike.

An American living in Thailand, he organised a meet up at the Focus Gallery, a coffee shop and bar, which was well attended. Thaisaac and I set about the crowd and we got a number of shots between us.

Here’s Michael’s SOTM.

31122013After Chiang Mai, we popped briefly to Pai. This was via the notorious 762 curves that the minibus you take has to negotiate on the journey from Chaing Mai.

This is during the two-and-a-half hour journey, so it’s a lot in a short space of time. Thaisaac was worried about yakking in the bus, but we were all fine, except for one lady who threw up in a bag.

Apparently, there’s always one.

When in Pai we hired motorbikes. Thaisaac was a bit wobbly at first, understandably, but the roads around Pai are good quality and quiet, so we were all able to ride around safely.

I’d never driven a bike myself until I was on Koh Lanta island a few weeks ago, but since then have fallen in love with two wheels, having never been much of a fan of bicycles. I now dream of getting a red Vespa when back in England.

While in Chiang Mai we met fellow travellers Josh Haftel and his lovely wife Natasha. Josh is a tour de force, and with the best beard this side of the Mississippi. His story comes from his time at the Burning Man festival, held in the Nevada desert.

I must also mention the trip Thaisaac and I took to the Elephant Nature Park outside of Chiang Mai. It rescues and cares for elephants who are often abused by their owners.

There is nothing, quite nothing like seeing a happy elephant.

1521421_10153707330765241_2000555735_nWell, would you want the job of scratching an elephant’s inner thigh?

This baby was hugely entertained by this loop of cord.

1525072_10153707162065241_1649450966_nThis is one of the elephant mahouts. Each one has a human assigned to it, and they spend all day with their animal, keeping it out of trouble. Occasionally, however, the elephants get rumbustious and the mahouts bear the brunt of this.

One had just been put in hospital for two days after it was thrown about by its elephant.

This chap was carving out an elephant as a group of them frolicked about nearby.

While babies always stick close to their protective mums, they also have aunties, other female elephants, who keep a close eye on the little ones. I mean little in the elephantine sense, of course.

1526910_10153707166305241_1462027427_nElephants eat a lot.

1535393_10153707171340241_2075628184_nWe got to feed them ourselves, and it was oddly addictive to have their nimble, fast, wet-ended trunks snuffle around your hands and whisk the fruit chunks away.

One part of our visit saw us wash the elephants in the river by chucking buckets of water over them. They seemed to love it and we certainly did.

1549279_10153707230790241_1227808019_n

1551609_10153707290690241_1642943795_nAnd finally – while in Pai Kate and I finally did something we’ve joked about for a while. The Korean Thing.

You see, in South Korea couples who have been dating for 100 days are allowed to dress the same. And I mean the same – exactly matching outfits. Shops will even sell his ‘n’ hers t-shirts, trousers, shoes etc. It’s taken very seriously and only after 100 days would a couple be ready to take this next important step in their relationship.

Pai seems to have cottoned on to this, for some reason. Maybe it’s not just a South Korean thing, although I was led to believe it was. But in Pai you can also buy his ‘n’ hers t-shirts.

So Kate and I bought a couple, which don’t exactly fit us but what the hell. Best 500 baht we’ve ever spent.

That’s all for this time. Next time I’ll do a round up of my time on some of the Thai islands, which includes time with Swedish girls, happy dogs, cheerful cats and beautiful sunsets.

SOTM World Tour – Bangkok

Friday, January 24th, 2014

When I was a boy, growing up in Malta, I often heard a song on the radio called One Night In Bangkok.

I loved it, recorded it onto a tape and then listened to it all the time. When I got into my teens I discovered it came from the musical Chess, the music for which was written by Benny and Bjorn from Abba.

Amusingly, there’s a lyric in One Night In Bangkok that goes: “If you’re lucky then the God’s a she.” I couldn’t work out what it said, so I used to sing: “If you’re lucky then they’ve got some sheep.”

Well, I was about eight.

Anyway, some 32 years later, I landed in Bangkok for the first time. And I loved it.

It’s fun. It’s crowded. It’s friendly. It’s polluted, cheap and occasionally smelly. Lots of people speak English. It is easy to travel around as a backpacker, so those seeking a challenge should look elsewhere.

But if you want a bloody good time, then spend much longer than one night in this crazy town.

Let me pick a few highlights from my time in Bangers, as I affectionately called it. First up, Chinatown. Incidentally the top image is Kate and me in the back of a tuk tuk, returning from a happy afternoon in that place.

It’s a wonderful, narrow labyrinth of shops, stalls, clothes, motorbikes, Hello Kitty phone covers, dried squid, handbags, and lots, lots more. You name it, you can buy it or eat it here. We had two bowls of tasty noodle soup, in a place where no-one spoke English and the paint was peeling off the walls and the electrics looked past retirement, for 40p each.

Here’s a typical Chinatown side street, and there are some which are narrower.

1383668_10153379074740241_719704391_nThe shops here all very well stocked.

582345_10153379084765241_846717404_nBikes squeeze in and out of the tiny, streets crowded by people, boxes, and other bikes.

Outside of Italy, I’ve never seen so many Vespas. They are hugely popular here, and many are quite old. I’ve decided to own one someday.

He looked like he’d done that before. At least, I hope he had.

Here’s a brand I’ve never heard of before, although it does have a familiar ring to it…

There’s so much choice in Chinatown that it’s impossible to make a quick decision.

Housewives and househusbands could spend hours in here.

You want wigs? They got wigs.

1174665_10153379073750241_983108897_nHappily Kate and I never got close to breaching my three-temple maximum during our time in the Thai capital. We went for quality over quantity, and it was an excellent move.

We took a trip on a crowded boat down the river to the marvellous Wat Arun.

It has a startling level of detail, its facade being incredibly intricate.

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1174578_10153379048060241_1012656437_nThe view from higher up the temple.

1393826_10153379051770241_1534753705_nAnd guess what – while at Wat Arun I found those sheep I used to sing about!

Continuing the animal theme, I came across these fellows. Never mind the identity of the fifth Beatle, who’s this fourth monkey?

1382415_10153352637875241_482481115_nAway from temples, Kate and I spent a lot of time on the streets of the legendary Khaosan Road and its adjacent streets, as we were staying nearby. Here she is about to feast on our favourite, mango with sticky rice.

1393572_10153379032010241_2084350870_nGrazing for street food is a smashing, and fun way, to fill your stomach with tasty treats, for very little cash.

1381841_10153379036325241_289259284_n

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1395946_10153379026920241_694358514_nIt may be street food, but someone’s still got to do the washing up.

Eating isn’t the only thing that goes down on Bangkok’s streets. Here I am – well, a bit of me – getting my first ever foot massage.

And that’s not all you can do on Bangkok’s streets. A mushroom-shaped button on the fly of my jorts (jean shorts) came off, because the hole it was stitched into became too big. So I found this lady sitting on the side of a busy road in Pra Athit with her sewing machine.

She actually used a lot of thread and a needle to close the hole up, and charged me an embarrassing mere 20 baht – about 40p.

As she was sewing, I could imagine her thinking: “This man’s an idiot. He needs a wife, because he’s so stupid he can’t even sew and is clearly going to die unless someone looks after him.”

I thanked her and retreated, with jorts that no longer exposed my pants, but with my pride somewhat dented…

Later on, Kate and I were joined by my 20-year-old nephew, Isaac, the son of my sister Antwanette. He’d never been out of Europe or backpacking before, so I figured it was time for him to Man Up and come on the road with us for a couple of weeks.

While we were waiting for him in arrivals, I spotted these chaps cleaning the airport windows.

And here he is, pictured straight off the plane.

1463894_10153560133230241_1133579641_nHe’s 6’4 so not exactly difficult to spot in a crowd. I remember him the day after he was born, when I could pick him up in my hands and when he was a lot pinker. He still cries a lot and wears a nappy, though. (Probably).

We had a lot of fun with Thaissac, as I began calling him. He took to the backpacking life like a trooper, booking buses and trains and picking up basic phrases with which to greet the locals.

We took him to Wat Pho, also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.

Here is the great, big, incredibly long idol, which looks good but doesn’t move much. And the Buddha.

1474502_10153674098285241_68273683_nThe Buddha is 46 metres long, is covered in gold leaf and is unforgettable.

The whole temple complex is filled with a dizzying array of Buddhas. This is a classic shot that I’ve seen done before, but thought I might as well get my own version done.

1530393_10153674230560241_1357652267_n And there are many indoor temples to be seen here too, which are incredibly splendid.

Back on the streets of Bangkok, Thaissac and I went to dunk our tootsies in a large fish tank, for them to nibble on.

It was an… odd experience. Bordering on the unpleasant at times, very ticklish, and not like anything I’d ever experienced before.

1470069_10153568546145241_1496097039_nI had LOADS of fish around me, as you can see here, while Thaissac had about 12.

1454649_10153568546365241_1809186530_nThen a large Thai lady came in, and solemnly gestured to Thaissac to move across to the next tank. He did so and immediately started yelping like a wounded sea lion. Turns out that particular tank was filled with very hungry fish.

While Thaissac was begging for mercy, the Thai lady banged on the glass wall dividing us, broke out into a grin and gave us the thumbs up. I laughed my head off while Thaissac prayed that he’d get out with all 10 toes. There’s a video of us both struggling to deal with the beasties, too.

At one point, Kate and I held a meet up in Bangkok, which was a lot of fun. Many travel bloggers and a few backpackers turned up for quite a popular meeting.

It turned out to be a Big Night Out, ending at around 4am, but before then I managed to get a few people to take part in SOTM. Here’s the excellent Steve Schreck, who writes at A Backpacker’s Tale.

And this is the lovely Kate Button, who had never revealed this story about her dad before.

And this is the inimitable Jeremy Foster, who writes at Travel Freak.

Finally, before Thaissac, Kate and I left town, we went to the Lumpinee stadium to watch some Muay Thai boxing.

This was an idea that I insisted upon doing. I’d read great things about it, and we weren’t disappointed. It was an amazing evening.

While the stadium is charmingly ramshackle, the organisation was pretty smooth. We were approached by a ticket seller draped in Muay Thai garb outside the stadium, who politely showed us a laminated sheet with a choice of tickets.

As advised, we went for the most expensive ones, priced at 2,000 baht, which are ringside. This isn’t a cheap ticket, but it’s serious value for money.

We were then whisked through to our seats inside, plastic chairs close to the ring, where all the foreigners sit. The interior does look like it might fall down soon, with patched-up corrugated roof, fans wobbling in the ceiling and lots of sweating, shouting Thais.

But the whole thing is hypnotising and it frankly looked and sounded exactly how I hoped it might. This stadium is actually closing next year, to be replaced by a new one elsewhere in the city, and while it’s always good to have new facilities, I fear that something will be lost when the action moves to plusher premises.

1491771_10153699118650241_1439802114_nBehind us were rows of mostly Thai men, who were betting in certain strictly-controlled areas. There were nine bouts, starting with teenagers and moving up through the age ranges, until we reached the main fight, which was bout seven.

As the action moved through the rounds, and the winner or loser was soon to be decided, the roars of the crowd crashed upon us like waves. It all seemed to depend on who’d bet on whom, and also which of a boxer’s family members were in the audience. I think I spotted a few mums here and there during the fighting.

I wasn’t able to move or stand up or use a flash, so while I took a few shots I was quite limited in what I could do photographically. Still, I managed to get a few decent shots.

There are lots of rituals attached to Muay Thai, and there is a clear emphasis on respect for one’s opponent and surroundings.

76856_10153699294705241_1929321929_nThis chap was the winner of bout seven, the main event of the evening.

1546335_10153699318885241_1444275655_nAfterwards, we were able to queue up and have our photo taken with him, rounding off a superb evening.

Next time, Kate, Thaissac and I head north to Chiang Mai, Pai and us two lads get tickled by the trunks of elephants.