Monday, 25 February 2008

Andaman Discoveries

A few months ago I met up with a lovely lady called Kelly and we had a long chat about the organisation she runs, Andaman Discoveries.

A bit of history - Andaman Discoveries was born from the work of NATR (North Andaman Tsunami Relief) which was an independent, non-profit, non-religious organisation set up by a man called Bodhi Garrett after he lost everything when the tsunami hit the Andaman Coast in 2004. NATR worked with the villagers in the worst affected areas and together they managed to implement over 120 different projects all aimed at proving long-term, sustainable income to the region that will not have an adverse affect on either their environment or traditional way of life. One of the main opportunities identified was in the field of community-based tourism and when NATR closed it's doors Andaman Discoveries stepped in. You can now visit the area (Last year the lovely JJ visited and you can read about her experiences here), stay with a Thai family in their home and experience their way of life whilst learning about their culture and the environment in which they live.

JJ had such an amazing trip that Carolyn and I decided that we would organise a BWG Welfare Trip so tomorrow 11 of us will be getting up at the crack of dawn to start our adventure on the Andaman Coast.

I am so excited!!! We are going to be staying in two different villages, planting orchids in the jungle, taking part in a workshop run by the Tsunami Batik Co-operative, learning how to make roti pancakes, weaving Nipa palm roofing, taking part in a workshop run by the Tsunami Soap Co-operative and helping with the restoration of the Mangroves. I think it's going to be rather amazing!! (although I have to admit that I am not looking forward to spending four days sitting on the floor and having to use a squat for a toilet -'s all character building isn't it!!)

Friday, 22 February 2008

Scraping the bottom of the barrel

You are going to laugh your heads off when I show you this!! Chris and I have now both had our photo's on the Society pages in Big Chilli (monthly magazine here).

This is Shirley, Me and Sue at the St Andrew's Ball


This is Marissa, Chris and Tom at the BWG Fashion Show

Told you they were scraping the bottom of the barrel!!

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Internet Friends

I've never blogged about this before but isn't the internet a really wonderful thing!! When I started this blog I did it as a way of keeping in touch with friends and family back home - never in a million years did I think that through it I would meet like minded people and actually forge friendships.

Friendship in the blog world is similar to that in the physical world - it has to be a two way process and over time liking someone's thoughts, comments, (writing) style etc blossoms into a friendship. I get withdrawal symptoms when I'm away from my computer for a few days as I want to know if, for example, Spiral Skies Jen got the job she was after, or how Lane is getting on trying to get her teenager to wear glasses and if Mel has managed to go another week without killing her evil MIL (Mother-in-law). I really value my friends - all of them - and appreciate all the help, support and laughs that we share. I know some people who think that it's terribly sad to actually admit that you have blog know them I say that I think it's terribly sad that they don't......cause they don't know what they are missing!!!

Anyway, what prompted this post of all things internet and friendy was that I actually met one of my blog friends yesterday in the flesh (JJ from Tea Stains doesn't really count since I knew her before we both started blogging - although I love catching up with her on her blog when I've not seen her for a few days!!). Mel from Thai Village Life and I have been reading and commenting on each others blogs for nearly a year now and yesterday she arrived in Bangkok to get herself organised for a job interview today. JJ and I met up with her and her hubby, J, for lunch and then us girls went shopping. Mel is just as lovely in 'real life' as she is on her blog and meeting up with her was like getting together with an old friend that I had not seen for a while. We had a great time and I really hope she get's the job (Her interview sounded like it went really well) cause you can never have too many friends that are happy to go shoe shopping with you!!!

Monday, 18 February 2008

Disraeli Avenue by Caroline Smailes

Caroline, one of my lovely blog friends, has written a rather extraordinary book called 'In Search of Adam' in which she explores the extremely difficult topics of sexual abuse and self harm. It is a harrowing tale beautifully told and the voice of Jude, the main protagonist, stays with you long after you read the last page and put the book down.

Jude lives on Disraeli Avenue - there are 32 houses on Disraeli Avenue and behind every window is a story.........Disraeli Avenue, the novella, tells those stories!!

I have so much admiration for her. Caroline has done something absolutely amazing, with the help of her publisher and lots of people donating their time and talents, she has made Disraeli Avenue into an e-book which is free to download. All she asks is that you donate a little something to her chosen charity, One In Four, who work tirelessly and unconditionally to give support to those who have suffered sexual abuse (Every penny you give will go to help those that need it so please donate whatever you can!!)

Just in case you missed the previous links - you can click on the image on the left to donate and to tell us your secret!!

Friday, 15 February 2008

I'm back, I'm bad.....and I'm still driving Chris mad

Well......I'm not really driving Chris mad (any more!!) but it rhymes so I thought I would stick it in there anyway!!

You'll be glad to know that I am feeling a hell of a lot better so I am going to bore you with what I've been doing.........

I have watched some truly dreadful movies - honestly, how do these guys get the money to make these monstrosities!! I can just imagine the conversation.......
Idiot number one - 'You know it's, like, about this, like, great big lizard and it, like, has a flight with this great big snake and there are, like, people running around and stuff'
Idiot number two - 'You know what??......That sounds like it will make a great movie. Here's zillions of dollars'
I'm not kidding either (Oh if only I were!!)....I was actually reduced to watching Komodo vs. Cobra (Dear GOD what were they thinking??)........and please don't even get me started on the delight that was 'Snakes On A Plane' which actually featured the line 'brother from another mother'.....Oh the hilarity!!! (I think at that point I may have groaned 'make it stop' and it had nothing to do with the pain!!)

I have spent hours playing a rather irritating (and habit forming) little computer game called Diner Dash. I'm a little embarrassed to admit this (Actually I'm more embarrassed about admitting this than I was about telling you about the time I was washed ALL over by a nurse.....funny eh!!) Anyway, I have no idea why I have had the sudden compulsion to pretend I am a waitress running my own cafe in this bizarre little game but I am strangely addicted......(You can play online here.......but I am warning you......If you click on it I may end up having to set up a Diner Dash Anonymous helpline)

I was saved from myself (well....not really cause I still play.....OMG.....Did I just say that out loud?) by the lovely JJ. She arrived like a.......what's the female equivalent of a Knight in shining armour?........Well, this is why I am not a writer, she arrived.......... with THE most wonderful gifts - a box of paints and a book that gives lots of ideas on how to use said paint!! I have been dribbling, spraying, stamping and pinging.......that was before I even went near the paints!! I have to say that the canvas I was using did end up looking a little like someone had done a multi-coloured yawn on it (I was experimenting!!) when Moon appeared next to me. She looked at it, frowned, put her hand on her hips and frowned some more, looked at me and said 'What?'........I said I'm just playing.......she looked at me again, looked at the canvas, frowned, shook her head and disappeared again!! Sometimes language is no barrier at all!!! (The photo's are of the things I have been working on (Some not finished). Chris really likes the one with the people (the writing in Japanese means Husband and Wife) he thinks I should do a few more in different colour combos and maybe sell them.....what do you think?)

Oh, I also went to a showing of the DVD that was made at the Fashion Show (I know, I know.....I went in a taxi and there was very little walking involved!!), I went to the BWG Coffee morning (Yes, I should probably have stayed at home but there was a talk on Operation Smile and we were donating money to the cause so I couldn't stay at home) and today I went to see Mo-Cha-Ya (The lovely JJ came with me and did the lifting so I really didn't do much......all I did was pull faces at her.....erm.....Mo-Cha-Ya not JJ!!)

Chris has been wonderful (I knew there was a good reason I married him......I knew it wasn't just cause I was drunk and desperate!!) and, even though we had decided that we would officially celebrate Valentines Day next week, he turned up last night with a stunning single red rose, some champagne and chocolates!! (He even bought some Thai wine and chocolate for Moon so she didn't feel left out!!......He is rather fab you know (but don't tell him I said that....he'll get a big head!!))


I am not the only one who has not been very well this week. My Mum has had a really nasty stomach virus which has given her the runs - her poor wee bum now looks a bit like the Japanese flag!!

Get well soon Mum!!

Saturday, 9 February 2008


Thank GOD that's over!!

I am over the moon!! There were no cancer cells in the tumour and, as long as Mini Me doesn't get any bigger, I don't need to go back in and have her removed!!! (They are still going to monitor her to be on the safe side but I can live with that!!)

I would do a happy dance if my side didn't hurt so much!!

Thursday, 7 February 2008


I'm actually going into hospital tomorrow and I'm feeling a wee bit nervous today!!

I've had a check up on Mini Me (My tumour) - the good news is it hasn't grown but the bad news is that it hasn't shrunk either!! It's been nine months since the last big check up on it and, although they still think it's benign, they want to do a biopsy on it. This will involve a local anaesthetic and a big bloody needle......yikes!! I will not be allowed to move for four hours afterwards (This prompted Chris to utter 'Does that mean you won't be able to move your lips either?' in a very hopeful manner......he actually looked quite devastated when I replied 'No it doesn't!!') and will have to stay overnight so that they can observe my clotting abilities!!

The biopsy will establish whether A. the tumour will just stay the way it is for the rest of my life and will cause me no pain or anything (funnily enough this is the option I'm rooting for!!) or B. It has the capacity to change and develop into something more nasty a few years down the line. If it's B then I'll be going back into hospital to have it removed. Looking on the bright side at least I won't have to wait an age to find out what's going on - I'll get the results of it on Saturday!!

(Secretly I am just scared that they are going to tell me that I can't have any alcohol for another two months.....if they do that.....I may cry!!!)

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Cambodia Days 3 and 4

On day three we went to see the 'Lost Temple in the Jungle' otherwise known as Beng Melea. It's not included as part of the Angkor complex because it takes about two hours to get there by car from Siam Reap (Be's a very bumpy road!!) so still doesn't get a lot of tourists - we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

Apparently reports of Beng Melea began circulating in the late 1990's - a few courageous travellers arrived in Siam Reap with story's about being escorted by villagers to a lost temple buried under vegetation. The canopy of trees covering it didn't let in a lot of light so photo's taken were not great but the images sparked something in peoples imaginations and more visitors made the effort to go and see it. It is believed to have been built at the end of the 11th century and that it was the prototype for Angkor Wat so it's an incredibly important piece of Khmer art and history and it was this that prompted Culture Officials to go and view the site. I am thrilled to say that they have decided to try and preserve the temple exactly the way it is now (they would lose something really special if they tried to restore is stunningly beautiful but it is falling apart!!) and the area around the actual temple has now been cleared of the land mines (although you are warned not to stray into the surrounding area).

I am struggling to put into words the feelings this temple evoked in me - it was my Ta Phrom only even more wild and untamed. It was so incredibly felt like it had faced it's downfall and then been frozen in time. Honestly, you walk along the path towards jungle and then slowly but surely this huge, stunning, crumbly temple is revealed to you. You have to be reasonably fit to be able to explore the whole thing.....there are doorways with the most intricate carvings but the only way to pass through them is to climb over the stones that once formed part of the ceiling. There is lush vegetation everywhere you look and huge trees that grow from the temple's walls their roots dribbling down the stone work. It was phenomenal!!! It was also wet and we emerged from our clambering looking a bit like drowned rats but not one of us cared.

On the way back into Siam Reap we went to see Chong Khneas, the floating village on Tonle Sap Lake. (We were supposed to be going to Kompong Phlik the stilted village on the Lake but having done some research on it I discovered that the place we went was actually Chong Khneas). That was an experience and a half - I have never seen poverty like it......I honestly thought having spent time in the slums here in Bangkok that it would now be quite difficult to shock me......I was wrong!! These people have practically nothing - no water, no electricity (If there was any it was provided by old car batteries) , some of the houses were constructed mainly from plastic bags and there was mud absolutely everywhere!! Things did improve as we moved away from where the boats were stationed and got into Chong Khneas proper. There are actually more than 5,000 people that form a community who live on floating houses in the middle of this lake - there was a school, a basket ball court and even a church. My gob was well and truly smacked!! We actually got to watch a family moving house.....basically they were towing their house by boat to another location. It was fascinating but shocking to see!!

We headed back to our hotel all feeling slightly shell shocked and in need of a few drinks so that evening we headed to the tourist area of the town. It was great - some really nice bars, loads of restaurants and a couple of really impressive art galleries. We had a great time, we found a lovely little bar called The Ivy so we spent our evening sitting watching the world go by, having a couple of beers and a chat.

The following day was our last and we took it easy - we visited a couple of Wat's in town, grabbed some lunch and then headed out to the airport. We had a fantastic time in Cambodia and I think we will definately go back!!

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Cambodia Day 2

We were up at the crack of dawn on day two as we were going to visit Ta Phrom - the temple where Tomb Raider was filmed. It's amazingly popular and if you want any kind of chance to take good pics then you need to be there very early to beat the crowds. The early start was seriously worth it (not words I say lightly!!) - the temple is just magical!!

It was built in the the 13th century and, while other monuments in the Angkor region have been cleared of the encroaching jungle, Ta Phrom has been left as it was. It is almost exactly the same now as it was when it was found by the French explorers who rediscovered it in the 19th century. It feels a bit like you are walking around in a fairy tale when your going round it - the huge half-crumbled bits of stone covered with tree roots make it feel quite enchanted (I can see why so many people fall in love with it!!). It's also one of the biggest temples in the whole of Cambodia measuring 1 kilometer by 750 meters (and that's not including the moat and surrounding land!!), it was built by King JawavarmanVII in honour of his mother and in the middle of the complex there is an amazing inner tomb that was once decorated with hundreds of ruby's, emeralds and diamonds - you can still see the holes where they used to be!! (It's a pity that all the gemstones have been stolen or removed as it would have been amazing to see it in all it's glory). As we were going round Mr Lee pointed to a chamber and insisted that we go inside and stand with our backs to the wall - Obedient people that we are (it does happen sometimes stop laughing!!) we did what we were told. I admit I felt slightly foolish when he then told us to make a fist with our hand, hit our chest three times and make a wish.......but I hit my chest the most amazing thing happened - the entire chamber sang!! The vibrations from your chest go through the wall and the shape of the chamber makes it was the most beautiful sound!! We all loved it there and I think we would have been happy to spend the entire day wondering around but Kbal Spean was calling.

Kbal Spean is a 'natural bridge' which takes it's name from the river it crosses. It is set deep in the jungle to the north east of Angkor and it takes about a 40 minute hike through very atmospheric jungle to get to it. (The path is very well maintained but it is steep and there are sections that involve clambering over rocks!!). Having done the climb (and been laughed at by some Cambodian's) we arrived hot and sweaty at the river - OMG it really was worth the climb!! I had never seen anything like it - the entire river bed is covered with sculptures of lingas (Phallic Symbols), and I mean covered with them (It is commonly known as the valley of a 1000 lingas and I can see why!!) . As well as the lingas and yoni (that's the name given to the carvings representing the female) there are various Hindu mythological motifs including depictions of gods and animals. One of the most impressive is the carving of Vishnu on the rocks by the upper part of the waterfall - how on earth the Khmer managed to carve it there is beyond me (but I'm guessing that they did it in the dry season :-D!!). Going back down was a hell of a lot easier than going up!!

After grabbing a quick bite we visited the temple of Bantei Srei which is otherwise known as the 'Ladies' Temple. I have to admit that I don't know much about this temple at all and I couldn't find anything about it online either (Even Wikipedia had nothing to say on the subject!!). It was different to all the others we had seen - the carvings there went much deeper into the stone and the entire temple was constructed from a stunning pink sandstone. I've read that it was inspired more by Indian architecture than anything else but I don't know if this is true or not and I have no idea which King had it built. It was beautiful though - the colour of the sandstone looked amazing in the afternoon light and the carvings were just incredible!! (I did ask Chris if he thought anyone would notice if I tried to smuggle a bit of stone out the temple under my top..... he just looked at me and shook his head......I think that was his way of saying yes they would notice!!). It was quite a small temple so didn't take too long to explore which then gave us plenty of time to get back to the hotel and have a wee nap prior to going out for the evenings entertainment.

Our itinerary said that we would attend a Khmer Dinner and a show - I really should have known!! We were dropped off at what can only be described as a big barn with no walls and a roof. It was cavernous (oops nearly wrote carnivorous!!), absolutely packed with tables and there was a large buffet in the middle of the heart sank!! I have a rather unhealthy hatred of buffets - I have been to waaaaay to many where the food has been absolutely crap and this one was no exception (Think unspecified meat substance covered in brown gloopy sauce, cold bendy spring rolls and hollow chips.......Barf!!!). We ate a lot of bread. The show itself was actually quite interesting - some of it was very similar to the Thai dancing which Chris and I had seen before but the rest of it seemed to be dances based upon the Cambodian way of life and that was really good. (There was a voice over at the beginning of every dance but the speaker system was so bad we couldn't understand a word of it). The dances seemed to involve weaving, baskets and harvesting and although we all enjoyed the show it's not something that we would have chosen to do (I'm going to have a word with the tour operator the next time I speak to him!!). Actually it was quite funny - when the driver and Mr Lee came to collect us he said 'How was the food and the show?' and at exactly the same time all three of us said 'The show was good'. He couldn't stop laughing!!

Friday, 1 February 2008

Cambodia Day 1

Sorry - have been a bit busy so am only just getting round to updating you on how we got on in Cambodia. It was absolutely wonderful - I was quite surprised at how similar it was to Thailand but also how different it was too!! The day-to-day life of the Cambodian people struck me as being a lot harder than that of the Thais. All the temples were just gob smackingly beautiful - I think I'm going to have to get my thesaurus out and look up the word stunning and then use every single alternative to describe what we saw!!

Anyway........the journey was a doddle (The flight was just over an hour) and when we landed we just sailed through immigration - we had got our visa's online (It was surprisingly easy....we just scanned our passport photo's into the computer, filled out a form and paid. When they were ready they were e-mailed to us and all we had to do was print them out and show them at immigration). We were met at the airport by our guide, Mr Lee, and our driver and taken to our hotel. OMG Cambodian traffic makes the traffic in Bangkok look well organised!! Technically driving on the right is the norm.........unless you want to drive on the left.......and that appears to be fine too. Priority seems to be in order of size, big smoke-belching lorries do what they want and everyone else gets out of their way, then in descending order: 4x4s, minibuses, pickup trucks, cars, motorbike and trailer combinations, motorbikes, ox carts and lastly cyclists, pedestrians, dogs and chickens. (The only exception to this rule were the Cyclo taxis which are given way to because people feel sorry for a six stone pensioner pedalling a half-ton tricycle).
Sorry, I've digressed.....

The hotel we were staying at was called The Freedom Hotel and I have to say that we were slightly disappointed - it was clean, comfortable and the food was good but it was quite far out from the main tourist area so had no bars within walking distance of it. (you know what we're like!!). We checked in, dumped our stuff and then headed out to do a late morning tour of Angkor Wat from the East Gate (Which is essentially the back door of the temple). One of the things that really struck me about the approach to the temple was the colour of the ground - I've never seen earth so red was really quite stunning!! Angkor was everything we had hoped for and more - it's so impressive and HUGE and because we had gone in the back way we managed to miss most of the tourists so it felt like we had the entire temple to ourselves (that was until we bumped into a party of Korean tourists - there were only about five of them - Korean tourists I have discovered are incredibly loud!!). The galleries of carvings were unbelievable and everywhere you looked there were little details that just jumped out at you - We even saw a monk translating some of the writing on one of the walls and I managed to get a picture - the script he is reading is Pali (Pali has been around since the time of the Buddha and is regarded as the root language of all beings).

History (You know what I'm like - I just can't help myself.....if your not interested just look at the pictures :-D). Angkor Wat was built for King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city. It combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture - the temple mountain and the galleried temple. It is believed to have been designed to represent Mount Meru which is the home of the gods in Hindu mythology. It is still the subject of much debate amongst scholars as most Angkorian temples are built facing East but Angkor Wat faces the West.

We had lunch at a little stall overlooking the temple - I don't any of us could quite believe we were actually sitting there looking at it!! After lunch we got back in the car and headed to our next temple, Bayon. Now, I have to say here that having just been to Angkor Wat I was thinking that I had already seen the best of the temples......I was so so wrong!!!

The Bayon temple was the last state temple to be built at Angkor (around the late 12th century) and it was the only one to be built primarily as a Mahayana Buddhist temple. It was built by King Jawavarman VII and it stands as the centrepiece for his Capital, Angkor Thom. The entrance to the temple was impressive enough - the road was lined with figures but when it comes to the actual temple words fail me and the pictures just don't do it justice!! The Bayon's most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and massive stone faces on the many towers which jut out from the upper terrace - each of the towers has three or four gigantic smiling faces and it's just incredible. Our guide told us that there are about 200 faces carved into the temple and he took this fab photo of me rubbing noses with one of them. It was very very busy but again Mr Lee managed to steer us round in such a way that we missed most of the tourists - by the time we had reached the top of the tower however there was nothing we could do to avoid them so we decided to call it quits (The level of noise really was quite incredible - Korean and Chinese tourists seem incapable of doing anything quietly!!)

Before we came we had arranged to go on an evening hot air balloon trip so that we could see Angkor Wat from above. I was pleasantly surprised because, although I am terrified of heights, I was absolutely fine (Chris and Tom were a lot less fine!!). We got some good shots of the whole area and some lovely ones of Angkor. Then it was back to the hotel for drinks and dinner - Chris went out for a walk and came back with a couple of bottles of wine so we had a look through the days photo's whilst sipping wine and then went down for dinner. Cambodian food is not quite as good as Thai but we did have the most stunning lemon soup which I will have to hunt down a recipe for!!