Days like These

Since I have been living in Bangkok I get regular emails about what’s on. I don’t do that much on a regular basis but sometimes I see something that catches my eye.

So one Friday-my only day off- I got up early and was in the pool by 8.30am, followed by my regular exercise workout, had breakfast and was out the door at 10am.

I went to Thai lessons, which is what I normally do on Fridays, and afterwards I took myself to the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre where they were holding the “Bonjour Fair”- a French and Italian market. These types of events always intrigue me because I think it’s strange that you would get such a thing in Thailand. But Bangkok is an international city so of course these types of events happen here. I still find it strange. (Or maybe it is me who is strange!?) Anyway, I arrived and wandered around, bought a ham quiche and left. I only really went to check it out and as I didn’t have much money to buy all the delicious things I wanted to buy (Umm wine!) I didn’t hang around long.

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There were lovely offerings to be had- cheese, wine, bread and meats. There were also shoes and perfumes. All the things you would imagine would be at a French and Italian market. You could even try before you buy. I believe this market happens once a year.

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bonjour 2

The next thing on my agenda was to go to Lumpini Park to see the Bangkok Street Fair. After a quick trip to do some Christmas shopping, I got to Lumpini and meandered around watching the variety of street performers. There weren’t many people there when I arrived so I could easily watch the performers that were dotted around the park.

There were mime artists and trapeze artists but the best ones were a group of guys dancing and doing the limbo.

They had attracted quite a crowd.

On the way out I stopped to watch a woman doing her piece, which included a toilet and some flowers. I have no idea what that was all about but when she stuck her head in the toilet it reminded me of Renton in “Trainspotting.” I walked out of the park chuckling to myself.

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On the way back I stopped off at Onnut night market for somtam and a beer. I deserved it after my busy day. I hadn’t been there for a while and, although the prices have gone up a little, it is still a place I enjoy especially when the lady, who sells the somtam, recognized me, and I got a beer by simply mouthing the word “Singha” to the waitress.

I love days like these. They definitely put a smile on my face. 

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A Walk through Chinatown with Expique

My friend had already done one of these tours with Expique so I checked out their website and found this walking tour around Chinatown. I have never been to Chinatown in Bangkok before so I thought this would be a nice introduction. I had images of Chinatown having large streets with countless bars and restaurants- a bit like Chinatown in London, but we didn’t even hit the commercial area. Instead we meandered through the back streets for over two hours and learned a little bit of history.

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Chinatown’s Talad Noi

I met the rest of the group at River City Mall, a short motorbike taxi ride away from Suphan Taksin BTS. We were given a short introduction to the tour by Simon, who runs Expique, and then we were on our way.
The first port of call was the Holy Rosary Church, also known as the Kalawar Church. The location of the church is on land granted to the Portuguese by King Rama l. During 1891-1898 the church was renovated and neo-gothic style towering spires were added. The interior has Romanesque stained- glass windows and a gilded stucco ceiling.


Then we visited the Siam Commercial Bank. The Talad Noi branch of SCB is housed in a building that is 103 years old. King Rama V was very interested in architecture from abroad, so he commissioned Italian architect, Annibale Rigotti, to design this building and it was constructed between 1906-1910. Interestingly, Siam Commercial was actually the third bank to be opened here. In 1888 HSBC started the first bank and printed the country’s first bank notes. Chartered Bank (Standard Chartered) followed in 1894. It was Prince Mahisara Rachaharuthai that started the first Thai bank in 1904. Siam Commercial was curiously called the “Book Club” before its name was changed in 1906.


We continued onwards strolling along the back streets of Talad Noi (little market). We saw people in the community going about their daily business. We passed workshops of metal workers, and bakers; we saw people’s houses, and  Chinese temples. We came across a doorway with red gates, and walls painted blue, with pictures on either side of the door. This house is over 200 years old and one of the families still lives there. We had a peek inside and all we could see was a swimming pool in the middle of the yard where people from a nearby hotel go to practise scuba diving. A case of old meets new!

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200 Year Old House

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I had just finished saying that I wondered whether any tourists come this way when we came across a hotel. The River View Guest House appeared from nowhere. We went up to the roof top for splendid views across the Chao Phraya River.

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Rooftop Views

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We stayed there a while and had a drink to quench our thirst while taking in the views. From our vantage point we saw a building to the right of the roof top bar. I was told it was a restaurant called Nang Gin Kui– a unique private dining experience in an architect’s apartment. You can enjoy a 15 course dinner either as part of a group or a more intimate dinner for two in the heart of Chinatown.

Nang Gin Kui

Nang Gin Kui

After a while it started to rain so we donned our ponchos, kindly provided by Expique, and we returned to street level to continue our tour.


The Vegetarian Festival was happening on that day and we went to a covered area where all the people were dressed in white and there were huge incense sticks burning, and drums thumping out music.

We learned that the Vegetarian Festival has happened twice during 2014 which happens every 182 years. We were invited into a replica Chinese house to have a look and we got treated to some kids dressed up as a dragon.

Replica Chinese House

Replica Chinese House

We continued through the streets and tried the delicious food on offer.

Vegetarian Food

Vegetarian Food

Another temple and a visit to a rice making shop before the rain started pelting down again.

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Chinese Temple

We sheltered under a tin roof for a bit then made our way to the last location- the Chinese gateway that is located at the bottom of Yarowat Road-the commercial part of Chinatown.

Chinese Shrine, Yarowat Road

Chinese Shrine, Yarowat Road

From here the tour ends but you are free to wander at your heart’s content. For me I had to dash off to Thai lessons. All in all I thought the tour was excellent. It gave some interesting information about some of Thailand’s history. And you will visit places that you will probably have never been to nor are likely to go on your own. I would definitely recommend Expique and I will be going on one of their other tours sometime soon.

Visit Expique website for details of their Bangkok Walking Tours

46 Soi Sathorn 9, Yannawa, Sathorn, Bangkok 10120

Email: info@expique.com

Tel: +66 (0) 85 873 3308

Wine I Love You

As one who loves her wine I just had to go and check out a bar which I had found through BK Weekend- an online magazine that give you information about places in Bangkok.
After much searching I finally found Wine I Love You nestled in among some other cool little places that make up Groove @ Central World, in the Rajadamri area of Bangkok.

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Wine I love You

It was empty when I was there but I can imagine that the place would be buzzing during the evening. I was nearly disappointed when I looked at the menu to find there were no glasses of wine to order-only wine cocktails. I love drinking alcohol but even I have limits, and as it was only 1.30pm I wasn’t really up for wine and rum in the same glass.
I thought to myself-an establishment calling itself “Wine-I love you” must have glasses of wine, so I sat down and asked, and 5 minutes later I had a glass of very lovely tasting red wine in my hand.

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Red Wine-mmmmm

 

They do a good range of food-appetisers, salads, soups, pasta, pizza, seafood and burgers. Both Thai and Western- with prices ranging from 95 baht for garlic bread, up to around 700 baht for steak.
There is indoor and outdoor seating and because it is situated in a small complex, if you choose to sit outside, like I always do, then you are shaded from the ever present Bangkok sun.

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Outdoor Seating

 

Drinks are reasonable as well-cocktails around 235 baht and the best news of all is that when I asked for the bill for my (two) glasses of red wine I was pleasantly shocked to find the bill came to 250 baht. I was expecting a bit more than that. I was a very happy girl.

Outdoor Seating

Outdoor Seating

I will definitely be going back at some point. It will make a nice evening out, someplace different. But the main reason is-Wine, I really do love you!

A Week in the Life

Saturday

I started a new term and my schedule has changed. I now work 9am-11.30am and then 3.30pm -6pm. So still two classes but I am on a split shift for which we get paid for an hour for doing nothing. Not complaining! I could go home but I decided to stay at work and busy myself with learning new things to do with my camera.

Sunday

I have two new groups so new students to get to know, and I think we have bonded already. It is important to connect with your students, that way you will get more out of them, they won’t be so nervous to get involved and it will be more of a pleasure to teach them. Sunday evening I met my friend, Chris, for a few drinks. We ended up staying out until after midnight. That was not the plan. The plan was to be home by 9pm but that never happens with us. There is always one more beer to be had. Thankfully we talked ourselves out of going somewhere else.

Monday

I left work at the usual time of 9.30pm and went to the bus stop. There are a number of different buses that pass by so you never have to wait long. However, one stopped which I hadn’t seen before, a white one, so I got on, thinking that it must go by my place because they all do. I told him I wanted to go to Supalai Park and he charged me 15 baht- a different fare to all the rest. Anyway the bus started to go in the direction of my home but then turned around and started to go in the opposite direction. I sat there for a few seconds and thought to myself; I need to get off, otherwise I am going to end up further away from home. I got up and moved towards the bus conductor and said:

“Bai Novotel?” (“go to Novotel?”- the hotel just opposite my place) to which he gestured that he didn’t understand.

“Bai, Novotel?” I said again slightly louder and more annoyed.

And when I realised he wasn’t going to understand me, I kind of stormed away from him and pressed the bell to be let off. When I got off I gave him a…”for f**** sake, I told you where I wanted to go, you took my money and now we are going in the completely opposite direction” sort of glare, and may have sworn at him under my breath.

Finding myself back where I started, I got on the correct bus and was home a few minutes later. Afterwards, I realised that it wasn’t the poor guys fault. There is another condo building called Supalai Park in the direction of where the bus was going. Plus it was me who had boarded the wrong bus. And I don’t speak enough Thai to say exactly what I needed to say. I was going to ask for my 15 baht back but again the language barriers are difficult to say the least. This is another reason why I need to learn more of the language.

Tuesday

Having got home at around 9.45pm I was having a cigarette on my balcony and I saw a huge bright, white light from one of the buildings opposite and heard a muffled bang. A few seconds later everything went black in the whole of my apartment building. Another huge bright light and muffled bang followed a few minutes later. I saw torch lights coming from the direction of the bang and light, and also torch lights coming from the apartment a few floors above me. It almost looked like they were communicating using Morse code. But my imagination aside the only thing to do was to go to bed and hope the electricity came on again soon enough to start the fan again. It did and I was saved from an uncomfortably hot sleep.

 
Wednesday

Coming home on the bus again, yet another incident of not speaking enough Thai. I get one of three or four buses to and from work, and I only know that the air-conditioned number 207 is 12 baht. This time I got the number 133 home, as I did the previous night, and gave her 10 baht because I couldn’t remember how much it cost. She gave me 2 baht change and a ticket that said the cost was 4 baht. Either she had thought I had given her 6 baht or I was mistaken and she had given me the correct change. I wasn’t. Do I question her over a mere 6 baht? I was torn between wanting to ask her and thinking well it’s only 6 baht. Again not speaking too much Thai I am sure it would get lost in translation. Lesson for the day- until I can speak more Thai learn the cost of all the different buses and give the correct money.

Thursday

I went to the gym to work out on the treadmill. After I had finished I went over the other side of the gym to work out with weights. Whilst I was doing that a Thai guy was sat astride the shoulder weight machine and he kept looking over. But it wasn’t a blatant stare. It was one of those that when someone wants to look at something they do a kind of sweep of the whole area, but their eyes actually stop for a millisecond on the thing they want to stare at in the first place. We are all guilty of it. I just thought: No.1- I thought the stares would stop, now I was living in Bangkok; and No.2-get on with your bloody workout and stop looking at me! Maybe he was impressed with my weight lifts!

 
Friday

I normally go to Thai lessons on Friday but having had a late night and feeling a little hung-over I got up later than planned. I decided not to go to Thai lessons and just hang out at home. Later on in the afternoon I started to get cabin-fever, as I normally do if I don’t venture out of my apartment all day, so I decided to go to the park to take some photographs. I have been learning more about my camera and wanted to take some shots out of AUTO mode. I took a motorcycle taxi to Suan Luang Park only to find that the park was closed. It is being tidied up for the King’s birthday on December 5th. The motorcycle taxi turned around and I asked him to drop me at the top of the road. I decided to walk back to my apartment and on the way I managed to take a few photos. You know when you get something in your head that you want to do and then you can’t do it for whatever reason? I was disappointed to say the least, but at least it got rid of my cabin-fever.

🙂

Taj Express- The Musical

In my attempt to get to know Bangkok a bit more I took myself to the Thailand Cultural Centre to see Taj Express- The Musical, which was part of Bangkok’s 16th International Festival of Dance and Music.

The Main Entrance

The Main Entrance

From Asok BTS take the MRT to Thailand Cultural Centre and then it’s a short motorbike taxi ride to the centre itself. One of the centre’s entrances is tucked away down a little soi- I am not sure I would have found it if I had walked.

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Thailand Cultural Centre Foyer

 

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Foyer

There was a covered walkway leading to the main hall with a mini-mart at the end, and a bar set up where you could buy alcohol- at not too pricey drinks- 180 baht for a glass of wine. I sat watching the crowds arrive with my wine, feeling like a proper theatre goer. In the foyer, where everyone had gathered before the show, were huge paintings at either end, and a resident piano player who was entertaining the smartly dressed crowd. It all felt rather grown up.

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Foyer

 

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Pianist

Back to the Taj Express. I have had a secret passion for Bollywood for a while now but I have never been to a show until now- the proverbial Bollywood virgin. Straight from Mumbai, the Taj Express was electrifying- a pure kaleidoscope of colour, music and fantastic dancing and energy. Being the optimistic person that I am, I actually wrote that BEFORE I saw the show and I am happy to report that I was not disappointed. My expectations were more than met. I loved it and I was so glad I went.

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The Stage

In a nutshell the story goes something like this- a girl born in London but from Indian descent is a high-flying journalist and her phone and laptop are her life. She goes to India to write about a love story, never expecting that she would be in the leading role. She gets to Mumbai and her phone is stolen and this guy chases the thief and returns her phone. They arrange to meet and realise that they are attracted to each other. The guy tells her to stop the relationship with her phone and live a little- so she throws her phone away and they travel to her hometown where she learns that her father has died. She was told by one of the villagers that her father had travelled all over India to try and find her. He never realised she was in London and in the end he died thinking that his daughter had passed away. After a very moving scene where she and the boy scatter her father’s ashes in the Ganges, they get married and are together forever at last.

At the back of the stage was a huge movie screen and images of Mumbai were shown to give you the impression that they, and you, were actually there. In the scene where the girl’s phone gets stolen the thief runs away with the boy hot on his heels- they run off the stage and the movie screen showed a video of a guy running through the streets of Mumbai with said boy chasing him. When they run back onto the stage the movie screen went off. In the scene where they are scattering her father’s ashes, they kneel in front of the screen with a moving image of the water and floating candles. Apparently, this is the first time in Bollywood musical history that the producers have mixed music, dance and film on stage. And I thought it really worked.

Then the whole place went black for about 10 seconds. It felt like it was a lot longer. I am sure everyone starting thinking that it was a technical fault because I could hear and feel people getting restless-myself included. 10 seconds is actually a long time when you are sat in darkness not knowing what is happening. But I think it was supposed to represent death. I thought it was a nice touch and probably achieved the reaction that the producers were looking for.

The dancing was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G- a combination of classical and sexy routines. It was so energetic. The costumes were colourful and imaginative, and the music made my heart almost beat out of my chest. I sat there in awe throughout the whole performance. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take photographs once the show started but the experience has been etched into my mind forever.

I cannot tell you enough how exciting it is to go and see a Bollywood show. If you have been you will know what I am talking about. And if you haven’t- well, I thoroughly recommend you go and experience a magical two hours. I can’t wait to go again.

Jesse and Son- A Tailored Experience

Jesse and Son is a tailor shop, recently opened on Soi 19.

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Manop and Jesse

Jesse has been in the business for 34 years. His old premises used to be on Soi 11, but for the past few months Jesse and his son, Manop, have been hard at work upgrading their services, and producing a brand new image. Hence the new premises, which opened in June 2014.

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While Jesse was busy with customers, Manop was happy to talk to me about the business.
He explained that there are not that many real tailors around. There are hundreds of tailor shops in Bangkok but not many real ones. They are imitation shops who pretend to do the real thing. They provide no explanation about the fabrics, and sell the fabrics for what they are- cheap and lacking in quality. They don’t really care about their customers-once the suits are made they make no effort to get feedback to improve. And most of them do need to improve.

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Not so at Jesse and Son. Their personal service comes at a reasonable cost, and they promote a brand rather than just a tailoring service. They care about their customers and want to provide them with everything they need to produce a perfect product. They ask for feedback from all their clients which they take to heart and if improvements are needed they will make them. They believe that this kind of service will make their customers return and tell others of the excellent service they have received.

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In fact, as Manop explained, they have been getting a lot of repeat customers- clients that are so impressed with the service and product they have returned to do more business. And these same customers have recommended Jesse and Son to other people for the same reason. They also get a lot of customers walking in as they pass by. These customers will invariably spend time in Jesse and Sons, leave and go to check out other shops, but return because they realise that they are going to get a great service and a quality product.

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When we were in the shop two guys did just that- walked in and spent over an hour talking to Jesse and getting measured up. They went away extremely happy. When they had left Jesse came to join us and he explained that they had just come in after passing by and seeing the shop. He says: “it works like this- the customer has an idea, I have an idea and we go from there. Their ideas might be something I had not thought of, and I think yeah, ok, let’s do that.”

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I never realised that there was so much work involved in making suits and shirts. The design part is almost as much work as the actual making part- what lapel and style you might like; whether you want pleats and pockets on your trousers; choice of collar; buttons and whether you want a monogram stitched in. in fact there is so much to choose from you really are designing your own clothing.
There are also samples of different colours, buttons, and piping to make your item unique. You can choose Bemberg Lining- which comes from the linter of cotton plants, and is used by big names such as Hugo Boss, Giorgio Armani and Zegna. You can have mother of pearl buttons which have more depth and colour and do not dissolve like the plastic versions. These buttons are considered the hallmark of a high quality shirt maker and they enhance the elegance and value of the shirt.


Manop told me that their tailors use horsehair to line jackets, this being the traditional way. Horsehair is a natural product and conforms better to the body than other man-made fibres such as polyester. A lot of other tailors will use polyester or other material- in fact Manop told us he knows of one guy who, after buying a jacket from another tailor, wondered what it was lined with, so he ripped it apart to find it had been lined with newspaper.

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There are currently 3 jacket tailors and 2 shirt tailors in the employ of Jesse and Son. They work to their customers timescales. If a customer needs a suit for a particular date, they will ensure that the finished item is ready in time.

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As well as making tailored made items of clothing they are very proficient at copying designs. I know someone who gave Jesse and Son a shirt she liked and they were able to produce a replica for her-all at a reasonable cost.

 

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If you want your new suit sent home in time for a wedding or other important event- Jesse and Son can send it anywhere you want. Recently they have sent orders to Malaysia, Japan and Dhaka.

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They have a drinks menu in the shop so you can enjoy a coffee or a glass of wine while you design your outfit. I asked why they decided to do that and Manop told me: “I wanted to make it fun, more of an experience for our customers. We even have music playing in the fitting room- it all helps to create a good ambiance.”

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Manop himself has been making clothes from an early age and the passion he has comes across very clearly when he told me he loves to explain to people what actually goes into making clothes and the reaction he gets in return. He told me “I could talk about it all day.”

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They have their own website where you can place an order online- www.jesseandson.com. They have an iPad in the shop so customers can get an idea of what the suit will look like, and there are books to show all manner of designs, colours and fabrics. Customers can spend as long as they want browsing around the shop and looking at the books before they even begin to start designing.


It’s not only the men who have made this shop a success. Manop’s wife, Manhar, has been involved giving it an artistic and feminine touch in the form of vintage typewriters and sewing machines in the shop window and strategically placed mannequins. Everything in the shop has been designed by her, even the music that is being played. This all adds to the professional and stylish feel to the place.
Manhar’s involvement has been integral to Jesse and Son’s success so far. She is active on social media sites, such as Instagram and Facebook, sharing the store image based on articles and trends she finds. She knows how to capture the essence of the Jesse and Son brand extremely well through the packaging, small gimmicks and accessories that she has designed. She is also launching an accessories brand which will include cufflinks, customised neckties, bowties and pocket squares, amongst other items. Other things Manhar has created are- thank you cards with garment care instructions for all their clients, carefully chosen wood hangers, and the store furniture and colour schemes to produce a modern classic look. Without Manhar’s creativity and vision for the smallest of details, Jesse and Son would just be another tailor store on the block- which it most definitely is not.


Jesse and Manop have it right- they know customer’s expectations are high these days, so their philosophy is if you are going to do something, do it right. For them image and credibility are the most important things. As well as giving a much more personal service, Jesse and Son are giving their customers a new impression of what a tailor should do. And Jesse and Son are proud to be able to deliver on their promises.

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Jesse and Son

Jesse and Son
Sukhumvit Soi 19
Monday to Saturday 9.30am-9pm
Sunday 1.30pm -5.30pm
http://www.jesseandson.com

Goodbye Bangsaen, Hello Bangkok

I was sorry to leave Bangsaen but I am very excited about starting afresh in my new home in Bangkok.
I am swapping the beautiful little seaside town for the concrete jungle. It’s not all concrete though, there is beauty in Bangkok and I am sure that I will find it- in fact I already know where to look I just have to settle in and then start exploring.

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Lumpini Park

 

I want to get to know Bangkok better because I only know a very small part- there are parks to discover, new bars and restaurants to hang out at and new places to visit.

I have a ready-made social life in Bangkok- I have a few friends living here already- not that I can enjoy this straight away because, until I get paid from my new job, I have little money to spend, but, on the plus side, my new apartment block has a gym, an exercise room, a large swimming pool and a jogging track- so that will be my entertainment for the time being. I am sure I will still be able to squeeze a couple of nights out though.

The View from my Balcony

The View from my Balcony

What can I say about Bangsaen? I loved the runs along the beach, dodging the monkeys on Khao Sammuk Hill, looking at birds around Bang Phra Reservoir, and tramping through the forests of Khao Kheow. Not forgetting teaching the little munchkins who I came to love.

Bangsaen

Bangsaen

I loved my weekly drinking sessions with Chris and Na, talking about running, not going to aerobics and anything else that came up. I loved learning about birds from Chris- I now know what a Scarlet-backed Flower-pecker looks and sounds like thanks to him. And for Chris’ constant stream of support and advice for which I am eternally grateful.

Scarlet-backed Flower-Pecker

Scarlet-backed Flower-Pecker

It has been great getting to know Bangsaen but that time is over- time for a fresh start in a new location. So it’s bon voyage to Bangsaen- I loved staying with you. And hello to Bangkok- we will get to know each other very soon.

Mohamad Al Karbi

محمد القربي

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