Monthly Archives: June 2010


"Mum! FEET!!!"

It is amazing how fast children adapt to and internalise the conventions, taboos, the social norms and etiquette of another culture. And not just by eating crickets, as the nine year old is doing in his charming self-portrait below. We are in Thailand right now. An etiquette minefield. One moment one is torn between sheer […]


At the Orphanage

wat chiang mai

Our first volunteering stint as a family brought us to Baan Kingkaew orphanage, a home for orphaned children aged from three months to six years old. I’d wondered before whether spending an afternoon playing with young children could be meaningful. Could in any way improve these little ones’ lives. And, yes. Something as easy as […]


Sweet Charity? On Volunteering

I have an aversion to the idea of volunteering overseas which dates back to a hospital bed in small town Mali. It wasn’t the extended families cooking on open fires in the grounds, the babies too weak to cry, or even the emaciated woman hawking bloody sputum onto the floor beside my bed that did […]


Elephant Artists

Elephant at an easel, using his trunk to paint. Mae Sa camp, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Elephant artists? Painting elephants? Now, like baby pandas, that’s something you don’t see every day. The pachyderms of Maesa Camp work with an incredible concentration. Squinting through their long eyelashes and crepey eyelids, they delicately handle children’s paintbrushes with the sensitive tips of trunks strong enough to lift entire logs. The results? Now, these paintings […]


Seeing the Light


There’s a brilliance about the light in the medieval temples of northern Thailand. It glints off mirrored mosaics, gold buddhas and gilded towers, off gaudy dragons and solemn elephants, illuminates great swathes of brightly coloured murals… It puts the sombre stained glass gloom of European cathedrals to shame.


A Tiger Petting Zoo

Z petting sleeping baby tiger, Tiger Kingdom, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

A petting zoo — with tigers? Truly, only in Thailand! But few children would pass up the chance to pet, stroke and cuddle a real, live, furry tiger cub at a bona fide tiger petting zoo. Or, as junior put it, “A baby tiger?! Count me in!!!!” So we trotted off to Tiger Kingdom, 20km […]


Western-Thai Dating: A Driver’s Guide

motorbikes in rain

One of the most consistently entertaining aspects of the courting ritual indulged in by ageing Western men and much younger South-East Asian women is the inaugural motorbike outing. Now, as any fule who has spent time in South-East Asia kno, these ladies can handle a bike. Dirt roads in the monsoon? No problemo. Hairpins? They […]


Ecotourism? My *rse


Monday morning sees us in Chiang Mai, for centuries capital of an independent state, sometimes Siamese, other times Burmese, now the hub of northern Thailand. If you’re Thai, it’s a city of culture and spirituality, of wooden temples, medieval monasteries, crumbling chedi, universities… If you’re a tourist it’s the regional centre of those outdoor activities […]


Does the Tooth Fairy Take Lao Kip?


So junior’s molar, which has been threatening to drop for the last few weeks, finally did the deed today. He hasn’t, historically, had the best record with teeth. Lost one in ice-cream. Swallowed another. And one, I think, fell out of a car window, in circumstances which are blurred, though the ensuing sorrow, of course, […]


Spirits of the Forest

Scarlet three-petalled flower with large black seeds suspended below. Nam Ha forest, Luang Namtha, Laos.

The sheer complexity of the ecosystem in protected, mature forest, from lichens spinning their symbiotic webs across old bark to the chaos wild pigs wreak on stands of giant bamboo, gives you a whole new perspective on the world and your infinitesimal place within it. And when your guides are animists, who whole-heartedly believe in […]