Flight Review: Air Asia Brisbane to Bangkok


JUST like a dish you’d create in a Thai cooking class, travelling on the new Brisbane to Bangkok Air Asia route is a blend of the five ingredients essential to this nation’s cuisine: sweet, spicy, salty, sour and bitter. Last week I flew this new route, which was launched mid year, to Thailand. I hadn’t travelled with Air Asia for a decade, more by default, than design, the majority of its direct flights previously operating out of the Gold Coast rather than the Queensland capital. As a Brisbane resident, who has seen airlines soar and plummet out of BNE over the years, I really wanted to like this airline. It was like going on a first date, where you’re secretly willing it to work. But, unfortunately, it fell short of the mark.

The Sweet
Check-in at Brisbane International Airport is prompt, polite and professional. On board, the all-Thai staff greet me in Thai, their hands poised in prayer position. Even better, I have an entire row to myself for this nine-hour direct leg. On both legs the Thai crew are super vigilant about safety, on take-off and landing walking through the cabin and checking and triple checking every safety detail such as fastened seat belts.

The Spicy
The cost of this return flight is extremely competitive, coming in at around $500 which is about half that of a full-service carrier. For an additional $400 from Brisbane you can upgrade to a Premium seat which reclines into a flat bed. For those who don’t want to pay the extra $400, but want peace and quiet in economy, there’s also a Quiet Zone towards the front of the plane, which costs an extra $15 and is well worth it.

The Salty
The word “salty” has crept into the Australian vernacular as a term you used when you are annoyed. On this flight this emotion arose from time-to-time. Inexplicably, on the day flight out of Brisbane, crew in the Quiet Zone insist that every passenger close their window shades for the entire flight, so that the cabin is plunged into darkness for nine hours. Even more bizarrely, on the midnight flight home, there is no such insistence, so several hours after take-off, once the sun starts rising in the southern hemisphere, the cabin is flooded with light as you try to sleep. More annoyingly, despite it being deemed a Quiet Zone, the crew did nothing to police the noise of the rowdy boys in the last row of the cabin who decided to share their entertainment device…without headphones. Speaking of entertainment devices, despite this airline being up and running for months now, there are still no devices, nor an entertainment App you can download on this route. I was advised to “bring a good book”.

The Sour
An airline which makes its money from extras such as food and drinks but rapidly runs out of both? Unbelievable. There were only two drink and food runs on this nine-hour flight and while you can pre-book meals, many people don’t. By the second run they were out of white wine plus numerous other meals including their signature hamburger dish they tout on the front of their menu. An ordinary-tasting Australian wine on this route costs $12. There are, strangely, no breakfast items on the menu and so, at 9am Brisbane time (6am local time) I am served a meal of roast chicken in black pepper sauce. Except it looks nothing like that which is presented on the menu. And no, you don’t get real cutlery as the photo suggests either.

Roast chicken in black pepper sauce, according to the menu


Roast chicken in black pepper sauce, the reality


The Bitter
I am not an entitled passenger who moves seats without seeking permission from the cabin crew first. On this flight, there were copious rows available in the Quiet Zone for the midnight flight home, so I asked a member of the crew before take-off whether I could move specifically to the back row. She said yes. We took off, the seat belt sign went off, I put on my eye mask, covered myself with my cashmere wrap and proceeded to snatch some much-needed sleep after this work trip. A few minutes later I was being shaken awake by a member of the cabin crew. She told me this was now a “crew rest” area and I needed to move. She accused me of not asking permission to move to this seat. I assured her I had. She left, and was replaced by a second, and then third member of the cabin crew, who all tried to tell me this seat was now reserved for crew rest. Finally, the crew member who originally told me I could have the seat arrived. She admitted she had “made a mistake”. Eventually she acquiesced and told me I could keep the seat. A colleague travelling in the same cabin commented that the crew took out another three entire rows for “rest” but barely used them. When I awoke in the morning I noticed the tray tables were filthy. So filthy I wondered whether this was dirt that was actually a stain which couldn’t be removed. I tested the dirt with my make-up remover wipes. It was easily removed.

The Verdict
Brisbane travellers who are solely price driven may wish to consider this airline but take your own food, entertainment and some antibacterial wipes to clean the seat. For those flyers who want more Bangkok for their buck, this may not be the airline for you.

The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Air Asia http://www.airasia.com She made several attempts to source basic information from the airline for this review but received no response.

In Search of Silver Linings


ON a sanguine Siam Sunday, in the month of monsoon madness, I am flying through a chunky carnival ride of clouds. I am travelling from Bangkok to Thailand’s Trat region, lurching through the sky and big Buddha bellies of bursting water over thirsty rice paddies below. I am enroute to Koh Khood, the Thai island which is home to Peter Pan and Tinkerbell resorts, and beaches of the same nefarious names. But up in this scatty sky, I am wondering if this is where my fairy-tale ends. After one aborted landing, we eventually reach terra firma and I rapidly swap my terror for travel writing. Silver linings? This story is full of them.

I amble through the Thai Muslim/Hindu village of Ban Nam Chiew, past vibrant blue, aqua, orange and red timber fishing boats which contrast against the angry August sky. Ban Nam Chiew means “fast current” in Thai, and it’s apt, as this is a village which is moving with the times. During the monsoon, there is little fishing to support this tiny population which has, instead, embraced tourism. For $41, visitors can buy a two day/one-night package which includes local food, a homestay with a village family, and craft making such as traditional farmer’s hats. Ban Nam Chiew is also known for its sweet crackers crafted from coconut milk or cream, mixed with rice or tapioca and topped with brown sugar, shallots, coconut-diced carrot and sea salt.

And it’s smart women such as Tourism Project leader Surattana Phumimanoch who are embracing this change.
“The purpose of the village is for tourists to have a look and see our way of living,” she says.
“Fishermen can’t work in the monsoon season so this project will make extra income.
“This village is unique in that the Muslims and Hindus have lived together for more than 200 years. A lot of the new generation live away from the village and come back and realise the potential.”

Sated from this success story and a local seafood lunch, I board the boat for Koh Khood, the last island in the Gulf of Thailand before the Cambodian border, and what the Thai’s call “paradise on earth”.
Thailand’s fourth biggest island after Phuket, Chang, and Samui, the lesser-known Khood has such high-quality pepper, it exports this spice to Europe. You’ll also find superior seafood here. On this humid hour, I scramble onto the sticky seat of a “songtaw”, a Thai truck with two long bench seats and bars, and rollick along the island.
Outside, the emerald countryside is as lush as a Sydney socialite, peppered with pointy Thai rooves, rich rice paddies, and locals in conical hats.

I am meant to be island-hopping, snorkelling what the postcards promise are pristine waters, but the weather has dampened that plan, so instead, the next day I hop back into the sweaty songtaw, and explore the island. There’s a Thai’s fisherman’s village at Yai Bay, home to giant grouper, crab, lobster and pineapples, and a glistening golden Buddha statue. I feast on barbecued prawns for lunch at another seafood village and burst into the Gulf of Thailand ocean at Tinkerbell Beach, just as the sun explodes through the clouds for a few precious minutes.

I am staying at Cham’s House, which pays homage to an ethnic group in south-east Asia which is believed to have originated in Borneo and who, during the cruel reign of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, suffered a disproportionate number of killings. Here, it’s peaceful, where only the croaky night bushes have frogs in their throat. Outside my room, the ocean gushes peaceful platitudes at me, while inside, the geckos are goading me to write. But what? I am scratching for a story and a silver lining, knowing it’s out there somewhere. But where?

It’s a smooth flight back to Bangkok where I seek refuge at the Rembrandt, a glorious hotel surrounded by serene side streets or “sois”. If you’re looking for an Australian travel writer in bustling Bangkok, chances are you’ll find them in the Rembrandt’s Executive Lounge at 5.30pm, where the drinks poured are almost as tall as the tales told here. It’s a comforting corner in this hectic city, in the tradition of foreign correspondent’s clubs all over the world. If you squint, you can almost see the ghost of the world’s great writers lurking in the corner. I repair to the hotel’s Rang Mahal restaurant where I feast on this city’s finest Indian fare. It’s washed down with Granmonte shiraz, wine made by an award-winning female Thai wine maker who studied in Australia and whose vineyard I visited on a previous trip.

On my last day, I am a lazy lizard, floating in the pool, drinking beer with pizza, stretching out those tired travel muscles in a Thai massage and even having my hair washed and blow dried, before the flight home. While the hairdresser scratches my scalp, I keep mining my mind for the story. And as a travel writer, I should have realised, it is just this. Travel doesn’t always go to plan. It will pour big Buddha bellies of rain and you’ll be gasping for a snorkel that may never come. Travel, like flying, comes with unexpected turbulence and you will feel uncomfortable, even scared. But if you wait long enough on those sticky songtaw seats, there will be a breeze. Some seafood. A simple story about a fishing village turning to tourism. And even a break in the clouds. And you’ll take your monkey mind and plunge into the ocean, and smile at that silver lining.

The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Thai Airways http://www.thaiairways.com; Bangkok Airways http://www.bangkokair.com; and the Tourism Authority of Thailand https://au.tourismthailand.org

The Art of Travel

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“The sole cause of a man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room, Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel
IT’S almost mid-June and my itchy traveller’s feet are already becoming tetchy, niggling to get back on that road, so soon after I’ve just stepped off the beaten track. After a big six months of travel, I’m taking a brief pause to recalibrate, but it’s not a simple task for me. My body says stop, but my mind roars like those four Rolls Royce engines upon take-off, constantly conjuring up all the possibilities out there in the big, wide world awaiting me. But it’s important to stop, however briefly, if nothing else but to breathe. To indulge in that most sinful of sins, sleeping in one’s own bed.
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I started the year with a few domestic trips, out west to Ipswich where I rode in a helicopter to a winery and took my first hot air balloon flight – both of which were pretty big deals for this travel writer who hates to fly. I explored Brisbane’s southside and discovered a Buddhist temple and a whole new side of my pretty city I never knew existed. As Alain de Botton argues in his book The Art of Travel you don’t even need to leave your own home to travel. Much of it is a state of mind.
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Things became a little crazy in March with a big trip up to Papua New Guinea but what a delightful visit to this South Pacific frontier it was. I came home with armloads of stories and some beautiful new friends. I was home for three days, enough time to wash, dry and repack my clothes, before I headed off to Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam, all in the space of a week. I was sick as a dog on that trip, but sometimes you don’t get a choice to slow down, and it’s amazing what you can do when you really need to.
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A long weekend in Noosa, part work, part pleasure followed and I started to dream of the following weekend when I’d be back on the Sunshine Coast for Easter with my sister. But fate had other plans and torrential rain forced the cancellation of our Easter holiday on the Sunshine Coast, but determined to get away, we fled to Fiji instead, where one of our best Easters unfurled among coconut cocktails and South Pacific church services.
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Shortly after that, I was in Cairns and Port Douglas, exploring the beautiful tropical north of my state. I hired a car for this trip, switched the radio to some superb 80s tunes, and sang my way along the Captain Cook Highway north. There was a moment of truth when, all alone on a remote beach eating my lunch I though “I’m all alone” with a tinge of fear and sadness. But that was rapidly replaced by jubilation: “I’m ALL alone,” and I skipped back to my rainforest cottage with pure glee.
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As fate would have it, I returned to Port Douglas a week or so later for another story. Funny how you don’t go somewhere for 15 years, and then you return to that very destination within a short time frame. I wonder what Alain de Botton would make of that? It was a completely different trip which evoked vastly different feelings, proving it’s the journey, not the destination, which makes the place. As de Botton would say: “Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships or trains.”
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I was on the Sunshine Coast a week later, at Rainbow Beach, a place I’d never been, scratching my head as to how I’d missed such a Queensland gem. I spent the night camping at Inskip Point right on the beach while the wind howled outside, and trying to imagine that a week later I’d be in Austria, covering Eurovision. I arrived in Vienna, a city I last visited 20 years before as a backpacker, and hardly recognised the place. It made me realise that while I was fitter two decades ago, I was also very young and, according to de Botton: “A danger of travel is that we see things at the wrong time, before we have had a chance to build up the necessary receptivity and when new information is therefore as useless and fugitive as necklace beads without a connecting chain.” And so it was on my previous trip to the Austrian capital, but not so on this journey. I returned to Salzburg where seven years previously I had gone in search of the Sound of Music magic. I found it again on this trip, and more.
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On the long journey home from Europe to Australia, I paused for 10 hours in Bangkok, one of my all-time favourite destinations. Due to the length of my layover I had just enough time to leave the airport, find a hotel, have a Thai massage and sit by the pool in the early evening humidity to eat a Thai curry washed down with a cold Singha. And even then, I found it alluring, tempting myself to stay on, trying to find a loophole to avoid getting on that midnight flight to Brisbane.
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I’ve been home two weeks tomorrow and if I’m really honest, it took me about four days till I was climbing the walls. But it’s a necessary climbing journey. I need to write, reset, catch up with friends, go to yoga, attend meditation and, if I’m lucky, go on a date or two. It’s winter Down Under and it’s time to pause and reflect, if just for a little bit. Oh, the trips are already mounting in the coming months, there’s Noosa, the Whitsundays and Mount Isa, followed by Uluru and Canada. I hope to get to Sri Lanka. And that’s just what I know now. And so I sit, write and regroup, but it’s not without its challenges. As de Botton wrote: “And I wondered, with mounting anxiety, What am I supposed to do here? What am I supposed to think?”
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TOP 10 INSTAGRAM PHOTOS THAT SIMPLY WORK

SINCE starting to seriously dabble in Instagram during the past year, I’ve noticed a trend emerging about what catches the eye of followers and potentially attracts a new audience.

Here’s my top 10, in no particular order.
1.Interesting shapes
Whether it’s this mound of spices I stumbled across at a breakfast buffet in a Bangkok hotel or this bike rack at my local university swimming pool, interesting shapes are always eye-catching.
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2. People with a sense of place
Photos of people in general, and selfies particularly, have little traction on Instagram, but where people present a sense of place, it’s a whole different story. This surfer on the beach in Hawaii and this woman in Vietnam, both instantly tell a story.
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3. The colour red
A photographer’s dream colour, you can hardly go wrong red. It’s bright, it’s catchy and it doesn’t really matter what it is you are photographing, as long as it’s red, it’s a winner.
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4. Sunsets
Everyone loves a sunset. Surprisingly, fewer people love a sunrise. Post a photo of a sunset, like this one I captured recently in Fiji (no filter required) and watch your numbers soar.
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5. Flowers and trees
There’s more nature lovers out there than you realise. People loved this kangaroo paw I published around Australia Day, and they went wild when I discovered the bark of this melaleuca tree in Tropical North Queensland recently.
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6. Fun phrases
Every now and then, if you stumble across a quirky sign of a funny phrase, give it a go. This particularly works if it’s got something to do with coffee.
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7. Food
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m not a huge fan of food shots, but if you do happen across something interesting, then sure, post it. Just not the sandwich you had for lunch. Unless you invented the sandwich. Then go for your life.
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8. Street Art
This has been my biggest revelation in the past year, both about myself and my audience. Turns out I am quite the street art aficionado and I have found myself on the lookout on every street corner for something new to shoot. My followers adore art.
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9. Abstract
Similar to street art, if you can present something in an abstract way, people tend to love it. I took this photo of a Buddhist tea ceremony in Brisbane a few months ago. It’s essentially a metonym – where you don’t need to shoot the entire frame to tell a story.
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10. Water
Whatever the weather, people love water. Whether it’s the ocean or a pool, there’s something alluring and aspirational about a body of water.
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What are your Instagram tips? Follow me on Instragram @aglobalgoddess

River Kwai Delights

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THE River Kwai is a jade jewel as late afternoon concedes languidly to dusk. The longtail boat in which I am travelling roars and sputters like an indigent politician up the infamous waterway towards the floating jungle rafts I have come to know and love so much. Travel writers don’t particularly like returning to the same place – there’s too much world to explore – but there are some destinations which become firmly etched into your psyche. And so entrenched in your soul you are unwittingly lured back. And for me, this is one of them, in part for its brutal war history involving the bravado of Australian soldiers and in part for its sheer natural beauty.
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I penned these words a year ago on my fourth trip to the rustic and incredibly beautiful River Kwai region, pondering what it was that kept drawing me back to this part of the world. I still have no answers, but the pull to return there has emerged again, and this year, I’d love to take some of you with me. And so, I am delighted to announce I have launched a new tour River Kwai Travel Writing Delights with The Global Goddess. In early August, we will be meeting in Bangkok where we will spend two nights in a luxury five-star hotel, before we embark on our journey to the River Kwai. And along the way, we’ll be observing, day dreaming and writing about our travels.
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If we’re lucky, we’ll bump into my good friend Sam Season, about whom I have written before. I first met Sam Season several years ago, and over the years I have been speaking with him about the most salacious of all subjects: love. Regular readers of The Global Goddess will remember this 22-year-old tour guide, a Mon man from one of the earliest tribes to live in South East Asia. Considered neither Burmese, nor Thai, the Mon exist in a small slither of land along the River Kwai, not far from the Burmese border. The Mon number some 8.14 million people but I remain captivated by this one man. This man called Sam.
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At night, he paints his face in traditional Mon markings but speaks with an English accent plucked out of a south London pub, with a smattering of Aussie twang – picked up solely from the tourists with which he works every day. He moved to this particular village when he was 9, and has been studying to finish High School since, in between working 6 days a week at the River Kwai Jungle Rafts. And Sam is in love with a girl called Jaytarmon with beautiful long black hair who lives in a neighbouring village down the river. But access to this girl, like internet, electricity and hot water, are elusive in these parts. And to complicate things more, Sam is being pursued by a girl in his own village, who cooks for him and washes his clothes.
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Last time we parted ways, on the banks of that beautiful river, Sam had plans to spend the year perfecting his English, so he can gain a mechanics scholarship in Australia and work towards his dream of becoming a car mechanic along the Thai/Burmese border. His plans included professing his love for Jaytarmon and asking her to wait for him and his love. Those of you who know me personally, or have met me through my words alone, know that this will be a journey of humility, heart and humour – the three cornerstones I believe make a great writer, and good human being. Please come and join me in one of the most beautiful trips I have ever done. It will change your life.
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For more details on my tour River Kwai Travel Writing Delights with The Global Goddess, please click on this link: https://theglobalgoddess.com/joinmythailandtour/
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From Paddy to Plate

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MID summer and Thailand’s mounting humidity is threatening to chuck a torrential tantrum any day now. And I’m traipsing around the country’s only organic resort in search of a salacious story, one which will take my taste buds from paddy to plate. Curious about the tropical property on which I find myself, I ask my guide whether there are any snakes here: “Of course,” he says with trademark Thai honesty. “Are they poisonous?” I tip toe my thonged feet tentatively through the cackling grass. “Of course,” he replies.
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I recently travelled to Thailand’s Sampram District, 45 kilometres west of Bangkok, the kind of country where bare-chested men crack open coconuts plucked fresh from the tree with their huge hands. (OK, he may have had a big knife, and was actually wearing a shirt, but a girl can daydream). On this occasion, I’m exploring the organic farm of Arrut Navaraj. Like so many of the best ideas, this concept was born of one simple action. Fifty-two years ago, Arrut’s grandmother was travelling through this district, when she saw an old bullet tree which needed saving from falling into the river. She ended up buying the 0.4ha of land on which the tree still stands today, built a house and starting growing roses as a hobby. But the story doesn’t end there.
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In fact, it’s only the start. Arrut’s grandmother went on to build an open-air restaurant where the menu was limited to just two items: Pad Thai and coconut ice-cream. But that was enough to lure Bangkok’s expat community to the property which they nick named Rose Garden. Arrut’s grandmother even taught her rose gardeners how to dance to perform for the tourists. And this is where the story takes a delicious twist. Arrut himself was a chemical engineer for Shell, working on the “dark side” if you will, before he decided to take over the family property, and transform it into Thailand’s only organic resort.
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These days, it’s called Sampram Riverside Resort, a 160 room hotel with 6 traditional Thai houses, which employs 450 people and stands on 28ha which includes Botanic Gardens, a Thai Village and Rose Gardens. But the highlight is a green market on the weekends where only organic certified products are sold.
“Our concept is based around the traditional Thai way of life. We wanted to expand more into our local community and into organic agriculture,” Arrut says.
“Unfortunately farmers use a lot of chemicals in central Thailand and we want to reverse that trend. We’ve been doing that for the last four years. We are the only hotel in the country to receive funding to do this.
“We want to promote Sampram as a new destination and hub for organic producers and travel. It’s been going quite well.”
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“Quite well” is a bit of an understatement for this concept which is about to expand with an “urban farm shop” in Bangkok and with Sampram in talks with a number of luxury hotel chains and top supermarkets to promote their products.
“We weren’t professional farmers. We started approaching them and found most of them used chemicals and there was no incentive for them to not use them,” Arrut says.
“They were only getting cheap prices so we thought we needed to start being a market ourselves to buy from them.
“The Thai Government doesn’t look at this as a way of life, as a supply chain. It’s been a long process between us and building trust with the farmers.”
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Arrut says no one else is the country is offering anything similar and those hotels or resorts who claim to be organic are mostly paying lip service to the ideal. The next stage of the business is to work on “The Sampram Model” where stakeholders will form a Memorandum of Understanding on their various roles, rights and responsibilities within the supply chain.
“A lot of hotels have organic gardens but that is really for show. To sustain a whole hotel is a different story. We know the people who grow the fruit, the rice…we are in touch with about 200 farmers at the moment in our province,” he says.
“It is a leap of faith to do organic farming. I started eight years ago and I thought it was impossible. In the end I had to come back to myself and you learn from your practice and get better and better. You learn to get the best balance in your farm.
“My big dream is for the Sampram district to become chemical free. The market wants organic and the government has failed miserably by not paying the farmers and they are now switching to the organic. “
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Arrut also wants to use the 0.8ha of roses grown on the property to produce the first Thai rose oil in the world. And he’s sure his grandmother, who is now 91 and living in Bangkok, would be proud of what he’s achieved.
“She’s happy with what I’m doing. She was a keen gardener. She believes we have to adjust with time. Everything we are doing is based on the traditional Thai way of life.
“Every Thai feels now, after the coup, is the time for change. I’ve never felt like this before in my life.
“It is karma. We went right to the bottom, the only way is up.”
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The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of the Tourism Authority of Thailand. http://www.tourismthailand.org
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Snapshots of The Land of Smiles

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MY mate Tacky likes to refer to Thailand as “the big mango” but sometimes I think it’s more the devoured mango. All sweet, juicy and full of sustenance and life. Here’s a few snapshots of my recent trip, where as usual, I’ve fallen in love with the colour, the characters and the chaos that is Thailand.
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Nothing says breakfast like these beautiful towers of Indian spices at the Shangri-La Hotel, Bangkok…
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I adore windows into other people’s lives and cultures…
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Fresh Thai fish in chilli is hard to beat for a feast…
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A Thai bikie…
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A school girl feeds the birds…
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Market fashion…
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Thai duck salad at GranMonte Vineyard in Khao Yai…
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Herbs, spices and all things nice at the Hansar Hotel, Bangkok…
\The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of the Tourism Authority of Thailand. http://www.tourismthailand.org
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