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
FACES and places. As I reluctantly relinquish those long, languid days of cool sarongs, cold beers, ocean swims and sunsets, and sit down at my desk to plan 2016, the thing that most excites me is those faces I haven’t yet met. For me, travel is all about the characters, the people whose personalities sing the true story of a destination. Sitting here in Brisbane, I can’t begin to imagine upon whom I’ll stumble this year, and that thought alone is incredibly exciting. Today I’m launching a three-part photo series of my Indonesian adventures over Christmas. And I thought it would be apt to start with the faces that made me smile. Happy New Year! Please enjoy.
There were the cool dudes…
The happy kids…
The beautiful Muslim women…
The elegant older men…
And even the statues seemed to have something to say…
The Global Goddess funded her own travels to Indonesia
IN the next week, in the lead up to Australia Day, debate will again rage like a summer bush fire over what it means to be Australian. This year I will be up in Bali (which some could argue is another state of Australia these days) and won’t be here to watch how the oi, oi, awful arguments unfold. But before I leave, I wanted to share a secret part of my Australia. The one that is multicultural, tolerant, colourful and compassionate.
About every six weeks, I head 20 minutes west of Brisbane to Inala, a low socio-economic suburb, which has become home to so many migrants. People just like my Great, Great Grandfather, who boarded boats on treacherous journeys simply seeking a better life. The population here is largely Vietnamese and I go there to buy the delicious Vietnamese coffee I first discovered in Saigon many years ago.
This coffee is not bitter, as the beans are roasted in butter. And every time I walk into the grocery store there, the young woman who shouts rapid-fire greetings in Vietnamese to her customers, turns to me and in the most Aussie of accents and says: “Have you found a bloke yet?”. We both laugh and shrug our shoulders and it’s as simple as that.
On my wanderings there, I also pick up a Vietnamese pork roll, simple and salacious on a white bun, topped with fresh coriander and where the shop owner smiles at me and asks every time: “You want chilli?”, seemingly trying to make sense of what I’m doing there. The men outside sip their Vietnamese coffee the traditional way, with sickly sweet condensed milk, while they play a mean game of mahjong, barely giving me a second glance.
Across the forecourt, Muslim women cradle their babies, gossip in their native tongue and smile shyly at me. I bump into a monk buying green Asian vegetables. There’s Sudanese people as dark as the blackest night. All big white smiles and colourful short-sleeved shirts. There’s not too many of us white fellas here. And certainly no tourists. Just people going about their every day business.
So when I’m there I like to pause. Look up at our big sky country, and thank the stars for my good fortune that I can call myself Australian. One day I hope all Australians can be a little like the Vietnamese coffee I so adore. Not bitter, just roasted in the buttery goodness of this land we call Down Under. That’s my secret Australia. What’s yours?
LIKE the second installment of The Hangover movie I have awoken, this time, in Thailand. But it’s not bustling Bangkok in which I find myself, but Phuket. And while the four key characters remain kinda the same, the game has changed somewhat. Jon, a late-night radio presenter from Perth, is cast as Alan, possessing a dearth of resort wear (this bloke doesn’t even own thongs), a bright red ukulele, and a large but empty suitcase. Katie, an online editor for a family and kid’s magazine, is small and simply adorable and decides she wants to be the baby; in turn Rebecca, another children’s magazine editor and delightful to boot, elects to be the tiger; and apparently, and if this is an indicator of this trip, I am voted as Bradley Cooper because “you’re the reliable one”. Now, you know when The Global Goddess is voted the reliable one on a trip, things are very, very wrong.
You see, I have found myself somewhat surprisingly, on a trip to research Phuket’s Laguna Family Festival. Say Phuket and The Global Goddess thinks cool swims, cold beer, hot days and even hotter men, preferably in that order. I do not generally use the words family, and holiday, in the same sentence. It’s a bit like the concept of a “joy flight” or a “fun run”. Wrong, people. Just wrong. But Phuket is also trying to cast itself in a different light, away from the madness of Patong and thus stages an annual event to show visitors that there’s plenty of family fun to be had. And if it’s fun I must have, no matter what form it takes, then fun it must be. So here’s The Global Goddess’ guide to Phuket fun, for little kids, and the big kids in us all…
A maverick Malaysian, we are told, has set the record for the fastest ride down one of Phuket’s longest waterslides at the Outrigger Laguna Phuket Beach Resort pool. Apparently, his journey took him 40 seconds. All I can say is there is something dodgy about these statistics, as me and my mates manage the same trip in all of 15 seconds of absolutely howling, screaming fun. I reckon I could do it even faster if I borrowed the green Burqini of one of the resort guests in the pool. Ask yourself, how long has it been since you’ve been on a waterslide and then go and get yourself on one. It’s one of the most fantastic things you’ll have done in a very long time.
If you want Candy then look no further than the Outrigger Laguna Phuket Beach Resort. For here, every morning, this gorgeous two-year-old elephant who is named after a hard lolly, meets resort guests and allows the little ones to ride on her. For the bigger kids, get yourself over to either the Banyan Tree or Angsana Laguna Phuket, to meet Lucky. The Global Goddess got lucky all right, when this larger elephant planted a whopping great kiss by placing her trunk right over The Goddess’ nose and mouth. While the other guests got a polite peck on the cheek, I got the full vacuum treatment. I found out later that Lucky is a female elephant. One person’s violated is another person’s perfect day, that’s all I’m saying.
At the Banyan Tree, Phuket, while little kids are enjoying such things as their own Sunday brunch, board and video games, arts and craft, big kids like me are free to ride their bikes around this enormous resort. A highlight of this property is the whirlpool in the centre of the property’s main pool near the spa sanctuary, where you can float on your back and be dragged through the water’s current, ending up under giant taps. Big kids will also enjoy their own luxury private spa villa, where it is practically criminal not to skinny dip…in my opinion.
At Angsana Phuket little kids will love the Tree House Kids Club, while both little and big kids can indulge in the family spa treatments where mothers and daughters and fathers and sons can bond during double spa sessions. The Global Goddess is unsure how much relaxing little kids need, but there seems to be a market for this, and who am I to argue with anyone providing pleasure and making money at the same time?
But probably the nicest kid story of this entire journey takes place on the nearby floating Muslim community island of Koh Panyee. Here, the kids wanted to play football which proved to be somewhat difficult without any actual land on which to build a field. Much to the initial amusement of the island’s adults, the kids tied together bits and pieces of wood like a raft to design a makeshift field and became so good at the game they gained third place in Thailand’s national competition. The adults ate their words, so to speak, and built a proper floating football stadium for these kids.
And that’s the whole point of this story, really. It doesn’t matter if you’re a little kid or a big kid. Life is about daring to dream, creating and most of all, having fun. It’s about screaming your guts out on your first waterslide ride in 30 years, swimming naked under the stars, laughing with a bunch of new mates and realising we all pretty much want the same thing: health and happiness. Head to Laguna Phuket, you’ll find fun there in spades. Just look out for amorous elephants.
The Global Goddess travelled to Thailand as a guest of Laguna Phuket. To find out more about the precinct, or the Laguna Family Festival which runs until October 31, go to http://www.lagunaphuket.com