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At the Orphanage

28 Jun

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]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 arranging a visit, bringing plasticine, paper and art materials, toting tearful children around on one’s hip and doling out the physical affection which orphaned three and four year olds crave so intensely did, I think, help a little.

Continue reading

Sweet Charity? On Volunteering

26 Jun

Z pretending to fly an Antonov cargo plane, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

When volunteering, it's good to have a handle on your capabilities.

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 it.

Nor was it an operating theatre that would have had Florence Nightingale reaching for the ether, through which I ventured on an all-too regular basis to the surgeons’ bathroom. (Kind of them to share. But still…)

It was the kid from the Peace Corps. And, of course, he was trying to help. Continue reading

Seeing the Light

24 Jun

Repeating patterns of mirrored mosaics, altar of side temple, Wat Chiang Man, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Gorgeous glasswork at Wat Chiang Man, Chiang Mai.

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. Continue reading

A Tiger Petting Zoo

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

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

My baby boy with a baby tiger. Chiang Mai, Thailand.


[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]
A petting zoo — with tigers? Truly, only in South-East Asia. But few children would pass up the chance to pet and stroke a real, live, furry tiger cub… Continue reading

Western-Thai Dating: A Driver’s Guide

21 Jun

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 shit ’em. Big city traffic, eight vehicles across three “lanes”? Easy as…

So quite how they feel riding pillion — and sidesaddle, at that — to some absolute muppet, one can only imagine. Continue reading

Ecotourism? My *rse

21 Jun

Zipwiring through the canopy of tropical forest, Laos.

Zipwiring. Great fun. But not exactly green.


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 so bewilderingly bundled together under the headings “ecotourism” and “trekking”. Zipwiring. Whitewater rafting.
Rockclimbing… Erm… ATVing… Paintballing…

Now, I see how whitewater rafting could loosely count as trekking and perhaps be branded eco-friendly. But since when has zipwiring been green? And as for churning up the highlands with diesel-spewing quadbikes… Continue reading

Bangkok (Not Very) Dangerous

27 Mar

Z in driving seat of train, Thanaleng, Laos

No hands. The engine was running...

Honestly. Why take the bus when you can take the train?!

Even in second class, the night train from Nong Khai to Bangkok is a real joy, particularly after our Lao bus experience the night before. Fold out, curtained bunks with clean sheets which are prepared for you at bedtime, allowing you a seat before. Decent food delivered, with table, from the buffet car. Woken by hot coffee vendors in the morning…

So we are in Bangkok, and rested. Despite the alarums in the international press, this is clearly not a city in the grips of civil strife. In fact, the Red Shirt rallies provide the chance to earn a few hundred baht. Five hundred, to be precise. Continue reading

Welcome to Cambodia!

29 Jan

There is something particularly unwelcoming about the phrase, “You give money now.”

Particularly when spoken in a Khmer accent. The language isn’t tonal, so you lose all the mellifluous softening you’d get in Thai, there’s a different set of vowels and consonants, a lot of plosives, and, what with the khaki and the nurses waving thermometers at you to check for swine flu, it all gets a bit Bridge Over the River Kwai. Continue reading

First Day of School . . .

28 Jan

Taking Z out of school for a year to travel proved less problematic than I’d thought. The headmaster and attendance officer basically said, “Where are you going? Brilliant! Keep an eye on the Maths and English.”

The Learning Trust, which administers education in our borough (Hackney), sent two people round the house with concerned expressions and a form. Continue reading

Scampering Lunches and Fresh Coconut Milk

27 Jan

So… Will we regret starting out in Thailand? The food, even before we head to the south and the north, is phenomenal, and Z is asking ominous questions about Cambodian cuisine.

He is developing an addiction to Tom Yam soup, made here with coconut milk fresh from the tree, which brings the flavour much closer to the dairy than the heavy candied coconut sweetness you get with packaged products, and experience at restaurants closer to home. Continue reading