The Daily Explorer

April 14, 2008

Thai-ing the Knot!

Thailand: April 2008

 

Welcome back to all our Daily Explorer readers and greetings to those of you who are joining us for the first time. In this issue, Ray returns to Thailand for the wedding of friend and fellow student Paul Smith. Some of our readers may remember that Ray left England some 900 days ago (in November 2005) to travel throughout Asia with fellow Brit, Nikki Ashley. In 2006, they both studied at Chiang Mai University to qualify as English teachers and met Paul on the course. Paul has been teaching in Thailand ever since and Nikki now lives and works in Chiang Mai.

Amber Solaire (above) has kindly accepted our invitation to be ‘guest’ editor for this issue. We are very grateful to her for taking it on and doing such a wonderful job! If you have any comments or requests you would like to make, please email them to me at thedailyexplorer@gmail.com or use the comments section at the bottom of this issue.

Having lived there for 4 months in 2006, returning to Chiang Mai was quite an exciting prospect for our global traveller. “It is a wonderful little city and I thoroughly enjoyed living there when Nikki and I were studying at University. It was quite fitting that one of the reasons we were getting together was to celebrate the marriage of one of our fellow graduates” said Ray.

Above: Map showing Asia and Thailand. Chiang Mai is the second largest city after Bangkok and is in the northern part of the country (circled)

Nikki now lives in Chiang Mai, where she has created a base from which she can do the kind of work that really excites her. “I have formed a venture with an American friend of mine called Erin” she told me. “It is called the Creative Arts Partnership and we combine the use of Art with movement and drama exercises to facilitate change and transformation” she explained. “For example, we created a ‘Confidence’ workshop for young Thai University students and have also trained facilitators who deal with drug addiction in their community”. Nikki has some other strings to her bow. “I also teach English to 4-6 year old Thai children and work on promoting projects for NGO’s as and when they come up. The last one was in Cambodia where we were training World Vision facilitators to use theatre as a tool to raise awareness around child protection issues” she explained.

Above: Flashback to Ray and Nikki’s ‘University Challenge’ in Chiang Mai in 2006. They both graduated as English teachers (left) and also met fellow student Paul Smith and their Canadian tutor Karla Portch, (right) during the course. They have remained friends with both – Karla still lives and works in Chiang Mai and Paul has moved to the south of Thailand where he is Head of Department for a local school

Not sure if he would be willing to answer, I asked Ray to tell me how he was feeling about seeing Nikki again. “Most people know that Nikki and I broke up last year and the last time I saw her was in September 2007” he told me. “We have spoken on the phone and been in contact via email since then and our friendship has remained as strong as ever. In fact, I have come to appreciate many of her qualities a lot more in the last few months and am very excited about seeing her again and finding out more about her life here now” admitted Ray. “I have a month before I have to return to Europe for a piece of work, which should give us plenty of time to catch up properly, enjoy the wedding and do a bit of travelling too” he added.

Above: Nikki lives in Chiang Mai and is very happy with her life there – “She had a vision of the kind of life she wanted to be living (in Thailand) when we met in London three years ago and she is now living it – it is very inspiring to see” said Ray

Below: Nikki’s guest house in Singarat Soi 3 (left) and Wat Suan Dok (right). Wat means ‘temple’ and this one is in west Chiang Mai near the University. “The temples provide an oasis of calm in an otherwise rather chaotic, noisy city and in the case of Suan Dok, excellent vegetarian food at very affordable prices” revealed our traveller

Inside the grounds of Wat Suan Dok, it is hard to believe that you can find one of the finest eateries in this part of town. “Nikki has lived here for some time and really knows her way around” Ray told me. “This means she knows many of the great places to eat and get Thai massage without us blowing our travel budget – these are the luxuries that I really miss when I am away from Thailand and I am going to make the most of them while I am here” said Ray. “We only have a few days in Chiang Mai and there are quite a few people to meet so I am hoping we can combine our love of the food here with some socialising!” he told me.

Above: Nikki introduces Ray to the lady who runs the superb and very popular little restaurant in Wat Suan Dok (left). Karla Portch, who was Ray and Nikki’s tutor in 2006 at the Language Institute meets them both there for lunch and introduces our traveller to her Australian boyfriend Mike (right) – “Nikki and I hold Karla in very high esteem and we are delighted she has met such a brilliant chap as Mike – they make a great couple” said Ray

Below: Like many cities in Asia, western culture is slowly weaving its way into the lives of the people, much to the relief of our traveller – “Of course, it’s great to travel to places which are absolutely nothing like the place where you come from, as it makes travel really worthwhile” said Ray. “But it’s also great to be able to get a decent cup of fresh coffee and I was thrilled when Nikki took me to her ‘daily local’ favourite place” added our caffeine addicted traveller

With nearly two and half years experience of living nomadically, I asked Ray to tell me what aspect of travelling was the most fascinating to him. “It’s a great question Amber” was his immediate response. “Despite having seen some incredible places and things, which are up there on the list, I would have to say that nothing beats meeting and talking to interesting people, and I am very fortunate to have met many” he told me. “For example in Chiang Mai, Nikki introduced me to Mo Tejani and a couple of his friends” said Ray. Nikki gave me more information about Mo’s background. “His story is fascinating – a man of Asian descent who was forced to leave his home country of Uganda during Idi Amin’s regime in the 70’s and has spent his whole life living in different countries and cultures” she explained. “He was always searching for somewhere to call home and his book explores the whole notion of what ‘home’ is, something that is of interest to me and to Ray at this time in our lives” she added. “I am still reading the book and it has had me gripped so far” said Nikki.

Above: Nikki with Mo Tejani – “We spent a wonderful evening in Chiang Mai talking to him about his life” said Ray. “I cannot wait to read his book” he told me (pictured right)

Nikki has also become great friends with Anna Suvorova, a Russian woman living in Ko Samui, in the southern Gulf of Thailand. “I met Anna for the first time in 2006 at the Spa Samui when Nikki and I were fasting and cleansing there. She is Head of Yoga for the company and has a growing clientele of people all over the world, thanks to her unique teaching style. She is always learning something new through personal experience in the fields of health, nutrition and well-being and I love spending time with her to find out more about that stuff” Ray told me. “And she has an infectious spirit which makes her great company too” said our global traveller.

Above: Nikki with the lovely Anna Suvorova. Ray and Nikki met her for an evening in Chiang Mai as she was on her way to try out one of the latest ‘hi-tech’ cleansing programmes at a new spa in the area

Chiang Mai is famous for its Sunday ‘Walking Market’ and Ray made sure that homage was paid after his arrival. “The market is a real Chiang Mai institution and virtually everyone goes there every Sunday, whether they are Thai or ‘Farang’ (foreigner)” explained Ray. “One of the main through roads is shut down and completely taken over by colourful market stalls selling everything imaginable so it’s a shoppers paradise. But the best thing is the hundreds of tiny food stalls and foot massages that are available for people who have tired a little from walking around” added Ray. “Until you have had a foot massage on the Rachadamnern Road, you haven’t lived!” exclaimed Ray.

Above: Nikki browses amongst one of the many colourful stalls at the Sunday Market in Rachadamnern Road as she searches for gifts ……..

Below: …… while Ray calls ‘time out’ and stops on a street corner to receive one of the legendary one hour foot massages, for a total cost of £3.50 with tip! – “You feel like you have got turbo charged feet after an hour with one of these ladies” said Ray

Aside from the Sunday walking market, there are a growing number of new, funky places in Chiang Mai where you can hang out and listen to cool music while meeting fellow travellers or chatting with the locals. “The whole area has a more cosmopolitan feel to it since the last time I was here” said Ray as he went with Nikki to see reggae singer ‘Fantuzzi‘ perform at the recently opened Zoe in Yellow bar. “He was marvellous” said Ray. “He had the whole place buzzing after half an hour with everyone up and dancing and he created a really intimate and open atmosphere which made the whole evening really enjoyable” added our music lover.

Above: (Left) Fantuzzi (second from left) and his band played a brilliant, energetic and vibrant set which the audience thoroughly enjoyed, including a very happy Nikki (right)

Below: Nikki struts her stuff at Zoe in Yellow (left) and then joins the queue of people afterwards to talk with the maestro for a few minutes (right)

The old city of Chiang Mai where Nikki lives is relatively small and one of the best ways to get around is by bicycle. “One of the reasons I love coming here is that I get plenty of exercise” said Ray. “Bikes cost around 50 pence a day to rent and it is much quicker to get around than by car, as the roads are very narrow and usually congested during busy periods” he explained. “It can get a bit hot and sweaty though, which is a downside, but you get used to that pretty quickly” added Ray.

Above: Ray makes his way around the old city of Chiang Mai on a bicycle – “You see so much more like this and get fit at the same time” said Ray

Travelling around Chiang Mai again after a long time away, I was keen to get Ray’s impressions of the place. “Well Amber, some things haven’t changed much but are still impressive. For example, I had to see a doctor at the Chiang Mai Ram hospital and was blown away by the standard of their healthcare. Hardly any waiting, friendly staff and low cost. It is hardly surprising that the ‘medical tourism’ business is thriving and many people fly here for operations rather than have them in their own countries” said Ray.

“The other thing I noticed was innovation. The Thai’s are getting much better at designing new concepts, especially in the leisure sector where you have to constantly offer something different. Around the Nimmanhamen Road, which is one of the trendier areas of town catering for the upwardly mobile Thai’s, I saw many examples of this in various restaurants, bars and hotels” observed Ray.

Above: Looking more like a five star hotel than a hospital, medical treatment at the Chiang Mai Ram centre is exceptional (left) whilst the Nimmenhamen Road offers numerous examples of Thai innovation in the leisure sector, like this Volkswagen Combi van which has been converted into an interesting centre piece for a new bar (right)

Above: Another example of ‘What’s Hot’ in Chiang Mai could be found at the ‘iBerry’ bar – “You have to visit here to really appreciate just how different a place like this is for Thai’s” said Ray. “This is a shop that sells only ice cream, deserts and coffee – unheard of here a couple of years ago as it is just not part of the Thai culture, but becoming more and more popular with the cafe society that is growing rapidly in Asia” he said

Below: The ‘iBerry’ bar is a favourite hang out place for Erin Palmer, an American woman who formed the Creative Arts Partnership with Nikki and who teaches English in Chiang Mai – “It was lovely to see Erin again” said our global traveller, “and great to see her so well settled and happy here”

A few days after Ray’s arrival in Chiang Mai, he headed south with Nikki for the wedding of fellow student and friend Paul Smith. “We booked flights to Bangkok and from there to Nakhon Si Thammarat, which meant a really early start for us” recalled Ray. Neither Nikki nor me are at our best first thing in the morning and it was a real effort to get to the airport on time!” added our sleepy traveller.

Above: Wakey wakey rise and shine! Ray struggles to get himself and his gear into the taxi for the airport whilst Nikki is still returning to the land of the living after a shorter than usual night’s sleep

Below: From one end of the country to the other – Nakhon Si Thammarat is located in the south of the country (circled) and is much more like the real, authentic Thailand than Bangkok, Chiang Mai and other areas that attract tourists

Above: The ‘old’ Don Mueang airport in Bangkok (left) is like a ghost town with only a few flights a day on budget airlines now going through there since the ‘new’ International airport a few miles away opened a year ago. Our sleepy traveller (right) is a lot more awake as the excitement of meeting Paul and his bride-to-be mounts

Above: Upon their arrival, Ray and Nikki headed for the Nakorn Garden Inn as their base whilst staying in the area, which ironically was right opposite the ‘Marry Me’ and ‘I Love You’ studios – appropriate for the wedding!

Below: What’s this? Is Nikki secretly dreaming of a wedding of her own?

Having sorted out their outfits for the wedding a couple of days earlier, there were only minor preparations to make before Ray and Nikki set off for Paul and Thai bride Bpuu’s (pronounced ‘Boo’) house for the wedding ceremony. “We discovered that it is customary for all friends and family to make a long procession around the streets where the groom lives prior to the ceremony itself” said Ray. “It was so wonderful to see the group which was made up of as many of Paul’s English family as it was Bpuu’s Thai family and friends” recalled Ray.

Above: (Left) Bpuu (second from right) waits at the house with her friends whilst the wedding procession progresses around the local neighbourhood (right)

Below: Was being at the wedding together making Ray and Nikki think again about their relationship? – “Things are not quite as black and white as they could be” replied Ray

Paul is from Leeds in the UK and has been living in Thailand for over two years. He qualified to teach English in 2006 and now works at one of the local schools in Nakhorn as Head of Department. “He loves teaching and has a natural talent for it” said Ray. “During our course, he was really outstanding and great to be learning with” recalled Ray. “Nikki and I were thrilled to be witnessing his tying the knot with Bpuu” added our traveller.

Nikki told the me story of how Paul and Bpuu met. “He was going to Australia for a working holiday and stopped in Thailand en route to do some volunteer teaching in Krabi province. Unexpectedly, he met Bpuu and a romance developed. As a result, Paul decided to change his plans and become an English teacher, moving to Chiang Mai to study. Bpuu decided to move there too so they could be near to each other. The rest is history and Paul never actually made it to Australia, except for a short trip to renew his visa!” she told me. It was John Lennon who said ” Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans”….

Above: Looking radiant and very handsome, Paul is accompanied by Bpuu’s friends and family as he prepares to enter his house for the wedding ceremony

Below: Buddhist monks are always invited to Thai homes to perform the wedding service

Above: Things are going well as the ceremony progresses ………

Below: …. If you would like to see a short video clip of the Thai ceremony, click the play button below

Above: (Left) Paul’s family were all blissfully happy about the marriage and really enjoyed celebrating him and Bpuu. From left to right, friend Andy, his dad John, Paul & Bpuu, his mum Carol and sister Rachel. The Buddhist monks have done their work for the day and stop to enjoy lunch before they return to their temple (right)

Below: The good news is that Paul and Bpuu did not know they would be taking part in this wonderful Thai ritual of tying themselves together by their heads whilst each visitor pours water over their hands and gives them the wedding gift they have brought. The bad news is they subsequently discovered they have to keep wearing them until their first anniversary!

Above: Paul and Bpuu decided to host their reception at a private beachside resort in Khanom about one hour away from their home in Nakhon. For Ray and Nikki, it was a great opportunity to get to know Paul’s family and think about the rest of their trip after the celebrations would be over – “Paul’s folks were fantastic people” said Ray. “They were very warm, friendly and down to earth, like typical northerners” added Nikki, who hails from Cheshire herself

Below: Congratulations to Paul and Bpuu from Mozzie, Amber and everyone at The Daily Explorer! We wish them both a long and happy life together and hope they will be appearing in future issues of this publication!

Editors Note: It’s great working with Amber again after such a long time and we are very grateful to her for compiling this issue of The Daily Explorer. She has agreed to stay on for a while and will also be bringing you our next issue in a couple of weeks, in which she follows Ray and Nikki to the very beautiful, remote island of Ko Lipe near the border with Malaysia and then on to Ko Samui for the New Year water festival and a re-union with some old friends. We will keep you posted!

MOZZIE BYTE

Above: Look out for our next issue of The Daily Explorer, brought to you by Amber Solaire from the wonderful island of Ko Lipe

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7 Comments »

  1. Hello guys! It is GREAT to see you looking so radiant in the photos together. Nikki looks really fit (I’m jealous) and Ray looks positively skinny again but shining. Nikki, feed him some choci asap!! You must be living and eating so healthily. Hope to hear more from you both soooon. Loads of love Charlie xxx

    Comment by Charlie — April 14, 2008 @ 3:10 pm

  2. You’ve done us justice their Amber! Thanks for coming and sharing the whole thing with us and reporting it so well. I trust the recommendation of Ko Lipe went down well, it’s such a lovely place. x

    Comment by Paul Smith — April 15, 2008 @ 5:12 am

  3. This is just a delight to read! Even though Chiangmai is my “home town” I still love seeing what you’ve chosen to highlight and you did a beautiful job of showing off this amazing town. It’s great to see you together in so many lovely settings and it warms my heart that you are spending this glorious time together, sharing and loving this incredible country.

    Comment by Erin — April 17, 2008 @ 12:06 am

  4. Lovelies!

    Ah, one of my strongest memories of my travels was meeting you all! I’m still in Seattle working for justice, but I have travel plans on the horizon – off to England for my brother’s graduation in October. I’ll also be down to France where I lived for a few years and then off to Israel to meet a friend who moved back home. Any interest in meeting me.

    Much love, joy, and happiness to you two, as well as Amber and Mozzie!

    Love,
    Quita

    Comment by Quita — April 17, 2008 @ 5:53 am

  5. ‘Listen to this!” I have only just had time to read this blog… great stuff as usual and wonderful to be transported back to Chiang Mai… we loved the North and might well move there! Great to see you again… Loved the wedding pics too…much love to you both and especially Amber and Mozzie! XXX

    Comment by Susie Moberly — April 25, 2008 @ 7:16 am

  6. Hey Nikki,

    What a wonderful read – enjoyed every minute of it. You look so radiant and well in the photos, it’s lovely to see that big smile of yours and know you are out there living the life you wish for. I was very lucky to meet you in Thailand and hope I can come back to sometime later in the year to connect with you for a weekend again (once my Thai ban has been lifted of course 😉
    Enjoy your travels, Thailand and each other’s company.
    Hong Kong is always here for you if you want a visit.
    Love, Odette

    Comment by Odette in Hongkong — April 25, 2008 @ 11:51 pm

  7. Hi Nikki, Just read this fantastic account and felt transported back to Thailand totally! Thank you so much:) We were there until March working away for 7 weeks -I found it very different from traveling. We intended to go visit Ko Lipe as I’d been there a few years ago and fell in love with the place, so now I will get to virtually visit it with you as I read your blog. I’ve never worked harder in my life as I am now and it is so worth it to make a difference in the world, I sense this from you too. What is your current email address. Love, Howard

    Comment by howard carter — May 1, 2008 @ 6:58 pm


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