Social, Thailand

Archery

Mos and I have been looking for a hobby to get us out of the house and to give us something to do together. And there is a lot to chose from around here. Volunteering is also something we’d like to look into at a later date. After looking around at a few different options we decided to give archery a go.

There is a very good archery club not far from our house (about 12 minutes by scooter). It’s on the same site as Stardome golf club right on the south-west corner of the old cities wall. It has a shop, which stocks all sorts of archery goodies along with a large selection of camping and outdoors gear. There is also a little coffee shop in the range and most importantly… free WiFi. Also, and arguably more important to the development of are archery skills, they have a team of very good instructors.

The range itself, assuming you’ve never been to one is not to dissimilar to that of a golf driving range. And if you’ve never been to one of those, I’ll describe it. Next to the coffee and archery shops there is a concreted area about 30-meters wide and four deep, the shooting platform. The platform is segmented into stations, each with a bench, an arrow rack and a hook to hang your bow. The shops are one side, and on the other an expanse of grass the same width as the shooting platform reaching back to about 100-meters. This area of grass is surrounded by netting, designed to control and catch stray arrows. Arranged on the grass are targets each about two meters squared with a paper archery target on. They are made of compacted foam blocks and are placed at head hight using wooden stands. There is one target per station on the platform and each target can be moved forwards or back to a suitable distance for the archer at that station. The platform itself is shaded by a futuristic looking metal roof with fans to keep archers cool.

I had previously emailed the club to enquiry about lessons. A few hours later Mos and I had booked in for a 30-minute ‘discovery’ course. During this half hour we learnt the basics of archery, along with the rules and regulations of the club. For example, everyone has to collect their arrows from the target at the same time. A simple but brilliantly effective way to stop people getting impaled by accident. A slice of common sense that is rare in Asia.

We each practised using a Samick Polaris recurve bow. ‘Samick’ is the brand, ‘Polaris’ is the model and ‘recurve’ is the type of the bow. In modern archery two basic types of bow are used, the recurve and the compound. The recurve bow is probably the type you picture when you think about archery. Similar to the classic longbow of English medieval archers and the bow of Robin Hood. A recurve bow is actually a bit more advanced. It gets it’s name from the tips of the bow curving forward, almost pointing to the target. This gives it that little bit extra power. A modern recurve bow has three components, the grip and the two ‘arms’. I don’t know the proper names. The ‘arms can be made from laminated wood or a special plastic/fibreglass/carbon fiver magic material. And the grip can be made from anything solid. Ours had a wooden grip and plastic ‘arms’.

A compound bow on the other hand looks like it was a design collaboration between a military special forces unit and Batman. It contains pulleys, dampers, buffers, sights and all sorts of other gadgets. And although they looks like they have many strings, it is infant one sting wrapped intricately around the system of pulleys. The reason for this engineering madness is to enable the archer to hold their aim for much longer. The pulley system on a compound bow means that as the archer reaches full pull and is ready to release, the amount of force required to hold the string in that position is much less than a recurve bow. Resulting in more time to acquire the target and hopefully a more accurate shot.

The only difference between my kit and the kit Mos had was the arrows. We both had a set of seven fairly beaten old carbon fibre arrows. But mine were longer. The arrow length is determined by how far back you pull the string. My arms are longer, I pull back further, so needed longer arrows. We also had arm guards, to stop the string slapping our forearms and a leather finger cover for pulling back the string.

Towards the end of our session our targets were looking pretty destroyed. So we decided to have one more round of seven arrows on fresh targets. Head to head, husband versus wife. We both hit the target with all of our arrows, so that was already an improvement on earlier shots. But the real question was, who won… Well, Mos got closest to dead centre (by two millimetres), but, I got the highest points total. And we all know, consistency is a winner.

We both did better than we’d expected, although I was slightly better. I imagine that’s down to my English blood line and the possibility of being a distant relative to Robin Hood. To prove that we are both now capable archers we’ve stuck our targets on the wall at home. Hopefully the tax man takes note next time he visits.

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Thailand, Travel

Sleeping on a Helipad

Mos’ friend, Macky, who is a nurse in Bangkok, told us that she was planning on visiting Chiang Mai for a short break. She had just left her job, and had a gap before her new job started. I’d never met Macky before, aside from a few short messages on Facebook. Mos had met her a few years previously on Koh Tao. She was a customer at Mos’ dive shop, Scuba Junction.

Macky was going to be getting the bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. By far my least favourite mode of transport. There are plenty of regular and reasonable priced flights and a good reliable train link with sleeper carriages for an overnight trip. The buses, beside being horrible uncomfortable, are dangerous. Although the Thai media doesn’t like to cover them, bus crashes are frequent. And due to the lax health and safety policies and slow emergency response time. Often fatal. Every week I see reports, largely from twitter, of fatal bus crashes. The causes are varied, but a huge percent are due to driver error. Whether that be through drink, drugs, lack of sleep, lack of training or simply showing off. I’ve experienced examples of all of these. I really don’t like buses in Thailand.

When Macky arrived at Chiang Mai bus station I went to pick her and her suitcase up on the scooter. On our ten minute ride home monsoon style rain hit and thoroughly drenched us. As we arrived home and began to dry off Mos started to cook our dinner, pork ribs, on the barbecue. And before you ask, we have a very large porch, which we can barbecue under, even in torrential rain.

A couple of days into her stay at our house Macky announced that she was going to take Mos and I on a mini holiday. Right on the Thai border with Burma. Directly north of Chiang Mai. She knew a friend with a car rental business and would pay for the trip. So, of course, we agreed. Macky said that we’d drive up there, head into the mountains, and stay at a campsite she had found online. We would be able to hire a tent and bedding there, and as it was low season they’d have loads of space. No need to book.

I dropped her in town and a few hours later she returned to our house in a small Honda saloon car. As we headed north from Chiang Mai and into a much more rural, mountainous area it was clear that Mos and Macky were both feeling withdrawal symptoms from Facebook. Macky quickly spotted a coffee shop on the highway with a WiFi sign. Coffees ordered and iPads ready they searched for the WiFi network. It turns out that the owner of the coffee shop hadn’t paid his bills and was cut off by the provider a few months earlier. Shame. So we sat in this seating area overlooking the beatific mountain range the we were about to try to conquer. It was at this point that Macky got out her teddy bear and started posing it for photos. Mos and I did the same, but with each other. Not a teddy.

About an hour later, and another hour from our campsite, we stopped in a roadside restaurant for lunch. Both the girls pointed out that we are now clearly out in the middle of nowhere as they served buffalo. A meat that is rarely served in or around towns.

We continued into the mountains, the road got steeper and sharper and our car it’s an automatic gearbox was struggling. At a few points we only managed a couple of miles an hour. I’m still surprised the gearbox didn’t blow up.

Eventually we made it to the end of the road. There was a fork. The right turn turned quickly into a dirt track and through dense jungle. The other was guarded by a soldier in a green hut and a barrier. He said that the dirt track led to Burma. And his entrance was an army base. He said that we could come in to turn around and have a look if we wanted. They don’t see many farang (foreigners) in this part of Thailand. We parked in the base and started to look around. The first thing I saw was a military car the looked like an American military Humvee, but not quite the same. Almost like a cheap copy. The roof mounted machine gun however looked like it could do some serious damage.

The bad was basically a clearing on top of a mountain. In the middle was a helicopter landing pad. At the entrance tear the road were a few wooden buildings that appeared to be empty. Maybe used for meetings and cooking. Behind that an ammunition bunker. There were maybe ten small huts around the edge of the helipad each had two beds in for soldiers. There was also a toilet and shower block. All of the huts had their opening for the doors pointing the same way. The soldiers told us that was because the doors point towards Burma. The soldiers keep a constant watch on Burma. All I could see however was dense jungle until they pointed out a small speck of brown on the side of the adjacent mountain. That was the Burmese equivalent to the base we were in.

Just past the sleeping huts were bunkers dug into the ground. These had mortars set up and ready to go. It looked like they were all targeted at the Burmese army camp. Machine guns loaded and ready for action and platforms for artillery guns. Just past these was a dense fence of razor-sharp bamboo spears sticking out of the ground wrapped with barbed wire. Immediately after that was a steep drop into the dense jungle. Certainly looked like a pretty good deterrent.

Finding ourselves this far down the road meant that we had clearly missed our campsite. So we thanked the soldiers and headed back down the road we had come from. A few miles later we found a sign for a flower garden. Mos and Macky had clearly heard of this place as they seemed very excited. We decided to visit.

As we entered the gate to the gardens and paid our 40 baht (£0.80) per person entrance fee it became clear that this was not the type of garden that I was expecting. I had imagine a place like Kew Gardens in London. Arranged gardens with themes that you could walk through and take pictures. This was very different. All we saw were rows and rows of greenhouses stuffed with colour and workers carefully pruning and watering the plants. Some of the green houses grew plants for selling but some were cordoned off with fences, clearly separate from each other. Each of these was a research department. Some of them belonged to universities, some to government and organisations. My favourite one was ‘the Royal Centre for the Research and Development of Strawberries’. I’m fairly sure it is the only establishment in the world with that title.

Further into the gardens/farm we found an open garden, much more like the Kew type garden I was expecting. They had grass, trees, flowers, all sorts. Mos, who is a huge fan of flowers and gardening in general was in her element. Walking around smelling the flowers and taking pictures. It looked great, so many colours. I can’t comment on the aroma as I’m anosmic. Meaning I no longer have a sense of smell, see the link for more information. I lost it a few years ago after an accident involving my head meeting a Tarmac road at speed.

I headed for the more visually stunning parts of this garden. My favourite was the bamboo garden. It looked just like those you might find in martial arts movies. Or one of the default nature desktop pictures in a Mac (OS X 10.5 Leopard onwards). Yes, I’m a geek.

Macky wandered around sitting her bear on anything that was strong enough to hold its weight and snapped a load more photos of this clearly well-traveled bear. Is not quite as globetrotting as Paddington, but it must be close. In comparison, Mackys bear is far too underprepared for serious travel. Unlike Paddington, her bear is lacking a sensible coat, Wellington boots and a hat. Let alone the obvious schoolboy error of not having a suitcase. Now I can understand why he relies so heavily on the support of Macky. He’s simply not equipped to travel solo.

On the way out of the garden/farm I spotted a shop. It was fairly similar to what us Brits would call a farmers market. Local produce sold to local people. Handicrafts, fruit, vegetables, food, artwork and locally distilled strawberry brandy. We left with three bottles of it, and another of locally brewed ‘Zebra Vodka’. I’m fairly sure this is not fermented and distilled zebra juice. But… It looked interesting.

Somewhere between leaving the shop and getting back into the car I lost my glasses. I’m not blind, I don’t need these glasses to live, I use them for driving, cinema and looking at the amazing scenery around I see on a regular basis. Still, I was annoyed. I couldn’t find them. I blamed a dog, then I blamed school children who used the estate as a short cut back up to their homes. In the end, I accepted my loss and we left. With me moaning all the way.

My mood was not helped by our arrival at the campsite that Macky had planned for us to stay in. The campsite where we would hire a tent and bedding and didn’t need to book because it was low season. Well, it was low season, and they had been closed for two months. Great. I think Mos and I both considered putting Macky and her unprepared bear in the boot and making the long drive back to Chiang Mai and dumping the car in a temple. But, we didn’t. We kept driving hoping to find another site. We found two, both closed.

At this point, the dark of night was closing in and it was clear that we’d have to drive down the mountain in the pitch black. A road that has sheer drops, 180 degree turns and no safety barriers. Not to mentioned the frequent landslides that block the road or simply throw cars off it. Not some pitching I was looking forward to. But this is Thailand and the self-preservation part of your brain seems to go further into hibernation the longer you’re here. So we set off.

Before we reached the point of no return we spotted a green hut. It was another army camp. This one was positioned to look over the road that leads onto the mountain. It’s the only access road to the mountain and therefor this camp was in an ideal position to monitor the illegal logging vehicles.

We stopped at the gate and explains our situation. We asked if there are any other camp sites that they knew about. The soldier on the gate invited us in to talk to his superiors. We parked up and a man with a camouflaged jacket and t-shirt cam over to us. I quickly noticed that below the waist his attire was slightly less ‘military’. He was wearing Chelsea FC shorts and red flip-flops. Although he was the base commander and was surrounded by men with rifles, I thought it only right to express my dislike of his shorts. Mos and Macky looked at me in horror. Thankfully, instead of ordering us to kneel in front of shallow graves ready for execution he laughed and continued to talk to Macky and Mos in Thai about our predicament.

Although I don’t speak Thai, well nid noy (little bit), I was able to understand that he was pretty against the idea of us driving down the mountain on the road the his base overlooked, in the dark. He’d seen far too many accidents and had to recover too many bodies from the valley below. He disappeared for a few minutes to speak to some other soldiers. He came back followed by a couple of the base dogs, they could sense the bag of biscuits he’d just been passed. He told us that we could say at the base. Behind him, two junior soldiers walked over to the helipad and started to set up two tents. It was clear that this is where we would be sleeping. This base was similar to the previous one but this was all arranged in parallel lines. The huts and sleeping quarters in one line. then a small parking area a few meters lower, then the three helipads, then the bunkers and bamboo spear fences. The view from this camp was amazing. Infact the picture at the top of this page is of Mos standing next to our tents on the helipad overlooking the mountain range at 07:00 the next day.

We threw out stuff in the tents and decided to head back to a small village we’d seen to get some dinner. On our return to the base the soldiers had prepared a clay stove for us. It’s a traditional Thai way of cooking. It’s like a clay bucket that you light a fire in. A saucepan or work sits on top. The soldiers also explained that fires are illegal on the entire mountain range. But because we were under their supervision we could have one. As we sat cooking some eggs and noodles over the open fire a few soldiers came over and we sat talking for a couple of hours. They were all very friendly and hospitable. Far more than I’d expected.

Based on the advice from the soldiers we decided to get showered before it got too cold. It drops to around six degrees celsius in the mountains. The shower/toilet block was a concrete platform divided into three boxes with corrugated steel sheets and wooden posts. In each of these was a western style toilet seat, a large bucket with a tap above it and a small pan. The pan was for both flushing the toilet and throwing water on yourself to shower. It was very cold, but refreshing.

We lite a few candles and stuck them in the ground around our fire and decided it was time to crack open a bottle of whiskey we had brought with us. Macky the found a way to access the Internet on her iPad and disappeared into her tent to update Facebook. This left Mos and I cuddled up, sitting next to an open fire, on the mountain-top helipad of an army base in northern Thailand watching the campfires of the hill tribes light up as tiny specs on this huge mountain range in front of us. It was perfect.

Thailand

Huay Tung Tao Lake

We’ve now met all of our neighbours, bar one, but they never seem to come outside. Our immediate neighbours are a mother (Inn) and daughter (Daisy, 1) decided to head out to Chiang Mai ‘beach’. Those of you that have been to Chiang Mai, or know that it’s located in Northern Thailand right up in the mountains might be thinking… ‘beach, what?’.

The place is actually called Huay Tung Tao Lake. It lies at the base of Doi Suthep (‘Doi’ means mountain in Thai). It takes about half an hour to drive there from our house, we headed off in a convoy of Inn’s car and a pick-up truck. Mos and I were in the back of the pick-up truck. The lake is part of a private park. So it’s in the middle of a large forested area.

As we pulled into the entrance gates and paid our ฿40 entry we started to see a couple of small stalls selling inflatables for the children to play with. Then we got a glimpse of the lake. It’s huge. And the beaches that run around the perimeter are lined with little open bamboo huts. Each served by one main, but pretty small restaurant. We parked the car and walked over to an empty hut, we’d packed some whiskey, coke and a few Thai dishes to bring with us. But one the girls (I was the only man of the eight people there) spotted the menu we had fish dishes, rice dishes and a variety of other very tasty looking offerings arriving at our hut.

I went off for a paddle with Daisy. She is one, and completely obsessed with me.  She calls for me through the metal fence that separates our gardens, she cries when I go out to get groceries and she constantly tries to bring me food. Anyway, we went for a paddle. She found it hilarious.

On the other side of the lake I could just about make out a paddle boat rental company. But to get there would have taken about an hours walk. And they were shaped like swans. So decided to head back to help tackle some of this mountain of food that was amassing in our hut.

As we came to the end of our food, and more importantly, our whiskey. The sky suddenly got noticeably darker and we got pelted with wind and light rain. The temporary looking shelter on the beach that we’d considered sitting under was now sheltering three scooters from the light rain. But not for long. After the wind and rain increased dramatically the shelter collapsed knocking over the scooters and burying them in the beach. Again, Daisy found this hysterical. She laughed for the whole time the owners of the bikes tried to remove the shelter and dig out the bikes to wheel them to safety whilst still being pelted by the wind flying off the surface of the lake.

We quite rightly decided that it was time to go home.  The girls loaded up the car whilst I walked the grandmother (who speaks no English) to the toilets. Most of the path had washed away but the weather was starting to calm down. Whilst waiting for the grandmother, Mos, my wife, decided to dig up some of the plants from the flower beds surrounding the toilet… she said they would look great at our house in some nice pots. I agreed, so she took more.

Once we got home, we all scattered off to warm up and have showers. Overall, I think it was a successful day. I enjoyed it anyway.

Media, Thailand, Work

Elephant Nature Park

As soon as I arrived back in Chiang Mai, from Bangkok, I got a phone call saying that I was going to be picked up at 07:00 in the morning. We were providing production services for Leopard Films in America to film their House Hunters International series. It’s an ongoing project that the company has worked on various times in the past.

This episode was following a guy from America who was looking for property in  Thailand. Chiang Mai to be exact. If you’re not familiar with the show, they follow a person or family as they look to move abroad. They normally view 3-4 properties and then at the end of the show they pick one. During the course of the show they talk about their new lifestyle in the country and participate in various activities, normally ones that highlight the area they are in. It’s a widely used format, I know that in the UK we have at least three shows that are almost identical.

It was nice to be on a small crew again. We had a crew of six. Pretty standard for a documentary style TV shoot. Once again I had the chance to meet some new crew. And again, they were great.

I joined the crew after they had completed the filming of the properties. As I joined, we had two days of ‘activity’ filming. On the first day we visited some temples, which was nice, because Mos and I had only managed to visit a handful so far. We also went to a few spots around town for eating and drinking.

Day two was the real highlight. We went filming at the Elephant Nature Park. There are many places up here in the mountains of Northern Thailand to see elephants. If you want to ride one or see them working (Thai’s use elephants much like we use work horses in the west), you can go to a handful of places. Some of these places are great and care for the elephants like members of their family. Some, beat the elephants unconscious as part of their training, chain the elephants to trees for days on end and generally abuse them. Sadly, for tourists, you won’t be able to know for sure until you get there. If you ask to see where the elephants sleep or how they are trained etc and the staff get defensive, you have almost certainly stumbled across a place that tortures elephants in the name of tourism. If they are open and happy for you to look around and the elephants seem happy, hopefully you’ve found a good one.

The Elephant Nature Park, is different. They rescue elephants from work camps, tourism facilities and zoos. Any elephant that is being used for financial gain is rescued. They bring the elephants to their park, give them medical assistance, get them healthy, then let them roam free around the expansive park. Visitors to the park are educated about the use (and abuse) of elephants and taught the story of each elephant at the park.

Each elephant at the park has a member of staff that looks after them. They feed them, walk them down to the river and bath them and generally build a friendship between them and the elephant.

We arrived to film the visitors feeding the elephants, or course we all had a go. My favourite was a blind elephant (I can’t remember the cause). She could hear you and would feel around with her trunk until she found you and then find your hand and then take the fruit.

After a few hours of feeding and filming interviews we walked around the park with the elephants occasionally coming over to see what we were up to then wandering off again. Some of the elephants were clearly still a bit nervous around people showing their previous lives of fear. Others just wanted to play or take the camera.

In the afternoon we walked with a few of the elephants down to the river, where volunteers can help bath the elephants. For most elephants this is a fun exercise. For some, this assistance from the volunteers is the only way that they can bathe. One elephant, called Medo, carried an extremely visible limp and disfigured hip from a life of abuse. Please read more about Medo by clicking her name (it’s a link). Here is a picture of Medo that I’ve pinched from the Elephant Nature Park website –

As you can see. She is severely disabled. But thanks to the park she is living freely, without abuse and in the company of other elephants. Medo is just one of the many stories at the park. If you want to help you can look at the Elephant Nature Park website here.  You can volunteer there, they will provide accommodation, food etc. Or you can just visit for the day. I would highly recommend a visit. Although you can’t ride an elephant as so many people seem to want to do. You are able to see happy and ‘free’ elephants playing, socialising and generally being elephants.

Media, Thailand, Work

Baltica7

I’d been back from Kuala Lumpur for a couple of days when I got the call to head back to Bangkok to oversee a TVC shoot (Television Commercial). It was for Baltica7 a Ukrainian beer brand. Mos gave me a lift to the airport on the scooter and I checked in and boarded within and hour. Chiang Mai airport is brilliant. Flew with Thai airways. Very good service, as you’d expect from the national airline.

The crew had all been booked into the Mayfair hotel, we’d also booked half a floor as a production office space including wardrobe department. As I was a late addition to the crew I decided to book myself into a hostel that I’d been wanting to visit for a long time (Lub d, Siam Square), and it was only a short commute via the BTS sky train to the Mayfair. Again, I opted for a private double room to accommodate my laptop and paperwork. It was a great hostel and a great room, I’d highly recommend it!

I had arrived in the middle of the prep work for the shoot. We had two days left until the recce then we were to shoot on the following day. I spent most of my time getting to know the crews and trying to pick out the differences in the techniques and structure of this production team in comparison to the UK crews that I was much more familiar with. The first thing I noticed was the quantity of crew. There was easily three to four times the amount of people there for the size of the shoot than would have been in the UK. We’ve shot big-budget beer commercials in the UK with crews of 15-25 people. This one was bordering on 80-85. I am of course referring to the entire crew list on both projects not just the staff in the Mayfair production office.

Each day I would jump on the BTS and go the two stops to the Mayfair hotel which cost ฿20 each way (less than 50p). And then head home the same way. Normally stopping in the huge food market in MBK on the way to get my dinner. But, on the recce day I had to meet the production vans at 05:30, well before the BTS opens. So I treated myself to a tuk tuk ride. After a bit of haggling, I got him down to ฿80.

The first stop on the recce was the street location, we had an awesome sunrise and managed to get some great photos and got all of the camera positions mapped out. Second location was Bangkoks Suvarnabhumi airport. We had booked a corner of the departures floor with floor to ceiling glass. as a backdrop. Really nice location. And the airport staff and security were very helpful. Final stop was the Bangkok Column apartment building. Here we had three locations, first, the 25th floor Long Table Restaurant, and second the 37th floor apartment and third, the huge 37th floor balcony.

We were up nice and early again the following day to start filming, shooting in the same order we had previously recce’d. I met a lot more of the crew, and was very impressed by the quality of the work. I have to be honest and say that when I moved to Thailand, I did not expect the production services to be up to UK standard. These guys were brilliant, all of them.

After the final shot, on the 37th floor balcony, we dished out some iced beers, sushi and cake. My first shoot in Bangkok was over.

Thailand

Visa Run

When I arrived in Thailand to get married, I was issued a 30-day tourist visa on entry. I was on day 27 when I went to the Chiang Mai immigration office to get a 7-day extension. Enough time to prepare documents for a visa run to Kuala Lumpur. As I was now going to be working in Thailand I needed a visa that allowed the addition of a work permit. The most sensible and achievable was the Non-Immigrant B visa, the ‘B’ standing for business. In Thailand to obtain such a visa requires you to apply from outside the country at a Thai embassy. I’d done some research and found a few prime locations, but decided to head to Kuala Lumpur, which would also be my first visit to Malaysia.

My wife (Mos) and I both headed down to Bangkok on the overnight train from Chiang Mai. She was planning to visit some friends in Bangkok whilst I sorted out my visa in Kuala Lumpur. The next morning I booked my flights online, paid for them over the counter in 7 Eleven (yes, you can do that), and jumped on a minibus for the airport. Strangely the cheapest flights I could find were with Egypt Air, both the flight to and from KL were at most thirty percent full.

Once I arrived in Kuala Lumpur got on the KLIA Ekspres train and headed to my hostel where I had booked a private double room to enable me to complete my paperwork. I stayed at PODs in the Brickfields area of KL. Which is heavily populated by Indians as it is only a short walk from the famous Little India district. Brickfields is also home to a large population of blind people. Most have been trained to work in massage shops to enable them to earn a living. The area was great, loads of restaurants (mainly Indian), really good transport links as it is right next to KL Sentral station. PODs was brilliant too, highly recommended.

The next morning I was up and ready to head off and find the Thai Embassy, I’d heard it was a pain to find, and in the interest of saving time and hassle I got in a taxi. It took about forty minutes and cost about £5 ($8). Well worth it to not be drenched in sweat when arriving in my shirts and ‘smart’ jeans at the Thai Embassy. Once my number was called I went to the window, gave in my paperwork and the cash. Simple. Such a relief. I’d heard horror stories about other embassy offices. But it wasn’t over, I would have to return tomorrow afternoon to collect my passport, hopefully with a Non-Imm B visa in it!

I decided to spend that 28 hour window productively and got myself a two-day hop-on hop-off bus ticket and explored the city. Petronas Towers, museums, shopping centres and the old Colonial centre of the city with the mock-tudor club houses for the then British government. It’s a great city and I hope to go back with Mos one day.

When the time came I used my hop-on hop-off ticket to reach the Thai Embassy, this time via a much more scenic route (with commentary in a variety of languages). Lined up outside the embassy and waiting for the gates to open. Two hours later, I had my passport and with it, my Non-Imm B visa. I treated myself to a pizza and a cold coke and headed back to the hostel, ready for my evening flight back to Bangkok.

Thailand

Bueng Kan

Shortly after confirming my role in the new company we had started to look for places to live. We started off by looking online. Most of the property in Chiang Mai is managed by a handful of big estate agencies. I was amazed at what we could get for our money. The price I was paying in London for our two-bedroom flat could have got us a six-bedroom house, with swimming pool, aircon, tennis court and an apartment in the back of the house for a live-in maid. Slightly different to our lifestyle in the UK.

We headed out to look at a house that we found online, just east of the city, and much more modest than the one mentioned above. We pulled up to the three-bedroom house, with a huge gate, perfect garden and pristine neighbouring houses. Sadly, it was already taken. As we got back on the scooter we spotted a small sign on the railing of the house next door. We phoned the number and the owner raced to meet us. The current tenants, three TEFL teachers from South Africa needed to move out. One had split with his girlfriend, the other had lost his job and the only one remaining just wanted to go home. Within two hours we’d signed the contracts and the house was ours.

To celebrate we planned a short break away to stay with our family in Bueng Kan. Although it’s possible to fly from Chiang Mai to Udon Thani and then either bus or hire a car. We decided to take the overnight bus. It was as uncomfortable as any of the other night busses in Thailand. The aircon is always either blowing our stale, warm air or ice-cold air, so cold you need to ask for blankets. This bus was the latter. We arrived in Udon Thani nice and early, so early this small town had not woken yet. We jumped into a tuk tuk to take us to a hotel we could get some rest in until lunchtime.

Once we’d woken up we got in another tuk tuk to try and find a car rental place. And after sitting in an office (living room) with two cats, three dogs and an elderly Thai woman for nearly an hour the owner arrived with a little Mazda hatchback. Which was surprisingly new and clean considering the office (living room) we’d been waiting in. We gave her the paperwork and with a hand-drawn map headed north to Bueng Kan. From there the route would rely entirely on my wife’s memory. The last time she made this journey she was six years old. I didn’t hold much hope…

We hit Bueng Kan, and as this was the closest town to our families house, we booked into a hotel. The, got back on the road for the short drive to the village. Once in the village we asked some locals to point us in the right direction and a few hours after leaving Udon Thani we had arrived.

It was great to see them again, and to visit there small and humble home for the first time. This was also the first time I would meet my new brother-in-law, Foamy (12). He was unable to make the long trip south to Koh Tao for our wedding due to a busy schedule of exams at school. The first time he saw me he was shy. He hadn’t seen many farang (foreigners) before, let alone a 6’1″ guy that’s now married to his sister. But, by the end of the day we were playing badminton on a patch of dirt with a ripped up net and DIY rackets. He won. Convincingly.

One thing I quickly learnt about my new family was that they love to eat. Or at least loved to offer me food, all the time. Language was a barrier, food was a bridge. We sat and ate food that they’d made all day. With friends and villagers coming and going to meet me and see my wife who they’d not seen for many years. It was a great day!

The next day we drove the short distance to our latex farm. A huge expanse of latex trees, each with a small cup hanging from a peg that is hammered into the tree to collect you seeping liquid latex. Our family have 750 trees which my are cut very early every morning by my mother-in-law and father-in-law. It’s a huge amount of work for a fairly small reward. To add and extra income they’ve also got two huge fishponds, each slightly bigger than a tennis court, which provides fish to sell at the local market.

That night we drove everyone to Bueng Kan for a music festival. It was much like any festival in the UK. But this one cost ฿40 each (about £0.80) to enter. Inside they had market stalls selling everything, televisions, socks, beds, furniture, gadgets, knifes, ballons, food, drink… everything. We worked our way to the main stage and laid down a mat to sit on before the crowd got too big. We sat and drank whiskey with our family and various friends and villagers who had joined us while the children went to play on the fairground rides. It was the perfect end to a great trip.

Thailand

Arriving in Chiang Mai

After leaving Koh Tao we arrived in Bangkok, our last stop before Chiang Mai. I sent out a few emails to companies that I thought might consider employing me. As I was now newly married, unemployed, five thousand miles from home and running very low on funds. We stayed in Bangkok for a week visiting friends, planning our future and generally enjoying being a Mr & Mrs.

As we left our hotel in Bangkok to head for the train station, I checked my emails (and Facebook) one last time. I had an email. A company had replied to my offer of work. Not only did they want to talk to me face to face, they were also willing to put us up in a hotel for a week whilst we had these talks. I told my wife we’re not going to Chiang Mai after all, assuming that like most production companies, this one would be in Bangkok. But, after looking over the companies website I found that they are not only one of the two major film production companies in Thailand, they’re also based in Chiang Mai.

A couple of hours later we were on the sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Excited, nervous, scared. My wife and I had always wanted to go to Chiang Mai, since long before we even met each other so this was a dream coming true. And now we had a glimmer of hope for a more permanent stay there. We had decided that we would leave it a week before making any decisions. Hopefully that would give us a chance to let it all sink in.

We arrive in Chiang Mai Railway station at 08:30 after a surprisingly comfortable night on the train. Waiting at the station was one of the two owners of the company waiting to pick us up and take us to our hotel.

On the fairly short drive to our beautiful hotel we discussed how the journey was and the weather… everything but work. Which was nice, as we just wanted to explore the city, mountains, rivers and markets. We agreed to have our first meeting in two days time at the companies office.

Whilst waiting for this first meeting we took the chance to rent a scooter and explore Chiang Mai. By the end of day two we were in love with the area. We had already decided to stay here is my meeting went well. And it did. I’m now producing for the company and freelancing on various projects around Asia as a camera operator. It’s my dream job. Well my second dream job. My actual dream job is a rescue helicopter pilot in the Canadian rockies. Sadly my eyesight and the prerequisite of military flying experience has pissed on that bonfire.

Thailand

The Beginning

On the 14 March 2012 I got married on the remote island of Koh Tao, 50 miles East from the coast of Chumphon, Thailand. Having lived and worked on Koh Tao at various points during the last few years, and having met my now wife on the island, it was the perfect location for us to get married.

We had my family do the gruelling LDN-BKK flight followed by a flight to Koh Samui, then a two hour speed boat to reach Koh Tao. And that’s the easy way! As many travellers will tell you, the ‘real’ way to get to Koh Tao is the 12-14 hour night bus from Bangkok to Chumphon, then to catch either the 12 hour night ferry the following day to Koh Tao, or to catch the extremely fast Lomprayah boat (two hours).

My wife’s family, who live in Bueng Kan right in the northwest corner of Thailand on the Loas border river. They came by bus. And even more tiring journey than all mentioned above.

The mountain top location, hotels, staff, views, flowers Buddhist monks, friends, family and lots of excited children. It was perfect.

Four days after the wedding. Once our family had returned to there respective homes, and once we’d completed a fairly heavy round of parties, BBQs, all nighters and general madness with our friends on the island. We travelled up to Chiang Mai, in the mountains of northern Thailand for our honeymoon.

It was during this journey and after taking into account various Skype conversations with my good friend David in California, that I made the biggest decision of my life. I wasn’t going home to the UK. That night I phoned my employer and quit my extremely well paid producer role in the UK. I phoned friends and family to see if I could find someone to rent my brand new, and recently furnished, London flat. Luckily the fantastic Emily moved in. And that was it. Aside from my obscene O2 monthly mobile phone contract, I was free.