Sunday, 12 July 2020

Catamaran Odyssey - Phuket to Singapore 2002

Phuket to Singapore

In September 2002 we set sail for the open sea, mariners five. Four young sailors and our boat builder, Gunther, embarked upon an odyssey of Grecian proportions - Phuket to Singapore, and back to Koh Phangan, in our tiny 30ft Wharram catamaran.

We left Ao Chalong, a thundercloud hanging over Phuket as we left the island behind.  We were to feel no rain, only wind, and maybe Lettie, Gunther's wife, had been right...

... "The wind really is behind Nok Talay!"  We set the sails and we were bombing along - twice the speed of Kerida, our boat builder's ketch, and no heeling.  Gunther had told us that Nok Talay would feel like a Rolls Royce after our week long trip on Kerida.

"The wind really is behind Nok Talay!"
We sped passed Phi Phi island, a rainbow guiding our way - 
a good omen for the beginning of our trip 

Twenty-one hours later we'd accomplished what had previously taken four days in Gunther's little ketch.  We'd arrived at Rebak Marina, Langkawi, in our own boat. 

We manoeuvered Nok Talay into the bay to see how tiny she looked compared to the other yachts.  She sat so low in the water that from the jetty it looked like there was nothing of her - a strange that illusion, as aboard was only a feeling of spaciousness.

After a trip to immigration, swims in the marina pool and dinner in the yacht club restaurant, it was time to set sail again further down the Malaysian coast.  We navigated our way through Langkawi's outlying islands, then took to our 3 hour shifts at the helm.

Setting sail for the open sea... in our own boat!
3 hours on, 12 hours off, the rhythm of our days. 
Cooking up chicken, and fish, when we caught it...
the boys reefing the sails when it looked like a storm was brewing.

And that night we had a storm to 'blow the man down' - and we were hossing along.  We averaged 10 knots, maximum speed 13 knots... although later in the Changi Sailing Club Seaman Stu would comment, "No-one's ever got a Wharram to go that fast!"

We were screaming along, Nok Talay's port bow diving under the water, starboard hull reeling, water slamming over the deck into the cockpit.  The wind was biting us, and only later would Gunther admit he was so worried he had goosebumps.  But the boat, his creation, stood the test well, holding herself together and proving herself seaworthy.

An exhilarating storm - but in the back of my mind I couldn't get rid of a friend's words from his outings on his own Tiki 26, "12 knots is TOO fast."  When the storm had passed we were all content to sail along at a meagre three knots for the next couple of hours.

Sailing aboard Nok Talay - 'Seabird' in Thai
Supertankers by Night

Later that night we approached Penang and had our first experience with a supertanker, up close and personal.  As its navigation lights came closer and closer, Gunther told me to hold my course, it would be gone by the time we got there.  And true enough that supertanker did steam on by - but it was still hair-raising stuff the first time, especially at night!  By the time we reached Singapore we were hardly batting an eyelid at them.

We passed on by in the night, rainclouds threatening, 
a storm brewing but no wind or rain... 
"Weird," said Guenther

The tankers disappeared and we were back to the open ocean, working our way south down the Malaysian coast.  The next morning we passed through One Fathom Banks, a bottle neck on the shipping lanes, and suddenly there were tankers everywhere again.

The wind had died in Penang, and after a night of motoring we'd decided it was time for some sailing.  But a few hours later, not only had we sailed perilously across the channel of supertankers, we had drifted miles out to sea and were suddenly going nowhere fast - travelling at 1.9 knots per hour on the wrong course, against the current. 

It was time to take stock, get some power going and motor back closer to shore to where we could navigate safely should the GPS fail.  Safety first - and speed is safety at sea.

Nok Talay charter to the Angthong Marine Park 2003
Back on course we had a marvellous day sailing down the coast.  As sunset approached I took my shift at the helm on a glassy ocean, a low orange sun to the west lighting our way from behind.  The lighthouse ahead beckoned us on towards Admiral Marina.

Port Dickson glimmered away in the distance, twinkling like a minute Hong Kong in the evening light.  The sky above was aswathe with stars - it was so spellbinding out at sea. Soon, we navigated our way in to lie at anchor outside Admiral Marina for the night.

Arriving into port, Gunther found he had an extra day free, but the open ocean was calling us.  We were dying to get Nok Talay back to the sea.  Tomorrow was Friday the 13th - sailors never set sail on a Friday - and so it was decided back to the sea, yippee!

Catching fish on the Malaysian coast
 Malacca Straits

South, South, South.  New ground, new waters.  Malacca to the east, Sumatra in the unseeable distance to the west.  With calm ocean, quiet wind, we motored downwards into the Malacca Straights, the beginning of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. 

Unbeknown to us the current was pulling us off course, and we were drifting ever closer to the shipping lanes.  In the early hours the current had started to push the boat and the waves forward, while the wind, opposing the current, was coming from dead ahead.

The resulting choppy ocean gave Nok Talay a bashing.  Gunther set the engine speed to optimise a controlled motor sail to settle her down.  We were comfier on deck, but the vibrating from the engine was giving the sleeping sailors below suicidal tendencies!

"The boat must be comfortable (and therefore safe) 
over everyone else's comfort - then all will be safe" Gunther

When Marty came up on deck to take his shift he decided to do an experiment with the engine, slowing it down... thereby steering us straight into the shipping lanes.

After a heated discussion on the pros and cons of motorsailing we finally went to bed - but the next morning Nok Talay had crossed the lanes of supertankers and we'd drifted miles out to sea again, going backwards in a 3 knot current with the engine off.

After a quick conference it was decided, against our skipper at the helm's wishes, to get the engine started!  The busiest shipping lane in the world was not, we agreed, the place to get upset about fuel consumption and engine noise - as valid as those concerns were.

Angthong Marine Park, Gulf of Thailand
There were lessons to be learnt for all of us.  We had to feel it for ourselves, it wasn't something Gunther could teach us.  We had to learn how the current could affect our course, that we had to steer adjustingly.  It wasn't always as easy as getting the compass set right and off you go - we had to learn to sail our boat through our own experiences.

Back on course, going somewhere again, Kukup Island on the Malaysian coast was fast approaching as we sailed onwards towards our first major destination... Singapore.

But first, we were hit by a dreaded Sumatra storm... 

To celebrate 250,000 all time views on my Koh Phangan Tales blog, I'm publishing this never before told, old sea shanty from many moons ago... Soon to be continued!

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Friday, 22 May 2020

Haad Rin's Trio of Beaches - Past and Present Times

The Magic of Haad Rin
The journey has remained the same for the last twenty years. Take the Haad Rin Queen ferry from Big Buddha on Koh Samui, and soon you are traversing that turquoise sea back to Koh Phangan. Which returning traveller hasn't felt that sense of excitement deep in their belly, aware of the wonders that await them? As the mystical island rises out of the deep blue sea, time expands and the vortex draws us in, until we arrive at Haad Rin pier - ready for another adventure of a lifetime.

Once upon a time, the world outside Haad Rin used to disappear into another existence. It would be weeks or months before us wide-eyed travellers, weary of the Asian trail, would leave these shores again. Haad Rin would draw us in and keep us spellbound, until another magical season had passed on by. Nowadays visitors may stay only a few days, but the magic still remains! Once the Full Moon Party has passed, Haad Rin, quite paradoxically, remains the best kept secret on the Thai islands.

Today Haad Rin is quietly undergoing a facelift. The image of drunken youth trashing their party wonderland is fast becoming outdated, as beautiful, aesthetic resorts spring up all around Haad Rin's three beaches. At the pier, Haad Rin Resort's pool has an unsung olympic opulence to it. Up the hill, Sun Cliff boasts stunning views over Sunset Beach. While higher up still, Sea Breeze has spectacular views over another of Haad Rin's sublime and unheralded jewels: Leela Beach. 
The Sublime Leela Beach

Twenty years ago Leela Beach was a deserted palm lined cove, with a shack restaurant and one lone beach hut. I remember a straw blond German staking out his territory in that lone beach hut for a few seasons in the early 1990's.  You'd see him
at every party in his silver 'Spaceman Spiff' trousers. He was either wearing those trousers or nothing at all, frolicking in the warm coral seas of Leela Beach. As Koh Phangan veteran Mario will tell you, our strange ways were tolerated back then.

Nowadays the uncompromising beauty of Leela Beach can be enjoyed as much as it ever was, from the sensitively integrated resorts of Coco Hut and Sarikantang. The old Leela Beach Bungalows further down the seashore still remain, and this beach remains a favourite hang out for both those looking for a little more luxury - and those Koh Phangan long-termers in the know! What better waterfront jewel on Koh Phangan to spend the afternoon on than the wondrous Leela Beach?

Bohemian Haad Rin Sunset 

Haad Rin Sunset is still my all time favourite stretch of beach on the planet, probably. Not only does it have million dollar views to Koh Samui in the distance, it also has the most sublime sunsets I've ever seen. I've stayed at family run Bird Bungalows for the last twenty years. The three-tiered coloured sea is shallow here, but in recent years some classy poolside resorts have sprung up on Haad Rin Sunset too - upping the Bohemian sense on Sunset Beach from shabby to chic luxury.

Of course long-standing Coral Bungalows, with its pool parties and high profile Muay Thai contests, is a must visit for the backpacker crowd. As is Seaside for a traditional happy hour beer. But if you are seeking charm and style, the resorts of Best Western Phanganburi and The Coast provide the perfect holiday atmosphere. Expect good service, spa treatments, great food and superb cocktails. Both have the lavish allure of a relaxing stay in Haad Rin. And, my oh my, those sunsets!

And then… explore! Who doesn't want to get off the beaten track and discover untouched beaches on their travels? And that is the beautiful paradox of Haad Rin. Keep walking ten or fifteen minutes after Bird Bungalows on Sunset Beach, and you will soon discover the best kept secret of the lot: virgin territory, granite rocks and empty beaches like something out of a Robinson Crusoe movie. Surrounded by lush vegetation, a forgotten world exists, so very close to the Full Moon Party.

Full Moon Party Bay

And then there is the most famous beach in Asia. Think of Haad Rin, and most think only of the wild chaos of the Full Moon Party. But
in my opinion this gorgeous bay still comes top of the most beautiful beaches in South East Asia. That fine white sand, that jungle backdrop, that wide, sweeping, crescent moon bay! It's just such an exquisite shore, where we can play in the turquoise surf and lie on a sun-drenched beach under the palms. It fulfills all our ideals of paradise.

Cactus and Drop In may come alive by night, but during the day Sunrise, Phangan Bayshore and Fairyland offer some of the best chilled beach living anywhere. That's where you'll find us lounge lizards soaking up the sun, sea & surf! For those of us more active there's volleyball at Tommys, Muay Thai at Jungle Gym, not to mention some of the best yoga on the island at Lighthouse. Secret coves, sunset beaches and hedonistic luxury... Haad Rin has got it all! What's not to love?

Why don't you stay a while longer and discover the delights of Haad Rin for yourself?

Welcome to Paradise!

First published on in 2016
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Thursday, 22 February 2018

Koh Phangan Art on Sale Proceeds to Prisoners Support

After recently visiting an old friend in prison, famed Koh Phangan artist Colin G Thomason decided that proceeds from his annual sale of artwork this year would go towards supporting foreign prisoners in Thai jail.


In an interview with Colin, he explains:

You may know that 2 years ago I sold several of my paintings at half price to raise money for Nepal after the earthquake?  Raised over 600 quid!  Last year, likewise, my annual sale raised a similar amount for a friend who does voluntary work in a poor Cambodian village.  I've been thinking what charity next?  Hey Presto, Prison Support!

Q. Half price back catalogues on sale?  Yes! My back catalog up to the end 2016 all on sale!

Q. How many paintings have you got on sale?  Hundreds!!  All on sale at a 50% discount!

Q. And you want them to go to good home?  Yes!! I dont want them where no one can see them... I want people to enjoy them!

Q. How will you spend the proceeds of this sale?  Proceeds go to the Prison Support Group to use as they see fit.  £89 in the pot already!!!

Q. Describe the genres you have going on sale?  How can I describe them??? Amazing!!

Q. What is your current inspiration?  Sci Fi weirdness... I hardly ever stop painting!!

Half Price Koh Phangan Art on Sale

Q. How long will the sale go on for?

This sale of Koh Phangan art will go on until the end of November 2018... (then a half price Xmas sale for an old fool with a wife, daughter, stepson and 2 cats to support!)

Q. What motivated you to give to the prisoners support group? 

I visited a friend in prison in Bangkok - a stark demonstration of the need for support.

Q. What's your market?

I'm marketing these paintings to Phangan friends or old acquaintances from the UK who would like to get my artwork at bargain prices... and all for a good cause! 

Any money raised until end Nov 2018 will be for the support group to use as they see fit - not only my friend!  Aiming to get any Phanganese friends in the UK to go down to Essex... a friend came up from Ramsgate to buy last year!

And of course this sale is open to all!  So I need publicity and some info for interested buyers, although some people dont give 2 hoots about charity - they just want to get a Colin G Thomason painting at an affordable price! 

And I get appreciative homes for my art... I want them to be enjoyed!

Q. OK Colin, tell us about your paintings that are up for sale! 

Photos of paintings here are all still available and are representative of a variety as there are so many!!!  There are Koh Phangan landscapes and seascapes, psychedelic art, charicatures, Sci Fi weirdness, snowscapes, tree paintings - the list is endless. 

Most paintings, hundreds of them - framed and unframed - are in Dunmow, Essex, UK where the sale is now on.  There will be a sale on in Northumberland from the beginning of May, unframed only - viewing by appointment, contact me to arrange!

Q. Where are you now and what are your plans this year?
I am in Isaan til mid March then Bali for six weeks - then I go home to the UK from May 1st to October.  My agent Helen is in Dunmow, Essex where most of my paintings are.  Unframed paintings can be posted worldwide, if buyer pays P & P.

Contact me to make an appointment - though people who know Helen just turn up.  Hoping to make another £40 sale today!

Thanks to Colin for lending his charitable support to helping foreign prisoners in Thai jail.  The support group is focused on helping Koh Phangan guys in trouble in prisons throughout Thailand, mainly in Koh Samui, Chumphon and Bangkok.

More info on island prison support efforts here!

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Monday, 6 February 2017

Thailand Reforms the Death Penalty for Drugs

With 200,000 inmates - 70% of Thailand's prison population - locked up on mostly low level drug offences, ASEAN authorities are acknowledging how the War on Drugs has failed.  Is Thailand, in 2017, deciding to move forward with a new approach?
Drug Law Reform in Thailand 

On Nov 24th 2016 the NLA approved 'edits' to the 2522 (1979) Narcotics Act by 160 votes to 0.  These reforms were promulgated in the Royal Gazette on Jan 15th 2017.

Appearing subtle at first, the edits reformed the mandatory death penalty for drugs - and a far-reaching change in the wording of the code means that drug users will no longer be automatically prosecuted as drug dealers.

Death Penalty in Thailand

'In 2005, the Thai government reported to the U.N. Human Rights Committee that there was no mandatory death penalty.  In practice, however, Thai lawyers report that judges often impose the death penalty without any consideration of mitigating circumstances when it comes to certain - particularly drug-related - offences.' 2015

Narcotics Act Reforms announced in January 2017 mean Thailand's ultra-hardline stance of capital punishment for drug dealers may be about to change.

Judges are now being given room to assess individual cases - just as the courts have individually assessed every prisoner's case for amnesty in the last two Royal Pardons (granted graciously to prisoners in Aug 2016 & Dec 2016).

Instead of rigidly sticking to the harsh letter of the law, regardless of the individual's circumstances - as female drug mules, for example - the reforms now give the courts wider sentencing guidelines to work within.

Importantly, the death penalty is no longer mandatory for traffickers or producers of Class 1 narcotic for the purpose of disposal.  The judge can now assess every case on its own merits - and can give a life sentence or the death penalty.

Thailand reforms the death penalty for drugs
 'Minister Paiboon further said that there should no longer be capital punishment, however the Bangkok Post reported the Minister saying that Thailand 
is not ready to abolish the death penalty for drug offences'  IDPC

As President of the Australian Drug Law Reform, Alex Wodak, says of this VolteFace feature on drug law reform in Thailand, the movement is important - as it will affect other countries in the region.

The death penalty didn't get abolished, but it is no longer mandatory for drugs.  Is that not a huge step towards reform?

This change in policy echoes the surprising comments by an Head Judge in Indonesia - in light the country's recent Bali 9 executions - when sentencing 3 drug dealers to life, instead of death, in Dec 2016:
Thailand has a 20 year reform plan and change won't come overnight.  But isn't this reform of the Narcotics Act - away from capital punishment for narcotics offences - worthy of scrutiny and enquiry of what else may be in the planning for the future.

Away From the Streets 
 'A refocussing of law enforcement away from the street towards the organised crime behind the business' Jeremy Douglas UNODC 

High level meetings at the UNODC with senior experts from the six countries of the Mekong MOU - Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam - have 'negotiated a new two year plan to address the regional drug situation'.  

In the 2 months since UNODC analyst Jeremy Douglas outlined this strategy above, there have been several transnational busts in the SE Asian region.  In January alone there have been major busts involving Laos, Thailand, China, Myanmar & Vietnam:

*Laos King Pin arrested in Thailand
*Heroin and Meth from Myanmar seized in Inner Mongolia
*400kg Ketamine seized in China
*'Poison Factory' chemical seizures on Vietnam border, bound for Myanmar

Flash in the pan? Or are we witnessing a real time change in drug policy enforcement - away from the streets to the transnational organised crime behind the scenes?

Paid to Deliver, No Intent to Sell

Remove the intent to sell - and drug mules start to become the lower level offenders they are - more expendable victims than kingpins.  Penalties are still harsh, but have dropped immeasurably with the Jan 2017 Narcotics Act Reforms for traffickers - from an automatic life sentence - to a far wider sentencing range of 10 yrs to life. 
President of Thailand's Supreme Court talking human rights and public health.

'Flush Them Out of the System'
Quantity thresholds have been revoked in the recent Narcotics Act Reforms, and people in possession of Class 1 are now deemed as 'presumed' not 'regarded' to have intent to sell.  These are potentially far reaching edits to the Narcotics Act, in practice and time.

Possession of more than 0.375g of meth (an amount which would get a caution in the West, and has seen many farang locked up in Thailand for the minimum sentence of 2 years on a guilty plea) can now be sentenced from 1yrs to 10 yrs - instead of 4 yrs to life. 

Pleading guilty in Thailand reduces the sentence by 50%, so drug users could potentially be 'flushed out of the system' within 6 months.  Sounds good in principle?

At a Kamlangjai drug policy conference - co-sponsored by drug policy think tank IDPC - in Bangkok in January 2017, leading Thai academic Prof. Sungsidh Piriyarangsan gave a lecture on Controlling Methamphetamine:

'There is no use in putting people who use drugs in prisons.  People who use drugs are not objects.  They are human beings.  We have invested a lot in drug suppression but this has resulted in heavy social and productivity costs.  

To address the drug problem, we need courage, but the right kind of courage - moral courage.  Do the people who can make change have the heart, strength, & courage to put down their own bias and do the right thing?'

Time for Change

Asia Nikkei's Agent of Change 2017, Princess Pa, has been briefing the UN about worldwide prison issues for a decade.  The King's daughter gave the world the Bangkok Rules for minimum treatment and conditions for women in jail.  HRH's Kamlangjai - 'Moral Support' or Inspire Project - recently produced this drug law reform video:

'Everything we know about addiction is wrong' - How Nixon's 40yr war on drugs has been a failure, and the need for a scientific & healthcare approach for drug users, not incarceration.  Thai/English w subtitles, explains drug reform and addiction.

'In Thailand, royally backed initiatives are highly influential among elite lawmakers and treated as sacrosanct,' reports PRI's Global Post, saying this Princess-led campaign has helped to trigger a 'furious rethink' of drug crime policy.

There were over 200,000 drug cases in prison in Thailand in July 2016.

Since then, there have been two Royal Amnesties and an implicitly far-reaching reform of the drug laws - all within the last six months.  With signals that there is more prison and policy reform to come, Thailand could be entering interesting times.

At a time when Mad Dog Duterte is making headlines for his overkill War on Drugs in the Philippines, the rest of the world, ASEAN included, may finally be admitting that Nixon got it all wrong - and now is the time for drug policy reform.

Time for change in 2017?

* Thanks to iLaw for the Thai explanations of the drug law reforms, and to Gloria Lai at IDPC for the English translation!

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Thursday, 13 October 2016

Morning Visit at the Thai Prison

8am at the Thai prison.

Infront of a strategically placed sweat wagon used to transport inmates in and out of this establishment, two guards stand to attention for the morning flag raising ceremony and National Anthem. In the prison courtyard, the pariah dogs stroll around unaware, unperturbed by the officialdom taking place around them.

A trustee prisoner makes his rounds of the prison shrines, placing marigold flowers as offerings, lighting incense and candles as he goes. A Buddhist monk arrives to register himself for a visit. The manicured gardens and waddling duck ornaments give a sense of peace to the waiting area. The barbed wire on the compound walls before us is almost disguised from view.

Uniformed guards, male and female, arrive for work, entering through the imposing blue gates that only guards or prisoners will pass through. The visitor room to the left is innocuous and unimposing by comparison, apart from the bars on the windows. We wait for our 10 minute visit with an inmate, on a phone, through a glass screen.

10 minutes of escapism for those inside, if we play it right and keep a smile on our face, despite the dread circumstances...

The Thai mama in the waiting area next to me is open to interaction. She desires to guide new visitors through the process. There is always a sense of compassion and humour, even, at the Thai prison. For a visitor, at least.

A lottery vendor tries his luck on us. Maybe we will get lucky on our inmate's behalf, if we buy a ticket from him today? Fate, chance and circumstance...

More visitors arrive, it's a family affair: care worn grandparents and parents; schoolgirls in pigtails; teenage boys in sniper T-shirts with deadly slogans, 'One shot, one kill'. 

All races and religions sit patiently together: Thais, Muslims, Burmese... plus one token farang this morning, me. More Thais bring me into conversation, laughing with toothless smiles and Buddhist acceptance at our predicament.

The sweat wagon backs up and disappears through the blue gates - to reappear minutes later, full now with remand prisoners in brown uniforms. The siren sounds as the prison vehicle leaves the compound and transports its wide-eyed human load to court.

And we watch and we wait, considering our lot.

heart-warming, spine-chilling... a morning visit to the Thai prison.

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Tuesday, 9 August 2016

How Bizarre - Koh Phangan Hippy Markets Past and Present

Now and Then: Sunset Markets on Koh Phangan

Bizarre Bazaar at Seaboard Bungalows Haad Yao
Back in 1989, hippies were gathering at Koh Phangan bungalows near the beach for a social sunset market.  Time leaps forward and here we are again - a community of alternative travellers, gathering at bungalows by the beach, for the Bizarre Bazaar!

So how much has changed in the last 30 years?  And how much have the farang who gather here in the winter months changed as a community?  I caught up with long termer Eddy, who recently published photos of Tommy's flea market in the late 1980s.

What do you remember about Tommy's flea market at that time, Eddy?

"The market of the hippies on the grass between Tommy's thatched huts and restaurant was the Haad Rin attraction in those days.  It took place every afternoon and you met people from every corner of the world there; it was usual to see someone you had met, maybe, a few months earlier in Manali."

Hippy Market at Tommy Resort in Haad Rin, late 1980's
Same Same But Different

As we still meet people from all over the world here today.  I arrived to Koh Phangan a few years after Eddy in 1993, but I do remember this early fleamarket, which had moved from Tommy Resort over the headland to Leela Beach, below the Back Yard, by then.

Eddy says, "I remember when they moved the market to Leela Beach, but not the reason why.  I seem to recall they held it only twice a week, on Friday and Sunday, I think. Leela Beach was paradise, I often went there.  There were many Israelis even then.  There was an Osho meditation centre and I believe that's why they called it Leela Beach.

The atmosphere was very relaxing.  Somebody played the guitar or bongos; we played cards or frisbee on the beach.  And there was certainly hoopla in those days, with loud music coming out of the bungalows."

Same same but different?  Welcome to the Bizarre Bazaar 
The atmosphere at the Bizarre Bazaar is not so dissimilar.  Instead of guitar and bongos, DJs play the island soundtrack to the weekly gathering, but there are still hoopla and fire spinners, as well as henna tattooists and craft workshops - and cocktails too!  

Creative Koh Phangan

Back in 1989, Eddy particularly remembers an Irish guy who carved jewellery from 500 Italian Lire, which in some ways resembled Thai 10 baht coins. "I bought one myself, and who knows, maybe I still have it - there are still some boxes in my basement where I keep all the memories of that time!"

Tommy's Flea Market, late 1980's & early 1990's, Haad Rin Beach
Koh Phangan still attracts the creative types who craft their own jewellery, weaving macrame and fashioning crystals.  It's natural for Phangan to still attract these types.  Working the European summer, they take time out in winter - and where better to release their creative energies than on the vibrant shores of Koh Phangan?

It has never been any different.  Maybe we are wearing slightly different clothes, maybe we have far too many possessions and are addicted to the internet.  But in an age where we are all becoming digital nomads, it's no surprise to find those who think outside of the box still sitting on the beach on Koh Phangan.

Bizarre Bazaar at Seaboard Bungalows, Haad Yao, 2016
Changing Times

"On the beach at most was a few dozen people, even in high season.  The casino of personal water craft and the constant coming and going of boats along the coast was a normal sight.  There were only a few hundred people at the first full moon."

Eddy continues, "I go back to Koh Phangan only during high season now, to follow closely my business, even if I do not manage it in person. I live beautifully in the months on Koh Phangan.  I have many old friends who still live on the island, although many of them are gone now."

'The market of the hippies on the grass at Tommy's was the Haad Rin attraction in those days'
"I find that, with very few exceptions, there is no resemblance to the new generations of tourists and new residents on the island - who are often the children of those who discovered this beautiful paradise - and my son is a classic example of this.

We had the spirit of adventure, there was much fellowship and we were happy with anything - now everything has changed, they are all splattered and drink like sinks."

Lazy Tuesday afternoons at Seaboard Bungalows weekly gathering
The community that gathers at Bizarre Bazaar still owns the qualities Eddy holds dear - the spirit of adventure, the fellowship, the innate happiness - and don't we all get disillusioned with the next generation trashing the beauty in its path?

But they are here today, gone after the next Full Moon Party.  While we remain... still seeking each other out, still feeling the Koh Phangan connection.  Still gathering at bungalows near the beach, three decades later, for a social sunset bazaar.

Long Live the creative Koh Phangan energy, permeating our travelling souls - and big love to Eddy - for remembering how it wasn't so very different all those moons ago.

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Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Workshop 101: How to Help Your Friend in Crisis

Paradise to Nightmare in a split-second, Heaven to Hell in a heart beat...  How many of us have felt our hearts drop to our stomachs as we realise one of our community has gone down.  Circles of fate - or, some would say, inevitability - begin to tighten around us.  A crushing realisation descends that, this time, one of us is in trouble.

The initial horror, panic and disbelief is nothing compared to what follows, I promise.  There are pitfalls aplenty on the prison roller coaster;  but if we support each other, we can perhaps ride a wave of calm through the panic.  We can survive, and in the process help each other to survive.

Caught in the Headlights like a Rabbit or Called to Action?

At times like this, when there has been a seasonal uptrend of farang getting arrested - all of them going through the Police Station - Jail - IDC route to eventual deportation, it’s time to put all the information in place for those wishing to help their friends.

It’s easier to turn away, for sure.  After the initial rush of offers to help, maybe this will encourage more people to buy food and water and visit their friends, once in a while.  Whether your friend has been arrested, is in a police station, is in jail or has been transferred to IDC...

Here’s how to help him through the toughest conditions he's ever experienced:

Buy Food and Water

If someone you know has landed in prison, he needs a visit, quick - to buy him food and water - and whatever else he needs from the prison shop;  toothbrushes, blankets, etc.  (Prison rules are always in flux, but if you can buy your friend 3 blankets when he first goes in, you may be doing him a massive favour.)

Prison drinking water supply is tap water only, unless he has money in his account to buy bottled water.  Aim to buy your friend a 6-pack of water every time you visit him.  Costs 72 baht at the prison shop.

For examples of what to buy at the prison shop - and how to buy it - see: How to buy inmates food and water.

NB:  You can only buy items from the prison counter.  No goods from outside are allowed in at all - unlike at the police station, where you can take in what food you like.

Don’t be a jerk at the police station and think you can have one over on the guards.  They have seen every trick in the farang book, and it is naive at best - and dangerous at worst - to think otherwise!

It’s also worth remembering that loud voices, anger and wild shows of emotion at any government institution will often make matters worse for those left behind bars.  Keeping a calm head and smiling your way through adversity is the best favour you can do for your friend, even though it surely isn’t a laughing matter.

If you are looking for legal advice, talk to a lawyer.  While the court proceedings are taking place, your friend still needs prison / police cell support, and this is the aim of this blog.  Our focus is on Support in a bad situation, not Escape, which we accept is beyond our limits...

Support your Friend in a Bad Situation - Visit Them

Visiting hours at Samui Prison are Mon - Weds - Fri, morning and afternoon. Arrive by 8.30am to register for morning visits, and 12.30 for afternoon visits.

For a full guide see How to Visit Koh Samui Prison and to know what your visit means to another read What To Expect On A Prison Visit.

Details of Chumphon Prison are here, as is the Lomprayah ferry timetable.  Visiting is 8.30am - 4pm, closed weekends.

If you’re taking food and water to Bo Phut police station (near Chaweng Lake), visiting times are 8 - 9am, 12 - 1pm & 4 - 5pm.  Always stay polite and keep smiling, even when you are made to wait... or when things aren’t going your way.

The last port of call is How to Visit IDC - Immigration Jail in Bangkok.  Everyone goes through here before being deported to their home country, lucky them!

Make Someones Day - Send a Postcard

As the days and weeks go by, you may find yourself thinking of your friend.  It will take half an hour of your day to buy a postcard, then sit down and write it - but that half hour well spent may keep someone inside going for weeks.

There is a fully active PO Box in Lamai which is used by inmates to send letters to friends and family.  10 letters were received in the last week.  All that is needed is an email or Facebook contact, and letters are sent quickly to their worldwide destinations.

Loved ones, in return, can Email an Inmate here:

If you are on the Thai islands, it costs 3 baht to send a standard letter or postcard.  All you need is your inmate’s name and the prison address.

Koh Samui District Prison
95 Moo 5
T. Maret
Koh Samui
Chumphon Provincial Prison
Provincial Highway 4001
Bang Mak
Muang Chumphon

That's the half hour of you time, but buddy, can you also spare a dime?...

Pay a Few Hundred Baht in their Prison Account for Meals

Prison food isn’t exactly described as haute cuisine at the best of times - especially not by farang with Western tastes in Thai jail.  But with money in their accounts, inmates can buy much needed, nutritious, extra meals from the prison shop.

It can take a month to set up a new inmate’s account.  It may be a case of asking politely at the prison pay-in window until finally, one day, you get a yes, their account is open.  As soon as they have money in their account, they can spend a daily limit of 300 baht.

* Whenever we visit we try to spend a couple of hundred baht per inmate, paying into accounts and buying luxury essentials like water, peanuts and coffee.  If you can afford more than that, great.  Maximum deposit is 5000 baht
per visit.

There are 2 other ways you can send money to an inmate’s account:

1) PayPal to . Put your friend’s name in the comment field and we will make sure that he receives it, either on a visit or by post.

2) Go to any Thai post office with the same info you would need to send a postcard - his name and prison address.  Ask to send a money order by EMS.  Don’t send more than the maximum 3000 baht, and yes, we can confirm it always arrives.

Finally, come and support us at Bizarre Bazaar!

 ‘Is it only a dream that there’ll be no more turning away?’  Pink Floyd
Look for the donation box at Seaboard Bungalows’ weekly flea market.  Grab yourself a beautiful bargain and help someone out in the process!  At the Samui Prisoners Support stand all donations go towards buying food and water for farang prisoners in Koh Samui jail - and beyond.

For those actively wanting to help their friends in crisis, find Samui Prisoners Support group on facebook.  It's intentionally a small group - a safe haven for inmates' families - but those who really want to help their friends are always welcome to join!

And if you need more info, hit me up!  More info on the Samui Prisoners Support page.

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