Long Weekend Getaway – Eating at Mai Khao Beach

We didn’t just do nothing on our getaway. Of course we had to eat quite a bit too. We walked along the beach from the Renaissance all the way to the JW Marriott. There was a little shack serving up lunch here and we stopped her for a coconut and a bit of food to admire the view by.

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The food was decent considering the place didn’t have any electricity. All the cold drinks were packed in ice boxes and presumably the fresh food too. The tomyum soup was decent enough, but rather ghetto-looking.

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So were the fried garlic prawns. Nothing to shout about. Just showing you what’s available.

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Closer to the Renaissance neck of the woods is something better. It’s a shack made out of concrete and having electricity. Nong Mai-rim Lay wasn’t too bad at all, especially considering a big seafood meal for two, including drinks, only cost us 780 baht (S$32).

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We had the de rigueur tomyam soup, made Southern-style with plenty of tomyum spice paste and a splash of coconut milk to make it creamy. The prawns were very fresh, but I was disappointed that they didn’t add my favourite straw mushrooms, something I always look forward to getting fresh in Thailand. We had a bit of a squid overload that day. There was plenty of squid in the soup…

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… there was a mediocre squid with basil…

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… and we had yet more squid in a foil-wrapped creamy seafood curry. It seems like a form of Singapore otak-otak – with a very thick coconut gravy binding the seafood, which included plenty of squid. This was very yummy. It had crab in it too, which added an extra dimension to the flavour.

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On this trip, we lazed around, went cycling in bright pink bicycles and ate loads on the beach. I think it was a good trip!

Long Weekend Getaway – Bike Ride to Kin Dee

There wasn’t a great deal else to do in the Mai Khao beach area, which was exactly what we wanted – to have nothing else to do aside from lie on the beach or lie by our private pool or lie by the main pool. Thankfully, the hotel provided some complimentary bikes for our use and we ventured out for a jaunt. The Renaissance was the last resort in the area and further down was nothing but dirt tracks leading to villages in the area. It also circled round a large pond, so large that by Singapore standards, it would definitely be called a lake or at least a reservoir. We had a good workout for our unfit bodies getting round that lake. But seeing nothing much else, we headed out to the main road.

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Near the main road was a mini shopping complex that had nothing interesting at all except a minimart at the basement that was a convenient source of cold drinks. We rode on to the main road and soon found ourselves pretty much in the middle of nowhere. About a kilometre or so down the road (turn left at the main road and go along with the traffic), we saw the turning into Kin Dee and trotted quickly across with our bright pink bikes. We got to Kin Dee in one piece and have the evidence to show for it!

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It’s quite charming inside, everything seems made by hand from bamboo poles, even the bar that seemed to be groaning from the sheer number of bottles on it.

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The restaurant overlooks something that seemed like a river but was probably more like a mangrove swamp considering all the insects in the area.

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It was a really lovely view, worth going once to check out in the day time, but no more. The restaurant staff are very aware of the issue and provide a bottle of insect repellent spray on each table! If you’re fussy about what brand you use, be sure to lube up before heading there. It also helped a lot that the staff helpfully set up a fan pretty much blowing directly at us so that we could enjoy our food without the insects.

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The food at Kin Dee was very well prepared. The ingredients are fresh, cooking techniques are faultless and the flavourings well-balanced and restrained. It’s not quite royal Thai cuisine, yet not street-style. I’d call it middle class cooking. I loved the shipwreck soup (120 baht or about S$5 for small). It was somewhat like clear tomyam soup, except far more herbal with strong notes of holy basil interspersed with the familiar lemongrass and shallot. The seafood was very fresh and I finished every drop of soup.

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The grilled jumbo sea prawns (490 baht or S$20) were not bad, though somewhat pricey by Thai standards. By Singapore standards, they were very good value. DC was slightly disappointed that the prawns weren’t as big as they used to be when he visited Phuket 20 years ago. I found them fresh and sweet and good. They hardly needed any sauce, but if you need, there was a selection of dipping sauces provided.

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The Kin Dee Signature Fish (490 baht or S$20) was excellent. There certainly was good reason for this to be signature as the fish was deboned and the chunks deep-fried till really crisp, along with the bones. It was crisp enough to crunch up bits of fin too, which I enjoyed very much.

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It was topped with diced fresh herbs – lemongrass, shallots and galangal, and topped with fried kaffir lime leaves, shallots, chillis, then slathered with a tangy sweet tamarind sauce. Good stuff!

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Too bad it was just the two of us, we definitely wanted to try out far more dishes here. We only had room for dessert and had a pretty credible mango sticky rice (90 baht or S$4). It was of the right standard since the rice was cooked right and the mango was decent though could have been sweeter. Overall a good end to the meal.

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The best part about Kin Dee is that they do deliveries. Get the menu from its website or grab a takeaway menu. The prices are the same as dining in the restaurant. So avoid the bugs and call to get it delivered straight to your hotel. They of course also provide plastic cutlery and serve in plastic boxes so there’s no problem if the room doesn’t have cutlery and plates. We had that for one of our dinners and were very happy with our choices. We had the Phuket crispy shrimp on wild pepper leaves tempura (150 baht or S$6), which was essentially fried dried jumbo shrimp with green leaves in a batter and covered in a light sauce similar to the sour-salty-sweet-spicy one for papaya salad. I liked how they separated the deep-fried items from the sauce so that it wouldn’t be soggy by the time it got to us. I insisted on the shipwreck soup yet again and it was as good as the first time. We also have the quixotically-named “Let’s have Kin Dee duck quak.. quak…” (290 baht or S$12) which was essentially duck pieces stirfried with a chilli spice paste, holy basil and green peppercorns on the stem. Green peppercorns on the stem are one of my favourites of Thai food – so hard to find outside of Thailand. I like how the soft peppercorns crunch open with a delicate pepper aroma and get hotter and hotter as I chew through the many on the stem.

Seems like they do cooking classes too, so seems like a fun thing to do if you’d like to do something other than lie on the beach or bike around.

Kin Dee Restaurant
Mai Khao Beach, Phuket
GPS coordinates: 8° 10′ 32.693″N 98° 18′ 6.364″E
Tel: +66 828148482 or +66 803923073 or +66 76348478

Long Weekend Getaway – Renaissance Phuket

DC and I took a long weekend off to recharge. We chose the Renaissance Phuket based on excellent reviews about this modern hotel that had great service. It’s on Mai Khao beach on the north of Phuket island, near the airport. It’s far less touristy in the area, but whatever there is that caters to tourists tends to be more expensive because there are only the Marriott group properties and a handful of other resorts in the area and not much else.

The great thing about staying at the Mai Khao area is that the airport is minutes away. It was a very easy check-in complete with ice-cold ginger and pineapple punch and cold towels. I liked how the reception area was wide open, with a grand water feature drawing the eye to the rest of the resort below.

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It was a very clever bit of design to make use of the height difference between the reception and the beach and I loved the landscaping with the many coconut trees dotted everywhere.

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The grounds below were equally beautiful and we enjoyed walking around the compact resort admiring the ponds and the greenery.

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It was so relaxing that even this tree lizard stopped for long enough to let us take a good shot before scarpering off!

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The beach itself is quite nice, though not the best. It’s a long expanse of yellow sand that’s a bit on the coarse side. Be careful when going in the water because there’s a steep dropoff rather early on. It’s definitely not safe for kids unless you’re in the water very close to them.

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But walking on the beach is just fine, and it’s a long and beautiful stretch.

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Now for the villa itself. We booked a pool villa. They somehow designed it so that it had a touch of both modern and traditional. Check out the entrance.

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The villa was beautiful, with plenty of well-planned touches, like unobtrusive lighting and a high fence outside for privacy.

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The villa was essentially one extra large room divided into sleeping and bath areas. Look at the pictures to see how pretty they are.

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I loved the stone bathtub the best, it was huge (and takes forever to fill up) and when the pool was too cold (which was most of the time), we soaked in the tub instead.

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The hotel also gave us a complimentary bottle of wine (which unfortunately gave us both a terrible headache) and a rose as we told them ahead we were celebrating a special occasion. That was a lovely touch. They also provided afternoon snacks in the room. We had cake pops one day, complete with chocolate dipping sauce and coconut shavings, and local snacks another day.

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There was also a fancy espresso machine in the room, so we could have a cuppa any time we wanted. They refilled the pods every day too.

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Now for the pool. It was the first time I stayed at a place with a private pool and it was such luxury to lie in bed or lounge on the couch while enjoying the view of the pool. We didn’t really use the recliners outside because it was far more comfortable indoors and I was afraid of being bitten by mosquitoes.

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The water in the pool was pretty much always cold, probably because the villa was quite shaded for much of the day.. It was more comfortable to swim at the beach, but nice to have a cold dip before going into the shower. There’s a nice outdoor shower for rinsing off before and after a dip. The best part really is to draw a hot bath, have a dip in the pool and then run inside for a soak.

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Mornings found us hanging out at the breakfast buffet which was part of the room rate. It had a really good spread, with local favourites changing every day, like green curry fried rice or pad thai. There was the usual assortment of bread and baked goods with spreads like honey on the comb. There was a juice bar with plenty of freshly squeezed choices. We went to town ordering green apple and ginger, then pear and dragonfruit, pineapple and celery, and all other combinations in between. There was satay and Caesar salad, eggs made to order, rice porridge with plenty of toppings and so many choices that three breakfasts were hardly enough for me to feel that I had sampled it all. The waffles are worth trying, mainly because of the banana, kaffir lime and coconut topping and the yummy home made ice cream you can have on it. One tip about breakfast – make sure you sit inside and bring a cardigan if you feel the cold. The airconditioning inside is quite strong, but it’s definitely better than being outside with the flies. This seemed to be the case every morning and nothing seemed to be done about it. It’s fine in the afternoon when we had an ice cream outside – no flies then.

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We spent much of our time in the resort and tried most of the restaurants and cafes. Unfortunately, the Thai restaurant was disappointing as the flavours were off-balance. Later we realised that the kitchen was helmed by a Caucasian chef – what a travesty considering that there is definitely better talent right there in Phuket! For authentic Thai food, we ordered in from the nearby Kin Dee restaurant. The other places serving Western fare were decent, just be prepared to pay resort prices.

Overall, it was a lovely experience, with charming and friendly staff. They would ask if we wanted a buggy ride even though it was but a short walk to the villa. I was also very impressed by how they managed a fussy guest very well. He walked away happy.

We walked away happy too. It was a lovely experience with good service as advertised. And one of the best things about this place? Sunset at the beach while lounging at the main pool.

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2008: The Conclusion

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It’s just about three years to the date I quit my job and trotted off round the region for some major travelling. I’ve come back, snagged a new job, started dating the guy who would be my husband and finally, finally finished blogging about each trip. It’s been a big project: first taking a year and a good chunk of my savings to go travelling, then documenting all of it – some of it before I started work again and most of it while juggling a new and challenging job.

Friends asked if I’d write a book and I seriously considered it for a month or so. After writing a few drafts on gmail, I realised that I had neither the vision nor the perseverance to turn it into a book. I already have another personal blog and figured why not just blog it. After all, I wasn’t out to make money with publishing a book. (Neither did it help that I didn’t want to spend even more of my savings on what I feel is a vanity project – I simply didn’t know what to say, aside from “look at me, look what I did!”) So I started this blog and plonked in the first gmail drafts as a start.

The biggest thing I learned from this project was that I could make things happen. I had the resources and capacity to step right out and do what had been pent up within me for a while. I came from the point of being burnt out and exhausted from my previous job, full of resentment at the system. I needed a time of calm, of being by myself and of doing what I wanted whenever I wanted for a few good months. I needed this break, and I made it happen.

I eased into gradually. Don’t ask me how things came together, but they did. I started off in Laos with the really chill and laidback Siamesecat for two weeks. We sat in neverending bus rides, stumbled into bus stations at ungodly hours in the morning and swung like monkeys from tree to tree. We explored various food options, flirted with other travellers and got really comfortable being on the road together. She was the calm to my uptightness, she stayed awake while I passed out and slept at the Ungodly Hour bus station at 4am. All I needed to do was navigate (running joke between us that she’d never get anywhere without me) and occasionally communicate with sign language, grunts and shy smiles with the locals.

Then I went to the Philippines. I strung several trips into one, starting out diving with a bunch from my usual dive group and going snorkelling with the whalesharks with them, followed by a visit to a community that my church had been sponsoring, some time travelling independently, then more diving with another friend. The stretches of independent travel interspersed with fully planned activities helped me ease further into independent travel.

The next jaunt was to Thailand. I was fortunate to have the lovely and ever hospitable Dee open her home to me as a (very swanky) base in Bangkok. From there, I went to Kanchanaburi and suddenly found myself, for once, truly on my own with no particular aim nor date to return by. Again, the stars aligned and I fell in with Tom. We travelled the rest of my Thailand trip together and again he was the laidback foil to my go-getterness and pretty much went with the flow of whatever caught my fancy.

Vietnam was the rude shock to my system. I was well and truly alone, not having any long-term travel companion. It was there that I toughened up, practised being super assertive and learning to protect myself. I think I matured as a traveller then, doing all sorts out risky things like stand up for myself to an exortionist bully in a dark street at midnight, fend for myself in all sorts of odd situations, and learn to deal with the crap travelling threw at me (like being knocked over – ever so gently – by a motorbike while crossing the street in Ho Chi Minh City and jumping right back up cussing at the hapless, wide-eyed rider).

And that was pretty much the learning curve for me. Following that, China was incredibly, unbelievably smooth sailing and eye-opening. It exceeded my expectations tremendously and delivered none of the negative stuff I thought might come following my Vietnam experience. Then it was Bali and Komodo for some of the best diving I’ve ever done and experiences with incredibly warm people.

All in all, I think I did pretty well: getting through it all in one piece. I watched out for myself and also learned when to let go, relax and trust people. I soaked up little tricks like keeping exact change in hand beforehand so that I could close negotiations quickly, and counting the number of bags I had whenever I left a bus or train or plane. I learned how to assess situations and get out of them, like how I avoided the prophylactic-wielding tour guide or  knowing that having several very strong drinks with a bunch of friendly Canadians on Canada Day is cool, but going to their room to smoke pot for the first time while high on said strong drinks isn’t.

After 200 days of travelling in 8 countries and 3 years of documenting it here, I’ve achieved the goal I set out in the travel section of this blog.

June in Thailand: The Elephant Trek

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Over lunch, one of the villagers lounged around smoking his pipe as we slurped down our noodles. We wondered why as he didn’t make any contact at all with us. No one else in the village came into the hut, not even inquisitive children.

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It was only after lunch when we set off that we realised that the mystery man was our mahout! Jare told us that there was only one elephant this time because the rest were turned out to feed. We had this handsome female to take us for a little spin round the jungle.

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But first we had to walk own our own two feet for a little while so the poor elephant wouldn’t be too tired out. The path took us through more hilly forest and yet more padi fields.

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The  Danish couple went first, spending a good hour on the elephant. When it was time to swap, they jumped down quickly and strangely, neither wanted to continue on with the ride.  Tom didn’t want to take the elephant because of his issues with animal welfare. So it was just me.
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After 15 minutes, I was ready to call it quits. Going up wasn’t too bad as the elephant plodded along the forest path. All that happened was that her ears flapped the horseflies around, occasionally slapping my mud-encrusted feet and I got frequent bashes on the face from twigs and branches. And she must have had a dribbly nose because she snorted a few times, spraying me with a fine mist of what I hope wasn’t elephant snot. However, when the path starting trailing downwards, I had to hang on for dear life to the bamboo howdah, wondering desperately why there wasn’t a seatbelt of some sort to stop me from being flung forward over her head. Branches were still slapping me on the head and horseflies were still trying to get at me. I turned back and looked imploringly at Jare who was leading the rest on foot. Thankfully, he signalled a stop after half an hour and I got off the elephant in double quick time.

It was lovely to get back on my feet again and we continued onwards to the final village where we’d spend the night, enjoying the views all the way.

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It was amazing the generousity and warmth of the Karen villagers. The area we were in was fairly remote and not many tourists came by.  The locals would never know when someone would turn up and ask for shelter. Hospitality is very much a part of them. According to Jare, they led treks to each village on average once every three to six months: the villagers had rather infrequent contact with tourists. This trek was as untouristy as they come, especially given the very basic conditions and the difficult terrain we had to pass through.

Even on the last morning, the elements didn’t let up and we walked out of the forest in the driving rain, footpaths turning into muddy rivulets.

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After finally making it to the main dirt track did we see a motorised vehicle, but only after waiting a good four hours. Here, hitchhiking is the norm and it was customary to give lifts to anyone who asks. Here’s a picture of us crammed in the back of the pickup together with other hitchhikers. We were about to leave Karen and their beloved country…

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… but not before a little grasshopper landed on my head in farewell. Just before reaching Mae Sariang, it flew back off into the forest, leaving only photos and memories as reminders of its presence.

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June in Thailand:Deeper into Karen Territory

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We headed out from the village into the newly transplanted padi fields, green shoots pushing out from the dark brown earth.

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Jare explained to us that the charred trees were from the previous growing cycle where the chaff was burnt in the fields to break down the nutrients quickly for the next batch of seedlings. The trees were collateral damage, a testimony to the impact of man on nature.

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There was also the occasional little hut dotting the valley, made as rest huts for the tired farmer.

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In one of these huts, Jare and Kiat found a traditional headpiece worn by the villagers to protect them from the elements. It shields the head, neck and back from the fierce sun and offers some relief from the incessant drizzle so characteristic of that season. It wasn’t too uncomfortable, but the moment it started pouring again, I was back in the humid poncho!

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Soon, we moved further away from the village where it was too far away and not worth the effort for the villagers to farm. Here, the valley gave way to an incredible spectrum of green, Nature showing us the inadequacy of our own paints and colours.

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Even more beautiful were the little splotches of bright colour on the way, including this pretty pink flower that came into our path all of a sudden.

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Jare pointed out various weird and wonderful creatures, including this cow-horned insect, a beetle of some sort. It’s amazing how long and curved its antennae were and the odd mask-like back with black dots on white looked so out of place.

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In direct contrast was the stick insect Kiat coaxed onto his parang. I’d not seen one before except in pictures, and it was almost a shock to see how, well, stick-y this fella was! The details were amazing, even down to a little knob of a shorn off branch on the top.

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Soon, we reached our destination for lunch, another village nestled in a valley, this time a little lower so there were plenty of coconut trees.

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Here, they were a little bit more old school, with shrunken skulls from the way back in the days where they dried enemies’ skulls and hung them up to ward off evil and other enemies.

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The strangest thing was sitting around the stove slurping up the instant noodle lunch Jare cooked for us, watching the skulls stare out at us from their empty sockets.

June in Thailand: Life with the Karen

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The next village we got to was slightly more remote. Again, we stayed in the house of the village chief where they provided bedding and cooking space. Jare and Kiat did the honours for the cooking and while waiting for dinner to be served, the village headman brought out home made rice whiskey.

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We sat round on very empty stomachs downing shots of (thankfully not very strong) local whisky from the same chipped china cup. Even though we could only communicate through sign language, the villagers were always smiling and trying their best to ask questions about us, like which country we came from and how old we were. When we were through with dinner, the villagers did the washing up after us. In Karen culture, a visitor who washes up after himself is one who never returns. After dinner, we rolled out sleeping rolls provided by the family and dropped straight off to sleep, the incessant rain still beat on the eaves of the hut. We wondered how our damp clothes would have any chance at all of drying.

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In the morning, the rain seemed to have stopped for a while and we woke to the sounds of inquisitive children staring in at the door. They were none too discreetly trying to make enough noise to get us to wake up and pay them some attention yet not alert the adults of their innocent mischief.

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We got up, put away the bed rolls and went out to find that the whole village was awake and it seemed like the day had started long before we arose. Only the youngest and the oldest were still around. Here is the village headman’s wife and one of her many grandchildren.

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She was very happy to have her picture taken and I hope the photo got to her safely. It was so lovely to see the great love for her grandchild in her eyes. Beautiful.

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After a quick breakfast of chillied sardine with rice for me, Jare and Kiat, and toast for the farangs, we said our farewells to whoever was left in the village and headed off. There was quite a way to cover yet.

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