Nam Prik

You could never accuse Thais of being sophisticated when it comes to wine. For a start the wine selection in Thailand is pretty poor and expensive. The local wines are also not world class yet are very expensive. So Thais don’t really have close connections with the “finesse of the grape”. 

They do however have a knowledge of whisky particularly Scotch whiskey and they could possibly tell you regions of Scotland where the best whisky comes from. They know (the ones who drink whiskey) all the finer points and nuances of  the “nectar of the Highlands”. Mind you the single most well known of such glorious beverage is “Johnny Walker” and each according to their own taste (and pocket) will quote their dream tot -“Johnny red” -“Johnny Black” and all the colours in between. Those of higher standing and fuller pockets will talk about “Famous Grouse” or “Bell’s” or “Bowmore Islay” or “Chivas Regal” and on and on. Yes There’s not a lot you can teach a Thai about Whiskey. 

Myself I can’t stand the evil stuff after getting drunk the first time at fifteen at a Scotsman’s wedding although my palette is finely tuned to “tea” and as an Englishman it is extremely important to get the right tea and the right water at the right boiling point  (yes I know that sounds daft but it has to be right at the “bubble”) and always sugar and milk goes in first. Then the required 3 minutes to “brew” (I hate that Lancashire word  as in Yorkshire the beloved country we say  “mash”). Ah yes the golden liquid can start a day for an Englishman like a medicine that boosts the whole engine of the human body and as we come from a cooler region than Thailand the heat of this lovely drink gets the body temperature ready for a hard days “graft” (just like a snake needs sunshine to get moving). 

Wine to me is the same as it is for Thais-something that is wheeled out to look ” class” but doesn’t leave such a satisfying feeling. However now when it comes to the other golden nectar “beer” then we are talking about something to match “tea”. Coming from England where many types of beer are sold such as “mild” and “bitter” or “pale ale” or “porter” or “stout” -“barleywine” and “old ale” plus many more I started as a teenager on the “mild”. To me “bitter” was just that yet older men were mostly “bitter men” who savoured the nuances of the different labels -they would even travel miles to a pub noted for its bitter. I remember before all the local breweries were taken over by the big consortiums we would hear of “Tetleys bitter” “Sam Smiths” “John Smiths” and other ones. Now of course there is the new small breweries making their own brands of specialised bitter and people follow the pubs like we used to follow pop groups in our youth. 

I of course became a “bitter man” after my apprenticeship with what the old ones called “kids pop” and once I was converted there was no going back and just like a religion I would spout the book of the bitter at every opportunity. 

Now you may be asking what this has ever got to do with Thais -most of them have never heard of Bitter beer -they think Thai beer is beer but it is a different world -it is “lager” and the difference between lager and bitter is like the difference between a lion and a tiger.

Now getting to the “nitty gritty’ of this blog comes seed of the story. There are two things where a Thai can tell you in great detail about certain delicacies of everyday life in Thailand  and the most well known one is “fish sauce”- yes that stinky liquid that makes the new visitor to the country “gip” as if to be sick at the fishy stink at every corner of the Bangkok street. Yet Thais will walk around and the first whiff of said liquid will have them drooling at the lips and want to eat. Just like a Brit will catch a smell of a fish and chip shop -he has to have some. 

But wait this is only one of the life changing delicacies so important to a Thai. Then comes the main bout. This wonder mix-this glorious spice-this smell-this taste- this Thailand -a thousand ways to make it and a hundred ways to use it. A Thai will travel for the best just like we would travel for bitter yet theirs was a condiment not a drink -“NAM PRIK”.

Spicy Chili Paste (Nam Prik) with vegetables, thai cuisine

A mixture of water -chillies fish sauce-sugar-tomatoes and a hundred other additives including local herbs and spices like basil leaves -or “cha hom” leaves or tamarind paste -a million variations of this wonderful sauce. And it can make a meal out of simple boiled rice. The bland and boring rice can explode under the influence of the right nam prik and make a true Thai meal-simple as that. Songs have been written about it and legends extol its virtues and every Thai knows who makes the best. Markets around the country have a nam prik stall and to the confusion of a farang husband like myself watch as my Thai wife looks and smells namprik as  if it is a fine wine just as she does with “nampla (fish sauce). Yes Thai are discening and that is what makes Thai food simply the best. “Love Thai -Live Thai”. 

Wat Sanghathan.

When I came to retire in Thailand 12 years ago I lived in Nontaburi for a year. 

Nontaburi is a nice area just a boat ride from Bangkok centre (if you don’t fancy the crazy road traffic).

We lived in a house my wife owned very near to a beautiful park called Chalermphrakiat that had great displays of lotus ponds and other gardens. It is a superb place to relax and maybe have a picnic or even go to meditate in the beautiful temple. I would go and sit in the park by the river and watch the boats sailing up and down and also feed the many thousand fish that are protected there -I found it to be so relaxing.

As a Buddhist I was interested in the temples and always looking for more advice to improve my meditation. My wife took me to a new temple -“Wat Sanghathan” just near the Rama Five bridge. The temple is extremely beautiful with different styles of buildings. One such building was still in construction -it was all teakwood and very elaborate. This stood overlooking a pretty pond with its usual fish you can feed. 

Another part of the temple is a blue  glass Vihan which is also very beautiful. 

The temple is one of a few meditation schools and it specialises in Vipasana meditation which is “insight meditation” mainly done through “walking meditation” the kind where every aspect of the slow walking is observed by the meditator -this is a form that fills the mind to the exclusion of distracting thoughts (or should in theory). 

There is some instruction in English and  some limited accomodation for those taking a course. It is surrounded by sparse forest that provides great outdoor peace and quiet to practise, meditate and listen to instruction. 

There is far too much to see for me to list it all and a visit is a must to experience this wonderful temple that provides peace and  quiet and is so close to the hustle and bustle of the crazy highways. Whether you are interested in Buddhism and meditation or just a sightseer Wat Sanghathan is one temple you should not miss. 

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Luang Por Wat Pak Nam

Luang Por Sodh Wat Pak Nam

It is not uncommon for a great spiritual personality to be born in poverty in remote villages out in the country and to emerge from it gradually into the wider scope of the world at large. In any case, whether such circumstances and nearness to nature deflects such minds to the investigation of life and its meaning, is of no ultimate significance, for a great personality is something more than just the circumstantial background from which he springs, and natural conditions may leave their impression the character or they may not, as the case may be.

0n Friday 10th of October 1885, in the village of Songpinong, Supanburi province, Sodh Mikaynoi, as he was named, was just another bundle of helpless humanity issuing into the world. Nevertheless, the intelligence and strength of character of this helpless bundle manifested itself even at an early age. One day when he was a year old, Sodh started to cry for some cakes, asking for his mother. The relative, in whose charge he was, tried to comfort him by saying that his mother had gone to work in the fields. At this he suddenly stopped crying. His mother (thought he) had to go to work in the fields. This meant only one thing. That he had been born in a family which was poor. From that day forth he never cried for cakes again.

If Sodh had set his mind to achieve anything he would get down to it and not leave off until it had been accomplished. In his chore of helping his parents on the farm, it so happened that the baffaloes often strayed off to mingle with the buffaloes of the neighbouring folk. Little as he was, he would make off and not return until he had tracked them down, which often enough took him into the dark before he ended the quest, leading them back through the night.

His compassion for animals was great. Another of his chores was to help his folk plough the fields each morn. As it neared eleven o’clock, he would gaze up into the sky to note what time it was. His sister often took him to task for this, accusing him of only waiting for the moment to take time off. However, the old folk knew that this was not in his mind, but rather the old proverb that eleven kills the buffaloes’, which was for him a grievous crime. He worked according to schedule, and no matter what anyone might say, stuck to his belief, of not working the animals after eleven. If he saw that they had been overworked and were terribly tired, he would lead them off for a bath before he let them loose to graze at freedom in the fields.

In this fashion he helped the old folk until the age of nine. His uncle having become a bhikkhu, his mother sent him to study under him at the village temple of Wat Songpinong. In those days, when bhikkhus were the only teachers and there were no public schools, it was customary for a bhikkhu not to take residence in one place for long. Thus, after only a few months his uncle moved to another temple, and he followed. The bhikkhu next moved to a temple in Thonburi, across the river from Bangkok. As this was quite a distance from his native village, the young boy did not follow him, but was dispatched to study at Wat Bangpla in Nakorn Pathom instead.

He was at that time eleven years of age. He remained there for two years, and increased his knowledge of Thai and Khmer. After which he returned to Songpinong. Then, when he turned fourteen, his father died. The responsibility of administering the family business of farming fell on his young shoulders.

The family possessed two river boats manned by a few laborers, whose task was to float the rice-produce down to Bangkok two or three times a month. Young Sodh displayed efficiency in the handling of his charge, and was loved and respected by his employees as a person of strong character and great energy. Once, when the boat was anchored at Bangkok, an employee of his brother-in-law stole a thousand baht. He went to the police and together they pursued the thief by boat all night until dawn. Sodh spied the thief at one of the windows of his house and the officer was informed. However, before the boat could come to shore the thief had hid himself. Noticing that the man left traces with his wet footsteps, he told the police to wait in front while he himself tracked him down. He found the man hiding in the haystacks, who as soon as he saw Sodh coming dived into them. But the police having been informed, he was pulled out and handcuffed. They then retrieved the cash.

Young Sodh supported his family up to the age of nineteen in this way, without misgiving, until a certain incident occurred. As he was returning to Songpinong with an empty boat, after a successful trip to Bangkok, he came to a spot where the river was in full spate. No headway could be made, and to evade its onrush the boat was forced to turn aside into a side canal. This canal was a small one and short, but it had the reputation of being infested with bandits. Those vessels which could pass through this canal without being attacked considered themselves blessed.

As it happened, Sodh’s boat was the only one in sight. Thus, as he turned into this canal, the first intimations of fear began to take posses

sion of him, and as a consequence considered the possibility of making himself scarce. And how? By changing positions with one of his employees, and letting the man steer whilst he went forward. For it was the usual procedure for these bandits to attack the steersman first, it being taken for granted that the steersman was almost always the owner of the boat. If he went forward to the prow he had the opportunity to defend himself and make his escape.

As soon as this idea took possession of him, he loaded his gun with eight bullets and went forward, ordering his employee to steer. During this exchange the boat was floating down into the most secluded part of the canal. It was only then that he began to be plagued with doubt about his project. After all, this man whom he engaged earned only twelve to thirteen baht, whereas he was not only the owner of the boat but the cash as well. Was it fitting, therefore, that he throws the risk of death upon him? It was indeed a bit too much!

These thoughts brought great disgust, even as compassion took its place, for it was only fitting that if anyone was to be slain it was he who should bear the brunt, letting the man escape if he could, for he still had a wife and child to maintain. With this decision, he ordered the man to return, whilst he retired to his former position at the stern, gun in hand.

By that time, however, the boat had drifted on and was approaching the mouth of the canal, where many cargo vessels were anchored, preparatory to crossing down the canal as soon as the waters rose. The vessels were congested that each one could make little headway, and the merchantmen were shouting among themselves. The danger of being attacked, therefore, had passed.

Sodh realized that the moment of crisis had been crossed, and was indeed a boon. This business of earning a living, brooded he, was a heavy load indeed. Bathed in sweat just like his father before him. His father had grown ill on such a trip like this, and as soon as disembarked grew worse, and finally died, and no efforts of his could save him from that. And he took nothing with him, his body just died. Not one of them had died with him, he had died alone. That too would be his fate, there was no escape from that. Always looking for money, no time to rest. If one did not hurry up and earn, one was considered a low fellow, without respect in the community. Whenever one associated with others one was ashamed of one’s poverty. It was so from of old. His forefathers had lived like this, countless of them, down to his father and himself. And where had all of them gone to now? Dead, even as his father. And what of himself? Also, the same thing would happen without anything to show for it.

Brooding in this way after the strain of his escape, made him grow cold. Until he got so depressed that he lay down in the back and made believe that he was dead. That his ghost was wandering about seeking for his dead forbears and those friends he had loved. But they couldn’t see him. And why? Because he was a ghost. So he threw clods of earth and sticks at them. But they thought that a ghost from the forest had come. And why? Because they couldn’t see him. Drifting on seeking this one and that, but no one could see and take notice…

He forgot himself dreaming in this style. As Soon as he got to his senses, he hurriedly lit incense-sticks. And made a vow: Let me not die. Let me become a monk. Once a monk let me not disrobe. Let me be a monk all my life…

These thoughts were found written amongst his papers.

The responsibility of supporting his family, however, rested on his young shoulders. It was not until three years later, when he was twenty-two, therefore, that he had the opportunity of entering monastery.

In May of that year, after having loaded the boats with the rice harvest bound for Bangkok, he appointed one of the employees to take charge, while he himself made his way to Songpinong temple to prepare himself for ordination.

The second day after his ordination, he got down to the task of studying the Pali scriptures. He memorized the mantras and the Patimokkha. However, while memorizing the scriptures he came to ‘avijja paccaya’, and wanted to know exactly what this meant. But he could get no explanation from his fellow bhikkhus. Even his teacher could not explain, saying instead:

“Good man, they never translate these things, you know, they just recite them. If you wish to know what it is you must go to Bangkok…”

He returned to his cell, thinking the bhikkhus in this temple are stupid indeed. They can memorize and recite but know not what it is all about. What then is the use of memorizing anything? This is the door to stupidity, not knowing how much there is.

It was thus that he decided to head for Bangkok.

After only seven months in Songpinong temple, therefore, he went to his mother to request for permission to proceed to the capital. She was far from anxious to do so, but he persuaded her in the end, although she agreed with only half a heart. He asked for requisites for the trip, and resolved never to do so again.

He left Songpinong village and made straight for the temple of Wat Bodhi in Bangkok. Taking residence there, he was eager to learn all there was to know. Astrology, occult lore, even alchemy were in fashion, and he experimented with them all, since there was nothing to lose. He did not depreciate others’ knowledge as not genuine, on the contrary recognized that there was some truth in it. But he was dissatisfied. Finally, he abandoned them, giving away his books on the subjects, and devoted himself to Vipassana.

He had brought along a younger brother of his from Songpinong to study and practice. But in his fourth year as a bhikkhu, Candassaro as he was then called, fell ill and was removed to another temple to be attended to, his brother going with him.

He had a vision. A man appeared and offered him a bowl of sand. He took a pinch. When his brother was offered some, the boy took two handfuls. A few days after this vision the boy grew seriously ill. He himself suffered an attack. However, as soon as his illness died down, he took his brother hurriedly back to Songpinong for a cure. But the boy of eighteen did not recover, and died.

After the cremation, he returned to Wat Bodhi.

During his stay here many obstacles had to be overcome. On his early morning rounds for alms, as is a bhikkhus custom, he received insufficient food, sometimes not at all. Once he received only an orange.

The first day of his stay there he received nothing at all. The second day it was the same. Wherewith the thought perplexed him whether one who keep the 227 rules of morality is to perish for lack of something substantial to eat. If so, then perish he would. Because if he failed to receive any rice at all he refused to eat. Better to starve, for if he died all the bhikkhus in the city would have enough to eat. And why? Because the layfolk hearing of the news that a bhikkhu had perished of starvation, would soon feel heartily ashamed of themselves, and out of compassion feed them all.

On the third day at dawn he went out again. After walking for a long time he received only a ladleful of rice and one banana. It was rather late when he returned to his cell, weary after his walk and the empty stomach of two days grace. Without much delay, therefore, he set down to dispose of the meal, discriminating on the food as nourishment for the preservation of life. With his hand on the bowl, he disposed of a mouthful.

Hardly had he done so, however, when he happened to glance up, and saw a dog dragging its steps in the courtyard. Compassion getting the better of hunger, he mashed up the remaining portion of rice into a ball and gave it to the dog, together with half the banana.

Before parting with the food, however, he made an earnest wish. That starvation such as this never cross his path again. Only then did he part with the meal. Although the dog was emaciated and had probably never eaten anything for days, it ate only the rice and left the banana untouched.

Somewhat dismayed at this, he thought of retrieving the banana, but recalled that a bhikkhu does not take back something which he had already given away; it was not fitting therefore to do so. Unless, of course, someone was to re-offer it, with both hands, as is the rule. But at that time and place no such personage presented himself to oblige.

From that day forth, however, he receive sufficient food. Enough even to share with his fellow bhikkhus. Besides this, some layfolk offered to provide him with a tiffin-set of food every day from that day forth.

Nevertheless, as a result of this lesson, Candassaro vowed that as soon as it was in his means to do so, he would establish a kitchen whereby food could be distributed to the monks and novices, without encountering such stringency, saying them all a waste of time going the round for alms when they could devote themselves to study instead.

This was fulfilled much later, after he became Abbot of Wat Paknam, where he established a kitchen and refectory at a cost of 360,000 baht, feeding monks, novices, upasakas, and upasikas of about 900 strong. The upasikas were detailed to run the kitchen. In the beginning, rice had to be shipped from the family farm in Songpinong. Later, however, help came from layfolk and continues down to this day.

In this respect, he was the first bhikkhu of this sort to achieve such a project, fulfilling his old vow. There is this anecdote to throw into focus his ability as a provider of food.

Once, the rice supply in the store had reached its dregs, and there seemed no prospect of a fresh supply for the meal next day. The bhikkhu-in-charge of the store was at his wits end, and went to inform the Abbot. He was told not to worry and to be calm, there would be rice. The bhikkhu, however, had his doubts and returned to his cell to brood on the problem.

That evening, boats filled to the brim with rice came to anchor right in front to the Wat, and sackfuls of rice were unloaded and carried to the store, filling it up, to the amazement of those in charge.

But this was years later. At Wat Bodhi he continued his studies, and did translations of the scriptures. But he did not finish his course. He failed in his examination, and did not continue. He later recalled, that if he had passed it and attained to a high degree of scholarship, the Sangha authorities would have recruited him to work along those lines, to the loss of Vipassana. As it was, whenever he could find time off from the Pali courses, he was practicing Vipassana at this centre or that.

At one of these centres (the fifth he visited), he managed to perceive a bright and lucent sphere, the size of the yoke of an egg, perceived right in the centre of the diaphragm. Which showed that his teacher’s method bore results. His teacher testified to his attainment and elected him to teach.

But he was dissatisfied. If he himself knew only this, was he in the position to teach? He, therefore, taught no one. He also abandoned his Pali course.

Considering that it was about time that he become a wandering bhikkhu, he requested his aunt for a forest umbrella under which to sleep, and refused to take one from any one else, wishing her to receive the merit arising from the gift, due to her past services rendered him.

He left for the provinces, returned after a short period, and gave away the umbrella to another bhikkhu. Later, he made a second trip, and got another umbrella from the same aunt. He walked as far as his native village and took up residence in the ruins of an abandoned temple there. As he was there he saw village boys letting buffaloes stray into the temple precincts, and warned them to refrain, because of the sacrilege incurred in stamping over sacred ground. They, however, refused to heed. He therefore told them to dig up the place, and they discovered numerous Buddha images. Which brought him into great respect.

He, however, returned to Wat Bodhi.

By now he had been in the monkshood for eleven years. He had stopped his Pali course because he had already attained proficiency in the translation of the scriptures, and was satisfied. As for Pali, there was no end to the translation of it. It was enough that he could read and understand. He had fulfilled his wish which he made in the beginning of his studies at Songpinong temple, to be able to translate the Mahasatipatthana Sutta, which he had been unable to do. Now that he had achieved his aim, it was best to devote all his time to Vipassana.

Looking around him, he considered Wat Bodhi with its wide terraces a fit place for meditation. However, recalling the good services of the Abbot of Wat Bangkuvieng, who had provided him with many scriptures, he thought it only fitting that he take residence in that temple for a while, and discourse to the bhikkhus and layfolk there as part of repaying his debt.

It was thus that he went there to reside.

After the season of rains, he recalled that his real purpose in becoming a bhikkhu was to seek the truth, and to remain a bhikkhu till the end of his days. Now twelve years had elapsed, and that truth, that reality, which Buddha knew, which Buddha beheld, he had failed to attain, neither knew nor saw. It was time indeed to devote himself to meditation once and for all. If he perished in the process, then he perished. At least it was better than dying whilst he had been a layman.

It was thus that on the full moon day of September of that year, he retired to the Uposatha with the purpose of meditation. It was already evening and there was no one around. Before commencing, however, he invoked for aid and light. If not complete insight, at least a little portion of the truth which Buddha had beheld, had known. However, if adversity for the Sasana should result from this, then let this opportunity pass from him. But if it should be beneficial, then let this boon be his, for he would be a witness to it for the rest of his days.

It was only then that he prepared himself to meditate in the regular posture, determined that if once he sat down thus and failed to attain to vision, he would not rise.

At that moment, however, he recalled the ants which were crawling back and forth in the crevices of the stone slabs. Picking up a kerosene bottle, therefore, he wet his finger with it to draw a circle round him and thus prevent the ants from disturbing his meditation. As his finger touched the slabs, he recalled that only a moment ago he had made certain vows and here he was already thinking of the ants. The thought of which made him ashamed, wherewith the bottle was put away.

Once having settled himself down to meditate, he forgot the time, and many hours must have passed, although there was no clock to tell. But although all was still and dark in this lonely place the hours had not passed in vain. For it was during this session that he perceived the truth, the reality, the path his Master before him had trodden.

Nevertheless, this realization was not without disturbing thoughts. For the dhamma was indeed profound. If one wished to penetrate it, one had to sink all perception, memory, thought, and knowledge right down into the diaphragm and stop at just this point. But as soon as stopped, it died. As soon as died, again arose. That was the truth. The truth was centred right at this point. If concentration did not sink exactly to centre here, right into the void of the sphere which appeared, then for certain nothing could be seen, nothing at all.

It was only for a time that these thoughts disturbed him. Apprehensive that what already had been gained would vanish by thinking on it thus, he applied himself again.

After a certain interval, a temple came into his vision. He remembered it at once as Wat Bangpla, the temple in which he had studied long ago when a boy of eleven. At that moment he felt himself already inside that temple. Which made him realize that perhaps in this temple there might be someone ripe for this path.

From that night forth, he delved deeper into this technique of concentration. The deeper he delved, the more profound it became. Thus he continued for more than a month. Until the season of rains had passed.

After receiving the Kathin gifts of robes and requisites, as is the custom, he took his farewell of the Abbot, and proceeded to Wat Bangpla, the temple he had seen in his vision, with the purpose of instructing any bhikkhu anxious to learn.

After four months there, three bhikkhus attained to a degree of insight, together with four layfolk. He then took one of the bhikkhus with him to Wat Songpinong.

At Wat Songpinong one bhikkhu attained to a degree of insight.

After the season of rains, in his thirteenth year as a bhikkhu, he proceeded to Wat Pratusarn, the Abbot of which had ordained him. But his old master was dead. He stayed there for four months and during that time many were the layfolk who came, requesting him to discourse on the dhamma. He did so once, to the great satisfaction of all. Again he was invited to deliver a sermon. But he knew that if he did so the present Abbot would be displeased. So before delivering it, he packed his things ready for departure, delivered the sermon, and then went to the Abbot to take his farewell. He then departed immediately, to avoid unwholesome repercussions, making his excuses that he had already arranged to take some bhikkhus to the capital.

He returned to Songpinong and took four bhikkhus with him to Bangkok to study Pali at Wat Bodhi.

Wat Paknam, of which the Chao Khun later became Abbot, was erected during the period when Ayudhya was capital of Thailand, some five centuries earlier. Forty years ago, when the Chao Khun first arrived there, it was deteriorating in neglect. Discipline among the resident monks and novices was lax, after the decease of its Abbot, and also because of lack of student facilities. Due to this state of things, the Chao Khun was detailed to go there and take over. Thinking at first that he would reside there for only three months and then return, he, however, was ordered to hold fast and warned that unless the earth quaked he had better not return. Which was tantamount to a sentence.

As soon as he took over, he saw to it that the resident monks and novices did not remain idle, but that they either study the scriptures or meditate. By his stern measures he thereafter became unpopular, not only among the bhikkhus, who came from families in the district, but also among the layfolk, who began to spread unwholesome gossip. The layfolk who respected him were in the minority.

The situation deteriorated to such a point that drunks got intoxicated in the temple precincts and misbehaved, even going so far as to think of plunder and murder, as the bhikkhus were meeting in conclave.

Then one night eight men came along with the intention of disposing of the Chao Khun altogether, even as he was in the meditation room. One of the bhikkhus on watch went out in defence. Hearing of the disturbance, the Abbot went out to prevent him, saying:

“We bhikkhus must never fight, nor run. This is the only way to win at all times.”

The ruffians seeing that things were not so good, bashed off into the dark.

These obstacles did not dismay the Abbot, because he considered them to be occasions for the augmenting of merit and parami. Despite the obstacles the teaching spread. And as he divided his time to administering to the affairs of the temple, he continued to delve deeper into Vipassana.

The news of his activities spread to the ears of Somdech Vanarat (the late) who had once been his teacher. One day the Somdech called him to task, saying:

“Don’t be crazy, old fellow! Don’t you know that nowadays there are no more Arahattas in the world? Better come along and help us to administer the Sangha!”

That his old teacher wished him well he knew. But this dhamma was profound, and if one did not perceive its profundity it was only natural to be without faith. Thus he listened in respect. And continued his Vipassana.

This brought him into great disfavor with the Somdech. When the old man fell ill, however, the Chao Khun dispatched some of his disciples to cure him by meditation techniques. It was only then that the Somdech thought it worthwhile enough to read the Chao Khun’s sermons on the ‘Dhammakaya’ meditation, which had been compiled and published by layfolk. In his study of this meditation he was assisted with advice from the Chao Khun himself.

As a result, the Somdech began to believe and in fact became rather keen. So much so that he sent for the authority in charge, and ordered him to prepare the necessary papers for electing the Chao Khun as an ordainer of bhikkhus. To which the authority replied: ‘Sadhu! signifying his good wish.’

Regarding his healing powers, the Chao Khun was always being implored to heal layfolk, who did not have to do anything, not even come in person, but just post a letter stating name, time, date of birth, and the illness, and that was enough. There would be long distance healing by mind. No trouble and no fuss.

When he first came to Wat Paknam, there were only 13 bhikkhus and novices, together with a few nuns. Keen, however, that all should do something, whether it be the study of Pali or Vipassana, the temple was soon established as a seat of learning. Until in 1939 a three storied edifice, 60 metres long and 11 metres in width, costing about 2.5 million baht, was built up as a Pali Institute. Which up to this day about a thousand bhikkhus and samaneras frequent, not only the resident monks and novices but from other temples.

In 1955 the Chao Khun was bestowed the title and ecclesiastical rank of Phra Mongkol Rajmuni, which was later followed by Chao Khun Phra Mongkol Thepmuni.

As the teaching spread, bhikkhus and nuns carried the message out into the provinces. Among the hundred thousands who at sometime or other practiced the method, a few thousands attained the Dhammakaya’s degree of insight.

Parallel to this activity, open to the public at large, the Chao Khun supervised day and night relay meditation teams comprised of bhikkhus devoted to Vipassana research. Another term of nuns, walled off in a separate recess did their own meditation, also in relays, twenty fours, day in and day out. The Chao Khun once in a discourse exhorted the bhikkhus thus: “You bhikkhus, try hard to attain the Dhammakaya in the first place. Then I will teach you for another twenty years, and still there will no end to that which can be learned.”

The personality of a great man has its reflection in the attitude of those who come into his orbit and are influenced by his conduct. It is therefore informative to see him through their eyes, because their close contact preserves details which a distant survey fails to note. Thus, a judge in the high court for thirty-two years, a Pali scholar and a one-time bhikkhu, observes:

“The occasion whereby I came across the Abbot and his teaching was of special significance to me. For at that time Thailand was in the throes of war (1945), with bombs falling out of the skies upon Bangkok and its environs, with the purpose of ousting the Japanese. Because of this I found it wise to retire for the time being and retreated to the suburbs. I took the opportunity at that time of visiting various Wats (temples) so as to increase my knowledge of the Buddha Sasana. I received much fresh and peculiar knowledge in this way.

“However, it struck me as also something strange that when I displayed my desire to get down to active practice of Vipassana and asked for light on this matter, the information I received was not made clear and failed to appease me. It was as though such knowledge was top secret. So it seemed to me when in some temples I saw boxes full of books labeled in Cambodian letters outside ‘Vipassana’. I could make out the lettering because I had studied Cambodian, I wished indeed to know what the boxes held but dared not open them without permission. Receiving no satisfactory reply to my questions I received instead the impression that Vipassana was something to be found only in ancient books, as something antique.

One day as I was seated talking to an old lady, a neighbor of mine, who had also retreated to the suburbs to evade the bombs, a man came along and started talking about how he had once learnt Vipassana from a nun. I pressed for more information on this point, expressing the view that Vipassana was the practice of meditating on dead corpses. The old lady cut in at once, saying that was not Vipassana but only meditation on impermanence. I therefore asked her what Vipassana was. And was told that it was the investigation and perception of the realms of heaven and hell and Nibbana.

“I was confounded. The man who was present was also amazed. Never in my days of learning the written dhamma had I heard it expressed like this before, in such a casual tone. It is true that in the scriptures there was mention of Moggallana Thera and others visiting such places, but there was no mention of that being Vipassana. As for Nibbana, it was beyond thought or speech, as far as I was concerned. Nevertheless, the old lady persisted in her view, saying that she would give me a book to read, concerning the teaching of the Abbot of Wat Paknam.

“However, it was much later that I came across a book dealing with the Abbot’s meditation techniques. Again I was astounded. Especially when at the end of the book it said that there was much more knowledge to be gained, but only for the advanced student. It is needless to say that I was in a dubious mood. However, thinking to myself that no matter how much knowledge one may already possess there was always still more to learn, and to think one already possessed all knowledge was the conceit of a fool. I decided to find out for myself if there was indeed something to be learnt from the meditation methods advised.

“One day I availed myself of the opportunity and visited Wat Paknam. The Abbot was at the eleven o’clock meal, and there were many seated around awaiting his good pleasure. I went forward to make my obeisances, expressing also my desire to learn. He bid me wait awhile and went on with his meal in silence.

“Eventually, opportunity was offered me to come closer and converse. He began to discourse on the virtues of the Buddha explaining as he went each virtue. As I listened I was impressed by the profundity of his exegesis, expressed in a manner which I had never heard before.

“With the memory of this discourse ringing in my ears, I in the days which followed pursued my intention, of getting to know his teaching more in detail. He discoursed on the dhamma on every full moon and quarter days, as well as Sunday. His discourses leant heavily in the direction of concentration practice. Listening in the temple on these days I realized that if the teaching was not recorded it would soon be forgotten, which would be a waste, not to mention tiring him out by constant repetition, I therefore came up with the suggestion that these oral addresses should be recorded. He agreed to my suggestion, and I started to jot down the teaching.

“As far as I know, bhikkhus who practice meditation seldom possess the happy gift of expression. Those who preached well were more often than not scholars of the written word. However, I learnt later that the Abbot was himself once a Pali scholar, and it was due to this early training that he was able to express all dhammas in the light of his broad background. He would announce his subject in Pali and deliver the sermons in relation to concentration practice, interlarding the discourse with a supporting amount of Pali terms. In this way he never expounded at random but always substantiated his meaning from the Pali text. He relied with special emphasis on the Maha Satipatthana Sutta for this.

“The manner in which the Chao Khun regulated his days, was as follows:

Leading the bhikkhus and samaneras twice a day, morning and evening, in paying homage to the Triple Gem in the Uposatha, and ending with a sermon.
Sermons delivered to the public at large on each full moon, quarter moon, and Sundays
Meditation practices both night and day with the bhikkhus, the nuns in a separate section.
Every Thursday at 2 o’clock in the afternoon a meditation class open to the public.
Supervising Pali Institute where qualified teachers taught the scripture.

“Unless absolutely necessary, the Abbot never moved outside the precincts of the Wat, his efforts and time being devoted exclusively to the teaching of meditation. If laymen invited him out to partake of meals at their homes he would evade the invitation by inquiring if another bhikkhu could go in his stead. Nevertheless, he received guests at certain regular hours. Once after the eleven o’clock meal, and again at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Other than that these times he was usually to be found supervising classes of meditation among the bhikkhus.

“Luang Por (which means father, and was the name by which he was referred to by his disciples) stressed meditation and his teaching leant heavily in the direction of ultimate truth. I have heard him discourse week after week on the various modes of conditionality (paccayas) as found in the Abhidhamma.

“As far as I have observed from close contact, despite the false and unwholesome rumors spread about him, he was free from blemish in all these respects. Besides possessing a broad and profound knowledge of the scriptures, he was a master in discourse, and without an equal in meditation techniques…”
What follows is the account of a layman who after overhearing some remarks of the Chao Khun’s was moved to some heart-searching, ending in his request to be ordained.
“Gathering from rumors and the newspapers that a foreigner was soon to be ordained at Wat Paknam on Visakha day, I hastened to pay my yearly visits there and to be present at the ordination rites. Accompanied by a friend, I went to pay my respects to Luang Por on Visakha’s eve.

“Many guests were present, and as he talked to them I listened with an attentive ear. Some of the anecdotes he told stimulated profound emotions, so that I was often carried away. Others were tinged with sadness, so that I find it difficult to express. One thing, however, which stuck in my mind was his air of melancholy resignation as he spoke of the ordination ceremony to take place next day. Said he:

“Tomorrow, a foreigner is going to be ordained. He has sacrificed his personal happiness, and leaving his people crossed the seas to seek that which is good and true. To speak the truth, we Thai are Buddhists, who pay homage to the Buddha Sasana. Is it not fitting that we should seek some opportunity to live with that which is good and true, and not let the days pass by to our loss?”

“That night as I lay sleepless in the meditation room, his words continued to echo in my ears. That these foreigners came from far off places to seek that which is good and true. We are Buddhists, so close to the Sasana, and should not we be interested enough to go in search, as they, of that which is good and true?

“My thoughts were in bad shape, and as I reflected on my life up to now I knew not on what to stand. What had I, which could serve me as a stay, steadfast and true? Nothing at all. Each day muddled up in work and a household life, always on the go to build up prospects for the future, just each day ahead. It was all right so long as I could use it all. Other than that there was nothing that this worldly life could do for me. If I went on at this rate there would be no end to all the heartache. There would be no escape from the daily round, and leading such a life without meaning I would simply grow old in vain.

Thinking in this somber strain I remembered the saying that those who know the taste of the dhamma even for one day are better than those who know it not, even though they live up to a hundred years. At this turning point in my life this saying seemed only too true. I was going on fifty-nine, and if I didn’t take the opportunity now, then when? I would surely grow old and die in vain.

It was a sleepless night for me. Neither had I a friend in whom to confide to ease my distress, or from whom to receive advice. I had no one but myself. I was my own true friend. But how could I warm or console myself? I brooded over the thought of giving up the household life, full of vexation and pain as it was, without a break. How long was I going to wait? Even a foreigner wished to be ordained. I was much closer to the Sasana, almost like an owner, and could I remain indifferent and fail to receive some solace from it after all.

“The result of these deliberations with myself ended in my decision to leave the household life for good and be ordained. This decision once taken gave me relief, as though a great load had been lifted and pushed away from my mind.

At dawn the next day, Visakha day, I went to Luang Por and expressed my desire, saying: I have been learning this dhamma with you for five to six years now, but still I haven’t attained the Dhammakaya teaching. Now I think I possess sufficient faith and courage to be ordained, so that I may have the opportunity to practice in real earnest once and for all.

“He ordained me, according to my desire, and I began to practice in earnest for the sake of that which is good and true. .”

Here follows the account of a bhikkhu who considers his ordination to be a special one, of honor, unique in this respect.

“You would not think that by looking at his broad face and nose, but failing to notice a wrinkle here or there, that this man was going on for seventy. His penetrating eyes and bearing showed him at once to be one accustomed to command, and one did not fail to gain the impression that although his living was plain, his plane of consciousness was not.

“For all the austerity of his appearance, however, in the depths of his eyes as he put forth both his hands to accept the robes I presented, after I had recited the Pali formula requesting ordination, I looked carefully, and saw compassion.

“This of whom I speak is no other than my venerable initiator, Phra Khun Bhavana-kosol (as his title then was), who began to address me:

“You have now had the faith to present the robes in regular seamed condition, which is the symbol of the Arahatta, as prescribed by the Blessed One, in the middle of this assembly of monks, requesting to become a bhikkhu in the Buddha Sasana, as a sign of your goodwill and wish…”

“He delivered this in a plain clear voice, and as he paused for a little breath, lifted up his eyes for a moment to gaze deeply into mine. Eyes which struck me with its strength. And then continued:

“In an ordination such as this, the first thing of importance is to stimulate faith, belief, keenness, firmness, rooted in the Triple Gem, which is the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. This is so because the Blessed One is the owner of the Sasana and has granted permission that bhikkhus be ordained. It is necessary, therefore, that you as a first step study the virtues of the Blessed One…’

“He paused, and gazed at me with his penetrating eyes, as though to read whether I was in earnest enough to take in all that he said. He continued to expatiate on the qualities of wisdom, purity and compassion of the Buddha, impressing me with emphasis of depth.

“He kept looking at me over and over again, as though he would impress my image in his memory, however, whenever my eyes met his I quickly slanted them aside, unable to take the power of his.

“He continued to dissect on the merit of meeting and entering the Buddha Sasana at all, becoming its heir. I had to shift myself a little to ease my foot, for it was rather numb and I was tired, not having been accustomed to such positions before for so long. But was determined to fulfill my part of the bargain, and bore up. Luang Por seemed to understand my distress and gazed at me with compassion, as he continued.

“A bhikkhu has to understand what kammatthana is, because meditation is the means whereby restlessness may be controlled, is the way whereby samadhi arises and the base for wisdom henceforth.. .’

“He then went off to discourse about the four elements and the 32 constituent parts of the body, which the novice had to scrutinize and regard as unwholesome. He reduced the formula to only five, giving the Pali words, kesa (hair), loma etc., and telling me to repeat them after him by direct order and reverse.

hen all was silence. I waited for him to place the yellow scarf around my neck, and order me to retire to robe myself, as is the usual custom. For as far as I had observed from ceremonies of ordination, at this moment this was always the normal procedure. But he did nothing of the sort, instead he coolly went on:

“Do you recall the hair which was shaved off your head before you came here requesting ordination? Did you not take up little in your hand and scrutinize it?

“I replied in the affirmative, but at heart remained perplexed. For I could not comprehend the drift of all these questions. Completely in the dark I, nevertheless, hurried in my mind to anticipate if there was anything he was testing me with. But before I could discover a solution, he continued:

“All right, then close your eyes and place the image of that hair in the centre of your body two finger-breadths above your navel. Sink it down right in the centre there, in the cross-section as of a string strung from right to Ieft and front to back, at the point of intersection there. Do as you are told.

“I did as I was told but my doubts did not decrease. He continued:

“Sink all your thoughts and memory down into the centre there, and observe carefully.

“But all was dark as far as I was concerned. After all, what did he expect me to see with my eyes closed? Waiting to see what was next, I became more dubious with each minute. I was tired already, and if his intention was to try me out then the test had failed, for I saw nothing at all. Nevertheless, he persisted.

“To his question whether I saw anything, I hastily replied in the negative.

“Stop your thoughts, keep them still. Think of your hair, let it arise; see it, right there in the centre. Try and think of it alone. Do so and you will see’.

“I did as I was told. I do not know exactly for how long I struggled with the thoughts which troubled me. And as I struggled for control, I consoled myself with the thought that all this must have some meaning after all, otherwise he would not be wasting all our time.

“Strange indeed, but after a time I did begin to see something. Slowly it arose in the dark of me, a mere blur. Gradually, however, it grew clearer. It became so clear in the end that it was as though I was gazing at it with my eyes open wide. But my eyes were shut. What was it that I saw? The hair which had been shaved off my head. At this I began to grow rather excited, unable to suppress myself.

“I see, I see!”, said I in a trembling voice.

“To his question what it was that I saw, and whether it was hair, I replied at once in the affirmative. At the same time I felt relieved, thinking that all was settled and now I could go out and robe myself. But no, it was not to end as fast as I thought.

Look carefully. That hair which see, in what direction are the ends of it pointing? Which way is the shaven portion pointing? In what manner is the middle portion curved?

I sharpened my sight so as to be able to answer him. And as soon as I saw clearly, I replied. This, thought I, is the end of the matter. But again I was wrong he was commanding me to look on. I obeyed, though not without perplexity. After all, hair was hair, and I had already seen it. What then?

“I sat on trying to do as I was told. To the doubts which arose, I consoled myself with the thought that when he said I would see hair, I saw hair. No doubt, in a moment I would be seeing something else…

“As I sat there for I know not how long, I gradually began to experience strange sensations of bliss. My body was growing lighter and lighter in a peculiar way. Despite the buoyancy of my body, however, the heart of me seemed completely at ease. So at ease, in fact, that I find it difficult to express. The hair which in the beginning I had seen, gradually eased away from my vision, until it vanished and in its place a circle of light gradually appeared, and I felt more at ease than ever.

“At first I saw only a circle of light. Gradually, however, it seemed to condense itself. Then it began to expand. “It was like this for some time, with the circle as large as a gold coin. Radiance, spread out from this circle, and as I gazed on my attention was drawn towards centre. Then I observed that it was really like a clear crystal sphere, in appearance as large as the moon when it floats up in an empty sky. Apprehensive that this vision would disappear, I fixed my gaze thereon. I had lost my sense of weariness in the Iegs, and could not exactly say when and how it had left me.

“Do you see anything else? “, the soft voice of Luang Por came to my ears.

“I see light, a sphere the size of a lime”, returned I.

“All right. That is enough for today. Remember this sphere. Whenever you close your eyes you will see it, whenever your eyes are open you will see it. At no matter what time of the day you will see it. You will always see it. In fact, be careful, and never lose it.

“Having opened my eyes, I saw that he was pleased and satisfied. Said he:

That clear sphere is the beginning. It is the path of the Blessed One whereby he attained Nibbana. It is the only path, the straight path; there is no other path. Remember this. Never let it perish from your sight.

With this, he gradually extracted the yellow scarf from the folded package of robes and placed it round my neck, as I bent down to receive it.

“Go now and robe yourself, and return to receive the Triple Refuge…”

“When I lifted my eyes to the clock on the temple wall, I blinked. To my surprise it was 3.36 p.m. I had been seated there in the centre of this venerable assembly for a complete hour and a half. I half kept the Abbot the bhikkhus, my relatives and friends who had come to share in the merit of my ordination, waiting for all this length of time. I alone had caused all the difficulty and delay Luang Por had gone out of his way to show me how to concentrate, to show me the path whereby the defilements are shed away, to enter the coolness and shade, to the wisdom that is the Buddha Sasana. Was it possible? Had this honor really been bestowed me? It had. For there they were, the old Abbot, the bhikkhu assembly present as witnesses ushering me into the brotherhood, and all those layfolk who were my relatives and friends. And they were tired. But Luang Por had not seemed to trouble himself with it at all. He had ignored his own tiredness, and left those folk in their tiredness, just how one person the way to the happy shade. This was a great privilege, and is it any wonder therefore that I consider my ordination on to be one of honor, a great boon?”

My very first Thai mate.

 This is about a wonderful man and friend who passed away last year..How I made my first Thai mate. It was early days for me in Thailand -I had met my future wife and done the traditional things like taken her friends out for a meal and also taken her mother and two young daughters out to a restaurant. This I found out is all part of being accepted gradually by the Thai family and friends -non of this bringing a guy home and he’s part of the family. As the family was all ladies-mother, auntie, two daughters, and my future wife and I was a man and older except for future mother in law I was in the position of higher status therefore as tradition I had to pick up the bill. This sometimes gets some people hot under the collar as if they are being taken advantage of.

Anyway it was my turn to be entertained at the family house. The family house is a large teak-wood traditional house about 50 years old and slightly dilapidated since my future wife’s father had passed away and her husband had died also after being hit by a motorcycle it was left for the women to struggle on.

The one remaining male was “uncle Akhey” (the late fathers younger brother) a charismatic guy around my age (55) and the official head of the family. He had fought and worked with the Americans during the Vietnam war and had a smattering of English. That smattering and my smattering of Thai were hardly enough to communicate but we both had a mutual liking for beer which eased the process enormously. Uncle also loves whiskey like most Thai men. He had a business two hairdressers shops If I remember rightly and was fairly well off -drove a BMW and dressed smartly but a bit “cowboyish” he reminded me of the swinging sixties -full of devil may care character. He came along the first night I was invited to the family home with his wife “auntie Gan” a charming Chinese looking lady. After the introductions which I made the usual hash of by waiing the wrong people (my first year I was waiing even the bloody shopkeepers DUH!) We all sat down at the large table in the garden they normally use for selling Kwaytiao noodle from. The wooden benches were not comfortable for a “farang” like me with a tender behind but my lady friend brought me a cushion.

Feeling pretty embarrassed and at a loss with the ten or so Thais my face started to ache trying to smile like I knew everything going on and I knew who everyone was. So when I was asked “want drink” I jumped at the offer and said “beer please”. Fortunately the house has a shop joined on to it which is rented out to “Pen” so beer is always only a few meters away. Two bottles of Singha appeared on the table and I wasted no time on getting stuck in so as to relieve the facial muscles I had burned out with my sickly smiling. There was mother and auntie and two young daughters Ploy who was 15 and Nulek (which means “little mouse” who is the furthest thing from a little mouse you could think of being a food lover but a pretty girl all the same) she was @ 9. Also there was some other family I can’t remember and Uncle Akhey and auntie Gan.

It was sort of a “thing” to eat the large “kung” or prawns and expensive but as uncle was the natural highest rank in the family he had the privilege of asserting his position by spoiling everyone-(this is one aspect of Thailand I came to know and love -if you want to feel important you pay -nothing is free here).

The ladies busied about making rice and sauces and always moving the “padlomb” (fans) around to keep us cool and the mosquitoes away as well as blowing on the charcoal burner to get it hot enough for the kung. Mangoes were pulled from the large tree in the garden and the dangerous art of chop chop chopping with a sharp knife on them then the slicing away from themselves to make “somtam” that spicy vegetable salad that can “clear a farang out” for a month was being prepared (why do Thais always slice outwards -so bloody dangerous)?

Meanwhile I was having a conversation with uncle -when I say conversation that is stretching it a bit as I hadn’t a clue what he was saying (it was like talking to a drunk but he wasn’t drunk and I’m sure my six Thai words were just the same but later after some more Singha we sort of spoke the same language) 555

As we were waiting for the prawns and food to be cooked we had an audience of kids in the small two meter wide soi -their eyes were pressed up against the fence and I guess maybe hoping for an odd prawn to come their way (the soi is the best and safest playground for kids apart for the “motorsai” that seem riderless all the time but everyone knows everyone and any funny people would be spotted straight away -it reminded me of my own childhood where we could even play in thick woods in safety)

So the food started arriving at the table which was good because it relieved me of trying to talk sense to uncle. The best and biggest prawn was handed to me the “special” guest and I started tearing it apart both burning my fingers and pricking them with the sharp shell. “Nice” I thought and dipped it into the special sauce -WOW BLOODY HELL THAT WAS HOT! Better take care with that stuff as my nether regions have a short emptying fuse. “ Here have some rice it takes the hot away” said my new lady-friend.
So the night wore on and the beer kept coming and I kept trying to speak Thai and uncle kept trying to speak English and the food kept coming and uncle got out his favourite “Johnny Walker” which fortunately I declined and stuck to the Singha. And after two hours we were mates like we had fought the Vietnam war together -arms round each other and laughing like brain dead (which I guess we were) and I had made my first Thai friend. Mother kept asking “mao mai” which I hadn’t a clue what it meant but my future wife told me it means “is he pissed” but more polite than that.

So from being a stiff dummy and desperately shy I became like a Mr Bean and completely over the top (good job I didn’t try the same dancing).

Anyway every one enjoyed themselves (I think) the ladies love to serve and be of service without any feeling of being used they love this and it shows they are the main ones in the family as they are the ones who feed.

The night wore on and the beer kept coming and I started to think “no more”. Eventually uncle and auntie had to go home -good job she was driving after only a glass of whiskey. Uncle Akhey turned to me and said “ you come dinner Saturday OK” I nodded without a clue what he meant but by this time it didn’t matter we were beer mates and only needed a nod.

I think I got a taxi back to my hotel that night but I could be wrong -anyway I did wake up the next day.

Two days seeing the sights of Bangkok a place I hated with a passion only later to fall in love with as the best city on the planet (yes it has to grow on you). Kitty my girlfriend said “tonight we see uncle for dinner” ah (by this time walking around the “Big Mango” I was knackered but as tradition demands I had to go to dinner with my new mate). We got a taxi and I had no idea where to but we ended up down some soi by the side of a “klon” one of those canals that are everywhere in Bangkok. The taxi dropped us off and Uncle Akhay and auntie Gan with a couple of friends were waiting to meet us. After I waiied and shook hands with everyone we crushed into the BMW and within a few minutes we were at a wooden pier that stretched out into the river which ran alongside the canal. The pier looked shabby but was as I found out real old Teak wood and would be worth a few million baht if it was sold. The staff led us to our table right over the river and we sat down. I looked around and loved the scene -I could see for miles down river and it was such a balmy night I had that feeling of being completely relaxed even with Uncle auntie and the couple of Thai friends I hadn’t a clue about.

“What you like to eat” asked uncle? Er I didn’t know what to say and my girlfriend didn’t help me out (she was being typical Thai and just showing her respect to her uncle as I found out is normal in Thai families -or at least mine). Without waiting for me to answer he said “like fish”? “Yes I like fish” I replied. “Like moo” (pork)? “Yes I like pork”. “like kung”? “Yes I like kung” and on it went. So then he waved over a very pretty young waitress (why are there so many pretty girls in Thailand)? Anyway he gabble the order and I hadn’t a clue what he did order but he reached down and got his Johnnie Walker Black label box from under the table and got the glasses and ice for him his wife auntie Gan and his two friends -opened the bottle and poured ample amber liquid for them all. Meanwhile my bottle of Singha arrived and my girlfriends fruit juice and the pretty girl poured some beer into my glass. Great I could feel the first gulp relaxing me even more as I looked down the beautiful river. Small talk went on with my girl and uncle and friends but I gave up trying to join in and decided just to lay back -it was a wonderful night. Shortly the pretty girl brought a large dish containing some cooked rice and another pretty girl brought some other dished when a third pretty girl brought a large barbecued fish on a massive plate. Wow this was looking good. Even more stuff arrived -”hoi” or shellfish – and the table was filling up with sauces and all-sorts Finally a big plate of steaming “poo” was sat in the very middle but before anyone gets squeamish poo is wonderful “crab”. 

So we started and I had to wait to be shown the etiquette by my girlfriend who put some rice on my dish and then I got stuck in -some of this and some of that. A bit of excellent fish and some prawn then some curried pork and some lovely poo. Washing a mouth-full down with Singha I noticed uncle and friends had no plates. “Funny” I thought. But we kept on eating but still they just drank from their whiskey. “Really funny” I thought so I whispered to Kitty “they are not eating”. Kitty said to them to get some plates and get stuck in in Thai language but they just shook their heads. I asked Kitty what was going on and she was as confused as me . “They have eaten already” she whispered to me. “What”! The table was bulging with food and it was just for us two! Now I love food but I have never been a big eater and stuffing myself to bursting has never been my forte.

-Uncle and his friend went to the “gents” and the ladies were deep in conversation so I said to Kitty “I can’t eat all this” -she nodded as embarrassed as me. Well the night wore on and our stomachs were bulging and we were down to “pecking” but there still was tons of food. Oh My God I didn’t want to be disrespectful and I was grateful for being so valued but this was torture. I was bloated and so was Kitty. The other four kept pouring the Johnny and chatting amongst themselves when uncle asked “ want sweet” now he was my first Thai friend but I could have choked him haha so Kitty and I shook our heads like lunatics –” mai mai im mak mak kah” spluttered Kitty (no we are bloated). Still they sat and drank Johnny and watched as we kept pretending to eat a morsel. That’s when I had a plan –when they look away I will dump a load of rice and stuff into the river below. Yes this is terrible taboo and can get you almost killed -throwing food away is sacrilege in Thailand but also dying of a burst intestine is probably more painful. So I waited while they were deep in Johnny Walker conversation and scooped a large spoon-full of food behind me straight down to the Chao Phraya river. Now anyone who knows the Chao Phraya will know it has a good stock of large hungry fish. As soon as my spoon of food hit the water the vibrations of piranha hungry fish were slapping the wooden supports of the pier as if there was an earthquake and everyone looked up expecting a tsunami to follow. I did another of my Mr Bean impersonations and looked around as if it was someone at the next table. That was it -I couldn’t pretend any more I was feeling sick. Kitty said in Thai “can we have a doggy bag and take some home for mother and aunty” -I could have kissed her haha. “Yes sure” of course the ladies at home should share this feast. And Uncle waved over the three pretty girls and waved his arms about and the food was taken away to be brought back in glorious bags. 

Uncle Akhey is a wonderful guy who would give you the world but sadly he is sick -I’m not sure what he has but I think it is like motor neurone disease -he is in a wheelchair and struggling to talk -been like this 8 years. A lovely strong man brought down in his prime -my first Thai mate -auntie Gan still works to earn money to support them and pay for the Vietnamese girl who cares for him. He gave me such a great welcome and stuffed me so full of food and beer but that was his way -the head of the family Thai way and if anyone ever says to me I was “taken for a ride” I will put them straight -join a real Thai family and get everything that family has. 

Thai Superstitions – you may wish to stay inside after reading this list!

Thai Superstitions

You may wish to stay indoors after reading this list!


The following are a collection of Thai superstitions which may, make you think twice about going out, if for example you step out of the house with the wrong foot, or you hear a gecko calling during the day time, or indeed if you don’t have a virgin at hand to change the weather for you.

Sleep tight; if your dreams include a snake or contains a dead body it’s not all bad news but you really don’t want to dream that a tooth falls out or that you are kissing someone as it could lead to bad luck.



If a home lizard (Gecko) makes a noise behind your back as you leave the house, bad things may befall you while you’re out. But if the gecko is at your front or side, you may proceed confidently.

A barn owl is a symbol of evil curses.  If a toad enters your home, it will bring good luck.

If a bird poops on your head, you’ll be doomed for the rest of the day.

Don’t wear black to visit sick patients or to a joyful ceremony as black is a strict mourning colour in Thai culture.

If a monitor lizard enters your house, talk to it nicely, and it will bring you fortune.

If you hear strange human voices calling you at night, don’t answer because it could be a ghost. Answering them means you invite them into your house.     



A mole on the lower lip makes you a big mouth.

Morning dreams are believable as it’s the time angels visit mortals.


Thai superstitions



A person with big ears has an easy, lucky life while those with thick ears might be lonely, doomed folk.

A person who use different tones in a single conversation is insincere.


Baldies are sneaky and flirty. The belief comes from the characteristics of a fictional character “Khun Chang.”

Babies with birthmarks had past lives.

A woman on her period should not step into the temple.

Don’t cut your hair on Wednesday, or you will have bad luck.

A left eye twitch is a sign of bad luck. A right eye twitch means good luck.

If a wild animal enters your home, pray with candles, joss sticks and flowers. Then kindly ask it to leave your house and take any traces of bad luck with it. 

A cremation should never be done on Friday because it is a day for cheerful events.

If a comb breaks while brushing hair, toss it right away, or bad things will follow.

If you randomly smell joss sticks in the middle of the night, the spirits of your close relatives are present.

Thai superstitionsIf a bee makes a beehive in your house, don’t destroy it. Bees are diligent animals that bring good luck.

Predict your success in business by planting any type of Aloe. If it grows to be brown and dried-out, your business will soon fail.

Step out of your house with the left foot, and you will have a good day.

If you hit another’s hand as you both reach out for food at the table, expect a guest soon

If you hit another’s hand as you both reach out for food at the table, expect a guest soon.

Don’t “clank” your dish. It is an invitation for hungry spirits out there to join your meal.

 Don’t sweep the floor at night, or you will sweep out the money you have earned during the day.

Don’t decorate your home with a statue or image of a giant. It will provoke arguments among the residents.

Don’t push your bed against the wall of the bathroom because wealth will slip away. And don’t sleep facing the bedroom door because you will have bad dreams.

Feeding stray animals or giving them shelter on rainy days earns great merit.

Don’t let your kitchen get dirty, or you will lose money.

Don’t give a handkerchief as a gift to your friends and lover, or you will soon separate.

Don’t let a mirror go dusty. It will dust the future of the owner with bad luck.

Don’t have sex on your birthday and Buddhist holidays. These are days for purity.

If you ever find a coin on the ground, pick it up and call it a lucky baht, or you will offend your money and drive it out of your pocket.

Thai superstitions


Don’t place a mirror near your bed. If you can see yourself while in bed, you tend to obsess over sex.


Putting a ring on the middle or ring finger of your right hand will compliment your wealth. Meanwhile, wearing a ring on the ring finger or pinky of your left hand will help you appear more charming.

A single girl should never sing in the kitchen, or she will end up with an old boyfriend or none at all.

Donating money for a coffin for a dead person without relative’s can help you get through tough times.

If a pet bird makes a noise at night, you will get into an argument.

Always stock eggs and oranges in your kitchen. They will bring happiness to your household.

A pregnant woman cannot attend a funeral, or the spirit of the dead will disturb the baby.

Don’t sleep with your head pointing to the west, or you will have bad dreams.

If your necklace falls off, bad things will happen. 

Thai superstitions

Don’t call a baby “cute,” or a jealous spirit will kidnap it. Always call the new-born “ugly.”

Don’t cut your nails at night, the spirits of your ancestors will worry that you will cut yourself.

When using stairs, take only one step at a time, or you will not succeed in your career.

If your left arm muscle twitches, you will lose money. Right arm twitching brings money.

Thai superstitionsTo prevent rain from ruining an outdoor event, make a virgin girl stick lemongrass into the ground.

Don’t touch someone’s head, not even a child. The head is a sacred part of one’s body.

Dreaming that a snake wraps itself around your body means you will soon meet your soulmate.

Seeing a dead body in your dream means you will win something from a lucky draw.

Dreaming that a tooth falls out means your relative will die. An upper jaw tooth refers to a relative of your father’s side, while a lower jaw tooth is your mother’s.

Kissing someone in a dream means bad luck.

Don’t pre-celebrate your birthday. You will only die sooner.

Three doors should not align with each other, or it will create a portal for spirits from the other world to enter.

If a toad enters your home, it will bring good luck. 

Geckos usually make a loud noise at night, but if the sound is heard during the day, it is considered a warning of bad events. Also, if a gecko happens to fall on or near someone in a home or veranda, it has a meaning which is auspicious or inauspicious depending on the side on which it falls.

Thai superstitionsRainbows are held in high regard but don’t point at one as you will lose your finger

Since certain colours may be auspicious for certain people, much thought is given to the colour of a car before acquiring it. Also in the case of Taxi’s certain colours that are deemed unlucky will be avoided. Taxicabs in Bangkok come in various colours and formerly a number of taxis were violet, but these have been repainted in recent years for violet is considered an unlucky colour.

So there you have it Thai superstitions, how many sound similar to your own countries  superstitions?




Private island of your own.

When I was young I adored reading about shipwrecked island stories and of course Robinson Crusoe was the best, there were others  of course but what got me enthralled was the solitude and the ingenuity of existing-build a thatched house or a treehouse- catch fish-grow food collect coconuts and strangely “build a boat” to escape this veritable paradise, why escape when to me it was perfect? Of course this was all a dream of a young man and totally just a dream-an escape from the humdrum boring life in cold England (it had to be a tropical island as a wind and snow blown Scottish island didn’t have the same exotic feel and a loincloth was preferable to heavy sheepskin). Of course the island of my dreams had all I ever wanted unlike the traditional cartoon version of the shipwrecked sailor.

‘O.K. let’s see, it’s a book, a film, it’s two words…Could it be Robinson Crusoe again Graham?’

My island had water,white sand,wild animals (but no dangerous ones?) fish, fruit all over the place and of course coconuts. Lonely? Yes I thought of that and I inserted the latest dream lover of mine changing with my mental seasons.  Those youthful days and nights filled with such dreams-dreams where I could catch fish with a spear-make fire from sticks to cook the fish-could make brilliant houses from palm trees with piped running water using bamboo pipes -I had all the modern utilities except the bills and most of all no neighbours. Dream are for kids aren’t they? I literally lived those dreams.

Years later the dreams faded due to reality-hard work in cold conditions -broken romance -divorce and kids to care for and bills to pay-exotic island fantasy was buried deep under years of emotional baggage.

  Bereft of feeling and numb to living anything meaningful I lived zombie life in my lonely prison I faced a decision-I could continue my decline aided by alcohol and anger at my circumstances until no doubt a cheap coffin seemed the eventual outcome or I could make one last dash for freedom to find my buried dreaming self . I don’t know why but words came into my mind. It seems when a point or a depth has been reached in ones life some higher voice of guidance makes its presence felt. “Thailand” “Buddhism” “sunshine” the words kept jumping in my head. Now I had always been interested in religion and after many years of martial arts like judo and tai chi Buddhism grew important to me. Buddhism gave me a bit of an escape from the torture of my own mind and I’m sure the words welled up from those depths. So life in it’s strange way steered me from the rocks after a short lived six weeks traumatic encounter with a decidedly strange lady with certain mental problems that required stern handling for me to escape  I breathed a sigh of relief and said those coarse but  ever so relevant words of advice from my late father ” it’s shit or burst son” I booked my first flight to Thailand. “Hi Keith” I called my younger pal I’m off to Thailand. Now I knew Keith had been  twice before and he was “an expert” so his advice was invaluable. 

Many people who visit Thailand go to the sea and many go to an island. There are many islands -Some of the island groups in Thailand come in clusters of numerous individual islands: Phang Nga Bay has 67, the Mu Ko Chang National Park has 52, Tarutao National Marine Park has 51, and Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park has 42. So there are plenty of islands to enjoy -some large and developed and some small and very basic. You can visit a large island such as Koh Samui or Koh Chang and get entertainment and mix with the crowd, shop in supermarkets and sunbathe on a busy beach or you can do the opposite.  If you fancy the Robinson Crusoe life you can be a backpacker, sleep in a thatched bungalow with bamboo floors and swim on a deserted beach and look at the stars in a clear sky. If you do this you need to bring your stuff as there may not be a shop but the freedom is amazing. 

The island around Koh Chang are -Koh Kham-Koh Kood-Koh Mak -Koh Ma-pring-Koh Man-Koh Ngam-Koh Rang-Koh Wai-Koh Yak-Koh Chang Noi-Koh Klum- Koh Klang -Koh Klang Lek-Koh Kum Pan-Koh Kra-Koh Kradad-Koh Lao Ya-Koh Mai Si-Koh Nai-Koh Nok-Koh Plee-Koh Prao-Koh Rang lek-Koh Rang Yai-Koh Rat-Koh Rayang-Koh Thong Lang-Koh Tien-Koh Tun and Koh Yai. Many of these are uninhabited yet can be visited in certain seasons (During the rainy season from May to October, visitors are not allowed to the islands south of Koh Chang; for example, Koh Kood, Koh Mak, Koh Wai, and Koh Kham). 

Where the Faithful Worship Among the Tourists

JUST before midnight, the monks were still arriving. Dressed in long, flowing white robes, they resembled fireflies as they rode through the darkness on their motorbikes, descending on the towering temple at the heart of the Cao Dai holy land in southern Vietnam. Many were attending their fourth service of the day.

Removing his sandals and smoothing down his robes, Vo Huu Nghia, 60, who had befriended me that day last year, joined them. He silently entered the cavernous temple and, finding a spot, knelt down and began to chant his prayers. Above him were the serene faces of Jesus, Confucius and Buddha, while a giant all-seeing eye stared down at the few hundred worshipers.

“We are Vietnamese, this is our religion,” Mr. Vo told me later in halting English.

For 70 years this elaborate, dragon-adorned temple outside the small city of Tay Ninh, about 60 miles northwest of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) near the Cambodian border, has been the center of Cao Dai, which has five million adherents. While it is not the country’s dominant religion, it has the distinction of being its largest homegrown one.

Every year tens of thousands of visitors, pilgrims and tourists, visit the temple to worship or simply to gaze in awe at its vaulted ceilings, vibrant color schemes and praying masses. And then there’s its unusual collection of saints, prophets and religious iconography, which in range, kitsch and spectacle presents an impressive cross-section of religious and aesthetic styles. But that’s befitting a religion that aims to unite all of humanity through the common vision of an individual creator — the same God honored by most major religions. The protagonist of Graham Greene’s “Quiet American” (1955) described the temple like this: “Christ and Buddha looking down from the roof of a cathedral on a Walt Disney Fantasia of the East, dragons and snakes in Technicolor.”

I had been drawn to the temple after coming across a list of Cao Dai (pronounced gao-DIE) saints that included Joan of Arc, Thomas Jefferson, Sun Yat-sen (the revolutionary father of Chinese republicanism) and Victor Hugo. This diverse group was apparently drawn from those spirits who reached out to Cao Dai priests during séances to impart wisdom and guidance. Some, like Victor Hugo, were said to have regularly communicated with the Cao Dai from beyond the grave.

Visitors to the compound today won’t see a séance — the government banned the practice in 1970s — but there is more than enough to thrill and confuse even the most temple-weary tourist.

The compound has two ornate temples, and a pope’s office, in front of which believers subjugate themselves out of reverence for the first, and only, Cao Dai pope, Pham Cong Tac. (He died in 1959 in exile in Cambodia after running afoul of the South Vietnamese government.) The 188-acre grounds include dormitories and kitchens for the hundreds of resident priests, a high school, a hospital, forests and a large area for religious processions.

I decided to forgo the $6 daily tour buses from Ho Chi Minh City for a three-hour trip by crowded public transport to the nearby town, a journey that still afforded a view of the city’s vast sprawl giving way to miles upon miles of paddy fields. Tay Ninh is in a tropical, agricultural area, and besides the Cao Dai temple and the nearby Cu Chi tunnel system left over from the Vietnam War, there is little to draw tourists.

Checking into the nearest hotel in the small, ramshackle town that has grown around the outskirts of the temple complex, I quickly headed out for what would be the first of many Cao Dai services, which are held every six hours throughout the day and night.

Inside the main temple, worshipers and priests were already bowed, their heads planted firmly on the cool stone floor as they chanted words of praise, accompanied by a single drumbeat and a few stringed instruments.

Closest to the Divine Eye above the altar, several priests in bright red, yellow and blue robes adorned with a large eye and with elaborate headdresses led the worship. On the balconies above, foreign and Vietnamese tourists watched in silence, a concession made by the temple priests, who allow tour groups in exchange for much-needed dollars. (Every day, about a half-dozen busloads of visitors come to see the noon service before heading to the Cu Chi tunnels and then back to the city.)

Thirty minutes after the chanting had begun, it was over, and with that the worshipers stood up and quietly filed out. The priests and student priests remained, enjoying the cool temple air rather than braving the outdoor heat; some went to their rooms to rest.

Soon the tourists were gone too, and the only people left beside me were a handful of sun-worn priests occupying the temple, constructed to be the center of a holy land for a religion created from the vision of a civil servant in 1919.

Today’s striking multicolor, dragon-adorned temple was built from 1933 to 1955, and in architectural terms, is part church, part pagoda, crammed with ornate drums and gongs, haloed statues of saints and other holy figures, and lavish and colorful symbols of other religions. There’s also a sphere depicting the all-seeing Divine Eye — Cao Dai’s offering to the religious cornucopia.

Beyond the four daily services there is little for visitors to the temple complex to do but wander the well-kept grounds, talk to — or simply smile at — the priests and practitioners, and seek shelter from the scorching heat in one of the airy temple buildings. Despite this, I found that the hours drifted by in peaceful contemplation.

I also struck up conversations with a few of the faithful, aided by a translator. Most of the worshipers and temple leaders were long past retirement age, perhaps a sign of the decline of the religion or simply a natural byproduct of people raising families and working. It also seemed to be an egalitarian faith, with just as many of the priests and student priests older women.

“I was born into the faith but had a family life and raised six children,” said Ho Huong Pham, 82, a student priest. “When my husband died 20 years ago, my children were grown up and I came here to devote myself to the faith.”

On the final morning of my two-day stay in Tay Ninh — during which I had left the complex only to eat nearby street food or sleep — I was invited to drink tea with one of the temple’s bishops. A quiet, elderly man, he smiled and explained to me the importance of the various robes (yellow represents Buddhism, blue Taoism and red Confucianism). After a while we sat in silence until it was time for him to put on his yellow ceremonial robes to lead the midday service. As I got up to leave he shook my hand and invited me to come back, before slowly making his way toward the temple a hundred yards away.

On the cramped, un-air-conditioned bus that took me out of town, I remembered a conversation with a man at the temple worshiping with his granddaughter. “Cao Dai is a collection of the best parts of many religions,” the man, Huynh Van Hgoat, 53, had told me.

Despite this, he was doubtful about the future of the religion.

“Ninety percent of believers live in the Mekong,” he said. “Of course I hope the religion is growing, but I doubt it. One day there might be only tourists here.”

A History of Cao Dai

In 1919, Ngo Van Chieu, a lowly Vietnamese civil servant working for the French colonial administration, received a vision of God and, following the heavenly message, began preaching a credo based on the unity of world religions. According to his new doctrine this would be the third alliance between god and mankind, the first coming at the time of the founding of Judaism and Hinduism, and the second around the time that Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism began. Cao Dai would be the third and final alliance, the religion that would unite and prove the unified message of all of these earlier religions.

The new religion followed the Buddhist cycle of reincarnation, drew upon the ethical precepts of Confucianism, had an ecclesiastical hierarchy similar to that of the Roman Catholic church and yet preached the Taoist concept of yin-yang, of two balancing forces, good and bad.

Cao Dai spread quickly through Vietnam, and by the 1950s it was such a force that it was said to command an army of 25,000 in the Mekong region during the turbulent and uncertain days at the end of the French occupation and claim an eighth of the country’s population as believers.

This rapid growth wouldn’t last. After the Vietnam War — during which Cao Dai priests refused to side with the Vietcong, even after their military had been subdued by the South and their pope exiled — the religion had all of its land confiscated. The land around the temple was returned in 1985.

Cheaper healthcare outside US.

Why is Healthcare So Much Cheaper Outside the U.S.?

A recent survey reported that a single day in a hospital in the U.S. costs, on average, $1,514 (up to as much as $12,537), while in France it costs $853.

An appendectomy in the U.S.—including physician and hospital bills—costs $8,156 on average (up to as much as $29,426). The same procedure in France costs $4,463.

Hip replacement surgery costs an average of $25,061 (up to $87,987) in the U.S., but just $10,927 in France.

Median price for routine heart bypass surgery in the U.S. is $46,547 (up to $61,649). In France the average cost is $22,844.

A routine doctor’s visit in the U.S. costs an average $95 (up to as much as $176). In France, though, you’ll pay just $30.

And why do prices vary so greatly in the U.S.? Because they’re mostly paid through insurance claims, and prices are negotiated by insurance companies. You pay what they say you’ll pay. The prices you pay can vary greatly from region to region, from market to market. And don’t be fooled into thinking you’re paying more for quality for a name-brand hospital. Because that’s not necessarily the case.

(By the way, if you live in a U.S. city that’s experienced a lot of hospital mergers, you’re probably paying more than you should be…that’s the nature of monopolistic pricing.)

In other words, it can pay to move overseas or to shop around internationally for your healthcare. You’ll see some huge savings, as the pricing examples I’ve just given for the U.S. and France clearly show.


“The Low Cost of Healthcare Literally Saved my Life”

International Living’s Colombia correspondent, Nancy Kiernan, and her husband Mike moved from Maine to Medellín four years ago. As well as enjoying the great climate and the lower cost of living, Nancy speaks from experience when she says she’s impressed with the healthcare in the city.

“We are very satisfied with the city’s health and dental-care systems,” Nancy says. “From something as simple as getting a blood test or your teeth cleaned, to surgery and root canals, healthcare professionals in Medellín provide excellent service.”

Curt Noe, a retired traffic engineer from New Jersey, moved to Medellín in 2007. “I arrived with a pre-existing condition of cancer,” he states. “I expected to have a problem getting health insurance here and was pleasantly surprised that I was completely covered by the national health plan (EPS) after only a six-month waiting period.”

During his first few years in Medellín, Curt flew back to the U.S. for second opinions and follow-up appointments.

“I realized I didn’t need to spend the money to do that, after my U.S. doctors said that the care I am receiving in Medellín is on par with what they would do.”

Healthcare costs are far lower there too. In 2015 the cost of a hip replacement in the U.S. averaged just over $40,000. In Colombia, the same procedure averages only a little over $8,000.

In Southeast Asia, the story is the same. “Not only were the meds I needed easily available, but the low cost of healthcare literally saved my life.”

That’s what expat Roger Carter has to say about the excellent healthcare he’s found in Southeast Asia. And Roger is just one of the growing number of expats discovering the excellent (and highly affordable) care that this region has to offer.

In Southeast Asia today, you can access English-speaking doctors trained in Western hospitals—often without an appointment. Hospitals accredited by the Joint Commission International (the gold standard of healthcare accreditation) are common. Expats report receiving equal (or better) care here than they did in the States.

Healthcare in this region is stunningly affordable. You can see a specialist for $20 or less. You can get prescriptions for as little as 5% of the U.S. cost. And you can complete a hospital stay with top-of-the-range treatment for a fifth or less of the price back home. Need surgery? No problem. A procedure that would cost you $18,000 or more in the U.S. will set you back $2,000 in Southeast Asia.

The top notch but low-cost medical care available in Costa Rica is a huge draw for retired expats and also makes it one of the world’s top destinations for medical tourism.

“One of the most important reasons we moved to Costa Rica was the low-cost medical care,” says International Living editor Jason Holland. “And not just that it’s cheap but that it’s good, essentially North American standard.

“My wife was pregnant. And after being laid off in the U.S., the cost to have the baby there was astronomical. In Costa Rica, the total cost was $3,000—the obstetrician, anesthesiologist, hospital costs…everything. And the care was excellent.

“After that we had plenty more opportunity to use both the public and private healthcare system. Through the Caja government-run system, we paid $180 a month for full coverage for our family of four. And when we visited private doctors it was $50 per visit, cash.”


Spend Less on Your Prescriptions, too

In most of the rest of the world, healthcare prices are established centrally by the government. Laws and court systems don’t allow for frivolous lawsuits. Suing someone can take years and judges have no incentive to dole out multimillion-dollar awards. So malpractice insurance is very low, as are doctors’ and health workers’ fees and hospital and clinic charges—savings that are passed along to customers.

  • You’ll get not only excellent quality medical care but you can buy your prescriptions for much less than in the States:
    In Malaysia, the high-cholesterol medication Zocor will cost you less than $22 a month, while the generic, simvastatin, costs less than $5.50 a month. Private hospital-room charges there start at $28, but for $90 a day you can have an en-suite room with cable TV.
  • A prescription I take costs $30 a month in Ecuador and $80 in the U.S. A full dental cleaning in Ecuador costs just $30 to $45. Partial plates run about $325, and a complete set of dentures costs about $900, including office visits, fittings, lab work, and impressions. Teeth bleaching costs $25. A porcelain crown is just $250.
  • In Nicaragua, you can have lab work done for as little as $8—and as in most all of the rest of the world, you take the results with you to whatever doctor you choose. An overnight stay in an internationally accredited hospital costs about $100. An electrocardiogram is only $25. And a doctor’s visit routinely costs as little as $10.

Importantly, you’ll find that in most of the rest of the world, healthcare expenses are relative to the local cost of living.
It just costs less to live in Asia, Latin America, or certain parts of Europe than it does to live in the U.S.

Housing and construction costs are lower. Taxes are lower. Food costs less. And salaries are lower. Foreign doctors often make a sixth of the salary of their U.S. counterparts.

Healthcare plans, too, can be amazingly affordable outside the U.S. In Panama, Costa Rica, or Mexico, for example, a couple might spend $250 a month—depending on age and other factors—for comprehensive, low-deductible private health insurance. In Ecuador, you can join the IESS social security plan—despite pre-existing conditions. A couple will pay just about $80 a month for that…and it includes prescriptions.

When you retire overseas, you’ll save on both healthcare costs and on general costs of living. So why wouldn’t you at least consider it?

Get Your Free Healthcare Report Here:

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Thailand diseases and dangers.

There are diseases and other health issues to watch out for if you are visiting or living in Thailand. Yes Thailand has malaria in some places but personally I have never had preventative injections before visiting and touch wood have not had any serious disease in the 26 years of visiting Thailand. I have family and friends that have contracted dengue fever over the years and I know it isn’t a pleasant experience and can be costly for a non Thai to get medical aid. However there are other things healthwise to watch for and a major one for visitors is caused by food and water. Most Thais are well protected from stomach problems simply by becoming immune to the bugs present in street food where utensils and dishes are washed in cold water (I notice in many  street restaurants they use the plastic dishes because they don’t break like ceramic but they get a stain from frequent use and those stains can harbour germs -I personally would soak the dishes in a bleach solution to remove the stains and improve the look and safety for customers after rinsing thoroughly of course). Chopsticks are another thing I watch for for the same reasons and prefer to use spoon and fork unless a place has throw away ones.   Raw food like “somtam” is probably one to steer clear of for a “farang” and the novelty of eating insects can also be dodgy as most contain a parasitic worm. Ice can be a problem as many street food places have a “gradic” or “ice box” which is opened and closed many times a day allowing bacteria and other things to fall in plus many are not cleaned out but ice is regularly delivered and placed on top of old ice. I always make my own ice or buy in sealed bags from seven eleven and other shops. Some places may even use tap water which can cause problems as well. I never have ice in my drinks but prefer to buy a drink from the fridge. If a stomach problem occurs it is advised to go to a doctor or even a chemist will sort you out -diarrhea can be stopped by buying “imodium” but a very cheap local version is exactly the same called Noxzy and only @ 10 baht a dose but also an antibiotic may be prescribed for more serious cases. 

Other things to be aware of for visitors are the suspect alcoholic drinks served at bars and particularly the beach parties. However common sense can save you from many problems -the old saying is “do not leave your brains at the airport” watch what you put in your bodies and a great holiday will be the outcome.

Diseases and deaths.

Population: 69,892,000
Per capita income: $7,640
Life expectancy at birth women/men: 77/70 yrs
Infant mortality rate: 12/1000 live births

Top 10 Causes of Death

Source: GBD Compare, 2010

  1. Cancer 19%
  2. Ischemic Heart Disease 12%
  3. Stroke 10%
  4. Lower Respiratory Infections 9%
  5. HIV 4%
  6. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease 4%
  7. Diabetes 4%
  8. Road Injuries 4%
  9. Chronic Kidney Disease 2%
  10. Cirrhosis 2% ——–Although not a disease as shown road injuries are quite high and visitors need to take great care traveling or crossing roads. 
  11. As mentioned above Dengue fever is becoming more common and other mosquitoes born diseases like – malaria and Zika- although malaria doesn’t seem to be a big problem these days it is still in some places so avoid being bitten by them. Zika virus is a risk in Thailand.
    • Pregnant women should not travel to Thailand because Zika infection during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects.
    • Partners of pregnant women and couples planning pregnancy should know possible risks to pregnancy and take preventive steps. Before travel, those planning pregnancy should talk to their doctor or other healthcare provider.
    • All travelers should follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during and after their trip. Travelers should also use condoms during and after their trip to prevent sexual transmission of Zika and other sexually transmitted disease.
    • Although not a disease but a danger is the presence of box jellyfish that sometimes frequent the sea around Southern coasts especially during the rainy season so watch for local news and flags pointing out the dangers.
  12. Dog bites/cat bites and other animal bites can be a serious problem and must be treated however small because of “rabies”. Rabies requires a series of anti-rabies shots @ 5 shots but this will also give a few years protection as well -it is well to stay clear of the many stray street dogs -most are friendly but you never know.
  13. Dangerous Animals in Thailand
    • Poisonous Snakes.
    • Giant Centipedes.
    • Jellyfish.
    • Coral.
    • Mosquitoes.
    • Scorpions.
    • Spiders.
    • Ants. Yes there are some things that can be a danger to life in Thailand although the possibility is small it is better to stay clear of these animals -my own farm has regular visits from venomous snakes and I have become quite an expert at removing them with professional equipment but I always treat them with great respect and as a Buddhist do my best never to kill them. Most visitors will never come across these things if they are in tourist areas but visitors to wildlife parks can come into contact with any one of these and also wild elephants -monkeys -crocodiles and other animals and once again common sense is needed (this year a tourist lady tried to take a selfie with a sleeping crocodile in Khao Yai national park and she slipped next to it so it grabbed her by the leg. Fortunately it let her go instead of dragging her into its pond). Driving as well in these areas takes caution as elephants are easily spooked and can wreck a car and you inside -always be quiet and non threatening especially if babies are with mothers.
    • Apart from animals people can also become a problem. Thais are wonderful and have a lifestyle which is geared around non-conflict and as long as respect is shown you will get along well with Thais -however they have a breaking point and will not be pushed beyond -beware of upsetting a Thai-man or woman as my wife of many years says “we are gentle people with hot blood” once a Thai is pushed too far it is atomic -always wai and smile if in a difficult situation -better to be safe than brave. Having said that I have found Thais very friendly even drunken ones if you handle them right -remember “psychology every time”. 
    • Attitude. Yes attitude can make all the difference when the traveller comes across a problem and a calm non confrontational approach works every time -aggressive-shouting-angry  attitude will work against you in fixing a problem. I remember a British guy who had slept in and missed his van to Ban Phe yet another companies van took him there as a concession to the first company but he arrived without the ferry ticket to the island of Koh Samet and  he was shouting red faced at the young girl of the company he had originally booked at. The girl was straight faced and obviously under pressure while the young guy got angrier. I approached to see what the commotion was and he told me about sleeping in and not getting his boat ticket. I asked him “is this your first time in Thailand”, “yes my first time”. “Do you know that shouting and being angry will make your problem worse and cause the Thai girl to lose face”? “The best thing is to keep calm and smile-yes I know it is hard” . “Have you been to Kho Samet before” I asked him. “No never”, “well it’s like bloody paradise with white sands-clear blue sea and palm trees -you are standing here wasting time when you could be laying on those sands”. “Do you know you can go over the road and jump in a boat and be on Samet in 30 minutes and the ticket is only 25 baht”? “REALLY” he said excited -“YUP”- he patted me on the shoulder and said “thanks mate” and was off like a shot haha. I saw him a few times on the island and he always gave me a thumbs up.
    • There are other things in the sea besides jelly fish but mostly it is safe -no recorded shark attacks despite the movie “The Beach” but there are things under the sand that can hurt as my son-in-law found out on Koh Samui when he stood on something that stabbed under his foot -whether it was a sting ray or shellfish we don’t know but it became infected and very painful and he had to go to hospital and get whatever it was out and have injections as well -his language was a bit ripe as the poor doctor dug into his foot with a scalpel but he was in great pain.
    • The wasps here are lethal especially the large Asian hornet so best to keep away and same with the awful looking centipedes that have a bad bite (the long brown round ones are harmless).
    • All in all Thailand is very safe and you will not have a problem but as the old motto when I was in the “observer corps” “forewarned is forearmed”. It is best to adopt the Thai attitude summed up in these phrases “jai yen yen” (keep a cool heart) and “mai pen rai” (never mind everything is OK). Have a great trip and “Chok dee krup”  (be lucky).

Mae Kuan Im Goddess of mercy

Kwan Yin (Mae Kuan Im)
The Goddess of Mercy

In the past ten years, the Kwan Yin or (Mae/Mother) Kuan Im cult has become more popular among Thai people. There are now many more Kuan Yin images both inside and outside Theravada temples in Thailand. Many temples also have a “Welcome” sign related to the worship of Mae Kuan Im to attract tourists. These Kuan Yin images are not only in the southern provinces of Thailand where there are a lot of tourists from Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong but also in other provinces. The largest Kwan Yin image in Southern Thailand is located in a municipal park in Hat Yai.

Generally, when we think about Kuan Yin, many people think only in terms of “Chinese” people as worshippers of Kwan Yin. For Mahayana Buddhists, Kwan Yin is an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara in female form, also known as “The Goddess of Mercy or Compassion.” In Thailand, however, this cult is not only popular for Thai-Chinese but also other lay people who may not even be sure of their Chinese ancestry.

There are many Kwan Yin centers (samnak) in Thailand. Each center may maintain its own ceremonies, observances, and practices, which are related to Buddhism. We may say that the cult of Kwan Yin constitutes a bridge between Thai traditional belief and (Mahayana) Buddhism. Most Thai people worship Kwan Yin because they expect good luck or fortune. Perhaps they believe that Kuan Yin can give them a lucky number for their next lottery, or some people believe that Kwan Yin can give them some good advice for their business, family, health, or any of life’s problems. Other people may just want a peaceful place to “rest,” a refuge from the world, which they may not be able to find in some Thai temples.

The fascination with Kwan Yin also involves a strong belief in “karma.” To attain one’s wishes or expectations, people must practice “good karma.” Believers pray (phawana) using Kuan Yin chants. Such practices constitute a form of meditation. This meditation involves cleansing the mind as well as the body. Kwan Yin believers abstain from beef and often work their way towards becoming vegetarians.

Some observers have pointed out the importance of the new interest in Kwan Yin:
1) Such centers may be viewed as a new kind of gathering place for people to get together and exchange their experiences. This phenomenon creates a new “community,” which is not very different from people who use to frequent Buddhist temples in the old days;
2) Kwan Yin imagery and practices can be viewed as extension of Buddhist beliefs and practices, with Kwan Yin becoming a part of the Thai Buddhist pantheon;
3) Kwan Yin may serve as a surrogate mother for some Thai women. The movement is of special interest to women because for most Buddhist practices the role of women is subservient to men. Many other Thai spirits are female, such as The Goddess of Rice, Mae Phosop. Kwan Yin may be viewed as an extension of this tendency to deify female spirits of nature.