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. 

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). 

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?

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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.

Box jellyfish in Thai waters.

The magnitude of severe box jellyfish cases on Koh Samui and Koh Pha-ngan in the Gulf of Thailand

BMC Research Notes20169:108

DOI: 10.1186/s13104-016-1931-8

Received: 2 December 2015

Accepted: 10 February 2016

Published: 17 February 2016


Despite recent deaths caused by box jellyfish envenomation occurring on the islands of Samui and Pha-ngan in the Gulf of Thailand, many people do not believe box jellyfish can kill humans and many people dismiss the problem as insignificant. More evidence has been requested from the communities in order to evaluate the need for and the implementation of sustainable prevention measures. We aimed to determine the magnitude of cases of severe stinging by box jellyfish and describe the characteristics of these cases on the islands of Samui and Pha-ngan in Surat Thani Province from 1997 to 2015.


Various strategies were integrated prospectively. Toxic jellyfish networks and surveillance system were established. Outbreak investigations were conducted retrospectively and prospectively from 2008 to 2015.


There were 15 box jellyfish cases. A small majority of them were women (60.0) with a median age of 26.0 years (range 5.0–45.0 years). The highest incidence by month were August (33.3 %), September and October (20.0 %), and July (13.3 %). Eight cases occurred on Samui (53.3 %), 6 cases on Pha-ngan island (40.0 %), and one case on the boat. All cases developed symptoms and signs immediately after being stung. More than half of the cases were unconscious. There were six fatal cases (46.7 %). The wound characteristics had an appearance similar to caterpillar tracks or step ladder-like burn marks. Almost all cases involved Chirodropidae. One fatal case received fresh water and ice packs applied to the wounds (16.7 %). Among the cases with known first aid, only one out of six fatal cases had vinegar applied to the wounds (16.7 %), while haft of six surviving cases received the vinegar treatment.


The islands of Samui and Pha-ngan have the highest incidence of fatal and near fatal box jellyfish cases in Thailand. There is an urgent need for informed pre-clinical emergent care. Optimal pre-clinical care is an area of active research.


It is widely known that box jellyfish are one of the most venomous marine animals in the world [1]. Envenomation involves the physical discharge of venom into tissues. The venom is a complex mixture of polypeptides and proteins, including hemolytic, cardiotoxic and dermatonecrotic toxins [2, 3, 4]. There are two major families of box jellyfish, are Chirodropidae and Carybdeidae [5, 6]. The most lethal member of Chirodropidae is Chironex fleckeri. Envenomation by Chironex can lead to “rapid cardiorepsiratiory depression”. The injured person who received a high dose of toxin can die within a few minutes [2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10], Local physicians, nurses and other health personnel still lack the necessary knowledge regarding box jellyfish, despite there being reports of envenomation incidents in Thailand. Thus, diagnosis of Irukandji syndrome (often associated with carybdeid stings) and other box jellyfish envenomation sequelae has been rare in Thailand [1]. According to Thaikruea et al. [11] a study of the morbidity and mortality rates of toxic jellyfish stings from thirty-three health services in the southern provinces of Thailand (Surat Thani, Krabi, Phuket, and Satun), there were 381 cases involving toxic jellyfish between 2003 and 2009. However, only 51 cases were diagnosed as being in the toxic jellyfish category, one case of neuropathy from the neurotoxin of a jellyfish, and one case of suspected Irukandji syndrome. While the Thai surveillance system of toxic jellyfish injuries and deaths that was established in 2009 identified at least 38 toxic jellyfish cases within 1 year period, Thaikruea et al. [12] reported at least four fatal and four near fatal probable box jellyfish cases in Thailand. Three out of four fatal cases occurred on the islands of Pha-ngan and Samui in the Surat Thani province. These islands are located in the Gulf of Thailand. With the sparsity of information the magnitude of the problem is likely to be underestimated.

Proper first aid carried out at the scene is crucial for the survival of an injured individual who has been stung by a box jellyfish. Household, food grade vinegar (4–6 % acetic acid) is effective in acid fixation based inactivation of unfired nematocysts. It should be poured continuously on the wound for at least 30 s [5, 13]. One of the two latest deaths which was probably due to a box jellyfish sting was on July 31st 2015 and was quite naturally of great concern to the public (Nation TV. August 1st 2015. http://www.nationtv.tv/main/content/social/378466023/). This Thai woman aged 31 years was diagnosed as “Cardiac arrest with anaphylaxis following contact with a venomous animal”. One of the concerns about jellyfish envenomation is that a wrong diagnosis can lead to inappropriate treatment [14]. A marine biology expert recently announced in the press the need to use seawater splashing on the tentacle marks before pouring vinegar as a first aid treatment for box jellyfish stings. This news introduced confusion among both professionals and the public, in particular it has caused great concern for the people who live on the islands where the majority of the incidents have taken place. The local people tried to keep people safe. One protection measure used was the erection of warning signs saying “bluebottles” on the beaches that are famous for the “full moon parties”. This warning sign was wrong because the danger was ‘Box Jellyfish Species Present’. There are many cubozoan species linked to lethal stings. Both Chirodropids and Carybdeids can cause death. Signage should include images of both families of cubozoa and there was no education message written in the sign

The islands of Samui and Pha-ngan locate next to each other (20 km) in the Gulf of Thailand. A travel time is about 15 min by ferry. There are various conflicts of interest among stakeholders such as business owners, hotel/resort owners, fishermen, tourist guides and non-government organizations. Many people do not believe box jellyfish can injure or kill human based on interviews, meetings and workshops carried out over the past 7 years. Even of the people who accept the fact, many of them still think that the problem is small. More evidence is requested from the communities in order to implement sustainable prevention measures. This study aims to determine the magnitude of cases of severe stinging by box jellyfish and describe the characteristics of these cases on the islands of Samui and Pha-ngan in Surat Thani Province from 1997 to 2015.

Near fatal case: a 26 year old American woman stung by a multiple tentacle box jellyfish on September 3rd 2010 at a beach on Pha-ngan island. She lost consciousness and revived following resuscitation. Vinegar was applied (Source photo: case).

Various strategies were integrated prospectively. The strategies included establishing toxic jellyfish surveillance system, establishing toxic jellyfish networks, conducted case investigations, performed studies (about the situation in Thailand, existence of deadly box jellyfish, and first aid and treatment), participated and supported communities to create innovations (vinegar first aid pole and sting net), and implement prevention measures. The toxic jellyfish network was established in 2008 by this team of authors in order to ascertain whether box jellyfish could cause death in humans and whether this is a threat in Thailand. The initial members included a journalist and experts from universities in Australia and the Divers Alert Network (DAN). The membership expanded to stakeholders such as resort/hotel managers/owners, divers, speed boat/long-tail boat groups and biologists in order to gather more information (interviews and focus group discussion), build knowledge and collaborate regarding possible prevention programs. Toxic jellyfish surveillance was begun in 2009 to identify venomous jellyfish incidents, collect information regarding the cases and implement prevention measures. The team prospectively and retrospectively investigated all suspected cases box jellyfish sting outbreaks, which were detected by toxic surveillance system and networks. Only severe cases involving admission into the hospitals or health services in Samui and Pha-ngan islands between January 1997 and October 2015 were included in this study. Descriptive analysis was done, including proportion (%) and median (range: minimum to maximum). The investigation was under the government service policy of emergency and public health problem. The ethics submission was not applicable. The descriptive analysis was done as group average and could not identify each individual. For participants who provided photos, we obtained consents to publish from them (or legal parent or guardian for children) to report individual patient data and photos.



There were 15 cases of severe stinging by box jellyfish admitted to hospital from 1997 to 2015. The majority of them were women (60.0 %) and the median age was 26.0 years (minimum 5.0 years and maximum 45.0 years). The highest frequency of nationalities included British (20.0 %), American (13.3 %), German (13.3 %), and Italian (13.3 %). The other nationalities included French, Australian, Russian, Swiss, Chinese and Thai.

Incidence by time

The highest incidence by year were 2012 (20.0 %), 2015 (20.0 %), 2014 (13.3 %) and 2002 (13.3 %). The highest incidence by month were August (33.3 %), September (20.0 %), October (20.0 %), and July (13.3 %). Two cases occurred in December and May.

Incidence by place

Among eleven cases with information of incidence places, eight cases (53.3 %) occurred on Samui island and another six cases (40.0 %) occurred on Pha-ngan island. One case did not occur on the beach, the man took off his wet suit after diving and a tentacle attached to the wet suit stung his left elbow.



There were 15 cases of severe stinging by box jellyfish admitted to hospital from 1997 to 2015. The majority of them were women (60.0 %) and the median age was 26.0 years (minimum 5.0 years and maximum 45.0 years). The highest frequency of nationalities included British (20.0 %), American (13.3 %), German (13.3 %), and Italian (13.3 %). The other nationalities included French, Australian, Russian, Swiss, Chinese and Thai.

Incidence by time

The highest incidence by year were 2012 (20.0 %), 2015 (20.0 %), 2014 (13.3 %) and 2002 (13.3 %). The highest incidence by month were August (33.3 %), September (20.0 %), October (20.0 %), and July (13.3 %). Two cases occurred in December and May.

Incidence by place

Among eleven cases with information of incidence places, eight cases (53.3 %) occurred on Samui island and another six cases (40.0 %) occurred on Pha-ngan island. One case did not occur on the beach, the man took off his wet suit after diving and a tentacle attached to the wet suit stung his left elbow.

The highest number of cases occurred on East Rin beach of Pha-ngan island (27.3 %), Chawang beach of Samui island (27.3 %), and Bo Phut of Samui island (18.2 %). Two cases occurred on Lamai beach of Samui island and Khuat beach of Pha-ngan island, subsequently.


All cases developed symptoms and sign immediately within 1 min after being stung. More than half of the cases were unconscious (53.3 %) within 2–3 min. There were eight near-fatal cases (53.3 %), six fatal cases (46.7 %), and one case was discharged against advice (6.7 %). The wound characteristics had the appearance of caterpillar tracks or step ladder-like burn marks.

Box jellyfish

Nine lethal jellyfish stings were reported as confirmed cubozoan stings. Of these, 5 or 55 % were reported as confirmed Chirodropid stings, three were reported as suspected Chirodropid stings and one case was due to a either a chirodropid or a carybdeid sting.

First aid

Twelve cases were included in analysis where the first aid history was known. Of the six fatal cases, only one had vinegar poured on the injury (16.7 %) as first aid and one had fresh water poured on the wound followed by application of an ice pack (16.7 %). Among the six surviving cases, three received the vinegar treatment (50.0 %). One of them who was stung by Chirodropidae. He lost consciousness and was admitted to Intensive Care Unit, requiring use of a respirator. He received vinegar as first aid at the hospital after 10–15 min being stung.

The incidents occurred more frequently in the southen part of Pha-ngan island which face the northern part of Samui island. However, the northern part and other areas also had incidents (data not shown for mild to moderate cases). Based on the experience of investigating the box jellyfish problem for this study on both Pha-ngan and Samui islands, it was found that people do not believe or do not know that the incidents are more prevalent than their perceptions. These perspectives were demonstrated at several meetings and workshops carried out over the past 7 years. After the death on July 31st this year, another severe case occurred on the island of Samui on September 12th 2015 at Chawang beach on Samui island. This occurred to a 31 year old Chinese male, who was stung by Chirodropidae. He lost consciousness and was admitted to Intensive Care Unit, requiring use of a respirator. He received vinegar as first aid at the hospital after 10–15 min being stung . Stakeholders start to concern about this health problems and want to know more about the magnitude in these islands.

The infamous box jellyfish developed its frighteningly powerful venom to instantly stun or kill prey, like fish and shrimp, so their struggle to escape wouldn’t damage its delicate tentacles.

Their venom is considered to be among the most deadly in the world, containing toxins that attack the heart, nervous system, and skin cells. It is so overpoweringly painful, human victims have been known to go into shock and drown or die of heart failure before even reaching shore. Survivors can experience considerable pain for weeks and often have significant scarring where the tentacles made contact.

Box jellies, also called sea wasps and marine stingers, live primarily in coastal waters off Northern Australia and throughout the Indo-Pacific. They are pale blue and transparent in color and get their name from the cube-like shape of their bell. Up to 15 tentacles grow from each corner of the bell and can reach 10 feet (3 meters) in length. Each tentacle has about 5,000 stinging cells, which are triggered not by touch but by the presence of a chemical on the outer layer of its prey.

Box jellies are highly advanced among jellyfish. They have developed the ability to move rather than just drift, jetting at up to four knots through the water. They also have eyes grouped in clusters of six on the four sides of their bell. Each cluster includes a pair of eyes with a sophisticated lens, retina, iris and cornea, although without a central nervous system, scientists aren’t sure how they process what they see.

Chilies the original traveler.

TIME’s Summer Journey


Legends of Somdet Toh by Thanissaro Bhikkhu [dana/©] 2006-2014

Legends of Somdet Toh
Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Somdet Toh — his formal title was Somdet Budhacariya (Toh Brahmaransi) — was probably the most famous and widely loved monk in nineteenth century Thailand. A skilled meditator closely associated with the royal family, he was famous for many reasons, but his wide popularity rests on two things: Despite his rank, he was easily approachable to people on all levels of society; and he made amulets that — because of his meditative prowess — were reputed to be very powerful. He was also famous for his wisdom and wit. Since his death, in 1872, a cult has grown up around his memory, with many mediums throughout Thailand claiming to channel his spirit.

At the same time, many legends have grown up around his name. Here are a few of my favorites. I can’t vouch for their accuracy, but they all carry a good lesson, which is why they merit passing on.

Somdet Toh was an illegitimate son of a nobleman who eventually became King Rama II. The story goes that one day in 1787 or 1788, when the nobleman was in northern Thailand cleaning up after the Burmese invasion, he happened to get separated from his troops. As he rode along on his horse, he came across a house with a young woman about sixteen years old standing in front. Thirsty, he asked her for some water. She went to the well, got a bowl of water — in Thailand in the old days, they would drink water out of a bowl, rather than out of a glass — and crushed a lotus flower over the bowl, sprinkling the stamens all over the surface of the water. Then she handed the bowl to him as he was sitting on his horse. He took one long look at the stamens on top of the water and then had to drink the water very carefully so as not to swallow them. As he handed the bowl back to her, he asked her, “Was that a trick?”

“No,” she said. “I saw that you were so thirsty that you might gulp the water down and end up choking on it. So I figured this would be a good way to make sure that you drank slowly.”

Well. He asked her, “Are your parents around?” So she fetched her parents. They didn’t know who he was, but he was obviously a nobleman, so when he told them, “I’d like to have your daughter,” they gave their consent. So she joined the king in the army camp, but as the campaign was ending he said to her, “I’m afraid I can’t take you down to the palace with me, but in case you do have a child by me, here’s my belt. Give the child my belt and I’ll know that it’s my child. I’ll take care of him or her in the future.” So he left her and went down to Bangkok.

Her whole family soon followed down to Bangkok when they discovered that she actually was pregnant. They moved onto a floating house moored on the bank of the Chao Phraya River in front of a monastery, Wat In. She gave birth to a son and named him Toh, which means “large.” When he was old enough, he was ordained as a novice. A few years later, when the nobleman had become King Rama II, the family took Novice Toh to Wat Nibbanaram — currently Wat Mahathaad, a temple right across the road from the Grand Palace — and showed the belt to the abbot. The abbot took the belt to the king and the king said, “Yes, that’s my son.” So he later sponsored Novice Toh’s ordination as a monk.

When Prince Mongkut — later Rama IV — was ordained as a monk, Phra Toh was his “older brother monk,” the one who gave him his initial training in Dhamma and Vinaya. Soon after Prince Mongkut’s ordination, his father died, and although by birth Prince Mongkut was next in line for the throne, the Privy Council chose one of his half-brothers to reign as Rama III instead. When this happened, Phra Toh decided it would be wise to leave Bangkok, so he went into the forest. Prince Mongkut stayed on as a monk for 28 years, until Rama III passed away. He was then offered the throne, so he disrobed and was crowned King Rama IV.

Soon after his coronation he sent out word to fetch Phra Toh back to Bangkok. Officials went into the forest, dragging back any monk they could find, and asking, “Is this the monk?” “No.” “Is this the monk?” “No.” Finally word got to Phra Toh, and he came out voluntarily. The king gave him the title of Somdet — which, next to the Supreme Patriarch, is the highest title a monk can hold — and put him in charge of Wat Rakhang, the monastery across the river from the palace.

Rama IV is remembered as a wise and humane king. Somdet Toh’s own epithet for him — in a brief poem he wrote summarizing the history and prophesizing the future of the Chakri (Bangkok) dynasty — was that he maintained or embodied the Dhamma. And Rama IV’s desire to have Somdet Toh near the palace is an indication of his wisdom. He knew that, as king, he would have trouble finding people fearless and selfless enough to tell him frankly when he was wrong, and so he wanted his former teacher nearby to perform this function.

But even as the king’s former teacher, Somdet Toh had to exercise tact and skill in criticizing the king.

One story tells that one day early in his reign, the king — and remember, he had been a monk for twenty-eight years — was sitting out on the boat landing in front of the palace drinking with his courtiers. So Somdet Toh came paddling across the river in a small boat. The king, displeased, said to him, “Here I’ve made you a Somdet. Don’t you have any respect for your title? How can you paddle your own boat?” The Somdet replied, “When the king of the country is drinking in public, Somdets can paddle their own boats.” Turning around, he paddled back to Wat Rakhang. That was the last time the king drank in public.

Another time, Rama IV felt that since Thailand had been laid waste by the Burmese, many ancient Thai customs had disappeared, so new customs should be developed to replace them. So he decided, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a boat parade at the end of the rains retreat? Every monastery in Bangkok will be responsible for decorating a boat, and we’ll have a contest to reward the best-looking boat.” So the royal decree went out that every monastery in Bangkok had to decorate a boat for the parade.

When the day for the parade came, a long line of beautifully decorated boats floated past the royal reviewing stand — except for one, a little canoe carrying a monkey tied to a leash with a sign on its back. The king’s immediate reaction was anger: “Somebody’s making fun of me.” He had his officials check the roster to see which monastery was responsible for the boat, and it was Wat Rakhang, Somdet Toh’s monastery.

So they took the sign off the monkey to see what it said. It said, “Willing to lose face in order to save cloth,” which rhymed in Thai, but didn’t make any more sense in Thai than it does in English. A few days later, the king invited Somdet Toh into the palace for a meal and a Dhamma talk, after which he asked him, “Suppose someone sponsored a boat with a sign like this on the back of a monkey. What do you think it might mean?” And the Somdet said, “Well, it might mean that monks don’t have any resources of their own to decorate boats and it’s certainly not appropriate for them to ask for donations from laypeople to decorate boats, so the only course left open to them would to have been to put their robes in the pawn shop. So they were willing to lose face in order to save their robes.” That was the last time the parade was ever held.

Another story concerns a funeral in the royal palace. Funerals in the palace could go on for a hundred days before the cremation. Every night they’d invite four monks to chant. The famous, high-ranking monks would chant toward the beginning of the hundred days, and by the end of the period they were getting down into the ranks of the junior monks. One night toward the end of this particular funeral they invited four young monks who had never seen the king before in their lives. And this was back in the days when if the king said, “Off with your head!” it was off with your head. So they were nervous about their performance. After all, the king had been a monk for 28 years. He would know if they made any mistakes in their chanting.

Finally the king entered the room, followed by his entourage. Now, Rama IV had a rather stern and fearsome appearance, and as soon as the monks took one look at him they went running behind a curtain. This infuriated the king. “What is this? Am I a monster? An ogre? What is this? Disrobe them immediately!” So a royal decree was written up and sent over the river for Somdet Toh to disrobe the monks. He happened to be sitting at a writing table, next to a small altar where incense was burning. Taking one look at the royal decree, he placed it over a stick of incense, burned three holes in it, and sent it back across the river to the palace. The king, of course, had studied Buddhist doctrine; he knew what the three fires were: the fire of passion, the fire of anger, and the fire of delusion. The Somdet’s message was, “Put them out.” So the monks didn’t have to disrobe. That’s how you criticize a king.

Once, however, Somdet Toh didn’t get away with criticizing the king. There is a tradition recorded in the Apadanas that the Buddha’s clan, the Sakyan clan, started from a time when the sons and daughters of a particular king had to leave their country. They took up residence in Kapilavastu, the area that eventually became the Buddha’s home. After building their city and settling in, they looked around the area for spouses but couldn’t find anyone who was high-born enough for them to marry. So the brothers ended up marrying their own sisters. That’s the tradition recorded in the Apadanas to explain the name of the Sakyan — “One’s Own” — clan.

One day Somdet Toh was giving a talk on this topic in the royal palace, and after discussing this point he continued, “Ever since then it’s become a custom among royal families. Uncles go running after their nieces, cousins go running after their cousins…” Now, Rama IV’s major queen was his niece, so again he was furious. “You cannot stay in this country!” he said. So Somdet Toh was banished from Thailand. Now, in Thailand the civil law does not extend into the sima, the territory immediately around ordination halls. For instance, if a thief goes running into a sima, the police have to get the abbot’s permission before they can go into the sima after him. So the Somdet returned to Wat Rakhang and moved into the ordination hall. For about three months he didn’t set foot outside the sima.

Meanwhile, the king had forgotten all about the banishment order, and one day he said, “We haven’t had Somdet Toh over for a talk in a long time. Let’s invite him over.” So the invitation went across the river to the monastery, but word came back, saying “I cannot set foot in this country, remember?” “Oh,” the king said, “I forgot.” And he lifted the banishment order.

So it wasn’t an easy thing to criticize kings in those days. Even if you were his personal teacher, you had to be careful.

Of course, not all of Somdet Toh’s comments about the king were critical. After all, the respect he felt for the king was what had inspired him to leave the forest to be of help in the first place.

One of the most famous stories about their relationship concerns a Dhamma talk Somdet Toh gave in the palace. Palace Dhamma talks were highly ritualized affairs. The talk was expected to be long and literary, preceded with and followed by many elaborate chants and other formalities. Once Rama IV invited Somdet to present such a talk and had prepared an especially large pile of offerings to be presented to the Somdet after the talk — a sign that he was looking forward to an especially long and learned disquisition, to test the Somdet’s knowledge of the Dhamma. After the beginning formalities, however, Somdet Toh said only one sentence: “The king already knows everything there is to know.” Then he chanted the ritual passages to conclude the talk and returned to his seat on the dais, quiet and composed. Immensely pleased, the king presented him with the offerings, commenting that that was the best Dhamma talk he had ever heard. (Ajaan Lee tells the story that later another monk tried the same trick, but with different results: The king was so offended that he had the monk stripped of his ecclesiastical titles.)

At another, similar event at the palace, Somdet Toh began the closing blessing with the standard chant:

Yatha varivaha pura
Paripurenti sagaram
Evameva ito dinnam
Petanam upakappati…

Just as rivers full of water fill the ocean full,
Even so does that given here benefit the hungry ghosts…

As he reached this point in the chant, the king in a very unusual breach of Buddhist etiquette called out, “Why are you giving all the merit to the hungry ghosts? What did they do to deserve it?”

Somdet Toh, without missing a beat, backed up to change the last line:

Evameva ito dinnam
Sabbam rañño upakappati…

Even so does everything given here benefit the king…

The king, who was fluent in Pali himself, was delighted with the Somdet’s ability to think on his feet.

There are many other legends concerning Somdet Toh that don’t deal with the king. Ajaan Fuang, my teacher, especially liked to tell a story of how Somdet Toh dealt with high-ranking lay people who would visit monasteries and waste the monks’ time in idle conversation.

Somdet Toh ate his meals in a small open pavilion in front of his dwelling. If a stray dog wandered past, he would toss a little food to the dog — which meant that, over time, a whole pack of dogs would regularly come to sit around him at his meal time, waiting for food. This meant that if any high-ranking lay people wanted to come pay their respects and chat with him while he was eating, they’d have to bow down to the dogs as well. As a result, only the people who weren’t too proud to bow down to the dogs got to talk to him during his mealtime.

Another story concerns a wealthy layman who wanted to invite Somdet Toh to his house for a meal and a Dhamma talk. Events like this would often be fairly public, with the donor inviting many friends and relatives to participate in the meal offering and to hear the talk. So the layman sent his servant to convey the invitation to Somdet Toh, saying that he wanted Somdet Toh to give a talk on a lofty topic, the four noble truths. Now, it so happened that the servant wasn’t familiar with the term, “four noble truths” — which in Thai is ariyasat. To him, it sounded like naksat, or zodiac. So he told Somdet Toh that his master wanted to hear a Dhamma talk on the zodiac. The Somdet knew that this couldn’t possibly be right, but the servant’s mistake amused him, and he decided to use it as an opportunity to make a Dhamma point — and have a little fun at the same time.

When the day for the talk arrived, he went to the layman’s house and, after the meal, got up on the sermon seat and began the talk by saying, “Today our esteemed host has invited me to deliver a Dhamma talk on the zodiac.” He then proceeded to describe the twelve houses of the zodiac in a fair amount of detail. Meanwhile, the master was staring daggers at the servant. After finishing his description of the zodiac, the Somdet then added, “But, regardless of what house of the zodiac people are born into, they are all subject to suffering.” With that, he switched to the four noble truths — and probably saved the servant’s job.

Another time some Christian missionaries came to visit the Somdet. One of the missionary strategies in those days was to show off their knowledge of science so as to dazzle the heathens, win their respect, and possibly win converts. With Somdet Toh so closely associated with the king, perhaps they thought that if they could convert him, the king might be converted as well. So they discussed various scientific topics with him, and finally touched on the fact that they had proof that the world was round. The Somdet, instead of being surprised, said, “I know. In fact, I can show you where the center of the world is.” This surprised the missionaries, so they asked him to show them. He got up, took his staff, went out in front of his hut, and planted the staff firmly on the ground, saying, “Right here.”

“But how could that be?” they asked him.

He answered, “If the world is round, it’s a sphere, right? And any point on the surface of the sphere is as central as any other point on the surface.”

After that, the missionaries left him alone.

On the final day of the Rains retreat in 1868, Rama IV passed away. His eldest son, Prince Chulalongkorn, who was now Rama V, was only fifteen years old. As a result, the running of the government was placed in the hands of a Regent — Chao Phraya Sri Suriyawong (Chuang Bunnag) — who was to hold this office until Rama V reached maturity. (In a later reminiscence, Rama V stated that during this period he lived in constant fear of being assassinated.) Shortly after the Regency was instituted, Somdet Toh — who was now 80 — appeared at the Regent’s palace in the middle of a sunny day, carrying a lit torch that he held aloft with one hand, and a long, narrow palm-leaf Dhamma text that he carried at a backward-sloping angle under his other arm. After he had walked through the palace halls in this way, word reached the Regent. The Regent respectfully approached Somdet Toh and asked him to take a seat, after which he assured him that he understood the Somdet’s message: He would not allow his deliberations to be overcome with the darkness of defilement, and he would hold to the Dhamma as a rudder while steering the ship of state.

Four years later Somdet Toh passed away.


The source of this work is the gift within Access to Insight “Offline Edition 2012.09.10.14”, last replication 12. March 2013, generously given by John Bullitt and mentioned as: ©2006 Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
Transcribed from a file provided by the author.
Translations, rebublishing, editing and additions are in the sphere of responsibility of Zugang

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe Thai Lifestyle

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

Author: Pen Drageon

Discover Thailand with Thailand Discovery

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe
 Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe. It is a cat’s world out there. Forget the likes of Garfield when you can mingle with these adorable felines for real at the Fat Cat Cafe Club in Bangkok. A whole cafe dedicated to cats and their owners in the heart of the city is a welcome change. Most city dwellers in Bangkok live in flats, apartments or condos that do not permit animals or only small animals such as toy sized dogs and cats. Most of these animals are home-bound, seldom seeing the outsides of their homes and with little opportunity to mingle with others of their kind. This provided a niche opportunity for budding entrepreneurs to come up with ingenious ideas of cafes for one’s favorite pet.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

 Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

The Fat Cat Cafe Club is one such cafe for cats in Bangkok, nestled among high rise apartments and condominiums, it provides a sanctuary for owners to bring their cats for a time out of their abode. Occupying the ground floor of a corner shop lot, the owners of the cafe has provided a much needed service where the felines can roam free inside and play with all manner of climbing poles and simulated tree houses to mixing with other fellow felines and getting acquainted. Aptly considered a club, the owners are just as proud to bring their well-groomed charges for much needed quality time outside while they exchange stories about them and chat with members who have similar interest.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

 Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

This cafe prides itself on cleanliness …for the cats! Humans have to desensitize their hands and remove their shoes in a cordoned off entrance way before entering the cafe so as not to cause the felines any illness or discomfort. Therefore, priority is not on you but your cats! There are toys and cushions to make these pets feel right at home and they occupy any place they like in the cafe.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

 Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

This cafe is mostly frequented by the younger generation of city dwellers, some with more than one cat who come quite frequently from the familiar greetings of the owners when they step into the cafe. You can be here all day if you like as there are kitty litter trays provided and even cat meals if you require them for your pet.

Off course if you are wondering “what about for their humans”, yes there is a small menu selection of snacks and desserts to keep you munching your time away or free WiFi for you to use while you wait until your dear cat feels like going home or the cafe closes.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

 Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

The resident cat at the cafe reminds me of the famous Grumpy Catand he obviously does not like to be carried by strangers even though he seems adorable. Cats by nature are nocturnal and can be very lethargic in the day time which is why we noticed quite a number of them sleeping contentedly in the cafe. Some were playing with the floor to ceiling climbing poles or just feeling happy to be paid extra attention by their owners.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

 Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

The cafe itself has everything catty right down to cat cushions and colorful wall murals. Most owners are happy to sit on the floor with their cats. All the cats here seemed well-fed and chubby so there is no lack of attention paid to them.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

 Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

Mr Grumpy here keeping an eye on things from the cashier counter. Seems to be his favorite spot where he has a commanding view of the whole cafe. Then again, he is after all the master of the cafe!

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

 Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

This cat reminds me of my own fat cat back home with exact colours and size. Cats can be very intuitive as well as social snobs. Their fierce independence gives them an air of aloofness and dignity plus they are very clean creatures when it comes to toilet time being particular to have a clean sandbox.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

 Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe.

Masters of the cafe making sure the rest tow the line as it would seem in this picture. Short of using the cash register to ring up sales, this pair could pass for counter staff.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

A beautiful Onyx stripped cat belonging to a customer, too lazy to move and just watching the others go by. Cats have priority where they want to be in the cafe and you, the human, has to make way for them.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

A lady and her pet enjoying time together. The cats need not be on a leash but maybe this lady likes to keep her pet close by. This is a very typical Thai lifestyle among the new generation of Thai city dwellers which is why if you walk the Chatuchak weekend market, you will find a whole section dedicated to pets and pet accessories as well as many pet shops that has sprouted in almost every nook of Bangkok.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

A pair of sleeping beauties cosy up together on a play track. Simply adorable just watching them sleep without a care in the world except to be loved, eat, sleep, play and poop. Aaahhhh …. a cat’s life it is!

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

The lady owner with one of the prize cats. Look at the size of this beauty, almost the size of a small dog. The Fat Cat Cafe Club is most definitely dedicated to cats and cat lovers in Bangkok who cannot get enough of these adorable yet very independent creatures.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

Whoever said that black cats were bad luck, seems that this particular one is enjoying plenty of good luck. With blazing green eyes it keeps a wary watch over incoming visitors to the cafe and probably checking out the competition.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

Cat lovers can now add a new favourite cafe to their list with the establishment of such feline friendly places in the city. It makes sense to have such cafes in the city where after all we have fun gyms and parks for children, so why not for our favourite pets!

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

In my short time there I was given the opportunity to cuddle up to these wonderful beauties as well as to hear numerous cat related stories about almost every cafe cat there on the premise.

Bangkok Thailand Fat Cat Cafe

I am sure there are quite a number of these animal friendly cafes in Bangkok city that provides a welcome change from regular cafes that are not pet friendly, especially for those who would like to bring their pets out with them. There are also dog friendly cafes available similar in concept to this cat cafe. Many owners especially here in Thailand keep small pets to be companions in a bustling city that has many stress related jobs and lifestyles, so their pets are a way of distraction for their mundane everyday routines. Some would consider their pets as family members or even as “children” and dress them in clothes or walk them in baby prams at department stores or markets. One thing is for sure, Thai people adore their pets and lucky are the creatures that end up with a very pampered lifestyle here in the Big Mango!