Phuket & the Soi Dog Foundation, Thailand, ft. DOGS

I’ve been eating a lot of curry lately, because there is almost no limit to what you can put in a curry except perhaps cabbage, and between that and that one part of The Umbrella Academy that’s set in Vietnam, I feel like South East Asia is calling to me. My bank account isn’t on my side, so I might as well share pictures of dogs at the Soi Dog Foundation in Phuket, which I highly recommend to the whole of humanity because DOGS.

So I virtually live blogged the 40-odd hour journey out of Laos into Thailand. We took such a weird route out of Vientiane because one of the places on my list to see in Asia was the Soi Dog Foundation. Originally established by Dutch expatriate Margot Homburg, in 2003 she joined forces with British expats Gill and John Daley, who wanted to do something about the estimated 70,000 stray cats and dogs on Phuket. It’s grown into an internationally-renown shelter dedicated to sterilising and re-homing strays and, if I remember correctly, helped eradicate rabies from the island of Phuket completely. It was also instrumental in helping the abandoned pets and strays left over from the Boxing Day tsunami and is campaigning against Asia’s dog meat trade – I first heard of it from an online petition.

Phuket is a lot bigger than it looks, and the Soi Dog Foundation was way further from our hostel at Karon Beach than I realised. It took the entire morning to get there by bus – but Phuket is a lot like Spain in that it’s virtually set up for tourists, so the roads were fabulous, especially compared to Lao and Vietnamese roads. Also, Thai motorists drive on the right. So do the Maltese. Sensible people. Anyway, the shelter is a bit hidden from the bus stop, so I got a lift on a motorbike from a volunteer, which was useful as a local dog, ironically, was doing a great job of nipping the back of my legs when the bike pulled up (get your vaccinations, kids, rabies eradication or not!).

 

If you’re going to Soi Dog hoping to get your fix of dog cuddles, you’ll be disappointed (I was). These dogs see humans all day, every day, they do not give a shit when another one walks into their home, although most were more than happy to come and say hello. The shelter is separated into sections: old dogs, puppies, cattery, specially-designed dog hospital (they play the dogs music!), non-human-friendly dogs, etc. The staff, who are mostly volunteers, take you on a tour and do a fantastic job of explaining how everything works.

 

Can we have these posters in England too please?

 

I visited not long after Gill Daley died (her husband John is still involved full time) and really got a sense that this is the sort of place people come to volunteer at time after time, because it’s a lovely place to work. I wish I could have spent more time there – I didn’t realise how long the journey would be – and really recommend you take the time to visit if you’re on Phuket on holiday, or if you’re thinking of getting involved with stray dogs or opening a shelter (hint hint Zakynthos).

There wasn’t a lot else on Phuket that we wanted to see – there were, like, children with their parents and forks instead of chopsticks and I was in Peak Shitty Backpacker Mode at this point – so after saying hi to Big Buddha, Maxim and I headed to the islands, where we split up to look for clues see different parts of Thailand.

 

I think they are planning to paint Buddha eventually?

 

Sort of can’t believe how good my tan is in that photo. Also can’t remember if the statues were especially large of if I’ve just got to get used to the fact I’m smaller than I think I am…

I’m going to make another curry. Come back in 6-8 months to hear about Koh Tao and Koh Samui, and then one of my favourite parts of the trip: Chiang Mai and Pai.

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In Which I Am Going Home to a Foreign Country

This morning I worked out that if I did one blog per week about each place in South East Asia that I haven’t talked about yet, I would have told you about everything in… 13 weeks. That’s longer than the time I’ve spent in South East Asia. If I do two a week and devote a third post to something else – like looking for a job and being reunited with my pets and re-learning to wear jeans – I will probably have finished up by the time I’ve found a job. Or is six weeks too soon to find a job? I’ve been away from home for so long that I can’t really remember how European time (sorry, sovereign British time) works. How long will I spend in traffic getting to my nan’s? What time do shops stay open until? How long do commercial breaks run? It’s a good thing we’re finishing in Thailand, where motorists drive on the left side of the road, because I’m already fully expecting to try overtaking on a hill while going round a blind bend, tooting my horn and chatting on my mobile. And that’s wrong. Right?

I’ve been trying to think of something philosophical to write about leaving home and traveling and returning home, because isn’t the whole point of going backpacking in your twenties to find yourself but either I’m really unaware or I’m already a salty old lady, because I can’t think of a bean to say. I think the UK might actually feel more alien than Asia at this point; I keep thinking of all the things I want to do when I get home, and how I’ll approach certain parts of my life differently, but what if my new ideas are not okay in Southend? I mean, I realistically won’t drive like a Laotian minivan driver. I also probably won’t barge past people on pavements, because in Britain it’s just not done. And I’m definitely happy to be leaving a region where it’s normal to discard rubbish in the street, where a lot of children don’t go to school, where landmines are an every day occurrence, where equal marriage is literally a foreign concept. But I’m going to miss how friendly people are, how willing they are to help foreigners even if they don’t really understand you. I can hand my phone to a tuk tuk driver so he can look at my map, and I know for a fact he’ll give it back to me. I’ve been leered at once. Just once! I’m going to haggle in every market I go to, I won’t have such a problem talking to complete strangers any more and I’m probably never going to judge other people’s bathroom habits ever again.

Probably.

street food in Luang Prabang, Laos
Why, WHY isn’t street food more of a thing in Britain? (Taken in Luang Prabang, Laos)

Something I’ve become very aware of is that I can walk into a dorm that sleeps six people and hear five languages that aren’t English. Out here the locals can identify me a mile off as a backpacking white girl, and they’re kind enough to indulge my shitty pronunciation and wide-eyed stares and total ignorance. As an British person I’m one of the few foreigners who doesn’t speak two languages; English is the default language for pretty much every traveler I’ve met, from Scandinavians to Ethiopians, while I’ve understood maybe four words of other people’s languages. Again, they’ve indulged me. I’ve even picked up some new vocab, although none of it is usable in polite conversation. Unlike holidays I’ve taken with family, amongst backpackers there hasn’t been a single xenophobic comment about anyone to anyone, and no one’s spent dinner accusing a Brexiter of being a fascist or a German of being a Nazi. Trump supporters are discussed with more nuance than I’ve ever heard in a western news broadcast. The most grief I’ve experienced is when I’ve told people I’m from Essex and they’ve said ‘I’ve heard of Essex girls,’ to which I’ve replied I’m not what they’ve heard of; at home I’ve had people call me ‘exotic’ and ask where I’m from in a tone that really just means they’re asking if they can say something Islamophobic in my presence and get away with it (spoiler alert: no). I’m going back to a country in the middle of a debate about what it means to be British, and I’m not sure how I’m going to fit.

Hue, Vietnam
I was served this Pina Colada in Hue, Vietnam, and I kind of feel like if the Vietnamese can use an American flag as decoration in a shitty beverage, the Leave voters I know can make amends with the Remain voters they stopped speaking to last year.

I guess I’m going to learn a lot when I’m home, huh. By the way, how much does a coffee cost in the UK at the moment? I’m used to paying about sixty pence.

South East Asia Day 79: Missing the UK… (Or Not)

If my maths is right (and it probably isn’t), today marks three quarters of this trip. In honour of this significant landmark, here is a list I’ve been compiling of what I miss about home… and what I could happily never see again.

Things I don’t miss about the UK

  • Drizzle
  • Wearing three layers to leave the house and taking both an umbrella and sunglasses
  • Brexit bullshit (not that I’ve been immune out here. Completely devastated about #IndyRef2 but who can bloody blame them)
  • The Daily Mail
  • Going out for coffee and needing to sell an organ for an accompanying flapjack
  • Neighbours who complain that I park over their driveway, which I don’t, when they don’t even use their driveway
  • Bible bashers in Southend high street who should go to an Asian war museum if they actually want to see what hell looks like
  • Turning on the TV for two minutes and finishing Keeping Up With the Kardashians an hour later
  • How shit everyone thinks everything is even though they live in a country that isn’t riddled with landmines and they have free healthcare and their government hasn’t tried committing a genocide recently and their children are in school and not asking tourists for money outside a famous landmark
  • Having two-four jobs at any one time
  • Easter advertising at the end of January

Things I do miss

  • DOGS
  • My friends
  • Decent chocolate
  • Cupboards
  • Private Eye
  • Leaving my clothes in my bedroom when I go into the bathroom, and leaving my toothbrush in the bathroom when I go into my bedroom
  • Family
  • Smoking ban in public places
  • General public use of seatbelts and traffic lights
  • Staying in the same place for more than a week
  • Good TV
  • Having a job
  • Porridge
  • Being the only person who has a bed in my bedroom
  • Waking up to Jon Humphreys ripping the shit out of a politician on the Today Programme
  • Going down the pub, bitching about the pub, going to McDonald’s after, bitching about McDonald’s
  • Getting my eyebrows waxed
Cat Ba, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
There were no windows in the bathroom/dorm of our hostel in Ha Long Bay; walking there took about 30 crooked stairs and it was 30 people to a room. This was the view I woke up to. TL;DR: I can live without getting my eyebrows waxed.