How do you engage with locals? Does technology keep you apart?

How do you make contact with locals? Or maybe you prefer not to, or don’t care?

I first noticed the use of mobile phones separating people from the places they were travelling in on a train in Thailand. A young British couple, were both on their phones were talking to different people back in their homeland.  I found it amazing that they weren’t even looking out the window at the beautiful scenery.

between shows – Bangkok

Of course, there is nothing wrong with keeping in contact with friends and family every now and then – however, it also means you are not living in the now, in the present moment – the very place where life happens.

I guess I’m biased because when I travel, I very rarely contact home – I ‘m always working on the premise that no news is good news :-).

That being so, I’ve noticed in my city, Wellington, New Zealand, that it is harder to engage with locals when you are using a phone to guide you around the streets.  Sure, Google Maps does sort of show you the way, but you get no interaction with the people in the area you are visiting.

South African fan in Cuba Street

Perhaps this doesn’t bother you, but for me, travelling is all about the people I meet; the questions I ask them; the directions I get from them, and knowledge about their lives.

We Kiwi, are considered pretty friendly and when we approach you on the street, especially if you’re looking at a map, we are not trying to sell you anything or take you to our cousins’ shop for instance – we are just trying to be helpful and friendly and help give you a 100% pure Kiwi experience.

(Note: ‘one hundred per cent pure’ was never intended to be about our environment – like everywhere else we too have environmental problems.  The hundred per cent pure was to ensure all tourists got a genuine Kiwi experience and holiday.  Sadly, this was not how it was understood overseas.  Even New Zealanders now claim we are being false in our ‘advertising.’  As an older kiwi – who was travel writing when it was coined – many years ago.  I’m very clear about its original intentions – one of the advantages of age 🙂  )

Lake Tekapo

I frequently ask,  ‘can I help you’ of those who look like tourists and are gazing at their phone or a map.

So, many especially those new into New Zealand I suspect, almost jump back in horror at being spoken to.  ‘Oh no, what does she want!?  Will she rip me off?’  I see it in their faces.  Happily, at least 50% of them value me answering their questions and often thank me for being ‘helpful.’ And hopefully, that little interaction contributes to them enjoying their time in New Zealand and having 100% pure Kiwi experience, and knowing most of us are kind, caring and really want to help – for no reason but to be helpful!

So next time you pull out a phone to find your way from A to B just pause, look around, is there a local to ask instead?


This works from Alaska to Turkey, from Thailand to New Zealand.  It’s the brief connections and a smile or a laugh with a local that can make your day.  Don’t let technology separate you from the very people in the country you wanted to visit.

Have a good day 🙂

Local lads in Maheshwar


Searching for Buddha

web-buddha#Thailand is one of the good places to search for #Buddha …  and I expect to search for Buddha in #Mongolia too – next month. in the meantime here is some of my story about my search and some photos for you to enjoy too

Source: Searching for Buddha

The King is dead – Thai people will be mourning their much-loved leader

Hearing of the overnight death of Thailand’s 88 year old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, makes me think of the day, in Bangkok, that I was invited to become part a ceremony which was celebrating the King’s 79th birthday, and when 79 men became monks in his honour.

He was the world’s longest-reigning monarch, has died after 70 years as head of state. My condolences go to all the Thai people, who I’ve met over many years, who absolutely loved him.


Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn will be the new monarch, the Thai Prime Minister has said.

Under the gaze of a photo of their King these men gather to be ordained as monks.


I too take a snip of hair from each man

Which is your Buddha? (Thai Buddhist traditions)

I was told, in Thailand, that Buddha spent seven days following his enlightenment thinking about the suffering of all living creatures, and Thai people now believe that their day of birth reflects their life.

Seven Buddha images show each day of those days, except Wednesday which has two, morning and afternoon-evening.

So, one year, while in Thailand, I bought Buddha’s that matched that day for each of my immediate family as their Christmas gifts. You may like to check your day of birth and which Buddha is associated with you.

Here are photos that show the various postures for that days – I need to point out that some temples had different poses for some days!

left Sunday, middle Monday. right Tuesday


Left Thursday (my day) middle Friday, right Saturday

These photos are not good as were taken through scratched glass but stay as my reference for the various poses and days as that was when I first heard about them – during a bike ride out from Bangkok.

Thailand also has lucky and unlucky colours for days of the week; the lucky ones are:

  • Sunday: red
  • Monday: yellow
  • Tuesday: pink
  • Wednesday: day Green / night grey
  • Thursday: orange
  • Friday: light blue
  • Saturday: purple sleep

I hope you are happy with your colour and Buddha stance!

Where do writers get their ideas from?

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My drawer of travel notes

Where do writers get their ideas for stories?

People ask this frequently, but for me, I only have to open my writing desk drawer, pull out a journal and there are many tales. Looking at photo files provides the same bounty as memory prompts.

This little post came about after talking about Buddhism, Thailand, colours and the significance of the date you were born. That will be my next post.

I used this journal in 2006
I used this journal in 2006

None of the  info, such as old phone details, or when I need to take malaria tablets on the cover of this journal are valid! Only my name and the year are truthful now 🙂 – and of course, the 3 post-it papers that mark the information I’ll use in the story which will be published in 3.5 days. ( ie #TT Travel Tuesday)

PS. even the scarf has a tale to tell … I bought it in Istanbul – from a  woman sitting outside the beautiful Blue Mosque.

every page has a tale to tell, a reminder the the tastes, colours, sounds and smells of places
every page has a tale to tell, a reminder the the tastes, colours, sounds and smells of places






Buddhist Hell in Thailand

Buddhism is usually thought of as a peaceful religion, although it’s not really a religion. Last year I revisited Wat Muang, home of Thailand’s biggest buddha to see the Thai version of a buddhist hell – not so gentle or peaceful! Misbehave and there is a particular punishment awaiting you: examples are – adultery means you will have to climb the cactus-like tree while birds attack from above and men with spears attack from below. Tell lies or gossip and you tongue will be cut out. You have been warned!

Searching for Buddha

Buddha images for sale
Buddha images for sale

Buddha images, large, small, or ruined, are sacred objects and in Thailand.  Reverence of those ancient or broken Buddha extends to the making of Buddha images and I’m searching for a Buddha maker.

Following leads up side streets, I find denture-makers, massage schools, Buddha’s for sale and dead ends, but no artisans making the Buddha’s I see everywhere. Giving up on this search, I head for the ancient capital, Ayutthaya, on yet another wild goose chase.

web buddha in hand

However, while there I hear Thailand’s biggest Buddha is being built an hour away so hop on a local bus and head for Wat Muang Monastery in the tiny Ang Thong province.  I’m told a very rich man was so upset that some Taliban had destroyed the sandstone Buddha statues in Afghanistan (2001) that he was funding the building this huge one to replace them.

My one-handed photo from the moving motorbike.
My one-handed photo from the moving motorbike.

It is enormous and, one-handed, from the back of a motorbike, I take my first photos of it and the monsoon-flooded fields that surround it. The seated Phra Buddha Maha Nawamin statue towers over the temple of Wat Muang. A Theravada Buddhism cement statue, it is 92m high, 63m wide and the top half has already been painted gold. I’m fascinated at the huge crane, the scaffolding, and ant-like people as they clamber over their divine being’s arms and legs.

Despite not being a (western) tourist area, the temple has several places of interest. A shiny, silver temple, and the Ubosot (ordination hall) is surrounded by enormous lotus petals, the largest in the world I’m told: this temple likes big.


It also has a Buddhist theme park full of chilling and warning scenes of mutilation, death, of a Buddhist heaven and hell. One depicts the result of adultery: they’re doomed to climb, naked, a cactus type tree while crows attack from above and it looks bloody and painful.

Finally, when I had given up all hope of discovering any craftsmen, a Swiss tourist told me that six months earlier his cyclist sister had found such a place. The next day, after a journey of some hours on a motorbike, train, and then cyclist rickshaw, I found Sgt. Major Thawee and his Buranathai Buddha Image Foundry in Phitsanulok. He doesn’t speak English – my Thai minimal but I spend a week watching the process (lost wax) from early morning until they stop at dusk.

On an a day and time considered to be auspicious, I finally watch as bronze was poured into the Buddha.  Phra Pairoj, the head monk, and people from the temple which had commissioned the image were there for the blessings and culmination of the work. The ceremony finished with a shared meal and, as with many events I’ve attended in Thailand, I was the only ‘farang’. (Foreigner) My searching for Buddha was complete.

fixing a new buddha image's hair
fixing a new buddha image’s hair
A Buddha in the making
repairs to a Buddha in the making

Some years later I get off a train at a stop too soon, but after a few hours, finally get to Wat Muang to see the competed giant Buddha.  The theme park has grown, the food stalls multiplied, and I even saw one Western family as I photograph the finished work.

watermarked-USE IMG_5348

As for those ruined Buddha in Afghanistan – someone must have heard the oft-quoted Mark Twain saying about not letting the truth get in the way of a good story. Construction of the Phra Buddha Maha Nawamin statue had commenced in 1990 – eleven years before the dynamite had exploded.

watermarked-USE HH IMG_5194
Other visitors want to have their photos taken with me
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Paying homage to the Buddha image


Thailands biggest Buddha

Thailands biggest Buddha.


More about this huge Buddha in Ang Thong Province on my return to New Zealand.

I saw this under construction a few years ago to good to see it completed … with all the food stalls that now are part of the temple grounds.

My weapon of choice is a bright green, double-barreled, pump-action, pistol.

I have just been asked for permission to use this for secondary students – which I have given. I’ve not put it on my blog before – it was published a few years ago as a guest post for  2camels about worldwide festivals. See their website for a couple of other festivals that I’ve written for them.

My weapon of choice was a bright green, double-barreled, pump-action, water pistol. Never has New Year been so much fun!

polly and HH songkran festival  web

Everyone is armed. Old and young, all have buckets, bottles, hoses, urns, water guns and even the fire tender is on hand to add to the total sum of water. Much of the liquid is gold coloured and yellow flowers float in it. The crowd is sprayed, monks and police officers are as wet as everyone else is. The smiling Thais love to see Farangs (foreigners) joining in the celebrations and fun.

What is all this festivity about? It’s a festival called Songkran in Thailand and each April Buddhists observe the Buddhist New Year.

Buddha images are dowsed with water and carried in processions around the temple and streets to the accompaniment of music, laughter, and water water water! The water blesses and purifies everything. Homes are cleaned ready for family and friends visiting to celebrate new beginnings.

My first day, of the three of the fun and games, was at the temple Wat Phochai in the little city of Nong Khai on the banks of the mighty Mekong River (bordering Laos) and off the tourist trail, I was one of only five or six visitors there so became a real target for being constantly blessed – by being dowsed.

Farang, farang” the cry goes up.

“No! No!” I join in the fun, “Khon Thai. Khon Thai” I call. They laugh at this visitor thinking she is Thai. By nine in the morning I’m soaking wet – long before I’ve reached the temple steps.

The atmosphere is a mixture of reverence and fun, prayers and laughter, dancing and music.

‘Come with us – come’ a woman calls. Captured, or adopted, by a family as they dance out of the temple grounds, I too dance after the pied-piper-like man playing his khaen, a flute-like reed instrument. . . .

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