A blog about writing, reading, travelling and great characters I meet in life. I love these things more than cheese-on-toast times trampolines times monkeys.

Monday, 28 March 2011

10 ways to say goodbye – revealed to me by Chiang Mai and its people

What are the antidotes to saying frequent goodbyes to great people and places? It’s the first big lesson of travelling for me.

Here are the top 10 things that have helped me with goodbyes...

1) Playing
I had the travelling luxury of 3 weeks with Maura in Chiang Mai. We ate deep fried pumpkin and banana blossom at markets. We saw a little girl eating purple candyfloss twice the size of her head. We swam in a rooftop pool. We danced on the tables at Roots Rock Reggae bar. We learnt about massage from a laughing blind man.

The best nights Maura and I had out in Chiang Mai were dancing to live music at the North Gate Jazz Coop and Zoe in Yellow. Saxophonists, flute players, guitarists, drummers, singers, pianists, percussion players, DJs – played incredible music for us all night.

So I booked myself a flute lesson on the morning of Maura’s departure. The flute teacher was Ralph Thomas, one of the best jazz musicians in town. I hadn’t picked up a flute in 20 years so wasn’t sure if I could still play.

Originally from Chicago, Ralph has recorded with Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and Jermaine Jackson. He plays saxophone, flute and pipes like he’s having a lively conversation with friends. His music makes you move.

The 1 hour lesson was magical. I remembered most of the fingerwork. Ralph quickly steered me in the right direction when I played a wrong note. My breathing technique was rusty, but Ralph reminded me of exercises I learnt 20 years ago at school.

By the end of the lesson, I could play a recognisable version of a tune called ‘Wave’ to a bossanova beat.

Ralph quickly conveyed a feeling of lightheartedness about playing the flute. The clue is in the word ‘play’ – it’s meant to be fun.

‘You just have to let the flute know what to do,’ Ralph said. ‘Easy.’

There was still some sadness when I said goodbye to Maura at Chiang Mai airport. But thoughts of the flute lesson that morning and the shared experiences with Maura filled me with joy in the tuk tuk back to town.

2) Writing
Writing always soothes me. It makes sense of every feeling I have. Later that evening, I wrote about Maura. It came to me that her name – Maura Natali – is an anagram of ‘I am a natural’. Perfect description for an authentic woman.

3) Eating
And then it was my turn to leave. That afternoon, I’d said goodbye to Hannah – an American girl bubbling with vitality and fun.

We’d celebrated Hannah’s birthday with pesto pasta and a cake with a pink chocolate car on top. And with Hannah leaving, the last of my original set of friends in Chiang Mai, I thought it was perhaps my time to move on – despite the hold this town has over me. So I booked my bus to Chiang Rai.

My Thai family at Britannia guesthouse (O, Dom, Thom and the dog) threw a party for me. O cooked a delicious meal of spicy crab and noodle salad, shrimps marinated in lemon and chilli, roast chicken, sticky rice and tom yum soup.

James Brown on the stereo.

Conversations in Thai and English and French around the table. Laughing at everything that was lost in translation.

A night to remember....

4) Staying longer than planned
...and then the Earth wobbled.

At first, it felt like I was passing out. Then I looked at the walls of my guesthouse and they were shaking. The pictures of the King and Queen of Thailand were swaying. The bottles of Coke and Chang beer moved along the table. Our Thai hosts were wide-eyed and gripped our hands.

We felt three tremors from the Myanmar earthquake in Chiang Mai on March 24th and 25th. We soon heard that in my next destination Chiang Rai, there had been a fatality and damage to roads and buildings.

So it was a simple decision for me to stay the weekend in Chiang Mai until Mother Nature settled.

5) Body painting and dancing
My second leaving party in Chiang Mai turned tribal!

Britannia guesthouse became a body painting shop as we were transformed by a local tattoo artist into tribal queens and kings, ahead of the Tribal Cave party.

The artist’s face was calm and focused throughout 4 hours of brushing red and black and neon paints over our arms and legs, our faces, our backs and waists.

Dancing definitely helped me with the goodbye to Chiang Mai and its people.

We jumped up and down together.

We were entertained by drummers and firedancers and DJs.

We danced until our legs gave up.

6) Asking questions
Whenever I have challenges in life, my mind forms questions. And I always assume there is someone out there who can answer those questions.

I knew the crowd at the Chiang Mai Writers Club and Wine Bar would have something helpful to say on the subject of saying goodbye to incredible people and places whilst travelling.

I chatted to Bob Tilley, former Telegraph foreign correspondent and owner of the Chiang Mai Writers Club. He told me a story about working with a news team at the Sarajevo Winter Olympics and how the team formed an amazing bond.

‘This tough news man got quite emotional when it came to an end,’ Bob says.

This reassured me that everyone feels some sadness when great times come to an end.

Thanks Bob, I've loved talking to you whilst I've been in Chiang Mai.

7) Getting excited about the next steps
Journalist Tom Fawthrop and writer James Goodman enthused me with tales about two of my next travelling destinations – Laos and Vietnam. Tom insisted I visit Mr T at an organic farm in Phoudindeang for a mulberry shake and to teach English to kids. Vietnam expert James excited me about Hanoi – he told me about the artistic community and the original streets still named after the commodity once sold there.

8) Keeping in touch
And Cat Nesbit, author and world traveller. After 45 years of travelling and 70 years of life, I knew Cat would have a few things to say about goodbyes.

I met Cat for Sunday lunch at the Writers Club, the day before I left Chiang Mai. She walked in with a bright smile on her face, wearing a purple and white tie dye T-shirt, flared jeans and sandals. Only days until her next adventure to France and Spain.

Cat told me about a time when there were only letters – she’d send letters to friends she’d met on her travels whom she loved. Sometimes letters would come back. But eventually as people moved on in their journeys, the letters stopped.

‘It’s a lot easier now to keep in touch with the internet,’ Cat said. ‘The saddest was my great friend Christianne who I met in Beirut. I decided to surprise her in France but when I arrived she had left a week before on a boat to Israel. And I never heard from her again.

‘The way I learned to accept goodbyes is to cherish the memories. And I remember that the alternative is being stuck with people that you are counting the minutes until they go away!’

9) Laughing
Laughter. The antidote to everything.

Here I have to thank Thom, the manager of Britannia guesthouse and my Thai Mum for the last 4 weeks. She has a totally unique brand of hospitality, laughter is guaranteed.

Her catchphrases include ‘don’t worry, be happy’, ‘sabai sabai’ (chill out), ‘choop choop’ (kiss kiss) and ‘don’t forget my arse’.

I ask Thom her advice about saying goodbye – I figured she must know a thing or two being in the hospitality trade.

‘If I so love the person, very hard to say bye bye,’ Thom says. ‘I say, look, I love you, I never say bye bye, I say good luck and all the best come to you and come back see me here – Britannia, Soi 9, Moon Muang, Chiang Mai.’

Thom’s crying and laughing at the same time when she says this. And then she writes a message in my notebook.

‘My name Thom Big Mouth, Chiang Mai. I love you when I saw you first and now. Never say bye bye to you because you someone I love. You just come back and see me here. Choop choop.’

Choop choop Thom xx

10) Feeling ‘joy-pain’
And now I’m on the bus to Chiang Rai, curled up in my seat. I'm watching the world out of the window as the bus twists up green hills into a white sky. I'm listening to Fur Elise, a song I have played on the piano since I was a child. I'm remembering the colours and smells and sounds of Chiang Mai.

I close my eyes and experience a feeling I have come to know as joy-pain (an expression given to me by my friend and guide in London, Hilary). For me, joy-pain is the emotion that describes precisely what it is to be human. Joy-pain is a perfect fusion of intense happiness and sadness, felt in the same moment - it's the experience of the magic and beauty of life combined with the awareness that everything must come to an end.

I allow myself to think of the most exquisite memories of Chiang Mai...

And my whole body is taken over by the feeling of being alive. Every cell beats with gratitude...for the way my life is today...for the people in my life...for the freedom I feel...for the gift of sensitivity...

Thursday, 17 March 2011

The impossible beauty of the Chiang Mai hills and jungle

What was it Alice in Wonderland said about dreaming six impossible things everyday before breakfast? Double that if you’re in the hills and the jungle around Chiang Mai.

Today, I feel an elephant’s skin – it’s rough and thick like dried mud. I press my hand on the elephant’s shoulders as he carries me and my Italian friend Maura on his back. The muscles in his back roll as he steps across rocks, through mudholes, up a steep hill.

Back down at camp, I look into the elephant’s amber eye. He curls his trunk around my wrist for a stubby green banana and shows me his wet snout.

This is just one of many impossibly beautiful experiences that can be found in the hills and jungle around Chiang Mai. I spend four days exploring these areas with friends - on foot and on scooter, on raft and on elephant.

It’s Alun Pugh who gets me started on the excitement of exploring the Chiang Mai hills on a scooter. My first day in Chiang Mai, I hear a happy Welsh voice as I come down the stairs at The Britannia guesthouse.

‘How about we get some scooters and go up to the hills this afternoon?’ Alun says.

And away to the hills we go...

An hour later, Alun, Frank and I are buzzing around the bends of the Chiang Mai hills – we have only just met but we fall into an easy friendship.

We visit Doi Suthep temple. Military men kneel and make offerings. Monks pray. Golden monuments twinkle. Dragon-headed serpents form the handrails to the impossibly long Naga staircase.

Another day in the hills...

Alun and I ride our scooters for 80 kilometres to the north and west of Chiang Mai, stopping off at the viewpoint over the Samoeng Forest.

Alun tells me about a trip he’s planning in the summer of 2011, cycling over 3000 miles across America. He will write about his epic journey by stopping each day at midday to take a photograph. He’ll post the photo on his blog with a brief note about his progress on this incredible cycle ride. Alun is also planning to ride a motorbike from Wales to Singapore. And he’s climbed the Mera Peak (6460 metres) and Island Peak (6189 metres) in the Nepalese Himalayas.

Over lunch in the Chiang Mai hills in a restaurant with an impossibly beautiful garden, Alun takes a call. He says he won’t be able to change his flight to be back in time for the selection meeting.

Turns out that Alun is the former Minister for Culture, Welsh Language and Sport in the Welsh Assembly (2003 - 2007) and an Assembly Member from 1999 - 2007. I ask lots of nosey questions about life as a minister in the Welsh Assembly. He tells me a story about having to fly to Melbourne and back in a weekend due to a requirement to be in Wales to vote.

Alun’s proudest achievement as a minister was bringing in the smoking ban in Wales. He also recalls a lively debate with Tessa Jowell about the creation of a GB football team for the 2012 Olympics.

And thanks to Alun, I start to believe that impossible journeys might be possible for me – maybe like Alun, I could create my own incredible adventures for the rest of my life. I could skateboard across America. Or tapdance the Great Wall of China.

A third day in the hills (now I'm addicted)...

Chiang Mai-based journalist Tom Fawthrop from the Chiang Mai Writers Club takes Maura and I out for a day on scooters. We visit Tom’s favourite places for relaxation in the Chiang Mai hills.

We drink delicious black coffee stirred with cinnamon sticks and read the Bangkok Post. Maura mentions that she loves the writing of renowned Italian journalist Tiziano Terzani – then Tom smiles and says he stayed at Tiziano’s home in Italy.

‘He was a great host,' Tom says. 'And we drank great wines.'

According to the Guardian's obituary, Terzani once said his gravestone should only bear his name and the word 'traveller'.

Both Tom and Maura recommend Terzani’s book A Fortune Teller Told Me – a true account of a year in Terzani’s life when he was told by a fortune teller not to take a plane journey as he predicted a plane crash. So Terzani took boats, trains and cars to his international journalistic appointments and continued to have his fortune told along the way.

Tom, Maura and I eat lunch at the Beatles station at Mae Rim, owned by Jaeb and his wife. Hidden away behind trees down a dirt track, the Beatles station is a large hut full with Beatles memorabilia and posters of Jaeb’s Beatles tribute gigs – Jaeb has a performance repertoire of some 70 Beatles songs.

‘Are you from Liverpool?’ Jaeb asks me.

‘No, I’m afraid not,’ I say.

‘You like Beatles,’ he says.

‘Of course,’ I say.

But Jaeb seems a little disappointed that a girl from England only has the Sergeant Pepper album in her music collection.

After lunch of tom yum soup, red rice and noodles, picked from a menu decorated with Beatles pictures, Jaeb sings Thank you girl by the Beatles to us.

And we watch the bounciest dog in the world jumping for pieces of omelette. He clearly has springs in his legs, he’s like a pogo stick.

Into the jungle...

Inspired by stories from fellow travellers Sarah and Gerland, the following day Maura and I take a trekking trip into the jungle.

On our way into the jungle, we pass wooden carts and oxen, mango and banana and papaya trees, huts on stilts.

Maura and I walk through a wonderland of impossibly tall trees with twisting branches.

The sound of millions crickets is so constant in the jungle that you forget they are there.

There’s the smell of ash from fires lit by the forest dwellers. And an enormous fallen tree across the river – its back is broken, black in the middle.

The air cools in the jungle as it fills with the sound of water spraying over black and brown and grey rocks.

We reach the waterfall and eat packets of rice wrapped in banana leaf. For dessert, we jump and splash around in the water pool.

An old Thai lady in a bright yellow coat squats on a rock. She watches me writing.

A man carves bamboo cups by the waterfall.

And I think that one day I want to wake up here in the jungle and take my morning shower in the waterfall.

I could stay in one of the huts on stilts. Or tie a hammock between the impossibly tall trees and sleep in the sky. Or rent a house in the Chiang Mai hills for 6 months and write.

On a bamboo raft floating down the river, laughing with friends, falling in the water - all of these things seem possible in Chiang Mai.

This is why it’s almost impossible to leave.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Unwind and chat about writing - at the Chiang Mai Writers Club and Wine Bar

‘It grew up around me like a coral reef,’ Bob Tilley says. He is talking about how he and his wife Tong created the Chiang Mai Writers Club.

Bob is a former foreign correspondent for The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph.

He has now settled permanently in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s old capital and magnet for creatives.

‘Wherever I travel, I always look for where the media congregate,’ Bob says.

‘You meet people of your own profession with great local knowledge that way. There were places like this in Bangkok and Hong Kong, but nothing in Chiang Mai.’

Inside the Chiang Mai Writers Club, there are high stools around a warm wooden bar, a comfy sofa in the corner, bookshelves and soft side lighting on the walls – it feels like you are stepping into a friend's home.

‘Tong and I wanted to create a place where we felt comfortable, so hopefully our friends would feel comfortable too,’ Bob explains.

‘It’s the dream of so many expats to open a bar but the mistake many of them make is not to put any of their character into the place they open.’

Takis Michas, a journalist for the Wall St Journal and Eleftherotypia paper in Greece, is sitting with us drinking a Singha beer. He is currently choosing between Washington, Copenhagen and Chiang Mai for his next foreign posting.

‘Why do you come to the Chiang Mai Writers Club?’ I ask Takis.

‘Simple,’ he says. ‘You meet very interesting people here – and it’s vital as a journalist to interact with people who share your interests.’

Takis has written books about politics and aims to write a historical novel about 16th century Thailand. I tell Takis that I’m reading Wolf Hall at the moment by Hilary Mantel set in Tudor times – and how wonderful it is when writers recreate history in fiction.

Bob then mentions that he once interviewed Hilary Mantel.

‘I spent a very interesting two hours on a train with Hilary Mantel from Munich to Nuremberg,’ Bob says. ‘I was working for an English language news programme for German television – aimed at Germans who wanted to deepen their knowledge of English culture, language and writing. The British Council in Munich were very active in bringing English writers and other cultural figures on tour to Germany. The interview was a great success because Hilary was a very bubbly person, wonderful for television and unlike a static interview in a hotel room, there was the German countryside rushing by in the background.’

Bob also tells me about interviewing Salman Rushdie after he wrote Midnight’s Children. ‘Salman spoke about his next project but wouldn’t say what it was, just that it would be very controversial – that was The Satanic Verses, of course.’

And this is how the conversation goes, it flows from one writing story to the next.

Julian and Tom join us, both journalists and regulars at Chiang Mai Writers Club and Wine Bar.

‘At the end of the working week, I come here to relax and say thank God it’s Friday,’ Julian says.

I ask Tom what it is about Chiang Mai that works for him as a writer.

‘I’m fortunate to have a freelance position so I can choose where I live. I fly to Bangkok when I need to but I love living in Chiang Mai for the easy access to the mountains and countryside. I can be in Mae Rim in 30 minutes for incredible views and really great coffee.’

By the end of my evening with Bob and Tong and the regulars at the Writers Club, my brain is replete with conversation about writing. And my stomach is satisfied with the blackberry and apple pie with ice cream that Tong brings to me.

I feel like a local already.

To drop in on Bob and Tong at Chiang Mai Writers Club and Wine Bar, go to 141-3 Ratchadamnoen Road, Chiang Mai or visit the Chiang Mai Writers Club online.

Bob has written 3 books, 2 of which are available from Bangkok books:
1)Sticky Rice at the Orchid Cafe - ‘full of touches of P.G. Wodehouse’ according to one reviewer.

2) Boom Boom Baby – ‘one of the funniest and most incisive books on Thai farang (foreigners) relationships you will ever read’ – reviewer at Pattaya Mail;

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

A very cool Cat in Chiang Mai, city of serendipity

Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand – the former capital of Thailand immediately gives you a feeling you don’t want to lose.

It’s like the feeling you get after a massage multiplied by the taste of a fresh mango shake. I feast on red pumpkin curry here and buy coconut ice cream from a lady on a bicycle with a parasol.

A black and yellow mynah bird says ‘hello’ and ‘sa-wat-dee-khap’ to me this afternoon. Then he wolf whistles.

What next?

A baby elephant in the bathroom? A monkey with a backpack on a bicycle? A cockroach on a miniature scooter?

There's magery at play in Chiang Mai (one part magic, one part mystery).

The city walls and the moat make me feel protected. Then there’s the excitement of exploring the lanes (sois) and the hills. I find golden temples and Buddhas and 100 Baht per hour Thai massages with a friend from New York.

And then there’s Cat, the queen of serendipity city...

Hours before I meet Cat, I have just posted on Facebook that I have never felt so free as I did scootering around the Chiang Mai hills. I walk to the Chiang Mai Writers Club and Wine Bar in search of writers in town – all the way, I’m thinking about a few questions...

How can I make this feeling of freedom last? How can I make travel a major part of my life? And combine adventure with my love of writing?

Then I walk into the Chiang Mai Writers Club on Ratchadamnoen Road and see Cat. She has a face that immediately makes me want to know her. Sparkly blue eyes, lean frame – she is like a beautiful gecko, I want to watch her but that would be rude. So I ask if I can join her.

Cat Nesbit is an author, I find out. She has written two books – Safari na Paka: Memoirs of a Solo Traveller and If you haven’t been pinched, you haven’t been to Rome. I love that title. Her third book is on the way.

Cat is 70 years young and has spent 25 of the last 45 years travelling. She has visited over 100 countries, although she doesn’t keep count – it’s me who presses her for the information. I want to learn from Cat the moment I meet her, you see.

Cat’s next trip from April 2011 onwards will be to France and Spain.

‘I arrive in Paris in April then I’ll head to Toulouse, beyond that everything is open,’ Cat tells me. She doesn’t believe in overplanning trips. ‘You have to allow the experience to unfold on the road.’

‘I first went to Paris in 1966 after leaving San Francisco. I took a Norwegian freighter across the Atlantic and found a job as an au pair. I travelled for almost 2 years. I spent time in the Lebanon, Jerusalem and Jordan – I was there a few weeks before the 6 day war in 1967. We saw the Israeli planes go over and knew there would be bombs.’

‘When I went back to America, I had to figure out how to change everything. I had to see the world. At that time in America, you got 1 week a year vacation. So at 33, I trained as a medical lab technician and then specialised in microbiology.’

I ask Cat about how she wrote her books.

‘What I love about writing is being able to relive my travel experiences. I keep diaries when I’m on the road. When working on a book, I write 2 – 3 hours a day then I go to a coffee shop or come here to Chiang Mai Writers Club for a glass of wine. I keep a jigsaw puzzle going for the days where I struggle to get going with my writing – the last one was an artist’s conception of San Francisco.’

I walk home past sleeping monkeys and fire-breathing dragons, thinking about Cat. At bedtime, I read in Safari Na Paka how Cat’s grandfather brought her puzzles as a child. ‘I developed a love for sorting out incongruous pieces and arriving at a meaningful whole which correlated to a life of research intermingled with travel,’ Cat writes.

For me, Cat’s idea of ‘sorting incongruous pieces’ into ‘a meaningful whole’ relates directly to writing fiction. It feels like working on a jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box for guidance sometimes. I have to trust that ‘a meaningful whole’ will develop later in the writing process.

Cat finishes by telling me why she loves Chiang Mai.

‘It’s comfortable, I can live here on a budget, there is no crime and there’s good medical and dental care. I can walk everywhere – I am completely free here.’

After meeting Cat, I decide to extend my stay in Chiang Mai – 1 week becomes 1 month, as easy as that. Like Cat, I feel completely free here.

Even the tuk tuk drivers are horizontal. There's definitely something going on.

For more information about Cat Nesbit’s books, visit Amazon:

Monday, 7 March 2011

A lesson in living life to the full - from international music maker Mark Wilkinson

‘I couldn’t walk for 18 months,’ Mark Wilkinson tells me in a packed nightclub in Patong, Phuket. Mark is tall, well over 6 foot – and he’s certainly standing now.

7 years ago when Mark was 33, he was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondilitis, symptoms of which include progressive curvature of the spine. Told by doctors that his condition was ‘incurable’ and would only get worse, Mark set about making changes to his lifestyle including a radical overhaul of his diet.

‘I just refused to accept what the doctors were saying,’ Mark says.

Mark not only walked again, he ran the London Marathon, twice, plus Berlin once, and is going for more this year.

Mark has also now created a new life for himself thousands of miles from his previous life as a promoter, producer and DJ based in the UK. He now lives in Chalong Beach in Phuket and broadcasts his four weekly radio shows (A History of Dance, Club Classics, Kidology (house music) & Disco Daze) Tuesday to Friday on Phuket 91.5 FM radio. He has an audience of local and international listeners.

‘I turn up, play all my favourite music for 3 hours a night and just dance in my seat – it’s great,’ he says, with a huge smile on his face. ‘I pictured myself in shorts and flip flops all year round – and here I am.’

‘So the plan is to stay in Thailand?’ I ask. Mark has worked in 65 countries, so he has quite a few to choose from.

‘Yeah certainly for the moment, I love living here in Phuket, the place is buzzing and developing so quickly, there are so many opportunities here in Asia right now I feel it’s the place to be, plus Phuket is well connected to the world with the international airport so I can get to all my worldwide gigs in just a few hours.’

Mark clearly sees Thailand as a booming area for the house and wider music industries:

'Just look around you,’ he says, ‘people want to come here.’ He is excited about building the reputation of his radio shows on Phuket FM radio 91.5FM and his Kidology brand in clubs not only on an island that loves to party, but also across Asia, a region of the world that he describes as expanding fast.

Mark is also writing a book about he managed to overcome his ‘incurable’ rheumatic disease.

‘It’s just something that I have to do now, its part of my purpose in life, to continue bringing joy to others through music and also with the book, to share what happened to me and how I’ve gone about fixing it. If I help one person it will be worth it.’

To listen to Mark’s radio shows online, go to: Phuket FM radio 7pm to 10pm: Thailand time (GMT +7hours); Tuesday to Friday).

To listen to Mark's music:
Kidology @ Pacha
Kidology London channel
Mark Wilkinson vs M J White, Mighty Real
Danny Rampling vs Mark Wilkinson, Night and Day
Mark Wilkinson vs Steve More, featuring Wray, The Player
K-Klass vs Mark Wilkinson, Know How

Friday, 4 March 2011

Ayesha - diver and writer with a passion for Koh Tao

Thailand, Egypt, Mozambique, Malaysia and The Maldives – these are some of the places that diver and writer, Ayesha, has travelled to and worked in as a dive instructor.

It was the small Thai island of Koh Tao (aka Turtle Island) that eventually won her over – for 2 years, Ayesha has called Koh Tao home.

‘I first came to Koh Tao 8 years ago and made a few dives. It was far less developed then it is now. I returned to corporate life for a few years before I saw sense and returned to Koh Tao to take my Dive Master and Instructor course.’

Ayesha now owns a dive centre with her boyfriend on Koh Tao called Master Divers, http://www.master-divers.com. She has ‘3 cats, a dog and a Koh Tao family.’

Koh Tao is known in the diving community as one of the best places to dive – courses are cheaper than many other places and you can swim with green turtles, white rock turtles, whale sharks and large shoals of tropical fish.

Ayesha also offers courses in underwater photography as she is a published photo-journalist. She writes articles for dive magazines, travel and backpacker magazines – http://www.master-divers.com/articles.htm

‘Initially I started writing to accompany my photographs,’ Ayesha says. ‘Now I like to promote Koh Tao with my articles and in future it will be promoting our website through our blog and championing the environmental programs and education. Articles tend to brew away in the back of my brain somewhere before becoming a real live bunch of words. By the time I sit down to type, it’s usually written in my head. Writing is only difficult when I’ve placed an idea but not really thought it through. I find talking it through with friends is when I find the thread.’

Ayesha’s other main passion besides diving and writing is preserving the natural beauty of Koh Tao.

‘My main concern for the island is the environment,’ Ayesha tell me. ‘In such a compact area you can see the effects of waste and pollution easily. As little as 20 years ago this island had virtually nothing on it but jungle and sandy coastline. Today it’s very different. My personal environmental war is plastic waste. I’m trying to reduce water bottle wastage. I want to get a visitor education program in place so that travellers coming here for just a few days understand their impact in terms of plastic waste and refuse plastic bags and straws and use water refill stations.’

So if you love diving or want to learn – visit Ayesha at Master Divers in Koh Tao. And say hi from me to this talented lady.