The Land of Smiles

So, this is what they call it – the Land of Smiles. In my month here in Thailand, I can honestly say I can only agree with the epithet. The people of this land are truly some of the most sweet and affable persons I have ever encountered on the road, and travelling among them has been a sort of bliss – the perfect start to my adventures in 2023.

This land, among so many special things, is of course pretty famous these days for its party islands, full-moon raves, the madness of Bangkok. But like every country, there is always so much more than these obvious, overrun and over-visited places. Siam still has some untouched, pristine islands. I chose to spend my seaside days here on the Andaman Sea on the west coast. I snorkelled above many reefs, resplendent with thousands of fish and abundant sea-life. Such a marvel to behold, it was like swimming through a giant fish bowl. How wonderful, too, to spend time in the Moken villages scattered throughout these islands. The Moken People are known as ‘sea gypsies’ who spend half the year on land in huts and the other half out at sea, living on their boats. They are famous for their swimming abilities, most especially for an ability to keep their eyes open underwater for long periods… an enviable gift indeed. Like all indigenous peoples they live in harmony with the land.

One story I heard which blew my mind – the huge tsunami that smashed into the islands in the Andaman Sea back in 2004, with its monstrous 100-foot waves, was foreseen by the Moken peoples. They felt it in the waters, in the air, they sensed it coming and retreated to higher ground on the islands and were kept safe of that massive oceanic power that swept across the area and tragically claimed so many lives. Can you imagine being that connected to the earth? I still cannot fathom it… we make such progress as humanity, every day, and yet we move further and further from the truth of what we are made of.

As time goes on I fall more and more in love with the world beneath the waves…


I’m travelling at the moment with a couple of friends from England who are insane enough to step out on the road with me (my brother including in their ranks). Naturally our road lead us to Bangkok, so we could regroup before flying onwards. You won’t be surprised to know that I did manage to have some wild fun in the city – ate a fried scorpion, danced with a python, and watched a snake milking session at the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute, which provides anti-venom for victims around the world and is the oldest such institute in Asia. Now that’s my kind of party. Check out that shot of cobra venom…

I’ve always had a soft spot for snakes. Like a lot of beings in this world, they’re deeply misunderstood…


But of all the things I’ve seen, if I had one recommendation to travellers it would probably be to visit Ayutthaya – the ancient Siamese capital. The city of a hundred spires and domes, the once-mighty capital of a powerful empire now left in ruins, where moss, banyan and jasmine grow unkempt. It was such a pleasure to explore its mystical atmosphere, imbued with the distant memory of choral chants, billows of sandalwood smoke, the twang of gongs and tingling of many bells. Here you will walk freely without the great throngs of people like in neighbouring Siem Reap. I really have no idea why this place isn’t half as famous. It is a marvel. I was in complete awe, mystified and entranced.

If you’re lucky, you may even get stuck on your bike behind an elephant or two…

“Moments on the quiet islands fade to an end, giving way to the grit and fuss of many cities, as we make our way through parts of Asia. Reflecting makes little sense as time goes on but brings me some comfort. I leave at least with a reminder that the Divine is present in all things, the ones untouched, the ones moulded by human hands. All are a part of Creation’s playful drama. Holding arms up to the sky, sitting at the buzzing bus stop, all are prayer. We are given to have company in this life, at every turn we are surrounded by the constant hum of progress and decay, the rising and falling of smog, flowers turning toward the sun, moons curling across blackening skies, children crying, lovers yearning. I breath a little deeper, I dream a little more, some days I am stronger, some weaker, all of it makes sense only if I trust that something far bigger than my human mind is at the helm, weaving a great tapestry of expression, within which I am merely a thread…”

A self-portrait among the ruins of Old Siam, 2023

Although it may be a touch late, I wish each and every one of you a blessed new year,
filled with grace and the fulfilment of your heart’s desires.

Here’s to whatever comes next… Jx


  1. Always a special treat to see one of your posts James. You’re such a generous, kind and adventurous soul, and I love how you honor the peoples and places you encounter on your journeys. Thanks for sharing them with us.

  2. My goodness, what a refreshing post to read! You have taken me right back to my backpacking days in early 2000s. Thailand is a gem – the people are the nicest/sweetest you’ll ever meet. I felt I could snorkel forever there!! Thank you for sharing your beautiful story with those fab pics 🙂🙏

    1. I know the feeling – the snorkelling really blew me away. Glad it took you back. In typical fashion, I do everything backwards and head to SE Asia nearly 10 years into my backpacking adventures, but, hey, who makes these rules anyway! It’s been nice to travel somewhere so easy.

  3. Thailand is a beautiful and magical place and I’ve really enjoyed seeing your amazing photographs! Blessings to you!

Shine Your Light...