How I found out that money laundering does not pay


Favourite meal

Not necessarily the best meal I've had in Thailand, but my favourite, is a plate of pad thai from a street stall in Chiang Mai that's been operating ever since my first visit 10 years ago. Once most of the shops on Tha Pae Road, the main drag, have closed, the chef and her bevy of helpers appear with a large trolley, out of which come folding tables and metal stools, a simple clay stove and all the other cooking paraphernalia. She begins her cookery performance under a single white light bulb dangling from a long lead - who knows where the electricity supply comes from - working the wok quickly and effortlessly, with the flames licking up towards her face. And what is pad thai? For those who haven't tasted it, it's the national dish (the name just means "Thai fry"), a very more-ish combination of noodles, egg, lemon juice, fish sauce, chilli powder, sugar, preserved turnip, peanuts, dried shrimp, beansprouts and spring onions, thrown and stirred together in 30 seconds flat. The trick is in the noodles, which are parboiled and doused in a secret recipe of oil and spices.

Biggest blunder

My first research trip to Thailand involved motorbiking along the remote north-western border with Burma, an area known for smuggling and random acts of banditry, and especially hairy at that time when skirmishes between the Burmese army and Karen freedom fighters were spilling over on to Thai territory. For inspiration (and consolation) I was reading What am I Doing Here, a collection of short stories by Bruce Chatwin, in which he describes, somewhat smugly, coming through an African coup and being the only foreign correspondent with any money, which he had hidden in his dirty laundry. What was good enough for Bruce, I decided, was good enough for me, dropping my traveller's cheques and sterling notes into a rancid sock - and promptly forgetting about them. Five days later, I ran out of Thai money, but not before I'd taken the opportunity to drop off my laundry bag for a service wash ...

Best temple

One of the most compelling destinations in Thailand is the Xanadu-like retreat of Wat Phu Tok in the isolated north-eastern corner of the country. Here, jutting steeply out of a plain by the Mek- hong River are two sandstone outcrops, one of which has been transformed into a meditation temple. Fifty or so monks have built their huts high on perches above the breathtaking red cliffs, linked by horizontal white wooden walkways, to give the temple seven levels representing the seven stages of enlightenment. The walkways are not for the fainthearted, but it's worth persevering to experience an echo of Buddhist heaven in the Himalayan forests.

Best journey

My first day of researching The Rough Guide to Thailand and I've missed out on reserving a second-class air-conditioned couchette, with full meal service, on the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. I settle myself on to the slatted wooden seats of third class on the daytime train and prepare myself for 13 hours of downtime, my only consolation being the prospect of planning my research in the north. The Thais around me smile and chat, and kids run around my feet, curious about this gawky, blond alien. At each station neatly decorated with pungent frangipani, hawkers pile onto the train, offering trays of skewered fish balls, sticky rice pudding and deep-fried crickets. Every time I pull another piece of clothing out of my rucksack to insert between the hard seat and my soft Western bottom, gales of laughter break across the carriage. By the time the train trundles up into the cool of the northern mountains, I'm relaxed and feel I've got a handle on the country again and what I'm doing here.

Every time I go to Ko Tao, the remotest island of the Samui archipelago, three hours in a leaky wooden tub from Ko Pha Ngan, a storm blows up. The only protection against seasickness I've found useful is staring at the horizon and reciting over and over the names of the England team, with Sir Alf Ramsey's revolutionary 4-4-2 formation, that won the 1966 World Cup.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own