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Phuket Gardening: Climbing to new heights

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Phuket Gardening: Climbing to new heights | Thaiger

PHUKET: A few columns back I threatened to return to the topic of easy-to-grow climbers. Some of the varieties mentioned then are indeed tough and resilient, but they are not natural vines inasmuch as they lack aids in the form of suckers, twining stems, modified leaves or tendrils to help them cling and ascend.

That they are substantial and weighty plants means that they need support of some kind or another, a requirement that inevitably takes up more of the gardener’s time and patience. Certainly they can be trained to flow over garden fences, pergolas, trellises and walls, but they do need to be given human aid and direction. Allamandas, solandras (chalice vines), thunbergias, Indian rubber vines and Rangoon creepers all come into this category. Even bougainvilleas, though these do cheat a bit by having vicious curved spines that enable them to get a grip on other plants, though not on smooth surfaces such as garden walls. All these vines happen to be personal favorites, since they are spectacular bloomers and extremely tolerant of a range of conditions for growth.

Among the genuinely low maintenance, self-sufficient climbers, perhaps the easiest of all is antigonum leptopus. That it has become invasive in parts of the southern states of America, is a clear reflection of its durability. Better known as the coral vine or Mexican creeper, I have seen it growing on a neglected roadside site in Chalong. It climbs rapidly with the aid of tendrils which can readily support the dense mass of heart-shaped leaves and attractive racemes of deep pink florets.

Having the inestimable advantage of flowering almost all year long, the coral vine can grow quite tall – maybe five meters in favorable conditions. Though it normally spreads by forming underground tubers and substantial root stocks, it also produces masses of seeds which germinate readily. Antigonum will also take from hard wood cuttings. If that is not enough to get you going, it is a popular potted plant in garden centers. It is fussy only about adequate moisture for its roots: perhaps I should pop among and see how the Chalong specimen is coping with the current spell of prolonged dry weather. But even if it has died back, it will probably reappear once the rains return.

Another toughie is the imopoea, usually referred to as “morning glory”. Associated with the so-called “flower power” movement of the sixties, the convolvulaceae genus contains some 400 species, and like the coral vine, its more vigorous brethren have become naturalized in some parts of the world. A single morning glory flourished on my baking hot patio in Andalucia, producing fifty or more blooms every day. Without visible means of support, it still managed to cling to the stuccoed walls. This variety, known as indica, has trumpet-shaped flowers of an intensely deep blue which turn to violet as the sun bleaches the color away.

Much more common here is a pink or pale mauve form (pulchella) which often grows wild. Horsfallia is a rare red version, while alba (known as the moon flower), is atypically not a sun worshipper at all, saving its huge white flowers for the arrival of twilight. Since the fragrant but fragile blooms then open quickly, it is possible to watch them unfold as dusk approaches. Because of this, it is not suited to a sunny tropical location. Give it a sheltered berth.

The elephant creeper or argyreia nervosa is another convolvulus that will thrive in Phuket, even though – and perhaps oddly – it is infrequently cultivated. Also known as the silver morning glory, it is the variety most associated with hallucinogenic properties, and contains lysergic acid amide (LSA), though increasingly its medicinal value (as an immune system booster), is being explored. In aesthetic terms, argyreia is a handsome, vigorous climber with distinctive large leaves which are silvery beneath. The rose-pink flowers are huge, and furry. Sadly these are often hidden among the lush foliage.

Nonetheless, this is another excellent choice for your low-maintenance garden. And once installed, it is bound to become a talking point.

If you have a question or a garden that you would like featured you can email me at: drpaccampbell@gmail.com

— Patrick Campbell

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Thai Life

“Mommy, there’s a snake!” – Expat in Phuket shares her story

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“Mommy, there’s a snake!” – Expat in Phuket shares her story | Thaiger
Pope's pit viper / Stock photo by Thai National Parks via Flickr

The following story was written by Amy Sukwan, an American who has been living in Thailand for 7 years.

To share a story with The Thaiger, click HERE.

“Mommy, there’s a snake!” my 8 year old daughter Eliza said, waking me up in the middle of the night.

I came out of our modest bungalow in Phuket at some unholy hour in the middle of the night, to see what my daughter’s whole “snake” thing was about. In the light of our front porch light, about 3 metres from our front door, 3 of our cats were surrounding something that looked at first to me to be a stack of rotting bananas.

“Eliza it’s nothing.” I tried to assure my daughter. Right at that moment the rotting bananas rose up into an aggressive posture as 3 cats circled it, hissing viciously. It was a surreal sight in the porch light.

“Mommy can you kill it!” My daughter begged me, as the thing, about four feet or over a meter long, lashed at one of our cats, who was quick enough to jump away. The snake had a big head that I could see in the porch light. It was distinctively mallet shaped, in what I was pretty sure was the viper class.

As much as I wanted to go back to sleep and pretend that this was all a bad nightmare, I now had a crying, frantic daughter who was terrified for her cats and a situation that I was quickly recognizing was pretty bad. Mai dee.

I needed to call in backup – my Thai husband. Eliza was already screaming his name. “Ka! Loon Ka!” My 8 year old screamed.


There are many venomous snakes in Thailand. Most people know about cobras but the viper class is the most deadly in the world, as vipers are both unpredictable and very difficult to charm. I was looking at a pit viper of some sort, I was pretty sure.

Snakes normally don’t bother you if you don’t bother them. But interactions are most common late in the dry season in Thailand, as it is now, in late March, as the snakes slither around houses in search of water. Thais don’t want them around for obvious reasons. You don’t want venomous snakes to breed and make babies close to your homestead.

If you are not sure if a snake is venomous or not, a good rule of thumb is to look at its head size in proportion to its body size. If the snake head is close to the same size as the rest of its body, and the snake is generally more wormlike in appearance, it is probably not venomous. If the head is large, say two or more times the diameter of the body, it might be poisonous. This does not constitute medical advice. If you get bitten by a snake, you should go to the hospital.


My husband woke up as Eliza was screaming for him. He came out groggily but as soon as my daughter pointed at the snake he saw the problem. “No good! I kill!” Ka said as he grabbed a machete from our kitchen rack. He wasted no time in coming to this decision.

So after being bathed in the surreal sight of three cats circling a hissing, striking, and very likely deadly serpent under our porch light, I got to be treated to an even weirder view. Ka went full Steve Irwin on the snake as he danced around with the machete. The viper sideswiped and tried to strike him. Then, it suddenly backlashed and made contact with his knee. Both me and Eliza cried out from the sidelines.

“She bit me!” Ka said as he macheted the viper’s mid body, and then its neck. Among my many shortcomings is a complete inability to gender snakes. So I will remain with my husband’s classification of the viper as female.

The snake stilled over the course of several minutes as my eight year old screamed in terror. It still seemed to be wiggling even five minutes later, though its body slowly stilled. Ka helped me put it in a plastic bag.

“You go hospital now!” I screamed at him.

“No worries. She don’t bite me with poison.” Ka seemed sure of this. He’d grown up on a 50 rai spread of backwoods in Phuket and was something of a designated snake killer.

My husband had tracked and killed a 5 foot long snake months before, which he had assured me had no poison, but which he had not wanted around the house. I was able to identify that one through Google images and a snake discussion group as an Indochinese Rat snake, which was indeed not venomous.

There was only one bite mark on his knee the viper had come in from an unusual angle and only one fang had punctured through. But I could see from closer inspection of the now dead snake what I had already known. It looked like a dark green Pit Viper. She was about 4 feet long, or maybe 130 centimetres. The poor girl had probably been looking for water.

Symptoms of a poisonous snake bite include pain at the site, swelling, and changes in heart rate or breathing. Needless to say Ka is still alive and well, and probably had enough experiences of snakes to know that this was a dry bite, or one without venom, as about 50% of snake bites are. I wouldn’t have taken my chances on this, though.

The reason that poisonous baby snakes are thought to be more deadly is not because they have more venom, but because they always release venom when they do bite. I prayed in Buddhist style for the snake to have a better life next time, as she had made merit by not killing either our cats or my husband. But for the amateurs out there, I wouldn’t advise going to Steve Irwin about these things. Normally snakes bite you because you bother them.


It turns out that sometimes you chase the story. And sometimes the story chases you.

I’d seen a recent post on The Thaiger asking for guest bloggers to share their stories regarding Thailand. I think I laughed out loud on reading it. After 7 years in the “Land of Smiles,” with 2 Thai husbands and after giving birth to 2 children here, I’d like to think I’ve seen it all. I probably have 10,000 stories.

But what do I want to write about? Should I mention my early days as a farang in Thailand, during the time when I was working as an OPC for a timeshare? Do I want to give advice on making visas, as an American staying in Thailand or for a Thai going to America? Should I talk about going to Thai hospitals? Or maybe I should write something about Thai Buddhist funeral proceedings? I’ve put my first husband and both my mother and father in law in the ground at Wat Prathong. Should I talk about ASQ and travelling during Covid madness? Or should I mention the Full Moon Party on Koh Pha Ngan? I’ve been to five of those, personally.

This weekend I was harvesting cashew fruit with a Thai friend of ours in Phuket who has a large spread of family land. We burnt the cashew nuts, and I thought that this would make a great story, as many farang ask me about growing and harvesting practices in my little outback area. Unfortunately a quick Google search revealed that cashew nuts are dangerous, even to people without allergies, as they contain a chemical close to poison ivy. Only professional processors should deal with cashew nuts, in short. I’ve been eating the fruit and burning the nuts for years. But I gathered that life is too dangerous. So much for that story.

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Food Scene

Thai Airways food landing in 7-Eleven next month

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Thai Airways food landing in 7-Eleven next month | Thaiger
PHOTO: Yum yum, it's airline food 'on the go'

Warning. Some low-altitude turbulence is coming to a 7-Eleven near you. Thai Airways has cooked up a new money-making scheme during Covid-19 to sell its airline food in 7-Eleven. Set to take off on April 15, the mostly grounded and indebted airline will attempt to offset its losses during the pandemic by selling food in the ubiquitous convenience store and other supermarkets throughout Thailand.

It’s a clever strategy for a struggling company, but will customers take the bite? Surely a few crispy pork and rice dishes will knock the edge of that 300 billion baht debt!

Claiming that their busy flight schedule has always previously stood in the way of the airline’s foray into the fast food market, Thai Airways now has the supply (and time) with most flights grounded by the pandemic’s decimation of the travel industry and less hungry mouths to feed in the sky.

The first meals schedule to arrive on the shelves of 7-Eleven just after the Songkran holiday are Thai Airways’ halal chicken biryani dish, and the traditional Thai dish nam phrik long ruea, crispy and fluffy fish and sweet pork served in a fermented shrimp chilli paste. The primary push into the food industry will be more unusual meals to stand out in 7-Eleven’s selection.

The question remains whether the food selection will fly off the shelves, but the airline’s hopes are high after their airline launched pop-up restaurants in September and the public ate it up. It seems that, contrary to a million stand-up comedy jokes about how terrible airline food is, people have really missed it with so much cancelled travel due to border closures and restrictions.

Thai Airways hopes this creative departure from their main business will help bolster the struggling airline, who were previously denied a government bailout after declaring bankruptcy last year. They have tried everything from the pop-up restaurants to jumbo yard sales to renting out flight simulators. Even with the sharp reduction of flights due to the pandemic, flying will still be the company’s main mealticket, but they hope meal sales will make up for low ticket sales until the travel industry recovers.

So stow your tray table and fasten your seat belt as we see if the 7-Eleven offerings of Thai Airways’ food takes off.

(The Thaiger has a better solution. Let 7-Eleven lease Thai Airway’s grounded planes and run the whole business instead)

SOURCE: Coconuts Bangkok

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Chon Buri

Banquet for ghosts held in Chon Buri cemetery – some food left over

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Banquet for ghosts held in Chon Buri cemetery – some food left over | Thaiger
PHOTO: flickr.com - a Thai Graveyard

To fulfill a woman’s dying wish, townspeople in the Panthong district of Chon Buri hosted an elaborate banquet for ghosts in a local cemetery this week. The 36-table extravaganza was set up 43 year old Tanawan Choti. His mother had asked him to give a free banquet for all the ghosts of her friends and family that had died before her… a welcome party to the afterlife.

Tanawan honoured his mother’s request earlier this week before she passed away, with a no-expense-spared feast featuring food and drinks, luxury dishes and silverware, and entertainment for the ghosts of honour. Living speech-makers imparted their best wishes to the Chon Buri ghosts. The locals set up the 36 tables for a Chinese-style banquet and entertained the guests for about an hour.

A local event food service worker said that, despite years in the industry, this was the first ghost dinner he’d catered for. He said he found it “abnormal to serve the paranormal and was left with a ghastly feeling working in the cemetery”. (We figure there was quite a lot of food left over as well.)

While graveyards are not common in Thailand, since Buddhists cremate their dead, burials still occur amongst descendants of Chinese-Thai people. Regardless of religion or heritage, belief in ghosts or other paranormal phenomenon is common throughout Thailand. Spirit houses are frequently built outside local homes for ghosts to live in, and serviced every day with fresh offerings.

While the otherworldly banquet may be viewed by some with confusion or scepticism, the feast did have a real-world happy ending, Eakkaluck explained…

“After finishing the banquet ceremony, the food was given to poor people in the area as unfortunately, it appeared the ghosts could not actually consume earthly substances.”

SOURCE: The Pattaya News

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