THAI­LAND

Fashion (Canada) - - Fashion Escapes - Pho­tog­ra­phy by Arkan Zakharov Creative di­rec­tion by Brit­tany Ec­cles Styling by El­iza Gross­man Text by Noreen Flana­gan

We have just left Panyee, a Mus­lim vil­lage on stilts, and are en route to a beach pic­nic on the is­land of Rang-Yai when our pho­tog­ra­pher Arkan Zakharov yells: “Stop! Can we shoot on that lit­tle is­land?” He points to a rocky islet crop­ping out of the An­daman Sea. “Sure,” re­sponds Teddy Kong­sawatt, one of our guides. “But we’ll have to be quick be­cause the tide is com­ing in and it’s go­ing to dis­ap­pear!” Once we reach the islet, Shaugh­nessy and El­iza Gross­man, our fash­ion ed­i­tor, scram­ble out. (You can’t see Gross­man be­cause she’s ly­ing flat on the ground be­hind the tiny knoll.) We pull away, leav­ing them ma­rooned. It’s a stun­ning im­age—just one of the many vis­ual me­mories I will have of our time in Phuket.

To­day the sky is blue and al­most cloud­less, but when we landed last night, it was in the mid­dle of a tor­ren­tial down­pour. The rain was madly ric­o­chet­ing off the pave­ment, stir­ring up hu­mid­ity-drenched misty clouds. June Na-Songkhla, our guide, must have sensed we were wor­ried about the shoot the next day. “We say our weather is like a woman’s mood,” she as­sured us. “She may be an­gry but not for too long.” Our “weather mis­tress” had in­deed set­tled down by the time we ar­rived at Tu Kab Khao, a restau­rant in Old Phuket Town. It was here that I had my first en­counter with galan­gal, or Thai gin­ger. When I bit into a slice, I was ex­pect­ing some­thing pun­gently spicy, but my con­fused taste buds reg­is­tered citrus and pine flavours. It was the first of many new taste and tex­tu­ral sen­sa­tions. (Steamed cubes of doughy white bread dipped in bright green pan­den cus­tard was an­other high­light.)

Later we checked into the Nai Harn re­sort, which is about 17 kilo­me­tres from the town of Phuket, and set our alarms for a 5:30 a.m. start to our is­land-hop­ping ad­ven­tures. Morn­ing comes quickly, but for­ti­fied with cof­fee, we head out to the har­bour. It’s early, but I can al­ready feel the heat and hu­mid­ity kick­ing in. I board the boat and head to the front. As we pick up speed, en route to James Bond Is­land for our first shot, I turn my face into the wind and let my hair fly. I sus­pect I look like a blissed-out re­triever pok­ing her head out the win­dow of a pickup truck.

The next day, we’re back on land and head­ing to the Phang Nga Ele­phant Park. It’s a small fam­i­lyrun oper­a­tion in south­ern main­land Thai­land that of­fers eth­i­cal ele­phant tourism. Jake Thao­tad and his cousin Lek Songkaw set up the park in 2015 af­ter Thao­tad re­turned from Lon­don, Eng­land, where he was work­ing as a mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist. Thao­tad tells us that his fam­ily have been in­volved with ele­phants for 150 years and that help­ing do­mes­ti­cated ele­phants is para­mount to their mis­sion. “We let our vis­i­tors in­ter­act with them in a way that isn’t ex­ploitive,” he says. “It hurts me a lot when peo­ple say that all Thais are cruel to their ele­phants as it is sim­ply un­true. But what we have to re­al­ize is that with­out tourism, ele­phant own­ers have no means to care for these won­der­ful an­i­mals. It is un­re­al­is­tic to think that thou­sands of ele­phants can be homed in a hand­ful of sanc­tu­ar­ies. And talk of turn­ing them loose is un­re­al­is­tic firstly be­cause Thai­land does not have the land and se­condly be­cause do­mes­ti­cated an­i­mals can­not be left to fend for them­selves. So what I want is a world where healthy and con­tented ele­phants can be used but never abused.”

While we’re tak­ing our last shots, a dark bank of clouds rolls in over the hills. It seems our weather friend is about to have an­other one of her moods. As the doors to the van close, the rain starts, but it’s a short­lived, blus­tery fit. When we ar­rive back in Phuket, the sun is set­ting. In the dis­tance, I can see the glow­ing and peace­ful sil­hou­ette of Big Bud­dha sit­ting atop the Nakkerd Hills. It’s an­other pic­ture-per­fect mo­ment.

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