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.

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:


  1. Makes me want to visit there! :)

  2. Great to hear from you darling girl_ Anna Y xx

  3. Lovely visual writing to go with some great photos. Chiang Mai Writers Club sounds great.


  4. I know Cat and think she is a delightful person. It is so cool that you bumped into her and wrote this story! I live in Chiang Mai only for four months each year and it is hard to return to the states each year...

  5. Cat is a wonderful lady, such a pleasure to meet her - will be popping into the Chiang Mai Writers Club over the next few weeks to soak up some more of her wisdom.

  6. The thing about Cat is that you may be anywhere in the world, turn around and she might be there. It's kind of spooky, but makes her all the more lovable.

    Rak Khoon Cat!

    RLS in Portland

  7. Indeed, Cat is a very special woman. I first got to know her when she worked with my husband at the VA Hospital many years ago. I love that she makes us a "port stop" whenever she is in Los Angeles. Love From Donna & Morgan

  8. Cat is truly special, I agree. I bumped into her again yesterday at the Writers Club and enjoyed another 2 hours chat with her. She has so many stories.

  9. Philippe from Paris (France)25 March 2011 at 03:25

    Glad to read this article that Cat sent me over. I've known this outstanding woman for almost a decade now. We celebrated together my 30th birtday in Pakse (Laos). Ever since, there's been sometimes months or years during which distance kept us separated but when we get the chance to meet again either in Thailand, Laos or Paris, it's like we've never parted. It's a very easy and natural friendship. I feel we have a special connection and I'm glad to see her again soon in Paris after quite a while without seeing one another. She's a true and invaluable friend to me.

  10. Thank you Philippe for your comment, have a wonderful time with Cat in Paris. It was lovely to read what you wrote about Cat, I've learnt a lot from her.

  11. How wonderful! Thanks for sending the link Cat...great to read and makes me miss Chiang Mai..I too loved that sense of freedom & so much visual beauty..
    Sure i'll be back..xx Niki

  12. Oh this makes me want to go to Chang Mai even more! Thank-you!