Leaving Thailand

Thailand has been for me a beautiful country. Our planned route never worked out and we ended up experiencing a completely unexpected journey to almost deserted islands and the amazing Khao Sok National Park. Our few days spent in the jungle and on the rafthouses were absolutely awesome and definitely one of the highlights of our trip so far.

Bangkok remains my favourite city in the world, with fantastic shopping centres, spirit houses, wondrous temples, street vendors, cheap taxis, rip off designer gear, excellent transport system and millions of people it is a great place and I would recommend a visit to anyone.

After just over a month here, in some ways I feel like I know and understand the Thai people and their culture even less now than before we arrived here. The majority of people we have met have been friendly but despite our best attempts some of the people we have met have been really unfriendly and rude. As we have learnt our manners in Thai and used them on every occasion I can only assume that the famous Thai smiles have maybe become a bit jaded due to the numbers of “farang” that visit every year.

The majority of Thais are deeply religious and fervent royalists and we have seen evidence of this in every single town we have visited. We have been pleased to see less of the sex tourism side to Thailand but definitely think this is because we didn’t visit places like Pattaya. (We only had one night out in Patpong!) I read some books documenting stories of young women involved in prostitution in Bangkok and their stories make you realise that even a fairly innocent voyeuristic night out to gawp at the girlie bars actually just adds to the exploitation of these women and sometimes men and children.

Unfortunately or maybe fortunately we never made it to the north of Thailand. I’m sorry about this but on the other hand we now have a great excuse to return here in a few years time.

After a 5 hour bus ride today, we have finally arrived at the Thai/Cambodian border town of Aranya prathet. We have read reports that Poipet the border town on the other side is like the wild, wild east, so have decided to stay here for the night and cross the border in the morning when hopefully the numbers of people crossing into Cambodia will be less. We will be issued with a visa at the border; if everything goes smoothly it will cost us 80 US dollars. The US dollar is the most commonly used currency in Cambodia although the riel and Thai baht are also accepted in some places. The border guards are renowned for being corrupt and apparently the taxi service on the other side is run by the local mafia.

As Cambodia is still littered with landmines, poverty stricken and a somewhat lawless society where disputes are usually sorted out by gunshot, Maisie did ask in all seriousness why are we going there? Well I think she has a point, but despite all the scare stories violent crimes against foreigners are very rare and the lure of Angkor Wat is proving too great! We researched all our trip destinations very carefully and as always when moving to a new country checked the UK foreign office website for the latest travel information last night. We’re not scared just a bit apprehensive!

We stay in our room and Simon gets some food, a basic meal of rice, vegetables and green curry. After a very short hour of literacy, we watch the new Rocky Balboa film and as we have to be up at 6am its lights off by 10.

Last day in Bangkok

It is our last day in Bangkok and we decide to try and make it an educational one. We therefore set off for The National Museum. Unfortunately our cabbie doesn’t seem to understand where we want to go at all despite showing him the name in Thai also and we have to stop and ask a few people before we’re on the right track!

He chucks us out quite a distance from the museum and we decide to walk the rest of the way. It’s hot but so cloudy that it isn’t unbearable and we make our way along quite well. We have read recently that Bangkok has a huge drive to clean it up and it is for the most spotlessly clean wherever we have been, making walking along the streets an interesting pleasure. As we pass an ornate temple a well dressed, business like looking fella points out King Rama 3rd’s statue. After a quick chat we realise he is a scam artist, big clue when he tells us today is Buddhist day and the museum is closed!

The Royal Family are of utmost importance to most Thais and deeply respected. We spent a few hours learning about the Kings when we travelled to Thailand and are hoping to consolidate some of this information for the kids today. The present monarch is King Bhumibol Adulyadej ( Rama 9th) and has reigned since 1946 making him the worlds longest serving head of state. He is immensely popular and regarded by many Thais as a semi divine figure.

The museum is interesting and we use the exhibits to discuss some of Thailand’s history that we have learnt during our stay here. The kids are really knowledgeable about recent history such as the Japanese invasion during WWII and we refresh our memories of ancient history. When we holidayed in Thailand in 2005 we visited Kanchanaburi (The Bridge over the River Kwai) and were amazed and inspired by Ali and Maisie’s level of comprehension and capacity for compassion when faced with the stories of the atrocities of The Burma Railway and a visit to The Allied war cemeteries. It was for us all a deeply moving experience and one which we won’t forget.

The most interesting exhibits were the fabulous funeral palanquins. So ornate and beautifully gilded, the largest palanquin has carried the cremated remains of all of the previous 8 kings of Thailand. It was last used in 1996 when the present king oversaw the funeral procession of his mother.

By now we have all had enough and head off to Siam Square for some food. We decide on Ali’s favourite sushi and then take the kids to see the supercars. We catch the skytrain back and they have a quick swim before settling down to some maths with Simon. I repack some of our gear and we talk about our travel plans over the next few days. We are both slightly apprehensive about our journey through Cambodia. The roads and transport system are fairly poor and the whole country is still recovering from the brutal Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970′s.

We are going to try for an early night as we have a long journey ahead tomorrow.

Crepes & Co

It was great to wake up this morning and go and wake the kids up. We have decided to spend the day doing what they want and after breakfast they head for the pool. I am putting the dreaded schoolwork off for today. They did cover 2 sections of science whilst they were with Jem and Caron, so I don’t feel too bad about it.

We have a quiet and lazy day sat by the pool sunbathing and reading. There are two children staying here called Callum and Hazel and before too long they are all playing together. Simon and I chat to their mum and she tells us they are on holiday for a month and heading to Ko Samui on Saturday.

By 5.30 we’re all feeling a bit frazzled, it has been cloudy on and off today but very hot and we all have our showers to cool down. We collect a huge bag of laundry and I have a big sort out of the kid’s clothes. We will leave some stuff here as they have come back with a few new items and some of their gear is starting to look really worn.

Maisie sits on the bed reading the Lonely Planet and announces she has found somewhere for dinner. It turns out to be a crepe restaurant and as it is only 2 skytrain stops away we decide to give it a try. The food is ok but the setting is lovely and we have another relaxed and happy evening chatting together. We call off at Haagen Daz on the way home and all end up sharing Maisie’s cone. As usual her eyes are bigger than her belly!

Ali and Maisie are back!

I wake up feeling queasy, probably excited as kids are back today and can’t face breakfast. We end up in Starbucks and I have a cappuccino and apple and walnut muffin- very healthy. We have decided to go to Chinatown this morning, I bought a silver claw hairclip when we were here before and want to get another.

We take a taxi to Hualamphong train station. First job of the day is to cancel our tickets to Sukuthai and get a partial refund. Due to the continuing poor air quality in the north of Thailand we have decided not to go there. We walk from there to Chinatown, it’s not far and Chinatown is a completely fascinating area. There are lots of shop fronts along the amazingly busy streets, selling all sorts of stuff from red Chinese lanterns to good luck charms, whole Peking duck, live crabs, everything you would need to make shoes, nuts, fresh fruit, solid aluminium bars, gold jewellery and silk to name just some things.

We find the shop I wanted and get my hairclips, as we are walking along we realise we are outside The Temple of the Golden Buddha. We visited it last time and hadn’t planned to return but decide to as we right here. The golden Buddha is one of Thailand’s most valuable treasures. Its stands at 15ft, is 700 years old and is made of solid gold. Like the sacred Emerald Buddha, it was originally covered in plaster and it wasn’t discovered to be made of gold until 1955. It is really beautiful and we take lots of photos and stand gazing at it for ages.

Several hours in Chinatown is enough and we catch a taxi to Siam Square. We do a bit of shopping, have some lunch and then get the sky train back to Ploen Chit. Jem has planned to bring the kids back at 6pm and we have a shower and laze around for the afternoon.
Eventually they arrive, we’re so thrilled to see them and it sounds like they have had a fantastic time. They say goodbye to Jem and we have a drink before heading up the road to the Italian restaurant where we ate last night. We have an absolutely perfect evening, hearing all about their time in Ko Samui and tell them what we have been doing in Ko Chang and Ko Samet.

When we get back to The Atlanta we all jump in the bed together and watch a film. It’s so good to have them back and we are relieved they are so pleased to be “home” We did wonder if they would say they had had enough of travelling and wanted to return to England but no, happily that doesn’t seem to be the case at all!

It’s late now, past midnight and I’m off to bed, gonna get a lie in tomorrow before we think about our next plans for travel to Cambodia.

Back to Bangkok

Today we have to return to Bangkok as we will be collecting Ali and Maisie tomorrow afternoon. We set our alarm for 8am and while Simon quickly repacked I went down to the bookshop to exchange my book. After our breakfast we said goodbye to the fella at Ao Phia resort and wandered down to the road to wait for a taxi. 10 minutes later and we’re on our way back to the pier, we pass Ko Samet’s main beach on the way. It does look really busy and overdeveloped but we’ve loved it here and I’m sorry to be leaving.

We buy our boat ticket (50 baht) and clamber across 2 wooden fishing boats to get to the one we want. Glad we don’t have all our gear with us, it has been a lot easier with only 2 rucksacks. Once the boat is full we set off back to the mainland, it takes about 40 minutes and its good sitting on the boat in the warm sun. We make our way up the rickety wooden pier which looks like it may collapse at any moment. I ask to use a toilet and a small boy shows me the way, past his family’s home.

Eventually we get on a minibus to Bangkok; it costs 250 baht each and the journey takes around 3 hours. I read my book and listen to my music on the way, as we near Bangkok it starts to rain heavily. The roads into Bangkok are big, busy highways and the traffic is heavy but despite this the driver speeds along, narrowly avoiding several other cars on the way. The casual approach to safety is something I’ll never get used to and I close my eyes and hope for the best. Happily we soon arrive unscathed and jump out into the chaos that is Bangkok.

As the traffic looks solid we decide to take the skytrain, we are going back to The Atlanta Hotel in Th Sukumvit area. The skytrain is fast efficient, cheap and easy to use and credited with solving much of Bangkok legendary traffic problem. Since our holiday in Thailand an underground metro system has also opened, reducing pollution and congestion. We get off the skytrain at Ploen Chit Station and walk a few hundred yards up the road to Starbucks. An iced coffee and complimentary brownie later and we’re ready for the final traipse up the road.

Back at The Atlanta we get ourselves sorted, hot water shower is good and I sort out my wild looking hair. We are completely starving and head out for some food. We don’t get far, 200 yards up the road and decide the little Italian restaurant we have passed a few times looks good. It’s very quiet there and we are the only customers sat outside but the food and service are both excellent. We chat to the manager who is Vietnamese and she tells us a little about her country. It really sounds so beautiful and I can’t wait to get there. She offers us lemon cello after our meal, Simon tried it before whilst working in Italy but I never have and it goes down a treat.

Get back to our hotel and off to bed the kids are back tomorrow, so excited!! Going to do a bit of shopping and hopefully to Chinatown to buy a hair clip.

Loving it here

When I was reading the LP it described Ko Samet as very over developed, infested with mosquitos and with a large collection of pesky stray dogs. Well just goes to show guidebooks are after all, only someone’s opinion. We have really liked it here and it has definitely been one of my favourite places we have visited in Thailand. Some of the stretches of beach are quite busy, but the roads are rustic to say the least, the accommodation is basic and cheap and there are definitely more young Thais here having a good time than package tourists or backpackers.

The beach is so gorgeous, powdery white sand and the sea is clearer than almost anywhere else we have been. We have had a lovely day, sitting in deckchairs catching a few rays on the beach. I have been listening to Faithless on my newly updated MP3 player and Simon has been recovering from a late night, he sat up watching the rugby. In the afternoon we had a snack of sweet sticky rice cooked in bamboo and fresh mango. So good.

Tomorrow we will be heading back to Bangkok and collecting the kids on Tuesday, can’t wait, sad as it sounds I feel like I have been ticking the days off until we get them back! On the way back from the beach we collect our laundry, never again will I under estimate what a fantastic invention washing machine and tumble driers are. Although the thrill of having clean clothes to wear is an emotion that I never experienced at home and definitely something I completely took for granted!

Well we’re both knackered and plan to get some food and then an early night. Although we are in theory only around 3 hours max from Bangkok, sometimes short journeys have a horrible habit of taking all day and we’re not too enthralled with the thought of a bus ride tomorrow.

Ao Phia Resort

Its clear blue skies today and we virtually skip down the hill looking for some breakfast. We decide that we will check out some of Ko Samet’s other beaches on the net before deciding whether to move or not. I like it here and after checking the other beaches we decide to stay put, we had thought about going somewhere quieter but as its Saturday night we’re more in the mood to party than sit in some secluded restaurant. Anyway we ring a few places and they’re all full so that’s that, we’re going nowhere.

Ko Samet is full of young people down from Bangkok for the weekend; the amount of liquor that they have brought with them is impressive, I think even Simon, Alli, Adrian and me on a big night would be hard pushed to get through that lot, although if they were here I guess we would have a little go!

We have such a doss day, thanks to Cherie for suggesting we come here, it’s great, so different to Ko Chang, much busier but in a friendly party kind of way. We laze around on the veranda of our bungalow. In the evening we have a few beers and then phone home and talk to mum about their holiday plans, how exciting! We decide to have a BBQ on the beach for dinner, the kebabs are yummy and cheap and we have a few gins to wash them down.

After dinner we walk along the shores edge, there are fire twizzlers and the whole beach is buzzing with Thai’s partying hard. My sandals have bust so I walk along bare footed, I did try hopping along for a little while but it was slow progress and I gave it up in the end. We reach a bar and sit on floor mats at a low table; it’s a fantastic setting out on the rocks in a little sandy space. We listen to the music, very atmospheric “Come on Barbie lets go party” etc I love it! And watch some young couple having a row! As I am about to say “I’ll have a coffee please” some strange impulse causes me to say “I’ll have a frozen Margarita” and before I know I know it the dreaded tequila is on the table. (Cherie do you remember that night)

As we are leaving I see a big shell on the bar, I have a listen for the sea but get slightly confused as we are right on the beach so not too sure if the sea I hear is the actual sea or not, anyway the fella says I can have it, so nice of him. When I get it home it has I love Samed carved on it. A love shell -aaah!

Ko Samet

We have slept through for 12 hours and wake up feeling slightly more rested than the last 2 previous mornings. We have our breakfast and set off on what I can only describe as an arduous journey that went something like this sawngthaew, ferry, sawngthaew, bus, sawngthaew, coffee, sawngthaew, speedboat, knackered converted fishing boat ( worried here I may never be seen again) sawngthaew. I now have a pressure sore the size of Wales on my arse, a blinding headache and indigestion through lack of food.

Still when we finally arrive on Ko Samet I just know I’m going to have a good time here, its busy and the bars and restaurants and fairly packed but the music being blasted out onto the beach is my kind of thing. We bypass the pier beach and get out at the next beach having paid 400 baht national park entrance fees first. The roads are terrible but I quite enjoy bouncing around in the back of the sawngthaew, it’s a bit like low key mountain climbing for jeeps.

We eventually get somewhere to stay after trailing round for 40 minutes, its dark and the little bungalow we have chosen is basic but the bed is so so and its cheap. We have dinner on the beach, although we wait ages for our food, beef with basil, chicken and cashews, fried vegetables and steamed rice, when it comes it really good and we wolf it down. After a few drinks we make our way up the hill and crash out, plenty of time for Ko Samet tomorrow.

Siam Beach Resort Hotel

Today we have had a blissful day; we woke up and walked the 500m along the beach to The Siam Beach Hotel. This is where we will be spending tonight at least and we get some breakfast and have some coffee before bagging a couple of beach sun loungers The weather is gorgeous today, bright hot and sunny and I lie on my sunbed under the shade of a coconut palm, listening to my MP3 player and thanking my lucky stars that I’m here today and not stuck at work.

The sea is very warm and we have a great time splashing around together, it is the first time we have been on holiday without the kids for years and we are starting to really enjoy ourselves! There are some small waves and lots of bright electric blue jelly fish at the waters edge. Some people are throwing them at each other so we guess they’re not poisonous. As our honeymoon was spent in chilly Majorca with Ali and Maisie when they were little we are making up for it now and have a lovely romantic day lazing around, playing in the sea, reading our books and listening to music.

I have really caught the sun today; we have been using factor 30 suncream for weeks but still seem to get a bit burnt occasionally. By 4pm we have had enough and after checking our emails head up to our hut. It is in a fantastic location high on a hill, overlooking the bay and with luxuries like air con and soft mattresses we’re in 7th heaven!

We have had an email from our friend Cherie today; she has suggested we visit Ko Samet. Although Ko Chang is lovely we have found it hard to find somewhere decent to stay cheaply and coupled with a few days of cloudy weather we decide that it will be better to move on and maybe regret it than stay here and then wish we had moved ( if that makes any sense!). So it looks like we will on the move again tomorrow. We have also read today that we will be unable to visit Chaing Mai, due to the slash and burning of trees there the air quality is so poor that some governments are advising people not to travel there at the moment.

We watch the sunset from a small bar, with a beer and Pink Floyd it’s a cool end to the day. After dinner we walk back to our hut, it looks so pretty at night; the path is lit with lights inside half coconut shells with patterns cut out of the shells. We have quick shower and crash out, its very early but hey its dark and that’s good enough for us.