Lonely Beach

As we were up with the larks this morning, neither of us have any inclination to do anything today. We have some breakfast, the days always seem to start well with fruit and yogurt and disintegrate into beer and spring rolls later! We decide enough is enough, although we have paid for tonight’s bed after that we have to move as we are both desperate to sleep on a softer mattress. Simon’s observation about the cheap beds in Thailand is that they must cost more to make them so solid. When you sit on them there is literally no give whatsoever and I can really only describe it as like sleeping on the floor at home.

We walk along to an internet cafe and do a bit more research on Vietnam; we will definitely have to stay somewhere better than most of the places we choose once mum and Paul arrive but obviously as cost is such an important factor for us we don’t want to pay loads. It seems there is lots of mid ranged accommodation available in the places we want to go so that’s sorted.

This area is called Lonely Beach, although I wouldn’t describe it as lonely due to 5 or so resorts along the coastline, where we are currently staying is pretty and fairly quiet. There are a few English backpackers here but most tourists/ travellers seem to be either Scandinavian or German. It is very green and very hilly with lots of trees and bushes lining the roads. The sea is calm and so warm and we decide to have a swim to cool down. It is extremely hot and humid but quite cloudy today and we talk about how I would be having a complete freak if we were on holiday here for 2 weeks! As it is its quite good to have a bit of a break from the fierce suns rays and I lie on the beach reading my latest book, a Jackie Collins bonkbuster that Simon says he is ashamed to be seen anywhere near!

Eventually after checking a few places we decide to move tomorrow to an air con beach bungalow, built on stilts and set on the hillside of the Siam Beach Resort. It’s double the cost of this place but we don’t care, it’s less than a tenner and if we don’t move I reckon we’ll have to pay out the extra in Thai massage fees to patch up our knackered backs.

We have had a lovely evening, for dinner we chose the beach barbeque and the food was really great and cheap, we had t bone steak, chicken kebabs and huge tiger prawns with salad and best of all a jacket potato which we split in half it tasted so good we were almost fighting over it!

When we got back we decided to watch a film and choose Snakes on a plane. Unless films are really good and capture my interest in the first few minutes I quickly give up and I can only describe this film as complete pants! Simon said fortunately we were saved from our own morbid curiosity as it packed up half way through, yoo hoo for pirated copies, sometimes it works in your favour as we found out tonight!

Nature Beach Resort

As for Ko Chang looking a bit more inviting in the sunshine, well that’s a laugh as we get in our sawngthaew to the southwest coast it starts to piss it down with rain, great. We didn’t actually wake up this morning until nearly 11 and had decided to leave. I was sitting on the veranda having a coffee when slowly one by one a small troop of little monkeys began to appear on the roofs of the other bungalows. Suddenly there was obvious great excitement among the troop as they began to jump up and down chattering away.

A fella appeared up the path with a huge bag of rotten banana and watermelon. It was absolutely enchanting and we sat there watching them quietly, by far the best opportunity we have had to see wild monkeys close up.

We arrive on the southwest coast and have a bit of breakfast, an English fella comes rushing up as soon as we get out of the taxi and does his best to persuade us to stay at his bungalows. Although they are brand new and clean they are built on what is basically a building site and we decide against it. He sends us off in the direction of the Ban Lai resort but again we’re not happy. The room are cheap (300) per night but the beach is rocky and it’s not pretty.

Eventually after wandering along the road for half a mile, no mean feat in 35 plus degrees with large backpacks, we find somewhere we like and stop for a drink. We would have probably collapsed from heat exhaustion anyway had we gone much further!
We spend the afternoon lying on our bed, on the floor watching Peter Duncan’s family travels to China and in the evening walk along the beach to the resort next door.

Its really beautiful and very romantic sat in the candlelight a few feet from the waves, the only other light is from the stars and we can see the squid boats lit up on the horizon. We have baby clams in the pot and red snapper to eat. We get a text from my mum and Paul they have booked a flight to Vietnam and we will be meeting them in Ho Chi Minh City on 13th April yippee, so excited, it will be great to see them and I can’t wait to tell the kids.

We have our coffee sat on mats on the beach and listening to reggae music, it isn’t exactly serene but it’s laid back with hammocks, Beer Chang and a decent book selection and I’m looking forward to spending the day on the beach tomorrow catching a few more rays.

Koh Chang

Today has been a very long day. We did watch the rugby last night but that was the extent of our energy expenditure. As my arse has been welded to what must be the worlds worst bed for the last 24 hours you would think I would be up and raring to go but no, I’m still knackered and the cold shower and Starbucks coffee take a long time to kick in.
We have packed most things and after a quick breakfast of watermelon, banana and yogurt we wander up the road to get me a book and Simon some t-shirts.

At 11.30 we’re finally ready for the off and catch a taxi to Hualamphong train station. We buy tickets to Sukothai in the north of Thailand for the 21st March. We are meeting the kids back in Bangkok on the 20th and plan to visit Sukothai on our way to Chiang Mai, Thailands 2nd largest city. That sorted we make our way across town to The Eastern bus terminal where we board a bus to Trat.

Trat is a smallish town near the Thai/Cambodia border and we are planning to catch the ferry from Trat to the island of Ko Chang. The bus rides are ok and this bus is good, air conditioned with very comfortable seats. Still 6 hours is a long time and by the end of it I’m very fidgety. I read my new book on the way, and listen to my MP3 but still am glad when we finally arrive. In between the cities Thailand is quite industrial and not very pretty in places but I still enjoy staring out of the window and watching the world go by.

As we haven’t got Ali and Maisie with us we can be more flexible and less organised which isn’t hard for us at the moment as neither of us are too fussed about where we stay tonight. We were going to stay in Trat overnight but decide to head straight for Ko Chang instead. The ferry takes an hour and when we arrive the sawngthaew driver packs us in like sardines with an entertaining French fella called Jean Sebastian and a Swedish family who are travelling for 5 months with their 3 daughters aged 12, 9 and 3. They have been to Cambodia and the eldest girl tells us about eating spiders (Can’t wait to tell Maisie that!)

We ask to go to The White Sands Beach, it is the busiest resort on Ko Chang and even though it’s completely dark before we even board the ferry as soon as we arrive I can see its not going to be for us. We wander along the busy street, lined with shops, daytrip agents and restaurants and quickly realise our idea of saving some money by staying in a cheap place isn’t going to happen tonight. After trying few places we settle on a grungy little beach hut (Not on the beach) for 400 baht. (5 quid). We especially like the homely little touches it has to offer, for example all the gaps in the walls are stuffed with toilet paper and the only place to clean your teeth is over the toilet. Nice.

We have some ok Thai food on the beach and return to our little palace, there is hardly room to swing a rat in here and we’re both distinctly underwhelmed, looking forward to moving to the southwest coast of the island tomorrow I’m sure Ko Chang will look a bit more inviting in the sunshine.

Hangover

I woke up fully dressed with a rose in bed with me, a bottle of Singha on the floor and half a packet of Marlboro Reds on the side. Oh god.

We ventured up to Burger King at 2pm, ate a double whopper and went back to bed. Later Simon bought some disks with films on and we watched James Bond Casino Royale (for the 3rd time) and Jackass 2.

Its 8pm just going out for food, still feeling ill and dehydrated, had a fresh lemon and watermint shake earlier, it didn’t mend me but has helped a bit. Simon wants to watch the rugby; I think I’ll be watching the inside of my eyelids.

Bangamphu

The alarm goes off and we all wake up and shower quickly, Maisie isn’t feeling very well with a sore throat and I worry as today they are off to their Dads for 10 days. We get in a taxi and arrive early at the Sheraton Orchid Hotel where they’re staying. The kids are thrilled to see Jem and we wave goodbye to them with a list of instructions about keeping up with the schoolwork, eating well etc etc.

We catch a boat back along the Chao Phraya River and make our way back to Th Khao San Rd. We sit and have some breakfast and talk about what to do for the day. It’s strange without the kids and we will miss them so much. We decide to cheer ourselves up we will go shopping and get a taxi to The Siam Complex of shopping centres. The Siam Paragon was still being built when we came last time and it’s really an amazing place. The shops are so good and there’s so much choice. I need some new underwear and we stand looking around at a whole floor of knickers. Eventually we make a few purchases and I also buy a lipstick from MAC that costs more than a day’s accommodation and food.

Ali would love it here, one floor has super cars and we look at the Ferrari, Aston Martin and Maserati shops, the food halls is also very impressive and we choose chicken and pork satay and spicy Thai sausages. I have a crumbled cookie frappe to drink – so yummy. We walk to The Hard Rock Cafe and have a jug of Singha, we want to buy Ali a guitar pin, he got one when we came before but lost it and we promised we would get him another if we could. Get a text from Jem they have arrived safely in Ko Samui that’s good.

We make our way back and sit having a few beers. We decided last Monday that we wouldn’t drink until 7pm as I’m getting a beer belly. So far we haven’t managed to do it once and by 5pm we’ve had quite a few. We ring our friends Alli, Marie and Fe and have a little chat with them. Two hours later and we’re sat in the red light district of Patpong outside a gay bar. (The liver is evil and must be punished) My memories of the rest of the night are completely blurred.

Bangkok Zoo

I found it really difficult to sleep last night, surprisingly enough as I had been asleep most of the afternoon. At 2am I was considering joining the throngs of people still milling around but couldn’t be bothered to get dressed and eventually did drift off.

The kids Dad Jem has asked us to get their passports back from the Chinese embassy as they need photo ID for their flight to Ko Samui. This is real pain as we had planned to go to the zoo for the day and will also cost Jem 80 quid for an express service but Simon says he will go and try and get them back and we set off for Dusit Zoo. Despite being told it’s closed, small and rubbish by 3 separate taxi drivers we take no notice and eventually arrive there.

We have a great time wandering around, the zoo has all the usual attractions including elephants, tigers, lions, giraffes and hippos and some extra ones such as the gorgeous Great Hornbills that I love seeing so much and 2 sweet Malay Sun Bears. It’s very hot and we decide to get some lunch early around 12.30. As always when it’s up to me to decide what to feed the kids junk food wins and I decide it’s a sign when someone gives me vouchers for cheap KFC – hurray!

We have our lunch and decide to head off to see the Red Panda. None of us have heard of such a thing and are intrigued by this, as we are walking along we see Simon in the distance coming towards us. He tells us that he has got the passports back with visas and had decided that any fast food outlet would be a good place to start looking for us! How well he knows me!

We passed some peddle boats earlier and all pile in them. The fella insists we wear lifejackets and the heat is becoming fairly unbearable. Simon and I peddle around the lake very slowly stopping to watch the massive monitor lizards paddling through the water.

By now it is mid afternoon and we decide to make our way back to Th Khao San Road. We all have showers to cool down and I sit with the kids and do some literacy. They write poems about Thailand using a spider plan and the letters of the word THAILAND to start each new sentence. They do well and we all laugh at Alister’s “interesting and imaginative” use of sentences.

After dinner we return to The Siam Oriental and repack our rucksacks, we set the alarm for 7 and get an early night.

The Grand Palace

We are all feeling so tired this morning as we didn’t get off to sleep until late and were up at 7. We get in a taxi and show them a piece of paper with the words Chinese embassy written in Thai on it. It is quite a long way from here and takes half an hour, as long as you agree with the driver that they should use the meter it is very cheap though.
We fill out our forms and leave our passports; we are supposed to come back and collect them next Tuesday but may leave it until the week after when we return to Bangkok.

By now we are all hungry but Simon and the kids don’t fancy the street food and we end up in a donut shop, very healthy! Still the sugar gives us the kick needed to get going and we head off for The Grand Palace in the ancient royal district of Ko Ratanakosin.

We visited The Grand Palace last year but due to the heat didn’t see too much of it and wanted to return there. The palace complex was established in 1782 after King Rama 1′s ascension to the throne and houses not only the royal residence and throne halls but a number of government offices as well as the renowned Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

As we walk up to the complex the palace buildings are just breath taking, decorated with jewelled stones and gold leaf the palace buildings shimmer and gleam in the bright sunlight. One of the buildings is covered entirely in gold and mother of pearl and imposing looking stone guardians stand to attention in front of the mosaic encrusted pillars.

We pose for lots of pictures and admire the impressive architecture, despite this being our second visit the kids are really enthusiastic and we agree that the stunning buildings would impress even the most weary “seen it all” traveller.

The Emerald Buddha was discovered by an abbot in the 15th century in Chang Rai. Originally covered in plaster, as was often the case to disguise their value, the abbot noticed the green “emerald” underneath when the Buddha was dropped and chipped. (Actually the Buddha is made of jade). It was then stolen by the Laos people and eventually returned to Thailand around 300 years ago. It is the temple complexes primary attraction and a pilgrimage destination for devout Buddhists. At only 75cm tall it is almost hidden amongst the treasures that it sits upon and is always clad in royal robes, one for each season.

The only way I can describe it is like entering Aladdin’s cave, everything is so glittery, jewelled and gold that we don’t want to move from it and sit in the mermaid position on the floor for ages staring up at the little Buddha and taking it all in. Photography is prohibited at much of The Grand Palace and although it’s a shame we can’t capture the memory of such an amazing place I know it’s something I will always remember and would recommend a visit here to anyone. (Wat Phra Kaew)

We have some ice cream and return our borrowed clothing; you must be dressed appropriately to enter the sacred temples. We walk around the perimeter of the complex to Wat Pho this temple houses the worlds largest reclining Buddha at 75m long it is huge and it is almost impossible to visualise it all at once. Covered in gold leaf with panelled mother of pearl inlaid feet it is also very beautiful and the kids enjoy putting their donation money in all the 50 or so bowls that line the walls of the temples.

We get a taxi back to Th Khao San, Maisie and I are completely knackered and have a siesta in the afternoon that lasts for 4 hours! Simon and Ali wander around, having a haircut and buy a LP for Vietnam for 450 baht. In the evening we get some food and head back for a quiet night. Walking around in the heat is so exhausting and we agree that we all need a few more hours sleep tonight.

Siam Oriental Hotel

I woke up so cold as the aircon had been blasting us all night. We have finally made the decision that we are going to move on today and after breakfast sort our stuff out. We have had some laundry done and new clothes coupled with clean clothes go a long way towards making us all feel quite presentable.

We let the kids have a good swim before we leave, there isn’t a pool at the new place and we figure we may as well take advantage of it whilst we are here. I lie in a hammock, reading a James Herbert novel and Simon updates the website.

By 1pm it’s too hot to sit outside without a fan, even in the shade and we get a taxi across town to Th Khao San Rd. The Siam Oriental Inn is fairly basic and we are sharing a room but its only 790 baht and it has air con. As it is warming up air conditioning is becoming an essential, although strong fans are fairy effective. The temperature in Bangkok today is 38 degrees but it is predicted to cool down to 34 over the next few days. I don’t care I love it. Anyone who knows me knows how much I hate the cold and I reckon it’s always easier to cool down than warm up.

We are right on the front of the hotel over looking the street. This could mean it will get very noisy later but new laws introduced in Thailand in 2004 mean that bars have to stop serving alcohol at 1am so I don’t think it will be too bad. We’re quite tough now anyway and will sleep through most noise. The kids and I get a sandwich (Bacon!) and then I do some schoolwork with them. Much of their learning over the past few days has been about the Thai monarchy and history and we settle on science revision for an hour today.

On Saturday we are meeting the kids Dad and his wife Caron, it will be weird without Ali and Maisie for a week and we’re both dreading it as well as quite looking forward to spending some time on our own. They will be flying to Ko Samui and hopefully staying somewhere nice.

Simon goes to the Vietnamese embassy and collects our passports, tomorrow we have to go to the Chinese embassy and get those visas organised also. When he comes back we go out for some food. The bar up the road has live music and the food’s good and we chat a bit to some American guys about our trip and theirs.

We get back around 10pm and I’m ready for bed, we haven’t made any firm plans for tomorrow but as the bed is completely solid I guess jumping up at 7am completely refreshed is unlikely to be on the agenda and I guess we’ll take it slowly in the morning!

The Khao San Road

Despite setting the alarm we managed to oversleep and our plans to be at the Vietnamese Embassy at 8.30 disintegrate. Still we rush around and a 15 minute walk to Wireless Road finds us filling in visa forms and handing over 127 quid. (That was an expensive 20 minutes). On the way back to The Atlanta Hotel we get some street food for breakfast. One of the best things about Bangkok is the huge choice and variety of food you can get here. We choose waffles with sweetcorn filling, grilled bananas with coconut sauce and mini pancakes. We decide to give the duck heads on sticks a miss.

Back at the hotel the kids strip off and go for a swim. I lie on the sunbed reading Heat magazine and catching up on the latest David and Victoria gossip and Simon takes pictures of the kids jumping and diving in. After an hour we drag them away as we are desperate to get out there and have a wander around.

For me Bangkok is my favourite city. It is described as a steamy, sprawling mess and it is undoubtedly chaotic, noisy and so hot. It is famous for the amazing Grand Palace, fantastic Buddha’s and the sex industry. When we visited Bangkok last year we planned to stay 2 days and move on. Almost everyone I spoke to assured me 2 days of Bangkok would be enough. In the end we stayed for a week, left feeling we hadn’t scratched the surface and having completely fallen in love with the place.

There are many distinct districts of Bangkok, Ko Ratanakosin houses the Grand Palace and many other beautiful temples, Th Sukumvit has the bargirl scene, Siam Square- lots of modern shopping malls, Banglamphu the famous backpacker street Th Khao San Road and Chinatown well lots of Chinese food amongst other things.

We decide to get a taxi to Th Khao San Rd we never went there last year as we were avoiding all tourists and travellers but as it is the cheapest place to stay in town we want to check it out. As expected it is backpacker heaven and the traveller uniform is everywhere. I think if you spent a week here you would be tattooed, pierced and dreadlocked before you knew it! Maisie gets her hair braided and we all buy some new clothes. We sit watching the world going by and having a beer, Ali asks some fella if he can sit on his motorbike and is so pleased when he agrees.

We don’t get back to our hotel until late and therefore eat in, I don’t really enjoy dinner though, despite The Atlanta’s stuck up claims about their menu having “serious and learned annotations” ( what’s that all about?!) I think the food is fairly crap and I’m looking forward to moving tomorrow where we will have a bit more choice. Bacon sandwich here I come.

Travel to Bangkok

Last night I had one of those rare nights where I slept through solidly until 6.30am. After lying awake for a little while I go back to sleep again and don’t wake until 10am. I go downstairs to try and get some coffee but Suda is eating her breakfast, a huge plate of steamed rice and chopped liver and I decide against disturbing her. She asks that we check out at 11am and we quickly shower and pack up.

We follow Suda up the road to another guesthouse; we pay for a tiny room for the day (150 baht) and leave our gear there. It means we can use the shower facilities before we leave for the train station tonight. We than make our way back to Farang Bar, this is where we spent last night and we sit having our breakfast, playing with wooden puzzles and trying to decide how we are going to while away 12 and a half hours before we get our train. We are both really anxious about getting this train; it is the main route back to Bangkok and will be full of backpackers who have been to the full moon party. Our tickets are for seats only and Simon will be in a different carriage to me and the kids. The Lonely Planet has lots of warnings about theft on this train and even documents stories of people who report being gassed to unconsciousness and then robbed. Aaargh!

As I sit contemplating a completely wakeful night sat guarding the kids and our stuff I see written in chalk on the wall – “Taxi to anywhere ask at bar”. Eighty quid, a lot of negotiation and a refund on our train tickets later and we’re on our way to Bangkok in a Toyota Corolla- hurray! I think we’re both pretty relieved and console our selves with the thought that its 80 quid well spent and even if the journey takes 10 hours we will still arrive in Bangkok tonight, rather than in the morning completely knackered and probably very stressed.

The journey is fairly grim in that we leave at 1pm and don’t get to Bangkok until 9pm but the kids are absolute stars and don’t complain once even though it’s cramped and the air conditioning isn’t that efficient. They play on their PSP’s and I read a book and although I wouldn’t say the time flew, we have had worse journeys. Once we arrive in Bangkok the driver is as lost as we would be and eventually after driving around for an hour we get out and jump in a taxi. The taxi driver drives like a twat and I get really uptight. I can’t bear the thought that we have just spent 8 hours from Chumphon to here, only to meet our maker at the hands of some murderous cabbie who doesn’t know what brakes were invented for.

I sit with my arms across the kids cursing him and am so relieved when we reach Th Sukhumvit. We stayed here last year and it is an ok area. Most of Bangkok’s sex tourists stay here also but we found it quiet enough. We pull into Soi 2 (side road 2) where The Atlanta Hotel is and at last we have arrived.

The Atlanta Hotel is a really great place to stay; built in the 1940′s, I think time has stood still here. The reception has all the original features including art deco leather writing desk, alarm switchboard system and frightfully posh manager who sounds like Mr Chumley Warners. There is a sign on the first floor with the hotel rules which include firstly and most important, no sex tourists. The long list of do’s and don’ts are funny but leave you in no doubt that if the rules were to be broken you would be out like a flash. It was the first hotel in Thailand to have a swimming pool and cinematic screen. The pool is original also and although the screen has long gone the rockery and gardens are exactly the same. I like spending time looking at the photographs of the hotel in its heyday in 1954 and reading the history of the place. Like Simon said you half expect to see Noel Coward sat up the corner.

We eat in the restaurant and the menu is massive, luckily now we are good at ordering Thai food and don’t over order even when encouraged to by the staff! They have all been working for the hotel for years and are very sweet, helpful and kind. Our family suite costs us 1500 baht, fairly expensive but we are planning to move in the next few days and for now this place will do fine.