Thursday, 17 October 2013

To Bangkok and back - part 1 (Bangkok and Hua Hin)

I left London on, what felt like, a reasonably warm day for Autumn in the UK and arrived the next day at 3.15 pm Bangkok time to be met with a wall of warmth that hit my body the moment I got off the plane. A wonderful 28 degrees!

On the journey over I sat next to a 24 year old Thai guy who was really sweet. He gave me his card with the instructions that if I were to have any problems, any problems at all while I was in Thailand I was to give him a call and he'd come and sort it out for me. He also gave me some language lessons so that I'd have a rudimentary knowledge and wouldn't come across as a complete novice when I got my taxi from the airport to my friend Michael's house.

The beginning of my journey was a bit of a laugh as the computers were down at the Thai Airlines desk at Heathrow. That caused quite a bit of chaos, but suffice it to say we all got on the plane and we all arrived, together with suitcases in Thailand. Can't really ask more than that.

Michael was lovely. It's been a while since I'd seen him and not since his partner, Conrad had died almost 3 years ago now. He gave me keys, settled me in and told me to make myself at home. He was off out to the some event, but he'd ordered me in a Thai massage to help get over the jet lag. I had strict instructions to enjoy myself, which didn't seem hard to do!

Michael's masseur (Din) is a guy, but he'd brought a woman to do the actual massage. I hadn't realised that Din had stayed and was slightly taken aback when he arrived in the room with a bowl of cucumber strips. I was starving and was just about to help myself, when Din started putting them on my face. It was actually very soothing and lovely, but my grumbling stomach sure was making itself heard.

The massage was great and when it was over I found that Din had made my dinner for me. Was I ever grateful!

Day 1 - Monday
I got up early, but Michael has a massage every day for 2 hours from 8 til 10, so I read my book. But when his massage was finished, Michael announced he wasn't feeling so good and was going back to bed for a while. My flight exhaustion was kicking in so after some breakfast I also went back to bed and slept for a couple of hours.

In the afternoon I went for a walk to try to orientate myself to where in the city I was. I was so proud of myself as I made it to the river and back with only one slight loss of direction, which for me is brilliant.

Once I got back Michael and I chatted for a while and then had to head off as we had tickets for a performance of Indian dance at the Bangkok International Dance Festival. One Skytrain with a change of line took us to Terminal 21 where we chose our restaurant for a meal, then after that we skipped onto the Metro (I got an over 60's ticket which cost 10 Baht... that's 20p), then a free bus ride to the Thai Cultural Centre where we met up with Mike, Michael's Thai friend, who was accompanying us that evening. We also learnt we were to have Royalty attending. I was given a quick low down by Michael as to what this would entail, which was lots of waiting (they're usually late), lots of standing, bowing, singing of National Anthem and subservients crawling on their knees fetching tea or anything else the Royal might want.

I'm going to deviate a bit to tell you what Michael's like. If I had to describe him as an animal I would say an Alpha male Silverback Gorilla. He doesn't come in the bracket of your normal gay guy. Oh yes and he wears shorts... all the time... smart shorts for theatre, dinner etc and others for daytime wear. And whenever he goes to the Thai Cultural Centre he always has the same seats. Very good seats right in the middle in the Royal circle and just behind where the Royals sit. Anyway, he was telling me the last time he'd been to a performance the Queen had been in attendance. Apparently she didn't like Michael wearing shorts. I won't tell you what he actually told the person who came to tell him of the Queen's consternation, but the polite form was, 'well I bought the ticket so you can stuff it' and no-one, literally no-one argues with Michael!

Anyway, it turned out it was the Princess Consort (the Prince's 3rd wife) who was coming to watch the Indian performance. She was 25 minutes late and no-one was allowed out of the auditorium while we were waiting. And at the end no-one was allowed out until her cavalcade had been gone a good 5 minutes. It was a late night! I also was on Thai Royal television channel as I was sitting directly behind her (she was gorgeous by the way) and so couldn't escape the myriad of TV cameras and crew in attendance.

The performance itself was a rather strange mix. It was an Indian classic The Ramayana or how Rama met Sita his love and what happened to them. Only problem was the dancing was a bit amateurish in places and it wasn't the whole story as I think the whole thing would take about 3 hours, so we got an ongoing written commentary on the side of the stage to keep us up to date with where we were in the story, but the commentary was often at least one or two slides late or early from the actual dance. It certainly suited my jet lagged mind!

What I learned: most Bangkokians go out for meals and rarely cook at home so the amount of restaurants and the choice is huge... and the food is just wonderful. The King of Thailand is held in great esteem and you can't say anything negative about him at all. If you do you can be held for Lese-majeste and given a prison sentence. However, the Prince of Thailand is a different kettle of fish. He's universally loathed and when talked of is done so in very unflattering terms, so when I give you Michael's description of the Princess Consort - 'oh it's the prince's whore in attendance tonight' - said in a very loud voice and all those who heard nodding their heads in agreement, you'll understand that Lese-majeste has no hold over anyone other than the King and Queen, so it doesn't matter. It'd be rather like going up to Prince Charles and calling him a wanker and everyone agreeing and nothing would be said or done!

Day 2 - Tuesday
An early start as Nikki my guide came to pick me up at 9. Michael had told me when we were arranging the trip that he won't do the guide stuff anymore (he's lived in Bangkok for 16 years and has loads of visitors, so hardly surprising), which was fine with me, but we both thought having a guide would be a good idea so I could orientate myself to the city. So Nikki was booked through friends of Michael's who run a tour operating business in Bangkok.

Nikki turned out to be a boon. She looked about 15 but was actually 35 and we got on a treat. We had a fun day going to the Grand Palace in 30 degree swelter. I bought a hat for 120 Baht, which I was very pleased with, from a small stand after coming off the River Bus. I left Nikki to do the bargaining.

Me at the Grand Palace in my shades and my new hat looking suitably touristy
Architecture at The Grand Palace

More from the Grand Palace.

It was a lovely couple of hours, but exhausting and not helped by the hordes of Chinese tourists. My favourite bit was the textile exhibition. Then it was off by the river for lunch.

Nikki, my guide, at lunch
After lunch we walked to the veg and flower market.

Bowls and bowls of chillies

A dragon made completely from flowers and leaves

The flower market

Then to Chinatown where I could have, if I'd wanted, bought a myriad of plastic goods. I didn't bother, but this made me laugh - there were plastic bags saying 'save our planet, don't buy plastic bags'!

I was exhausted after 7 hours of being a tourist so we decided on a Tuk Tuk back to Michael's and then a shower before heading out for a meal.

At night I realised I was sharing my room with a friend. An inch long gecko, whose abode was the  wood door surround. He (don't ask me why I thought it was a he, I just did) would take a walk around the ceiling one way, then around the other and then settle back in his home for the night. Gorgeous.

My gecko friend

Day 3 - Wednesday
I was unbelievably tired after yesterday's tourist exertions and was thankful that I'd decided on a day off in between my jaunts with Nikki (I'd booked her for 2 days).

This day was spent being sociable. I went out to meet Geoffrey, an 80 year old rather 'interesting' friend of Michael's - actually he'd been Conrad's best friend in Bangkok, but Michael still went for lunch with him on occasion.

After getting back I went for a foot massage. An hour of bliss in a place the next street up from Michael's and all for 280 Baht (approx £5.50) and got back just in time to turn around and go out for dinner. My first taste of pomelo, which turned out to be a lasting passion of mine while in Thailand. This one came as a spicy salad and was delicious.

What I learned: restaurants very often don't have toilets. Many are shared. And many, according to Michael, don't have toilet paper. I was pleased I had a couple of tissues in my bag. Michael gave me a plastic pocket thing when we got home so I could always carry some with me. Of course after that all the places I visited did have toilet paper, but rather that way than the other!

Day 4 - Thursday
Nikki arrived at 9 for my second tourist day. This time though, for some reason I couldn't quite fathom, she had her friend's 4x4 and we negotiated our way through the Bangkok traffic - quite a feat I can tell you - but it gave me a great opportunity to get the geography. It's not so easy if you're on the Skytrain to get the layout of the city.

We went to the Golden Buddha, the Reclining Buddha (my fave) - a huge Buddha who just fits into his resting place, the Dawn Temple, then a very late lunch followed by the Teak Palace and finally the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall. I was stopped outside the Reclining Buddha and had a TV camera shoved in my face and was asked all kinds of questions about my visit to Thailand. This was my 2nd time on local TV within a couple of days. Freaky!

The Golden Buddha
The Reclining Buddha

To get to the Dawn Temple we had to pass the dried fish stalls and cross the Chao Phraya river, which is the colour of milky tea.

Dried fish stall

On the way to The Dawn Temple across the river

At the Dawn Temple tourists were getting dressed in traditional Thai costume ready for their photo opportunity - and no, I didn't!

Chinese tourist getting ready for the photo call

The Dawn Temple

Just as we were walking back to the jetty to get the ferry back I saw 2 women who were trying to get a photo of themselves. I offered to take it for them. They were thrilled and insisted on having a photo with me to remind them of my kindness. I, of course, had to reciprocate.

Me and my pals

All this took far longer than we'd thought it would and so lunch wasn't until 2.30 pm, which wasn't great as I was so hungry by that time and opted for the first thing on the menu, which was mushroom curry. I didn't realise I'd opted for the hot version and when I say 'hot' I mean extremely hot. I love spicy food, but if I hadn't been so hungry I probably wouldn't have eaten it.

By the time I got back to Michael's I felt I'd well and truly done justice to my tourist bit. Michael was out so I had a shower and felt a bit better, so decided to take a trip to the Skybar, which is a place Mountain Man and I had visited on our last visit to Bangkok when visiting with my niece and her husband. From the map it didn't look too far away, but after walking a mile or so and starting to feel a bit under the weather from lack of food and a lot of humid heat, I changed tack and ended up in a restaurant where they served me a free ice cold pink fizzy wine, which was delicious and a beautifully contructed fish dish.

My dinner

After dinner it was only 7.30 pm, but I was fit for nothing except bed and my book. Michael lent me 'The King Who Never Smiles', which is a biography of the King of Thailand. Not comfortable reading and if I was caught with it I'd be at risk of Lese-majeste, so Michael covered it for me, but I made the decision not to take it out of the house just in case. I was so pleased to read it though as it gives a great picture of the political side of Thailand.

What I learned: I should always eat my lunch well before 2.30. I should never go walking at night in 30 degree heat after an exhausting day being a tourist and thinking I can manage more than a mile. Oh yes and I wish cameras could capture smells so you could smell the dried fish, the flower market and Chinatown.

Day 5 - Friday
I woke up with a headache and not feeling good. Michael got Din to give me a foot and leg massage, which was fantastic and we made the decision we'd do something silly and light for the day, so unbelievably of all the things I could do in Bangkok, we went to the pictures with Michael's boyfriend, Geng. Michael decided we would see 'Diana' - mmmm maybe not quite so Alpha male Silverback as previously thought?! It was unutterable crap, with a not very good script, but a pleasant way to spend a headachy afternoon. We had a lovely Japanese dinner after and I went to bed reasonably early.

Day 6 - Saturday
Off to Hua Hin. Michael had ordered a taxi for me for the 3 hour journey. It seemed the comfortable and not too expensive way to travel and Chiew, the driver, was lovely. We spent a pleasant time chatting and listening to cheesy British pop songs of yesteryear. We arrived at Chiva-Som in Hua Hin just after 2.30. The place was sooo swanky. They were a bit freaked that I only had one suitcase! At this point I wasn't sure I'd made the right choice of place. I had chosen this because I wanted some downtime, where I could truly relax, but also because I was a woman (of a certain age) and on my own, I didn't want to be surrounded by families or couples. It turned out to be a high class spa resort, which was absolutely fabulous and I'm so pleased I went.

Chiva-Som has a no mobile phone/computer/e-reader or any electronic device whatsoever in public places only in your room policy. Also no kids under 16 are allowed on the property. I have to say that it was truly wonderful and peaceful to spend time in such a quiet but fun place. I met some really interesting people and had a great time. The food was to die for and the massage programme, the beach, the pool, in fact everything about it was fab. It isn't for everyone and certainly not if you're looking for a tourist experience, but for a complete R&R for me I couldn't have asked for better.

Days 7 - 14
I also got a physio check and a programme of exercise I can actually do with my knee problem, my toe problems and my ankle problem. I did Tai Chi every morning at 7 and ate my heart out with their organic food, most of it grown by themselves and surrounded by beautiful flowers also grown by themselves. I went on a trip to their gardens to see it for myself. I did kick boxing in the pool and a 10K walk along the beach and watched the tiny sand crabs dash for their holes amongst many other things and came away feeling so chillaxed I felt I could take on the world. I want to go back!

The gardens at Chiva-Som

The view from my room

Okra growing in the organic garden

The melon house

orchids

The orchid nursery

You'll have to take my word for it that all these small holes contain tiny crabs scuttling about!

My hotel was 5K at the other end of this lovely stretch of beach

The entrance to the hotel

Well that's the first 2 weeks of my 3 week holiday and it makes me feel tired just reading it, so that's that for today. I'll post the last week in the next couple of days. Hope you enjoy.

6 comments:

  1. All of this sounds really fantastic, and very interesting to one who hasn't ventured far from home soil! To have photos just enhances my imagination about your holiday ...but I'm very disappointed that you haven't got smellablog to go with it! Welcome home. Welcome back to socks, woollies and wet weather gear!

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    1. Thanks Fiona. I'm not at all thrilled to be back. After the lovely warm rain of Bangkok the cold rain just doesn't do it for me!

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  2. Welcome home! Sounds like a great trip so far. Our last trip to Bangkok's Chinatown involved a deep fried whole fish! Can't wait for the next installment.

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    1. Thanks Lizzie! I had bbq'd whole fish near where I was staying... delicious! Next installment will be in a couple of days once I've recovered from my train journey home today - I'll be posting all about that one tomorrow. I'm too exhausted tonight!

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  3. Food, sights, culture - sounds marvelous. I want to go!

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    1. You'd love it Karen, I'm sure.

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