All 37 entries tagged Travel
March 09, 2008
Three weeks ago today I arrived in Joensuu after a long road trip across Europe. It was five days before that Ed and I set off from a relatively warm Norfolk. Funnily enough, the hardest part of the trip was not driving in Europe for hours on end on the wrong side of the road, but it was the first leg of the journey in England. We both thought that driving to Dover would be a walk in the park compared to the rest of the journey, but we were wrong. We did not take into account the great British weather system!
As we headed for the south coast, we were making excellent time and were thinking of where we should stop for some dinner. Then, as we approached the end of the M11, the fog suddenly worsened. We were soon on the slip-road to the M25 and searching for change for the Dartford toll bridge. We need not have rushed, because barely 200 yards onto the M25 we came to a stop. A complete stop. Luckily it was not just us, no lanes were moving. We sat for five minutes before switching the engine off and getting out of the car to see if we could see what the trouble was. Obviously, in the thick fog we could see nothing, but it was quite funny that we were stuck on a motorway with only a camcorder to amuse us. Half an hour later it was getting less funny! We were hungry, and eager to get to Dover.
Eventually the traffic began to move and we passed the source of the problem: several accidents and stopped cars due to the fog. We were on our way again – albeit slowly – and although we were now a bit behind schedule we were confident we would catch our ferry in time. The fog, however, had other ideas. Over the Dartford bridge we could see nothing apart from the fog lights of the car in front. Soon after the bridge we knew we had to come off the motorway, but unfortunately we took the slightly longer road to Dover which was our first mistake. This would not have been a problem if we did not then make another wrong turn – again due to the fog – that meant we were heading towards Ramsgate instead of Dover. A few hundred yards on the new road, before we had found a place to turn-around, the traffic came to a sudden stop. Moments later there was a loud crash behind us. We got out of the car to discover that just a few cars behind us there had been an accident that was caused by slowing traffic due to an accident a few cars in front of us!
In one sense, we were lucky that we were merely spectators on the accidents. But critically for us, we were sandwiched between two accidents that blocked the road – we were going nowhere! It took almost 2 hours, 3 ambulances – luckily I think there were no serious injuries – and a whole squad of police cars to clear both accidents. We missed the ferry! Luckily there was another one at 2am so we grabbed some sleep and soon we were gladly escaping England. I might even go as far as saying that I was pleased to arrive in France!
The rest of the journey was plain sailing. Driving on the wrong side of the road, guessing the speed limit, and navigating from country to country: it was easy after getting through Kent. We stopped for one night in Bremen, one night in Copenhagen, an afternoon in Stockholm, and finally one night in Helsinki. And so three weeks ago today I was dropping Ed off at Helsinki airport and driving the last leg of the journey up to Joensuu. Ed assures me that there will be a video of our adventure coming soon!
February 11, 2008
It has been an unexpectedly busy few weeks since my last post. After the viva I thought it would be nice to do nothing for a while. But ‘doing nothing’ lasted only 24 hours. I soon realised I was not designed to sit around idling the time away and so I went back to Warwick to find something constructive to occupy my mind. For a few days I caught up with the latest developments in the Empirical Modelling group, and then Ilkka came to visit from University of Joensuu (Finland) for a week. It was very enjoyable to be in Warwick again, working on new ideas and thinking up future projects to collaborate on from Finland. In the chaos of finishing the PhD I had forgotten how much I like life at Warwick, and that I will miss all the friends who I have had the pleasure to live and work with.
But times change. Luckily I am heading for another exciting place and I already know that there will be many friendly faces when I arrive. Even getting to Finland is going to be exciting in itself. When I was in Finland last year I had this idea that it would be fun to drive there, and it has been in the back of my mind ever since. Now it looks like it will happen. I set off for Finland tomorrow, but I will not be arriving for another five days. The good news for me is that I am not doing it alone, the incredible Edward Young of ‘shocking Facebook status humour’ fame will be joining me. Just in case you are interested, here is the summary of our plan…
Countries visited: UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland.
Cities we plan to stop in: Rotterdam, Bremen, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki.
Country we will spend the least time in: France (for 15 minutes!).
Total driving time: 45 hours.
Driving distance: 1900 miles.
Number of pages required to print the route on Google Maps: 76
Estimated petrol required: 64 gallons.
Carbon footprint: bigger than an elephant’s footprint.
Cost of petrol: unthinkable.
Cost of sitting next to Ed for 5 days: priceless.
January 27, 2008
We were safely back at Pie’s house by Sunday evening enjoying good food and good company. I am not sure how pleased the newly wedded couple were to see us, as they had been enjoying a quiet house since we left – which they needed after the excitement of the wedding. I think they must have missed the entertainment of having us around though, especially Mark’s early morning piano practice, which he resumed the first morning back.
The last couple of days were spent visiting friends, mostly ex-Warwick people, some other Thai friends, and my Thai family. Mark and I got some great dinners, I got a haircut for less than a pound, and I bought lots of fruit to smuggle back for people at home. It was all over too quickly and on Wednesday evening after another good meal I was sent to the airport by Pie, Nun, Mark and Opp to catch a flight (that I almost missed) back to Blighty. It was great to see so many friendly faces in Bangkok, and I really hope I can return again soon. Thank you for entertaining Mark and I, and for all the great food we enjoyed. If any of you are visiting England soon then you are always welcome at my house – I cannot guarantee the food will be as good as Thailand though!
My story does not quite end there. The 24 hours following my arrival in England were supposed to be occupied with intense revision for my PhD viva. However, post-Thailand fever set in almost immediately and I was consumed with updating my blog which had been neglected the last week of my trip. When I finally got around to revision I quickly came to the conclusion that it was too late, and so I just practiced meditation for a short time instead. I am happy to report though that I managed somehow to get through the viva. It was a grilling experience that lasted two hours, and when they sent me out the room I dashed straight to the kitchen for a much needed cup of tea. By the time I had mashed the tea, they were already searching for me to call me back in. With a cup of tea in front of me I could handle the result whatever, but to my utter surprise they told me I had passed without the need for any corrections.
All of which goes to show, a fun-filled adventure with friends is all the preparation you need to answer the most difficult exam questions.
January 26, 2008
On Thursday our driver came to pick up our party (Mark, Opp, Peng and me) at 9am from our nice little guest house in Warin Chamrap. My Thai sister, Joob Jang, joined us too. We got some takeaway fried rice to eat on the bus and then we were off to pick Luangpor and Tahn Manapo from Wat Pah Nanachat. Our destination for the day, Khao Phra Wiharn, is a Khymer temple on the top of a mountain on the border between Thailand and Cambodia. The mountain belongs to Cambodia, since the World Court deemed it so in 1962, but it is not directly accessible from Cambodia. The only access is from Thailand because of the 600m shear rock face that connects the mountain with the rest of Cambodia. The isolation means that you do not need a passport or visa to visit – although you do need to pay of course! At the border crossing the Cambodians are keen to make you aware of your location. There are Cambodian flags everywhere, almost as many as there are landmine signs!
You know you are in Cambodia anyway as this place has a very different feel about it. There are sellers hassling to take photos or offering postcards of Pol Pot, children as young as five out begging for money, and girls following you around trying to be guides. Even the monks were subjected to locals trying to sell them cigerettes! Despite this, the temple ruins on the long up the mountain are extremely impressive. There are three levels, and from from the first it was clear who would reach the top first. By the time we had begun the first few steps, Luangpor was already reaching the top of the first level, and soon he had disappeared out of sight. We took our time, snapping some shots of the ruins on the way. At one of the levels there is an old machine gun which is cunningly aimed at Thailand. The Cambodians must be fairly proud of this place given that according to the geology of the area it would make more sense to be part of Thailand.
At the top of the mountain there are some large rocks after which there is just a shear drop. There are no barriers or fences, you can peer over at Cambodia depending on how brave you are. It would be nice to jump down into Cambodia and see what it is like – I suspect that it might make Isahn look rich and prosperous by comparison.
After our trip out with the monks we went to have a big dinner as we were starving from going without food since breakfast. (You have to be quite imaginative to find eating opportunities when out with monks!) Then we went back to the Spa for another massage to end our exciting day.
Friday started the same as the previous day, eating breakfast in our rented minibus (with driver!) on the way to pick up the monks. The four of us were all wearing football shirts that we had bought for just over £1 – we looked a right bunch of hippies! Luangpor decided we should visit Wat Keuan, a temple he stayed at 35 years ago. The temple is in a large piece of forest on a peninsular that sticks out into Sirintorn Dam in the province of Ubon Ratchathani. When Luangpor was a resident monk there was no road up to the temple, and every morning he walked a couple of hours on almsround to collect his one meal of the day. Nowadays there is a road up to the temple gate, and we were even able to drive a fair way into the temple grounds before we continued on foot. Luangpor told us that the temple is run-down compared to his day, many of the kutis look abandoned and the once beautiful wooden sala building is completely neglected. We walked along a path covered with leaves until it disappeared and then it was up to Luangpor to forge a path through the forest until we came to an opening. It was the place we were looking for, the end of the peninsular where many large overhanging rocks suggested a wealth of photographic opportunities. I climbed on all the rocks and then paddled in the water to get to a further rock sticking out of the water.
We stayed in this idyllic corner of the temple for quite a while before we once again forged a way through the trees to get back to the path. It was a magical place – one of the many unique experiences I have been lucky enough to enjoy during this trip. I think I am unlikely to find this place again – a very remote and ‘unseen’ part of Thailand.
In the evening we sent Opp and Peng to the airport to catch a plane back to Bangkok, so they could do some intense shopping before Peng left for China the following day. This meant that on Saturday there was only Mark and I to accompany the monks on another trip. We roughed it in the back of a pick-up smelling of fish to get to Wat Pah Nanachat. The driver took us on a very long and convoluted route to the temple, which after saying hello to several of his friends in different shops and villages, I realised was probably to show off that he had a couple of farang with him. At the temple we met Peter who would take us all to visit Luangpor’s friend Ajahn Dang. I have heard many stories about Ajahn Dang from Luangpor, so it was good to meet him at last.
Afterwards we went back to Peter’s house where we were served proper English tea in the best fine bone china. Not the sort of thing you expect in a small village in one of the remotest parts of Thailand. In the evening I managed to persuade Joob Jang to let me have a go at riding her motorcycle. I soon got the hang of speeding through the city later at night with no helmet or license. Mark found it quite amusing that Joob’s helmet was kept in the front basket unused, but the next day I realised that you actually need your helmet when the sun comes out to stop your face from getting too tanned!
On Sunday morning I set off with Joob at 7am to visit her family’s house about 40km outside the city. This was quite a distance to travel by motorcycle, but by the time we got there I was much more confident at driving! We had a great breakfast with the family and then we all set to work on digging the ground around the house to prepare for possible flooding during the rainy season. This was hard work in the heat, even if it was only 10am in the morning. What a great contrast in living between Bangkok and Ubon! I hope all those lucky city dwellers get to experience the diversity in their own country as I have done.
After the digging we rode around the village on a motorcycle with some of the children following behind on bicycles. We went to the temple to pay our respects at each of the Buddha images, then it was back to the house for lunch before the long motorcycle journey back to the city where I met a relieved Mark (who had survived getting to the temple and back on his own) at the airport ready to return to Bangkok.
... of my latest adventures in Thailand is accessible here: Photos on Facebook
(These follow on from my photos from Malaysia)
(Quick note: I am back from Thailand and yesterday I passed my viva. So now back to my adventure…)
I was pretty lively at 4am because I had a really good sleep in the wardrobe (possibly my favourite room in the house). I woke up Mark, who looked slightly less pale than the day before, and Peng, and our last minute recruit Op (Pie’s cousin). The four of us got a taxi to the airport only to find out on arrival that our flight had been changed from 6am to 7am. So I could have spent another glorious 60 minutes in the wardrobe! Instead we had to suffer an unnecessary extra hour in the freezing cold departure lounge at Don Muang. I am horrified by the amount of buildings in Bangkok that insist on replicating the climate of a British winter.
When we finally got on the plane I think I must have been asleep before take-off. I remember waking up thinking we must be still stationary on the runway at Bangkok, when actually we were coming into land at Ubon. At the airport a driver was waiting for us with a comfortable minivan – our transport for the next few days. We found our hotel and met Joob Jang (my little sister in Ubon), then drove out into the countryside to a small village to pick up the rest of my family! Next stop was Wat Pah Nanachat where Luangpor and Tahn Manapo were staying. We had time for lunch just outside the temple, and at a local shop selling wooden stuff I bought a walking stick to offer to Luangpor. (This, I thought, might be useful on the various walking challenges that we would be undertaking in the following days, although given the speed with which Luangpor ascended the mountain the next day it may have been easier for us to keep up without it!)
Early in the afternoon we headed over to Wat Nong Pah Pong, the temple of the Venerable Ajahn Chah who died on this day 16 years ago. Ever since his death, the 16th January has been the biggest celebration of the year with thousands of people coming from all over Thailand to pay their respects to this great forest monk. Inside and outside the temple was thronging with people, but with Luangpor onboard we were able to drive into the temple grounds and right up to the door of the main sala building. Luangpor gave us a walking tour the grounds of the temple. It was completely different to the last time I visited because at that time I only saw a handful of people. On this special occasion the forest was crammed full of tents, people camping out for days to practice meditation, listen to teachings and prepare for this the big day. Most people were wearing white, and while the streets were a constant procession of people backwards and forwards to Ajahn Chah’s chedi, there were long lines of people sat on both sides of the path – it was an impressive sight. As we walked around behind the two monks it was like watching a mexican wave (or mexican ‘wai’) because all these hundreds of people put their palms together to respect a passing monk.
At around 3pm we took up a position ready to circumambulate Ajahn Chah’s chedi. I managed to lose our group at this point, just as the procession began. The monks set off first, I saw Luangpor right near the front with the most senior monks, there there was a long line of monks that seem to go on forever (I have never seen so many in one place!). The monks were followed by the nuns, of which there seemed to be many more as it took ten minutes at least for them all to pass. After a while it was difficult to know whether they were nuns or laypeople as nearly everyone was wearing white. I saw a farang that must have been Mark heading off into the distance at one point, and then it must have been another 5 minutes until the group I was in started to move forward. Walking along the long road towards the chedi all I could see was thousands of heads in front of me each with a flower, a candle and incense. I turned around to realise it was exactly the same behind me – there thousands and thousands! It was supposed to be a walk around the chedi so I thought, but when I asked someone they said there were too many people. It took quite a long time for all the monks, nuns and laypeople in front of us to pay their respects at the chedi, but slowly we inched closer and eventually we were able to place our flowers, candles and incense on the huge pile that had formed a ring around the chedi. As I walked back I got chatting with some locals of the young female variety – as you do – and soon after I bumped into my group who were not at all surprised to find that I have found some other company.
After paying our respects at the chedi, in true Thai style we headed for the food area which I had foolishly not noticed on our drive into the monastery. The first stall we visited was giving away free food, so I was soon in there getting myself some snacks. The next stall we went to was also giving away food. As I got further in I discovered this whole area of the temple was set up with stalls just giving food for free! And many were actively encouraging you to eat their food. Mark would have been in heaven! Instead, he was sleeping in the car – his stomach and body not yet recovered from the spicy assault it had received two days previous. We did our best to eat plenty for him, and on our way back we got him some bread (about the only type of food he dared to eat for a couple of days).
I was amazed by the generousity of the people on this day. I am sure many of them have very little, but here they were giving as much as they possibly could. I felt a bit guilty that I was just enjoying it and giving nothing. As I stood around eating there must have been a dozen pick-ups pull up full of food, the closest one to us was full of sweets and crisps – it was soon surrounded by children eager to be given some treats. This was repeated time and time again, literally feeding hundreds and hundreds of people – it was crazy but beautiful at the same time.
After sending Luangpor back to Wat Pah Nanachat and the family back home, we decided what we needed after a long day was a massage, and so thats where our diligent driver dropped us. The four of us were getting nicely relaxed in our private massage room when I started talking. The masseuses were soon in fits of laughter at my attempts to learn some phrases in north-eastern dialect. I think the others were not enjoying this disturbance, but it is quite addictive when whatever you say makes people laugh. I later found out that the reason for this amusements was probably that I did not understand very well what I was saying! When we left the spa and I practiced my Isahn language on a pretty girl in Seven Eleven, I found that my new words provoked a shocked reaction. It took several days for me to realise that what I thought was ‘how are you?’ might actually be a very impolite way of saying something like ‘do you feel good?’ – which, apparently, is not the short of question you put to girls in Seven Eleven!
January 24, 2008
At 2.30am, just an hour after I had gone to bed, I dragged myself out of wardrobe I had been sleeping in (a very comfortable one!), took a cool shower and put on my suit ready for the long day ahead. I woke Peng and Op up, but Mark was looking a bit rough so he stayed in bed. Pie had not been to bed! The workers had managed to finish all the flowers and tidy up during the short time I had been asleep. We had to leave the house at exactly 3am to pick up the bride. There was a tight schedule to keep, which I guess was determined by the stars in order for each ceremony of the day to be performed at the most auspicious time.
I was surprised to see some other people had come to form a convoy of cars going to pick up the bride. We got in a car with some of Pie’s father’s friends, and I really struggled to stimulate my brain into speaking Thai this early in the morning. Even more surprising was the police escort that arrived for our convoy. It was a surreal experience to drive at high speed across Bangkok at 3am escorted by the police!
When we arrived we were all invited into the bride’s house where there were a large number of people who I had never met before ushering us into the house. Pie and Nun offered tea to Nun’s parents, as is Chinese tradition, and they exchanged gifts. Pie and Nun paid their respects to their ancestors and to a small shrine inside the house, then it was a very quick sit down with a bowl of dessert. We were all given this tasty looking sweet, a photo was taken and just as I was about to take a spoonful we were told we needed to leave (the tight schedule again). Immediately everyone dropped their early morning treat and headed out to the cars. I was not going to waste such a beautifully prepared snack so I spooned in a big mouthful and dashed out of the door. Soon we were flying through the streets of Bangkok again in a long line of cars with police lights flashing at the front.
Back at Pie’s place we checked that Mark was still breathing, then I tried to make myself look awake and smartened myself up ready for the arrival of all the guests. The bride was changing her dress even though she had only just arrived. P’Nun started the day in a western style white dress for the ceremony at her house, but as soon as arrived at Pie’s house it was on with another dress. There was plenty of free time while the guests arrived, so I passed the time chatting to the bridemaids – Nun’s younger sisters – and some elder women too!
Soon there were food stalls being erected in the garden. It was like a small market, with stalls offering different types of food and drink. Op, Peng and I had two rounds of iced tea to stimulate our brains and bodies into action, and then we followed it up with some soup noodles before another round of tea. I can definitely recommend having food stalls in your garden giving out free food.
When Luangpor was due to arrive I went to stand out at the front of the house. The road was full of Mercedes, Jaguars, and other luxury cars. Every few minutes another car would pull up and another person or two would get out. I did not recognise any of them, luckily someone whispered in my ear when the ex-prime minister arrived! I had no idea who was who so I just did my best to be polite to everyone. Occasionally I was brave enough to ask what they do and in one case I found out I was talking to a TV show host (no wonder she was rather good looking).
When Luangpor and Tahn Manapo arrived we offered specially prepared vegetarian food to them in the shrine room (Pie’s house has a large room full of Buddha images all setup for monks). There was so much food, too much for only two monks, that I had my eye on the left-overs, and I was able to sneak a little down me later. We left the monks to eat and returned to the wedding ceremony. Already Pie and Nun were into the water pouring, where each person goes to formally pour water on the couple’s hands as a blessing. It was quite emotional watching all these people come to wish our little Pie a happy marriage. Someone told me later that even Pie shed a tear at one point. He has been so cool the last few weeks, just his usual calm and relaxed self – despite the chaos of wedding preparations going on around him. Respect to that man!
For the water pouring ceremony, P’Nun had changed into another dress (one which I think she told me later cost almost £1000 just to hire for the day). Mental note: weddings are not cheap, even in Thailand! It did look very impressive on P’Nun though. I shall try to upload some photos of all her dresses soon. :)
The next event was photos, and this took a long long time. I managed to miss most of it, but just came at the end to get a photo with the Warwick crew, including Mark. He had managed to pull himself out of bed for a few minutes to make an appearance, but we soon sent him back though! By this time it felt like it must be the end of the day, but it was only just past midday. Luckily, after the photos, guests started leaving and soon the house was calming down. At last the bride and groom were able to sit down and relax – neither of them had slept the previous night as there was too much preparing to do. They still looked surprisingly good though! Soon everyone was taking a rest, and an hour later I was feeling refreshed and hungry. Peng and I raided the fridge where we found large plates of nicely prepared jackfruit, guava, rose apples, papaya, mango and sticky rice. We did our best to polish off as many plates as possible – delicious!
Later on we had a full meal with Pie’s parents. Mark was awake again, looking particularly worse for wear, but managed a couple of mouthfuls. Mark’s state was best described by Pie’s father, when he very bluntly asked him: “Mark, are you dead?”. I think everyone was in bed soon after 8pm because of lack of sleep the previous night. Plus, we were going to be up again at 4am to go to Ubon.
Mark’s parents: if you are reading this then please do not worry. Mark is still alive and eating!
January 18, 2008
We left Krabi on Saturday, after being very well looked after at Phu Phra Nang Resort – they let us have showers in their house and gave us gifts before we left. I did deal with one of their aggravated customers for them though – perhaps translation would be a fun occupation if I could speak another language! It is interesting to overhear miscommunications between people when they are speaking English and it is amusing when there is a big mix up. It happens to me all the time when I try to use my broken Thai, I often order the wrong thing, agree to something I did not know about, or just generally confuse people. But at least it makes things unpredictable.
The boat journey to Phuket was very relaxing, and before I had chance to look at my watch we were sailing into the docks, which must have been three hours later. We found some very simple accommodation and then went out searching for food. Soon we were sat in a Chinese tea house, eating a hot pot and sipping the finest Oolong on offer. The next morning we flew back to Bangkok where we were met by the man busy preparing for his wedding: Pie. Sunday was an exciting day for us because many people arrived in Bangkok: Luangpor and Tahn Manapo from England, Peng from China, and Pie’s cousin Op from the USA.
On Monday we all met over at Luangpor’s place and another Warwick friend Lyn came with a small luxury bus to take us all to Ayutthaya (the old capital of Siam that was ransacked by the Burmese in 1767). We picked up Noon on the way and then the Warwick Buddhist Society led by Luangpor was off on another adventure!
We visited the temple ruins all over the city including the Wat Yai, Wat Mahathat and Wat Chai Watthanaram, as well as the royal palace at Bang Pa-In. I shall upload some photos when I find a good internet connection.
On our return to Bangkok in the evening, we went to an Isaan restaurant (Som Tam Nua in Siam Square, Soi 5) where we ordered more spicy dishes than we could eat. When we eventually got back to Pie’s house late in the evening we were surprised to see that it had been transformed with decorations and flowers, an open-sided marquee with seating for all the guests, and a team of people doing last minute preparations for the wedding. Mark soon found himself at the toilet, his body disagreeing with what he had just eaten. The rest of us were too excited by the wedding preparations to offer much sympathy to Mark, but as the night wore on we realised he was seriously ill! It had been a long day and so everyone except Pie and myself went to bed. I managed to stay awake until after 1am but then decided I should get some rest. It was a rest that lasted just over an hour…
(to be continued)
January 13, 2008
On Friday morning we were picked up from our place at 8.30am to go on a kayaking trip to a place named “Muddy Bay” (Ao Tha Lane). The name however does not do the place justice. We had to go in a pickup for 30km north of Ao Nang with our group (seven of us and our excellent guide). We knew little about the place which we were heading except that it was a mangrove. I had no idea what a mangrove is, except that it might be something to so with trees given that it had the word grove in it. According to Mark it is a salt-water swamp, which is probably correct – although the word ‘swamp’ does not sound very inviting.
When we arrived we found a beautiful area where the river meets the sea (a river delta I believe) surrounded by mountains and trees. We got into our kayaks and paddled across the large inlet that connects the sea to the river, heading for the mountains. We went around some large rocks, in between which there were tiny beaches big enough for a couple of kayaks. Soon we were in the cool shade of the mountains and trees, the incoming tide helping us on our way down small waterways inland towards the mangrove.
In the course of about three hours we paddled through the mangrove area. Some sections were all mangrove trees, others were beautiful lagoons surrounded by tall rock faces covered in lushous tropical trees. The highlight was the monkeys jumping on our kayak, swimming in the water, and stealing our water melon!
The most amazing thing about the mangrove and lagoons was the silence. Being in a kayak the only sound you could hear was the splashing of the oars hitting the water. When you paused for a moment there was complete silence, only interupted by the occasional sound of a small animal or insect. It was bliss!
January 12, 2008
It seems hard to believe I was in England ten days ago, drinking hot tea to fight the British winter away. Now I am taking three showers per day to keep cool. They say there are two seasons in Thailand: hot and very hot. We are only experiencing the ‘hot’ at the moment, but I cannot feel that it is any different from the ‘very hot’ weather. Just like in Finland, my British blood is unable to distinguish between zero and minus ten – it is all just very cold!
Today my body has really struggled in the heat and sunshine. Mark and I are now in Krabi, a province in the south of Thailand renown for its beautiful beaches and scenery. We arrived from KL yesterday having done no preparation and with no idea where to stay. After a good deal of discussion with the locals, and hefty amount of charm, we managed to find the best deal for accommodation in a quite little area not far from the beach at Ao Nang. I had to swear secrecy on how much we are paying per night because the other guests in the lesser rooms next door paid more than us! Everywhere we go I am doing my best to get local prices, but it is not always easy with this white skin! However, I did locate a som tam seller who comes from Ubon and she gave us Thai prices automatically. :)
In the evening we ate at the place that found us our cheap room. They are particularly friendly at Sea World Resort – so if you are in Ao Nang, Krabi the check them out! We were the only ones in for dinner and after the lady took our order, she rushed out on her motorcycle. Ten minutes lates she was back with a bag of vegetables which soon turned into our delicious dinner. Mark fancied some fried bananas for dessert, so I asked first if they had some. The lady assured me they had – but five minutes later she was off on the motorcycle again! We did eventually get deep-fried bananas and they were well worth the wait.
This morning we made our way to the Tiger Cave temple (Wat Tham Seua) by the cheapest possible method, taking two songthaews (a pick-up truck with a bench in the back) it cost 90 baht. I had seen a taxi company offering the same journey for 1200 baht – it really is setup for foreigners here! At the temple we visited the caves and we climbed the 1237 steps (and some of them were big!) to the top of the mountain. It was the hottest period of the day and it almost killed us! It was worth the pain though when we reached the top. A big image of the Buddha and a chedi are perched on top, and there are stunning views of the province of Krabi from the mountains to the sea. The only blip in the near perfect view is a huge Tesco that has been built on the outskirts of the town. I had heard earlier in the day a taxi driver offering trips to Tesco – as though it was a big tourist attraction. And to my horror, when we met two Aussies on the bus later, they were on their way to Tesco! In Asia at least, it seems that Tesco is building huge stores all over the countryside – it is like the second coming of the British Empire!
Back near the beach we went for a swim to cool off, although the sun prohibited us from staying in for long. We were however tempted in for a massage which cooled and relaxed us. It was Mark’s first Thai massage and he said that the girl was very friendly. He was referring to the fact that she spent rather a long time on his buttocks! I think he must have been enjoying it really. However, I am pretty sure that when she was massaging his buttocks that it was with her knees, not her hands! Once our bodies were nicely supple we enjoyed our daily staple of som tam for dinner.