Thursday, 18 April 2013

we've got to outrun the storm

Day One on Koh Kood island ..... interesting and scary and exciting ....

"Let's explore on kayaks today" says Amy.  "OK" says I (tentatively)  "Not tried that particular mode of water transportation before" ..... but how hard could it be?   Gently floating along with the occasional dipping of an oar into the water.

Oh, hmmm .... first thing.   Launch yourself into space off a rickerty wooden platformplatform and hope you, not only make contact with the kayak, but land in the seat.   Seat?   If you can call a miniscule indentation in a board of plastic, a seat, well, fair do!!!!    I did my best to brave up ....but decided I wasn't the early morning entertainment (not enough Thai "whiskey" consumed yet.    So, asked Amy & Andy to tow my kayak to the beach.  I walked round to the beach (about 5 minute walk) to await my vessel.  They duly paddled up ..... in a 3 man yayak.   Brilliant .... I can board and relax and drift along .... until I saw the oar with my name on.

Ar well. never mind, it'll be easy with three.   How wrong could one be!   NoNo teamwork seemed possible with tremendous clashing of oars and much juicy language.   We did manage to get back to the pier as after some heated debate, unanimously agreed we needed a change of plan!

I stayed in the front of the three-manner and Amy got her own.   Yes, it was better, so off we went up the river.    All was good .....for about 5 minutes!   My legs are just not used to being straight and stretched apart while sitting with no backrest.   But no choice, had to go with the pain.    Thank god, after about an hour of this torture, I saw the river end ... or was I hallucinating?   Hurray, yes, our destination was in sight.   Of course, there was the getting off but at least there was a beach.

We then treked about 20 mins through the jungle to a Koh Kood hotspot - a waterfall where you could swim.  Perfect.  Then the jungle trek back to the river.   About halfway back it went very dark  the thunder started.

"We gotta try and outrun the storm" declared Andy.    I  can tell  you - I arranged myself into the yayak pretty damn quick and off we set, paddling like crazy.   Then the rain came and big thunder and hair splitting lightening.   Needless to say, we didn't outrun the storm.   The rain came down in sheets, I have never seen rain like that and there we were in the middle of the river, banked by mangroves with the kayak filling with rain water, drenced to the skin, paddling like crazy.  I decided it would be easier to get out of the yayak at the pier than get in so told Andy I would be very brave as we were going to have to go past it to get to the beach.

Yes, I did it!   not elegant or pretty but I did it (my legs were like jelly for hours afterafter).    Took me at least 30 mins to peel off my clothes.  

A very interesting day but not one I intend to repeat any time soon!   Unfortunately didn't get any photos cos of the rain and not daring to move to get my camera out .... however it is imprinted in my brain forever!!!

More about Koh Kood in my next episode .....

Sunday, 14 April 2013

and yet another bum bashing!

Bangkok is utterly mental !!!

on  Sunday 8 April we caught the train from Ayutthaya  to Bangkok.   Standard Tbai train with only third class - in with all the chickens!!!  No, not really, no live chickens but plenty of different food to buy.  I will never complain about British trains again!   All wooden benches for more than 30 minutes is a little bum numbing.   The air con was open windows - which, to be fair, was fine.   The upside is that the fare was 15 baht - about 40 pence for a 2 hour journey!

Introduction to Bangkok by rail was rows and rows of shacks - the only time I personally have seen such poverty was passing by illegal settlements in South Africa.    Then there are, side by side to these shacks,ultra modern, very fancy apartment blocks behind security fences and gates manned by guards.  We often talk about the poor in the UK - I don't know about anywhere to compare with here, and Thailand is apparently rich compared to other Asian countries.

We stayed in different hotels but only about 5 mins walk away just off the famous backpacker road - Khao San Road.  Ate at one of Amy's favourite Bangkok restaurants  - Indian - best curry for ages!     Then wandering around the area which is all street market, food and drink ..... chaotic.

Next day we were "free" until midday so I did the big tourist thing and visited the Grand Palace.   Seemed a bit priccy for Thailand at about £12 entrance fee, but what a truly magnificent place.   My photos don't do it justice.   Then I lost track of time in the Queen's Textile & Costume exhibition - for me personally this was best part of the visit but, unfortunately you are not allowed to take photos.    And so consequently, I had to suffer the wrath of Amy as she had to call me as I weren't at the agreed meeting place on time.  I was in trouble!   But, you have to build in leeway time here, so we wasn't late for our minibus pick-up.  
Royal Guards at the Palace

doing a spot of re-gold gilting in the Grand Palace
Minibus to Trat which is the jumping off place for the island of Koh Kood.    Six hour drive south - less said about that journey the better!   No trains to Trat.  We could have flown but the minibus was much cheaper.  It did have air-con but the driver kept turning it down.  All the seats were taken and only room for our big backpacks in the luggage space so our other bags and Andys guitar had to be nursed.  Amy tells me that all other minibus rides she has taken were SO much better.   Trust us to have the only cold blooded Thai driver in the whole of the Kingdom.  It got better .....not.
All the other passengers were going straight to Trat Pier for boat to another (bigger) island so we were unceremoniously dumped out of the bus 20 kilometres from Trat, so then big fight with a taxi driver for a reasonable price.   he took us to the bus station so then another slight altercation as we didn't have a clue where our overnight hotel was the end he did give in to Amy Pressure and after some U-turns and stopping to ask people, we did get to the right hotel.   Trat isn't so big but if I tell you that on Trip Advisor, the most recommended place to visit is the hospital - then you can understand that it isn't a renowned tourist destination ..... unless you want to go to the island.

The hotel was fine - about a year old and still in its clean, modern state with the folks at reception fine and smiley and speaking some English.   They only had a breakfast room so we had to venture out for dinner.  The first place we came to was packed ... with Thai people .... always a good sign (apparently).   Well, no-one spoke English and either couldn't or didn't want to understand Amy's Thai, so we ordered by pointing to a menu and hoped for the best.   It wasn't the best!!   The chicken in my fried rice was obviously the bits they would normally throw away and after the second mouthful of god knows what, I couldn't carry on.   Amy and Andy weren't faring much better either.   So we left and walked on a bit .... the second place we tried was ....... great!!   We all had something we liked.   After eating we decided on an early night.   All I can really say about Trat is that if you had booked your annual 2 weeks holiday there, you would be sorely disappointed.

Next day we were picked up at 0800 by a truck to take us to the Pier - a good 30 minute hair-raising drive through the countryside.     And there was the sea!    We had booked to go to the island by speedboat rather than the slower bigger boat and I was so excited.    Excitement turned to panic when we walked along the wooden pier and there didn't seem any logical way of getting onto the boat.    I should have known ... there wasn't any elegant way ---- once more, I had to be "persuaded" by Amy that I could do it ..... step off the pier onto the side of the boat which meant a leap of faith ..... and then jump down what looked like a sheer cliff face to me (I have only got short legs you know).   I had to be manhandled once more by two Thai boatmen whose combined weight wet through would be significantly less than mine!   Anyway, I was on  but by this time there were no seats left inside, so Andy and I had to sit in the front deck in the blazing sunshine.    Off we cast ..... not to bad me thinks.    Then the boat really took off and suffice it to say that thank goodness I hadn't had a full English for breakfast.   My bum taking another hammering (OK, I know it was a speedboat!!)  but thought it would all be a bit more dignified.   I am sure the high and mighty when out for a cruise don't get bounced 6 foot out of the seats every other minute.    Then .... I was asked to move to the other side of the front deck "to balance the boat madam.... must admit, it did help!    So then I had to worry all the way there about how on earth I was going to get off the boat!    Yes, it was much easier as they pointed the front into the pier so there was a step up and not such a huge gap between the boat and the landing stage.    We had arrived on Koh Kood - hooray!      (I am thinking now that Amy and Andy only let me tag along as extra entertainment.)

We had booked to stay the first 8 nights in Cozy for Backpackers where Amy and Andy have stayed before ... but this time I insisted on a separate bungalow with air con and private bathroom.   Previously they had slept in a room with just a fan and shared bathroom ... but I put my foot down!     So we had a bungalow each which is on stilts - front facing some grass and flowering shurbs and the back into trees.    For our last 2 nights on the island we are going upmarket and I have booked at a flash resort.    

To be continued ...............

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

15 hour sleeper train to Ayutthaya

So ...... left Chiang Mai on April 4 as both Amy and Andy now on school holidays until mid May.

At 5.30 pm, we were on the train looking forward to a 14 hour ride to Ayutthaya which is the old capital of Thailand.   It was sacked by the Burmese in 1700 and something but the old ruins are maintained.    The train ride was interesting!!    We paid around 16 pounds each for 2nd class, sleeping with air con.   The seats made up into beds and another was pulled off the wall to make bunks.   We had a bottom sheet, top sheet and pillow .... and a curtain.   Comfortable enough but i had to brace myself as the train line was so klackerty   so that (a) I didn't fall out and (b) didn't keep crashing my head into the side wall !!!   Some napping must have taken place but it was a long night!    This was also, I think, the first time I had come up against Asian toilets ..... squatting contraption.   On Amy's advice, I took off my shorts and all I can say is that it was sound advice!!!

inside the sleeper train

So we got to our destination about an hour late and took a tuku/red truck combination vehicle to Grandparents House for 2 nights there.  Spent our time there looking around the ruins - one day on hired bicycles which was a bit hair raising, but the roads no where near as busy as Chiang Mai
the rest of the Buddha is missing - under the ground or just taken?
Grandparents House at Ayutthaya
On our second day there we went on a boat ride on the river.    This boat would never ever have got a Safety Licence or Sea Worthiness Certificate!!!   It was an old traditional wooden Thai long boat with a massive truck engine.    We were out about 2 hours in all, stopping off at several temples.   It was a bit hairy getting on and off but, hey, in the end I managed it with the help of the Thai boatmen - not very pretty but i'm sure they've had to deal with worse!!
our trusty Thai longboat
huge, huge golden Buddha.   Unfortunately its
difficult to capture the actual size in a photo

rustic riverside residence

sorting the laundry relatively simple
when they're all the same orange
monk robes - just need to fold them

the simple life
fishing in the river
with a polystyrene boat

last few days in Chiang Mai

I already told you that I spend some time cross stitching on my balcony - completed first project - a sampler of my own design for Amy & Andy.  they call their home Hufflepuff Mansion, and here is a photo of my work.

One day when Amy was on her Thai Culture course, me and Andy went to a temple where a Festival was being celebrated.   Boys entering as novice monks  - looked from around 6 to teenagers.    What an absolute riot of the senses!   The boys were dressed up in bright costumes with magnificent headgear and loads of make-up ( especially in pink) either being carried in what I can only describe as sedan chairs, or on the backs of men.   constant music from drums and gongs, the boys being jigged about, ladies carrying flowers and breaking into dance & song. the boys possessions wrapped in raffita string, flower petals being thrown, huge umbrella-like structures with garlands of flowers & tassels.  it was quite magical.

Then a couple of days later, we witnessed the next stage in the temple.    The boys had had their heads shaved and dressed in white for prayers before they filed out clutching their orange robes.    After changing into these orange monk robes, all came back into the temple for more prayers.   Most of the very young boys (and some of the teenagers) looked lost and scared - bet there was tears at bedtime wanting their mummies.

I did get an Easter Egg after all!   Andy made us one each by melting chocolate, then using an egg box for the mould - what a grand surprise - thank you xx

Sunday, 31 March 2013

kao nio ma muang .... anyone?

More of that later when I talk about the day at the Cookery School.

Well, I thought 40 degrees high enough, but I have now experienced 43 - a wopping 109 fahrenheit.   Too hot!   this week, it's difficult to be out of aircon between about 12 & 4 so having to have pm siesta.   just how much hotter can it get?

Highlights of this last week .......

Checked out a hotel swimming pool.   Hotel quite snazzy but pool area seen better days although pool itself clean and very refreshing.  Apparently, unless living by the sea, Thais don't learn to swim  - probably because it cost us 150 bahts each to go in (remember mimimum wage is officially 350 bahts a DAY).

Hit Chiang Mai Night Bazaar.   A mega giant market.  Think Birmingham Bullring markets times 20 and some!   As with markets all over the world, lots of stalls selling the same things, lots of fake and lots of tack.   On the other hand, loads of colour and unusual bits & bods and some real gems at ....for us Westerners .... ridiculously low prices - and, yes, haggling is encouraged!   Pity I don't have a strong man any more to carry extra luggage for the journey home.

Pick a colour, any colour - cute baby shoes in Lanna style

"Ooh La Lah Honey Bread"  - a kind of posh bread & butter pudding.  Oozing with honey and dripping cream with big blodge of ice cream, topped with bananas and toasted flaked almonds.  Yummy Yummy, as the Thais would say!

Day at the Thai Farm Cookery School with Amy.   It was excellent .... hard work, fun, educational and Yummy!
We were picked up at my hotel about 8.50 .... oh no!   The heave-oh into the back of the truck was not pretty.   I've only got short legs and I can tell you, it was higher than me (almost!) .   Still, had to be done.    After we had gone about 20 mins, stopped at a food market.  Fascinating.   Our lady Thai teacher took us around a few stalls explaining and showing us Thai herbs, spices, sauces (where we kept getting splattered with fish water and god only knows what else as the woman on stall behind us was battering to submission fish chosen by customers with a big hunk of wood).  We then moved onto rice tales and then "a million things they do with coconuts" which I then was chewing for hours!   Then we had 15 mins to explore on our own.   Hucknall Market -  you could learn a thing or two!   Think the most "wonderful" items for sale were crispy frogs followed closely by fried maggots (there were probably other contenders but, sorry, couldn't identify which species of edible insects.   No, we didn't sample - didn't want to spoil our appetite for other things coming later.

Our Thai cookery teacher with all the sauces we used

Green, red and yellow curry paste

Chewing on fresh minced coconut... for hours...

Pickled........ some....thing......

Horrific meat

Huge bags of pork scratchings

Fried insects, yum yum

Tea and coffee stall

Lurid Thai .... desserts?

Back in the truck (oh, and the nice driver obviously didn't want to detour via the hospital to get me un-dislocated, so had found me a step to climb up into the truck).   About 30 mins later, after driving through countryside, we arrived at the farm.    No time for a rest - straight to work pounding our pessels to make the sauce for our chosen curry.    We had chosen from a list of what we wanted to cook when we booked the trip.    But before we got down to other dishes we were took on a guided tour around their herb, fruit and vegetable gardens - picking, smelling and tasting.

So, by the end of the day, I had made and eaten:

kaeng kiao waan gai   (green curry with chicken)   not too keen
tom yam kung  (soup with scrimps)   delicious
gai phad met mamuang him mapaan  (fried chicken with cashews) delicious
pad thai  (fried noodles)  took back for Andy who said it was good
kao nio ma muang (sticky rice with mango)  to die for!

Really great day, and would like to do back in UK if I can find the ingredients.  Apparently you can find most in an Asian supermarket.

Mango with sticky rice and coconut sauce - a tasty Thai dessert