Travels with myself – 3 Thailand

18th – 19th June 2006
Over the next couple of days I continued to hone my swimming skills and was reaching 20 lengths. That was not all at once I should add, it involved popping in and out of the pool for a rest and also chatting to the frog who still declined my offer to kiss him and turn him into a prince.

I also shared taxi to look at the shops and stalls at Cha-Am Beach which seemed to be Thailand’s equivalent of Blackpool with lots of tat and dreadful smelling food (just with squid and octopus rather than hot dogs). Added to this it rained all the time and it was incredibly hot and sticky. Then I had 30 minutes of heaven with a shoulder and neck massage back at the hotel. During the course of this my feet were washed and I was pounded all the way down my back my head and my face, then given a cup of ginger tea and a hot towel.

That evening it was my turn for the rickshaw ride. When we set off at 6pm it was still raining. We drove to the dock in Hua Hin where the fishing boats bring in their catches. There was very little activity there, just one boat getting ready to leave and a few women cleaning earlier catches. Then it was back on the bus to the railway station where rickshaws were waiting for us – one for each person. We rode through the town in a convoy through some very narrow back streets, then along some fairly major roads to a restaurant where we had a lovely meal. In fact it was so lovely that I will tell you exactly what we had!  First of all it was soup with pork, vegetables and glass noodles, then chicken wrapped in banana leaves with crispy noodles, rice with sweet and sour fish chicken and cashew nuts, crispy stir-fry pork and stir-fry vegetables, followed by fresh fruit and coffee.  By the end of the meal it had stopped raining, so our guide decided we should go back to the market.  Unfortunately the rain returned but still we all descended and walked through the night market. If we had been hungry, there was a fascinating array of food and drink!

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Evening at the docks – Hua Hin

 

20th June 2006
It was time for another grand day out. We set off at 7:30, driving south for about 150 km. Our first stop was a temple on the coast and the first sight of it was a huge gold Buddha which local people had funded to mark the Queen’s 60th birthday.  We had to climb up a lot of steps to visit the temple which was built to mark the King’s 50th anniversary in 1996. From the temple we had about an hour’s drive to see the border with Myanmar. There was little to see other than a road disappearing over a hilltop. Then we went for lunch at Prachuap Khiri Khan, a small town on the coast. It is described as “a relaxed place; quite the antithesis of Hua Hin”. STA40145.JPG

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Finally, on our way back to Cha-Am, we stopped to see a small enterprise making paper from pineapple leaves. We were allowed to try out part of the process – firstly spreading out the pulp over a frame and then taking the dried paper off the frame. I decided to buy some little gifts here because I thought it was an enterprise that really deserved supporting.

21st – 22nd June 2006
Having forgotten to use the insect spray on the previous day I was covered with big bites – in fact they were megabites! The day was spent mostly continuing to improvinng my swimming skills and taking my clothes to the laundry.

On the second day we had our last Saga trip which was, perhaps the least successful. We headed for a project, which had been started by the King, for farmers living on very poor land.  When we arrived we were unable to watch a slideshow about the project as the main building was being restored, so we set off to see a farm which is part of the project but there was no one there! Then off to a co-operative selling nuts, dried fruits and handbags made of sisal. Across the road was a school for children living in the project. Some classes were doing maths, some were reading and one was even doing fruit carving (much better than I achieved!). We had come armed with books and pencils as we are always encouraged to do by Saga. Then it was off to visit the most beautiful temple, via a roadside cafe selling wonderful desserts and iced coffee. The temple was a Khmer temple from the 12th century.

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Our final visit of the day was to a Palace built by King Rama VI. It was designed by a German and was very obviously European.  The main thing of note was a huge banyan tree growing in the grounds. It appeared that several trunks had developed from the one original trunk and which have spread huge branches and shoots which have touched the ground and rooted. It was like walking into a small room but all from the one tree.

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The route back to the hotel took us via Cha-Am beach which was not anymore prepossessing in its entire length in the sunshine than it was when we saw a little bit of it the other day!

 

Travels with myself – 3 Thailand

17th June 2006 – A day of mixed emotions
For we of the Saga generation, the building of the bridge over the River Kwai is a familiar part of history and we were grateful to have the opportunity to visit this site. After setting off at 7 a.m. we drove for 3 hours to reach Kanchanaburi where we first visited the memorial museum. This museum was created by a local monk in memory of the prisoners and it is housed in replica buildings like the original POW huts. Inside were items which had been used by the prisoners, together with some of their drawings and accounts of their terrible life in that camp. It was a sombre visit for all of us

We then boarded tiny boats and set off down the Kwai towards the bridge. The boats travelled so fast that they bounced over the water and we had to hang on to our sun hats. As we arrived at the bridge a train was passing over it. We then had a little time to visit the local memorial and walk some of the way over the bridge, while dodging onto small platforms whenever a train came by.

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We boarded our coach and drove through the countryside past small villages and farms. Lunch was at rather unusual restaurant, run by an American and organised with extreme precision (and good food!).

A short journey took us to a railway station where we got on the train and travelled for an hour and a half down the line and across the famous bridge. It was a beautiful journey with amazing scenery. In places we saw the river and then the distant hills, the forest and the farms. We got off at Kanchanaburi station and made a final stop to pay our respects at the war cemetery for English, Australian and Dutch soldiers..

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Then a 3 hour journey back to the hotel just in time for dinner.

Travels by myself – 3 Thailand

14th June 2006 – A day which left me feeling frazzled
Today started with a visit to a Buddhist temple in Hua Hin. The monks were already eating their lunch. It seems that they are not allowed to begin their meal after 12 o’clock. There was also a school on the site and the small children were just settling down for a nap. Then it was on to the railway station to board the 11:38 train, which was only a few minutes late. The train was very crowded, with women passing up and down selling all kinds of food. We got off at Pran Buri station and our coach met us to take us to Pran Buri Village, where we walked a little and then had lunch at a small seafront restaurant.

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Temple at Hua Hin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pran Buri – This is one of the many displays we saw commemorating the King’s 60th anniversary

 

 

After lunch we drove to a river for a rather slippery climb down to some very small boats which took us sailing down the river for over an hour. I remember it seemed a long time because there was not a lot to see other than some egrets and a couple of monitor lizards. There was a little breeze but when it stopped we were left exposed to a burning sun so that by the time we climbed out of the boats we all felt frazzled and fried.

To make things worse, I was due at the village’s No 1 dressmakers for a dress fitting. Mr and Mrs King were leading local entrepreneurs. In their shop they sold beautiful materials, had a team of dressmakers and tailors and they did our laundry cheaper than at the hotel! I just made it.

That evening there was a Saga reception with free drinks and nibbles, which always brings all the Saga visitors together! Then there was dinner in the Bua Chompoo restaurant under James Bond movie on the telly!

15th – 16th June 2006
In a holiday of almost four weeks there have to be some days when there’s not much going on! However I was not entirely idle and on the first of these days I went to a vegetable carving demonstration. Under the guidance of one of the chefs I produced a flower from a tomato and another one from a piece of turnip. My teacher produced some fantastic creations. I promised myself that I would practice when I got home but I never have!

The next day there was a shopping trip. One of my new friends had arranged for a taxi to collect some of us to take us to the shopping village just half an hour’s journey away.  We could have almost been at home again because there was even a Tesco! I felt duty bound to look around to see if the products on sale were the same as they are at home. Some were but the stock was mostly local produce.

Tomorrow was going to be a big day, so there were no Scrabble games or TV watching that evening.

 

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The “art” of vegetable carving!

Travels by myself – 3 Thailand

12th June 2006 – An episode of “Lost”?
I was rather less enthusiastic the next morning as I got up at 7 a.m. we left at 9 a.m. for something which was described as “trekking”.

We drove for about 2 hours stopping on the way to look at a pineapple farm followed shortly afterwards by the Dole factory where they process the pineapples. We drove into a national park and up towards a waterfall. A guide joined us and took us back to a lower car park. Some alarm bells rang! We set off through the jungle. I was with a group of people from other parts of the hotel, much younger and fitter looking than my companions in the Saga group. It started off quite gently, climbing up alongside the river. It got a bit rocky and steep as we walked alongside the river, then we had to cross it. We did this by clambering over rocks and along a tree trunk. It got much harder going as we criss-crossed the river. On  one crossing I waited too long to step and unbalanced, so I stepped right into the water. Well, at least one foot was nice and cool! The man behind me slipped and sat right down in the water and the man behind him decided to just wade across. Eventually we arrived at a bridge. Was it the end of the trek? No. And when the guide pointed out the tracks of a wild boar and we saw a pitch covered up with sticks and found a monkey carcase, I began to feel as if we were auditioning for an episode of “Lost” (a popular TV programme of the time about people who were stranded on an island when their plane crashed).I felt as if I could audition for the part of the little old lady who says: “Go on leave me behind, I’m old. At least you will all be safe”.  Eventually we could see a waterfall and, above the sound of the water came voices.  We had simply walked back to the first car park and the area was filling up with people who had taken the sensible decision to join the river there instead of doing it the hard way!

I gave up, exhausted, at the first waterfall. Some of the others made it to the second one and one couple made it to the third.  I was very pleased to look at their photographs but I had seen quite enough of the jungle for that day.

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We returned (the short way) to our bus and we were taken to have some lunch which was very welcome. There were lots of butterflies there to some absolutely huge ones. I bought some beautiful handmade cards which will made from mulberry paper. So off we went downhill again. The road was uneven and full of potholes and our driver had to keep slowing down, sometimes almost to a standstill. Then we stopped at a small shop and on our way to visit a Karen village.  I bought some sweets and exercise books. These people were refugees from Myanmar, with the border still only 15 km away. They’ve settled and a small village has grown up.  But the houses looked very poorly maintained and the children we saw playing were poorly clothed. As I said on my visit to Borneo, I have mixed feelings about this visits but the children were happy with their books and, of course, the sweets.

I was in the pool within a few minutes of arriving back at the hotel and then I met my friendly ladies from the Midlands and we spent the evening together.

Half our group were doing “Hua Hin By Night”. Unfortunately for them it rained for much of the evening. I hoped that it would be a better night for us the following week when it was our turn.

13 June 2006
Time for a brief spell of laziness and relaxation during this very busy week. Another walk with my friends along the beach and then the black clouds came over.  I was caught by the eventual downpour while in the swimming pool and had to run inside. The TV continues to be constant coverage of the 60th anniversary celebrations!

 

Travels with myself – 3 Thailand

9th June 2006 – Victoriana
Afternoon tea may not be the first thing that springs to mind on a trip in Thailand. But that was to be the highlight of the afternoon.

The first stop was at the Mrigadayavan Palace just outside Hua Hin. The Palace was built for King Rama VI as it was a cooler, seaside locatio n and more pleasant in summer than Bangkok. Built of teak and completed in 1924, it is, apparently, typical Thai-Victorian. It had recently been restored and contains furniture and other items belonging to King Rama VI and his family.  The king died in 1925 but his only child, a daughter, Princess Bejaratana was still alive when I made my visit. (She died in 2011).

Then we drove into the town for a quick tour including the railway station of which the people are very proud. After spending a short while in town and looking at some of the stores I ventured into yet another Starbucks for a frappuccino and to cool down in the air conditioning.

 

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Our final visit was to the Sofitel hotel for afternoon tea of cakes and earl grey. The hotel has a beautiful garden filled with topiary animals.

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Despite a heavy downpour, I managed to have my daily swim. Later I made my way to the main lobby, where we were to join in the celebrations for the King’s 60th anniversary.  All guests were asked to attend and the lobby was crammed full of both guests and staff.  As requested I was wearing something yellow – my pashmina.  There was a huge portrait of him in the lobby and a big screen on which we began to watch the proceedings from Bangkok.  We were all given a yellow candle to hold and these were lit  as the ceremony proceeded.  Crowds of thousands in Bangkok were also holding lit candles. It was quite a spectacle. However at the end of the ceremony none of us were sure as to whether we had actually seen the king and queen.  No-one seemed certain that they were actually present! It shall remain a mystery. Afterwards there was a great rush to the dining room and I met up with another couple of Saga guests and spent a lovely evening in the ar shampoo restaurant until 10.

10th June 2006
Today I mostly spent relaxing including having a pedicure from which I emerged with bright red toenails and feeling very relaxed. The highlight of the evening was settling down to watch the World Cup in the bar.  It had barely got started when the channel disappeared and there was total uproar!  Eventually it came back on and I watched the game with a couple of other Saga guests.

11th June 2006
I was up at 6 a.m. and we were on the coach by 7:30. We first visited a coconut farm where they make sugar from coconut flour, coconut milk and coconut oil. They also have a substantial souvenir shop!  Then it was on board a long tail boat to ride to the floating market. The ride was at great speed, until we had to slow down to turn the corners. As we got near the market the waterways got busier and there was something of a traffic jam just before we got off the boat. There was both an indoor and outdoor market selling everything from beautiful silk and silk clothes to fruit vegetables being sold from boats sailing up and down the waterways at the edge of the market. It was fascinating and I bought some spices. Then we set off to a craft centre where they made beautiful furniture and where we could watch the craftsman at work. Finally we were off to the Rose Garden Hotel for an excellent buffet lunch followed by a show of cultural activities, dancing, stick fighting, Thai boxing accompanied by different types of music.

I decided to have a change of scenery at dinner time and ate at the Rim Talay restaurant which was just by the beach. There was no inside seating so it was a bit warm but the food, which happened to be Italian, was very good.

Travels with myself – 3 Thailand

8th June 2006 – Off to Cha-Am
We left Bangkok promptly at 9 am for Cha-am, a district on the Western coast of Thailand about 100 miles to the south. It was a weekday morning so the traffic was still heavy, although thankfully nothing like the nightmare that was previous evening! The city buildings got smaller and changed to very poor looking housing which then disappeared as we reached the countryside. Saga provided yet another guide to accompany me on this journey and she explained a little about the land around us as we went along. We passed salt farms and rice fields. Farmers are able to grow several crops of rice in a year. She pointed to a range of hills to the west of us and said that they marked the border between Thailand and Myanmar and said that the history of Thailand was filled with Burmese invasions.

We arrived at the Cha-Am resort to be met by Kai who would be the Saga Rep for the rest of my stay. It seemed huge resort which I’m not used to and I was going to have to wait until the next day for the conducted tour. Still, I had a lovely large room with a balcony. I found a nearby restaurant (apparently there are several) called the Bua Chompoo and had lunch, then unpacked, had a quick nap, looked at all the visits and activities on offer and filled out a tentative schedule. Then I went out to sample the swimming pool. I remember that it was an unusual shaped pool with lots of vegetation at the far end and, as I noted in my diary, it was “gorgeous” with ” warmish, inviting” water. Happily it was quiet too and so it was very easy to spend the afternoon swimming lazily up and down. I never go on holidays which simply involve sitting around a pool or on the beach but I did always set myself the aim of swimming a few lengths every day whether or not I was going out on a trip. I also visited the beach which was beautiful too and almost deserted.

Later I had a walk around the grounds to find the Sukuna restaurant and then retired ready for the next morning’s team talk.

9th June 2006 – Saga friendliness
Over the years I’ve found that hotels which Saga uses regularly, usually have a lounge where you can go and get teas and coffees, chat to other Saga guests and meet for information about the day’s activities. This is where we had a meet and greet followed by a tour of the complex. Most of my fellow guests are also women like myself, either on their own or in twos. After touring the complex we were taken for a short walk to the local village where they were selling some beautiful clothes. Then it was back for lunch in a third restaurant, this time serving Italian food.

After lunch and a spell by the pool, I was invited by two ladies from the Midlands to join them for a walk along the beach. Now, this is the thing with Saga holidays. In Borneo, although I met some friendly people on the trips this never extended to invitations to share meals or indeed join in any non-trip related activity. In fact, I think I only ate one meal in the hotel when I was not alone. This doesn’t really bother me but sometimes it is nice to be able to sit and chat over a meal – or to have someone invite you to walk along the beach with them. As it happened, these two ladies and I became friends and, although we haven’t met again on holiday, I still exchange Christmas cards with one of them and we update each other on where we have been that year. If I ever arrived on my own in the restaurant, they would always invite me to join them at their table. It was something I really appreciated. Later on we went on some independent outings together.

Tonight we returned to the Bua Chompoo. Their buffet was not just themed night by night but there was food from China, India, Vietnam, Japan and Thailand served each night. It was pleasant to also meet some of the other guests afterwards for a drink in the lobby. This was typical of the friendliness that I became used to on just about all of my subsequent Saga holidays

Then it was time for bed and for looking forward to our first chance to explore.

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I loved this pool.  It had a resident frog who lived in the vegetation down at the far end, who serenaded us every day.  And every day, I offered to kiss him and turn him into a prince.  But he always told me to **** off and leave him alone. He was thoroughly fed up with being patronised by women who thought they could improve upon his chosen lifestyle! So, I won’t try that again.

 

 

Travels with myself – 3 Thailand

                                                                

6th June 2006 – Bangkok in all its glory and chaos
My first guided tour started at 9 a.m. We were visiting the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew).

This year, I’m pleased to say, was the start of my use of digital photography so I haven’t had to search for holiday snaps amongst my boxes of photographs.  They are all neatly stored in folders on a hard drive.

The palace and temple area was absolutely amazing, with seemingly dozens of buildings covered in gold and patterned with statues and shrines. We were able to enter the temple to see the Emerald Buddha. The statue of the Buddha itself is carved from a single piece of dark green jade (not emerald) and this temple is regarded as the holiest Buddhist temple in Thailand.  We were also allowed to visit parts of the Grand Palace. However, although the king no longer lives there, it is still used for ceremonial occasions and preparations for the King’s 60th anniversary were in full swing and there were many places we weren’t allowed to visit. I’m going to let the photos speak for themselves.

 

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It was so hot that it was a bit of a relief to get back on the bus!  Our next visit was to the Royal Lapidary where we were shown how gemstones develop and how they are collected and made into jewellery. Of course it was also a purchasing opportunity and I bought a beautiful amethyst ring which I have since sadly lost.

I restricted myself to a light lunch in anticipation of a swim to cool down but then it proceeded to pour with rain all afternoon so I fell asleep instead.

It was still raining when we left for an evening soiree on the river. Thanks to the preparations for the King’s anniversary celebrations going on throughout the town, we had a nightmare journey.  The whole of Bangkok seemed to have ground to a halt and it took us almost an hour and a half to do our journey, much of which time was spent just standing still. At one point our guide jumped out of the taxi and ran to the riverside to make sure that the boat didn’t leave without us! When we arrived, thank goodness, it had stopped raining. The boat left straight away and we enjoyed a gin fizz and a three-course buffet and afterwards we sat on deck to enjoy the calm and warm evening while we travelled up and down the river. Yet again part of the river was closed for rehearsals for the celebrations.

It had been a short but enjoyable introduction to Bangkok but I was looking forward to arriving at my next stop where I was to spend my three weeks for the price of two.  What was in store at Cha-Am?