This is the first chapter of a book written about another country I have visited and am particularly interested in. I’m looking forward to reading more and gaining an insight into a country where I just paid a fleeting visit.
A Year in Nepal” is a book I have been writing since the beginning of this year, 2019. I’d got to my 6th chapter and somehow ran out of steam, lots of ideas, content, adventures, but just couldn’t continue or explain it! I let it sit there for two months, and despite encouragement from friends in Kathmandu, nothing! So, I’ve decided to try something completely different. Every week, Wednesday’s, I’ll post one of my chapters for comment, feedback good or bad, it will all be absorbed. If there’s silence, that tells me something too. Let me ask everyone stopping by here for help, do please comment, reblog, Facebook it, etc etc., all will be accepted, acknowledged, replied to. Here’s the first chapter, First Impressions, from my first ever day in Nepal: (You should start from previous chapters published here Our Book, A Year in Nepal)
23rd – 28th June – Being lazy And so my long holiday in Thailand began to draw to a rather lazy close. All the Saga trips had finished and we were left to our own devices. With my friends, I returned to the night market where we spent a lovely evening browsing the stalls. (I was fascinated by one woman who was repeatedly putting a fish through a mangle.) There was the inevitable break in Starbucks for a frappuccino and to make use of their air conditioning. I also spent some time exploring the tiny local stores outside the hotel and out beyond the shop which took care of our laundry, where we discovered a neat little cafe.
Another day I returned to the spa for an aromatherapy massage and a facial. The smell of the oils was wonderful and it was great to finish off with a cup of ginger tea. I was so relaxed and well balanced I felt 2 inches taller as I walked back to my room. If possible, I always try to fit in at least one massage, while I am on holiday. Some are just good; some are out of this world! Later that day we watched England beat Ecuador 1-0 in the second round of the World cup.
We were almost at the end of the holiday when my two new friends and I went out on a trip, part of which now makes me feel very uncomfortable. The first part of the trip was a visit to an elephant village and of course the experience included a ride. If I had known then what I know now about the treatment of elephants who carry tourists in these places, that place would not have been on my itinerary. So the least said about it the better.
Following that we went to visit a monkey village. By contrast the monkeys had a totally free run of the small village which ran from a hilltop down to a stoney beach. They were everywhere pestering visitors for the bananas and sweetcorn that we were encouraged to buy before starting out. There were some sweet babies but there were also some fairly aggressive males. My usual combination of fear and fascination kicked in. I can’t stop looking at monkeys but I’d rather they left me alone! Is that asking too much? The village also had a number of temples, which were very much in the Chinese tradition rather than Thai. They reminded me of the many temples I had seen in Borneo.
Our last full day involved mainly swimming and and further visit to the night market (and inevitably to Starbucks). On our final day I had hoped to swim but it rained heavily and, by the time the rain stopped, it was too late. So I wasn’t able to break my record of 27 lengths in a day. I enjoyed the drive back to Bangkok. I think that any new wild landscape is interesting and so it was good to see so much of the country before leaving. There was plenty of time to mooch around the airport and have quick bite to eat before enduring a departure lounge full of teenagers who spent their waiting time dancing inexplicably boring dances.
Once again I tracked my route over Myanmar, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and then Europe before touching down in London just before 7a.m.
So, I was beginning to feel a bit of a seasoned traveller and, almost as soon as I arrived home, I started to look ahead to next year……..
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!
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”.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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..
Then a 3 hour journey back to the hotel just in time for dinner.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.