Prior to boarding our train to Bangkok (Sprinter Express - daytime service) we had decided to order a couple of large baguettes with some chicken and pork meat filling plus a bag of salad. There was to be no restaurant car on this service and we did not want a repeat of our Malaysian train experience where we starved all day. However, just to confound us we were served a light lunch of warm and watery Green Curry and rice by an onboard waitress.......our salad rolls were far superior and were eyed enviously by other bemused passengers.
Maria struggles with our luggage in the back of a Tuk Tuk en route to Chiang Mai Railway Station
Spied this poster in the railway station - what a pity we had not been made aware of this opportunity earlier in our stay
Our train's 700km route through Central Thailand
This train was also much cleaner than the Malay one. The initial third of the journey passes through mountainous jungle before it descends onto the relatively flat paddy fields of Central Thailand which continued right through until we encountered the outer suburbs of Bangkok.
From the mountains (excuse the train's grimy windows)
to the paddy fields
The train was constantly required to stop for express trains heading North and, as a consequence, arrived about an hour late.
The scribe and gourmet lunch-maker
We found Bangkok spectacularly decorated at night with all the tree lined boulevards dripping in gold fairy lights. This, we later learnt was not on account of Xmas, but in fact for the King's recent birthday. Our taxi eventually found our budget hotel (The Fortville) about one kilometre from Khao San Road. Amy had already been there looking for us and had left a note. We rang her and joined up with her at her swankier hotel (The Villa Cha Cha) a little closer to Khao San. My hotel choice was a bummer as our room was tiny and had little space to do anything in and so we chose to keep out of it as much as possible - it was only for 3 nights after all. Next day we kept our pre-arranged dental appointments. While they could do little for my front teeth, Maria had a deal of cosmetic dental treatment done quite cheaply. Then it was off shopping all around the Siam Square & Pratunam areas. That evening we strolled around the Khao San area having the odd drink and fraternising with all and sundry......well at least I did.
Just a friendly barman
Late night snack of deep fried silk worms - must have been the weather that night!
Next day Amy and Maria resumed their shopping for clothes and, in particular, for a hard to find Thai brass cutlery set, while I decided to visit a couple of museums, the Royal Palace and a couple of temples I had missed on my last visit.
As the Royal Barges Museum was officially closed, I was unable to photograph the highly ornate Kings' Barge itself - just these used by his minions
Wat Phra Kaew (home of the Emerald Buddha) adjacent to the Royal Palace
Telephoto shot furtively taken from outside the temple as no photography allowed inside. The Emerald Buddha (only 66mm tall) is in fact carved from a block of Jade and its royal garments are changed 3 times a year by the King or Crown Prince.
After spending quite a few hours at the Royal Palace, I wandered about taking in many of the other iconic monuments and sights around the Rattanakosin or old town.
Tacky elephant sculpture at a busy street roundabout
Buddhist shrine at the Lak Meuang (City Pillar) covered in gold leaf some of which actually found its way onto the back of my mobile phone
Khlong Taxis - now these fellows move with the speed of greased lightening - especially when letting passengers on and off - as Maria nearly found out, there was no time for faltering steps as you would have ended up in the septic Khlong waters
Amy then took us out for dinner at the very gracious restaurant called the Cabbages and Condoms (www.pda.or.th/restaurant) which was established in 1986 by the Population & Community Development Association to promote sustainable population growth and family planning in Thailand. The restaurant has a beautiful garden courtyard to eat around, meal was excellent and more than made up for the traffic gridlock I had had to overcome to get to the restaurant which is located adjacent to one of Bangkok's main business districts at Silom Rd, Soi 12. .....highly recommended
Condom Xmas Tree Decorations and Miss Condom
Condom Bridal Dress
The next morning we caught a taxi to the airport to catch a flight to Krabi from where we would make our way to Ko Lanta where we intended to stay until the New Year. Our Air Asia plane was, of course, late in leaving and so we had little option but to catch a minivan and car ferry to get to our island resort. However, the heavens had opened up in Krabi and we scrambled into our private taxi and drove through rain all the way to the island about two hours journey involving two crossings on a car ferry.
Locality map showing Ko Lanta in relation to the towns of Phuket and Krabi
Now Amy and I had spent considerable time selecting a hotel to stay in on Ko Lanta but on arrival at the Lanta Nice Beach Hotel we were confronted with a couple of sterile red brick glazed tile rooms no where near the beach, no gardens and with compulsory Xmas and New Year's Eve parties to attend at an extra cost of $33/head for each event. This was not what we had arranged. The dodgy manager and his surly wife insisted that these arrangements would have been explained in our booking contract which, of course, it wasn't. We eventually decided to spend one night there and attend his wretched party and then try like hell to find alternate accommodation on this booked out island during their peak season.
While we were licking our wounds over a beer on the beach I noticed a blackboard sign a couple of hundred metres down the beach advertising rooms to rent. I immediately made enquiries and found that they would have two adjoining rooms available the next day for the same price as we had been charged by our original hotel ($66/night). We all inspected the rooms which were admittedly not as flash but which both had A/C, ensuite, fridge, private balcony and were right on the beach - we grabbed'em and decided to sort out the earlier booking later on. We later found out, that our new hotel The Pink House was owned by our predecessor's niece.
The Xmas Eve party turned out to be a wholesome affair, with warm and uninteresting selection of Thai food and expensive bar prices. The entertainment was made up of some traditional Thai dancers and then a series of children's games eg pass the parcel, a local form of bingo and musical chairs - it was horrendous but was thoroughly enjoyed by all of the Norwegian families who seemed to make up the bulk of the attendees.
Xmas Eve Party
Sharing the funny Santa Hat with flashing lights
The odd drink was had
Games were played by Maria
Lanterns were lit
The Pink House proved to be a little unreliable when it came to issues such as continuous power and water supply and its rooms were a little musty from its proximity to the sea, but in all other respects it suited us. The young manageress was a delightful person who proved very helpful albeit forgetful about always donning her Muslim Hijab to attend to our queries.
Our rooms are on the right where orange towels are hanging
Tequila Sunrises in front of our rooms to celebrate our arrival at a more appropriate and suitably rustic Andaman Sea 'resort'
We hired a small 120cc motorbike for the duration of our stay and this proved to be very useful for exploring the island which was about 30 kms in length by about 10 kms wide. Ko Lanta is occupied by an essentially Muslim population and the exhalations' from the various mosques dotted about are pretty well constant. Thai food is mixed with Malay in an easy fusion of menus. However, in Muslim restaurants you will not get pork, beef or alcohol. The beach in front of our hotel at Khlong Nin is a spotless 2-3 km stretch of golden sand which shelves deeply into the sea.....there are a plentiful supply of cabanas and umbrellas' to use to laze away the day in front of the sparkling Andaman Sea. There was also an obliging bar next door which did not hesitate to provide beach service and credit to some thirsty Falangs from down under.
On more than one occasion, a Scandinavian would query why Australians would bother to holiday in Thailand during their own beautiful summer months. They of course travel almost twice the distance than ourselves (at half the cost) to catch a bit of sun and beach. There are many restaurants selling Swedish breakfasts of porridge and rather bitter coffee. However, there is also a good smattering of French, Italian, German and Spanish tourists to balance the European ethnic ledger......not forgetting the swag of Brits and Americans also in evidence.....but the Swedes rule the roost here.
Khlong Nin Beach
A ride around the National Park at the Southern end of the Island
We also investigated a local village rubber plantation
A villager explained (by gesture) how the latex rubber is first rolled out into mats to dry before shipment to factories for processing further
However, not all the beaches along the Western coastline are as beautiful as many are quite rocky.....the Eastern side of the island is quite murky and muddy on account of the mangrove lined coast. The old town of Ban Lanta on the East coast had once been a busy sheltered port for shipping between Phuket and Penang and Singapore. Nowadays, its 100+year old wooden houses built out over the rather murky water are devoted to restaurants and tourist shops.......a visit to the Hammock House which sells beautiful hand woven hammocks from Northern hill tribes is a must. After sitting in quite a few hammocks in bars and restaurants dotted along our own beach, I decided we must have one for the back veranda at home.
Try before you buy - a bargain @ $50
While Amy took herself off to a three day underwater digital photography course with a British run school (www.liquidlense.co.uk) we arranged for Maria to enrol in a cooking course at the Time for Lime school. We also booked a one day 4 island tour in a long tail boat. I also explored a frightening cave ( Tham Khao Maikaeo) - the tour of which would not pass any OH&S muster with its rickety bamboo ladders and very steep and narrow tunnels to crawl through - very claustrophobic.
While Amy continued her underwater photography course, Maria and I went out on our day long four island cruise and snorkelling expedition in one of those long tail boats. These only cost $23. However, the same trip on a larger cruise boat with toilet costs $30 and on a large speed boat (see above) $50.
Our Longtail ferry used for our four island snorkelling tour
We had ten on our boat (3 British couples and one French) and all considerably younger than ourselves. We had a good day out with the highlight being our 80 metre tunnel swim into the Emerald Cave. Everyone doing this must now wear a life vest. Most wise as the tunnel is pitch dark and one has to feel your way through. Our skipper carried a small torch which he only used to identify particularly low hanging rock on the tunnel's ceiling but also a waterproof bag into which he ferried our groups' cameras.
Entrance to the Emerald or Morakat Cave tunnel from the sea
Cave side entrance to tunnel (NB colour of the water inside the cave)
Unfortunately, our arrival at the cave coincided with a much larger ferry carrying about 60 mainly Japanese tourists and it proved to be very congested as we all tried to swim through in the darkness with many hands and feet groping quite inappropriately all over one.....lucky no one had a panic attack - However, the Cave was truly spectacular and well worth it. Our group made sure we left before the Japanese who had decided to tie a long rope around each other to exit......looked like a long caterpillar! We were served fresh fruit on the boat and then had a lunch of curry, vegetables and rice on another island beach.
Lunch venue Homeward bound
Other Ko Lanta resorts further South towards Kan Tian Bay
I had taken and had endeavoured to use a cheap underwater digital camera during this snorkelling trip with pathetic results. The camera or I were simply not up to it. In contrast, Amy's you beaut underwater camera and accessories provided some stunning shots of her dives on the popular Koh Ha dive site some 45 minutes run off the western coast. Thanks to Amy we are able to share some of the diving treats to be had in the area....viz:
On arrival back at our hotel we were greeted with the news that a new water pump had been found and that therefore the hotel's guests could all shower and use the dunnies again - what a relief! However, more importantly, we received a distressed call from Amy who had had another mild attack of the bends at the end of her last dive. She had been on oxygen for a couple of hours at the Dive shop and the medico there advised that she should be medically evacuated to the nearest hyperbaric chamber which was in Phuket some fours away by road. She was a little unsure of whether she needed to go but decided that as her dive insurance would pay it was wise follow their instruction. She was then whisked away at 1800 hours to rendezvous with an ambulance at Krabi for the remainder of her journey. Thankfully she rang early next morning to report all was well. Amy eventually returned from her overnight stay at Phuket the next evening - she had come by ferry via Ko Phi Phi.....holidays resumed.
We later lunched again at a French Bakery up in the new town of Saladin and while Amy and I did some further shopping Maria was dropped off at the Time for Lime Thai cookery school (www.timeforlime.net). She had enrolled for this course some days earlier and was quite excited about the prospect. Unlike Chiang Mai there are only one or two cookery schools to choose from on this island and Time for Lime is the most pre-eminent one. The cookery school also serves as a fund-raiser for animal welfare on the island.
The cooking course runs from about 1600 to 2130 hours and each day the participants are given 6 different dishes to make - Maria was required to prepare a Green Curry paste, a Laab fresh herb salad with roasted rice, Stir fried shrimp in a red curry sauce, a fried rice and a chicken green curry plus a sweet of sago. While the class size of 20 (mainly Scandinavians with a couple of Americans) looked a little cramped Maria felt it was OK. The Thai instructor had a shrill voice and as Amy and I ate at the adjoining Time for Lime restaurant you could hear her every instruction to her recalcitrant class.
A lot of green about
Time for Lime's restaurant out the front of the cooking school (on the beach)
After Maria's class finished, we all rode home on our motorbikes along the dangerously ill lit streets of Ko Lanta.
New Years eve was spent cruising the multitude of bars along Khlong Nin Beach where we came across more Scandinavians - not only Swedes but also Danes and Fins. They certainly knew how to party - more happy lanterns were released and even more firecrackers were let off along the beach to the accompaniment of many competing loud music systems.
Next morning we awoke to a soft New Year drizzle which served to ease our sore heads. It was remarkable to notice the number of families who chose to see in the New Year with their children who spent much of the evening playing in and out of the adjacent sea ....where else could one experience such an innocent and safe backdrop to the year's end. However, on the advice of some Swedish folk we had got to know, the best party in town along our beach would be at Otto's Bar - there would be a pig on the spit and live music till late - all for an entry of $3. However, we dithered and got there late with the pig already consumed and the place awash with some dubious smoke. The ladies both appeared to have somehow managed to get their drinks spiked during the evening while I left them to it and tried out a few neighbouring bars.
On New Year's Day we headed to a nearby resort for a long overdue western brunch of Steak (Aussie - of course) Sandwiches. Did the job! The chore of re-packing our bulging suit cases was our next pressing items of business. We left home vowing to purchase nothing more than a couple of nick knacks along with the odd T shirt and yet are now confronted with bulging bags which severely threaten our 20 kg baggage allowances.
During earlier explorations we investigated the Relax Bay Resort (www.relaxbay.com) on the Northern Phra-Ae Beach which Amy and I had short-listed but eventually passed over on account of its cost (a mere $84/night for a superior double room). It turned out to be beautiful with bungalow rooms set in the jungle, managed by a Belgian whose clientele came from all nationalities and which offered some of the best gourmet cooking on the island - we should have stayed there. Amy and I went off for one last bike ride in the wet conditions to properly explore the Relax Bay Resort. We liked it. Met a couple from Melbourne there who raved about the quiet ambiance, yoga classes(?), diving facilities and food quality. This place should be considered on every bodies short-list in the medium price bracket.
We decided to spend our last evening on the Island having a seafood themed dinner at the nearby Roi's Restaurant and Cookery School. This placed bragged that all the fish sold was caught daily in the sea and that none of it originated in the numerous fish and prawn farms on the Eastern side of the island. The meal was fine but nothing to rave about. It is customary on this island to Bar B Cue whole fish after marinating them - not always a good look.
Next morning, we organised a mini van to pick us up on the island and take us back to the Krabi airport - this proved to be half the cost of Private Hotel taxi who had brought us to the island and substantially cheaper than the fast passenger ferry. However, you are packed in like sardines and the driver just hurled our bags up on the roof in the rain for the 100 odd km journey. Same goes for those you get in Bangkok to ferry you between your hotel and the airport - they are really gung ho privateers who have scant regard for their passengers welfare.
Now Amy had booked us all into the hotel she had used previously in Bangkok - the Villa Cha Cha on Tarni Rd (just a block away from Khao San Rd). This is a mid-high range 3 star place which has recently had a bit of a makeover......not bad at all. However, while the ladies went off for some final retail therapy, I took myself off for one last look about Khao San where I ate a usually very safe plate of Pad Thai off a street vendor. Well within one hour I was on my mobile to find the others so I could get back to our room. Once there I experienced violent attack of food poisoning which lay me low for the rest of the night. Later, despite having eaten at another establishment, both Amy and Maria reported stomach upsets. This was the last thing we needed as next day we were confronting over 24 hours of flying and transiting in airports. I quickly dosed myself and the others with Imodium Loperamide and tried through water to keep ourselves hydrated - we all had a very fitful night. However, through judicial use of the airport toilets we both made it home with pride intact.
I had chosen seats at the rear of our Emirates plane but while only two abreast they proved to be quite cramped once those in front reclined their seats and the traffic to the rear toilets and attendants station proved constant all night. The food service was also a tad scungy after the Business Class service we had received on the way across and certainly no match for the meals we had last received when flying economy on Singapore Airlines. As we crossed over the Australian coastline near Broome we were suddenly subjected to some wild buffeting due no doubt to the tropical storms associated with the sheet lightening outside. Then below we could see huge bushfires burning out of control in the north western desert country...very spectacular.
Our final hurdle was Brisbane's Domestic Airport where, after clearing immigration and customs, we ended up at 0200 hours and found it closed save for the odd cleaner. There were backpackers sleeping on every available bench and seat. At about 0330 the airline companies sluggishly opened their counters permitting travellers on early morning flights to begin checking in. We eventually got home at about 0830 after having left our Bangkok hotel some 24 hours previously. We were buggered but found it hard to just go to bed and instead went about doing some unpacking, washing even some weeding and spraying some bugs on the citrus trees. I also couldn't resist begin erecting our Hill Tribe Hammock under the roof of the back terrace.
Back to Main Menu
Burchett Ballarat Bash