Sunday, 24 January 2010

Last Days of Thailand

It's evening and we are on our last day in Thailand. It's 7.00pm. Our bags are packed, Kaya is having her tea, our taxi is booked for 9.30pm and we fly at 1.05am on the 25th with Emirates.

We're back in Ayothaya, at the Sherwood House. We decided on a few days back at one of our favourite Thai guesthouses after a month on the islands. Our trip to the islands ended up being in the singular as we decided to stick with Lanta because we had sorted out a good arrangement with our guest house to cook food for Kaya and wanted to be near the medical services on Lanta. We also wanted to maximise our snorkelling trips so took turns going out on boats which meant we needed down-time at our guesthouse without moving about. We stayed in the Green Garden Resort on Khlong Khaong beach which was very family oriented. The bar was very Majestic - run by Bao and Rene with the help of Jim. The last week ended up with a great group of people staying, some who were there long-term such as Austrian couple Harry and Martina, plus returnee Marko from Germany and two fantastic Canadian women, Brandy and Carol, who were delightful with Kaya. Kaya enjoyed being with the children of the family and Andaman (Bao and Rene's kid) and had a great few days with Brandy and Carol. Ae, one of the masseurs, became a temporary Aunty of Kaya's and gave her lots of hugs and played games with her.

We have all had colds which is interesting given we all arrived with colds from the UK! We're all over them now in time for flying which is good.

So, a few hour to go and we're on a 12 hour flight with a 10 month old! Should be very different to our flight out with a 7 month old.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Fartin' Tours

Fartin' Tours
Originally uploaded by Bill Bevan
A somewhat unfortunately named travel company.

Beach time

We are still in Koh Lanta and still in the same bungalow in the Green Garden resort. The place is working well for us. The bungalow is large enough for Kaya to play in, has a shady balcony we can spend time on while needing to be at the bungalow and a large grassy garden outside. The owners are friendly and very helpful in aiding us with a baby, specially in terms of our desire to be able to cook appropriate food for a 9 month old.

The beach is as good as most on the island and we can easily access fruit and veg markets, as well as other supplies needed for looking after a baby such as cotton wool, milk and low sugar/salt weetabix, and a hospital on the island is within driving distance. The sea is good for swimming and there are even some corals, fishes and a spotted moray eel. It has to be said that the coral is pretty much blasted here so far from pristine and the fish few and far between but more than many beaches due to rocks offshore and dead-coral mounds which are slowly being re-colonised.

We have taken turns going on snorkelling trips since Christmas and will do a few more before we leave. We prefer to find an island with good coral just off the beach but these are more remote places that don't have the back-up or shops we need with Kaya.

Our days turn around washing Kaya and changing her nappy followed by her breakfast. One of us may do that while the other one swims or does some yoga on the grass outside. One or both of us then spends time while Kaya tinks around before her mid-morning nap. Then one of us will hang out on the balcony and make her lunch and tea in a rice steamer while the other one swims or does some yoga. Kaya wakes up for more tinking, possibly this time on one of the resort's bamboo platforms and with other children. Then its her lunch and more tinking before her afternoon nap. We fit in our meals and swimming around Kaya. This is followed by more tinking then her tea. Some of her tinking may have been under the shade of a tree at the top of the beach. By this time the sun is lower and we might go for a 'looking' walk with Kaya in the sling before sitting down somewhere for her to have tea on the beach with sunset. We may do this at a cocktail bar. We're then straight into bed time routine for Kaya. Once she's in bed we have our dinner on the balcony or on the grassy area. If we buy from the resort they bring it over to us. We've had quite a few meals under the coconut palms looking at fabulous skies. We'll either hang out on the balcony or one of us will stay while the other has a walk or goes to the internet. I prefer reading in the hammock in the evening while Georgia tends to lie on the balcony itself.

We've been to the nearest town a couple of times to stock up on her weetabix and tea bags for us. Its a short though expensive tuk-tuk ride away. Virtually everything else we need is available in the shops on the road running behind the resorts and parallel to the beach which makes looking after Kaya so much simpler than it could be.

We've also been on a couple of snorkelling trips to nearby uninhabited islands which are full of great coral and fishes. We've seen moray eels, baby reef sharks, cuttlefish, sea snakes, starfish, barracuda, sea anemones and plenty of colourful reef fishes on these trips. We're planning more before we leave.

We've taken Kaya to a hospital and a clinic following her getting a tummy bug on Christmas day and then developing a rash. We spent a good part of Christmas in the hospital to find out it was a minor bug. By the time we were seen she was already recovering and hadn't thrown up for a couple of hours. She did, sadly throw up, on the first present she opened. She was clearly happy apart from when she was sick so we thought it wasn't serious but needed to check. The rash turns out to be an eczema reaction to lots of salt and sand, so again minor. It is good to have medics nearby to go to however as we'd do the same in Sheffield by visiting our GP or ringing NHS Direct.

Christmas was fun despite the sickness and Kaya loved having things to open and glittery decorations to look at. She now knows the word 'balloon'! We spent NYE outside our bungalow, under the full moon and palms, periodically taking turns to check out the fantastic sea gypsy band playing at our bar and drinking the odd cocktail. Kaya also knows the word moon and has loved looking for it as it approaches full because its been nicely overhead.

So, all is quiet on the whole with few excursions away from our beach except to go snorkelling or have Kaya checked up. There's certainly no threat of snow.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Koh Lanta

We are now on Koh Lanta, a predominantly Muslim island that is the playground of Swedes and Thai-international hippies. So many Swedes escape their dark winters to Lanta there is even one Swedish school. We arrived on the 18th to stay in Bee Bees Little Village, small resort of individually designed wood and bamboo bungalows in a garden shaded by coconut palms on Klhong Khong beach. We thought we might stay a couple of weeks but were asked to leave after three nights for not eating the over-priced, under-sized meals everyday in the restaurant. An, the owner, was so desperate not to come across as a businessman that he took two lengthy lectures to tell us it wasn’t just about the money, which he needed being peak season, but that our actions showed a lack of feeling for his place and what he had achieved. He didn’t want us to leave straight away but we might wish to find somewhere more suitable for ourselves as he had chosen us from among many and had friends he preferred to rent the bungalow to. We left the same day by moving along the beach to the Green Garden Resort, owned by a very friendly and relaxed local island family. Our bungalow is the same price (600B) for a concrete one that is part of a formal row. It overlooks an open garden with coconut palms that is perfect for viewing the night sky and gives a view of the sea. They have been very friendly and helpful with Kaya, even cooking pumpkin soup to our directions, and there are plenty of other family and tourist children around. They had a Christmas party featuring a jamming local band playing local folk music and reggae covers.

Each night the beach becomes a mini-festival as each resort or bar lights up colourful lanterns, plays music and serves cocktails – best downed at sunset during 100B happy hour.

We should be here for a few more days or a couple more weeks and are each taking turns to go on a snorkelling trip to nearby uninhabited islands of pristine coral before the New Year.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Last Days in the North

After My Dream we returned to Chiang Rai and Chian House for a few days before moving on to Chiang Mai then flying south to Krabi. Gone were our trips to the produce market for food to cook with now we were back in a guesthouse. We wanted to do a few things before leaving the city. Kaya had one last crawl in Wat Phra Singh and play in the park near the big tree with the spirit house graveyard. We needed a few things for Kaya before heading to an island. We knew where to get them in Chiang Rai so it would save us the bother of searching out a supermarket in Krabi. We also went to the Rim Kok for their buffet lunch. We had passed this by on previous visits but planned to treat ourselves to the 140B eat all you can lunch before leaving. We also hoped to see Wolfgang and Na one last time. The lunch manager had promised they could make us 4 or so vegetarian dishes when we did do lunch and we talked to him about it when we bought our lunch vouchers. Lunch is displayed at one end of the dining room on long white-clothed tables, a panoply of dishes, colours and smells arranged by category into salad, soup, Thai salads, hot meals, fruit, dessert and, with its own special place, coconut ice cream with sticky rice. The manager was true to his word with four great dishes. We had a banquet, and being December 11th it felt something like our own office Christmas party! We also said goodbye to Wolfgang but Na was elsewhere with her sister.

Saying goodbye to Wolfgang

Next were a few days in Chiang Mai to see a few more things, buy presents in the Sunday walking market and the Night Bazaar, and have a couple of Thai body and foot massages. We found Chiang Mai almost full when we arrived on Saturday the 12th and scoured a few places before finding the VIP guesthouse, managed by a gorgeous, friendly and helpful Italo-Thai woman, on Thanon Ratchadamneon Soi 1. We had our massages, all decent, and bought presents. I also bought a few shirts for myself after a couple of attempts at the Nigh Bazaar. This involved trying on enough to find some without volumes of saggy material around the shoulders. All stallholders assuring me that the shirts looked great, whatever sail-like shoulders or general sack-like bagginess they possessed. I did buy one shirt for too large for me after a negotiation where I said please don’t lower your price, I’d rather pay you more for a shirt that fits. But he wouldn’t have any of it and eventually lowered it to 160B which I misheard for 150B and we left both feeling hard done-by, me with a shirt I don’t want, him with 50B less than the lower end of the asking price. I also returned to two stalls run by two great not-pushy women and found shirts at each I really wanted and was really happy to buy them from them.

Kaya had a couple of crawls in a nice wat on Thanon Ratchadamneon and we revisited the beautiful wooden courtyard building of the Siam Tea House where I was poisoned by a Thai tea in 2004. Thankfully I survived better with their own grown black tea. I had a couple of beers in a bar with a comedy Thai rock covers band. Smoke on the Water? Must be 10pm! I also did a bit more work for the UK, some of it over lunch in a great vege restaurant called Taste of Heaven. Overall, We didn’t take too much to Chiang Mai second time round as it is a pretty noisy, polluted city with no green spaces easily accessible.

We also met Mr Sumsee, a Laotian Hmong school teacher who we met in 2004. The owner of a guesthouse we stayed in Huay Xai recommended we visited his village after we asked about meeting tribal people. He’s now in Thailand checking out school projects due to a Scandinavian promise of funds and helping his brother visit a hospital!

Saying hello to Mr Sumsee

We flew down to Krabi on the 17th, via a 2+ hour stopover in Bangkok, to return to the Hello MK Guesthouse. It was definitely in sight of better times in 2004 so rather than having a couple of nights there to give us a day to buy stuff for the islands, we legged it around town on the night of the 17th and the following day were on the 11am minivan to Koh Lanta.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

My Dream Reviews

I've posted a couple of reviews of the My Dream Guesthouse, near Chiang Rai, Thailand on Travel for Breakfast. One is of the superb guesthouse itself, the other about things to do while staying there including independent walks/treks.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Back in Chiang Rai

We're back in CR after a fantastic week at the My Dream guesthouse in Khaew Waaw Dam, a small Karen tribal village alongside the Mae Kok river and about 25km out of town.

We were looked after so well by the owners, Nan and Polly, and their staff. They live up to the concept of a family guesthouse by totally making us feel welcome as part of their family. They couldn't do more to help us because we were with Kaya - starting right with the free pick-up from Chiang Rai to including free bananas every day for her, dinner brought to our balcony each night, good salt-free meals for Kaya, allowing us access to the kitchen to make meals for her now and again and the chance for her to play with their three-year old daughter. They helped look after her too while we moved our bags out. We thank them greatly for the warmth of their welcome and the thoughtfulness of their service.

We got to know Ati and Serge, a Thai-French couple, and their children Neesha and Amos who live next door. We had met them in Chiang Rai at the start of our stay and Serge reminded us about My Dream. We got to know them well including an invitation to dinner of bamboo curry and sticky rice one evening. Ati is from Isan, north-east Thailand, and learnt hand-weaving from her mother. She collects plants from the jungle to dye cotton from Isan then spins and weaves the cloth into beautiful scarves and bedspreads on a bamboo loom made by her and Serge. They are both wonderful open people and we wish them all good luck in their enterprise to earn a living from her craft.

The guesthouse is right on the bank of the river, a beautiful garden of trees, flowers and lawn overlooking a small beach and surrounded by teak rooms and bungalows. We asked Nan, a tour guide, about tours suitable to go on with kaya and he simply pointed us in the direction of walks instead. Most guides would work out how to earn some money but not him. The food was great, the tranquility tranquil and the walks along dirt roads or mountain trails beautiful. We even revisited the hot springs we went to last year from the Akha Hill House.

If you're in Chiang Rai province and looking for a quiet place to stay in nature we'd recommend My Dream wholeheartedly - Nan gets lots of international tour groups revisiting him for the quality of My Dream and his tours yet this effusive man has time for everyone.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Orchestral Leader

Orchestral Leader
Originally uploaded by Bill Bevan
Chiang Rai Youth Orchestra, Doi Chaang Coffee House, 29/11/09.

Violin Rai

Violin 2
Originally uploaded by Bill Bevan
Violinist, Chiang Rai Youth Orchestra, Doi Chaang Coffee House, Chiang Rai, Thailand, 29/11/09.