Grand Tour of Asia Feb/March 2011
Well here we are safe and sound in our hotel which is in Nathan Road, Hong Kong. Titan Tours collected us more or less on time and we arrived at Heathrow without any problem. I was confident of getting upgraded but it was not to be so. I did mention it to Sue that the pink shell-suit would not enhance our chances!!!! Our route through check-in and security was remarkably easy.
After people watching we were soon aboard and the flight was full. The cabin crew were very polite and helpful and before long we were on our first vodka and tonic! The food was as good as it gets and I have thought of a new idea to make mealtime more interesting on a flight. I suggest they serve the meal without telling you what it is and the passenger that correctly identifies the ingredients gets a prize. The airline could put a very good prize as I doubt if there would ever be any winners. Anyway the menu said our meal was chicken (taste like chicken!!) with lemon and ginger. The vegetables were green and red, colourful if tasteless.
So it was down to the job of getting some shut eye which we did have some success. Sue watched a couple of films and I read a book in between dozing and drinking.
We were collected at the airport and delivered to the hotel and the rest of the day is our own (now 17.00). Probably venture out into Nathan Road for a stroll and something to eat before a fairly early night. Sue cannot wait to get amongst those shops and start bargaining after her success in Marrakech!!
All going well apart from neither of us is having any success in being able to use our mobile phones!!!! Will endeavour to try and solve the problem, it appears to be something to do with connecting to a network
The weather is fair and forecast is for sunny tomorrow.
Something I meant to say on first e-postcard was the observations of a long-haul flight. You will awake maybe about 6 am and look at the cabin around you. First reactions are that there must have been a hell of a party while you were asleep as it looks like Keith Richard’s Voodoo lounge on a Rolling Stones tour. There are bodies lying everywhere, the cabin is strewn with blankets, plastic cups, newspapers, magazines, food trays and a variety of other rubbish. Maybe you just had a visit from the grandchildren!
On the day of our arrival we were feeling the effects of jet-lag but felt we needed food before sleep. We had a short walk down Nathan Road but returned to the hotel as we thought we might fall down in Nathan Road. We ventured to an Italian restaurant in the hotel and it was brilliant. After some pasta and a bottle of vino we were definitely ready for bed!
An observation we have made on these group holidays in the past is that the group soon splits itself down the middle. One half will be drinkers and the other half will be using room service and visiting museums. The initial views of this group are that there are not going to be many members in our half!!! We shall see.
We start day 1 refreshed and after a good breakfast ready for our half day tour. The first stop is for a sampan ride to view the Aberdeen floating fishing village and fishermen who live on the river. Our thoughts are that we are probably too late to see the spectacle, about ten years too late! Never the less it is a pleasant way to spend half an hour and the weather is kind, getting warmer. A sampan is a cross between a canal barge and a coracle with a jolly little Chinaman at the rear navigating us safely through the river traffic.
Next stop is the obligatory jewellery workshop and showroom. There is some beautiful jewellery and men can be seen cowering in the shop hiding their credit cards. The visit is negotiated safely and we leave with card intact.
The next stop is Stanley market. This is a collection of small shops and stalls selling all the usual things, fake bags, watches clothes etc. We only have one hour here and there are frantic efforts to find the bargains we all expect to find. On return to coach most of the group have made a purchase.
We are now off to Victoria peak to get the iconic views of Hong Kong. The weather is good and skies clearing. We should be lucky and see the vista at its best. We get to the top via the long and winding road and we do have a good view of the famous city skyline and Victoria harbour below. I do find these architectural landscapes quite beautiful. We descend from the peak on the vernacular tram and Sue need not have worried as it is quite short and does not give much impression of height. Down safe and sound. That completes our tour and we have a sandwich in the hotel before venturing out into the jungle of shops.
Hong Kong is a place built on commerce and trade and it appears this is its history. It has no history built on religion, faith or royalty. This I think is what makes it different and its allegiance is definitely to the patron saint of shopping. It would appear that I looked as I needed a tailor as every few steps and I would be offered the services of a tailor who could run me up a suit in next to no time. There are countless shops selling Rolex watches in all the designs that are produced. This was just a walk to get us orientated and we have a free day tomorrow to get down to the serious shopping, Furla bags and the like.
The evening started with a group meal in a Chinese restaurant called the Peking Garden. The meal was a good standard and all seemed to enjoy it. After the meal we moved on to the quay where we boarded a boat to enjoy the views and a laser and neon light show. It was a beautiful sight enhanced by a bar and a free drink. We also find a couple who like a drink, Mike and Sheila, and we arrange to have a snifter back in the hotel.
We have had a leisurely day today with a late breakfast and having a good look in the shops and we managed to walk the length of Nathan Road. Feet aching now and feeling a little tired after saying no thank you a thousand times to the street vendors! All good hearted though and they do not continue to pester after you have said no thanks.
Our group of drinkers is growing and it looks as though a couple from Barnsley and two from Swansea will be joining soon. I forgot to mention our visit to Harbour City in Hong Kong. This is a new shopping mall and its main function is to satisfy the needs of passengers that arrive on large cruise liners. Harbour City is a fantastic monument to shopping, all shiny white marble and glass with every designer shop you could possibly think of and more. Within the four floors it has restaurants, bars, cafes and an enormous supermarket. Sue did manage to purchase the perfect handbag (her favourite Furla) although I am not entirely convinced that she will not have to buy any more!
A common sight in HK is the wearing of face masks by the locals. This practice even stretches to shop assistants and the girl that served Sue wore a face mask. A bizarre experience and I was not sure if it was the Lone Ranger or a colleague of Sues from when she worked in the hospital. Still not sure why she needed a face-mask in this air-conditioned emporium as it was sterile and spotlessly clean with a little army of Chinese cleaners moving around silently carrying out their duties. Perhaps she was worried we had bird flu or foot and mouth.
Today (Friday) most of the day will be spent travelling and we are picked up at our hotel late morning after a hearty breakfast. The full English is surprisingly good. We have a one hour coach journey to the new HK airport. Our jolly little Chinese guide, called Schuman, is very proud of his home town and is continually telling us we what we are seeing is the biggest in the whole world. It becomes amusing as he pronounces “whole world” as “hole whirl” ! So on our journey to the biggest airport in the hole whirl we see the biggest suspension bridge in the hole whirl.
HK’ s new airport is designed by our very own Norman Foster which our guide seems to pass over. We say our goodbyes to him with the customary small golden handshake and he seems pleased.
The normal security, immigration and passport control rigmarole has to be negotiated before we have access to, you’ve guessed it, more shops!! I am not sure if Norman thought it a good idea to put an airport on a shopping mall or vice-versa. The place has a resemblance to Harbour City, albeit all on two floors not four. . Once again all the designer outlets are here with most, if not all, purchases are made by the Japanese.
The three and three quarter hour flight goes without a hitch and the meal is crap but surprisingly they are very generous with the red wine. I am beginning to like Cathay Pacific. We land in Kuala Lumpur about 19.00 and have a very long walk to collect baggage due to some maintenance work being carried out on the satellite train.
The coach journey to the hotel is supposed to take one hour but the traffic is horrendous and near gridlock. Where are all these people going? Eventually after our coach manages to collide with a car we arrive at our hotel. The hotel is splendid and the Petronas twin towers are only across the road, quite a view.
Snifters are called for and the gang of four, us along with Mike and Sheila, are the only ones to find the bar. We have a sandwich to soak up the alcohol and at midnight we retire.
Tomorrow brings an early start at 08.30 and we have a half – day city tour.
Breakfast is being eaten and it feels like the middle of the night. Nothing much to comment on except to accompany the fried eggs is beef bacon and chicken sausages!! Bizarre.
It soon becomes apparent that it is much warmer here than HK and the temperature is already 30C. We have a short journey to our first stop which is a photo shoot of the twin towers. Very impressive construction and Sue decides not to apply for position of window-cleaner. Next we are taken to Lake Gardens where there is a very impressive war memorial. The memorial remembers those killed in the two world wars and the conflict in the late 50’s. The regiment badges are displayed here and we search out the Somerset Regiment badge. We remember my Uncle Fred who was in Malaya during the uprising and spent his National Service here. The coach takes us through the Lake gardens and another thing that is very noticeable here is the lush vegetation.
The evening starts with a short walk to our venue for a meal and a show. But first of all we have to negotiate the crossing of a four lane busy road without the aid of a pedestrian crossing. The venue is a large restaurant with a big stage at the front. Our group are sat on three large round tables and there are eight on ours and it looks as all enjoy a drink, progress!!!!
The meal is a buffet with numerous choices of Chinese, Indian, Thai or Malay cuisine. The food is acceptable and is supplemented with jugs of cool Tiger beer. Main course over and everyone is well pleased with the French chocolate cakes and pastries for the sweet course. Shortly after the meal the show starts and the M.C. is a dead ringer for Boy George in dress, mannerism and voice. We are convinced it is him and he would only need to break into to Karma Chameleon to confirm it! The show consists mainly of Malay dancing and the girls are stunningly beautiful which keeps us males interested.
Show over it is back to the hotel and it is encouraging that we are now 6 enjoying a snifter albeit two are from Swansea!
Sunday morning and we are going to Malacca. It is a two hour coach journey and everybody is on time and ready to leave. The road to Malacca is a motorway and there is not much other traffic. We pass mile after mile of plantations of either rubber trees or Palms for the palm oil. It is a lovely countryside and very green.
Before we go to the hotel we are having a city tour, lunch and a river cruise. Malacca has a strong Portuguese, Dutch and British influence. The town is multi-cultural and consequently there are many different religions with their churches, temples and mosques.
Our tour includes a selection of these buildings, Hindu temple being very colourful and smoky with the burning of incense. We have an interesting tour of a house that was the home of one of the first Chinese men that came to Malacca and married a Malay girl.
Lunch is very pleasant and washed down with some more Tiger beer. We restrain from having too many beers as we learn that there is no toilet on the boat! The river cruise lasts one hour and we have a running commentary that is very informative giving us all the history of the place. If only we could stay awake! We do see some lizards swimming in the river and sunbathing in the trees. The ones we see are about one metre long but can reach a length of two and a half metres.
We disembark and after a brief look at the old town hall and the oldest church we arrive at our hotel. A very nice hotel in the centre of the town but we need some sleep before we do anything else. Arrangements are made for our Temperance group to meet in the bar at seven.
We are impressed with Malacca and it is very hot and humid but we are not complaining.
Tomorrow we travel to Singapore.
Today we begin with a short history lesson. When Malaysia gained Independence the Prime Minister introduced the 50 year rule. He thought this was a good idea as the 50 year rule would protect the Malay people and ensure they benefited from getting employment and education. The problem as he seen it was that the Chinese and Indian people held the best positions in commerce, medicine and education etc. After this rule was introduced it meant that if a Malay and an Indian applied for the same position then the Malay would be appointed regardless and the university pass rate was lowered for the Malay. The problem is that the Indians and the Chinese were bringing all the wealth into Malaysia because they were hard-working and intelligent. Simply the Malay have neither of these attributes and it is causing a lot of unrest in the country. It has meant that the top people are leaving the country to find the jobs and pay that they cannot attain in Malaysia because of the 50 year rule. There are 25 years left of the rule and the prediction is that there is trouble ahead as the Indian and Chinese want the system changed and the Malaysian youth want to keep it. Remember, you read it here first!!!
This morning (Monday) we are on our way to Singapore and again we pass mile after mile of palm trees. These palms were planted after the rubber price dropped dramatically following the production of synthetic rubber. There must be millions of palm trees and the fruit is harvested for the production of palm oil. When you enter Singapore you must not enter carrying cigarettes or chewing gum. You can take alcohol if you are stupid enough as you would have to pay around £45 import tax on a bottle of whiskey. Singapore also will fine you heavily if you drive from Singapore into Malaysia with less than three quarters of a tank of fuel. Petrol and diesel is very cheap in Malaysia, less than 40 pence a litre!! Those were the days.
On arrival at the border we have to pass through immigration control. This means everybody along with the entire luggage coming off the coach. The entire luggage is scanned and our documents are checked. The procedure completed the cases are put back on the coach and we can continue our journey. Before long we arrive at our new hotel and we can see on our drive down Orchard Road we have arrived in the Premier Division of shopping. The hotel is very well located and we are well pleased with the room and amenities.
Sue and I decide to get sorted and then have a walk to get some lunch. We make a 15 minute walk to Clark Quay and have a small lunch sat on the quay. It is very good and a couple of Tiger beers hardly touch the sides. Our initial impressions are that Singapore is totally different from Malacca and KL and you could say that it is a very clean, sterile, modern version of Hong Kong. Food and drink is more expensive here and the affluence is on display everywhere.
It is still hot and humid and we are just about to head off to the bar for ‘early doors’.
We have a city tour tomorrow and six of us have booked dinner at Raffles in the evening. I know how to treat a girl! The coach collects us at 09.00 for our city orientation tour of Singapore. We can already see why this is everybody’s favourite. There is a much better ambience than Hong Kong and the people are friendly. As I said it is very clean and there is no litter or graffiti. It does have many rules and fines will be imposed for all anti-social behaviour but if this is the result why not? Chewing gum is a banned substance in Singapore and can only be obtained with a prescription from the doctor, Doubt that Alex Ferguson will come here to manage a football team! The only cigarettes you can smoke here have to be purchased in Singapore and we are told by a local that he does not think it will be long before smoking is prohibited outdoors in public places. A taxi driver tells us that if you are caught drink-driving the usual ban etc. is applied and it is very difficult to get your licence back. As well as this you will be caned in prison with a minimum of three strokes.
Our first call is to the Botanical gardens to see the National Collection of Orchids. The orchid grows very easily in Singapore and you will see them commonly used for decoration and display in restaurants and hotels. In these gardens there are over 1000 species and it is the largest collection of orchids in the whole world (or hole whirl!). The gardens are magnificent and the National flower of Singapore is displayed in beautiful landscaped surroundings with waterfalls and fountains. A beautiful place and enhanced by the fact that it is the first place we have visited without shops!!!
We rejoin the coach for brief visits to Chinatown and Little India. These are much as we expected but even here there is no aggressive selling as in Hong Kong and it has a much friendlier and calmer atmosphere.
We then visit a Chinese temple and I am beginning to get confused as to which is the oldest in Singapore, Malaysia or the whole world. This temple is really no different to most of the others but it is a well preserved example that is still used today. The Chinese are the predominant race in Singapore.
The coach drives us around the Civil District and the Colonial buildings are impressive and sit comfortably among the modern skyscrapers and provide a good contrast.
Our last call is for a ‘flight’ on the Singapore Flyer. This is the world’s largest (it would be wouldn’t it!) giant observation wheel. It is similar to the London Eye but bigger! Sue has decided to stay on the ground and to be honest there are a few of us that are apprehensive about the experience of being so high in the air. In a very short time we are in a pod and on our way. The wheel takes 30 minutes for a revolution. We find we soon get used to being so high and the views are magnificent and cameras are busy clicking away. We get some excellent views of a hotel that consists of three towers and these towers are spanned by what for all the world is a boat! We are told that this houses an infinity swimming pool and sunbathing areas etc. It is probably the most bizarre piece of architecture any of us have ever seen. All too soon it is over and the cost is approx. £15 a person, so an expensive 30 minutes for a family.
We rejoin the coach and are taken back to our hotel for lunch. Tonight we are going to Raffles hotel and taxis will collect us at 18.30.
It is the 42nd wedding anniversary of David and Chris and we are invited to their room for a glass of champagne. The six of us are now ready for our ‘Raffles Experience’.
We arrive at Raffles Hotel and my immediate reaction is how big it is. It is a small industry with shops, hotel, bars and restaurants. We make our way to the Long Bar for a pre-dinner Singapore Sling. Not the cheapest drink in the world but we shall only come here once and it is a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. We make our way to the restaurant and we are overwhelmed by staff. It is a lovely restaurant and we choose a set menu consisting of Caesar salad, Rib-eye steak and a cheesecake to follow. We accompany the meal with some beers and a bottle of their “cheapest” red wine! The meal sounds ordinary but the quality and presentation make it very special.
We return to our hotel and everybody is ready for bed and looking forward to a free day tomorrow. We can get up late and have breakfast when we want to for the first time!!
Today (Wednesday) we have a leisurely start and enjoy a late breakfast. This is a free day and a day to recharge our batteries. Sue and I decide to revisit the Botanic gardens as the Orchid garden we visited yesterday is only a small part of the whole garden.
The gardens are only five minutes away from the bustling Orchard Road with all its shops. The gardens are a sanctuary in the heart of this busy city. The Botanic gardens were the idea of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1882 and are 155 acres of green landscape. They are home to a large diversity of tropical plants. We absolutely love these gardens, they are beautifully kept and in addition to the plants there are many freestanding sculptures. As well as the Orchid collection there is a ginger garden, Bromeliad collection, lakes, a Palm valley, a rain forest walk and a Victorian bandstand!
We enjoy a very good lunch in the gardens and it has been a lovely, lovely day albeit still very hot and humid.
Singapore is an expensive city but the taxis are strictly controlled by the Government and are surprisingly cheap and most attractions can be reached for about £3. This is a contrast to the cost of wine where the cheapest is about £30 and expect to pay £40 - £50. Spain does have its attractions!! The taxi drivers chat continuously and much like Dublin drivers it is politics and the cost of living that dominate the conversation.
What has now become the gang of six meet for ‘early doors’ in the hotel bar. Taxis arrive to take us to Clark Quay. Wednesday night in Singapore is ladies night with concessions for the girls on drinks and free entry to the clubs etc. There are indeed plenty of young ladies on the Quay and fortunately their skimpy clothes leave little to the imagination!! Oh to be twenty again!
The Quay at night is a vibrant place with lights and music, bars, restaurants and plenty of people having a good time in a fantastic atmosphere. We decide to have our evening meal in a Thai restaurant on the riverside. An excellent meal sat outside in the warm evening watching the boats on the river and the girls of course. The meal is washed down with the obligatory Tiger beer; remember what I said about the cost of wine!
After the meal we move along the quay to an open-air bar run by a very happy Singhalese lady and we have a few more beers and all too soon it is time we returned to the hotel.
We have enjoyed Singapore and its people; it would be a pleasant place to live if it were not for the cost of living.
Tomorrow we fly to Bangkok and we look forward to a new country and people.
It is Thursday today and we are off to Bangkok!! On the way to the airport we are going to visit the Changi museum. The Changi Museum is dedicated to all those who suffered during the Second World War through letters, photographs and personal artefacts the Museum chronicles the story of P.O.W.’s and civilian internees during their years in captivity. It is a story about remarkable heroism.
In the courtyard of the Museum is the Changi Chapel, a symbolic replica built by the internees of Changi internment camp as places of comfort and solace.
It is a very moving experience especially reading the notes and letters written by the prisoners during the war. It is quite unbelievable the pain and suffering one human being can afflict on his fellow man. Many of the group are physically moved to tears as we walk around the museum. I know we should forgive but the Japanese in this period were a very cruel race and committed the most extreme acts of cruelty on men, women and children.
The Singapore people do not forget this period and all school children are taught this period of history. Whilst we were there a group of young people were being taught and the look on their faces said it all.
A very quiet group board the coach for our ten minute journey to the airport. The airports just get bigger and bigger; believe it or not Singapore airport has a swimming pool and fitness centre as well as all the usual shops, bars, cafes and restaurants.
A two hour flight and after what is an acceptable meal we arrive in Bangkok. The regulo has been turned up and it is 35C and very high humidity. We have an hour coach journey to our hotel and we experience the normal heavy city traffic. The city is very different from Singapore and its wealth and its poverty are on display. The hotel is very comfortable with several restaurants and the gang of six arrange to meet a little later. We are going to eat in the hotel as evening brings a glorious thunder and lightning storm accompanied by heavy rain!
We settle for a restaurant serving Thai food as well as western, noodle and prawns along with stir fried chicken and rice. The food is much cheaper here than Singapore, about half the price. Although wine is still expensive and about the same price we do treat ourselves to a carafe of house red! Most of the hotels we have been to have had a piano bar but this one has a female vocalist and after the meal we have a drink in the bar and listen to the music.
The clock is on wheels and it is soon time for bed in preparation for our visit to the Grand Place.
Our local Bangkok guide is a bit of an ‘Elton John’ and is a cross between Gok Wan and Graham Norton!! His name is Manob so it takes no imagination to guess what he is called!
He minces in to the hotel at 08.30 and we board the coach. The Grand Palace was completed in 1782 and consists of the Royal residence, throne halls, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and several government offices. The whole site is huge and the buildings are spectacular. There are acres of gold leaf and coloured glass. There are real jewels, 24 carat gold and precious stones inside the temples and the whole site is breathtaking. We are here at least two hours and it has felt like 10 minutes. Certainly one of the seven wonders of the world and I am just hoping my photographs can do it justice. Sorry to keep mentioning it but it is getting hotter and more humid.
Return to the hotel via, I bet you’ve guessed it, a very, very large jewellery factory and it is very impressive with some lovely jewellery. There is just too much to choose from and after a complimentary beer we escape, I mean leave, to join the coach.
We have a very good lunch in the hotel and are going to enjoy a short siesta before our buffet dinner on a River cruise along the Chao Phraya. Maybe after the cruise we will have time to visit the night market and all its attractions!
Last night we ended our stay with a boat cruise down the river. It is a very large boat and is all lit up. We have tables on the open top deck and it is a clear and balmy night. On the boat, and it seem to be general in Bangkok that red wine is £30 a bottle and a vodka and tonic is £3 – no choice there then!!
The meal is a buffet with all the usual choices and it is very good quality. There is live entertainment on board with a female vocalist and saxophone player. They are actually very good and after the meal everyone is up dancing and having a good time. The entertainers play all the old favourites and a good time is add by all, crew and waiters included, as we cruise down the river looking at Bangkok all lit up. The Grand Palace does look spectacular. An enjoyable night but as always all over too quick and we have to be up at 05.00!!
Everybody manages to rise bright and early and we set off if not bright then early! As we travel through Bangkok there are huge pictures of the King and family everywhere. There is a very large area in the centre civil area taken over by protesters against the Government and their tents etc. Evidently the King is in 80’s and seriously ill in hospital. There is a definite air of unrest and people are looking at what is happening in the Middle East. You sense that the death of the King could cause some problems and unrest and we all hope he can hang on another week!
We have a two hour journey to our first stop, the JEATH War Museum. The museum is in Wat Chaichumpol which is a small rundown village with its fair share of poverty and wild dogs. The museum is an open air museum and its structure is a reconstruction of a prisoner of war hut. The museum is run by the temple and unfortunately is in a poor state of repair and many exhibits such as photographs and letters have faded so bad that soon they will be useless. The POW’s that suffered such atrocities deserve better than this.
The JEATH (abbreviation of the names of six countries – Japan, England, America and Australia, Thailand and Holland) museum was established to collect various items connected with the construction of the Death Railway by POW’s during the Second World War. The Death railway was built between Thailand and Burma by approximately 30000 prisoners of war and more than 200000 impressed labourers from India, China, Indonesia, Malaya, Singapore, Burma and Thailand. Once again it is a very moving experience and we ask once more “how can a human being commit such terrible acts against his fellow man, woman and child?”
Next we visit the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. The remains of 6982 POW’S who died during the construction of the railway are laid to rest here. It is beautifully maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Some of the inscriptions are very poignant and refer to the fact that a son or father died in a far off land and the relative could not afford to visit the grave. These poor men had the most horrible of deaths half way around the world and their loved ones knew nothing of the way they died or the way they were treated. It can be a very sad and cruel world. The cemetery is a fitting tribute to the memory of these men.
We are all back on the coach for a short journey to the Bridge over the River Kwai. This is not the original wooden bridge which was bombed by the allies in 1945. It has been replaced by a metal bridge but a walk on it still stirs emotions and memories of the film. There is a collection of market stalls selling t-shirts etc. I purchase my first t-shirt!!! Sue manages to find some nice cotton tops and trousers. Cheap as chips!
Our train soon arrives and we board for a two hour train journey to Wang Po station. The train journey is a much better way to travel than the coach albeit we are sat on wooden seats. Not as uncomfortable as they sound and there is a continuous noise in the carriage from the train wheels on the track and the chatter of all the passengers. The rolling stock is basic and all the windows are open to keep the carriage cool. A stream of locals moves up and down the carriage selling food, water, postcards or t-shirts. One is even taking your photograph which will be produced later for you to buy at a cost of £4. We pass through the Thai countryside at a good speed and we are shown a large cave that was used as a hospital for the POW’s. The countryside here is flat and arable with a red soil. Fields of tapioca and sugar cane can be seen growing right up to the train track. We see women working in the paddy fields planting the rice.
We arrive at Wang Po and it is a short walk to the restaurant where we are to have a buffet lunch. It is a good lunch and the cold beers are most welcome. Our last leg of the journey today is a two and a half hour coach journey to the next hotel. It is not as bad as it sounds as it goes quick when you are looking at a different landscape and people. We overtake countless lorries loaded dangerously with sugar cane. I feel that what I am looking at is a cross between India and China, there is poverty on display but the roads are as good as any in Europe and our coach driver makes good time.
We arrive at the Rose Garden resort which is about 25 miles from Bangkok. It is a hotel set in beautiful gardens with the river running alongside. We are given a lovely welcome and a tour of the botanical gardens. Time to freshen up before ‘early doors’ and dinner.
The restaurant is beautiful and we both settle for duck curry, not as good as Sue’s! A bottle of red wine is cheaper here, a Thai wine is £4 but its only attribute is that it was red!!!
At last I have free Wi-Fi, the hotel in Singapore was £12 an hour!!!
We have a free day tomorrow and we shall have an easy day in the swimming pool, walking in the gardens, drinking and eating – we are on holiday!!!! There are also Thai cultural activities to partake and a Thai Village Cultural show this afternoon.
Today (Sunday) has started sunny and it looks as though it is going to be a hot one. Following breakfast we have a guided tour of Thai skills. At 10.00 we assemble for a tour of “Living the Thai Culture” workshops that are all contained within the hotel complex. Villagers demonstrate and teach Thai arts and crafts in ten different workshops. The skills exhibited include bamboo dance, weaving, rice farming, Thai martial arts, garland making, fruit carving, Thai herbal remedies, pottery, Thai music, dancing and painting. After the tour and demonstration we are free to have a go at any of the skills and the villagers are only too keen to teach you. Sue heads back to the herbal workshop to make an ‘herbal ball’. Under supervision Sue chops up tamarind, turmeric, ginger, lime, lemongrass and some herbs I do not recognise. The herbs are then pounded in a mortar with a pestle and wrapped in a muslin cloth to form a ball – hence herbal ball! The ball is then placed on a charcoal steamer for ten minutes or so. A Thai gentleman proceeds to dab Sue’s arms with the warm ball and then gently massages both arms. Sue does say it feels good but leaves her arms bright yellow!!!
On our way back to get cleaned up we pass an area for elephant rides. Before Sue can protest or realise what is happening we are sat on an elephant. We have a ten minute ride on the elephant and Sue actually is enjoying it. It is many years since my last elephant ride on Rosie at Bristol Zoo!
A quick clean up and we are off to another buffet lunch in the Riverside Vanda restaurant. An excellent lunch and we have the best table in the restaurant overlooking the lake (they must have recognised me!!!).
Following lunch there is a short demonstration of the elephants showing the skills they would use in a working forest environment. The villagers then all join together to give us a thirty minute show which portrays the talents of the Thai villagers. It is a very entertaining and educational show.
The Ta-Chine River runs through the hotel complex and we cross the river to see the see the ten acre organic farm where vegetables, herbs and fruits are grown for the hotel. Here, with the help of the Thai Agricultural University, they teach villages and schools about organic farming and its benefits.
The produce is grown on raised beds surrounded by narrow waterways. It is a fascinating visit and once again the Thai people are so keen to explain the system to us and they are very proud of what they are achieving. We also witness a man shinning up a, I would guess eighty feet, coconut tree to harvest the fruit. Remarkable. Volunteers were asked to step forward and I took one step back!!
Our day of leisure did not really happen but it has been a most interesting and fascinating day.
We end the day with a Thai meal and a couple of bottles a very acceptable Australian Cabernet Sauvignon wine.
Tomorrow we move on to Hua Hin with a visit to the floating market.
Today (Monday) after a short coach journey we arrive at the floating market of Damnern Saduak.
First of all we have a long tailed speedboat ride through the marsh passing the stilt houses. There are eight of us on the boat and it has a few hair-raising moments! We remember the James Bond movie “The Man with the Golden Gun” as we speed along singing the theme tune.
After the boat ride we have an hour to explore the floating market and I have to admit it is one of the most fascinating and amazing sights I have ever seen. The colours of the produce in the boats and the characters on the boats are just asking for photographs, thank goodness for digital photography! A brilliant morning and all too soon we are aboard the coach and heading for our final destination.
We soon arrive at our hotel in Hua Hin (Anantara Hotel). The hotel is set in tropical grounds and overlooks the sea. Rooms are located in bungalows all over the grounds with two huge landscaped swimming pools, Spa and restaurants. We are to have two full days at absolute leisure here with no excursions or early morning calls!! It is absolute heaven and we already feel relaxed and hoping for those six numbers to come up!!
This will probably be my last e-postcard and I hope you have enjoyed reading them. It has been a great holiday with some great memories.