Tag Archives: bangkok

Our luck had to run out at some point…

12 Apr

…Well the question of where to go next was answered when I got an email from Tom, the man I was supposed to be working for in Koh Tao, to say sorry he hadn’t got in touch but his plans had changed and he was now in Koh Samui and could we still come?

Given that Koh Samui looks like this

it wasn’t an especially hard decision. So at least that was taken out of our hands :)

We split up for a morning – I went to a Thai cooking course and Craig went to the market and to do a few other bits and bobs. My heart sank a little bit when the woman came to pick me up because it was just her on a motorbike…which meant only one thing: I was the only one on the course.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing because I would get one-on-one tuition, but I had hoped to meet a few other people and it to be less of an intense teacher/student deal. But never mind.

Gae and I went to the market to get ingredients and to learn about all the vegetables we would be using in the four dishes I would make. (Another advantage of being by myself is that I got to cook exactly what I wanted).

She took me through fresh kaffir limes, fresh turmeric, soup packets (little bunches of herbs and vegetables that are like a bouquet garni – everything you need flavour-wise), spices, dead crabs for seasoning, three different types of basil…you name it, they had it

Then we hopped back on the bike to go to Gae’s house to begin cooking. It was an open-air kitchen in the front of her house so was a really nice place to cook, with a massive table set out with two chopping boards, knives and ingredients ready. I have a habit of injuring myself on a regular basis so Craig had warned me about the knife and so did Gae but luckily didn’t manage to chop off any fingers. As I have so far managed to cut myself whilst going to the toilet (how does that happen??), shut my hand in a train door, walk into a table and bruise myself, bruise my knuckles trying to open a door, fall off a toilet and cut my leg and hit my head on the side of a tuktuk, all of which when sober, I understood their concern.

I got to choose four courses, so went for Thai red curry paste, chicken and coconut soup, chicken and cashew nuts with rice and spring rolls…the latter being Craig’s favourite so I knew he wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t learn how to do those.

Gae was a very good teacher and she was really funny.

She went through everything really slowly and laughed at my feeble attempts to smash the paste ingredients together in the pestle and mortar without covering myself from head to toe in bits and pieces :)

After the first two courses I was pretty full so took the rest home for Craig. I think my spring rolls were not too bad for a beginner

Mother’s pride!

It was a really nice morning and I’ve missed cooking a lot so it was good to do a bit here. I also got a recipe book to take home so I can inflict my attempts at Thai cuisine on friends and family! It was quite funny though as I absolutely love chillies and Gae was obviously used to weaker Western tastes – she told me just to put two chillies in to begin with and then see if it needed more. I tasted the curry and said, yes, it needed lots more chillies. She scooped a tiny scraping more of the red curry paste and asked me to taste it again. I did so and then just chucked the rest of the paste in – her eyes widened and she whispered “hotter than Thai spicy!” then “sexy girl!” which I can only imagine is a compliment!

The next day, we rented another bike so we could explore the lake we found last time. They gave us a better, bigger moped this time, so we decided to find the track we came down the other day, and see if there was a slightly better route up the mountain rather than the road. We found a dirt road that was less destroyed than the one we came down on, and merrily zipped up the moutain on this tiny scooter, confusing all the burly Frenchmen coming down the same track on massive dirt bikes and protective gear. The bike got up there no problem and the views were beautiful

We came back down on the road as we got caught in the rain but by the time were at the bottom, we were dry again. Got to love tropical weather!

We went to book our tickets to Koh Samui with the guesthouse so that we didn’t get caught up in the New Year rush. We were told to buy tickets to Bangkok and arrange onward travel from there. To waste a bit of time before the night bus came to get us, we went to have a traditional Thai massage in the grounds of temple round the corner from our hotel.

It started off quite nicely with the lady rubbing my feet. It soon became clear that this was to lull me into a false sense of security before a world of pain was inflicted on me. Thai massage involves putting pressure on certain points of the body – some of which was nice and relaxing but most of it felt like I was being punished for some unspeakable crime, or that the lady had decided to experiment with whether you could in fact make cider from humans by pressing them really, really hard. It did make me feel better afterwards but not the relaxing experience I was hoping for!

We bored the night bus and were pleasantly surprised as there was hardly anyone on it, lots of room and good aircon. I stretched out over the aisles and actually managed to get a bit of sleep, we arrived in one piece at 6am to get on the next bus to Koh Samui…which we had to go to the bus station to arrange. An expensive taxi ride later, we found that all the buses were full, as were the following day’s ones. So we thought we’d go back to Khao San Road to the nice lady who booked our travel to Chiang Mai, but she wasn’t open so we went to the Tourism Authority Thailand to see if we could sort something out.

They did manage to squeeze us on an extra bus but at a cost – £40 per head, which is a lot more than normal but as it’s Thai New Year the transport system is pretty full. This did include the boat trip to Koh Samui and there didn’t seem to be any other option to get us there before I needed to start work so we booked it. The guy we booked it with tactfully suggested if we might like to use his shower as by then we had been travelling for 12 hours “when I talk to you I have to hold my nose”, so we gratefully took him up on his offer and felt a little better after that.

We then had nine hours to waste in Bangkok so went to get some breakfast, wandered around Bangkok (by which time we were pretty sick of) and eventually went off to get a foot massage (me), pedicure (Craig) and massage (Craig), which killed some time.

We waited patiently for the bus to come at 5.30pm but after being moved three times to different points in Bangkok, it eventually turned up at 7pm. To summarise our travel experience over the last 48 hours, I have prepared a handy guide

But we eventually got on it with an Icelandic couple and an English couple also going to Koh Samui, the rest of the people going to other destinations (everyone was just given a sticker rather than a ticket saying where we were going. Ours said “Toy”!). The bus was far more cramped than the last one but there was a film on (Titanic…a disaster film about a boat; the night before, Unstoppable, a disaster film about a train…I don’t want to see any more transport disaster scenarios please!!) and blankets etc so we settled down to try and get some sleep. I got many new additions to my world-class collection of mosquito bites

At 6.30am we were woken up by the bus conductor screaming “GET OFF THE BUS! YOU NEED TO GET OFF THE BUS RIGHT NOW!” at the top of her voice over and over again. Going from fast asleep to instantly awake and ready to go was fairly difficult, and then we were bundled into a minibus by ourselves, which was odd because we weren’t the only ones going to Koh Samui. The driver said our connecting bus to the ferry was going to leave any minute so we needed to hurry, but then we screeched to a halt on the side of the road and waited for the Icelandic couple of join us. Confusing. We never did see the English couple!

As the driver was putting our bags onto the bus, he said that there would be “big problems” once we’d got to Koh Samui. We asked him what he meant and he said we’d see when we got there which was weird. Then whilst on the connecting bus, the Icelandic couple, Rein and Rachner, got a text from a friend asking whether they were ok because of the earthquake, so we were a bit panicked that we were going to get there and find that everything had been washed away.

They spoke to their friends and they said that the earthquake had been near Indonesia but there was no tsunami, so that made us feel a little bit safer, and relived for our friends in Sri Lanka too.

We got on the ferry and left our bags locked in the bus. It was a fairly short trip, but it was nice to get a drink and to be off the bus for a change. We got off the ferry on Koh Samui, having been greeted by beautiful views and went to get our bags. Immediately, we noticed that the bags were all in a different position to how we left them…and ours were open. Craig and I went through each of them and it was clear that everything had been moved around in them. Whilst we were explaining what had happened, the bus drove off. Oh, so the “big problems” were ones you were planning to cause. We leapt in a taxi and asked him to take us to the police station to try and report what had happened, and whilst we were driving, Craig realised that all of our Sri Lankan money had gone. We had had some coins left over so couldn’t get them changed in Thailand, and didn’t want to weigh ourselves down carrying a bag of loose change, so had wrapped it up and put it inside Craig’s small backpack. Craig thought that there was up to £40 in change in there.

The taxi driver was very helpful and took us to where the bus had stopped again. The driver looked pretty surprised to see us but blanked us when we got there and confronted him and the guy who was loading the bags. We took pictures of the bus, the staff and the reg number so that we could go to the police – I am certain they won’t do anything and we can’t claim on the insurance because it’s too little – bit if it puts them off doing something like this again maybe it’ll help. Craig and I were furious but managed to keep our tempers as smashing someone’s face in would probably end up worse for us than them, despite how temporarily satisfying it would have been…

So we got dropped off in the centre of Mae Nam (the driver not quite understanding what we wanted to do) and walked to the police station, where we told we’d have to go to the tourist police, another 6km away. By then we’d had enough so thought we’d dump our bags before going back round there. We trudged back the way we came and towards our new residence. We heard a shout and there was Tom and his wife, Sarah, on a scooter! They loaded up our bags for us and met us back at the hotel. I wish we’d had a chance to change and to cheer up a bit before meeting them for the first time as we were grubby, crabby, sweaty and dejected which probably wasn’t the best first impression, but they sorted out checking us in, bought us a beer and suddenly things didn’t seem so bad. Especially when we saw the rooms – it’s the nicest place we’ve stayed so far. Nice airy bedroom with a tv and a fridge (first time we’ve had a fridge since Vietnam – yay, the end of lukewarm beer!), the place has a lovely garden and swimming pool and is set off the main road so it’s really peaceful. The other people that are staying here are very friendly and the village seems lovely. The hotel we’re staying at is here http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g1182465-d1785345-Reviews-Samui_Native_Resort_and_Spa-Mae_Nam_Koh_Samui_Surat_Thani_Province.html. Pretty fancypants!

After a much needed nap and couple of drinks, we headed off into the village to get some food, to find that every Thursday they do a “walking street” market – it’s closed off to cars and bikes and there are loads of food stands, restaurants, market stalls and make-shift cocktail bars lit by fairy lights near an old temple. We got some pork ribs and salad, a caprihina each and settled down on the steps of the temple to listen to the live music they’d put on. As it’s the first day of the Thai New Year today – our third New Year of 2012 including England and Vietnam! – a massive water fight was going so we watched them (and significantly older, fatter and balding “kids”) play, listening to the man play Let it Be on the guitar and watching 50 Chinese lanterns drift across the firework-peppered sky. After the stresses of getting here, it was the perfect way to end the day. Craig’s birthday is tomorrow so hopefully we’ll be able to spend the day joining in with the mass-water fight, going to the beach and exploring the island :)

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Bangkok to Chiang Mai by sleeper (or sleepy) train

8 Apr

We spent the next few days pottering around Bangkok – well if you can potter round a city as big and as crazy as that…checked into the hotel we were at before on Khaosan Road and treated ourselves to aircon. After nearly three months away of not having this, it was a bit of a shock to the system waking up and being cold so we actually kept turning it off halfway through the night :)

As we thought we’d be in Koh Tao for at least a month (which now does not look like it’s happening, boo), we went to get our visas extended at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We had to go by taxi because it is miles away, and when we got there it was like the government building of the future

 

It was enormous and had about nine million different wings, corridors and departments for us to search through. Once we’d found it, we duly filled in all the forms to find that the fee to extend the visa is £40 each! It did not say this on the website! So it would be cheaper to do a visa run to a neighbouring country than to fill in the forms, so we turned on our heels (stopping for amazing ice cream, of course) and got back in the taxi. I guess if it’s not happening that’s a good thing as £80 is a lot of money to spend on something we might not need!

Also a bit of a failure was our plan to give the Khaosan Road a swerve for at least one night and do something “normal” on a week night, so we chose to go to the cinema. But we did not count on the fact that the taxi drivers would refuse to take us there, saying it was “too far” and “I don’t like traffic”. Perhaps you are in the wrong job? Another one said he would take us, but his eyes weren’t focused and his hands were shaking so badly he couldn’t read the bit of paper we’d got the address written down on. We slowly backed away and went for tea instead, and got lucky on our next try. The fee was 50 baht (£1) so glad we gave the tuktuk drivers who wanted 400 baht a miss.

However, because we had to wait until rush hour was over, there wasn’t much on so we ended up going bowling instead. We got to wear some rather fetching shoes

And somehow, the girl at the desk misread ‘Sarah’ for this

Her English must be very poor indeed.

But pride comes before a fall and Craig beat me by nine points, the swine.

The next day we hopped on the ferry to go to the flower market and Chinatown. The ferry is great – really cheap (15 baht for most journeys as long as you get the ones with orange flags) and a clever whistling system the crew use to let the captain know the best way to dock, as he’s at the front and can’t see the end of the boat. Somehow we did manage to miss our stop the day before and end up miles away, but we were paying more attention this time and got off at the right place…just in time to feed the massive catfish which lurk under the pier, waiting for customers to buy the many bags of bread or pellets for sale there

The flower market was a little smaller than we’d imagined, but they still had some lovely plants and flowers (real and fake)

We wandered on to Chinatown and through the many claustrophobic markets selling all the glittery tat you could ever possible need – or not –

…but then we found our dream travelling bike!

A restored ’60s Vespa with a sidecar for the bags and two seats for us. We asked people whose it was and they pointed us to a little dingy and dusty shop we hadn’t even noticed before. Here we met the owner, who restored all sorts of Vespas for a living (who knew they did a tuktuk!!). He showed us round the shop and we asked how much the Vespa outside was. He said he was sorry but it was already sold – but he could make us one in a month and for 25,000 baht, or £500. We excitedly started picking out colours and trims until he said something and it suddenly clicked it wasn’t £500, it was £5,000. D’oh. Such a shame but it will just have to go on the wishlist for now!

I got my hair trimmed and my toenails painted electric blue so feel a bit less raggedy now :) There was an extremely drunk Russian guy before me who was having his head shaved to show off his new tattoo, which was an enormous ship’s wheel that went all the way round his ear and onto his face. I would have really liked to know what he thought of that one in the morning! After this I found one of my favourite things about Bangkok: they do DOUBLE fillet-o-fish burgers. Just when you thought it couldn’t go and get any more delicious, they put another burger on top. I wish I’d order two at a time so I could be in quadruple-fish-burger heaven.

We also visited Bangkok Zoo, seeing as we were in the area. It was very good value at £2 per head and it was enormous. It was very professionally laid out and was completely packed with Thais and tourists. The exhibits were of a good standard and the animals were clean and well-cared for from what we could see. They said that there was a seal show just about to start, so we grabbed one of the delicious jelly and ice drinks (so much more incredible than it sounds!) and waited, hoping it wasn’t going to make us feel bad for the seals.

Well, I am not a seal expert but these ones certainly seemed happy and so eager to do the amazing tricks they had been taught. It was also very nice to see that once ‘their’ seal had done a trick, the keeper high-fived the seal, gave it a pat or a kiss and a little bit of fish, and spent every spare moment in between tricks stroking or cuddling them. The seals were so nimble out of water and so elegant in the water – the stuff they did was mind-blowing

The rest of the zoo was very nice, with a raised walkway, loads of information about the animals and lots to see. The only thing we didn’t go to see was the elephant show as they were chained and whereas the seals were doing things they do more naturally, like jumping, catching things and fetching, the elephants were dancing etc so we didn’t hang around for that one.

 

We were having such a good time we nearly forgot to get the train to Chiang Mai, our next stop. We got the sleeper train as Bangkok’s quite a long way from Chiang Mai and we’ve heard scary things about the buses here so we thought we’d give the train a go – it was about £14 each but we wouldn’t need a hotel for the night and would leave and arrive at a sensible hour.

I’m glad we did because it was great – it left on time, we had very clean, comfortable cabins and beds

Well you’ve got to pass the time somehow…

And they also served dinner

Compared to the Vietnamese trains we went on last year, but this wins hands down. The last sleeper train we were on in Vietnam was very dirty, the pillows and blankets stank and the toilet filled up in about half an hour. This was a much better experience all round! It was four hours late but this is to be expected on all trains around here and when you’ve got a comfortable bed to nap on, it didn’t really matter that much :)

Hopped off the train in Chiang Mai to find a guesthouse with a pool, tv, wifi and big rooms, for 150 baht less than we’d been paying for the Khaosan Road sweat box (aircon off)/ice box (aircon on). I know, a pool. But we have done our fair share of mouldy walls, broken showers, cockroaches, spiders, smashed windows etc for the time being so I don’t feel as bad about spending £8 a night for the next few days…

Just one more thing…

4 Apr

For our own day in Akurala, we decided to hit the beach again for a change. I thought Mirissa was a really nice beach so suggested we went there, thinking it was about half an hour away by bike. It turned out that I’d forgotten that Galle was in between Akurala and Mirissa and the journey was acutally 90km…a pretty intense 90km at that as it was all on the Galle Road. We stopped for a drink and got chatting to a guy called Mahinder, who had spent nine months up North when the Greek merchant ship he was working on was docked there. During this conversation, a beggar came up to ask us for money. There must have been something loose under his sarong as he had the disturbing habit of fiddling with himself during the exchange. Surprising, this technique proved effective at procuring neither our sympathy nor our money.

Another dubious begging method was experienced by me in Kandy. I was bending over looking at some earrings on a table outside a shop and someone stroked my bum. I shot back and whirled around to find an old man, holding out his hand for some small coins. Um, you should be payingmefor that, Mister…

We reached Mirissa in just about one piece and spent a nice afternoon on the beach, chatting to Mum on skype and sunbathing. Craig had to speed up a bit on the way home so that we could get home before sunset (after which point the road turns extra-lethal). I just blocked this out by spending the time debating the merits of living as a vampire or a werewolf for eternity (werewolf, obviously). Yeah I like Twilight, deal with it :)

Upon requesting a small meal, Kumari managed to restrain herself and cooked us just three curries and rice for dinner

Delicious as always.

I woke up in the middle of the night, uncontrollably thirsty for some reason. I searched round our room for something to drink – nothing. Craig had finished the last of the ginger beer. I even considered drinking the arrack but Craig had finished that too! I padded downstairs to see if I could raid the fridge but the door was locked. I spent approximately one hour googling “drink tap water in Sri Lanka”, then “what happens to you if you drink the tap water in Sri Lanka”…then “will I die if I drink Sri Lankan tap water” and finally “I drank the water in Sri Lanka and I survived”. Nothing. Every single website said “never drink the tap water”. Not even one curious person (or really, really thirsty person) had tried it on the whole of the internet.

Eventually I was thirsty enough not to care. The tap water looked clean and didn’t smell like drains, so I took a tiny sip. The world did not stop revolving and my skin did not fall off. I took another…so good. I decided that was probably pushing my luck and went back to bed, dreaming of waterfalls and ice cold ginger beer. But at least now when someone else is in the same position, hopefully when they google tap water in Sri Lanka, they will see that one less-than-sensible person drank a small amount with no problems (yet). Reader, I survived! Internet, I did it for you!

The next morning we went back to Ajit’s to say goodbye to find that Ajit had already left for Colombo. We said goodbye to the family, the puppies, the cat and the two dogs. Kumari said she would keep a puppy back for me so I have a dog in Cambodia and Sri Lanka!

It was then off to Pathum’s for a final Sri Lankan breakfast with his family in the morning

Spicy tuna curry, battered coral fish, really hot sambal, dhal and bread.

We gave them the lime tree we bought the day before, promising to come back and see its progress. Silva really likes lime juice and fried fish so we thought it would be nice to give them something he could actually use.

To our surprise, we were also given presents:

Craig was bought a beautiful green sarong with batik swans on the bottom and I got a bracelet, two necklaces and a pair of earrings made from shell. Lovely :)

But all too soon it was time to get the bus so we plodded off to flag down an A/C bus to Colombo. They’re better than the local buses as there’s more space in them so you can buy your bags an extra seat and they won’t be in the way, and obviously it’s cooler. It also lulls you into a false sense of security because you can’t see as much, which makes you think every time the bus swerves it’s not because the driver’s attempting some crazy overtaking, it’s just because we were going round a corner a little fast. Much easier to enjoy the journey if you can believe that.

We got dropped off at the train station in Colombo and managed to spot Ajit to say goodbye. He sent us off to the YMCA round the corner as it was near to the bus station and it was cheap. Cheapish it was (£5.50 a night for a double room and bathroom…complete with a shower that didn’t work and a bath that would have left you dirtier than when you got in, excellent) but fun it was not. It was very dirty and the corridors stank from the shared bathrooms. Not somewhere I would have considered staying if it hadn’t been handy location-wise.

We dumped the bags and immediately left to take our nostrils for some fresh air. We stopped off in Mcdonald’s for a quick lunch (ah filet-o-fish, I hope you never get less delicious) and then went to find the Lion Pub Craig had spotted on the bus on the way in. We immediately passed another pub, the Texas Inn or something like that, but Craig pointed out that the Lion Pub had a concrete lion you had to walk through when you went in, and lions are cooler. Well, who I am to argue with sparkling logic like that? So off we walked.

And walked.

And walked.

And walked.

My new shiny flipflops instantly began nibbling, and then full on tearing at my feet. In a way it’s good because I now have so little flesh on my feet that I should be able to fit into smaller shoes. I eventually had to take them off to avoid walking like a Geisha so got some pretty strange looks – well to be fair I was getting quite strange looks beforehand as I was hobbling and trying unsuccessfully to hold back the screams of pain and tears.

But we did eventually get there, and the lion was indeed awesome

Ok so this is an actual lion but I forgot to add a picture of the concrete lion on here and it’s too difficult to go and sort this out so you will just have to imagine it. But rest assured, this lion is at least 50% less awesome than the concrete lion.

I asked the waiter where we were on the map and he said we were off it. We worked out we’d walked 10km!

For a lion.

After a couple of much needed beers, Craig went to get some cash. He took ages and it turned out he had got “sidetracked” and ended up in a tattoo parlour, as is his wont. The tattooist was amazing according to Craig so should he get something done? Well why not! And should I get something done too? Of course, that would be the coolest thing ever.

“Where did you get that done?”

“In Sri Lanka.”

“Cool!”

“I know. But get this, that tattooist was next to a pub where you had to walk through a LION to get in.”

“OMG!” *dies of jealousy*

So we finished our drinks and went to have a look at the tattooist’s work. There were a million books of designs but not one that I wanted, and besides the tattooist was busy for another two hours. So being the committed, determined and unshakeable people we are, we went to go and get a curry instead.

Where we ended up was like some kind of Sri Lankan’s working men’s club. Bit of an odd atmosphere but the takeaway curry was good. We were warned not to eat the hot sauce because we were English, and when we did, we had a little audience of people hoping to see us erupt in a spicy ball of flames, tongue first. They looked genuinely disappointed when we said it wasn’t too hot.

Dejectedly, we headed back to the YMCA to try and get some sleep before the bus the next morning. A few hours was enough there and we left as soon as we could, hopping on a local bus for £1 before changing to the free shuttle bus to the airport at the bus station. An expensive and rather sad breakfast later, we boarded our flight back to Bangkok. Goodbye Sri Lanka, we will be back!

The flight itself was great, as was the one to Sri Lanka, as it was the same brand new plane with sparklingly clean leather seats, half-full so we could stretch ourselves out over three seats each (we need them after all that food). This was a very good thing as the person who was meant to be sitting next to us before we moved smelled very strongly of sweat and I didn’t fancy smelling that for the next three hours. I wrote the blog and read my book and before we knew it, we were landing, 45 minutes ahead of schedule.

As we stood up to get our stuff, Craig felt a tap on the back. A man was pointing at his phone and saying something too quickly to understand. Craig thought he was trying to sell him something, so he said no thanks and turned round again. Tap, tap, tap! The man pointed at his phone again and Craig took a closer look…on the phone was a video of him changing the tyre that had exploded on our way from Siem Reap to Bangkok!

The man introduced himself as Kim – he is Korean but lives in Siem Reap. He had been on the bus that day on his way to Bangkok and had given Craig some of his water to wash his hands with after changing the tyre. Kim had gone home back to Siem Reap after a few days, but then had returned to fly to Sri Lanka for two days, which was why he was on our plane. He had recognised Craig from the tattoos on his leg.

We walked with him to passport control and he kept saying “I’m so surprised!! I am SO SURPRISED!” He was very sweet and told us all about his Cambodian wife (he’s 43 and she’s younger than me!) and his baby son, but also that he was very grateful to Craig for helping getting the bus going again and that he would never forget it. Craig said that he’d got used to helping, having changed four or so beforehand, but Kim wouldn’t have it and said that he would remember for the rest of his life how he helped and got us on our way again.

We lost track of him at the baggage collection point, but he did give us his card for his guesthouse in Siem Reap which we promised to go to so we could visit him next time we were in Cambodia. We said to ourselves that it was a very strange coincidence he should be on our plane after only being in Sri Lanka for two days, but thought nothing more of it.

Once we got through customs, we found Kim waiting there for us. He was clutching a bit of paper on which he had written all of his contact details (including his name in Korean!) and said we must get in touch. We said of course and I took a picture of him and Craig so I could email it to him.

We turned to go and he said that last time he felt very guilty for not saying thank you, and had planned to take us out to dinner. We said that really wasn’t necessary and that it was nothing really but he was already reaching into his wallet. We were horrified and said that we really didn’t deserve anything, it was just nice to have a thank you and to meet him.

He waved off our objections and pressed a note into my hands. He explained that he felt really bad he didn’t do something nice for us last time, and it was clear that by meeting us a second time, he had been given a second chance. He said that we should have dinner on him and that by accepting his gift, he would sleep very well tonight, safe in the knowledge that karma had been restored. Well, when he put it like that we couldn’t refuse so we said thank you; stunned. Kim grinned and then shouted “Go, go, enjoy your dinner and good luck to you!” We walked away, mouths still open.

I uncurled my hand to find a crisp 1,000 baht note – £20 – enough to pay for five dinners for two, two nights’ accommodation (a room with our very own shower and AIRCON!), five train rides to the airport or six tuktuk rides to the train station. Incredibly generous and it will make a real difference to our time in Bangkok. Just when we thought we were beginning to think we’d seen it all, Asia continues to surprise us…

Planes, trains and automobiles….wait no tuktuk??

14 Mar

We wandered around as planned – not really enough time to do anything more yet still had a whole day to kill. We bought a few more essential things and went for lunch (disappointing – had to dive into McDonald’s halfway through the afternoon, which unlike our KFC experience in Vinh, was all kinds of deliciousness). On our way back we met a guy who ran a shop selling huge pictures of the King and Queen and got chatting to him. He said we needed to see three things in Bangkok (as we’d already been to the Palace, a boat trip down the river etc last time round) – the big Buddha, the lucky Buddha and another temple. By the time he’d paused for breath, he’d ordered us a tuktuk, saying it was 10 bhart (20p) because the journey was subsidised. The tuktuk driver was mental

but got us around in one piece. The big Buddha was indeed big – you could climb to the top – except we couldn’t because it was closed to the public.

The lucky Buddha may have been lucky, except it was closed because the monks were praying…ditto the third temple.

We asked to go back to where we started and there was a slight pause…and then we remembered why it was subsidised as it happened to us last time. Basically the tuktuk driver gets a fuel voucher for every customer he brings to an overpriced jewellery shop and an overpriced tailors. We needed neither jewellery nor suits, but agreed to go along with him so he could get his voucher. An awkward ten minutes in each shop pretending to be interested in things that cost £100 over, we went back to Khao San Road for a nice meal, not too annoyed because it had killed a little time til the evening (where he ended up sitting next to the guy who reminded me of Craig yesterday – he was a lovely Russian and probably thought I was quite strange when I explained the story!).

Craig and I levered ourselves out of bed at 3.30am to catch a minibus to the airport. I am not sure what it is with taxi drivers, but this one was also trying to break the sound barrier. Luckily there was nothing else on the roads and we had seatbelts this time!

Caught our flight with no problems – the plane was brand new, had leather seats and was less than a third full so a pleasant three hours of sleep followed, stretched out across three seats :) The views were pretty amazing

Landed in Colombo having read up on where to go whilst on the plane. A kind taxi driver told us when we insisted we didn’t want a taxi where to catch the free bus to the local bus station and then on to Colombo train station…on which another kind tuktuk driver offered to drive us for “30 minutes” in his tuktuk for $18. I do love guidebooks in this situation because I’m sure lots of people fall for it. We again insisted we would take the bus. This took nearly two hours and cost 80 cents! Not sure I would have been too happy in a tuktuk for two hours…

We got to the train station to find yet another kind man, very willing to help us. By this time we were a bit wary and looked at him with scepticism when he said we couldn’t take the train all the way to where we were hoping to go because there was work going on on the track. I double-checked his story with the rail information centre and they said he was right, so I felt a bit bad for doubting him. He said his name was Ajit and he explained he ran a guesthouse near where we wanted to go, showed us pictures and offered us a ‘special price’. He would help us buy train tickets and come with us back to his hotel. The guidebook said that the area was a bit of a dive, but the beach was ok considering it was relatively close to the city. However, he seemed a nice man and pointed to his guesthouse in the guidebook (“wrong side of the road for the beach, ok rooms”). Ajit seemed so nice and we were tired so we said why not, figuring we could stay for a night and then move on if it was awful.

This is a situation that proves guidebooks aren’t always right – the train journey was beautiful – Ajit said to sit on the right said so we could see uninterrupted views of the beach

The train was brand new and shiny. There were fans above us and the windows and doors opened fully so it wasn’t hot. At the end of the line before the work on the tracks began, we transferred on to a little minibus (the driver of which seemed sure he was in Grand Theft Auto – if I hadn’t been permanently in the brace position I would have taken a video) and then onto a slower local bus for the final leg.

Ajit phoned his wife ahead and asked her to make us lunch as we hadn’t eaten since 5am at the airport, and she turned up with this in the little restaurant area

An unbelievable array – coconut potatoes, creamy dhal, vegetable curry, spiced vegetables, hot roasted fish and a mountain of rice. We nearly fainted with delight. Everything was gorgeous and a welcome change from the food of South East Asia, which had become a bit same-y. All for £2.80 each! I was looking forward to coming to Sri Lanka as I heard the food was excellent and blisteringly hot…we’re going to be about three stone heavier when we leave!

The rooms are also lovely with a hot shower and wifi – really being spoiled! – and set in a pretty garden with flowers and palm trees (complete with chipmunk-like tiny squirrels and lots of birds).

It’s a good job his guesthouse is set away from the road, and therefore the beach, as the tsunami of 2004 swept away a lot of homes and businesses that where right by the waterfront. Ajit had 150 people on his guesthouse roof at one point – the water was three metres high, past the first floor balcony.

It is very peaceful as even though it’s quite close to a road, you can’t really hear much except the birdsong and the crickets. It has been raining so fingers crossed we’ll get a proper tropical thunderstorm soon :)

Ajit’s also promised to try and get us cheap tickets to one of the England vs Sri Lanka test matches that are happening whilst we were here. We tried online but they were $40 each – he said he can try to get them at SL local prices which would be amazing. Ajit 2, Lonely Planet 1.