There’s a point at which my natural aversion to trusting anyone who approaches us whilst on holiday may well border on paranoia. But in Bangkok, was it really just a co-incidence we happened to be intercepted by a guy with “Tourist Police” on his t-shirt who flagged down a passing tuk-tuk and “persuaded” him to take us to see three major tourist sites for the low price of 40 baht (about 80p). And after the first site the driver insisted he would miss out on an annual bonus unless he took us to a particular jewellery shop after seeing the sites. And that a random bloke in site number two (a very quiet temple) just happened to start speaking to us about the very same jewellery store – they do such great deals that he “buys lots of jewellery from there and sells it to Ernest Jones in London for a big profit”.
A remarkable string of co-incidences or a very elaborate and well-worked tourist scam?
We didn’t buy any jewellery.
And come on tuk-tuk drivers:
- If I’m carrying a map and pointing to it, I know broadly where I am. You can’t say “We are here” and point to somewhere completely different on the map in an attempt to charge us more money. And…
- Saying “the river taxi isn’t working today so I can take you directly back to your hotel instead” isn’t going to work if we’d already taken the river taxi earlier the same day.
Bangkok then. A wonderful world of extremes in which the spiritual mix with the seedy; the Monks mingle with the masses (and the Buddhist Monks are so ubiquitous in Bangkok that they have their own immigration lanes in the airport). A city in which we can be refused entry to a palace in the daytime due to our inappropriate clothing (we had the temerity to wear shorts in 30 degree heat) and yet at night inappropriate clothing (and behaviour) seems to be nigh-on encouraged.
A fascinating place though – three nights wasn’t enough to do it justice. And checking into a hotel at 3am is never a particularly good idea, especially when the hotel reception claim we can only have our room for one night before having to move rooms. 30 minutes later, the stubborn Brits won out and we were given an upgraded room for the three nights. And what an upgrade – it was more of an two-bedroom apartment than a hotel room.
We thought whilst in Bangkok it made sense to try out a Thai massage, and ignoring anything dodgy (we went to a reputable place), a full body massage turned out to be just that. My ears have never felt so good.
Our expectations for excellent food were also met – Indian food for breakfast (not sure why it was available, but not complaining) and some superb Thai food in the evenings.
So after our brief stay in Bangkok we flew up to Chiang Rai in the north of Thailand to stay at Le Merdien’s resort hotel (not too far away from Chiang Mai, which seems to the tourist location most people are familiar with). An excellent resort despite some seriously laid-back service (apart from the manic French director of food who seemed to be trying to compensate for the apathetic approach of his staff).
And so for our main reason for visiting Thailand: earlier in the year, Andrea had invited us to spend New Year’s Eve with her extended family on a small, relatively remote farm about 45 minutes away from the hotel. A farm co-owned by Andrea’s brother and his family, which led to a gathering of people from many parts of the globe. An evening discussing cultural matters with a Thai lady from the north, politics with an Iranian man living in San Francisco, and the perils of voluntary work with a lady originally from Ellesmere Port. From watching the sunset over the farm to perhaps the world’s most dangerous fireworks display at midnight (those fireworks accidentally planted upside-down quickly turning the “oooh” of those nearby into an “AAAH!”), a fantastic evening of entertainment, food and drink. Local Thai cuisine mixed with classic burgers (and a ridiculously spicy salad) meant we were in no danger of going hungry.
4pm on New Year’s Day and Bronwen finally had her wish of getting me to take relax by a swimming pool whilst on holiday. Although my idea of relaxing and Bron’s are somewhat different (Bronwen sleeps, I try to work out how to record music on an old Korg synthesiser on the iPad).
New Year’s Eve definitely made up for our rather subdued Christmas Day. Working on December 25th isn’t something I want to do again – with most expats gone and the event understandably not meaning a great deal to the local guys, it really did just feel like a normal day in the office. Elouise and Ryan came over on Christmas Eve for a Christmas meal (pre-cooked by a local firm), complete with crackers thanks to Marks & Spencers. We’re all in agreement that this is hopefully a once-only event. Next year, one way or the other, we should be back in the UK for Christmas.