The story so far

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Nine days in Thailand

Thailand was Hannah's idea.  We were paying for the flights anyway and s stop-over did not add to the cost. I also had stacks of Hilton points to spend, so we booked ourselves into a resort in Hua Hin for nine nights.  The ideas was that we would use the time to recover from our hectic last few weeks and months so we would  be ready to arrive in Australia and hit the ground running.

When we landed in Thailand Zoe and Esme both drew a lot of attention from the locals.  At first I was worried that they were going to be kidnapped and kept a close eye on them.  As time passed however, I realised that they were just being friendly and that their way of being friendly to the children was to touch their face or ruffle their hair.  Later in the holiday I was surprised when Zoe refused to wear a pretty pink sari with elephant prints on it.  When I asked her why she told me in a very stroppy fashion that she was trying not to look pretty because she didn't like people touching her.

To get from the airport to the hotel, we had booked a “limousine” which seems to be a taxi in everything but name and price.  We were met at the airport after some confusion by a Hilton representative who took us to the taxi.  She took one look at our luggage and began making phone calls, she looked concerned and that made us nervous.  She told us that the luggage would not fit in the car, but wary of paying for my luggage to be chauffeur driven in a separate air conditioned limousine at great expense, I asked to see the car.  The driver could not speak English, but I could tell be the shaking of his head that he was not confident at getting the luggage in either.  I persisted and asked him to try.

He put two bags in the boot and gave the universal palms up “it's no good” gesture.  Then he had a brainwave.  He started loading bags in the front passenger seat.  I was somewhat taken aback.  Was he going to suggest I take a bus?  It wasn't until later that I realised that in Thailand, there is little concept of vehicle safety.  Seatbelts are definitely optional as are child seats and it appears that medals are awarded for the most people who can be fitted in (and on) a car.

Anyway, at this point, after a long flight and sweating profusely in my winter gear, I decided to take matters into my own hands.  I re-packed the boot, getting all the bags apart from our considerable hand luggage in and I packed that in the foot wells in the back.  I took my large rucksack on my lap and Hannah sat cross legged in the back with the girls.

We drove to the hotel along busy main roads.  The countryside was dominated by palm trees of various types and a mixture of concrete buildings and tin roadside shacks, brightly coloured but dusty, selling anything you could possibly want from snacks to marble tombstones.  On the roads, we saw pick-ups speeding along with the flat beds packed with people.  I even saw a 125cc motorcycle with four people crammed on.  Another thing was the lorries, they were old, but clearly a lot of pride went into them.  Many were painted in elaborate patterns in enamel paints and it gave me a warm feeling about the country.

As the journey began to drag into its third hour, we were passing through the town of Hua Hin, when Zoe piped up “look it's the Hilton” Hannah and I laughed.  Zoe has become quite brand-aware and can spot a John-Lewis at 400 paces, now we can add Hilton to her repertoire.

On arrival at the hotel we were given damp cloths and a cup of lemon tea each. That went down really well and was certainly unexpected given the best I got at Newbury North was a smile from the receptionist.  At this point, we were told we had been upgraded to a suite and had access to the executive lounge; great news since we had only been able to book a double room.

We were all tired and it was late, so we elected to eat at the Hilton restaurant.  In the UK, dining in the Hilton can be quite hit and miss, especially for the price, however I had a Thai green curry from the local menu and despite not being able to identify the vegetables, it was absolutely fantastic.

The food on the whole trip was excellent.  On the first morning, I decided that I would try everything on the breakfast menu over the course of the nine days stay.  I had rice and chicken soup with chilli flakes, deep fried fish in sweet and spicy sauce, chicken curry and bacon and eggs.  Dinners ranged from pizzas to Thai noodles and rice dishes, although everyone seemed to do spaghetti bolognaise, much to Zoe's delight, who did not eat a single mouthful of authentic Thai food for the whole trip.  On one evening, we ate as a family for £12 including drinks and despite the portion sizes being fairly small, this was great value.

The best meal we had though was a Loy Krothong 2552, from what I could gather it means “Light Raft” and is essentially a festival of preparation for the new year in which symbolic candle lit rafts are floated into water.  As this is done, a prayer is said and the raft is said to cleanse you of old grudges, pain, defilements and anger.  It is about re-starting the new year on a fresh footing and that seemed particularly pertinent to us.
It was the only really expensive thing we did in Thailand apart from Elephant riding, which I will come to, but the food was out of this world.  There were many different dishes available in buffet style, some of them prepared by chefs in front of us including the best spicy duck and spring onion soup I had ever tasted.  I also ate an interesting prehistoric creature, I've forgotten what is was called.  It was half lobster, half shrimp and half wood-louse.  For the mathematicians among you, you will see what I mean by the photo:

The entertainment consisted of Thai music, dancing kick boxing, and a particularly enjoyable bout between two sword wielding Greek girls.  Zoe and Esme, of course danced in front of everyone until the point when the Thai dancers asked us to join in, when they became scared and rooted to their seats.

The whole family with the light raft with which we purged all of Hannah's evil thoughts from last year.

At the end of the evening, we were invited to the Moonlit cocktail bar.  It was a low lit bar with a live music stage where a pianist and two singers were performing.  Esme was playing up, so Hannah retired while Zoe and I went on for cocktails.  When I realised that they were doing requests, I asked for them to dedicate Mamma Mia to Zoe.  She was very excited when they sang for her.

This is the pool with the hotel bar in the back ground, the green plant covered structure.

The whole Thai experience was like a dream in paradise.  The pool, naturally heated by the sun was warm and a swim in the sea was like taking a bath.  The hotel staff were very good and the lower Thai prices meant we could indulge in things we otherwise wouldn't have.  The only downer was the fact that Hannah was watching my alcohol intake.

Like a hawk.

I was given the challenge of going dry for the week on the basis that I had been drinking a lot in England with various parties before I left.  It was also considered that I would be consuming a reasonable amount when I arrived in Australia.  All the more reason, I thought, to endeavour to keep my tolerance high.  Although we went as a family, Esme's uncontrollable behaviour, at times led to “opportunities for beverages” presenting themselves.

On one such occasion, I was swimming with Zoe when Esme started screaming and shouting and Hannah decided to take her for a fifteen minute time out.  While not wishing to break the rules, when happy hour was announced two minutes after their departure, I though “who am I to resist fate?”  The sun was shining, there was an “in pool” cocktail bar and drinks were being severed in coconuts and pineapples.

Happy hours meant that if you ordered one drink, you got another for free.  I thought this was perfect.  I could tell Hannah that the idyllic moment was too good to miss and that I had bought us both a drink.  As she pointed out later on, I know full well she doesn't like tequila so my purchase of two margaritas did not wash with her.  Anyway, I enjoy spending time with Zoe in this sort of situation.  Once she gets wind that we are up to no good, she gets very excited and is quite fun to be with.  So Zoe and I sat at the bar exchanging conspiratorial smiles over the tops of our respective drinks and before I knew it, I had consumed Hannah's drink as well.

I ordered two more and before long, the third had almost gone.  I saw Hannah coming from a couple of hundred yards away, or rather I heard Esme's battle cry.  I quickly finished my drink and carried Hannah's over to her.  I got a look of disdain, especially when, after telling her it was my first, she revealed she had been watching me from the hotel window.  I did manage to get her to drink it and for us to share a pair of mojitos which left me very mellow, but she still managed to put a dampener on things by making out that she wasn't enjoying her ten minutes in paradise.

The funny thing about Hannah is that she is not happy unless she is worried about something.  Before leaving the UK, there was plenty to worry about, but now we were safely in Thailand, we were in a void of worry-less-ness.  Hannah focussed on my Alcohol abuse, and that evening gave her the perfect opportunity to put her mind into gear and imagine to worst of my alcoholism, possibly a trait I share with my mother, but both of us will agree that while we enjoy a drink, it does not take over our lives.  I think most alkies would say this too though.

I knew Hannah was devoid of worry, when she started presenting her concerns about jet lag to me.  She was worried that the journey from Thailand to Australia would be too much for the kids.  I tried to keep a straight face while explaining that the time difference was only four hours and that we had no plans for the first few weeks in Australia.

Late in the Holiday, there was also an incident where the wind was very strong, palm trees branches were being ripped off and on the 11th floor, where we were, the wind was howling.  I woke up in the middle of the night to find a kind of temporary nuclear bunker had been set up in our bedroom.  The kids were sheltering in a collection of pillows, duvets and mattresses on the other side of the bed from the window and Hannah was sitting up in bed, shaking.  I demonstrated that there was nothing to worry about by walking out on to the balcony and it seemed to calm things down.  The air-raid shelter stayed 'til morning though.

My last memory of that evening was hearing Zoe doing the “I Love” game.  It's basically the same as counting sheep, but you list all the people you love until you fall to sleep.  I heard her murmuring “I love Esme, I love Alfie, I love chocolate, I love crisps, I love mummy, I love daddy.......”.  Sixth in the list, not bad.            

On the whole, the holiday was a great success.  The staff looked after us really well and we gradually began to unwind.  As I relaxed and forgot my worries, the pain in my side began to subside and the acid reflux reduced.

Zoe and Esme's teddies were carefully arranged and decorated with flowers on a daily basis and although no towel elephants were in evidence in the bedroom, the toilets were a menagerie of towel creatures.  Elephants, polar bears and little birds to name but a few.

Zoe's swimming is improving and I promised her that I would continue to teach her regularly in Australia.  While some of her friends have been able to doggy paddle for ages, Zoe has moved directly into a really good backstroke and a fast improving front crawl.

Esme did seem to be missing her Granny and Granddad and wanted to know when we were going home.  I told her that our new home would be Australia, but she insisted that Granny and Granddad's house was our home now.  This might explain some of her behaviour.  Hannah insists Zoe's was like it at the same age but Esme seems to be hyperactive and uncontrollable most of the time.  It does lead to some amusing and noteworthy incidents but it is very tiring as a semi-responsible adult.

Zoe and Esme relax on the balcony of the executive lounge

One such incident occurred in the executive lounge.  Every afternoon we would go up for afternoon tea and the girls would eat tarot crisps and Esme would drink guava juice.  That stuff set her off every afternoon and in this case she insisted on locking the toilet door but then could not unlock it to get out.  After much deliberation on my part and screaming on Esme's, I decided to go and speak to reception to ask them if they could get her out.  I was just leaving the toilets when I turned round to see Zoe disappearing under the door.  Fortunately the toilets were clean and Zoe had saved the day with her initiative and slim physique.

Having a boisterous three year old in the executive lounge was, at times, quite stressful.  The mix of people there is quite interesting.  The really classy people don't use it, I'm sure.  In the UK, you get the over made-up stiletto brigade, dragging their hen pecked husbands along, fighting over the vol-au-vents and downing as many cocktails as possible in the allotted two hours.  In Thailand it was slightly different, there was a collection of people in there, some of them seemed fairly normal and pleasant.  You don't get that in the UK.  There were still however a small contingent of what I consider the type of people with whom I would least like to associate.  They are up themselves, they try to exude the image of sophistication and richess.  They apply their makeup with a garden trowel and they did too much sunbathing when they were young.  Without realising it they define themselves as utterly classless and when these people disapprove of my children, I tend to allow them a little more freedom to irritate.

On this particular occasion, the Gucci clad, magenta lipstick wearing leather skinned trout who was sitting at the table next to us, was tutting at our children's behaviour.  Granted they kept getting out of their seats and exploring and yes, their loudness was slightly antisocial.  I ignored her but really hoped she would say something because, not only would I have given her a piece of my mind about her behaviour, I would have also mentioned the fact that she was smoking in the presence of children, something which I consider to be infinitely more antisocial than a bit of noise pollution.

This same withered hag had spent an hour on the Internet while we had been eating our breakfast, hassling the hotel staff about an email she had received from Hilton offering her a free night's stay (I had received the same and it took me one minute to understand what it was about)   How is it that some people get to that age without understanding consideration and manners?  I think by now people will understand that she irritated me.

One evening also, I was in the executive lounge so I could get wireless access on my phone, when I saw two couples introducing themselves to each other over the buffet.  I overheard their conversation and it was just like being back in the UK.  One of the women was wearing (you've guessed it) a white dress and strappy white shoes.  You could see her underwear through her dress which, in this case was undesirable and I was glad I had eaten some hours earlier.  The most striking thing though is that their entire conversation revolved around how much they had paid for their hotel room, what houses they had in Spain and why they had not gone for a room on the club floor.  "It's not that we can't afford it, I mean, of course we can, but why go to the expense when we're going to be out and about the whole time".  I reckon they should put a separate room in the executive lounge at all Hiltons, they could entice them in by covering the furnishings in leopard skin and fake gold and offering vol-au-vents and chips.  Normal people would avoid, these people would flock and I would not have to listen to this self appreciating cr?p.

The other expensive thing we did on the holiday was to visit the Elephant park and see an Elephant show followed by an Elephant ride.  We had heard stories that the elephants were not well cared for and were forced to perform.  Maybe that is true, but we all go to work every day and the elephants were well paid and had bananas on tap.

I think Amanda's comment on facebook was "Nick popping a wheelie on a CBR900 Nellie"

Zoe of course was scared, but Esme and I rode an Elephant and at one point I rode one bare-back and the Elephant reared up on two feet.  Another things of note on the trip to Hua Hin, was taking a ride in a tuk-tuk, one of the motorcycle based three wheeled open taxis they operate in south east Asia.  We used this to get to the night market where where Hannah haggled aggressively with a local lady for three silk wraps for her and each of the girls.  I got nothing.

Hannah and the girls in a Tuk-tuk

The other benefit of the trip was my lack of alcohol, regular visits to the gym and small portions combined to cause me to lose about half a stone in weight.  I'm sure its all back on now though.

The last day in Thailand was a blow out, the wind was still strong and we were all ready to begin the next phase of our adventure.  I hired a mini bus to be sure that we had room enough for our luggage and we left in relative comfort at around midday.  Fortunately the mini-bus had air conditioning as we were back in our winter gear for the weight limits.  Our luggage was 4 kilos overweight, but nothing was said.  We boarded the Qantas 747 and got the same seats as we had on the outward journey.

About half an hour after take off, Zoe discovered Mr. Bean on the entertainment system.  While other passengers settled back to read their books in what they thought would be relative peace and quiet, the aeroplane was filled with sporadic outbursts of uncontrollable giggling from Zoe.

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