Overseas 4th April - 18th April
Julie managed to get a bit of sleep on the plane flights but Glen didn't get much if any. There wasn't much leg room so we were glad for the stopover and Glen discovered Starbucks Signature hot chocolate…not sure if that's a good or bad thing…
We got through Customs OK and were greeted by Harvey at the exit. We went up and changed a bit of cash to Bhat then lugged the bags to the train. As an introduction to Thailand it was a real eye opener.. Were we got on wasn't too crowded but within a couple of stations the carriage was packed with what seemed like half of Bangkok. Glen was separated from Julie and both were separated from Harvey and Pon. Through the sea of groins we kept watch to see when they got off. We changed trains and really struggled in the heat with heavy bags with no wheels and Julie vowed to get a bag with wheels. The Skytrain was 48Bh each and the next train was 28B each. We were quickly at our stop and struggled down the stairs to street level. The footpath was lined with vendors and people going everywhere it seemed to culture shocked Glen. It was about 800m to the hotel - although in the heat it seemed more like 2km. We arrived drenched in sweat and the air conditioning hit us like a refreshing wave when the door was opened. As we untangled ourselves from bags and set them down we were brought a cold glass of fruit punch. Wonderful! Glen was surprised to find that he needed his passport to check in!
We went to our rooms and the bags arrived…do we tip? Bugger another thing we didn't Google and we didn't put any time into learning the language. Luckily we had Pon for the hard bits and the staff all had a reasonable command of English. We headed straight out to lunch, Julie was famished! Pon led us down the street and waved of the first of many offers for taxis and tuk-tuks that we would get during our Thailand stay. We went straight into a dark and busy place with all sorts of food Glen couldn't name. Panic set in and Glen expressed his discomfort to Julie who calmly got us out of there and into a quiet restaurant. It was too early and too much for Glen to do street food with all the warnings about don't drink the water and don't eat this or that. (Julie is my rock and understands me and had my back, she is wonderful and I love her - Glen) Turns out it was a place Julie had eaten in the last time she was in Thailand. The restaurant food was good but more expensive than we thought after Harvey's calls during previous trips and recounts of how cheap everything was. The afternoon was filled with a swim in the hotel pool and in the evening we went to the Patpong markets just around the corner. Readers familiar with walking along touristy Thai streets past bars will be aware how often you are asked if you'd like to see a ping pong show. Julie and Harvey were asked frequently but Glen was amused that he NEVER got asked!!! Back to the Hotel for an early night.
We won't bore you dear reader with details but day 2 in this far away land had Glen beginning to eat street food and trying to get his cob khun krap (thank you)and sa wa dee krap (hello/goodbye) working in the right places (turns out krap is said as cup, at least in Petchebun) and getting used to bargaining the price at the places they expect you to haggle. We visited MBK - a big shopping centre by train and had a ball riding in a tuk-tuk to where the girly bars are - as it was quite early in the evening there was little point going in. Dinner in another restaurant then back "home" on the train. It was at this point Glen suspected he had little tolerance for the local beer as it was embarrassingly going straight through him.
Day 3 was an organised tour to the Floating Markets, River Kwai and Tiger Temple, yep, all in one day. To get to the Floating Markets we rode a short distance in a long tailed boat which is basically a long skinny boat with a car engine mounted on a bracket, actually more like an inboard motor speedboat as a forward/reverse gearbox is there too It allows the propeller to be moved in any direction to steer the boat and they can move! The markets were basically like any other markets except when we got a ride in a paddled boat to see the few vendors actually floating. Apparently its pretty much only tourists now as the car has replaced the boat. The River Kwai museum we found disorganised and the bit of information our tour guide gave us before sending us off to explore on our own was about all we got from it. The walk over the actual bridge was interesting but not particularly moving. The tigers were an hour and a half from there. We slept. Once there we walked to the Tiger Canyon, listened to the upsell (from a lady from Fremantle who'd been there for 7 years) then went in to be photographed individually with a number of tigers sleeping. It was so good we did it again then went off exploring the rest of the grounds. We saw a 10 month old tiger playing in the water. A pig wandered too close and the tiger went into stalk mode so they chased the pig away. Soon after a young boy ran down the hill and the tiger went into stalk again. Don't run in the grounds isn't just a suggestion! Although the tiger had been bred in captivity for generations, never killed anything and had never even had red meat the instinct runs deep. There are all sorts of animals living there as the monks are given them for safe keeping. We were looking at the bear cub when our tour guide found us and said it was time to go. We didn't even get to the temple, we take too long looking. We got back to the motel 3 hours later and headed out for "washing machine chicken". The chicken is cooked in a large drum, to Glen's thoughts about the size of our washing machine bowl. It's closer to a tandoori oven being ceramic over a charcoal fire but the name stuck with us.
Day 4 we tried to go to the Golden Palace and had negotiated a fare with "our" tuk-tuk driver (he had 4wd mud flaps so that's who we chose to ride with the whole stay) when we were told we needed appropriate clothing. We had none so whipped over to the markets but found no shoes suitable. We joined Harvey and Pon and headed to MBK again. After a full day of shopping we were ready for the temple the next day. That night we went on a dinner cruise down the river and we got put on the middle deck. Food was OK but the buffet had no flow lines and took forever. On the middle deck where we were the entertainment wasn't that good and we only got to see sideways out the window so we couldn't see the tops of anything. After the food we went to the roof top and found the diners there had 360 degree views and better entertainment. Felt seriously ripped off. Not happy Jan. Then the good entertainment went down stairs and we followed but pretty soon our original artist was back. Made the best of it by joining in and having a dance.
Our final day in Bangkok had us at the tuk-tuk at the booked time and we negotiated that he'd stay and take us back after the palace. We probably paid too much since our fare the day before was to take traffic into account but he was nice young guy and a half day tour of the city for 700B ($A28) is good value to us. We went to the Grand Palace, found I didn't need covered shoes anyway, but picked up a tour guide who took us through in the hour we wanted leading us past queues and to the best vantage points for photos. She used to work for the Palace so she knew her stuff. On the way back we stopped at the Golden Mountain which we loved. The sights we saw on the way back made it worth every bit of our $28. That afternoon it was taxi to the airport to meet up with Pon's daughter, Mai and Harvey's mum and aunty then to Pattaya for a few more days. That night we ate at a restaurant overlooking the beach about 200m from our motel. Julie and I decided to go for a walk along the beach road and finished with coffee at a pizza restaurant. Due to us not being in the land of Oz and it generally being too bloody hot for coffee the latte total has been suspended until we get back as has the accommodation total, even though one motel was as cheap as $A20/night but we have paid up to $156/night with a total of $1156 for the 3 week trip.
Our first day in Pattaya was spent relaxing and exploring as June and Pam recovered from the flight. We booked a tour to go parasailing, sea walking and relaxing on Koh Larn, an island about 7km from Pattaya. It's probably reasonable to note that I don't think we have seen blue sky the whole time we have been in Thailand except for at the Tiger Temple which is well away from anything. The smog and smoke haze means that you can't see far and the sky is a smooth grey. We should have been able to see the island from the beach but we couldn't. We went to Mini Siam in the "bus" (seats like in a troopy but in the back of a ute. Good fun to ride on the back standing up!) They have miniatures of buildings from around the world, but mainly from Bangkok. Very amusing to read the signs with the English translations. Some were indecipherable! The signs also carried pictures - not of the building they copied but of the model you were standing in front of! Highlight of this night was feeding the koi carp with a baby's bottle. Restaurant for dinner. We would have had to blindly accept the bill as it was written in Thai but Mai checked it for us. Pon checked her bill and three times they got it wrong. If it was us we would have paid the high incorrect price and been none the wiser.
The second day saw us ready early for our adventurous day. We were picked up and taken to the beach to meet the speedboat. Obligatory photos were taken - one girl refused and was told "no photo no get in water, if you have accident need photo to identify"! As we waited the usual line of people trying to sell us stuff passed by. Getting a bit tired of everyone just trying to rip us off but understand everyone needs to make a living. First stop was just a few minutes out at one of the boats moored in the bay for parasailing. There's probably 5 or 6 of these things and they all operate the same way. Ours had 6 speedboats doing the lap of the boat, just the driver in each one, no observer! Changeover from one person to the next was in the order of 10 seconds. You get suited up in a harness and buoyancy vest and stand in a queue on a vinyl covered open deck. You get a photo then walk out near the landing area. The person drops in and you are escorted up as they are released and you walk straight in get clipped in and they tell you hold here and to run. Next thing you are supposed to rise into the sky do a lap of the boat and gently drop to the deck. In Julie's case it didn't quite go to plan as when the boat started she fell forward and was dragged to the edge before being lifted. It went to plan for Glen and when he got down found Julie in a terrible state. Her feet were grazed and burnt from being dragged. Glen got her first aid (water and betadine) and she covered her tears with sunglasses. It was heartbreaking to see as we sped towards a boat anchored off the island of Koh Larn for sea walking.
At the next activity, Julie was understandably reluctant to put her faith in them but the person who did the safety briefing - yes they actually had one - was caring and multilingual and after he explained in Chinese came to Julie and explained everything that would happen and reassured her there were free divers below who would help her if she panicked. She, to her credit, decided to have a go and actually loved it. The instructions below were a bit vague and the visibility was poor but it was still good. She surfaced but was still in dreadful pain.
Back in the speedboat to head to the beach. The traffic on the water was something that has to be seen to be believed. Speed boats, jet skis and jet skis towing banana boats, again no observer, all going in a myriad of directions. We reached the crowded beach incident free and followed the tour guide to our deck chairs. It was very low tide but just before the chairs was a ditch filled with water as hot as bath. You can imagine the pain this caused Julie. Glen refused to sit theatre style on a beach so we went for a swim before lunch. We bobbed in the shallow water watching the parade of people you just don't see on Australian beaches. The back of the beach is one long market and we started to do a lap but thongs hurt Julie and the concrete was red hot so we didn't go far - far enough to miss the start of lunch though and we ended up being seated at opposite ends of the table. After lunch we tried the markets again. Julie was impressed by a lady crocheting a bag similar to the strawberry bag and hat sets for sale. Another swim and a juice smoothie and it was time to go. We got our included CD of photos on the bumpy ride back. I hope our photos are on the disk because we passed up the printed photo and photo plate they tried to sell us when we got back.
Back at the hotel Glen set off to the pharmacy to get everything Julie may need to dress her wounds and also a pair of scuff like slippers so she could walk around with less pain.
That night we went to Walking Street, had street food (kababs) and did a lot of walking and Julie the trooper never complained although she was clearly in pain. We got home pretty late considering the planned 4am leave for Pon's home town of Phetchabun for the wedding.
After a long drive we arrived in Phetchabun - the motel was 2000B for 4 nights (about $A20/night) and headed to Pon's parents house to meet some of the family and a pad see ew lunch. In the afternoon we spent time in the motel pool. It's quite hot here. We discovered that when the key is removed from the slot all the power in the room goes off - including the fridge! Putting their business card in the slot solved that problem.
The next day we did a bit of shopping and the house was prepared for the wedding and the cooking was started. Incredible to see pork being minced by a team of the family armed with meat cleavers! We engaged in a bit of Songkran fun with the kids. They got us good!! The family had prepared washing machine chicken for dinner after we said how much we liked it in Bangkok. We gave the family gifts of breezers for the girls and Thai whiskey for the men. Naturally Glen had a drink with them out of respect irrespective of the fact he can only say hello, thanks and is working toward "I can't speak Thai". The Thai whiskey was $A12 a bottle, and the clear spirit they drink is $A4 a bottle! It's not bad either.
An early start for the wedding day, we were picked up by Harvey at 4:15. Pon had been at the hairdressers for a couple of hours by then and the monks were due at sunrise. The Thai wedding ceremony is not a religious thing. The monks come to bless the couple, not perform a wedding. Thanks to Google we had some idea of what would be happening and the symbolism of this beautiful traditional ceremony. At the house the uncles had Glen drinking a shooter of Thai whiskey at 5:25am! Julie just had a sip. The bride arrived looking beautiful and the groom donned his wedding clothes - see the photos…no really have a look at the photos! The 9 monks arrived traditionally, in the back of a Hilux ute, and sat in order on a raised platform. We took our seat - front and centre between Pon's parents and Harvey's mum and aunty. The bride and groom were blessed as was some string as part of a service/ceremony (we kept watch on those around us as to when we had to put our hands in prayer position and at the end we all "gave merit" to the monks (food, and the family also gave envelopes of money) and we were splashed with holy water. The monks left and we all tied string around the bride and grooms wrists and Julie and I ended up with some from the family too. These string bracelets should be kept on for at least 3 days for good luck. (without the additional luck we'd be in serious strife as over the next day or so we had a few bad luck incidents) :)
Next was the wedding breakfast. By now it was really warm. We took a seat and were honoured that a couple of the men sat with us on the foreigners table. We got food that wasn't spicy. Of course the whisky and Chang beer started flowing and Julie, June and Pam were into the beer. Glen was having whiskey and soda and the locals on our table were ensuring our glasses never got less than half full. By 9:30am after 2 hours of drinking Julie made the call that it had been a big day and she had drunk face :)
A few people had changed out of their good clothes into cooler clothes so we did too - our matching floral shirts signalled the start of Songkran for the day and soon we were respectfully having water poured on us and wished well. We reciprocated and pretty soon everyone was tipping water over someone. We were encouraged to dance by the girls at the "party table" and then it was into the back of a Hilux to cruise the street where the water fights were.
This was incredible fun, cruising on the highway in the back of an open truck then turning into a street and being covered with water in a really fun atmosphere. Of course there was beer, one of the young guys opened it with his teeth and the bottle was passed around the 5 responsible adults who took great care not to let the bottle fill with water as we drained it. We were sitting in a tray of water, getting drenched by people with buckets in passing trucks and people outside houses. We gave as good as we got and the people with hoses would fill us up if we didn't catch enough of what was thrown at us. Tremendous fun! Piece of bad luck/management 1 - Glen's waterproof pouch had come open and his phone had a couple of cm of water over it. Quick get the rice!!!
In the afternoon we went up to the temple for the ceremony where the elders (60+) and all the monks sit down and everyone files past them and pays respect by pouring water into their hands. After that we were coaxed onto the dance floor (aka piece of concrete) to dance while being soaked with a fire hose and sprayed with water pistols from the younger members of Pon's community. At this stage Glen is euphoric and having a ball. Julie is too but is still in terrible pain from her feet. Even so she takes the opportunity to walk home with Mai and Pon's sister in law, Poo, wife of Jung, number 2 brother. On the way we met Poo's parents at their house, just around the corner from Pon's, everyone we met was from the same village. We saw more traditional life of the Thai people in the country. This is what few people see and is the part we most love about Thailand.
At about 6pm we took Pon back to the hairdressers to get her hair undone. They worked incredible hours, 1am to 7pm on a public holiday. As Harvey tells us "only in Thailand". We were supposed to go out for dinner but with Harvey and Pon being smashed tired we sent them home and had dinner at the motel.
A late start the next day had us travelling high up into the mountains, so far up we saw the sky above the smoke haze. We stopped at a steak restaurant before going to Phasornkaew Temple, at the northern end of Phetchabun Province. Here the main Buddha is five buddhas sitting on each others laps in descending order. It is a beautiful, peaceful place (except the queue for the ladies toilet apparently) and although the ground was hot when you had to take off your shoes we are glad we went. Poo came with us as well. In the evening we had a farewell dinner with the family. We took our Bundy and Kahlua and when the home made rice wine came out before dinner we offered up our drinks. Harvey now needs to bring Bundy next time he comes to Thailand. Julie and I decided to walk around the block and got 4 offers to stop for a drink! Julie was spirited away by Pon's mum and got a tour of the village and met people and saw lots of interesting things. She felt very honoured. Glen did as the Thai do for dinner and sat with his drinking buddy on the platform they use so Julie joined them. During dinner one of the people we didn't drink with on our lap arrived on a motor bike and again invited us over so we agreed to go over after dinner for a drink. Half the family came too and we had a great time. Mum (Pon's mum) gave us some little fruits off a tree. They tasted like lilly pilli but were much firmer. Glen liked them much to the amusement of the others. Glen also learnt how to open a beer bottle with another beer bottle. A very useful skill. We reluctantly had to go as we were leaving at 6 the next day to go to Bangkok to fly to Phuket.
6am came round very quickly and Julie's brand new luggage had it's second breakage. (Good luck that it is still useable thanks to the piece of blessed string!) when Harvey, Pon, Mai, Dad (Pon's Dad) and Topp (Pon's niece, daughter of brother number 1) came to pick us up we learnt that Jung and Mum both had hangovers so I think they enjoyed the night as much as Julie and I and they kicked on after we left. Jung was sleeping it off at the farm while Poo worked with their son F4.
We drove to Bangkok airport and the traffic was not as bad as expected so we were there 5 hours early. Glen got some of the blog written. On the plane Glen discovered he accidently booked a hotel for the night of 24/10/15, the day he did the bookings instead of 23/4/16. Idiot!
We arrived in Phuket and Julie discovered it was not the sleepy little place she knew all those years ago. We travelled to Patong and our admittedly very nice hotel right near the beach and at 10pm the streets were bustling and a bit sleazy. 99B cocktails at the bar across the road soon had us feeling good.
Today we organised some tours and had a couple of swims and finished off the blog. Glen was disappointed that his phone didn't make a full recovery but works although his normal good luck text to Ashley before each AFL game didn't go through. We watched the game on TV and didn't notice any timekeeping errors so no harm done breaking from tradition… Glen is worried the replacement they are training will do him out of a job he enjoys when he gets back…
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