Sunday, 28 January 2007

The Adventures of Tomato In Thailand - The Ending

Chris went back to work and it was again my responsibility to keep Tom occupied.

We started the day with a traditional Thai breakfast (I had arranged this with Moon the previous day) which consisted of the Thai version of our donut called Pa Thong Go (Picture on the left), fresh fruit, Salam Pow which are like small, sweet omelets and Khanom Krok (Picture on the right) which are little rice and coconut puddings. After eating our fill (Which was not very much because they really are all really sweet) we headed back to the river. I had booked us on a Klong (Canal) Tour and since Moon had never been along the klongs of Bangkok we invited her to join us. The tour lasts a couple of hours and includes a stop at a Snake and Crocodile farm and an Orchid Farm. (When Chris and I went on the tour I had been badly bitten on the foot by a mosquito and couldn't walk so we had to stay in the boat). The Snake farm was more like a mini zoo - it had a tiger, a bear, lots of monkeys (which we fed), birds, lizards, crocodiles and snakes. It was amazing watching the snake handlers and we all really enjoyed the display although Moon refused point blank to hold the snake (as you can see Tom and I did). We then went on to the Orchid Farm which was nice to see but not massively exciting - mind you I think Tom may have photographed every orchid in the place!!. I wanted to take Tom to Pak Klong Talaat which is the flower and vegetable market so we asked the guide to drop us off at Memorial Bridge Pier. It is where the local flower sellers get their stock so not only does it have the best range of flowers but it also has the best prices. Honestly, you have never seen anything like it - roses, orchids, chrysanthemums, lilies, lotus flowers, sunflowers - you name it - they have it (You can pay 30 baht, which is about 50 pence, for a huge bundle of orchids). The apartment looked a little like a funeral home by the time we finished arranging all the flowers but it smelt wonderful.

The following day we had a long lie and then headed out to China Town. It is really something that you have to prepare yourself for - Sampeng Lane (which is where the best haberdashery, fabric and beads are located) is small, cramped and very very hot. The photo here is of the beginning section that is more open. It's a great place to browse but not somewhere that you want to spend hours and hours. Tom loved it but about half way down the lane had to come out to get some air and to calm down (because it is so cramped you get jostled left, right and centre and it is very easy to get grumpy). We ended home and spent a chilled few hours before meeting up with Chris and Moon and going to the Paragon Cineplex at Siam Paragon. We had decided to go and see a Thai film called King Naresuan (which had English subtitles and looked great in the trailer) and, since Tom was here on holiday, we booked seats in the Nokia Lounge. It is really the only way to go and see a film at the cinema (I don't know why they don't do this in the UK). There are 32 seats grouped in pairs each with a small table and a waiter who shows you to your seat, gives you a blanket and a pillow then shows you how to recline your chair (Emm how cool is that!!!). Just as Tom had got snuggled in and ready for the film to start everyone had to be upstanding for the King's Anthem (It was funny watching him struggle out of his reclining chair - we could have told him but where's the fun in that!!). The movie was, well, erm, fact I would go as far as to say it was very was the story of a king who defeated the Burmese and saved Ayuthaya.....three hours later the king was still a boy and then it ended!! It turned out that there are two parts to the film - Had this been mentioned in the trailer?......No. Had this been mentioned in the write up about the film?....No. And had this been mentioned on the poster?........that would be No!!! (We're back to the only in Thailand shrug of the shoulders). Mind you, we did have one saving grace - Moon was as confused as the rest of us. (I've told Tom that when it comes out on DVD I will buy him a copy and post it to him since he has already invested three hours of his life watching it)

The next day was Tom's last full day and neither of us could believe that the two weeks had passed so fast. We had planned a big night out that night so decided to have a fairly quiet day. I took him to a coffee place called Agalico which was set up by a Japanese business man who was fed up not having anywhere he liked to take his clients to for coffee. It's only open on Fridays, Saturday's and Sunday's and is really special - have a look
We then headed back over to Central World so Tom could get a couple of things that he had seen the previous week and we then spent the afternoon looking round Siam Ocean World which is located in the basement of Siam Paragon Shopping Mall. I had never been before and i have to say that i really enjoyed it - there are seven sections : Weird and Wonderful, Deep Reef, Living Ocean, Rain Forest, Rocky Shore, Open Ocean and Sea Jellies. We got to touch a starfish (Which feels a bit like touching a rock), watched the penguins being fed (and could have seen sharks as well but didn't have time), you can go behind the scenes in a glass bottom boat (we didn't have time for that either but I will definitely go next time) and there is a very cool section were you walk through a glass tunnel surrounded by fish. In the evening we met up with Jenny and David and went to their local Thai restaurant - it was the first time Chris and I had eaten there but the food was fantastic and the entire meal, bearing in mind that there were five of us and that the price included our beers, came to 1,000 baht (£14). We then headed down to Soi Cowboy followed by Nana Plazza (Chris's friend Tony joined us on the way) and ended up in Pat Pong - we had good fun and gave Tom a good send off.
This photo was taken on the Saturday before his flight - ahhh.....he's cuddling his socks!! I think it was all too much for him!!

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

The Adventures of Tomato In Thailand - Chiang Mai

So that Chris had the opportunity to spend some time with Tom he had decided that he would take a couple of days off work and that the three of us would go and visit a part of Thailand that we had not been to yet. We had heard from a number of people that Chiang Mai (Northern Thailand) is beautiful at this time of year and actually cold (which we thought would suit Tom perfectly) so prior to Tom arriving I had sorted out flights and a hotel.

The journey was an absolute doddle - the new airport is about a 25/30 minute taxi ride from our apartment (well it was at that time in the morning - god alone knows how long it would take in rush hour) and the flight was only about an hour long. The hotel we were staying at was called Baan Gong Kham and was absolutely beautiful (The only downside was that it wasn't very central so we had a taxi or tuk tuk ride to get into the city). It was a small hotel complex (only about 8 houses) that was decorated in the traditional Lanna style - the houses were made of wood, had huge beds in them, doors that opened out onto a balcony and the bathrooms had a jacuzzi in them. The bathrooms also had no tiles on the roof above the jacuzzi (I can only assume that the idea behind this was that you had your jacuzzi under the stars - in reality it means that there is a bloody big hole in the roof that the mosquitoes get in through!!).

Chiang Mai is really stunning - very different to Bangkok - the air was clean, the pace of life more laid back, it was cool in the evenings and mornings and there was no humidity so it was easy to go out and about all day - we had a ball (even me - who by this time was on antibiotics to get rid of the horrific throat infection I had - Tom and Chris reckoned I looked like Biggles with my scarf on). On the Saturday we checked into the hotel then headed into the old city where we had a very late lunch. We discovered that after 6pm traffic is not allowed through the main street of the old town and the whole street, as well as the side streets, are turned into one huge market (On Saturday evening it is run by the local Wualai Community which is known for it's silver and lacquer wares and on Sunday evening it has everything from unique local handicrafts to portrait paintings and is less touristy) - We watched people setting up their stalls then went and had a coffee (Tom didn't like the cake very much - sorry Tom....I can resist everything but temptation!!) whilst the vendors got themselves organised. One of the really nice things about this was that all the Wat's were still open, and most had stalls in their grounds, so you could do some shopping then have a look round. (To the left is Chris and I doing an impression of a Thai getting their photo taken - we have no idea why they do this but they ALL do it!!). We shopped till we dropped. Actually I nearly did drop so we headed back to the hotel where I hit the sack and left Tom and Chris to find somewhere to get something to eat. They found a local watering hole and, once Tom worked out that the woman trying to talk to him was actually a waitress trying to show him to a table and not a hooker trying to pick him up (Chris said the look on his face was a picture....I'm sorry I missed it), they had the hottest meal Chris has ever had (He was apparently bright red in the face and grinning from ear to ear). Chris informed me the next day that at one point in the evening he thought that the waitress was going to swing for Tom - every time she came over to top up his glass (They had a pitcher of beer) Tom lifted it up....sometimes he had a drink and other times he just held it (Obviously he was concerned that she was going to run away with his glass when it still had beer in it!!). Chris had to keep dunting him so she could give him a refill!!

On Sunday we got up early (this had more to do with Tom doing a very bad ghost impression outside our door than the fact that we were full of the joys of life) and headed back to the old city where we hired a Song Tao (They are like vans turned into buses) and went up the mountain to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep. According to legend, a Buddha relic, magically replicated iteself just before it was about to be enshrined in a Stupa (this is a bell-shaped tower which usually contains a relic of the Buddha or the ashes of a king or important monk). The relic was placed on the back of a sacred white elephant, which was allowed to roam where-ever it wanted. The elephant eventually climbed to the top of Suthep Mountain, trumpeted three times, turned around three times, knelt down and died. This was taken as a sign that this was the spot where the relic wanted to be, so King Ku Na built Wat Prathat Doi Suthep at the end of 14th century. To reach it requires a climb up 309 steps (who's idea was this??) but all the puffing and panting was worth it - the Wat is stunning and, because it was such a beautiful day, we had an amazing view of Chiang Mai. We then jumped back in our Song Tao and headed to Mon Tha Falls which were beautiful (as you can see from the photo's) - there is another waterfall which is bigger but to see that would have required a five mile walk...hmmm....I think I'll pass!! We wound our way back down the mountain, past the tree that was growing in the middle of the road (???), and then had a lovely lunch in an Irish Pub in town (Chris and Tom had Steak and Ale pie with their Guinness). Our evening was spent wondering through the Sunday night market, we had to get another bag so we could get all the stuff we had bought back to Bangkok. We found a great little bar called the Cat Bar that was right on the edge of the walking street so we sat and had a couple of beers (well, Chris and tom did - I was still on water) and watched groups of people congregating round the bug stall goading each other into trying the various bugs. After about five minutes (and close inspection to make sure no-one had vomited) Tom and I decided to go for it.....I told you I was running a temperature. We ate bamboo worms - which had the consistency of those weird diet crisps you get in Marks & Spencers that are like eating cardboard and don't taste of much, silk worms - I really don't recommend these....they were squishy inside eeeeuuuu and, last but not least, crickets - which, once i had got over the fact that i was eating crickets, tasted quite nice (even Chris tried the crickets and bamboo worms). I think this photo is great - there is a lot to be said for care in the community!! (Not very PC I know but I do have a point!!)

The following day, no ill effects from the bugs, we hired a taxi for the day and went to the well-preserved and rarely visited ruins of the ancient city Wiang Kum Kam which is traditionally regarded as the prototype for Chiang Mai. They were built around 1281 and have only fairly recently been uncovered - some were more impressive than others but you go round them in a horse drawn carriage and it is a lovely way to spend a morning. After that we went to the Mae Sa Elephant Camp which is a fantastic place - they have won awards for the care and welfare of the elephants and are actually in the Guinness Book of Records for their 2.40 meters wide and 12 meters long painting entitled 'Cold Wind, Swirling Mist, Charming Lanna' which was created by a group of eight elephant artists. We watched a brilliant show - the elephants took hats off their Mahout's then put them back on again, played football, demonstrated log pulling and did some painting. (We bought a lovely one of flowers in a vase which we are currently having framed). Then, despite Chris saying he was never going to get on another elephant, we went on a 30 minute ride through jungle - don't think Tom was entirely convinced...he looks very unsure doesn't he!! (I think Chris made his boss's day - Phil called to ask him a question and said 'Where are you?' to which Chris replied 'Currently sitting on top of an elephant' - Phil burst out laughing....obviously not the answer he was expecting!!). After we left the elephant camp we were persuaded by our taxi driver to go to a small settlement of the Karen, Long Neck (they are the tribe that wear the bronze rings round their necks) and Long Ear (they insert large and heavy silver objects in their ears) hill tribes - it was fascinating to see them but I would never go there again and will never take anyone who comes to visit. It had the feel of an open air prison - I'm not going to rant on the subject but have to ask the question - When modern tourism policies and western ideas meet ancient cultures, who wins and who loses? (I think the answer is obvious). Anyway, we went back to the hotel and decided that since it was our last night we would push the boat out and have a special meal. Our hotel was opposite a very classy French Restaurant called Le Crystal - we sat outside on the garden balcony with views of the Ping River and had a divine meal (It was the first time in nearly a week that I had any appetite so I particularly enjoyed it) which was about seven courses with a different wine matched to each course. When we got back to the hotel Tom decided to try out a new type of yoga - he called it Yogic Flying (No we don't know why he did this either but doesn't he look happy!!). It was a great holiday.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

The Adventures of Tomato In Thailand - The sights and sounds of Bangkok

The following day Chris was back at work so for the next five days it was my job to show Tom the sites and sounds of Bangkok.

I decided that the first place I should take him was to Jim Thompson's House (and not just because they have the same surname). The story of Jim Thompson is really interesting - He was a trained architect who turned his attention to the Thai silk industry after being stationed in Thailand during WW2 (He was assigned to the Office of Strategic Services which was the forerunner of the CIA). He gained worldwide recognition for his success in rebuilding the industry, for generating international demand for Thai silk (He was responsible for providing all the fabrics for the film The King and I) and was awarded the Order of the White Elephant which is a decoration bestowed upon foreigners for having rendered exceptional service to Thailand. He was also very well known for combining traditional Thai architecture with western lifestyle ideas and for his collection of Asian antiques. What makes his story the stuff of legend is that he had his fortune told by a Monk who said that disaster would befall him in his 61st year and during a break with friends in Malaysia he went out for a walk in the jungle and was never seen again (There was an extensive search but it failed to reveal any clues about his disappearance) - he was 61 - so the house and all the stuff in it is pretty much how he left it. Tom loved it - there are six teak houses that were brought from various area's of Thailand to form a complex, a beautiful garden (Honestly, you would never believe you were still in the heart of Bangkok) and some amazing antiques including a mouse house (Very cool idea to keep kids occupied and stop their mouse from dying of boredom - don't know why they don't still make them!!). The best bit about Jim Thomson's house - it is a stones throw from a very good shopping centre called MBK (Mah Boon Krong). This is the best place to go for shoppers who love shopping in a market-style atmosphere, but would prefer to do it in air-conditioned comfort. It is very Thai and is positively packed with stalls - You don't want to know how much money Tom spent.....let me put it this way - we left with a lot of bags!! (Tom was also traumatised - he went to the toilet and was at the urinal when a woman wondered in with a cup of tea, knocked on one of the doors and handed the guy inside the cup of tea then wondered back out)

The following day we went on a trip to Ayuthaya which is the old capital of Thailand (Well, one of them anyway...). We had been told to be at the pier at 7am - at 6.15am my phone went and this was the organiser calling to say that we didn't actually need to be there till 7.30!! We were already on the Skytrain. (Tom was starting to understand our 'Only In Thailand' thing after being told the day before by a taxi driver that 'No I'm not going to take you. I don't want to go that way - you will need to get a different taxi'). I thought it was the same trip that Chris and I had done when we came for a look at Bangkok prior to moving here but the tour actually went to different temples in Ayuthaya as well as the Kings Summer Palace (Bang Pa In) - we got some fantastic photo's and Tom really enjoyed wondering round the ruins as well as the boat trip back to Bangkok. (Not sure if that was the actual boat trip he enjoyed or the fact that they were playing Abba in the background (Which he sang along to - I was sitting next to him at the window so couldn't even pretend I wasn't with him!!))

On Wednesday we decided that a pamper day was in order after the rigours of the Ayuthaya tour (Your out all day and it is an early start). We headed down to a place called 'Take Care' on Soi 33 for a manicure and pedicure - I could not stop laughing!! There is no nice way of saying this.....Tom has freaky feet - His toes look like they have been made from playdo and stuck on the top of his feet rather than where they should be. The girl who was doing his pedicure looked at them then said in Thai to her colleague, whilst wiggling his toes and laughing, 'Ling Lek' which means little monkey. (Can you guess who got teased for the rest of his stay about his little monkey feet??). We then went for a spot of lunch and I introduced Tom to the delights of a Miang Kam starter which consists of betel leaves that you fill with dried shrimp, onion, chilli, peanuts, ginger, toasted coconut and a sweetish sauce (Which I think is honey based) - you wrap the whole thing up in the leaf and pop it in your mouth - flavour explosions!! (They may sound horrible but are absolutely gorgeous I can assure you!!). After lunch we went up to Soi 11 to Suk Spa (You may remember that this was the place Chris suffered the embarrassment of having his boxers removed!!) and had a foot massage (again there was much hilarity caused by Tom's 'Ling' feet), a herbal steam (Which involved sitting on a wooden stool in a very small room, completely naked, having my eyes burned out by whatever herbs they were using), followed by a cold shower (Which was OUTSIDE!!.....I could see people walking down the Soi - don't think I have ever showered so fast in my life. Is this was Thai people call relaxing???), followed by a back massage which was divine (just as well after the shower experience!!). Anyway, we then headed back over to the river where we had cocktails in the Authors lounge at the Oriental Hotel (It is housed in the original Oriental building and was a favourite stop-off for writers like Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward and Graham Greene) then went on a night cruise along the Chao Phrya River, known as the River of Kings, aboard a “Maeyanang” rice barge.

We then had a shopping day and I took Tom to Siam Square which houses the Siam Centre, Siam Paragon (huge shopping mall) and is only a short walk from Central World (even bigger shopping mall - actually it is so big that it contains two beer gardens and Chris has not found either of them yet!!) That evening we went out to Cheap Charlie's (Yes, Tom loved it as much as we do and actually asked if we could go back) and met up with an old friend of Chris's, who he used to work with at Coopers but had not seen for about 10 years, called Tony (Who I have to say is completely bonkers!!.....very nice.....but completely bonkers!!). I have to say that I started to feel very unwell during the course of the evening - I had a raging temperature and a sore throat (I had gone over to Jenny's apartment before Tom arrived and her daughter was off school with the dreaded lurgy!! I think that is who I got it from - she was getting me back for telling her a story about a dead cow that then gave her nightmares)

Friday I felt pretty awful but didn't want to spoil Tom's holiday so we headed out anyway, me doped up to the eyeballs with cold and flu tablets, and went to Chatuchak Market which is not only the largest market in Bangkok but is one of the largest markets in the world. It has nearly everything you could ever wish to buy and many things you would never want to!!. The prices are amazing and you can buy clothes, animals, books, plants, artefacts, wooden items, ceramics, antiques, jewellery, and so many other things it would take too long to list. We had a lovely morning (the market is really quiet on a Friday but some of the stalls are open) and went to a great little restaurant that Chris and I found when we first visited the market and we go back every time. I kind of wilted in the afternoon and ended up in bed so we had a very quiet Friday night - Chris ended up working till after midnight (Client from hell was acting up again and since we were going on holiday he wanted to get everything finished) and I was really ill. (Poor Tom ended up sitting watching re-runs of Midsummer Murders - what can I say.....Thai TV is really bad!!)