29 November 2013

Political protest in Chan!!

I wasn't sure what, if anything, to post today so I was having a little think whilst doing my Friday morning cleaning ritual.  If you don't get your jobs done here by about 8am quite frankly you're done for as that's when it really starts hotting up!  I'd just about finished when Mr John called to say there was a parade outside the school and heading towards ours.  I then got a text saying it was a Fathers Day parade followed quickly by another saying it was a political protest.

Like some sort of tabloid hack / paparazzi, I grabbed the iPad, jumped on the scooter and headed up to our local intersection.  There were whistles blowing, flags waving and some very excited people in the throng.

Now I guess you might be wondering why I've gone all political.  Well, don't worry I haven't but there have been quite a few protests in Bangkok over the last week or so and we have been discussing this with our mate Kob.  This has proved a little tricky as when you learn everyday English it tends not to include words like parliament, Ministry of Finance, establishment - thank goodness for Internet dictionaries!

So I will try to give you a potted "recent" history of what's going on here.  Please note that I make no judgements, moral or otherwise - I'm merely conveying some facts!  The current Prime Minister is a lady (Yingluck Shinawatra).  Her brother (Thaksin Sinawatra) was previously Prime Minister but he is currently in self-imposed exile (to avoid corruption charges) following a military coup in 2006.  He came to power because (according to World Time) he "mobilised Thailand's rural heartland".  His supporters are referred to as Red Shirts.  Opposing him are the Yellow Shirts, who  apparently are the more elitist of Bangkok traditional society.  With me so far?

The current Prime Minister is trying to introduce an Amnesty Bill so that her brother can return to Thailand and there's quite a few articles in the press that suggest he is pulling her strings.  Now I'm not a political animal but I have three older brothers and there's no way I'd do what they told me to do and they'd probably concur with me.  Who knows what goes on behind closed doors though - I'm just saying.

Anyway, in Bangkok on Wednesday the protesters occupied the Ministry of Finance and several other government buildings making it very difficult for employees to continue working.  The protesters want the Prime Minister to resign and as a result of these actions, she's introduced the Internal Security Act.  This Act gives law enforcement officials and the military additional powers, including the right to impose curfews, put up checkpoints, restrict the movement of demonstrators and search for weapons.

Now this all sounds mighty unsettling, but you have to remember we're four hours from Bangkok and, to be honest, I'm a little surprised that sleepy old Chan has come out onto the streets.  As you can see from the photos, it was a civilised affair really and I suspect they just wanted their voices heard.

You can read more about what's going on here through a number of news websites including Reuters

27 November 2013

You did what?

So I have let you all down big time today, with no photographic evidence of what we've been up to!  I had intended to show you how we met Kobs father and eldest brother on Friday.  They'd travelled down from Bangkok to visit Kob and we were lucky enough to have dinner with them. 

Dad is 83 and an absolute knock out.  He has some English having run a small coffee shop in Bangkok from the mid-seventies when American servicemen, fighting in the Vietnam war, would come to drink coffee during their R&R.  He's incredibly smiley and oddly reminded me of Mr Johns Granddad. 

Pi Pan, Kobs brother, is an architect and has recently returned from a business trip to Paris.  He travels the world a lot and his English is very good.  We spoke of how even English speaking people can have trouble understanding other English speaking people.  This comforted him no end and he told of a meeting he had been in where he was supposed to take notes.  In this meeting were people from Sweden, South Africa and a Thai/Australian. He had trouble understanding everything that was going on but didn't worry because he thought the Thai/Australian would have picked everything up and so asked him at the end of the meeting.  Unfortunately he hadn't understood it all either!

As it was Kobs birthday yesterday, we headed to Sangchareon with a piece of Australian aboriginal art that we'd bought while on holiday and had it framed back here.  We also took a bottle of Prosecco and had a lovely time.  It was a bit late for a school night, but Mr John has not had to teach yet this week because it's sports time at school.  He's gone off today in his red shirt (as that's his school house colour) and there's some marching parade going on.  Classes resume tomorrow though!

25 November 2013

Big Bus

The front entrance is easy to spot with the large green covering
I've mentioned getting to Bangkok before and given helpful tips on how best to travel, but I realised the other day I've not explained about the big bus.  I know it's a bit silly calling it the "big bus" as it's just a normal bus but it is obviously different to the mini-buses you can go on. 

I prefer the big bus as I don't get so travel sick / claustrophobic and you can take your luggage on it.  Now that might also sound a bit mad, but if you travel on a mini-bus and have more than a small back-pack, they charge you an extra seat which of course doubles the usual price of 200 baht for a single to Bangkok.

The main bus station here is Chan (opposite the lake) has a bus that goes direct to and from the airport, but there are limited times it goes and this can be inconvenient depending on your flight times as the trip takes roughly four hours. 

The bus station I like to use is opposite the Bangkok Hospital.  It has a bus at 10:45 which is a civilised time to leave, it can drop you at a taxi rank to get to the airport or you can continue all the way to Bangkok and Ekkamai (or Eastern) bus station.  There is another bus at 3:45pm that also does the airport drop and other "Bangkok only" buses.  My advice is to check at least the day before so you get the right time and you can book your seat (my preference is either behind the driver or to his left at the front) in advance.

The bus station itself has some good facilities.  There's a lovely lady that works on the counter who speaks good English.  She also gives the bus driver (who presumably isn't as good at English) a piece of paper with your seat number and destination in Thai so that he doesn't forget to drop you off if you're stopping before Bangkok.  The price of the ticket includes a sealed cup of water and a small pack of wafer biscuits - a nice touch. 

There are toilets here (but you have to check the ladies as, of the three, only one is sit down) as well as showers - though you'd need to have your own towel to make the most of this.  There's also an impressive array of seating from wide wooden benches to chairs.  There's a large outdoor seating area as well as the waiting room which has ceiling fans and a TV but of course, the channels are all in Thai.  There's a variety of shops around if you need something to eat and the booking office also has savoury snacks and drinks for sale.

22 November 2013

Hang Out

We've been to Kobs' new bar a couple of times now and thought it was time to tell you about it.  It's on the corner between Timeless (I'll get onto that another time) and the Immigration office.  Open every night, there's live acoustic music from 8.30pm and we've already heard some great bands.

For those who enjoy football, there's a big screen and a large TV that shows premier league football.  There's no sound for these matches as, before the bands play,  there is background music. But hey, who needs commentary anyway.

Decorated in an urban industrial style, there are sit down toilets and plenty of toilet paper - always a bonus.  There's a good selection of food though at the moment the menu is in Thai.  Mald, the co-owner, is a young guy who speaks good English so there's opportunity to get food ordered anyway.  The intention is to provide menus in English and I've offered my services to check translation and grammar.

We've enjoyed visiting here and it's certainly lively but I have to admit we prefer Sangchareon as it's quieter and easier to chat.  Depending on your mood though, we would certainly recommend this place.

20 November 2013

Italian restaurant

On Friday night before heading to Hang Out, we went with our friend Wicus to an Italian restaurant opposite the lake (on the main road to Big C).  We did try and catch the name of it, but afraid we failed dismally!  Wicus has eaten here before and is a fan of the place.

I chose a baked penne dish with tuna and the guys both ordered lasagne.  The food was good and the surroundings were excellent.  There's quite a large space outside the restaurant which is fenced off from the main road.  This is where the toilets are, though be aware that the ladies are squat!  Although the temperature has been much milder than usual there are more mosquitos around and so we chose to sit inside.  It was just as well really as there were sprinklings of rain on and off all night.

Now, not to take the shine off this restaurant but Mr John and I fancied pizza on Saturday night but neither one of us had enough energy to get on the bike and make the trip to Tesco Lotus.  As they say necessity is the mother of invention and we knew you could ring and place an order for delivery.  We didn't think this option had legs because our Thai is still fairly limited and consists, I believe, of the ability to talk "at" someone and not have a conversation.  For example, hello how are you, today is Wednesday, it is not raining, today it is hot....you get the idea. 

Anyway, on a whim, I got on the internet and looked up the appropriately named "pizza company".  Quite a bit was in English though some of the "action" tabs were in Thai but we managed to place an order and then waited to see what happened.  We knew it might result in nothing and one of us would still have to go out but as you can see they turned up!  Complete with the obligatory gazillion tomato sauce sachets that foreigners apparently need to eat pizza. 

Don't think I've ever been so excited about a food delivery.  And yes, it's not like your sister-in-laws, Dominos, Pizza Hut or whatever your favourite is - but it's amazing for Thailand and we didn't need to leave the house. 

I believe home delivery is also possible with KFC.........hmmmm

18 November 2013

Loi Krathong

My karthong given by Kob
You just have to love all the festivals here in Thailand.  This weekend was Loi Krathong, which is an adopted Buddhist festival celebrated all over the country.  It coincides with the months full moon and if this happens to be a weekday, then there is a holiday for it.  Mr John felt slightly aggrieved this year as it fell on Sunday. The purpose of this is to float away "all ones hatred, anger and defilements" whilst the candle venerates the Buddha with light.

It all started on Friday with a trip to Hang Out and fireworks were handed out to the patrons.  We then all had to stand by the corner and light them.  Mr John commented that if we had a blackout later that evening it would be because we were all stood pointing our fireworks at power lines!  Still, we survived.

Sunday saw all sorts of activity around town and the focus of the festivities was just down the road from ours at the temple.  There is a great set of steps that lead down to the water, which a lot of you are used to seeing covered in water, thanks to the floods we've had this wet season.  Still, all was perfect for launching the krathong.

In the grounds of the temple were all sorts of stalls selling everything from clothes to food.  Not only that, you could buy turtles and eels to release into the water or small birds to set free. Some people launched Chinese lanterns but the main tradition here is to float the krathong.  Chang Mai is the place to go to see the lanterns.  A friend of ours is there at the moment and he has some awesome photos.  I've been told the preferences for the ceremony are dependent on the location of rivers - as simple as that.

So here we are, all cleansed and ready for good luck for the coming twelve months and knowing that if we stray we can float another krathong next year!

15 November 2013

Pool side

I decided on Wednesday to have a proper day off.  Now I know what you're thinking, you're thinking I have every day off.  Let me tell you there are always so many things to do that I rarely sit down during the day and read a book.  So I decided to change all that and at the same time give a bit more detail on the New Travelodge.

As you can see, even mid-week there was no one there.  There was however some form of seminar going on in the Grand Ballroom, so I hid beneath my sarong as they came outside to collect and eat their lunch.  I wasn't jealous as it didn't smell great to be honest.  This didn't mean my time here was limited.  I spent a glorious three hours in and out of the pool and reading. Bliss.

Anyway, the rate is still 100 baht for as long or, I guess, as short a time as you want.  This includes your towel, the use of a locker and there are two showers and one sit down toilet in the ladies room.  There's also a variety of goodies like shower gel, shampoo, hair gel, talc etc so you can make yourself look glamorous.  Of course it didn't really work on me as I had to put my bike helmet on to get back home and my pool towel was soaking so I didn't really bother, just used the hairdryer so my helmet didn't end up soaked on the inside.

My advice is to get here early to avoid the rush, nah, only joking!  There are however only 5 sun loungers and one large parasol.  The rest of the seating consists of plastic chairs and tables.  For all the geeks out there, the pool is open from 06:00 to 21:00.  It is 25 metres long and 12 metres wide with a depth of 3 metres (no wonder I couldn't touch the bottom).

Apparently there's some form of beer festival but I don't know if it's about to start or if it's finished and just to warn you, the prices for beer here are a little steep by local standards. A small bottle of Heineken is 90 baht whilst a large one will set you back 160.  I tried to get a cappuccino (because there was no latte on the list) and this was only 50 baht, but I failed dismally.  I think the staff were too concentrating on the seminar and I couldn't attract attention for love nor money!  So the coffee review will just have to wait for next time..... 

13 November 2013

Normal - a cycle on a washing machine

The weekly shop - more under the seat!
There are three new teachers at school and so we have some new neighbours.  We've been to see Kobs new bar and it looks fab - there was a great trio singing / playing and was most enjoyable, but I'll do a separate post on that so you get the low down. 

Mr John has had his first week back and he survived relatively unscathed.  The school is observing mourning for the Patriarch of Thailand (like the chief Monk) for the required month.  This means he can only wear white / black to school - no colours - so that has meant I'm hand washing white shirts at the moment to keep up the steady flow!

We've come back to "winter".  Now, I'm using the term loosely as I believe the definition of winter is that it's a little windy!  The temperatures are higher than during the wet, but nowhere near as high as when we arrived.  We have beautiful bright blue skies and with the morning breeze the washing takes no time.  I handed some in at 8am the other day and got it back by 3pm - I suspect I would have had it earlier but I was out having coffee!

I have also done some "gardening" which consisted of hacking the ever encroaching jungle we have out the back.  You have to do these sorts of things early in the morning so you don't pass out with the heat and it's not necessarily an activity I enjoy.  Thankfully Tom across the road is more than willing to lend implements to me so I can reclaim some of the cement.  So you see - back to normal!!

11 November 2013

River Festival

This festival was on for the whole weekend. Friday night we went for a walk down the waterfront and boy was it busy!  Apparently the festival is a policy of the government to encourage communities to get together. The streets, which tonight were pedestrianised, were lined with all sorts of vendors and Mr John was keen to sample some of the culinary delights.  We had some really good wan-tons, a hot-dog that was more hot-chicken and therefore not a success.  
I also spied what looked like a lovely cupcake stall and was very excited.  I selected one, Mr John selected his and as I picked his up I noticed a few bugs on it (including one mosquito). So we fairly quickly put them back and walked away.  Note to self, sweet icing on cupcakes and no packaging equals cupcakes with protein!

Sangchareon bar was serving beer on draught and so we called in.  Kob was there and quickly ushered us into the air-conditioned front room which was a welcome relief.  The waterfront is really the old town and all the buildings are close together.  Add to that a street full of people walking at a snails pace and the temperature down there was pretty high.  We were joined by a friend of Kob who had spent two years studying in America and who's English was therefore exceptional.  It was a very entertaining evening and a very late night. There just always seems to be something going on here.

10 November 2013

Aria Restaurant

Although Mr John had given me a set of Bose headphones for my birthday - which may not sound romantic / special but which I had asked for and totally love - he organised a fabulous dinner for us in Sydney as my birthday treat.

Aria Restaurant is owned by Matt Moran, a well known chef in Australia, and is situated right on Sydney Harbour.  From our table you could see the bridge and the Opera House, it was just amazing.  The food and service was also fabulous and I couldn't get over how full the place was - what happened to the global recession??  We'd actually taken a pre-theatre booking as we had an early flight the following day.  

So here you go, to whet your appetite, Mr John had scallops then lamb followed by chocolate.  I had oysters then lamb followed by peanut butter and jelly.  If you check out the photos below, you'll see the descriptions - heaven on a plate.

I was a little concerned they might rush us out, being an early booking, but it couldn't have been more relaxing.  I would definitely recommend here for anyone who wanted a special dinner as the surroundings inside and out were stunning.

09 November 2013

That's all folks, or is it?

We've arrived in Sydney and Mr John has booked us into the Hilton Hotel.  He's also booked us into Aria restaurant and there's not a lot of time (though just enough) between arriving and the booking.  I'll tell you about the restaurant in my next post as it deserves to be spotlighted and not mixed up with everything else.

The hotel is on George Street and that's where you will find the Marble Bar underneath the hotel.  It was built in 1893 which, by Australian standards, is really old.  There was an excellent band playing and Mr John was mighty impressed (so was I quite frankly for remembering it was there).  So we had some cocktails (Mr John seemed to think he was James Bond and ordered a Vesper) and I did a bit of singing - to myself you'll all be glad to know!

It's an early start for our flight and so it wasn't too late a night but it was a fabulous way to end an amazing holiday.  Our suitcases have had "heavy" labels on them for the last couple of flights but fortunately we are still within our baggage allowance.  We've stocked up on things you can't get anywhere else and are hopeful the chocolate will stay in one piece until we get to our fridge (because we have two nights in Bangkok when we get home).

So thank you to all our friends and family for sticking to our dietary requirement of NO RICE!!  I'm sure you've all noticed what food, drink and good company means to both of us. 

08 November 2013

Brisbane City

My sister Anne and her husband Graham really got "the rough end of the pineapple" as we say in my country.  They visited us in the UK last year for the Olympics and so we got to spend lots of time together.  The consequence of this was we only gave them one night and they had to come to the city, which is over an hours drive from their house.  Their instructions to us were that they would take care of everything and boy did they.

We had a two bedroom apartment on the 31st floor in the centre of Brisbane city.  It came complete with balcony which gave us glorious views over the city and a great place to drink champagne whilst watching the afternoon thunder / lightening storm.  A bonus for me (and my female readers will understand) was that I got to wash our underwear! 

We had a lovely lunch at Southbank which has the city Beach - I know, amazing right.  And having watched the storm come and go, we headed out on the City Cat (aka river bus) to go for dinner.  We ate at the Watt restaurant and bar and the food was fabulous.  We even had a possum and its baby walk through the open air restaurant but we were all so surprised there's no photographic evidence! 

We really can't thank them enough for their forethought and planning skills (though I suspect Anne is flying on Grahams coat tails).  And so it was a sad farewell to the last of our hosts with only one more treat in store....

07 November 2013

Beautiful one day, perfect the next

I must say the warm weather was a welcome change after an unusually chilly Melbourne.  We're here to see my very dear friends Rohan and Debs.  I first met Rohan when I was 17, so that was a little while ago, Debs a couple of years later and I was just shy of 21 when they got married.  I'm actually godmother to their three sons Kristopher, Ashley and Matthew.  I'm not quite sure what has happened, being such a young person, but somehow not only have Kris and Ash got married but they have children!  That can't be right? 

Having got some "grown up" time on Sunday night the entire family descended on Monday for family lunch - traditional Aussie BBQ, one of our favourite meals.  Although Rohan is hoping for a new BBQ from Santa this year, he produced a phenomenal feed.  I was completely overwhelmed by the fact that all three boys and their families took time out of their very hectic lives to come and have lunch with us.  The children were a treat and so well behaved.  We all desperately tried to get a photo of the three of them - Samuel (2), Hamish (2) and Evelyn (4 months) - but you can imagine the chaos that ensued!  So as you will see from the photos below a couple of two are now an extended family of eleven - I blame Rohan.

It has been so long since we've seen these guys that our time with them seemed cruelly short and yet again we didn't want to leave....but it was time....

06 November 2013

The big smoke

As always the welcome was warm at my brother Roger and his wife Anna's house.  It has a fantastic Victoriana shop front and they have converted it into trendy city living.  They are close to all sorts of amenities - pubs, bars, coffee shops, restaurants - and all within walking distance of the city itself.

Through the goodness of their hearts we also managed to catch up with nephew Adam and his lovely wife Judy.  Now Anna has an Italian background and makes the most amazing pizzas.  Apparently she does have long "sabbaticals" where she doesn't make them but thankfully she agreed to our request.  So we had a fabulous evening with home-made Pizza which included a white chocolate and strawberry sweet pizza which was absolutely divine.  I even managed to secure a piece for morning tea the following day!

Having enjoyed a fabulous meal at the Three Crowns pub, a trip to the Drunken Poets bar the following day which is opposite the Victoria Market (Mr John's favourite food shopping place) was an additional treat.  Mr John also managed to catch up with his Uni friend Chrissy for lunch so a pretty successful trip all round. 

And then Sunday dawned, more packing and a hearty brunch and some sad goodbyes.  We didn't want to leave but the end of our holiday was approaching and so we moved on to Brisbane.

05 November 2013

Spa luxury

What an amazing time we've had with Greg, Abby, Roman (who's very nearly three) and baby Ted who was born in June.  We took some extra time here so we could enjoy being with the children as Roman was only four months old last time we saw him.

Sitting on the balcony looking down on the pool it was like being in a resort!  I can't believe Mr John went for a swim as it was quite cold (around 17 degrees Celsius).  The funniest thing was every time he got out Roman, who was wearing wellington boots, jeans and a jumper, kept telling him to get back in - which he did - three times! 

We also got to catch up on Aussie kids TV.  What I don't know about Chugginton just isn't worth knowing.  Watching one morning, a graphic came up saying "Let's sing" so I suggested to Roman we do this.  His very prompt and loud response was "no" with his hands over his ears.  As if this wasn't bad enough Mr John, who is very nearly tone deaf, got a resounding "yes" on asking the same question.  You wait til his 21st birthday, I'll get him back!!

Whilst we were here we managed a train trip to Melbourne city to have lunch with Greg and a little souvenir shopping.  We went to this great Mexican place where you constructed your lunch - a little like Subway.  I even got to cook during our stay which was a treat for me as I love to cook and not having a kitchen in Thailand is a little frustrating.  I made a fish pie, one of Mr John's favourites and Abby seemed to enjoy it too.

It was also great to see my sister Lynne who laid on a huge spread for Sunday tea and nephew Warren who, bless him, turned up and was very sociable despite having had a big night the night before.  Got to love that sort of family commitment.

And then all too soon it was time to leave and yet again we were reluctant to move on but it was time for the city....

04 November 2013

Welcome back!

Hi all, yes we're back in Chanthaburi and this morning Mr John went off to work again.  I'm not sure he's really ready as it's been a full on three weeks but boy what an amazing time we've had.  We have been completely spoiled by all our family and friends and have acquired 2 kilos each in the process!  I'm so sorry I was unable to keep up my blogging, but rest assured I've taken notes and will be posting all the updates this week.

We've come back to "winter" and even the locals have been saying its really hot!  There've also some changes whilst we've been away. 

L-R: Paul, Juls, Wicus, Fraser, Tom, Me, Bex, Mr John
The gorgeous Juls has headed back to Boston and as I write this the lovely Bex, Fraser and Paul are winging their way back to the UK.  We're going to miss all our lovely friends but we did manage to give them a good send off.

Our friend Kob has also opened his new bar - Hangout - so stay tuned for an update on that.  We popped in last night and it's looking fabulous.  So be prepared for lots of posts this week.  Sign up via the email link if you want to be up to speed with our travels.